With the Birmingham International Marathon just three weeks away, I thought it would be a good idea to get some race practice in. That, plus I’m always up for a new challenge, and so I sneaked in with a late entry to Saturday’s Rodbaston 10k in Staffordshire.
Rodbaston is an agricultural college and also has a beautiful old hall and grounds which these days is used for weddings. The site is vast – obviously if they can manage to host a 10k within it – and although the route weaved around a lot to make up the distance, it was a single loop and not laps.
The run is billed as off-road with obstacles, although it’s not in the same vein as the various Tough Mudder type events. Think stiles, vaults, a few jumps and a couple of streams to splash through and that’s as extreme as it got. And fields. With mud. Lots of mud!
I wasn’t sure what to expect as this was my first proper off-road excursion in ‘race trim’. I did question my sanity as I headed for the start line. Fields and country paths are not renowned for being smooth underfoot and let’s not forget what happened to my ankle back in August…
So when the gun went off and the 300-strong field made a dash for the first corner, I kept my head and gave myself some space. Tarmac quickly turned to gravel and then to grass. It was very picturesque, but sightseeing would have to wait as my eyes were squarely focused on the path in front of me – pothole duty! Preserve that ankle at all costs.
Things soon thinned out so I could get into my stride and begin claiming back many of the places I’d let go at the start. My opening two miles were both around the 7:30 mark – pretty quick (for me!) given the uneven surfaces.
Then the course started to wreak its revenge. At 5k we hit the obstacles. I jumped onto the first one – a log ramp – but the landing on the way down hurt my bad ankle. So for the others I sort of vaulted them and swung my legs across, which was much more tolerable.
Next came the water splash. We ran through a stream, probably about shin-deep, and then into thick mud on the other side. Thank goodness I decided to run in old trainers! The water made my feet seem ridiculously heavy and just as they were drying off, the course doubled back on itself and we had to splash through the same stream all over again. A double soaking…
My mile pace slowed into the low 8s, but I was still making up ground on other runners. This also coincided with another change in surface as we returned to tarmac and gravel. That perked me up and stopped me stressing about further injuries.
However, Rodbaston wasn’t quite done with us yet. They say you should save the ‘best’ until last, which meant mile six (or the final couple of kilometres if you prefer) was full on. A muddy entrance into a large field, boggy stretches to navigate your way through, rutted paths and plenty of squelchy presents courtesy of the local farm animals. Delightful!
My legs were burning by now, but I had another runner in my sights and could see the gap was closing. I went for it and took him with about half a mile to go. Now I just needed to hang on.
Apart from avoiding injury, my goal for Rodbaston had been to go sub-50 minutes. A way off my road-running PB, but given the conditions and terrain it seemed like a fair target. I glanced down at my watch and knew it was going to be close. I put a sprint on for the line, but it wasn’t quite enough…50m 37s.
No matter, I’d given it all I had got. I didn’t know just how punishing off-road / cross country running can be, although my screaming leg muscles were giving me a fairly big clue.
The pain, however, was quickly forgotten when the steward handed me a printout of my result. I’d come in 44th place on the gun and 45th on my chip. And I was a fairly unbelievable 14th for my age group! I’m very proud of that for a first attempt, made even sweeter by the fact my daughter was there to watch and cheer me across the line.
Damage? No thigh issues whatsoever, so I dare to hope that my torn adductors are now healed. As for the ankle, it was throbbing at the finish but eased over time. It also got grumpy with me when training resumed on Sunday morning with a 12 mile long run, albeit back on tarmac and at a much gentler marathon pace.
But I’m hopeful that, with some rest during my taper weeks, it will recover enough so as not to stop me on marathon day. Been there and done that in Manchester. I’ve even got the t-shirt (literally!), and it’s not an experience I want to repeat.
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