Monday, 18 May 2015

Howgills Trail 26.2 Marathon

I can't quite remember when the decision was made to run a marathon, maybe late in 2014 - certainly with enough time to do sufficient training. Part of the reason for entering a longer race than I have ever done was to see how I'd manage/cope/enjoy it. I've done a few shorter races and to be honest, they hurt in ways I just don't enjoy. I figured that doing a longer event would enable me to race and have a grand day out in the hills, whilst having a focus for my training.

My training on the whole went well...there was a hiccup with illness at Christmas, then came the sprained ankle at the end of January. The latter really slowed down the long runs, and also took a big chunk of confidence out of my already not so great descending. I'd planned on building up more confidence on descents in the months leading up to the marathon, but with the ankle twinges still happening I knew it was best to just let the ligament damage repair and focus on getting time on my feet without re-injuring myself.

Registration with Jud & Patch
So the day came, when months of training in the gym, out on the hills and time spent pouring over the maps and elevation profile dawned. Tim was superb supporting me in the run up to the event, and on the day he was an absolute star. He ran the Old County Tops race (37miles) on Saturday, winning mixed pair with fellow Captain Caity (in a record breaking time no less), then drove home from the Lakes, slept fitfully (as you do after a hard and long race) and was out on the route in the Howgills at various points with supplies and super words of encouragement for me.

I'd been asked many times in the previous few weeks if I was ready...I was, and if anything I was better
Vicki, me, Patch and Jud in the 'starting pen'
prepared mentally for what was to come than physically. The ankle sprain had made me change my training, but I felt strong and as long as I kept my head in the right place I'd reach the end feeling positive. My goal for the marathon was to finish strong and smiling. I was certainly smiling, and have been told I looked strong...I can't say the feeling as I crossed the line was one of being strong enough to go much further, but I didn't collapse afterwards. A successful run in my eyes; a very happy day in the hills.

After the drive up to Sedburgh I got registered, faffed attaching the chip timer to my shoe (xtalon 212s being my choice), had second breakfast, went to the loo several times (this is normal apparently), and met up with Jud, Patch and Vicki. Each of us, with the exception of Vicki, running our first ever marathon. Vicki however was in the deep end with this being her first off-road marathon and only a few weeks after running in London.

Crossing the chip mat
I wasn't nervous as the runners were gathered for the start of the race. I was more eager to just get started to put an end to the waiting around. So we gathered at the start line...or rather the finish line, and we were walked - to the tune of a bagpiper - over the chip timing mat (do I start my watch now??)  and through the houses to the main street of Sedburgh. To say the start was odd is an understatement. All the email communication from the Montane Trail organisers had made a massive thing about the race briefing, but we were literally told, rather quietly, "stay on the paths, close gates, 1-2-3-GO!". The start was so badly organised and quietly communicated to the runners scattered around the hall and start area, and super quick, that I heard afterwards lots of runners missed it. How flipping annoying! Thankfully I was in the right place at the start.
Vicki and me right at the start

And we're off. Running down the high street, past the registration hall and then right onto the flanks of Winder...the start of the big climb up onto the Howgills. I'd set off running with Vicki, giving her encouragement to have a good run - just enjoy the day for being in the hills. Jud and Patch were somewhere close behind but to be honest I didn't see any of them until the finish line, after the initial run up the road out of Sedburgh.

Climbing up Winder I got stuck into my rhythm of run where I could, walk the rest, run, walk, run, walk, walk, run, walk walk walk, run, all the way to Winder's trig point standing at 473m and about 350m of ascent from Sedburgh. Running off to the saddle between Winder and the side of Arrant How the wind kicked in, a taste of what was to come a while later. Under foot the ground was soft but not boggy, lovely to run on. I was thankful for my xtalons and the grip. Climbing past Arrant How reduced most competitors to back to a run/walk strategy - a most welcome sight for me thinking I'd be the only one walking! I've been on this bit of hill once before, so knew the path gets rocky underfoot. My xtalon shoes may not have been most peoples choice but I knew they'd suit me best on the grass and muddy sections and I can cope on the harder ground.

