This post originally appeared on Ben’s old blog, Running From the Physio.
Yesterday I ran in my first real multi-terrain race. I did not have ideal preparation for it: a week before the race, I didn’t own any trail shoes. The night before the race I went out for a meal, drank half a bottle of red wine and ate a spicy pizza. The day of the race, I ate another pizza for lunch, and then spent most of the afternoon lounging on my bed, reading, with indigestion. All of these things are my own fault. Not so much my own fault was that I had been ill the previous week, meaning that in the nine days leading up to the race, I had run 3.1 miles: one parkrun.
I remedied the lack of trail running shoes with spot of shopping the weekend before the race, picking up a pair of Brooks Cascadia 9s. I say “picking up” as though they were cheap, but even after a reduction for being in the sale, they were more than I had intended to spend. But then, aren’t running shoes always? My bug meant that I didn’t get a chance to try the shoes out before the race, and opinion was slightly split as to whether I should still wear them in the race. I’m glad I did!
|Shiny new shoes!|
I arrived in Tintinhull about 45 minutes before the race was due to start, which gave me plenty of time to wonder whether the race existed because someone found a decent looking course there, or (in my opinion) someone thought ‘Tin Tin Ten would be a good name for a race, I wonder if there is a decent course there?’
Having never raced properly off-road before (Bridgwater had a farm track that was bad enough to ruin my road race, but certainly not enough to qualify it as a proper multi-terrain race) I was unsure as to what time I would be able to run. Although our parkrun course has a “muddy bit” I didn’t think it was quite the same as a race that featured stiles, fields and sleeper bridges. I was right.
It rained most of the week leading up to the race, and more or less all day of the race itself. At the start line, most of the runners huddled under three trees to try and stay as dry and warm as they could before the race, but it was an exercise in futility. The race director mumbled something into a loud-speaker, I really don’t know what, and then all of a sudden, we were off. A few quick twists and turns along the road, and within 100 metres we were off into the fields, and more to the point, climbing a hill. I settled into a rhythm, albeit at what felt like a painfully slow pace, and slowly passed runners as we continued to climb. It felt like a heck of an ascent, but actually it wasn’t much at all, the terrain, and the fact it was right at the start, just made it feel like more.
Roughly half a mile in, I had found my pace, and was slotted in behind three other runners; a lady from Taunton AC, a chap in a yellow top, and a lady from Minehead RC. I say “found my pace” as though I was happy with the pace. In actual fact, little could be further from the truth. Most of my recent faster runs have been parkruns, and so I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to running at 5km pace on ground with good footing. In this, I needed to run at a pace suitable for 10km, on some pretty horrendous ground. I spent the first two-and-a-half miles thinking: “Argh, why are we running so slowly?” Our first mile split was 7:30. Our second was 8:50, but this included by far the muddiest parts of the course, and a couple of the stiles. In fact, at a couple of points during this section, I was worried that either myself or the lady from Minehead RC would end up splodged in one of the really muddy bits: the places where our feet dropped into the mud over our ankles.
We both survived, but by now the other two runners had dropped us, while there weren’t any other runners for a distance behind us. This remained the case until the last kilometre. I’ve never really been one to talk while racing, but we exchanged a few words. I’m sorry to say that I sat just behind her throughout, using her pacing to get me through. After the first half – when the pace felt too slow – she dragged me through the second half: particularly when we reached the 7km marker, and I felt like I had nothing left to give. That said through the road section of the course, we ran 7:28 miles splits for two miles, before heading back off-road. I managed to cling onto the heels of my chosen pacer until the last kilometre, when mentally I picked myself up. With about half a mile to go I somewhat guiltily passed my “pacer” and pushed towards the finish. I perhaps pushed a little too early, but I managed to mostly maintain my pace to the finish, although the lack of anyone immediately before or after me meant that I didn’t push quite as much as I perhaps could have done.
|Not quite so shiny shoes.|
Nevertheless, I was shocked to discover that I’d finished in roughly 48:20 (I’m still awaiting the official results). That’s only 1:20 slower than my road PB. After a sip of water and a quick “well done” and an apology to the lady from Minehead RC, I headed back to the car to clean up, dry up and head home.
I was shocked to realise quite how muddy my legs were – although not actually that shocked now that I come to think about it! I had worried that the fact that a PB wouldn’t be on the cards would take the shine off the race, but it didn’t matter in the slightest. Despite the fact that 99% of people might have considered the experience pure hell, I loved it. There was mud and there was rain. But that was the fun of it! I thoroughly enjoyed my first real off-road racing experience, and can’t wait to repeat it.