The Piddle Wood Plod is a race that I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years. But each year something else seemed to get in the way. In 2016, we were on holiday. Last year, it came the week after a string of three race weekends in a row. The physical toll of four races in four weeks didn’t really bother me. I just didn’t think that with a two-month-old son, I could push Lolly that far!!
To be honest, I didn’t really know how this race was likely to go. I ran the Crewkerne 10k the previous weekend, and did a midweek ‘race’ with Minehead RC which involved over 750 feet of climbing. On the other hand, I hadn’t done much else. Coming into race-day I’d only run 13.6 miles in the week to that point, and nothing at all Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Not great for marathon training, but a nice ‘taper’ for a 10k.
Although I hadn’t run the race before, I know the first and last part of the course pretty well, as it makes up part of the Herepath, which I have run reasonably often. I also had plenty of Strava data to examine, as plenty of my club-mates have run the race in previous years. I spent a little while examining their elevation and pace graphs to get a feel for the course. It is essentially a lollipop variant. About 1.5 miles out, then two, different loops, then the same 1.5 miles back. The first loop had a gentle climb, then a steep climb before a descent, while the second loop had a steep climb followed by a steady climb. Looking at the paces of my club-mates, all of whom are quicker than me, I noticed they’d all had to walk the steep climbs. I immediately decided that there was no point in even trying to run those parts. Race plan: complete.
The morning of the race was a little different to normal. With a relatively late 11 am start, and only being about four miles from home, we had time to go to junior parkrun as a family before we headed over to the race. Even after doing this, we made it to the race in plenty of time to get a good parking spot. I had a pretty relaxed pre-race: collect number, chat, get changed, gentle warm-up with Dom. As we gathered for the start, I initially stood a couple of metres back from the start, but soon took stock that there weren’t that many obviously quick runners around, and shuffled forwards.
As we launched off, a leading pack quickly emerged. I was controlling my pace, holding myself back from the danger of the too-quick start. A second pack soon formed behind me, though I could sense that some in the group wanted to go quicker. Who was I kidding, so did I – it was taking all my self-control not to. We turned off the road onto a narrow path through a field, and any thoughts of passing people were gone. I caught up with a runner who was obviously out of position, but just held pace behind him, happy for another excuse to not bomb off too quick. Once we were out of the field and over the road, I made my way past him, while at the same time a few from the pack eased past me. I wasn’t too concerned at this point – my focus remained on controlling my pace for the opening mile and a half, and then see how things went on the loops.
Despite my ‘controlled’ pace, I remained in touch with those around me. The leading pack had disappeared into the distance, but everyone else was very much in play. As the course got a bit more technical and a bit steeper, though still very runable, I started to ease back past people, and soon built up a gap. I’d hoped that Dom might come with me, and was worried that on my own I might soon be running a very lonely race. Thankfully, as I continued up the hill, a fluorescent racing vest came back into view. Josh, who’d done the 34-mile Dartmoor Discovery the weekend before, looked like he was struggling a bit.
I gradually closed in on Josh as we climbed the hill, though my effort was put into perspective as I was passed by another runner on the climb. When the route turned a sharp left, I knew it was the first of the short-sharp hills, and dropped straight into a walk. I’d far rather lose a few seconds to those around me than destroy my legs, particularly this early on. As it was, Caroline behind me had done the same, and I wasn’t losing much time on Josh ahead. Nearing the top, it started to level off, and I trotted back into a run. As the course dropped into a descent however, the tables turned. I followed the inov-8 mantra. Feet first. Head will follow. I passed both the runner who’d overtaken me (who was in a Taunton Deane Aquathlon vest, so in my head was dubbed ‘the triathlete’), and Josh. I expected Josh to come back past me as the route flattened out again, and I wasn’t disappointed. However, rather than him run on beyond me, I was able to use him to push a bit more, and we fell into stride.
When we reached the start of the loop again, we were directed back up for the second loop, and I was buoyed by the call of ‘6th, 7th and 8th’ from the marshal. Although I’d have realised it had I considered, I was shocked to find I was so high in the field. The second lap bore much in common with the first; the triathlete was strong up the hill and went past, while I’d let Josh lead up the hill too, while I concentrated on conserving my energy with a walk up the steep start of the hill. As it levelled off, I kept pace behind Josh, and then he gallantly moved to the side to let me past at the top of the descent. I flung myself down the hill again, though just slightly slower than the first lap apparently! The triathlete, who I’d overtaken on the descent, came back past me on the flat, but I was slightly surprised to see Danny, from Minehead, not too far ahead. He’s far quicker than me on the flat, but on these off-road, hillier courses, I tend to be a bit closer to him.
Although I’d thought that Josh might come back at me on the flat, positions were more or less set from here, and in the end, my finish was pretty lonely, for a time of 43:50.
The race was really well organised, and that didn’t finish at the end of the race. Thurlbear School PTA had provided an amazing array on the cake stand, and a barbecue too. The presentation was delayed somewhat, but I think this was a tactical ploy to give people more time to buy food! Unlike many races, where lots of people disappear quite soon after the race, it seemed like everyone was hanging around, so I’m guessing the PTA did pretty well out of it.
Considering the race only cost £10 as an EA registered runner, the haul was pretty impressive: a plastic drinks bottle, a buff, a medal… and a bottle of cider! It’s no wonder this race always sells out – definitely one for my calendar again next year.