As you may recall , my last blog was erased before posting. It was a frustrating experience and time has been short recently so not enough time to re-write it properly. I haven’t got much time now either so this is a shortened version !
I entered the Howgills trail marathon without knowing quite what to expect, I wanted to try something scenic and off road and it fitted the bill. I paid the entry fee and sort of forgot about it for a few months ! Those who have followed my blogs as have approached races in the past will know that I generally train pretty hard and prepare as well as I can for the job in hand. I threw the plan out the window for this one though, no training schedule followed, in fact my longest runs have been 13.1 and 15 miles and not a single mile of hill running in preparation. Its all part of my relaxed Marc P style attitude I told myself, in truth as race day got closer I did begin to worry if I was being a bit stupid !
Arrival for registration in the very pretty town of Sedbergh on the Cumbria/North Yorkshire border only served to compound my feeling of inadequacy. The runners at registration all looked the part, these weren’t fun runners but a more hardy and experienced looking bunch of hill runners. The atmosphere in the village hall was friendly enough though, I spoke to one guy who had returned from running the Marathon de Sables only 10 days previously ! With a small field of only 170 or so it didn’t take long before we were being bagpiped down to the start on the High Street.
The first five miles out of the town is steep climbing, so steep infact that the leaders who I could clearly see ahead began to walk. If they’re walking then I’m walking I thought ! and so began the pattern for the climb. There was 2300ft of ascent and I jogged up the less steep parts and fast walked the tough bits. I was holding a steady position, not being overtaken by many and not overtaking many either so I guessed my strategy must be OK.
What goes up must come down and after 5 miles of uphill the ground levelled to a small plateau, the views were incredible and I stopped to see what I had just achieved , it brought a smile to my sweaty face ! Wainwright had described this landscape as “like a herd of sleeping elephants “The next five miles were perhaps the most memorable ( and scary ) five miles of running I have ever done. If this was a sleeping elephant I was just about to run full tilt down its arse.
The descent followed a rocky cleft which was wet and almost like a stream bed in places, as the ground dropped away from me I committed to the gravitational pull and tried to let my legs cope with the sudden rapid pace . Most of my running at home is on the footpaths and country lanes around the city, I can tune out and let my mind wander, I don’t really think about the act of running much at all. But here I had to concentrate, really concentrate – each foot placement was crucial and there didn’t feel like there was much room for error. The concentration became more tiring than the running because the descent was so long, there was no escaping it, it felt more like skiing in a mogul field than running, I passed quite a few runners who were taking a more cautious approach to some parts of the boggy rocky terrain, I barely slowed down it felt like being on the verge of out of control but just enough control to keep me upright. It was totally exhilarating.
When I finally reached even ground again 5.5 miles later my legs were jelly and my head spinning. I stopped by a stream and drenched my head in the cool water and got on with the next 16 miles. Just a few miles later I reached the halfway point and feed station. My lack of training was showing and stopping here to complete the half marathon course was an option I would have liked to take.
I drank flat coke and ate jaffa cakes and set off again. The second half of the race afforded beautiful views and meandered through spectacular remote fells, the climbs and descents nothing like the first half of the race and as my legs were heavy I was glad of that. The run walk strategy was used to good effect for the rest of the race, I ran pretty much alone for the whole of the second half, I think I overtook a few and it wasn’t until the last mile that I was picked off by a bunch of four who were running strongly together. I thought of trying to race them home but the thought was only a fleeting one, this wasn’t a race for me it was an experience !
I was glad to see the finish line, and was clapped home by perhaps only a dozen spectators, the smallest crowd witnessed my toughest marathon and my slowest time – 4.47. It placed me 43rd.
Back in the village hall with my medal round my next I received a free massage from a very kind volunteer and ate a pork pie. The marathon de Sables man was there already a 4.10 finish and 9th place, very impressive.
It was like no other marathon experience that Ive had before, the closest to it is the last 4 miles at Snowdon. My mind has wandered away from faster road marathons towards talking a more adventurous challenge and the Howgills 26 certainly was more of an adventure, there is a fulfilment to be gained by running in a landscape that gives you something back.
I’m off on another adventure tomorrow , Hamish ( 13 year old son ) is competing for team GB in the International Youth Colours climbing event in Austria. He’s been training hard and is looking forward to going head to head with the best climbers from 16 European nations.
After I get back week one starts for training towards the York/Snowdon double in October and the countdown begins again.
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