As runners, I’m sure we’ve all entered races that we’ve really been looking forward to, but then when race day arrives, we wonder what the hell we are doing. For me, I should have taken the hint earlier in the week when I missed a day’s training due to feeling tired and having a lack of motivation. By Friday, I had said to my mum that the excitement and anticipation I normally feel a day or so before a race just wasn’t there and if I hadn’t already entered, I probably wouldn’t be doing it. Even when I started prepping my drinks and everything on Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t focused and my mind was elsewhere.
I’d entered the Forest of Dean Ultra Marathon just after London with no intentions of racing it per se but rather using it as a training run in the build up to the World Champs later this year. I also fancied doing something a little different for once, and instead of pounding out the miles on the roads, it would be 31.76 miles made up of 1 small and 5 large laps on the trails around the Forest of Dean. It was also the English Trail Running Championships and a selection race for the Commonwealths for both England and Wales, so really I had everything to run for.
An early start once again saw Andy, myself and the dogs heading down the M5 to Gloucestershire, and unlike other races, I wasn’t nervous and even managed to down a bowl of porridge and some brioche bread rolls for breakfast. That in itself is unusual for me, where normally I can’t eat due to nerves just before such an important race, but today, my heart really wasn’t in it.
We arrived at Speech House, and it was great to see the old ultra running chums again having not seen them for a couple of months. In addition to the ultra race, there was also a marathon and a 5k event, the latter being extremely popular and seeing some 50 odd dogs running with their owners (it was at this point that I was already thinking a 5km trail race with our young Wilson dragging me round sounded like a much better plan, and a lot of fun!)
Just before half ten, 50 or so runners lined up on the start line and shortly afterwards, we were off.
I actually started quite well, felt quite relaxed and thought that maybe things wouldn’t be so bad, but the first short lap seemed to go on forever, and despite the lovely surroundings, I was already beginning to wonder how I was going to cope mentally with another 5 laps. Shortly after the start of first large lap, I was overtaken by a Welsh lady with Karen Rushton (who you may have heard me mention many times before) hot on her heels. Karen looked very relaxed and comfortable and actually went on to win the race. The three of us were quite close together for another mile or so, but as we hit the first of quite a long drag of a hill, the other 2 started to move ahead and as bad as it sounds, I really couldn’t be bothered to give chase.
It was a strange feeling as I really didn’t want the stress of racing today, and having already missed the training session earlier this week, I admitted to myself that, having done so many long races and a few hundred miles in training since January, I needed a rest.
As the others pulled away, I found myself running solo, and it gave me the opportunity to take in the scenery. When I entered the race, I was expecting it to be woodland trails a little akin to running around Hanchurch Woods back home, but it turned out to be forest tracks rather than trails. The tracks were hard and pebbly, and with wearing trail shoes, I wasn’t really getting the cushioning I needed and I started to wish I’d stuck with my usual road shoes.
There was lovely part of the course that did follow a woodland path that was lined with bluebells and the smell of pine trees, and I really enjoyed running through this bit but unfortunately it didn’t last long enough!
As the race progressed, the tiredness I’d been feeling the past week was finally starting to set in and by the end of the third large lap, I was starting to walk. Not good as at this point, I had probably only done about 19 miles and still had a good way to go. I wasn’t really bothered about a time – time doesn’t come into things when you run off road – but I was hoping to run around 4 hours which with the walking, was starting to look unlikely. The walking only lasted for about 10 yards every so often, particularly on the hills, but with 2 laps to go, it was getting more frequent. Even the downhill sections were slow as the legs just wouldn’t go any quicker.
It was at this point that I was told I could catch the 2nd lady as she was only about 250 yards ahead of me and she was starting to tire. By now though, I had already resigned myself to finishing third lady, which despite how the race was panning out, would still be enough to win me the silver medal in the English Trail Champs, and selection for the England team at the Commonwealths in September. I didn’t bother trying to catch her, and just focused on trying to finish the race. Oddly enough, I was actually enjoying the run and selfishly wanted the woods to myself.
The final lap couldn’t come soon enough, and as I approached the last feed station with about a mile to go, I saw Andy for the first time. It was great to see him, and our little puppy Wilson, who had spotted me running up the path and started jumping about for a fuss which of course I couldn’t resist so stopped to give him a big cuddle before heading off to the finish.
At last, I finished the race. I had no doubt throughout the duration that I would finish, but I knew it would be slow compared to what I know I’m capable of. I finished 3rd lady in about 4.01 – that’ll do me today and at least it’s another long run in the bag.
First 3 ladies - Forest of Dean 33 Mile Ultra Trail Race
So now, with no races planned until the World Trail Running Championships in Ireland at the beginning of July, I’m hoping to have a couple of easy weeks of running to give the body chance to recover from all the long stuff I’ve been doing lately.
I did enjoy today’s race and would certainly recommend it, whether it be the 5k, the marathon or the ultra, and there were of course some excellent performances once again from my ultra running chums. Well done to Karen on becoming national trail running champion, and to all the chaps that I didn’t really get chance to speak to afterwards. It’s great knowing you all, and I look forward to competing with you all again very soon!