This race has been the site of a number of ‘firsts’ for me. In 2014, it was the first trail race I had ever taken part in. It was because of this that I bought my first pair of trail shoes, and it was the first time I wore them. It was the first Somerset Series race that I competed in, and this year it became the first race that I had visited three times. This year was also the first time in the last three years that anyone else from my club ran the race. It also nearly became my first ever DNF, but more about that later.
Having raced this three times now, it is interesting to see my development. In 2014, when I took part in this as my first trail race, it was something to be feared. Something new and exciting, an excuse to get new shoes, but mostly I arrived full of trepidation. It was a particularly wet year, and I found the terrain tough, and the hills hard work. Last year, the weather was perfect, and the course was pretty much bone dry. The course was being run the opposite way around from 2014, and I found the balance difficult: the first half was mostly quick roads, while the second half was off-road with more hills, and lots of stiles to wear down already tired legs.
This year didn’t get off to the best start: nevermind about a DNF, I was worried that I was going to DNS. After getting home pretty early so that I could have a late lunch and a bit of downtime before the race, I headed back out to my car. Which had a flat tyre. After a bit of ummming and ahhhing, I decided to take it to the petrol station and put some air in it, and then see what happened. Probably predictably, what happened was: the air went in… the air came back out. It wasn’t leaking out all that quickly but, nice as Tintinhull is, I decided that I wasn’t willing to take the risk of being stranded there. Thankfully Iain was going to the race, and only works a five minute walk from the petrol station, so I parked my car up and headed over to meet him. Or, more accurately, I headed over to stand outside his building for what felt like forever, while the quick operation he was running ground to a halt, and ended up making him about twenty minutes late! Still, in the end we arrived in Tintinhull in plenty of time to get our race numbers, head out for a warm-up and get to the start line.
It would be fair to say that I wasn’t feeling in the best shape coming into this race. After a week’s holiday at Center Parcs, during which I had eaten copious amounts of rubbish, I had also picked up a cold and tight chest. Thankfully my chest actually felt alright on the Wednesday of the race, after a couple of bad days on Monday and Tuesday: had it still been bad on Wednesday, I wouldn’t have considered racing. Still, lining up at the start, I was feeling okay, though I wasn’t intending on racing hard.
The weather had been wet in the days leading up to the race, but also hot, so the course wasn’t in bad shape: slippy, rather than boggy, except for a couple of parts. One of these came during a narrow section: you turned a sharp bend and stepped straight into it without warning, it could probably have done with a marshal really, but no harm done! (I’ve been stacking up the excuses for a slow time here, have you noticed?)
We headed off, and for the first third of the race, I was going well. I wasn’t taking it quite as easily as I’d intended, but I was by no means pushing myself. In fact, everything was brilliant until about 4.5 km. We were climbing up a hill, and I started to realise that I could quite do with going to the toilet… and not the sort that you can just pop behind a hedge for. Well, not without hording some soft looking leaves first.
My following thoughts went something like this:
“It’s fine, it’ll pass.”
“Hmmm… this rhythm doesn’t seem to be helping. I’ll slow down a bit.”
“This isn’t getting any better.”
“We’re heading back into the village now, I wonder if I can pop over to the village hall, use the facilities and then get back into the race. Except I don’t know which way the village hall is…”
“Okay, now at the stage that just behind that tree looks acceptable.”
“Ooo, that marshal just came out of that house, maybe I could… Oh, too late, I’ve past him.”
“Yes! Finally, it’s eased off!”
By this stage, I’d ticked off another three kilometres. My pace had dropped to a comfortable one, though I was still slowly catching runners, and was only passed by one other. Given that I had the start of a cold, and had already lost any chance of what I would consider a good time, I decided to continue at a similar level of effort to the finish. When I saw Iain, about 20 metres from the finish line, I glanced behind me, saw noone was anywhere near, and continued to amble to the finish line rather than put in any sort of sprint. Not like me, but there we go!
I found the course much easier than I had been expecting. This might have been because of my relaxed pace second half, which would have meant my legs weren’t anything like as tired. Another major factor is the amount of off-road running I do now compared to previous years. Although I’ve not been able to do as much lately as I would have liked, I try to get out on some ‘proper’ hilly off-road routes at least once a week, where before most of my running was on flat roads in Taunton.