My new father-in-law, Tony, is more bewildered by my choice of sport. A day or two after the Tooting Bec 24-hour race last year, I arrived in Doncaster for a night of pampering. Unfortunately, I still wasn't looking too good 48 hours after the event and they got a bit of a shock. In Ann's absence, Tony got dragged into driving me to the start in Buxton to lead crewing duties. He was brimming with excitement. Elated even. What an opportunity!*
Where art thou, Buxton School?
Geographically, I overextended myself slightly on the Friday beforehand and was quite nervous at the prospect of missing my train down and being stung by a £95 ticket to catch the next one. Fortunately, I made it and celebrated by devouring a packet of Percy Pig and his friends before the train had even reached North Berwick. You snooze, you lose, Scott.
On Saturday morning I was quite impressed when we left the house less than five minutes late. Or maybe we were six minutes late. That's not quite less than five but still impressive. I sipped green tea in the back of the car as the boys navigated us safely to Buxton. Tony had even looked at the map to sort us out with a parking spot near the start. Unfortunately, there was no one where we thought the start line was and I had to pounce on some locals to ask if they had seen any runners nearby. They hadn't but they had knowledge of the race and told us that we needed to be at the school. Then they laughed as we scurried along, asking people at every corner where the school was and getting excited when we saw runners. Runner! Runner! That one's got a number! Ask her where she got her number!
|Do we start by swimming?|
We find a school, I register and then try to get dressed, eat a banana, moisturize my legs, pin my number on and sort out my bag all in the 15 minutes we've now got available. I like to play it on the edge with starting times but even I was feeling a little uneasy considering the school was not the start line and we therefore had to go back down to where we had parked the car. I do my hair on the way down to the start. Other runners are cutting it fine too and are therefore getting a warm up jog in. I think about jogging but as I am still braiding my hair it all gets a bit complicated. So I walk on. It's fine, there are runners still there. They are all still there. With the ten second countdown I get a few money shots taken and test the bladder tube. My bladder's not feeling well so I'm using Scott's. It's a bit more technical, what with a cover, and a pully bit and all.
I can't remember what went off at the start the race but I pulled up the rear of the 150 starters. It was drizzly but I'd opted to go without the rain jacket. I know that you all love a good rain jacket story. I did admire other people's rain jackets though. There are some lovely rain jackets about.
|Ten seconds to go...|
|Five seconds to go...|
Runners are cutting corners. Seriously. I'm a little shocked. We're about 200 metres into the race, what on earth are they going to gain? I have never seen runners behave like that in an ultra. I don't care that they have run a teeny bit less than me or anything like that but I do care that there are adults in this race who are willing to cheat themselves. There's a high chance I beat every one of them. But hey, if you need to cut corners in a race, there's a high chance that you're not going to be doing so well later on in the race either.
Enough of that negativity, we've got an incline! A long gradual incline which is just divine for running. So I plod up. As I am at the rear of the field more people are walking up than running so I feel a bit self-conscious plodding up. The hill turns a corner... and keeps going up. You've committed yourself now Antonia! But it's fine and there are some steps at the top where we all walk up in single file and then line up at a stile. Obviously this is a fine spot for a chat. Men tell me that I needn't go too fast at the start, that 40 miles is a long way, that I can go faster at the end if I have it in my legs. They are all very nice. My head is saying the opposite though; only 40 miles! Don't be pissing about, it's pretty much a marathon and a marathon is pretty much a sprint.
It's my turn to clamber over the stile. Oh dear. Downhill running. Gosh darn it I am shite at dowhill running. Knees hate downhill running too. I knew I should have done squats for the IT Band last week.
Pink sign to the right
The end of the downhill running. I didn't fall over. Winner. There's a flat bit for a while so I scurry along behind Brown Sheffield Man. WHAM; first checkpoint. There's about a thousand checkpoints in this race. We all have these little cards hanging around out necks with our details on. I'm worried that they are going to use a whiteboard marker to circle the checkpoint number on the little laminate card. If they do that, then the circle will rub off when I put it back down my top. Runners sweat you know. So I copy the other runners and hold out my card while it gets punched! How delightful! We're orienteering! Then I am reminded of orienteering at the local beach on a Friday at intermediate school. I was no good at navigating but I was good at telling the other kids in the team to run a bit harder. Anyway, now that I am orienteering, I am in a fine mood.
A group of runners go off to the left in front of me. Errr, but there's a pink arrow next to a track between two roads. I wait for advice from other runners who agree that we should follow the track. I am so proud of myself for not just following the runners ahead and actually spotting an arrow. Me? Spot a bright pink sign? Incredible.
There is much more downhill than I anticipated and I'm finding that quite tough. Knees don't like the downhills for starters but I also just lack the confidence and therefore find it an all-round unpleasant experience. I plod up the hills and then plod a bit slower down them. Other runners tear down them. They might be this thing called 'fell runners.' I've heard about them. Does fell mean hill? At checkpoint two I see Scott and Tony for a smoothie and grizzle about the downhill.
I heave-ho on. Bar the downhills it's relatively easy running. I don't know anyone and there's not a lot of chat going on yet. There's a glorious long gradual uphill which most people are plodding up. Unfortunately at the top there's a downhill section to the next checkpoint. The roads are a bit wet which makes me overly cautious. It is quite funny to see so many people running at different paces though as they run to their strengths and weaknesses.
There are a few ladies directly ahead of me. One has nice shoes and the other has a nice skirt. At the checkpoint one lady gets called as third lady and the other one as fourth. I'm quite savvy in the Mathematics department and work out that I am fifth. Nine miles in, I wouldn't really care if I was in last place. So we stroll on.
