Having been "good" (and actually taken time out to rest and recover) for what seemed like forever, I am over the moon to be back running again, though I'm "trying" to be sensible and listen to my body/tendons to prevent a recurrence or flare-up.
Although I'd pulled out of my Spring marathon, there was a 20mile race that I'd entered prior to my injury. I hummed and hawed about whether it was a stupid idea to try running it - yes, I'd been able to run again in the few days leading up to it, but I'd hardly hit double figures. However, I'd never run the race, some friends were going to do it (so it was a good excuse to catch up with them), and I knew from the course map that there was one point you passed at 4 different times, which did give me the opportunity to stop without being too far away if I felt any niggles at all. Having finally made the decision to run, you'd think that I would have slept well...but instead I worried about whether I was being stupid and would actually set myself back on the road to recovery.
Looking round the prison
Registration was slightly unusual - not just in that it involved climbing a steep hill up to Lancaster Castle, but because the castle was used as a prison until relatively recently (I was told just 10 years ago) and so you could wander in and out of the cells and have a good look around! Unfortunately there were no routemaps available, and no obvious start or finishline either. Following the directions of a few marshals, we walked down a steep slope to a narrow path below the castle. Somebody living on that hill had had the unfortunate idea of having a bonfire that morning so there was a lot of smoke and ash in the air. We were then told to gather into 2 fields (1 on either side of the path) and told that we would be told where the "finish" was by the race director in his pre-run briefing, though I'm not sure I actually heard him say that we would have to run all the way back up and into the castle itself (though it's possible that I just blocked this out!).
And they're off......
Dropping back from the boys...
As the start was announced, we all poured out of the fields and onto the narrow path. It didn't exactly feel like a "downhill start" but some people certainly flew straight off - they must have known that within the first halfmile there were 2 bollards in the middle of the path (that could only be passed by 1 person on each side at a time). I decided to try to stick with a couple of guys I recognised as they had set off in a decent group, but when they went through the first mile in under 5:50, I realised that the pace was too tasty for me and dropped off the back. There was a large field in the race so I had thought I would have company on the run, but it was clearly not to be ;-(
My lonely run
Having doubled back I passed my first "drop out point" without feeling any niggles so happily carried on across the river. I soon recognised that I was running along a stretch that had been the route of the Valentine's 10K, so I have to confess to feeling a slight moment of disappointment that I was not going to finish after 6 miles but instead carry on a lot further. I had some brief company as I caught a guy up, but unfortunately he suddenly felt some pain in his foot and so decided to stop and stretch it out.
As I passed back across the river I picked up a gel from a friend and he told me that I had had a decent gap on the next lady when he'd seen me at the 3 mile point so I just tried to relax into the run. I gave my legs a mental once-over to ensure no niggles were developing - my tendon seemed to be doing just fine, though I couldn't quite say the same for the rest of my legs, as they were starting to protest at running further than they've become accustomed to!
2-way traffic on a nice wide path
The next 11 or so miles were a long out and back section.....and did it ever feel long as I tired. Every rise and fall on overpasses away from the riverside felt like a big incline and the turnaround point seemed a long time in coming. I couldn't remember exactly how far away it was, but figured that I would get an idea of the distance still to run when I saw the race leaders coming back towards me. Unfortunately, it wasn't an exact turnaround as we were sent away from the path and up onto a parallel road at the far end, hence the reason I hadn't seen any speedsters coming back.
After a while we left the road and rejoined the path again (unfortunately this didn't cut out any of the rises on the way back!) which was a real mental boost as it meant that you could see runners coming the other way. I got a lot of support from ladies running the other way, and when I passed my friends, they gave me an idea of the gap that I'd had the last time I'd passed them, and they also told me my overall position in the race. By the time I was into the last couple of miles, I felt like I was running through treacle, but as I still had no shin pain, I just kept trying to keep moving forward as fast as I could (admittedly a lot slower than I'd started!). I could now definitely appreciate that it had been a downhill start as I now had to ascend the gentle incline to it. The sting in the scorpion's tail came after running through the start line as it turned out that the finish was actually inside the castle itself.
Coming into the castle
A lovely (and unusual) prize!
This meant a climb of over 100feet in the last 1/4 mile. I don't think that the climb was so bad in itself (though the guys who finished in front of me all said that it made their last mile 30s slower than any other mile), but we had to run through the smoke and ash of the bonfire again (I admit that I'd totally forgotten about that). A final turn and I was onto the cobbles running into the castle itself, so happy to have got through without any flare of the tendonitis (though my quads and glutes weren't that impressed that I hadn't dropped out). When I spotted the clock I realised that I'd run a much better time than I'd thought I would do which just goes to show that running without time pressure and expectations can work wonders!