Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Sting in the Trail....

Sun 29 March 2009, Grizedale Forest, nr Hawkshead
Grizedale ‘10’ Trail Race. 1pm start.

I arrive with about 50 mins to spare, to be met by the most random carparking arrangement I’ve ever seen at an organised event. Left off the road, onto a forest track, already lined with hundreds (it seems) of cars. You have to drive gingerly through a constant stream of entrants all making their way from their cars, some parked miles into the forest, back to the road to get across to the number collection point, on the other side of the main road at Moor Top. After crawling along for around 10 minutes I eventually reach the spaces at the end of the queue. Unable to turn round, I keep going until I’m convinced I’m on the outskirts of Newby Bridge. A nine-point turn follows and, imagining for a moment that I drive a 4x4, I park on top of a small gorse bush. Now, the drive down has been in unbroken sunshine, and I’m thinking ‘no sleeves required today’. I get out of the car, and in the shade it feels still close to freezing, and this is grizzly country. I need long sleeves. So I quickly retreat into another top, lock the car, jog off down the road, return to the car to get my racing shoes on, lock the car again, jog off down the road, return to the car to get my ER vest, lock the car, and jog off down the road. So, number ceremoniously pinned to vest, a half-hearted warm up follows, and we begin to gather for the start. Which is, predictably, among the trees.

The prelude to the Start is a bit surreal. A bloke appears in front of the throng, holding up a sign marked, encouragingly, with the word ‘Start’ written on it. He says nothing, just stands there facing us, holding the sign high above his head. Perhaps we’re caught up in a Dom Joly routine. The runners begin to go quiet, wondering if he will maybe burst into song, or perhaps deliver a solemn monologue. Ian wonders if this is a ‘Silent Start’, where we just run as soon as he drops the sign. The hush deepens. Disappointingly, I’ve forgotten what he said (“Go!” maybe?) but we all begin running at the same time, and in the same direction. As usual I’m trying to find some room to run at the edges. After a few hundred metres, in a true ‘Keystone Cops’ moment, suddenly the race in front of me stops, someone shouts something about the wrong way, and we abruptly turn 90deg left down another track. There are people running in all directions. I am in about 6th place, and Ian is just about heading the field in front of me. It seems to take far too long for the leaders to come past us again, so I’m looking back over my shoulder to check that it wasn’t an elaborate double bluff. Nope, there are hordes of people chasing me. And everywhere, there are trees.

Anyway the course continues downhill, and more of the fast boys come past. Anyone who’s been here before knows that at 2.5miles the course begins a huge climb which lasts almost two miles. It must have hurt, but I can’t remember feeling it. Somewhere before mile 6 there is a fantastic, almost aerial view of Coniston Village to our left. This is the only recollection I have of any vista that isn’t obscured by thousands of pine trees. Very pleasant course, as long as you’re not hylophobic (look it up)

I soon get into competition with two other runners who have the temerity to overtake me near the top of The Long Slog. They didn’t get away, and I subconsciously decide that I will tag along. So we go on, me catching them at the 6m drinks station, they overtaking me every time we run uphill (this happens far too frequently), me dragging myself level & overtaking again on the levels or downhill. I dimly had remembered that there was another climb before the finish, and hoped I’d be able to keep the gap manageable so that I could try to find a fast finish. But no. The final climb, although not steep, proves a gradient too far for me. They got away, and although I was gaining on them again I just couldn’t find enough. Hmm. Must revisit my pre-race. So, a bit depressed, I finish and am handed a Grizedale 2009 mug, which I take to Wilf’s van, where it is magically filled with tea, and I am offered a bewildering choice of yumptious cakes. ‘Pineapple & Fruit’ (is that not a bit tautological?) proves a good choice – it is an almost instant anti-depressant, and it works, as I wander back up the finish straight to encourage other ERs home. Not that I’m much use, as Ian arrives at the same moment as a huge mouthful of cake. I nod encouragingly though as he passes. An encouraging nod can make all the difference, I tell myself, even if the ‘noddee’ is unaware of it.

It’s a bit cold, I realise. I head back to the finish area to see what’s going on there. Ann arrives shortly afterwards, looking as serene as she did before the race (how does that work?) I make my excuses and head off, knowing I have a several-mile walk uphill to find my non-4WD off-roader. And, eventually, there it is, still looking uncomfortable. Then again, so would you if you’d been sitting on a gorse bush for two hours.

I happen to meet Kevin at the foot of the hill again. He has completed his first ever ‘proper’ trail race, has eaten his cake and drunk his tea. Mission accomplished, we leave for home. Another recollection pops into my head as I go. The bloke who finished in front of me picked up a goody bag but had to put it back, being told ‘ ....they’re only for the ladies’. I never found out what was in the bags. Any ideas anyone?

1 comment:

Rhiannon said...

Best not to enquire about what's in the ladies' goody bags....

Alan- thank you for introducing a tautology into the Eden Runner blog- a first, perhaps..