First competition of 2014, and it was a good one! This was an unmarked, 45 mile course; taking you from Wendover, to Little Venice in London.
The timing of this race could not have been better, as it allowed for a festive and moderately intoxicated Christmas; then back to business in the New Year. I tend to NEED these events up there in the horizon, to act as beacons to a constant reminder not to slip into past lifestyle habits again. I think last Christmas continued until end of February… This gave me a good, solid week of detox and heavy training, to get myself back into fitness in time.
I couldn’t have done the weekend without the help from lots of people. Really, when I think about it, all I did was the running bit; nothing really. My mum did the majority of the driving to and from London, which is a great help, as it cuts the mental exhaustion out. Extended family Simon and Charlie, who I’d not met prior to the weekend; put us up for the night before, complete with perfect pre-run meal and company. Cheers guys!
As I mentioned before, this event was an “unmarked” course, which on the best of days is enough to instil terror within, and the part of the brain that handles sense of direction (or that gaping void in my case). We set off, maps in hand in glorious January weather (not even a joke), down the hill at a startlingly fast pace (6.55). The pace was a bit alarming, but everybody else near the front was doing it, so I just went with it.
Then we hit the mud baths. The course wasn’t exactly ‘hilly’ by any means, but any slight incline was made tricky by these unavoidable, slippery death traps.
It took 8 miles, before my nemesis and inevitable demise struck! The runners ahead had gone round corners and were out of sight, and I was left with my maps and my sense of direction. This never ends well.
I followed the main road in the rough direction the map seemed to point down. To my eternal relief, the 2 runners immediately behind also elected this way; I can’t be wrong!
Blind leading the blind as it happened.
We eventually got back on track, using a combination of wits and blind luck. Safe to say, I was no help in this juncture.
It was an honour and a privilege at mile 20, to be running with a man much like myself; the sense of direction of a child, the confidence and tenacity of a seasoned mountaineer. We trekked off ahead of our group with the zest and assurance of 2 people that knew a little of where they were going…. We were wrong. Obviously.
This detour took us, I’d guess around half a mile out of the way, which we then sprinted foolishly to catch up again. I checked my splits at this point and I was hitting close to 7 minute miles; way too fast for this stage. I’d pay for that later. Oh well, you live you learn (I keep telling myself).
The second half of the race was down the canal, not too far from the Thames. This meant no more getting lost! Or if I did get lost, there is no hope me.
Energy gels and constant water were taken on board, as we all separated to find our own pace at this point. To my delight, I found that my pace was actually faster than most at this stage. As I glided up the field effortlessly, I felt great until, without warning, 3 miles to go I hit a wall created I am certain from my earlier sprinting. I laboured over the finish line, following a passage of 3 runners overtaking me agonisingly easily. I crossed the line feeling thoroughly spent, in a very respectable time of 5:54:08 and a flattering 8th place in the mens open class.
I have to say, ultra-running has been very kind to me in my 3 competitive events. If I could only learn to stop running the wrong way all the time, or control the pace a bit more after realising the catching up to be done, I think I’d be okay at it.
Thanks again to all involved with the weekend and the support I’ve had. That evening was a simple celebratory beer, followed by collapse into a sleep coma. My recovery run the next day went fine; I’m not broken, so plenty more to come…