Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Not just a Fair Weather runner....

My fell running friends always joke that roadrunners are really "fair weather runners", whereas they are as "hard as nails "and go out whatever the weather. That has certainly seemed to be the case on the mountain rounds that I have assisted on recently, as I've seen (or "not seen" due to the weather or the time of day) fog, rain, sleet, snow, hail, wind etc.
However, I think that the Netherhall 10 proved that road races can also be run in rather "less than perfect" conditions.

Not the flattest race profile
The night before the race, there was talk of it being cancelled due to the forecast (rain and wind), ie the presence of Storm Ewan, but luckily the organiser's decided to go ahead with it. The race does not lend itself to fast times on the best of days as it is rather "undulating" to say the least, and as it was also doubling up as the British Masters' 10 mile Championships, it was more about positions than finish times anyway.

Whilst driving down to Cumbria, I looked at the horizontal rain out of the car and rather wondered why I was going to put myself through it, but I was keen to see how I was actually running, as I felt that I might have become stronger from the hills (though maybe no faster). 

With clubmate Kelly pre-race
The race starts with a 400m stretch of road that is slightly downhill so as usual people hared off away from me, but then we turned a 90 degree bend and were faced with about 2 miles of steady uphill. Almost as soon as we started to climb, I started to pick some of the fast-starting men off.....and this trend seemed to continue right up to the summit. This did wonders for my confidence, as it is always tempting to give up in the first few miles of a race, especially if they are a hard slog.

At the top of that climb, some of the guys moved away slightly as they opened up their stride on the descent, but I made up the gap as soon as we started back uphill again. It became a game of cat and mouse for me, seeing how many I could close up on before each downhill section......though luckily nobody actually passed me on a downhill. As I caught 1 guy up, he seemed determined to run by my side, which is not something I enjoy  in a race, especially when we are running on narrow country roads that are still open to traffic. I would try to get ahead of him, and could hear him grunting as he increased his effort to stay there, so I would try to drop back, only to find him slowing down as well. It didn't feel very safe (especially as I got elbowed a few times, even when they weren't cars coming) and it also stopped me running the line I would have liked to take. 

Crossing the (wet) line
I finally broke free at about 6.5 miles when there was another steeper climb, and from then on I was alone right until the finish. The last 3 miles were along the main road, and so there were marshals kindly standing out (well, some were sitting in the boot of their cars with the door up) in the rain guiding us on and off pavements to ensure our safety. I'm told that those last few miles are generally the fastest of the race, as they are slightly downhill and often run with a tailwind, but unfortunately the direction of the gale-force gusts meant that it didn't really feel like downhill to me. 

Masters' Gold!
I was so thankful to turn the last corner and run the final short ascent into the finish as I was doing a fairly good impression of a drowned rat (though luckily I finished before the hail started)  and my legs were almost a filthy as if I'd run a cross country race. I had no idea how I'd actually run in the race, but as it turned out, I ran a decent time and finished well up the field overall, earning a nice Masters gold medal into the bargain. Never mind the results though....I just knew that the faster I ran, the sooner I'd get into the lovely hot showers, and the sooner I could get stuck into the huge buffet provided by the organising club.

Alnwick Castle
The next weekend I was talked into a cross country race (sold to me as a nice run at Alnwick Castle.....and that one didn't sound like it would be the kindest of conditions either as people were suggesting the welly boots were the footwear of choice. It was the last XC of the league and we needed 4 ladies to finish to score a team result. Only 4 of us turned up on the day so the pressure was on for us all to finish, especially as we were only 3 points ahead of our local rival ladies' team.

The DCH ladies' team
I was paranoid about the start, as I hate the different pack start times (ie about 85% of the field goes off together, then about 10% start 1min 40 later, with the final 5% a further minute and 40s afterwards). I was put in the "fast pack" for this season, which means I feel very exposed at the start. Only a handful of ladies go off then, most of whom sprint off (yup, I'm never going to be a fast starter), and so I feel that everybody watching is just feeling sorry for me and thinking "Bless her for giving it a go!"

I worked my way up to about 3rd in my pack by the time we caught some of the back runners of the other groups....maybe half a mile in, and then it got rather chaotic to try to work out what was going on. You have to try to pass some of the slower runners, and I feel rather embarrassed at doing this as you also want to encourage them and definitely don't want to knock anyone out of the way. As we were climbing up some soggy muddy slopes, I think my strength (again rather than speed) helped as I moved into second position from my start group. However, we then had a very muddy, crowded section and so I let people other people have right of way and slipped back a bit. 

Nearing the end of Lap 1
The final section of each lap was a rather steep descent, which reminded me of a fell race.....the only difference being that fell shoes have lugs on the heels whereas XC spikes are just on the forefoot. Still, I let myself go a bit on the downhill and found that most of the other ladies were rather nervous to do so. On the second lap, I concentrated on trying to avoid any of the "fast pack" overtaking me, whilst closing down some of the early starters. It was all I could do to keep pushing on that steep descent the second time as I was sure I was going to get caught. 

Into the finish - phew!
All too soon, the finish line loomed....I guess I ran out of race to move into the top 3 but I was happy enough to be second fastest on the course and 4th over the line (again I had no clue at the time so had to wait until the results came out). The biggest satisfaction was due to the fact that all 4 of us finished, and although we dropped 2 points on our rivals, we finished the league a mere point ahead of them.....a good bit of friendly rivalry and teamwork definitely spurs everyone to run to the best of their ability!

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