Every Christmas morning my Dad presents us all with a white envelope containing some form of adventure that he has carefully selected, with the intention of pushing us to our limits in the name of a good family day out. For my Mum, these white envelopes have become an annual burden, and she makes sure that at least one G&T has been consumed before she dare face what horror might be folded into a simple A5 envelope. In the past we've tried out Honsiter's Via Ferrata (which, sadly, has since closed) and Keswick Half Marathon (my Mum did the York 10k), and last Christmas we were treated to the Cartmel Sticky Toffee Trail Race, one leg of the amazing Lakeland Trails running experience.
|Above Honister Pass, August 2011|
We arrived at Cartmel with only an hour to spare, and were already muddy within minutes after picking up our numbers from the mud bath that was race registration! The weather had been awful over the days before the race, and it was a given that the run was going to be incredibly difficult underfoot: even the start line was more like a bog than a racecourse! It was really cold out, too, but after a trial jog around the racecourse in my shorts I decided to stick with the 'less is more' approach to racewear; nothing is more waterproof or washable than skin, after all!
At the start line I began to get really nervous - a big case of the 'everyone looks fitter than me' syndrome amplified by the fact that there were so few people taking part in the Race. As is often the case with trail and fell running, I also noticed that (apart from my brother) I was probably the youngest there: small fry in all respects! The atmosphere at the Lakeland Trails events is just fantastic, though, and the drumming band and friendly crowd lifted my spirits, as did the sudden bout of unexpected impotence from the inflatable 'Start' banner, which delayed proceedings slightly. We finally set off through a sea of mud, and it was heavy going instantly as my shoes sunk in to the ground and came up heavy with sticky soil. On top of the general struggle to stand upright and wade forwards, I was also tired from a week of lots of running, so my pre-race nerves were at an ultimate high.
As usual, though, it didn't take long for me to forget everything other than the awesomeness that was the very moment I was in. The sky had started to clear and the scenery was magnificent - sunlight was strewn across the water of Morcambe Bay to the West, and the snow-topped Lakeland fells loomed to the East, and there I was running through the mud in the chilly March sunshine. The bottom half of my legs were covered in mud from the outset, which meant I was automatically set free into a muddy carelessness that meant I could tractor along with the un-matched freedom that comes with off-road running. I was also exceptionally happy with the shoes I was wearing, as I had taken a risk wearing them for their first run on an 18k race after my trusty trail shoes gave up the ghost only two weeks before. No blisters: it all adds to the joy!
The hills weren't too bad on this run either, and they gave me an opportunity to take over a few runners who had set off faster than me only to falter on the hills. I was bounding along completely alone for some miles, with only paper flags and the occasional marshal to point me in the right direction. While crossing one particularly muddy patch of fell I slid sidewards right into the mud, covering hands, thigh, and the whole left-side of my shorts in mud. The landing was deliciously soft, and part of me wanted to stay there for a while to frolic in the dirt, but with the cut-off time near the front of my mind I ploughed on.
At around 12k I started to tire, as almost every step became an effort as the ground sank beneath me. Parts of the course involved ploughing ankle-deep for some distance, and uphills were a relentless struggle to stop sliding back down again - it became pretty annoying! My back was hurting from the constant need to keep my balance, the sun was right in my face (my sunglasses were left in the car, incidentally!), and I was really hungry. Still, I was having a great time, always amazed by the privilege of being able to run like a mad woman through the Lake District's most beautiful landscapes on a Saturday afternoon.
A photographer was waiting at the last mile to take photos of runners splashing through a stream, which would have been a nice way to wash myself down if it wasn't for the final mile of mud! It soothed my poor feet, though, and freshened up my legs for the last push. After a slippery ascent into and then through some tricky woodland terrain (my Dad had warned me about the slimy tree roots, which are a nightmare when you're tired from running) I came back down onto Cartmel racecourse, and headed towards the finish line which was literally a brown bog. Finishing the race knee-deep in filth was fitting, and I was glad to see that my Dad and brother were just as muddy as I was. I collected my hard-earned sticky toffee pudding, then wrapped up in the car with a hot chocolate and a cereal bar. Next time I won't forget to pack baby wipes.
We finished off the day in typical style: my Mum had prepared a slap-up meal of veggie chilli, garlic bread and rice, with crumble and sliceable custard for pudding. Fittingly, I reached the end of the day feeling Christmas levels of fullness, but the wind burn, grazes and dirt in my toenails were a nice reminder of the adventure we'd enjoyed earlier that day.