Wednesday, 8 June 2011

My Day on the Fells

The plan was to go out on our bikes every Saturday until our race on the 14th August. The plan was to forget running, to leave it as a useful way of cross training and nothing more.

But then a colleague mentioned to me that he was 'training for the Wharfedale off-road half marathon in two weeks', and my ears pricked up. I did a bit of Google-ing, and it wasn't long before I'd made a deal with my Dad that I'd do it if he did (for those who don't know my Dad, this was basically signing myself up there and then).

I didn't hear from him for a week. Then, the following Tuesday (four days before the race), my Mum casually mentioned during a long phone chat that 'Dad said you're doing a race on Saturday...?'. Great, thanks Dad!

So, 6am on Saturday morning I found myself gobbling my breakfast as if it were to last me three weeks. I was nervous and my tummy was gurgly and aching; I had no idea what to expect, and I was quite sure that I was an almost insulting level of under-prepared. But I was also excited, and ready for anything - I'd promised myself to approach it as an adventure, and that walking, eating chocolate or even dropping out at any point during the race was very much allowed!

The route was almost all off road, covering part of the Dales Way and looping back round the Wharfedale valley. I knew there would be a nasty ascent over a couple of miles in the first half, but after that it was pretty much all flat or even downhill. I was excited to run through the wilds, and curious to see how fell running would differ from bog-standard running; could it really be that much more difficult?

We arrived at the starting venue, which was a rugby club nestled in the Wharfedale valley. Straight away I felt as if it were different from a normal race; the runners looked different - more rugged, and, dare I say it, even fitter then usual! I felt rather chubby and out of place, and I couldn't really concentrate on getting ready, warming up or anything else; I was too in awe of what I was about to try and do.

The race started before I'd really had any time to prepare myself mentally. I was just running, very steadily, as streams of others ran past me. Usually I find my place at the starting point and run comfortably alongside those around me, but this time I was sure everyone would speed off ahead and I'd be left on my own! Luckily, we turned left and off the road, which created a long back-log of runners. Here I was able to find my place, warm myself up a bit more, and prepare, finally, for thirteen miles of something I had never even attempted (Daniel had suggested I started with a 10k...sometimes his ideas seem so sensible!).

As soon as we hit the track it got really tough. We were going up and up and up, and the path was so rocky underfoot that you couldn't just run - you had to watch out for every step, and there was lots of jumping and leaping involved. Not even a mile in and I was exhausted, but I kept on running as others around me started to walk up the hill. Once the track opened out it was easier to pick up a steady pace (with intermittent stiles to slow the whole process down!), and the landscape opened up along with it, with views so stunning I had to laugh out loud. The wind was strong and a fine mist was blowing around me, and I kept thinking to myself wow.

Courtesy of David S Brett Photography
We had checkpoints to reach every few miles, and I was surprised at how soon the first one appeared. We had a card which had to be checked through a little machine, logging times and making sure we were getting along safely. There were only 400 runners doing the race, and it was not far into the race that we all dispersed, meaning that a lot of the time I was running completely alone. Quite an experience.

Mastiles Lane, the dreaded two-mile ascent of almost 1,500 feet, began after the first check point. Once again I kept on running, keeping my eyes to the ground as I do when cycling up impossible hills. I reached what I thought was the top and breathed a sigh of relief and victory at having conquered the whole thing without having to walk, and then I saw another long ascent ahead. I could lie and say I ran it all, but I won't - even walking up there was tough!!

From the top of Mastiles Lane it was sheer bliss. I ran, jumped and lolloped through the fells, jumping over streams, plodding muddily through marshes and generally enjoying the scenery, the smells and the whole experience. I couldn't believe it when I got to the second check point and saw that I'd already done 8 miles (there were no mile markers along the way), it had flown past!

Another remarkable feat of wonder was that it was so much easier on my joints. Usually I get to mile 10 and I start to hurt everywhere, but this time I was fine the whole way through - even my hips didn't give me any grief. I got to mile thirteen and I could have carried on for another while - I was dissappointed to be heading to the finish point, where I'd have to get back to reality, roads and humans! Still, finishing was an amazing feeling, and I was greeted by my Dad and three of my work colleagues who had also taken part. I'd been running for 2 hours and 48 minutes - the longest run I've ever done (and the furthest, as it was actually 13.5 miles!).

I was also starving, which is unusual as I normally don't want to eat much after a race. I had a flapjack and drank half a litre of orange juice (!), and then we headed to a nearby pub for chips and tomato soup. By this point I was so tired and weather-worn that I couldn't stand to be outside, so we hid away in the corner of the pub and discussed the day in the most vivid detail.

Chips and Taxidermy
 Also unsual was that I didn't have the blues the following day - normally I get incredibly grumpy on the day after a race and can never find a way to entertain myself, but I've been on a high ever since. I can't wait to get out there again, and again, and again. In fact, I'm planning to join a fell running club and allow myself to become addicted. Watch this space!

1 comment:

  1. Well done Catherine!
    Another accomplishment in your running life.
    Roll on the next one eh?!
    Lisa x