It's amazing how quickly things can turn around and you can start a weekend "feeling blue" yet finish it with a massive grin on your face.
When you're feeling a bit miserable, you always want your mum, however old you are, so I started the weekend by heading over to Durham (good thing too as when I picked her up at the station, there seemed to be an inordinate number of drunken people around).
I met up with my friend (and Durham clubmate) Rosie Smith on the Saturday and we had a good catch-up while heading through to Gateshead for the first XC race of the North East Harrier League. I wanted to see how my knee felt whilst running a bit faster....the answer was OK whilst "racing" but still painful to warm up and cool down ;-(.
The back of the "fast" pack
The XC seems to have moved into the 21st Century this season with chip timing, but there was still the old "grassroots" element of the startline being spray painted at our feet. The level of participation shows how popular running is becoming - the NEHL covers only the northern part of the NE, yet there were still 352 people running in the senior and vet ladies' race.
The XC expression of pain!
I can see the benefits of the handicap system in some ways, but in other ways, it makes it an odd race. Most people run in the "slow"pack (which also includes anyone who is new to the League/didn't run last season, no matter their ability - ie 287 runners) but a "medium" pack (49 runners) starts 2 minutes after them and a "fast" pack (16 runners) 2 minutes after that. Results are not based on actual time, but position across the line...so for example Rosie was by far the fastest runner and finished 4th, but that meant that she had to work her way past 333 others - and had a 4 minute handicap with the race distance only being about 3.8 miles). I finished 42nd and found it hard enough to try to pass that many people on such a narrow short course (and was 9th fastest!). Still, it is always a great social event with lots of banter and support from both within and without the club across all the age groups.
Later that day I drove down to Derbyshire to visit and catch up with Eleanor Robinson. Eleanor has been involved with British Athletics for many years (as a runner and then as support/team management) and still holds British records over ultra distances and times, and regularly sets age group records. There is no person I (and most other runners who've been supported/fed by her) would rather see listed on the support staff when going to represent GB at one of these events!
She had roped me into running a local half marathon - well, initially it was meant to be a marathon but unfortunately that had been cancelled and become the Chesterfield Half Marathon. I wasn't sure how I'd fare both fitness-wise and knee-wise but thought that if I didn't give it a go, then I would never know.
The twisted spire of Chesterfield
The mayor and mayoress at the startline
Unfortunately the start was delayed by about 20mins when we were all in the starting pen...and it wasn't exactly the warmest but nevertheless we were soon underway. The course was rather a "figure of 8" shape so that we got to run through the centre of Chesterfield twice. Despite the twists and turns of the market place and the "cobbles" (they were actually decent sized flat stones and so there was no danger of slipping/twisting ankles), I did enjoy the support in town and it was nice to see/run towards the famous leaning spire.
I didn't feel too bad for the first 4 or so miles, but then my lack of recent proper running started to kick in. I don't think I'd run more than 6 miles continuously for 6 weeks, and I knew that I was just going to get slower and slower. It was so tempting to stop, especially as my glutes and legs complained bitterly on the uphills. Still, a look at my watch did reassure me that I was still running much faster than a walking pace and so I managed to keep going (although it did feel very much like shuffling at times....and probably looked like it too).
Not the flattest HM
I hoped that at least I'd managed to lead the first lady out to a good pace for the first few miles, and that she would be able to maintain it when she passed me at the 4.5mile point. Although I felt that I was running every mile slower than the previous one, I managed to keep her just within sight and only crossed the line about a minute behind. I was over the moon to have made it all the way round without knee pain, though my fitness definitely left something to be desired (maybe I shouldn't have had the post-race chips and chocolate cake!!)!!!
It was sore afterwards and so one of the post-race sports therapists applied some lovely "therapeutic" pink tape before I jumped into my car and headed off through the Peak District and down to Wales for my last fixture of the weekend.
This was the most fun, and the one that I thought might actually be the hardest for me.......
It was, however, the most important, as I think that when you say you'll do something for a friend, then you do everything in your power to keep that promise to them. Despite being tired from racing and it involving a lot of driving I knew I had to get there...
