I was a bit nervous as I ate my muesli at too-early-o’clock on Saturday the 9th April before the Ranscombe Spring Challenge. My dodgy knee was a worry and I just didn’t know how it was going to stand up to running, let alone on a trail course. This did not help my digestive process and I apologise for the excess methane and the damage this has done to the ozone and contribution I have made to the warming of the planet…
So I was nervous, but determined, as Claire drove us to Ranscombe. I was then more nervous and less determined as we walked the steep mile or so up through the back of the nature reserve, and over a train line (legally I should add), to get to base camp for the race. My legs felt heavy, my stomach was bloated, my knee was stiff, it was cold and spitting, I wasn’t sure what trainers to wear, I didn’t know what pace to start at, how far to aim at (it was as many laps as you want/can in 6 hours deal), then I couldn’t get the bastard runner number on me without wounding myself or getting the number crooked (why is that so stressful?!), someone pushed in front of me in the queue for the toilet and I couldn’t work out whether to wear gloves and a hat, or just a hat. Or just gloves. Or maybe a buff. And a hat? Gel or energy bar? Hand bottle? Music? Pee again now, or at the end of the first lap? High pitched weeping, or deep sobbing?
Finally, I managed to give myself a mental slap in the face and a shake of the shoulders. I remembered this was about fun, it wasn’t a big deal and I should just shut my malfunctioning brain off and enjoy it. Deep breath.
After a briefing from Traviss of Saxon Shore Marathons about the route (which was sneakily increased from 3.8 to 4.4 miles!) and the logistics of the run, and a round of applause for someone who had just entered/was about to enter the 100 Marathon club, we got ourselves to the start line. In a rather eloquent solution to keeping tabs on laps run, rather than collect bands at the end of a lap we had a little laminated card which would be hole punched to keep track of things. Although that did require more worry from me about were to attach it (I went for the thumb hole of my overtop – thanks for asking).
I kissed Claire good luck, as she was running too but was heading further back in the pack for the start, and I tried to remember the one thing I had forgot to bring/prepare for the race, as always, but came up empty. As it was loops I only took a energy bar to start, and decided to pick up fluid and more food after the first lap. The anxiety I had pre-race was due to uncertainty around how far I was going to get, and so faffing about trying to decide whether to fuel like it would be a marathon (a long shot) or go light as my knee might only allow a lap or two. I don’t like uncertainty and like to have a plan in place, but I was winging this one.
After a brief pause we were off, and after only a minute or so I felt better, my brain had finally switched off and my legs took over. I decided to just run at a comfortable pace (whatever that was) and enjoy the view. There was lots of countryside to look at, lots of up and downs and twists and turns to keep you occupied and some peace and quiet to enjoy. I just ran and it was lovely. There were some steep-ish climbs on the route so I walked those and tried to stay at a reasonable effort level, without ever taxing myself to hard. We went through open fields, different types of woods, stiles and gates, around a mausoleum, alongside a train track and through lots of mud. There weren’t really any boring bits; you either had something to look at, a climb to get up or things to not fall over.
All of a sudden the first lap was over and I did a quick check – I needed to pee, have a drink and my knee was a little sore. All ok then. I dealt with the first issue at base camp after getting my lap card hole-punched, picked up a bottle and gel and stretched my knee and IT band a bit before setting off again. The last mile or so of the lap was downhill which was causing some of the issue I think, but thankfully it was uphill for much of the start so my knee began to ease off and I forgot about it.
It was more of the same the 2nd lap and if anything was even more enjoyable as I had warmed up, my breathing was relaxed and I just tried to keep the flow going whilst enjoying more the view. Towards the end of the second lap I unknowingly was having a chat with Ultraboy, whose blog I had started to follow some time ago and who had inadvertently introduced me to Saxon Shore’s running events. I knew from his blog he was running at Ranscombe, and on the next day too!, and Claire had got in touch to say she and I were running but I didn’t put two and two together until we went our separate ways at the beginning of the third lap. Tis a small world.
At the beginning of lap three my knee was complaining quite a bit more after the downhill section but I decided to commit to the third lap (and half marathon distance) as I figured the uphill bit would let is settle (and I wanted my money’s worth). The third lap was increasingly difficult as the persistent spitting had saturated the ground and what was muddy before was now boggy and slippery. The final downhill stretch by the railway track was quite treacherous, although that was in part because I had been a moron and worn old road trainers rather than proper off-roaders. The extra sliding about made the knee quite unhappy so by the time I finished it was sore, but I had judged it just right to get the most out of the run and complete a good morning’s work without doing any lasting damage. Also whilst getting my medal and goody bag (and some well earned sugar from the aid station) I got to chat to Ultraboy again, say hello properly and thank him for his blog and wish him well with his running before he set off again.
I then had a little wait at base camp for Claire to finish but I managed to entertain myself by chatting with fellow finishers and encouraging runners who were going for the marathon distance (and more) whilst wearing all the clothes I could find, including some of Claire’s. Claire came storming home to complete her third lap and her first trail half-marathon; for someone whose longest run was just over 7 miles at the beginning of the year, it was further proof of how well she is doing and I was really proud (and happy) to see her hard work paying off.
After a ginger walk downhill to the car we went home and slumped for the rest of the day, giving us a chance to work our way through the fantastic goody bag we had got and generally feel smug after our efforts. I really enjoyed the run and recommend it as a challenging but rewarding race. For me as well, unlike at a road race I might have done, I had to be sensible and walk at points and run conservatively and not kill myself in the first half an hour and so didn’t have the pressure to match previous times. It was the slowest I have ever run a race but it didn’t matter, it was about getting round rather than the time.
My knee was sore that afternoon but was better by the next day, and has been ok since (touch wood). The IT band issue (if it is that – I’m not really sure!) seems to be improving with stretching and strengthening of my hip, so fingers crossed that’s the solution. We went away with friends to Norfolk for a few days on the Monday which was lovely, and we even managed to fit in a gentle 5k. We added another location to the list we’ve run in, thankfully without any ill effects.
Since we’ve been back I have had a number of good runs, including a longish one at a consistent and fast pace (for me!), much faster than I have managed for months so things seem ok at the moment. But I’m cautious after the setbacks I’ve had. I plan to ramp up the mileage and my long run length progressively over the next few weeks in preparation for the Kent Roadrunners Marathon at the end of May. The aim is to be comfortable covering the distance rather than going for a PB however (I’m trying to be sensible), so need to not get too carried away as I’ve been known to do and push too hard… I’m just grateful to be running closer to where I was at the end of last year and be able to get out on these creaking legs of mine.
I’m now off to lunch! Thanks for listening and all the best with your running and racing.