A race against time
It's been over a year since the Double BG, and the world looks unimaginably different in many ways! Not only for the obvious reason, but because I've visited Africa (Charlie said it would change me) and moved to Cornwall. Anyway, after recovering from the double it was soon time to start thinking about the Fellsman again. In about February I realised I really needed to ramp up my long runs and get back out there! I recall one particularly lovely long run out to Stanage and the Peak, including a chance meeting with Dan Shrimpton (and his new puppy) who I'd not seen for years, but after not very many long runs, the Fellsman was cancelled and it was time for a rethink.
As tough as it would've been, I was really sad to miss the chance to defend my Fellsman title. I took part in the online event put on by the organisers but my heart wasn't in it, I didn't really understand and I'm pretty sure I finished last. It turns out my navigational ability on Facebook is even more limited than my navigational ability in the Yorkshire Dales! Shortly after that we moved to Cornwall.
I do miss running out of Sheffield and up the Porter Brook towards the Ox Stones on the long way home, and long weekend runs out onto Kinder, but the South West Coast Path is a wonderful thing. The Cornish coast is spectacular, particularly now summer is over and the weather is starting to get interesting. Inland things are low (rarely over 100m) but quiet and there are some cracking singletrack trails through beautiful woodland.
Through lockdown and all of that I became a bit undecided about running... It was undoubtedly good to get out of the house and plod about, but I couldn't decide if I actually enjoyed training, rather than just running. I allowed myself a few weeks of low intensity, after which I got a bit bored and started training again. The love/hate relationship continues, but recently I started to think I did enjoy training, and perhaps I should even consider...
I entered one. It was in Devon, which I was confident was just down the road (but more on that later). The race was the PureTrail Race the Tide marathon. In previous years it's been a long marathon of about 28.5 miles, which I thought might suit me, but this year there were some changes. The race was shortened to just marathon distance, and we would set off in waves, in a sort of reverse handicap system with the fastest starting first and the slowest last to minimise overtaking.
The course looked great - we'd start on the beach at the Flete Estate, and though this year we wouldn't actually get to race the tide, we would certainly get plenty wet early on as we ran through the estuary and off along the coast path towards Burgh Island. We'd then go around the island, inland for the middle section of the race, then back across to the coast path to head back towards the Flete Estate to finish.
It looked like about 1200m of ascent and at least a few kilometres of beach or estuary running, so I put my estimated time down as between 3:30 and 4 hours. This put me in the first group, meaning I would start at 12:45. My number arrived in the post a few days before the race and I packed my usual kit (Scott Supertrac RC Ultra shoes, Injinji socks, old Accelerate-Scott shorts, Dark Peak vest).
Then things started to go wrong... We left with plenty of time to spare according to Captain Google, but something slow happened in Truro and our ETA gradually ticked towards 12:40... Still, I had most of my kit on, surely I could tie my laces and get down to the start in five minutes!
I knew it would be tight, but I hadn't expected to miss the start completely! I'm not sure how it happened, I guess I was a few minutes later than I thought and the organisers started a few minutes early, but by the time I left the parking field they had stopped calling anyone to the marathon start. I sprinted down the hill to the start (pausing only to turn off the navigation on my phone as it started asking me to turn around - it cost me a few seconds but had to be worth it not to have Google warbling away about U-turns all the way) and was told I was the last person to start. Oops. I didn't want to upset anyone by overtaking them so I asked the marshals if I should give it a miss for today, but they suggested I shouldn't worry too much.
Anyway, after all that, at 12:45 (by my watch anyway) I started... Not an ideal start but once I was running there was less to stress about. I had a mask in my pocket so I put this on and waited for gaps to pass big groups of runners. I soon caught up with my friends Andrew and Steve (who I met supporting Leah Atherton's sadly-aborted attempt at the SWCP record) who laughed at / encouraged me. It was a beautiful day, and for the first time in over a year I was racing!
Burgh island was lovely. By this point the overtaking was taking longer, and people were more spread out. I worried that I'd overcooked it in the panic early on, but fortunately I wasn't wearing my heart rate monitor so in the absence of data I chose to assume not.
As things started to thin out a bit I had my only navigational hiccup of the race, when I and three others became confused by a road section. I don't think we actually went wrong, we just slowed down while I tried to find us on the map, then sped up again when we started to see markers again. It probably only cost us a few seconds... By about halfway I was passing people slowly enough to have a quick chat, and managed to ascertain from a lovely guy in an Okehampton vest that there were 4 or 5 in front, and that the first wave had set off about 9 minutes ahead of me. This gave me a nice advantage in that as soon as I could see someone in the distance, I was pretty much already past them. They didn't know this, but I did!
Nearer the end I was flagging, particularly on a long section around the end of an estuary. The stony track was straight and slightly uphill, absolutely no excuse for not running it at a good pace but it was hard work to keep going! I hadn't seen anyone for a while and I was ready for the next checkpoint (3 of 4) to refill my water. Finally the map told me it was just around the corner, and as I approached it I saw another runner! I refilled my water, grabbed a Mr Kipling energy object and headed out in front of him. Now I was up into third and feeling refreshed and rejuvinated ready for the final section!
This is as close as I get to a sprint! A rare sight these days...
I was knackered now, I had definitely burned too many matches early on and was paying the price now. But there wasn't far to go, and at the final checkpoint I was told that the leader was "five or ten" minutes ahead, and second place even nearer (obviously). I didn't have time to explain why I was so excited by what probably felt like a huge gap, but I was off again and tried to keep going as hard as I could. Soon I caught a glimpse of second place, and as he gradually came closer I realised he had seen me too. He would look behind then speed up for a few minutes, and I started to feel guilty about forcing him to race when really I was already in front! Once I was near enough I took the risk of sounding like a total tit and shouted something like "I started after you so I don't think we're racing"... Talking to him afterwards he was a lovely guy and said "I'm glad you broke my heart when you did rather than at the finishline", so I guess it was the right thing to do.
Anyway, I was now in second, or maybe even first... I tried my hardest to keep pushing to reduce the gap that may or may not exist, to keep running up every hill and to keep striding out on the flat rather than just lolloping along. Soon enough I was on the beach again, then running back up the hill I'd sprinted down to the start where I received some lovely encouragement from a child in a dinosaur outfit, then finally into the finish field. I sprinted against no-one and crossed the line in 3:51:55.
Slower than I'd hoped, but a tough route with plenty of hard going and a fair bit of climb. At the finish no-one knew exactly what time the first finisher had done, though the partner of the nice man I'd passed for second thought it would be very tight...
She was right! I lost by eight seconds. The winner, Matt Hart, ran 3:51:47. He ran hard despite not thinking he was actually racing anyone, so congratulations Matt, and hopefully one day we can race properly.
So that's that. It was nice to be racing again, so thanks very much to everyone at Pure Trail (I promise I'll set off earlier next time), and thanks as always to Accelerate and Scott who despite me moving hundreds of miles away and asking them to give my kit to someone younger and more promising, are still very kind to me :-) My team-mates have had some cracking race results recently and it's still great to see everyone doing so well and running so damn fast!