I had always had this race on my radar for this year, having done the half last year and enjoyed the course.
Although I had got a good block of training in earlier in the year, I’ve lost my mojo a little in the last month and haven’t been feeling very well in the past couple of weeks so I was even considering dropping down to the half or 10k.
I woke up on Sunday morning to be greeted by persistent rain and cold conditions. To be honest I prefer running longer distances in this type of weather as least I know dehydration isn’t going to be a problem and it wasn’t too windy.
Hanging around before the race start I got talking to a guy who informed me (and everyone else around) that he has spent the previous night sleeping in a phone box because he couldn’t find any local accommodation (the extent of his efforts appearing to be limited to the pub beside race HQ). Yeah its characters like this that makes your day.
After the race briefing 15 of us made our way to the start line at the bottom of the monument to be set off by Tim, one of the race organisers. I had decided before the race that I wasn’t going to put any pressure on myself for this race, or aim for a specific time – I just wanted to enjoy it as much as I could. For that reason I set off on a deliberately comfortable pace and climbed to the top of the monument before dropping down the steep descent down some steps and onto a wide path.
I was leading by this point, but a few minutes after joining the path I had a bad feeling I’d went the wrong way. From last year I can remember the route going pretty much straight down the bank to a group of houses which I was now running away from. My suspicions were confirmed when I reached a road which I definitely couldn’t remember from last year and a stile with no tape. Damn, how could I make a mistake like this so early in the race.
Turning round I could see that a number of other runners had followed me and were now looking around bemused. There was only one thing for it – back up the way we’d came to find the right turn off. I could now see other runners half way down the bank, either they had seen us coming back up and realised our mistake or just been more observant and took the correct turn off first time. We all piled over a style and set off in hot pursuit and I found myself in the strange situation of being in both first and last place at different points in a race.
By the time we had reached the bottom of the bank and the first crossing of the bridge I had regained the lead again, and I began to wonder if I’d be able to stay there. I ran the half marathon last year and was leading for around the first 4 miles, but I couldn’t sustain it and Steve Rankin passed me to win the race (although I did manage to hold on for 2nd place).
There’s a little loop round to the left and then the path hugs the river before climbing round the edge of the waterfowl park and dropping back down to the river and “Tim’s favourite bit”. I’m not sure this would be Tim’s favourite bit if he was actually racing the marathon, especially the 2nd time round and it certainly wasn’t mine. It’s basically a very technical single track muddy section of just over a mile which involves steep ascents/descents, off camber running with sheer drops down to the river below & thick vegetation both on the ground and above/at the sides which is especially a problem for someone as tall as myself. It also ensured I was soaked through by the time I fought my way through it all.
Some easier running followed, although I did take a small miss-step where the trail runs parallel to the A1231, taking a line through some tall and wet grass instead of the parallel trail which I thought was blocked by a metal fence the first time round.
Coming out of that section I was greeted by the “happy station” marshals, and they certainly were happy, clapping and cheering me on. The route then doubles back on itself back to the bridge where some of the runners from the other race were crossing in the opposite direction.
Its then time for the loop round the river on the south side, hugging it for a few miles before you are greeted with a sign proclaiming “Say goodbye to your lungs”. Yeah, I remember this from last year – the climb up to Offerton village. Steep at first, then even steeper up a seemingly never ending set of steps until you finally reach the top. Or at least you think you’re a the top, but the climb then goes on, not as steep as the steps but still a challenge before the village is reached.
This is where I had my only drink of water during the race, half a cup of it. I didn’t really feel like I needed it but though I would take advantage while I could.
At this point you are more or less at the same elevation as the monument but agonisingly you have to drop back down again to the old railway track. This is a very long straight section & looking back I couldn’t see anyone behind me so I thought I must have a canny lead.
Then another big climb , up “mountain goat hill” toward the monument and the path I had descended earlier.
And then I was there, at the top of the monument! – I’d done it!
Erm, except for one slight detail
This was only the first lap – I’d got it all to do again….
So back down the path, taking the right turn this time – how could I have missed it the first time (unless someone had removed the tape, which Tim mentioned people had done before the race, someone even having deliberately moved some tape to send people the wrong way).
I’d say that’s the biggest problem with a race like this, because it’s still relatively new and has a small field (especially for the marathon) you can easily find yourself running alone for long stretches and have to be constantly vigilant. All races rely on volunteers and it would be extremely difficult to fully marshal the full course, especially when you consider they might need to be out there for over 8 hours (the marathon cut off time).
Having said that, I’d say the race was very well organised with marshals around the key points on the course where you could go wrong, and I’d prefer this problem to the carnage of something like the Blaydon race or Great North Run where you’re packed in like sardines and it’s almost impossible to run for the first hundred metres or more.
On the way back down I passed runners coming back up the other way from the other races including Chris Redfern who was doing the 10k (and put in a fantastic performance to come 6th overall and 1st V50).
I then took my 2nd diversion of the day, missing another turn off to arrive at the bridge from the opposite direction, not as disastrous as the first but still adding a little extra to my route.
After crossing the bridge for a second time I was faced with my next challenge – hundreds of bike riders, obviously on some sort of organised event which resulted in a few close calls, especially on some of the steeper sections.
I was now around 16 miles into the race, and it’s always around this point I know if I’ve overcooked it and how much I’m going to suffer for the rest of the race. My plan to conserve energy at the start seemed to be working as although I felt tired I could still comfortably hold the pace I was running at.
Back round the river again ad past the marshals for the 2nd time. In fact some of them I went past 4 times on the sections that loop back on themselves.
One of them shouted some encouragement – “you’re doing really well – only 4 of you have come through so far”. “How far back is 2nd” I asked. “Miles” was the response “At least 10 minutes”.
Back to the bridge again and more shouts of encouragement from the marshals “You’re on the last section now, only 5 or 6 miles to go”. Hmm, I had about 22 miles on my Garmin so I should have about 4 miles to go, but I knew the diversion at the start would mean I’d run more than 26.2. Surely not another 6 though….
I tried to push the thought to the back of my mind and kept telling myself I just had 4 more miles to go. It’s at this point I tried to break the remainder of the race up to get through the mental battle.
Right, this stretch along the river is easy running, not take me long to get thought this.
Ok, yeah it’s a hill but it breaks the pace up a bit you can run slower.
You’re at the top of the hill now, easy descent to the bottom.
It’s all flat along this railway track, just keep going its almost over.
Yes another hill, but this one’s the last one- one more push and you’re there.
And so I finally got to “Robs favourite bit” – the finish line at the top of the monument (literally on the monument itself). 27.1 miles on my Garmin in 3:40:44 and almost 1,800ft of ascent– that’s more than many fell races.
I would have hung around for a while to welcome 2nd place but it was pretty cold up there once I stopped running and I could feel myself beginning to seize up so I retreated to the warmth of race HQ below.
So my first race victory other than a parkrun – probably the smallest field I’ve raced in but still nice to take the win. It’s a great event and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone – I’ll certainly be back next year.
Finally for anyone reading this who followed me the wrong way – apologies, but at least you’ll have a good chance of beating your time if you do the race again next year, and you can also now say you have ran an ultra!
Here’s my Strava map of the route for anyone who wants to reccie the course and take the right directions https://www.strava.com/activities/325195734
Full results can be found here http://www.trailoutlaws.com/results.html