So, when I started out running it was on the tracks and trails surrounding my home. The little bit of ‘road’ running I did was just to get to the trail. I never thought I’d be one to pound the pavements mile after mile. Then I broke my foot. Getting back to running, the consultant advised me to stick to flat, even surfaces. That does not fit well with trail running. So I hit the road. It’s a very different feeling. Running on the trails you are forever dipping and darting, checking your footing, gearing towards the next obstacle. It’s a great distraction activity, you can’t be thinking of much else than your running lest you miss your footing and fall flat on your face (I speak from experience of this!) Road running seems the opposite to me. At first I thought it was repetitive and draining; then I discovered it was meditative and enlightening. Before you know it you have been going for miles as you mull over life, the universe and everything.
As my marathon will be on road I thought I’d best start doing some road races. When a friend suggested the Langdale 10k I jumped at the chance – any excuse to go back to the valley. I love the place. Some find it odd that I know this, but it is literally where I was ‘created’ (on Christmas Eve, with the help of a bottle of Trinidadian rum in a staff caravan at the back of the Old Dungeon Ghyll). It will always be a kind of spiritual home for me. My Mum’s ashes are spread at the damn at the bottom of The Band. It’s where I take myself for a bit of reflection.
I’ve raced in Langdale before, a 5k trail last June. Yes, the June that there were nationwide floods. What happens to a valley when it rains a lot? It fills with water. Crossing the valley I ran through water that was knicker deep in places (it’s called a basin for a reason!). Husband joked that it would be like that for my road race this time round. I laughed it off, ‘it’s a road race, it’ll be different,’ all the while I was thinking and remembering how even the road floods in the valley when there’s been a considerable downpour.
Sunday morning came around and it had rained solidly all night. Maybe it’ll let up, I thought. Ach, well I’ve run in worse, I remembered. Onwards! Friend arrived, I packed up the car with the camping gear and we set off for the valley. Some of the fields were flooded, but not as bad as I’d seen before so I was hopeful that the campsite wouldn’t be a washout. Arriving in the valley there were only a few people around, not unusual, but a very different experience to when I’d been there to support friend doing the Half Marathon. That day we’d been lucky to get a parking space and couldn’t move for runners limbering up and supporters milling around. There were so few people this time, I wondered if the race was cancelled. We donned our waterproofs and plodded down to the race HQ to check the situation.
There were some people milling around, a mix of runners wearing traksters and windbreakers, and marshals in hefty highviz jackets sheltering from the wind (oh the wind! More on that later). Being that we few had appeared, I assumed the race was still going ahead and I asked one of the highviz people where we were starting from. A man piped up from behind me (I think he was the famous ‘Rocket Rod’ race organiser) and said that the start is ‘Down there, towards the farm. Someone’s stolen the start sign’. Or, ‘more likely, it’s blown away’ someone added later.
We tootled along towards the start point, what seemed like a random point on the little road. I left friend towards the front of the 70 or so gathered, and I took my place at the back of the pack so as not to obstruct what looked like some very serious club runners. I saw some familiar t-shirts from the trail races I’ve done and I felt hopeful, and in good company. A couple of people tried to position themselves behind me and I thought, ‘you’ll only have to pass me soon enough!’. The siren went off and away we went. Quickly. Too quickly for me. I looked at my Garmin, saw an 8, had a sharp intake of breath and slowed right down to a more comfortable (and sustainable) pace. My aim was to come in at 1:10, having managed a couple of 1:08 runs at home on comparatively flatter ground. The pack had spread right out, there were only a couple of people behind me and the lady in pink a few metres ahead of me was a good pacer to keep me going.
The course was out and back along the valley road. I’d done a recce and knew I had three hills to look forward to on the way out and one hill on the way back where I expected to have to walk. I must’ve missed the first hill on the way out as I didn’t realise how much of a beast it was until I was coming down it again on the way back.
On the way out I lost the pink lady before going into Chapel Stile, thinking that she’d gone way ahead I was a bit disheartened, but I knew there was at least one person behind me. I know it’s childish but I just didn’t want to be last. Then I heard someone behind me… It was the pink lady. ‘How did you get behind me?’ I panted with shock. She’d had to nip to the loo.
Then there were a series of shocks to the system. Having looked at the route and done a recce in the car, I was expecting to have to carry on to Elterwater, go around the common and come back again, but a Marshal was signalling me to turn right into the timeshare. Not what I expected. I tend to pick up the pace when tackling a new obstacle and this is what I did, pink lady was just a little way behind me. As I wound my way up into the complex (having a funny reminisce about saving a frog that was trying to get into the swimming pool last time I was there) suddenly there was a ‘ping’ and pink lady shouted from behind ‘You’ve dropped something!’ At the same time I felt my necklace slide down my front and I went to catch it. ‘Oh no! My wedding rings!’ I exclaimed as I saw one of them fly in front of me. I picked it up and went to turn to search for my engagement ring just as pink lady picked it up and handed it to me. ‘Thank you so much!’ I gasped, she tried to stop to see that I was okay, and I urged her to carry on, I was fine and we were running again. It all happened so quickly.
Within seconds, and with pink lady just ahead again and we came to the water station. I’d seen a sign that said to leave cups at the station, and looking ahead I couldn’t see a bucket to put them in so I stopped. I drank the water quickly, intending to get going again straight away. Then I saw the huge box of assorted jelly sweets toffees and chocolates. I actually stopped long enough to pick out a selection of purely green jelly fruits and jelly babies (I’m not picky at all!). I popped one in my mouth, clutching a handful as I went on up the hill ready to turn back on myself and back to the valley. Downhill again and processing what had just happened with almost losing my rings I kept up a good pace for me heading back into Chapel Stile, then I saw that pink lady had slowed to a walk. ‘Come on,’ I urged. ‘We’ve only one hill to go!’
Just before this big hill, I don’t know what happened. I stopped. A dead stop. Not on a hill, but a downhill section before the hill. Something must’ve been going on in my head. My legs wanted to carry on but for some reason I wasn’t letting them. It was such an odd feeling. I looked at my watch and I was acres ahead of what I’d expected. It bucked me up and I was able to carry on. Now, this was the hill where I expected to walk, but I rounded the corner and thought, ‘Roar! Lets go for it’. I saw the daunting task ahead. Then a gust of wind pushed me from behind and propelled me onwards and upwards. I almost made it to the top, my breathing felt laboured and I rounded the corner losing the windpower I’d had. I walked. But as soon as I saw the crest I set off again, winding back towards the valley letting the descent take me onwards and thinking to myself, how on earth did I manage to get up this on the way out!
I was nearly there. I saw the marquee and then The Band at the head of the valley that leads up to Bowfell and I thought of my mum and how proud she’d be. There was just one little bit of hill so I thought I’d walk it and then go all out for the last descent. As the crest approached I ran again over the top, saw the finishline, and then the wind hit me. Rushing down the valley towards me it was with such force I felt I couldn’t take in any air. The wind had indeed winded me! I put my head down and tried to take small breaths to alleviate the breathlessness. There were a few people at the end and I charged towards them with all I had.
Wow! What a feeling! I came in at 1:05:33 by my watch. A whole 3mins faster than my 10k route at home, where I haven’t walked, stopped, lost my wedding rings or been picky about which colour sweets I’ll choose. At this rate I think I might even manage a sub 60 for the Manchester 10k next month. Watch this space…