Sunday, February 05, 2017

Mickelden Straddle Fell Race - The "sensible" race

I've been trying to do this race for some years.  I think I entered it once and when the day came, I had a narsty cold and the weather was not good enough to accommodate 15 miles of bleuragh.  I attempted to enter it another time and probably found it to be full.  I have had years where I'm just nowhere near capable of a 15 mile fell race in February after a winter of hibernation and vicious cyclo-cross racing.

This year, we both entered early and we were both fit and healthy for it except for the slight hindrance, for me, that I haven't really done much running training for a 15 mile fell race - although that's what I said about last week's Tigger Torr 9.6 mile fell race which I finished remarkably well and concluded that pushing fully-loaded mountain bikes around Welsh hills for an entire weekend was perfectly adequate preparation for any fell race going.

I still wasn't convinced though.  I raced Tigger Torr so hard that it took me until Thursday to be able to walk down stairs normally and Friday to reacquire any kind of spring in my step but I said I'd show up and run it at a regulated pace.  I mean, I could definately do 15 miles at a  nice steady pace.  Then I discovered the cutoff.

TSK wasn't worried about it but I was a little concerned.  Last week it took me 57 minutes to do the same distance to the cut off.  This time I had 1h 10 mins on legs that weren't really that fresh.  Still, so long as I kept above 4.3 miles per hour I'd be OK.  I set myself a target of 5mph to allow for the faff - which often besets one of us on a race.

I gave TSK a lecture about the faff which he suffered from last time and reminded him he was racing.  Still, we both started the race in too many layers - he in a windproof and me wearing an extra teeshirt I didn't really need.

The race started on a rather tame forest trail and a LOT of people ran past me.  I wasn't going to get drawn into going too fast.  Every time I felt tempted to let rip, I thought of my ambition to be able to ride my bike on Monday... perhaps Tuesday... or at least do yoga on Tuesday.  I was going to talk to TSK as he came past but he never did and then I noticed his bright orange jacket ahead and I thought, sneaky bugger" but I let it go.  I was perfectly happy for him to beat me over this distance because he is doing a long distance race, not me.  He's been training for this, not me and I wanted to be able to ride that bike tomorrow.

I was thinking about it so hard I nearly missed the first turn through some trees before re-gaining the trail and the sharp downhill to the stream (taking it easy not to batter my legs) before the climbing begain in earnest.  After 2.5 miles I stopped to take the teeshirt off.  5 people I had passed on the last climb came by but then I ran back past them fairly quickly at my own pace.  The only problem was, I wasn't really paying attention to the way I was going.  I was watching my pace.  6.3mph had dropped to 5.6mph average and by the time I got to the top of the climb it had further dropped to 5.1mph and my calves were aching so bad.

Still, the moorland was upon us and flattened out.  Hopping across stones and climbing up peat hags to avoid bogs was still faster than trying to run up hill and checkpoint 1 at 5 miles was achieved in 58min:33secs.  The path was so attention-consuming that I forgot about my aching calves for a bit and set about the downhill to Howden reservoir with gusto, although still controlling the speed so as not to smash my quads and calves around like I did last week.  It was a much smoother descent and at the bottom of it I acquired a friend.

I met this older chap on the peak as I caught him up and commented how warm it was, he responded, "I'll say, I'm sweating like a pig!".  So harsh I was taken aback when down at Howden he turned out to be very well spoken.  We talked about Tigger Torr and he said he hadn't entered because of the online entry system and suggested that it might be a sign that he should retire but then I pointed out the beautiful scenery we were running through and asked how he could leave all of "this".

I think I might have swayed him.

We ran together - sometimes chatting and sometimes silent.  I enjoyed his company and his pace so much that I ran ahead to get the gates and he shut them behind us.  I was tempering my speed just a little bit.

We met the marshalls which then shepherded us up Howden Clough and the steep returned.  The first climb at least stretched out my calves and I was pretty surprised to see the guy continuing to tail me up the steeps.  We passed the runner ahead who had been intermittently walking then running off at a right lick, meaning we never actually caught him.  Clearly he didn't have much more of the run in him.

