Thursday, 18 August 2016

Not your average Half Marathon....

Lowther Estate
As most people know, I've not had much inclination for training and racing recently, but thought I should test the waters of my declining fitness with a nice low key race. The Lowther Trail Half Marathon was on at the weekend, but I still couldn't summon up the motivation to go and run it. On Saturday however, my friend Ant told me that he was doing it to kickstart his running and racing training for the autumn and beyond. This spurred me on to actually enter and so I headed on over there on Sunday morning (after rather too little sleep due to watching the Rio Olympics for half of the night!).

My first clue that this was not your average half marathon were the signs directing people to the "Fell Race", and the next pointer was that a sportident dibber was attached to each competitor's wrist as they registered. This led to much more of a mountain marathon feel rather than a trail race though I hoped the route would be kinder to me, despite the "warning" about taking care at the river crossing.

Having been the race medic many years prior to this, I only had some vague memories of the route (some of which were clearly wrong as I'd recalled it being 10K long rather than over 13 miles!).

Looking back up the start section

The initial downhill start was fast and uneven across the grass of the showground and after half a mile, I wondered if I'd made the wrong decision in running the race. After crossing the river we started a long drag up through the [pretty village of Askham and onto the fells. I felt that I was really struggling by the 1.5mile mark and when I spotted a local swimming pool sign (and a pub) I was tempted to stop. Nevertheless, I'd entered the race to ensure that I kept running when I felt like quitting (as I thought I might do if I'd just gone out for a 13 mile run on my own) so I pushed on - despite feeling like it was much harder than it should be, others were clearly feeling this more as I gradually overtook men as we headed up and out onto the open ground.

The Askham Fells
Everyone had to "dib" into the control at the top of the first hill to ensure there was no cutting of corners or summits but we were "rewarded" with a nice runnable downhill stretch on a mixture of grass and trail. I tried to put into practice what I had been advised about downhill running - ie look a few metres ahead rather than down at my feet, relax and let myself go, rather than unconsciously braking due to a fear of tripping and falling. It may have been the increased mental effort, or it may have been that I was consciously putting in more of an effort than usual on a downhill section, or it may have having (or not having) a horizon in my eyesight, but it did make me feel rather nauseated. It crossed my mind how embarassing it would be if I had to stop to be sick on a downhill section rather than when working hard up a hill!.

I looked at my watch as I passed a "5 mile" marker sign....although we'd actually only gone 4.5miles, it would still have been a PW (personal worst) for me for the 5 mile point in a half marathon!

After some more "undulations" with bracken and tussocks making sure I kept picking my feet up, there was a brief road section (yippee) before an arrow directed us out across open ground. With no obvious path, it was a case of picking the best route through bogs and between reeds, tussocks and thistles. Instinctively picking out good routes comes with hours and hours of this type of running, which I clearly haven't done so I did get overtaken by a man who then disappeared off over the horizon. This was unfortunate for me, as it meant that I then had to test my own navigational and contouring skills on the rough ground. A splash through a 1.5m wide creek made me wonder what all the fuss was about the advertised river crossing, as it didn't even wash off the mud I was now clothed in.

A mile later, I found there was a 15m wide river to wade through. There were marshals at each side and a rope strung across it for use as a handrail (very useful when you are stumbling around on the river bed). I found it very hard to get back into a running stride with heavy, wet (though clean) feet and legs on the far side of the river, though a marshal tried to convince me that it was "not far to go"  (Ha....I thought....only about another 6 miles!!).
Not a bad profile for a hill race, but
testing for a road runner!

The next section was a tough "hands on knees and push" climb (after an initial scratchy thistle field crossing). I admit that I'm not very good at walking up hills as I find it hard to remember to keep putting effort in when I'm walking but I confess to walking up some of this one (though I did run for longer than the guys in front of me....small victories and all that!!). At the top, there was noone in sight again, and I found it hard to spot the next bit of tape marking the route. Luckily I found a sheep trod going across the plateau in the right direction, though I did doubt myself as I'd thought the next "dibber" was at about the 8 mile point.

It was my memory playing tricks on me again, as the marshals were there holding the control 9 miles into the race. From there, we had our final section of grass-running and ended up on another minor road. I was so happy to see some tarmac (even if it did go rather steeply downhill) that I just let myself go and somehow managed a sub 6-minute mile, so gaining a few places. The road was interrupted by several cattle grids, more easily negotiated by men with larger feet/shoes, so I had to brake rather abruptly on a few occasions to avoid my feet slipping in between the bars, and by the last few grids, I opted to run round them in the rough grass.

The last couple of miles were on forest roads and were also being used for the carriage racing that was part of the Lowther Show. The carriages had right of way, so it was important to remain alert and jump off onto the verges in time as they passed as some pace.
Everyone loves a
"consumable" prize!!

The final sting in the tail of the race was a steep climb back up from the river to the Showground before dibbing in at the finish. A definite benefit to the sportident timing and checkpoints was that after the we "downloaded", we could also see (and compare) ourr splittimes for each section.

I certainly proved that I'm not very good at judging my own pace or effort when the terrain keeps changing and I haven't raced in a  while, as it turned out that I finished hot on the heels of the 10th man. Although it felt tough at the time, I'm glad I did the race, as it forced me to keep going when I'd otherwise have slowed and stopped, and the course was beautiful, with stunning views and really, a little of of everything underfoot (and obviously the icecream followed by nutella and banana crepes at the Show helped!!!)!

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