My plan of racing more sensibly after an injury hit few months lasted all of about a week, the lure of the trails was too strong. After hearing about Rail to Trail via some twitter chat I decided to sign up for the first race of the series in Newport Essex. Basically all the locations are within roughly an hour from London (depending on where you are I suppose), so easily accessible and a great introduction to trail running.
Not having worn trail shoes since February, or run on anything off-road or even anything resembling an incline since July I settled for the half marathon option! I also believed that the half marathon was 13.1 miles until the night before the race when I discovered it was 15 (and actually ended up being 16 thanks to a navigational error!), pretty glad I didn’t realise that during the race!
It was a reasonably early start for me from Greenwich, but the journey was pretty easy and I got a train straight from Liverpool St. to Newport, where I discovered that the race start was literally less than 100m from the train station. Win. Nothing worse than having to shuffle miles to a train station after a long race.
I caught up with some old and new running friends, grabbed my bib, and chip which we had to dib in at the 2 checkpoints along the route, dropped my bag and was all set to run! For a first time event the organisation was excellent, it was only a small race with around 30 odd people doing each distance 10k, half and full, the marshals were brilliant and it was very well signposted, although I think there was a problem which was quickly sorted on the marathon course.
We set off up and over the train bridge leaving behind civilization and headed out for a few hours of glorious trail miles. The weather threatened throughout but it stayed dry, however you could see how much rain had fallen throughout the week. The farmers fields were boggy and some of the puddles along the route were insane, I went shin deep in one, but didn’t lose my trusty Inov-8 trailrocs thankfully! They held up pretty well to the task once again.
I settled into a comfortable rhythm chatting away with Emma and Jen for the first few minutes and following the person in front. Number 1 rule of trail running don’t just follow the person in front- I was guilty of this at Longman in Feb and ended up doing an extra 1.6 miles- we missed the big red cross sign completely as we weren’t paying attention and ended up at a fork in the road with no signs- definitely the wrong way! We headed back along the path we had followed to discover we had totally missed the direction sign, and added about a mile onto our race! Getting lost was actually a bit of a blessing in disguise as I had really bad stomach cramps and a dodgy tummy before that point, which seemed to settle when we stopped and attempted to navigate (ie. all of us looking at a map like we had any idea what to do with it!).
I lost Jen and Emma at some point after getting lost and I settled into an easy maintainable pace with one woman on my shoulder up until the 9 mile point when she sped off and left me and my marathon legs for dead! It was a long time until we saw anyone else thanks to us getting lost, although we did catch up with a few people after a while. The course was pretty flat throughout and not particularly technical, a lot of the route was out in the open through farmers fields, which would have been fine had we had dry weather, however it was so muddy that it required a lot of effort just to keep trudging forward, and by the midpoint my shoes were so caked in mud and everything else I had picked up along the route it felt like I was wearing moon boots- seriously lead heavy!
My legs started to go around the 8-9 mile mark, and I dropped my pace considerably here. I spent a long time alone, and at times questioned if I was going the right way when I didn’t see a course marker for a while. It was quite isolated, but I didn’t really mind this, in fact I quite enjoyed it. I didn’t take my iPod so went music free, just quietly alone with the sounds of nature, my camelbak sloshing, my feet trampling through the mud, and my breathing heavy! The route was perfectly peaceful, and I enjoyed the freeing feeling or being in the middle of nowhere with just my thoughts.
It’s funny what goes through your mind, when you are running for 3 hours or so largely alone, I tend to have an internal dialogue going on, with the occasional deep and meaningful thought. I was trying to figure out what kept me going forward, why I carried on putting one leg in front of the other, what was driving me on- I never got to the bottom of that one.
The last 5 miles were tough, my legs were tired and heavy and there were 2 killer hills, the first I ran a large part of, but had to walk it in when I realised I could walk up it quicker! The downhill in-between the two hills killed my ITB, it hates running downhill! The second hill was insane, it was about 14-15 miles in, and it would have been tough at the start let alone here, I nearly had to scramble up it, my legs just couldn’t move. I noticed my pace on the hill was 33 min miles!
I was so glad to reach the top and after a brief stop and chat with a marshal I headed on the last mile for home! One last time over the trail bridge and across the line, muddy, my body was knackered but my soul was refreshed and rejuvenated! Best of all there was a Vegan food truck, Rupert’s Street, with a load of delicious offerings, I went for the chickpea lentil curry. Hit.the.spot.
I just love trail running, and although I hadn’t done any training for this, and wasn’t feeling entirely hot on the run, I just didn’t care. Time is out the window on the trails, there’s no pressure, it’s just you and nature, and it’s liberating and just a little bit life affirming. I love road running, but it just doesn’t compare to running trails.
I was quite keen to do the next in the series at the end of November but I’ve just realised I’m not actually in London that weekend, boo! Hopefully I can get to one of the next ones in the new year! I loved how small and intimate the race was, everyone was so friendly and it was great to chat and meet lots of other runners including the inspirational marathon man Rob Young who is taking part in an absolutely incredible challenge of running a marathon a day for a year! Pretty amazing stuff!