As I ascended Stoney Lane (which is a very unassuming name for a muddy footpath that requires hands as well as feet to get up), the steepest climb on the Bath trail marathon, on the second and final loop yesterday, I met a man muttering to himself who re-named the hill ‘Jane’. I asked why he called it that and he mentioned his ex-wife was called Jane. He went on, over the next ten minutes of climbing, to use a wonderful variety of swear words to describe each and every step. Such was how yesterday went.
Yesterday marked a turning point in my running to date. I had been looking forward to this race since it was announced in January. It fitted a lot of my strengths, steep hills and rugged paths, but was also on my doorstep and I had a chance to run sections of the course most days over the last few months. It was also the first time I entered a race with a goal of competing, as opposed to just finishing. It couldn’t have gone much better.
This was a new addition to the Relish calendar, who have made their name with difficult winter 10k races and they did a superb job. It was a beautiful route and allowed a lot of flat and fast sections as well as the steep ascents and descents, so had sections that will have appealed to every type of runner.
For the first time ever in a race, I actually led for a short while. And when I say short, I was in the lead for a good 400 yards before being chased down by some unbelievably fast runners. They went off like it was a 10k race and I immediately gave up all hope of keeping up with them. My only chance was that they would fade later as I hit my stride in the latter stages. That didn’t happen.
The hills were where I performed best, both climbing and descending, and I lost time on the fast flat canal sections which are just not my forte. At the mile five checkpoint it was great to see my Mum and Dad who had come up with my kids to watch us. They are still very young but clapped and cheered and didn’t get upset when I had run past without stopping, which was my fear. My Dad told me I was in sixth place at this point which I was pretty chuffed with, considering it had been five flat miles and I was now entering the section I had trained hard on, with three big hills coming up. I was confident on making up some ground here. By the top of the hill I had passed Solange who was running the 16.5 mile “half marathon” and she told me there were only four in front, so I must have passed someone else without knowing it half way up. By the time I hit the downhill I was in fourth having passed the lead lady.
As I hit Stoeny lane on the first pass I was feeling fine and took it easy up here. 80% of this hill is a walker anyway. I was passed by a couple of people here but knew I could make up time later in the race so wasn’t concerned by placing at this point. I retained seventh over the hills until we hit the canal for four fast miles and the turn point before the second loop. As I have mentioned, fast flat running is not my strongest point and I was passed by quite a few runners here. I hoped I would be able to make up some time on the hills, but I was also conscious I have my first 100 mile race in two weeks time so I decided to not be overly competitive, but run my own race and just try to run to the best of my ability. I hit the turn in 14th place and it stayed that way until we hit the hills for the second time around. There was some back and forth between me and about five other guys for the hilly miles but no real change of position, we were all tightly packed together. I came back down off Solsbury Hill for the second and last time in, I think, 16th place and was delighted to see my Dad had come back out to encourage me along before the last six miles. This was an unexpected boost and I left that aid station feeling proud that he was seeing me doing something that I loved and am steadily getting better and better at.
Again, we were now back on the canal and I lost a few more places and hit the final climb in 23rd place I think. It was now one last push for the final two miles and I ran these hard. I made up three places and almost a fourth but was pipped on the home stretch to finish in 20th place.
My time was 4:39 and the winner, an international elite, was just 50 minutes ahead of me. The top 25 were all within an hour of first place, I gather, and I would’nt have dreamed I would be in that pack even a few months ago.
I am pretty delighted to be honest. I ran a smart race and am excited as to how much I have improved this year. I am also anxious that a week on Saturday I will be running 73 more miles than I did yesterday, but I firmly believe you can do whatever you set your mind to.
It will be a family affair again for that race. Solange did brilliantly yesterday in hot conditions and is perfectly placed to pace me for 10 hilly miles of the North Downs Way 100. Mum and Dad will also be there to crew for me during the day part of the race and a colleague and friend is helping overnight. This type of running really does bring people together and I am as excited as I am anxious. Just a steady couple of weeks taper and I will once again be back in Farnham.