Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud...!!

What a difference a couple of weeks can make. At the end of September, I had what can only be described as a very poor run at the Commonwealth Trail Champs and in hindsight, it is easy for me personally to see why it happened. I certainly won’t bore anybody with the details, but putting it simply, it was the wrong race at the wrong time.

A day or so after the race, we had the news that we had been waiting for for the past 10 years or so – Andy had been offered a job over in Calgary, and our lifetime dream of escaping from the UK was about to come true. Thoughts of a fresh start in a new country, with the fresh air and mountain trails just an hour or so drive from our new home, released a new positivity in me with regards to my running.

Two weeks after the trail race, and it was the first race in the North Staffs Cross County League. Despite not having trained specifically for short races and having a distinct lack of speed in the legs, I was now looking forward to the race, and I knew that whilst I certainly wouldn’t win it, I would have a good run. It was also my first proper race as one of the “Pink Ladies” of the Staffordshire Moorlands and I desperately wanted to run well for team.

I’d never done the Winsford course before and when I arrived, it certainly didn’t look like a “proper” cross country course. It was extremely flat and signs of anything resembling mud were scarce - straight away I could see that it would be a fast race more suitable to those that do regular speed work!  

In all fairness, I didn’t do too bad and finished 14th in around about 21 minutes – an average pace of just under 6.30 miling which is something I hadn’t done for ages. I felt strong all the way round and knew that with some decent speed sessions over the next few weeks, I might actually get back some of the strength and pace I had a couple of years ago.

The Moorlands ladies did extremely well and finished 2nd team on the day, just 9 points behind my old club Trentham which will certainly make things more interesting in the team competition over the next few races.

For somebody that used to dislike hills and mud, I was somewhat disappointed at how easy the course was at Winsford, so when a friend of mine asked if I fancied a fell race the following day, there was no hesitation in saying yes. This would guarantee hills, it was likely to be muddy, and it also meant that I would be able to say I had finally done a proper FRA graded fell race – after all, that’s why I joined the Moorlands!

The Windgather Fell Race is approximately 13 ½ miles with climbs of just over 2,000 feet. It starts in Buxton, and whilst it says that navigation skills are required, I was lucky in that I know the area very well, with the course skirting the Goyt Valley and taking in Pyms Chair and Shining Tor. What I wasn’t used to was carrying my own kit – a whistle, a map, and waterproof/windproof body cover – but then I guess with all the road running over the years, I was turning into a wimpy road runner! These days though, I prefer more of a challenge, something to take me out of my comfort zone, and once again I was extremely excited about the race.

Starting on the road, the first section was very fast, so much so that it took me a little by surprise, and I ended up quite near the back. A bottle neck at the first stile though meant I gained ground, and once I’d hopped over, the climbing started across quite a boggy and rutted field. The weather was somewhat deceiving as it was quite murky and damp but very warm and I found myself heating up quickly. Underfoot, it was slippery mud or very rocky and I found myself slipping and sliding all over the place, and a couple of times almost toppled over but just about managed to keep my balance before I embarrassed myself. I was loving it! I wasn’t particularly fast – the terrain didn’t allow for that – but the whole experience of running wild and free across the open moor was most exhilarating and I loved it. I lacked the technique of the accustomed fell runners around me, but I was holding my own and wasn’t doing too bad.

Having headed around the reservoirs, we then started the climb up over the ridge towards Pyms Chair and Shining Tor. It was quite exposed heading up over the ridge, and the wind was certainly gusting and blowing us all over the place. I usually hate running in the wind, but because times didn’t matter today and I wasn’t obsessed with chasing a PB, I enjoyed the additional effort needed to battle against it. Even the climb wasn’t bothering me, and surprisingly I was overtaking people on the way up.

On reaching the top, the descent down from Shining Tor is quite steep and due to the wet weather, the rocks were slippery and it was impossible to just go for it. Add to that the extremely muddy and boggy sections, and it certainly was just a case of trying to stay upright. It was at this point that I found out I was 7th lady – I was well pleased and determined to stay focused and hold on to my position.
Finishing Windgather Fell Race

A further climb with about 2-3 miles to go brought a small river flowing down the path, the mist was closing in as the rain started to fall quite heavily, and we were still taking a battering from the strong winds. However, I was feeling great and was thoroughly enjoying myself, it was the best I’ve felt in a very long time and I was smiling like a village idiot.

Summiting the hill and heading off into the valley below, I could see the finish line about half a mile away in the field. I overtook a few chaps in the last mile or so, and with about 400 metres to go, I decided to try and catch a man just ahead of me. He turned to see who it was chasing him down, and clearly not wanting some bint beating him, he picked up the pace too – not easy when trying to run through mud. He pipped me to the post, but I’ll have him next time!

I did indeed finish 7th lady in a time of 2 hours 10 mins – a time  good enough to have placed me in the top 3 in previous years, but even so I was happy with the result. I’d like to say a huge thanks to Gareth Briggs for inviting me along – you certainly do choose them! – and thanks also to the other couple of Moorlands guys whose names I’ve forgotten yet again, but you made me feel part of the green and gold team.

So what’s next then? With our plans for emigrating moving along at a rapid pace, I’m taking each day as it comes with my running. At the moment I’m trying to keep mileage low and tempo high, to hopefully regain some speed. I’ve also done hill rep sessions for the past two weeks in the hope that they will improve my strength, and for the first time in a few months, I’m looking forward to the races that I hope to do, emigration plans permitting. One thing I'm certain about though is that Del is on her way back, so watch out ;-)

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