Knowing the climb I paced myself, forcing myself to walk more than I knew I was capable of. Still less than 8km in I didn't want to blow up before I'd got going. The push to ascend Calders was a challenge - the wind really picked up from the right and I hoped it wouldn't remain that strength all the way round. It was the sort of wind that knocks your feet as you run, putting your foot down where you don't expect it to go. I took it steady, topping out and then enjoying the undulating section across the the Calf at 676m. I reached the trig point just over the first hour, quicker than I'd expected which was encouraging. Was I going too fast?

approaching Tim on the path alongside Bowerdale Beck
The route then dropped down to the east into a valley and alongside Bowerdale Beck. What a hideous path - rutted, rocky, muddy, narrow and nothing either side to run on without being on a silly camber on the steep banks. I knew it was coming, just hadn't anticipated being so slow descending (note to self....more descending practice needed- I knew this already though). I'd arranged to meet Tim somewhere on this path, at around 10km or 11km from the start. Passing the marshal at the point the half marathon runners turn to go down Cautley Spout I convinced myself that Tim wouldn't have had time to reach our rendezvous. We'd already discussed it wasn't a problem if we didn't meet up - my main concern was whether I had enough water but given the day wasn't sunny or hot I figured I'd be fine with the 1.2ltrs I was carrying until the first check point at about 24km.
and I'm on my way....32km to go

I kept glancing down to the river expecting to see Tim but no sightings, then figured we wouldn't meet....only for 3 or4 minutes later to see him ahead of me on the path waving and smiling. Fabulous! I considered my water and actually left 500ml with him, topping up my bottle so I had about 600ml with me. Plenty for the next 15km. I didn't actually want to stop running, making the water top up as quick as possible, a good sign I noted.

Onwards along the hideous path, now becoming more boggy, energy sapping and technical with plenty of little streams flowing down the hillside to the beck below. All this water was really making me want the loo. A few guys had been going and that just made the urge stronger. No cover for women, and too many runners on the path to just step to the side and go. Luckily later on the path there was a larger stream coming down the hillside with a decent cutting to hide in. Glancing back I had about 300m on the next runner so took my chance! I could finally relax! Sorry to talk about the loo....but it's something you have to deal with in races. For me, needing to go but not being able to takes up mental space and concentration that is better placed on watching where your feet are going.

Somewhere before the route almost touches the A685 main road the wind dropped and I was warm enough to slip my ultratherm off, tying it around my waist. The path down to the track and tarmac was lovely, bouncy grass, a nice gradient to just open up my legs and overtake a few people. A change from the path earlier descending off the Calf where I reckon I lost about 30 places. As I neared the main road I was in for a wonderful surprise....fellow Glossopdale Harriers, and fresh from their run in the Lakes on the Old County Tops, were Zoe and Neil out in support...what a fabulous surprise and moral booster. I think Zoe really wanted to run a little with me but her legs, which had less than 24hrs earlier run 37miles weren't having any. Cheers for the support guys!
Ravenstonedale - just after the checkpoint

The route next goes along various roads, across a few fields, around farms and steadily making our way across to Ravenstonedale. On the edge of the village was Vicki's supporters who had no idea who I was...until I pointed out I was also a Glossopdaler! Thanks for the support. In the village I found the first official check point and food station. No sign of Tim (we'd no firm plans to meet anywhere but the end) so I topped up my bottle, ignored the food (I had plenty with me and know what suits me when running) and ran round the corner to massive cheers and encouragement from Tim, Zoe and Neil (now relaxing with a pot of tea outside the pub). No stopping, I'd got all I needed and knew if I did stop I wouldn't want to start again. 23km done and over half way. My watch was showing about 2:45 so I reckoned on about 5:30 to finish if I kept the same pace, and I'd be very happy with under 6, knowing I'd probably slow down towards the end.

Having already done a fair way on tarmac the next 4km were the same. I hugged the grass verge where possible to soften the impact under foot. There were a few decent little hills to get over too, and then bearing right the route took us onto a lovely grassy path around the west side of Harter Fell. Somewhere in the mid-section we'd gone through a field with about 15 horses in it...and a field with cows. Amazing how a race can focus your mind off the things that scare you - though I did put a short spurt on to be closer to some other runners as we passed the horses! 27km done. Yes, I was now counting the distance. We dropped down through Murthwaite and through a delightful wooded area, across a wide stream - shallow enough to just wade through ignoring the slippy looking stepping stones.

The route ticked over, a mix of terrain, grass, big muddy puddles, rocky bits. I kept company with half a dozen other runners all swapping places in a silent game of runners leapfrog. Along the way I had various short conversations with other runners. I spoke with a Bingley lass...would a sub 5hr be possible? We both drifted apart and got lost in our own thoughts.