Jasmin Paris has already smashed the ladies' record for the Bob Graham Round (BGR) in the Lake District, and the overall record for the Charlie Ramsay Round in Scotland, and so "all" that was left was the Paddy Buckley Round in Wales. I say "all", but most people wouldn't even dream of attempting to run all three rounds in one year, never mind at record pace, but Jasmin is no ordinary person (in the nicest possible way ;-) )! The Paddy Buckley Round is over 100km long and covers 47 summits, and is often considered to be considerably harder than the BGR (and much less wellknown, so more seldom attempted; to "complete" any of the Rounds, the circuit must be covered within 24 hours). Jasmin started in Llanberis at 5am and although I had been going to help with an early leg if she'd set out on Saturday - the appalling weather led to a delay by 24hours, so I knew I would only get there in time for a later leg on the Sunday.
The "family run"
I made it to the leg3/leg4 changeover ahead of her schedule and so went a short way up the road run in (with my new bestie, Moss the puppy). Konrad ran in with Jasmin giving her a pep talk and encouragement, and I ran alongside with Moss so that he felt he could join in a "family run").
Despite Jasmin looking the most tired I've ever seen her (for her that is), she was still clipping along at a decent pace. She had 3 supporters heading off on Leg 4 with her, and I was a bit worried about whether I might actually be a hindrance rather than a help, so I agree to meet them halfway through the leg.
On top of Y Gyrn
After seeing her off, Ant Bethell and I drove to the end of the leg and ran back in to meet them on top of Y Gyrn. We got there well ahead of schedule and so watched the sun setting on the various hills around (resulting in the mosquitoes coming out as the temperature dropped), before spotting the 4 figures pop over Moel Lefn and head towards us.
I had carried up lucozade, water and some food up in my pack...and actually felt useful as Jasmin wanted the lucozade as soon as we met her, ate some of the food I had (admittedly she wasn't up to eating much) and I replenished the water stores of the other support runners!
The chat we had as we climbed up Mynydd-y-Ddwy-elor must have been one of the most surreal I've ever had, as Ant was telling us how much it cost him to buy a box of 200 dead baby male chicks to feed his eagle-owl, but hopefully it distracted Jasmin from the effort she was having to put in.
Beautiful views while waiting for Jasmin
I wasn't sure how the section along the Nantlle Ridge would go as it was a bit more "technical" than my normal running, but I knew that if I dropped back slightly on those sections, then I'd catchup as soon as it was runnable or involved any climbing. This is, in fact, exactly what happened, and I actually really enjoyed going along there in the fading light as the views and the sunset were spectacular.
We all headed down from Y Garn towards the forest in the valley on slightly different lines through the bracken and grass. I nearly collapsed with shock when I realised that Jasmin was actually following my line (though I'm sure this was entirely accidental - I just happened to be in front of her the way she wanted to run from the summit to the bottom). As it got dark, we saw one of the next support group shining a torch out from the treeline to help us with our heading, and Ant ran slightly ahead with a bright headlamp on so we could aim for him.
Ant watching the sun set over the hills
Once we hit the trees, it was a straightforward run along forestry roads (with a sneaky little shortcut on single trail that nearly caught me out in the dark) to the handover point. This section seemed a lot longer to me than it had on the way out, so I can only imagine how Jasmin must've felt. It wasn't a time for much inane chat, but more to just check my pace and remain alongside her for anything she wished - silent support, lucozade, food, silly chat or whatever. I'd switched her headtorch on and given it to her as we hit the trees and the light from it was so good that I didn't feel the need to put mine on at all. Two of the guys were running with/just ahead of us and Sarah was a few yards up the road with her headtorch on so we could see if any corners or inclines were coming. We'd sent Ant on ahead with Jasmin's requests for the pitstop and next leg, so they were ready when we came in.
A brief change of clothing and a speed-feed later, we waved her off on the final leg. She was running more to feel than to a schedule, but although she'd started Leg 4 10mins down on record pace, she'd maintained this and so set out on Leg 5 with the same deficit. Jasmin can dig deeper than anyone else when it matters and, knowing she had Konrad with her, we were hopeful that she'd make the time up (especially as she'd said beforehand that there was some slack in the last leg).
By the time I'd changed and had some food it was after 8pm, so I reluctantly decided to head home (well it was a 5 hour drive and I'd to be at work at 8am) rather than wait to see her in, but I got a jubilant text a few hours later. She'd done it....in an amazing 18 hours and 33 minutes, taking almost half an hour off the previous ladies' record....!!!!
How amazing is that.....not only smashing the records of all 3 Rounds, but to do them all within a few short months....and how privileged have I been to have been able to witness it from so close-up!! Wow!! How to end the weekend with a big grin on your face (and I'm sure that Jasmin will have had an even bigger one, no matter how tired she was at the end!!)....