I bought a season ticket for all the races in the Lakeland Trail series (www.lakelandtrails.org) and today I ran the 6th out of 8 the above mentioned Coniston 15k trail. This is the last one of the series that I had never run before, so the course was unknown to me. I tried to look at the course map at registration but I didnt have my glasses so I was none the wiser !
The first part of this blog is about the race, the course, the conditions etc. A race report in a nutshell. I will then try to articulate my feelings and what this type of running does for me. Photos would help enormously to convey the surfaces we run on, but I don't take pics when I'm racing so its words only today. Dont leave now, please !! Read on
These races are quite decent value for money in todays climate (my season ticket cost £165 for 153km) and I now have more tech T shirts than I know what to do with ! The downside for me is the cost of travelling. I live 3-4 hours away depending on the event. Today I was away from home for 11 hours so my hours per km raced isnt so good !
Conditions today were pretty nigh perfect. Light cloud and 16 degrees with no rain and very little wind saw me run in vest and shorts very comfortably (in the Lake District in October !!). I decided that Inov8 Orocs would be my shoes and I was right there. They were excellent on the rocks and scree. Not knowing the course I just ran it as I found it. The first mile is very benign along the water (7.49) and then we went up ! More than the next 2 miles were uphill. The hard packed gravel type track changed to looser scree and ultimately single track rocky path (10.56 & 12.40). Lots of tactical walking was employed here. We then flattened out and had a fantastic mile downhill through some very technical sections. I thought I was faster than the recorded pace (10.01) so I guess the technical nature of it slowed me more than I imagined.
I really enjoyed this section, trying to run fast through difficult terrain is such fun. More on this later. I found the next half mile very tough. It was up again, not that steep, but into a fair breeze and I couldnt get my legs going again after the down section. Miles 6-8 are largely down as reflected in the splits (8.27, 8.13, 9.11) and these were hugely technical. Lots of loose scree and rock, it takes full concentration to make your feet go exactly where you want them to go. Slip up and you'll go arse over tit, literally. The last mile is back along the side of Coniston water, flat, tree roots to catch you out. I was pretty shot by now and chugged it out at 8.41 pace. A brief chat with a couple of Twitter buddies, a dip in the water (absolute bliss) and I was headed back up the road.
In summary, that is a fantastic course (as they all are to be fair). I felt a little disappointed at times with my performance as I often do, but am heartened when I see the stats on Strava (http://app.strava.com/activities/87092037). 9.1 miles with 1344ft of climb at 9.32 pace will do me. A footnote to this series is that (without researching properly and I cant be arsed) I definitely get the feeling they are becoming much more popular (registered entrants today were 469 for trail challenge, 272 for trail race and 289 for 10k trail = over 1000 people) and as a consequence, the standard is rising considerably.
Part two then: what does it do for me? I'll give you a couple of snapshots from my thoughts as I ran today. Bear in mind that all the time there is an underlying feeling of pain and wanting to stop. Not pain because I was injured or hurting, just the pain you have (mostly mental) when you run. If you run, you'll know what I'm on about.
(1) As my watch buzzed mile 2 I was ascending as fast as I could i.e. very slowly. It was hard going, but what flashed through my mind: a slight feeling of disappointment that I had already run more than one fifth of this race. So soon it would be over.
(2) As I tackled a particularly slow technical single track section, slightly frustrated to be unable to pass the runner in front, I asked myself why I was doing this. The answer: because I can. Simple as that, but boy does that give me satisfaction. I wasted my years 20-40 sport wise and I am so happy that at 50 I can do this.
(3) On one fast tricky descent, I was concentrating hard where my feet were going so that I didnt fall. I must have been scared to blink as I was struggling to see for the water/tears in my eyes. A marshall said well done, I thanked him, without daring to look up. I thought of my steps as "dancing" (I must put my feet in the right place). I huge smile crossed my face and I almost laughed out loud. This was SO MUCH FUN.
(4) Puddles. Why do you think every little kids makes detours to jump in any puddle they can? Because its basic fun. Jump, splash, wet. Well its not just little kids, its 50 year olds too!
(5) Music. I never run with music. I started running on the roads 5 years ago and used music to distract my mind from what I was doing, the pain whatever. Now it would destroy a run for me. Once I settle into a run, I am very aware of my out breath. I always remember a Chinese proverb :in order to fill a vessel, one must first empty it. In other words, if you dont exhale fully, you wont be able to take in a good lungful of fresh air. So my exhalation becomes hypnotic: I hear it and more importantly I feel it.
When I get right into this zone, I feel very very in touch with my surroundings, myself, the earth. I"m not sure how to describe it, but its an almost Zen like thing/Hippy shit (delete as you see fit!). I am acutely aware of whats around me, but at the same time its almost as if I'm an observer. When the run finishes, so does this. Maybe this explains point (1) !
So thats it for today. This has just been rattled off, I havent even re-read it. I will in the morning and I may edit it. Then again, I may not. Thanks for reading.