Back On The Fells At Last

Posted on: 12 May 2017

Well how is life for everybody in the land of Realbuzz?

Long time absent I know, and unusual timing of it too. 

Over the last 9 years I've built myself a tradition of writing blogs about my own running experiences, reading all of yours, supporting and encouraging as best I can, most often through the comments that I've left. Friendships have been made, blobs have been followed....

Haven't been doing any of it.

You see, something has changed. Really changed. And I'm not just talking about the revamped Realbuzz 😄 (auto upload on those activities would be a very useful and much appreciated feature by the way - like Strava does from Garmin Connect - if any of the development team happen to be reading 😉).

What has changed, is that happiness, real deep happiness has entered my life  😊😊. It's such a novelty for me I'm not sure I know exactly what to do with it 🙄😬.

I suddenly understand Jon Bon Jovi's lyric from In These Arms - "... I need you, like a poet needs the pain ...".

I needed my running. I needed my mountains. I needed the calming, cathartic process of writing my blog. I needed the distraction of putting so many hours into reading, following, commenting, tracking.... 

It was all keeping me sane and helping me get through a life gone badly wrong - a life most simply described as trapped in an unhappy marriage 🙁.

Wainwright had the same trouble.

I could have picked other, less healthy distractions. I didn't. I've had my experiences with those and it's a road I don't want to get dragged down ever again.

Enough about that stuff though - this is meant to be a blog about running, and I told my new love, my sweetheart, that I would write it - try to give her a bit of a feel for a midweek race out on the fells 😊.

(Would help me really set the scene if I could see how to add images to the blog 🤔).

Its almost a year since I smashed up my knee. Recovery has been long, slow, frustrating... but I am now at the point where I have almost full range of motion in the knee, and my running now seems to be on the up 😊.

Twice up Dinas Bran Castle seemed like the perfect way to test my knee ahead of the big challenge later in the month - a challenge I've done before - a challenge that has physically left its mark on me - my left knee bears the scar from that one 😆😆. I'll blog about that one if I actually get there.

Ysgol Dinas Bran was the first fell race I ever took part in, 9th May 2012. Different to any kind of run I'd done before, and something must have been right about it, for it started a passion for running over hills and mountains that's been even bigger than I ever expected. There is a certain type of joy to be had that I have not found anywhere else.

These local fell races are quite conservative affairs. 60, maybe 70 runners gathered at the school, a lot of familiar faces, you tend to see the same crowd. It's comforting, not intimidating at all.

The bit that is intimidating is how lean and fit everybody looks. I don't think I'll ever stop feeling like an imposter in that regard. These lot look like in a fight for food with a pack of wolves, the wolves would be going home hungry!

The evening is fine, sun is out, temperature just right for running on the flat. It's been a very dry April. I know where it gets muddy, it's just a small part of the course, underneath the trees at the foot of the hill. Trail shoes should be grippy enough, and they're definitely more comfortable than the 'performance fit' of my X-Talons.

Easy conversation with some of the boys from the club. Paul Samuels is here 😊. Good to see him again, he's been a long time injured. He's looking lean and fit and strong. I know from his previous race times I'll be doing well if I can get close to keeping up with him.

Starts off with a lap and half of the school football field this one. Everyone tears round it like loons, trying to be in front of everyone else, they all think they'll be stuck behind a big queue as we all try to squeeze through the narrow gate out onto the road all at the same time.

The road is deceptively flat to begin with, then a tight right turn pitches you suddenly upwards, and the tarmac is suddenly very steep. I am leading the charge for Wrexham AC, but there are some really fast runners here from other clubs dotted about, I am nowhere near the front of the field. No point rushing now though, I'd only burn out.

Pete and Paul are shouting at me that my shoelace has come undone. I know they're right, I can feel it, but if I stop to tie it now I'll not get going again up the hill. I wait till I'm near the top of the road and it levels off a little bit, tie my lace, then head off to what I'm here for, the mud and the grass and the rock.

Short steep climb, kissing gate, then that muddy bit under the trees. It's a gentle downhill. There is no mud. April has indeed been dry. 

Most of this path is too narrow for overtaking, and I'm tucked in behind a man and a woman from other clubs, the pace is testing, I'm running hard just to keep up, but I'm sure in a 4 mile race I can push myself slightly harder. 

Nowhere to pass. No acceleration in my legs when the chances do arise. Then I see it. Opportunity. A low branch pokes out from the fence. Going close to the fence and ducking the branch would tilt my body right forward, maybe, just maybe, I could use it to pull off a cheeky overtake?

