Although my home town of Northampton isn’t exactly flat and there are some sizeable hills to train on in the surrounding countryside there’s certainly nothing that could be described as mountainous or even fell like so when I found out about a fell race that took place less than 50 miles away I jumped at the chance to compete. At least I tried to but the event only has 350 places and they sell out rapidly.
3 years in a row I’d missed out then by chance I was scrolling through Facebook back in November when I saw a post come up saying that the entry was opening in 10 minutes time. Finger on the button and cash card ready I swooped in and finally got my place.
On a sunny but cold February morning I made the short journey across the East Midlands knowing a big challenge was in store in terms of the course but what I didn’t really know was what the standard of competition would be like or how my legs would cope with 14 miles of hills.
We started with a lap around the sports field of the school where the race HQ was located and I tucked in amongst a lead pack of up to 10 runners before we headed down a narrow path which stung everyone out a little. I found myself in fifth place for the next mile or so and I was feeling quite smooth in the muddy conditions.
The course then opened up as we entered a beautiful county park with the landscape of an old castle ruins set on top of the hill. This for me was where the going got tough. It wasn’t the incline I was struggling with but the terrain underfoot. The mixture of overgrown hay like brush over boggy ground was really sapping my energy. Several runners started to overtake me in the quarter mile before the climb really began. A few more went past before I started to descend down the other side.
Back in thick mud I was only roughly three miles in yet I’d already learnt that firstly I’d gone off too fast and secondly the standard of competition I was unsure about was in fact pretty high.
I knew that there was a long way to go so I made the decision to just relax and run comfortably for the next few miles. This really helped and by mile six I was back on track and feeling good. The next really significant hill came and I was able to run it all and put a gap between myself and a guy I’d been running with for some time. From this point on I didn’t get another bad spell, in fact I went from strength to strength.
The miles flew by as did the hills. I tried to take in some of the stunning scenery as I looked into the distance at my next target. I found myself on my own for quite long periods but every now and then as the course opened up I got a glimpse at runners in the distance and as the race went on one by one they got closer. The lonely wasn’t an issue though as there was great support on route. Most of the time I wasn’t sure weather the words of encouragement were coming from people who were just out on a Sunday stroll, of which there were plenty, or actual supporters but all were very kind in there words which contributed to keeping my spirits as high as the peaks of the hills.
Just past the ten mile mark the course began to go back on itself for the first time. Because of this I was expecting to go back up the steepest part of the route that I had struggled with so early on but this time the markings were set around the hill. The masochistic part of me was slightly disappointed about this but I used that to push my pace on further.
I now had a clear view of the runner one place in front of me and although I wasn’t sure, I had been told that I was in 21st place, so a top 20 placing was within reach. With two miles to go I was really encouraged with how much running my legs still felt like they had in them. The gap was still considerable but I knew if I didn’t close it down I’d feel like I’d not given my all so I went for it.
With roughly a mile to go we reached the penultimate mud heavy field and to my surprise and delight my efforts to catch the guy in front had also reeled another one in. Two runners were there for the taking and surely that top 20 place that had motivated me for some time now.
At last I passed the back of the green vest I’d been staring at for miles and as I turned the final corner entering back into the school playing field with just one hundred meters of the home straight remaining I also went past the other guy. He put up a strong fight but my surprisingly fresh legs brought me to the finish with a good sprint.
In the end my watch told me that I’d covered 14.26 miles and 1,657 feet of elevation gain in 1 hour 43 minutes. I waited up until midnight to get the news that my calculations (or those of the gentleman who informed me) were correct and my official finishing position was 19th. I’m happy with a positive run which has acted as great training in my marathon preparations and for other challenges as the year progresses. No medal for this one but a most welcomed cup and tea and piece of cake.