When we got out onto the open hillside, below Howden Edge I seemed to have dropped my tail and reeled in another guy, then a lady who I had been hoping was Andrew (in orange) but really wasn't.  We all stopped together at the path junction and I have to admit I had no idea how far along we were and almost took a wrong turn had it not been for a chap insisting we take the main path.  Much to my embarrasment, checkpoiint 5 was just around the corner.  I had to mask my embarrasment and hope that no=one had seen me stop to get the map out.

The people I'd passed had come back around me but once we were back onto the rocky bog my inner Dark Peaker took over and I passed everyone back as I skimmed across the stones, intermittently scrabbling up to the short heather above to avoid the really boggy slippery sections. It was much easier on my legs running on the tops since the heather is still only 20mm tall here.

I passed a woman who insisted on trying to leap over bogs where her legs weren't long enough and squealing and wailing every time she was submerged upto her knees and beyond.  I had to get around her and her partner who patiently waited, tried to keep pace with me for a bit to spurr her on then resorted to just waiting again.  The descent began and I ran faster and faster.  A quick glance at my watch told me there were still 4 more miles to go but damn I was enjoying this.

Delicate application of my hamstrings made me run much faster and... oh no, there was a path turning!  It said Langsett to my right but... did we come that way???

One of the marshalls, walking along behind me was looking at me earnestly.  No! Not an audience.  There was no-one ahead of me.  The man in a yellow jacket had disappeared.    Argh.  The map was still in my hand so I checked.

It was clear that the turning took me to the wrong end of Langsett and would have left me without check point 6 and therefore disqualified or facing a mile of retracing my steps uncofmortably before I was allowed to run another mile back to the finish.  Squeally woman's husband/partner came into sight and that was enough to stop me worrrying and send my scurrying off down the hillside at a speed approaching full-pelt - well, for a mile 12 effort anyway.  There was no point in taking care through the puddles now.  Mud went everywhere and so did my legs but it was worth it... right up until the point my left foot tripped over a stone and the resulting reaction in my right leg caused an excrutiating cramp to rip through my right calf muscle.  Ow!  I took a little more care.

A few little walks up hill and then the final spiralling descent to the river before climbing back up the other side.  I hazarded a look behind.  No one was there.  I had time in the bank to dawdle my way up the climb and even bypass the slithery path through the trees in favour of the bridlepath surface and space.  A marshal was surprised to see me coming from a different direction but I explained my reasoning and he said he respected me for my descision (I'm not sure he believed me).

There was about a mile to go and what should I see but the man in the yellow jacket walking.  I continued my pace and then he started running again and drifted away.  I kept to my pace.  He walked again and I closed in a bit.  This went on for ages, it seemed, until finally I caught him up and feigned a bit of fatigue.  I wasn't looking for a sprint, didn't fancy one but knew I could probably win it if it happened.

Sure enough, within sight of the finish we both had a bit of a go.  I shouldn't have, given my promise not to destroy myself but hey, you never know whether you're fighting for 124th place, or 99th place.  We propped ourselves up against a table and stretched.

We were given rescue ale and smiles and I went off in search of TSK who finished 4 minutes ahead of me and deeper into the hurt locker, having stayed in the same position for most of the run.

The organisation lavished us with sandwiches and wraps and tea.  When we picked ourselves up to leave, we could only hobble through the carpark.  Absolutely astonished at how quickly I disintegrated from, "Hey, this ain't bad, I'm doing OK here, I'll outsprint this chap" to, "ooh ahh, ooh, I can't move my knees, Ah! My ankles".

We peeled ourselves into clean(ish) clothes and drove home guzzling coffee along the way.  Presriptive long showers and baths were taken and then the bed... half an hour of lying on my back with my feet against the wall and the glow of endorphins and sweet sweet sleep.

I guess I can't claim I'm not ready for a 15 mile race any more.

14.61 miles, 2:58:28. El 723m
Overall: 175/192
Women: 20/29
LV40: 9/14 (making a habit of 9th).

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