It’s been an unusual week. Unusual in the sense that it’s included a lot of familiarity with both familiar and unfamiliar situations and people. I say week, I mean two instances, just that they happened to be in the same week. First, I went to the Like the Wind Magazine birthday bash. Secondly I went to the Maverick Hampshire race.
At both events I’ve been surrounded by a ridiculous amount of runners and adventure seekers. All with their own passions and stories and experiences. Its been overwhelmingly inspiring.
Before I’d even arrived at The Stance shop where the Like the Wind magazine was being hosted I’d exchange knowing smiles and head nods with other runners. We’d recognised each other but had not met in person until this point. This continued inside and throughout the night at Stance (where I spent a discounted fortune on socks!!) and I made many new connections that night. It was quite surreal with so many people congratulating me and asking me about the Trans Gran Canaria trip.
Two days later and I was on my way to Hampshire with the Wild Trail Runners. They’d swapped out their monthly trail run for an entry at the Maverick Trail Division event. I’d never been to one of the Maverick events before. I’d heard, and seen many, good things about these events and knew a lot of other people heading there too.
And so the theme from Thursday night continued. After registering and collecting my bib I dashed about to exchange some quick hellos and hugs with various others I’d spotted. Friends I knew and those I was meeting in person for the first time. Whilst I’d expected and was seeking out these meetings, one in particular stood out. In the crowd someone came towards me, Perkins! Sarah was there way back when in 2015 I ran my second marathon in Kilimanjaro. We travelled and climbed Kili together and I think I’d seen her just once since. That was most unexpected.
Time had gone by, group photos had been posed for and taken. It was time to run. There were three distances (short, medium and long). Most of the group were bashing out the half marathon ‘long’ distance. We set off. Immediately it became clear, it was muddy. Very muddy. I realised I hadn’t brought spare socks. I don’t know why, I wasn’t expecting mud. No explanation or excuse. I just hadn’t thought about it. I had prepared though. I turned up with my usual garb and was, spare socks aside, prepped for an ultra. It’s the norm now. I’m used to carrying all the gear I might need.
Initially the course was inevitably packed with runners. There were those I knew from Wild TR and NSL all around me. Out on the right Adam (Wild Tr coach) was snapping pictures. By this point my feet were already soaked and muddy. Runners ran to the sides of the bogs. Probably because it was easier than running trough the mud but also probably to avoid getting muddy. Like many others I ploughed straight through. There were hours of this ahead. It wouldn’t make a difference now.
I could feel my ankle. The pain I experienced over Christmas came back after Trans Gran Canaria. I’ve run once in the two weeks since. Recovery has been great apart from this niggle. Today was a test. And it was uncomfortable just a few miles in. Probably a warning sign and a fail of the test but I kept it in mind but also out of my mind at the same time, I wouldn’t dwell on it. It wasn’t bad enough to stop running. And that became my mantra for the run. Don’t stop running. I’d heard we had about 500m of elevation to cover. That’s nothing. A few little lumps is all. So I told myself I’d run the whole thing. Don’t stop. I’m so accustomed to walking hills now that today I decided to challenge that approach. Show myself I can and I will. I wouldn’t run particularly fast. Just what was comfortable. Making sure I wasn’t gasping for breath or heavy breathing at any point. Just don’t stop.
The course split for the short course to peel off and loop back to their finish. We continued on through the mud. There were lots of little dips where you’d run down and immediately back up a muddy incline. often over little wooden planks covered in mud. I struggled for grip at times. I didn’t see anyone else stack it though so was confident watching the runners ahead that the ground was stable enough.
I think we were about 6 miles in when I looked at my watch for the one and only time. My ankle was dominating my thoughts so I wanted to see how far in we were. Half way. if nothing else I could count down the distance from here. Up ahead in a field I could see the black kit of a runner, I couldn’t be sure but I thought it was Paul from the Wild TR crew. Out of the field we hit a small road section and a slight incline up a tarmac path between some farmer’s fields. On the left, as I got closer to Paul, some sheep were going wild, running and jumping back and forth closer to the runners. They were excited about all the activity going on around them?!
