Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Calderdale Way Relay Part 2: the race

Team A and B leg 5-ers

As the race date of December 13 approached, I felt fairly confident I'd done as much training as I could have in the time available. I'd come a long way since the recce and I was beginning to feel fit again. I'd cut a bit off my October 10k time (it is now 47.17) and shaved a bit off my 5 mile time too (now 36.34 - getting closer to my PB of 35.17). Although my hill training hadn't been great, I'd done at least some, hard, off-road hill running with my team-mate, Leah, and made a couple of the MKAC sessions where I had done comparatively OK. I'd also been keeping up the OURC Fartleks on Tuesday lunchtimes and had even done two sessions of the relentless 800 m efforts around Woughton field (excellent training for the body, as the recoveries are brutally short, and for the mind, as there's nothing but pain to experience)!

I went up a couple of days beforehand to stay with Gary's parents and had a wonderful time being generally fed and cared for. We had a lovely drive out to the Dales, and I bought some last-minute essentials (compass and whistle, which you must have or your whole team may face disqualification)!

On Saturday, Glyn and Janette dropped me off at the team hostel, which was a far cry from the cosiness of Nelmes Towers. After a long trip down a precipitous and snaking mud track, the hostel was found to be a breeze block building with no-one there apart from some grumpy teenagers and a surly youth leader. Eventually we located the key, and opened up the building to find a barren interior. But the place was wonderfully warm, so G and J felt happier leaving me there. Five minutes passed, and Andy, Annick and Julie arrived, muddy and fresh from their recce. They seemed exhilarated and keen for the race the following day. Soon everyone else arrived, and after tea and cake and a little physics we headed off, with torches, to the pub. Dinner took ages but was tasty. Everyone was very sensible and headed back early to bed - but we waited up to cheer Jim Miller in for our team photo.

I slept well, surprisingly (only a baby, regular snuffle-snore from one of my room-mates threatened to disturb me). When Leah and I got up, most people had already set off for the start of their leg ... so we lounged (as far as it was possible) and ate breakfast. We then set off, and parked up at Whinstalls for registration. We knew we were going to have to start with the 'masses' as the MKAC B Team were never going to be fast enough to make the leg 5 cut-off time. Unfortunately, this meant one hour hanging about in an exposed area in the bleak cold. This had its interest, however, as there was plenty to look at and race atmosphere to soak up. Fell runners look amazing. They are really wiry but muscular at the same time, and I was reminded of deers rutting as the men and women whipped off their over-trousers to reveal threateningly muscular, lean legs. I looked a fool in a clown-like hat and brand-new, entirely untested off-road shoes, which, to add insult to injury, were LUMINOUS yellow. There was lots of pre-race chat, which was actually very friendly, despite the threat of clashing antlers.

Anyway, our A team just met the cut-off, which was exciting, and then we, the leg 5 B team, set off with the masses. The rhythm was halting to begin with, as there were probably about 100 starting. The first mile or so was spent running slowly and queuing at stiles (of which there are, apparently, 40 on this 7.5 mile leg)! After that, things spread out quickly and there were few in front and behind. The race is a bit of a blur. I remember some brilliantly fun downhill leaping a couple of miles in, bright sunlight against short green grass and white, dried grass tops, blue-black reflections from the scant road sections and then lots and lots of very deep mud (which absorbs leg energy at every step). I tackled the cobbled hill part of the race heroically, and was proud to run the whole thing - even overtaking a few. However, perhaps it was this immense energy expenditure that led me, about 5 miles in, to rapidly fade. I had also definitely made some serious errors.
  • First, I had inadequate hill training.

  • Second, I had underestimated how much energy is needed to climb 1500 m. Normally I wouldn't bring food on a short race like this (I only use energy drinks or jelly babies for half marathon and above) but breakfast at 8 and no lunch with a race start at 1 pm meant that I was totally drained at 5 miles.
Leah was immensely encouraging, however, and I somehow dragged my drained body up the final hills. Somewhat distracting, as well, was a couple in possession of a prized baton, who kept overtaking us on the flat (while we overtook them on the hills). With this to focus the mind, and with Leah's rousing words, I found a second wind emerging from within (and it wasn't indigestion). As we arrived on the final road section, I began to realise that I could manage a fast finish. The feet hit welcoming, inflexible tarmac, and I was even beginning to close the gap between me and Leah. I focused the mind again. From the recce, and with Leah's reminding words, I knew I had under a mile so I could easily compartmentalise this into an imaginary 'interval' from my training sessions. I also knew it was mainly flat, so could build up speed without risk. I also had a glimmering notion of tactics. There was a narrow lane at the very finish of the course, so it was crucial that Leah and I entered this together, and before the couple with the baton who had been chasing us. So, with these visions in mind, I set to the challenge, focusing on Leah's pink jacket just ahead. The man with the baton was challenging us - and gave us a focus for our speed, but he couldn't go ahead as he needed to slow down for his partner (both must finish together). So I nipped into the lane before him, with Leah behind, and we funnelled down the final lane. We arrived - elated - to see the Team A leg 5-ers, and some others, waiting for us. It was so nice to see them. Merrian gave me some much-needed energy drink and I sat down thankfully on a welcoming wall. Team A had done the leg in 1.15, and we had done it in 1.24.47, which was about 6 mins faster than our recce. We were pleased.

We put on as many layers as we could and drove to the leg 6 (and race) finish to find most of the rest of our team. We were covered in mud, hungry and exhausted, but the challenge was exhilarating, new, and finished. I felt so pleased to have been part of such an exciting event.

The finish

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Apparently, it is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception today. Or at least, that is what my Grandma, Frances, used to tell me (it also happened to be her birthday - she died one year ago, the day before Gary and I ran the Amsterdam Marathon).

This is a photo of her mother (also Frances) with her husband, George. We don't know who the baby is. Her mother (my Great Grandmother) vanished into an institution for her whole life, and so my grandma (and, indeed my father and his sister) never knew her. We only recently discovered this and don't know why. The reason given (that she went 'religious' and lit a lot of candles after her husband's war-related death) doesn't seem to add up.

This year the brevity of life has hit me hard. I want to make sure I pay proper attention to keeping up with family as well as friends.

Look at that seagull and its cubs!

Remark made by a Glaswegian security guard. It will never stop being funny.