Don’t give up if you fall at the first hurdle

Every race can’t run smoothly and last weekend I discovered that the hard way.

I’d had a pretty good start to the year at the Devilla 15k on the 19th February. As usual it attracted hundreds of runners, keen to kick start their racing season with a wonderful mud bath and as always it didn’t disappoint! Not the muddiest I’ve seen it in the 5 years I’ve been taking part, but definitely a competitor for the top spot in places. The race started bang on time and I’d tried to sneak my way up the field in order to get ahead of the masses before the bottleneck about 2 miles in. Unfortunately I was still further back than I thought and again slowed to a shuffle though the narrow sections of the trail as the crowds went single file through the bogs. Anyone who did try to overtake in this section usually ended up face planting deep into the mud or losing a shoe in the deeper sections of the bog, so I decided to hang fire and wait until the trails to open up again before trying to pick up some speed. This is much easier said than done when your shoes are caked in mud and you’re carrying the extra weight of the mud. The track was much slippier than usual due to the forestry commission having done some tree felling recently and I found myself having to work a lot harder in places that are usually pretty simple trails.

A mud bath the whole way round. I was so focused on not falling over I didn’t even see Patricia! Photo – Patricia Carvalho

The hill just after the half way section was again a nice little sting in the tail and once over the top, although struggling to sort out my breathing, I felt pretty good and plodded on round the last section of the course. The ‘bridge’ had been fixed this year (a plank of wood over a ditch) which took off the extra 0.3 of a mile that had been added on last year and I finally managed to run up the slippy hill on the other side. It has only taken me 5 years to get some traction!! There was no water feature to clean our shoes in this year, so it was another heavy footed plod until the mud fell off. The last couple of miles were probably my strongest as I picked up the pace to chase a PB and managed to take 4 minutes off my 2015 time (last years doesn’t count as the course was longer).

1 km to go, not feeling photogenic! Phtoto – Derek Fish

I was slightly disappointed when I crossed the line as I would have liked to have finished closer to 1 hour 10 minutes, but it’s a PB so I’ll take it and come back stronger (and wiser) next year.

The following weekend I headed down to Peebles for the Glentress marathon. I should have read all the warning signs and stayed in bed as from the minute I got up things didn’t go to plan. The weather had been atrocious with Storm Doris bringing heavy snow and high winds during the week and come Saturday, this snow had become slush turning the trails into rivers and knee deep, freezing puddles. I didn’t have my usual pre-race excitement and I felt a bit deflated and tired on the drive down. The nerves I usually get before I race which kick start the adrenaline just weren’t there and as lovely as it was to see loads of friends I hadn’t seen in ages, the thought of 2 loops of a cold, hilly course were just not appealing to me in the slightest.

The race started and within half a mile we on the trails. Up, up, up… OK, this was killing me. My heart rate was all over the place and I was regretting having put my jacket on 2 minutes before we started as I was absolutely roasting! The trail narrowed and took a sharp turn to the left where a lot of people started power walking and I fell in line behind them, but very quickly returned to open trails and a slight descent which saw my quickest mile of the race (7:53, says it all!). From mile 4 the trails went up for what seemed like forever and as we climbed higher and higher it got even colder and slushier and I wasn’t in a good place. I’d left my racing head at home and for the first time ever I knew I was definitely not going to finish the race. I’ve had quite a few lows in ultra marathons where I’ve wanted to quit, but have always come out the other side of the low and gone on to have an enjoyable race. The further I went in this race the more I knew I wouldn’t be doing a second lap. More hills, more slush, more river like trails. I was miserable. Donnie Campbell flew past me when I was about 10 miles in having started the half marathon half an hour after me. This made me even more miserable as he was travelling nearly twice my speed and would be finished his race way before I’d even completed one lap.

I should probably have turned around right about now…

I finally started coming back down hill (after about 10 miles of climbing!) and found the steep descents and my choice of footwear did not agree. I had no traction what so ever and the boggy churned up, knee deep, slush filled trails and my Brooks Cascadias did not get on. I slid my way down the steep hills, teetered along the edge of the trails letting the faster runners by and just after the 11 mile mark I hit the ground with an almighty crack as I slipped on a snow covered rock and smashed my knee off it. There were swear words, there were tears (which is also a first for me during a race!), there was a moment of bent over dry heaving as the pain swirled through my body and I felt like I was going to keel off the trail and throw up and then there was a mile of limping as I tired to get the end of the first loop. My first DNF.

Not exaggerating when I said pretty much 10 miles of climbing!

The race conditions saw quite a few pull out after the first loop and as disappointed as I was I knew another lap would not have been beneficial. Especially my knee now looked like it had 2 knee caps and was a lovely shade of reds and purples!

A week later and my bad race has been put behind me and I’m ready to take the next step in my training. I have recently signed up to Neil MacNicol’s coaching programme and I’m hoping that with a bit of guidance and a specific plan to follow (which includes a shed load of my detested speed work!) I will see changes in my training, racing and also my recovery. With only 10 weeks until the Cateran, it’s time to get the head down, forget the bad and focus on what’s ahead.