It works!! I shoot past the pair of them. Another kissing gate. Path goes really narrow now and starts to climb. I'm determined that I'm not going to walk at least until I hit the really steep bit up towards the castle. Marshall tells us where to turn, I want to thank her, but I'm so breathless right now I can't. Make it across the field. The initially bewildered sheep have decided we're not a threat and carry on with the job of eating.

There is route choice here. You try to read the lie of the land, pick which route will give you the greatest advantage over the similarly capable runners who surround you. I choose direct, but direct is always steeper, and therefore slower. Fence guy caught me up as we were passing the sheep, he takes a longer route, and ends up well ahead of me. 

Starting running again as we level out on the fence line directly below Dinas Bran Castle is difficult, the body groans as I try to force it back into some sort of running. Fence guy is getting further and further away, but then after the scree we meet the donkey path, which zig-zags down the face of the hill towards Llangollen. I'm disproportionately fast downhill compared to my climbing.

Now my head fills with sweet memories as I run down the velvety smooth grass where I took Phoebe bum sledging all those years ago. We did at least have a bin bag each 😄.

"Well done Rob" comes a shout from a nearby slope. Apart from runners, there are only 3 other people on the hill, to get encouragement like that when the world is so sparse of humans is fantastic. Thanks Phil 😊. 

As we near the turnaround point for loop 2, just near that first kissing gate, fence guy slows to negotiate some pokey up tree roots. I am less cautious over these, and clatter past him. I should leave him behind now, with this section of gentle downhill.

Doesn't work like that though. I've lit the fire in his belly. His breath doesn't give him away, he's keeping up with me and that means he'll get by me on the 2nd climb up to the castle, and he ain't going to relinquish his place then. As everything starts kicking upward again though, suddenly he falls away. He must have been pushing to keep up with me, and now that gravity is against once more, he's got no spare capacity with which to fight it. He is very soundly beaten.

Got enough breath to thank the marshall this time, pass the sheep, and this time I bear left onto the path, similar to fence guys line before, and this time I can keep running. I'm not really catching anyone in front, but the gap to those behind is growing.

I'm more tentative today down the donkey path than I've been before, not exactly sure if my knee will hold me up at full speed, not exactly sure I've retained the skills of placing feet on rough ground whilst looking ahead for the next 5 hazards coming at you, and the thought of a fall onto those rocks scares me in a way it hasn't done before. 

Learned fear.

I know we are going to be running down that steep tarmac soon, and I know that isn't my strong suit. Whoever it is 200 yards behind me, they will catch me unless I give it everything I've got. I'm catching the lad In front of me, but on the tarmac, he pulls away. Sure enough this is a bad patch for me. I can't run with any kind of rhythm at this speed. My right knee is unstable. My right foot slaps disturbingly loudly onto the tarmac. There is no rhythm to my movement, and it feels like hard work. My left knee hurts from 11 months of carrying a heavier load than it really should be. This was my weaker knee to begin with, wrecked from bumps and scrapes and keyhole surgery that let arthritis into the joint. 

Some normality is returning then 😄.

By the time we're heading back onto the school field through that narrow little gate, it's about half a lap of the football pitch to finish. Guy behind (not fence guy, some young whipper snapper this) is almost breathing down my neck now, guy in front has pulled away. I don't want to surrender a place now. I can't power forwards so I lean, lean forwards and hope for the best. It works. I beat the guy who was catching me by 4 seconds in the end.

Paul Samuels rolls in just behind me. Alan, Pete... I hope I can move as well as Alan when I get to that Vet 60 classification. I hope my legs look half as strong as his do when I get to 60. If I get to 60!

I want to keep moving, I head over to the narrow gate. That tarmac is a narrow tree lined lane, from somewhere  in the greenery I can hear the sound of Charles pushing himself to his absolute maximum. I don't know how that man does it, he pushes himself to his limits almost every single day!

We cool down a bit together, but then people disperse quickly, including my brethren from the club. But we've another man still out there! As I headed toward the finish at the split where we turned for lap 2, Sean Partington was just navigating past the fence post heading for his 2nd lap. 30 years that man has been running in a Wrexham AC vest. I only found that out today. I'm glad I waited for him, that in itself deserves respect. 

Doesn't matter anyway. We count them all out, and we count them all back in. I stand shoulder to shoulder with my clubmates just the same as I do my Realbuzz mates. Doesn't matter how long it takes to finish, doesn't matter if you're first or last, the distance is the same and the hill is just as high. All that matters is you do your best.

My best today was a top 20 finish, which is where I was getting to fully fit (on my good days) in these local midweek events. My time was only about half a minute off what I finished in last year - and last year I'd had a great run, just before I smashed my knee.

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