I went to and fro regarding whether or not to get up at the crack of dawn and head out to the White Water Centre for the hardCORE Serious Trail Runner 8k trail race on Saturday. I hadn’t even been too hopeful that the race would actually take place, the trails had seemingly been closed solidly since my last race out there at the end of January, but come Friday the online trail status miraculously changed to “open” and that, along with a late email from Ashley saying that she would be there, really sealed my fate. The lure of a good hard run through the trees was too great. I set my alarm and with great resolve hauled myself out of bed to battle 167 fellow runners on the trail.
After enduring weeks of my legs only braving the cold miserable weather while snugly clad in my thermo running tights I seized on the reported upswing in temperature for the weekend and decided to leave the tights in their drawer. I was confident that though I may chatter and be chilly while standing around at the start, that as soon as the race was on it would be perfect running weather for skirt alone. I was right. It felt absolutely great to be bare legged and running again.
I started off this race more determined than usual. Apart from the fact that I did a little internet stalking of possible front runners the night before, once my race packet was collected, and bib and timing chip securely in place I set off on a nice easy warm up run. Don’t think I’ve done one of those before. I was not the only one with this idea and so as I warmed up I was able to check out and make mental notes of those other runners who seemed to be in finest fettle. After meeting up with my friend Ashley and saying hi, I then got all serious and angled for a fairly decent position at the start line. Not totally out of my league at the very head of the pack, but within good shot of being able to break straight into a decent pace from the gun and not get caught in a tight crowd.
My tactic paid off immediately. The race started and instead of getting frustrated by a slow pace and lack of leg room I was able to run, and so I did. I was up amongst the lead runners and for the first time I was experiencing a new jostling on a trail race. Instead of having to work from the back to steadily pass slower runners ahead of me I was involved in a whole new type of passing as runners vied for initial position. It was exhilarating.
The race course took us down onto the Green trail loop which I knew was a pretty and fairly non technical three miles and had the potential to be fast. I enjoyed letting loose on this stretch, but I was aware that the last two miles were going to be very different and that I would need to save something in reserve to get me through those. I clocked in times of 8:00, 8:33 and 8:29 for those first three miles, then as the trail narrowed, got rootier and began to hit some decent hills the fun really began.
Coming in the last segment of the race the hills were tough. I hit them as I was running at the back of a pack of men. Normally I don’t think they would have been too terrible an ascent but as each runner ahead of me hit the wall and started slowing, grimly plodding, then walking, I found myself following suit. In retrospect it seemed like I was almost running tuned in to my companions footfalls as metronome and that once the beat slowed my own legs fell in line until they also rebelled and did not have the resolve to continue. A siren call to watch out for next time. Not to worry though, once I hauled myself to the top I tried to make up for lost time on the way back down again.
At certain points the trails at the USNWC spit you out onto long flat open stretches across cuttings for electricity pylons before plunging back into the woods again. You’d think that these would be great for a bit of recovery or for getting a quick burst of speed in and opening up some distance, but I found the opposite. Oh how I hate those bits of trail. From the moment I would leave the leafy cover of trees until I was back in their shade again running would be a struggle. Those interludes are just interminable, disheartening and not at all fun.
The final stretch was both dreaded and welcomed. It’s always the same. The finish line is in the car park at the top of the hill. To get to it you exit the woods, quickly descend onto a flat packed earth track between some scrub, and then join a wide gravel trail to wind back around and up the short steep hill. It’s not very friendly.
I was back chasing the small pack of men at this point and had been gaining solidly. I was determined to not let this hill get the better of me, and to try to leapfrog a place or two in the final sprint. As we hit the dirt track I had right there with the three guys and was gunning for the finish.
Then suddenly my feet felt pounds heavier. I was struggling to lift my legs and the men had flown past. It was no flagging at the last moment on my part though. After all that running through the trails suddenly only here had it got muddy. I’d pounded into a claggy puddle and a heavy brick of thick sticky mud had attached itself to the bottom of each shoe making each step a task. Shaking it off awkwardly as I trudged I managed to regain momentum and carry on running up the hill. The inadvertent extra load had cost me twenty seconds and it was too late to catch the male trio. I burst out into the car park on my own as they had already passed through the finish chute.
I finished in a time of 44:38. Fifth female home, second in my age division.
It was a perfect morning for a run and I think I had a grin on my face for the entire race. I had a lot of fun and am so glad I made the decision to get out of bed and head out to the USNWC that morning.