A little while later we hit a downhill section that was pure mud. Behind me a carnicross runner was chomping at my heels, I let them pass as the dog had so much enthusiasm. I think it was dragging its owner through! After this the route was flat and hard in comparison. My feet started to dry out nicely and then the route split again. We were on the last section of the long course now. A mental milestone where you can start to visualise how much is left. The Volunteer directed us left and up hill we would go. It was short but steep. Groans were coming from the many runners ahead of me. I joked as I blitzed past. I enjoyed this. I felt so speedy as I tip-toed up the incline whilst others bent forwards and pressed on the quads to power up. I kept thinking to myself this is nothing compared to inclines of two weeks ago. It filled me with confidence.
What goes up must come down right?! Soon we were bumbling back down a muddy hill. At the bottom A volunteer cheered me safely across a road and I ran past the aid station. I had everything I needed. I heard them say 6 kms to the finish. I didn’t need to stop for that. I did have a sense of familiarity with the volunteer at the road crossing though. I couldn’t place her. She was on my mind.
The course was quite spread out now. As I trudged through the mud I moved to one side to let a guy passed me. Shortly after this I saw him stop up ahead. I urged him onward as I’m sure that’s where I saw another runner in the distance go. He stopped and pointed to the left and we both saw some blue tap on a tree. It must have been left then. I questioned if I saw a runner go straight on, he wasn’t sure. We went left. It felt wrong. After a short while we turned back, at the turning about 10 other runners carried on straight. Great.
It wasn’t long before we caught them up and there was another hill. I zoomed off, They all let me passed again as I bounded up the incline as they walked. A short stint through some brambles lay in weight before more mud. Lots of mud, probably the muddiest part! I caught up with a female runner and we laughed as we both slid and got caught up to knee deep in parts. We were all smiles though. I said my goodbyes and carried on, seeing another group of runners in the distance. I vaguely recognised Paul, one of the Maverick Ambassadors, from behind and gradually caught up with him just after the course rejoined with the Medium course route. There were a lot more runners now. I briefly chatted to Paul who was feeling a little unwell before leaving him on the last climb. Again I tip-toed and weaved my way up and through all the runners. I stopped running momentarily as I reached the summit as I was slipping and sliding. We couldn’t be far now. Less than a km for sure. I started up again.
I could see the finish line up in the distance, we just had to cross the field in which we started. I don’t know why, but I undid my bag straps at this point. It made no sense at the time and it makes no sense now. I’m not sure what crossed my mind. I jogged it in to the finish and was greeted by the giant that is Spencer. I gave him a big sweaty hug in exchange for a medal and a beer. We’d met out in Chamonix after the TDS (him) and CCC (me) and hadn’t seen each other since. After a brief catch up I grabbed a Tribe bad and an Ice coffee and went and joined with those already finished. I also found a tap and was able to clean my shoes and socks.
Chatting away at the finish line the familiar unfamiliarities continued as I met more people whom I vaguely knew. Gif appeared with a box of beer – she’d won the female short course race (she joked all the others had gotten lost and she hadn’t), good on her, she loves her beer! Afterwards the Wild TR group headed to the pub and we all shared our stories.
Travelling home I reminisced to myself. Firstly, seeing the Instagram stories and posts answered the question I had mid race – Sarah. Sarah was the cheering volunteer at the bottom of the hill whom I hadn’t recognised. Probably good for her, she would have had a very sweaty hug if I did!
Then onto my feelings during the race. I tried to recall and recount how I felt. Yes, my ankle hurt. It didn’t hurt in a way that worried me though. I felt good to some degree. I recalled enjoyment and having fun. I didn’t push it and I felt comfortable. Yet I was running faster than I am used too. Probably, as a race, the fastest I’d run since Berlin over six months ago! I started slow and definitely got stronger as the race progressed (probably as my body is now used to longer distances where the race doesn’t begin until tens of kms in?). I questioned my prep again. Why I turned up packed for an ultra. Spare kit. Emergency supplies. Medical kits and the like. What was I thinking? I’m too used to days out I think. This was a half marathon. A supported half marathon at that. I enjoyed the mud. Besides the fact that it felt like I was running on highway of mattresses, the mud was ice cold. It was soothing on my ankle and probable helped a little with the pain management.
My takeaways were that it was an incredibly fun day. Very social with lots of great friends to interact and share the day with. I enjoyed the run (recognising parts of the Serpent Trail from a race last year) and felt there’s still a bit of speed in these ultra legs!