Next stop would be the second check point - as I dropped down the bank towards the river I spotted Tim, Zoe, Neil and someone else - yey!!! Taking care not to trip wasn't easy - the wind was causing my eyes to water loads so I don't think my arrival was very swift!

approaching the bridge across to CP2
returning from CP2
The approach to the CP was most confusing. There'd been no information on where the stations would be or what to do at them. You had to divert away from the main route, cross a footbridge and up some steps, go round some cones to the feed station and have your number taken. All very odd and not signposted at all. Doubling back on yourself you were faced with other runners squeezing across the narrow bridge looking equally perplexed. Before I crossed the bridge I gave Tim my bottle so he could fill it, I had wondered if he had enough with him but someone came to the rescue. My legs were quite weary now. 32km done. 10km to go. Just 2 parkruns as some would say. If only I could do it in my PB time (just under 23mins) I'd be done in 46. I was at about 3hrs 46. Surely a sub 5hr wasn't possible. Was it. 10km in 1hr 10? Nah. Well, I went ahead and did lots of tired mental calculations and worked out if I had only 4km to go by 4hrs 30 then maybe....just maybe?! I kept reminding myself that my aim was to finish smiling, so I promised myself I wouldn't break myself pushing hard to just end up walking or broken at the end.

Sucking in a gel...Tim said I'd need it to help me battle the headwind I was about to face (it helped!)

Leaving CP2...thanks for the support
4hr30 came and went and I still had about 5km to go. Sub 5 wouldn't be happening today but there was no sadness or annoyance. In fact the thought of being close was good as at each opportunity I wanted to, and frequently did walk, I did so with purpose. Knowing I was pushing but comfortable (as far you can be at 38, 39km) was great. Don't get me wrong. I Really Wanted To Sit Down. Running into the eastern outskirts of Sedburgh the route pulls you south, and across to the west side - a big cruel loop around the town to get you to the marathon distance. The route is alongside a big wide river (lots of dippers to distract me) and plenty of gates and stiles. Some had lovely wooden steps to go up and down...I really wanted to sit on them and look at the view.

Just 2km left. Keep going. I'd been constantly sipping and eating all the way round and the temptation to stop doing so came around 35km. Things weren't really tasting of anything except 'chewy stuff'. But, I stuck to my routine, keeping the fuel and liquid going in. Now with about 1.5km remaining I nibbled on a final bit of a food bar, sipped some water leaving just a few small swigs. I linked up with another runner trading places, sometimes one of us would get the gate first, other times the other one of us. It was great not to have to fumble with latches at every gate as we held them open for each other.

final 400m down the road
The final river crossing over a bridge brought us back on tarmac, running (and walking) up past the back of Seburgh School and back to the main road. A right....along the main road....less than 1km to go.....left and onto a path through the house and bang....a blinking uphill climb! The chap I'd just been trading places with left me behind walking....he ran (we spoke at the end, he said I wasn't having that place....little did he know he was very welcome to it!). We passed a guy having to stretch to ease cramp. Finally reaching the top the last marshal of the day promised me it really was all down hill from there.

still smiling
To be honest, at that point it didn't matter. I knew that bit of road so knew I'd soon see the finish and cheers of encouragement would prevent me from walking. Glancing over there was no sign of Tim...oh! Oh well, he'll be somewhere, maybe inside as it was pretty cold and windy to be standing on an exposed field. Wait.....who's that waving like a mad man down the road. Yey it's Tim. Massive grin greeting me. He snapped a few photos and spurred me on before running across the field to see me down the finish funnel.

Beeeeepppp....chip timer clicks me in over the mat. That's me done. I'm still standing and really really smiling.

and I've finished my first ever marathon
The next half hour is a blur of me hopping from one leg to the other not wanting to stop, thankfully not cramping, having a quick shower, grabbing a brew, eating a bit and waiting to my mates cross the finish line. Next in was Jud, then Vicki and soon after Patch. Great running by all of them.

My official time is 5:07:07, and I was 65th overall out of 159 runners who completed, 6th in my category and 12th female. Full results are here. Montane advertise this race as a full marathon with 1000m ascent....we were duped as I recorded 1495m and Jud got 1586m. I had heard that these races can sometimes be a bit off with distance so was pleased I didn't have to run round the finish field to click over into marathon distance, but to be around 50% out on elevation gain is really not on. They do say it's a tough route, but if you've trained with 1000m in mind it's going to be a shock to have so much more.

Glossopdale Harriers & Montane Howgills Trail 26 finishers - Jud, me and Vicki
My marathon experience has been a really good one. My aim was achieved and it's not put me off long distance events. In fact I'm already signed up for the Long Tour of Bradwell in August so following my recovery in the next week or so I'll be back into training with lots of knowledge and experience about how my body copes with the longer stuff. I've also managed to raise over £500 for Glossop Mountain Rescue Team - thank you so much to everyone who has donated, I know the team appreciate every single penny. I'll hopefully be getting a few photos of me with some of the team and will post those up later. There's still time to donate if you want to pop over to my JustGiving page.

wow that tuna mayo sandwich tasted soooo good....but I just had to sit down to eat it!

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