Chasing men through mist
Now I am running between Brown Sheffield Man and his pal from the area. They are chatting. I can't really understand what they are talking about, partly because I don't know the area so don't recognise the place names or races and partly because I can't really understand the accents. But nonetheless, I run in between them to feel included. Also, FYI, when you see a brown running vest with a purple and yellow stripe, the colours have meaning. That's brown for the peat, purple for the heather and yellow for the sun. And peat means bog in case you were wondering. I was and I like this blog to educate.
Wave to Scott and Tony. Hiya boys, how's tricks? Gotta take a milkshake it seems. They're not sure where the next checkpoint is so they have decided to feed me here. We trot about in a cute wee village, and get another gradual incline to plod. Another bunch of friendly people at the checkpoint. Did they know what was round the corner? I certainly didn't.
Rocks. That's what was around the corner. Running up on rocks, running flat on rocks and running down on rocks. I am rather useless at running on those rocks regardless of what the incline. I run behind a man that I see on and off for the rest of the race. He's got a savvy technique at swinging the gates open so that if I run fast enough I can get through them before they close. We'll call him Gate Man. I find that the English gates open differently to the Scottish gates that I am used to and feel bad when someone is behind me and I am a bit slow in getting them open. I'm relieved to arrive at checkpoint number 747,892.
There's mist about. As much as it would be nice to see the view, the mist is all cool and spooky. Gate Man has stopped for a jaffa cake at the checkpoint so I am off chasing two lads. It's still rocky going up which takes up some energy. I wish I'd tied my left shoe tighter. Something funny is going on with my foot. I can feel a bit of the ultrarunners ankle so try be a bit lighter on my feet. I remember Paul Giblin writing about being light on his feet during the Kintyre Way and then remember that he is half my size. I feel that I have got some serious pace going trying to keep up with these boys ahead. I want to drop off but I'm also worried about getting lost up on the hill in the fog. At one point I look left to see a few metres of grass beside me and nothing else but fog. Don't run left Antonia. Now we're tearing down a hill and we're going way too fast but I am trying to go as fast as I can. I don't want to get stuck up here!
And we're down. Road crossing. And back up. There's quite a few walkers about here. With poles and full-on hiking boots. A wee bit over-the-top. This could be a lovely trail but some numpty has decided to pave it with giant stone slabs. I'm sure the school groups and old folk love it but for those of us trying to do some trail running on a wet day, it's a slippery hazard. I do my best to run down the side very slowly. Gate Man comes flying past. There's a dodgy downhill bit that the walkers are now going down faster than me. A runner further below takes a tumble. If the course keeps throwing me these downhills, it's going to be a very long day.
Eventually we are back onto some tarmac and I do my best speedy runner impression into checkpoint number six. I guess that's about halfway. Just the two people here and I get my orienteering card clipped. It must be a scary job when the frontrunners come flying in needing their cards clipped.
Another cute wee village and Scott is waiting outside with a smoothie.Tony's in the pub, getting amongst the local ales. As I exit the village we go up another rocky incline. All the other runners disappeared ahead of me when I was coming down the hills slower but I can see them sprawled up the hill ahead of me now. I'm not bad at walking up hills so I power up hoping that what goes up will not come down. I speak to a lady on the way up who had a nice coloured t-shirt on. Afterwards I find out that her name is Karen Nash and she's already run 50 ultramarathons (races and training included) this year! I'll see if I can manage something like that when I grow up. I pass London Man who is slipping and sliding. He was one of the guys I was clinging to during the fog.
At the top I jog along some wet grass behind Gate Man. Some walkers ask how far we are running and how far we have been. When I explain that we're halfway through our 40 miles, Gate Man informs me that the race is actually more like 41 miles!
Let's talk about the UTMB
Ahead I can see a man in an orange vest and as we chat about his very recent achievements at the UTMB, I realise that I am running too fast. Just over halfway on tired, unrested legs! I'm going to bomb out big time if I don't slow down. But UTMB Guy #1 says I am doing fine so we carry on as is.
Shortly after the next checkpoint we take a left turn off our road. I'll be honest, if UTMB Guy #1 hadn't known the course from running it the year before I would have carried on straight ahead and ended up somewhere else. I'm not sure where that would have been or how long I would have run before turning around. I'm told that I am the second lady. That fills me with a bit of dread. That definitely means that I have gone off too fast.
Tideswell is bigger than I expected. I know I am being met here by Tony and Scott for a beverage and snack. Then WHAM, another checkpoint. I think it's number eight this time. London Man comes sprinting past. Blue Socks and Orange Vest are chasing him. Is this how fast runners go? We're at about the marathon mark and I swear we are all sprinting. I'm worried about the sprinting but am also thinking that if this is the speed that everyone is going then it must be right. So we tear along like we're about to finish. It's only 40 miles Antonia, you should have been sprinting the whole way! Orange Vest drops first, followed by Blue Socks. I scream when we run through the boggy bits. My shoes are new.
London Man and I make the next checkpoint quite quickly due to the sprinting business. There are a few other runners there and the marshal gives me the options of a steep short downhill or a long and steady. I opt for long and steady. Seems a bit remote to be breaking an ankle. I'm not sure that Tony and Scott would find the way.
Some walkers wish us well as gasp 'a lady' as I come past. This is a good sign as it means that the leading lady is well ahead and I won't get a nasty surprise by catching her. Can't be bothered with a race, I've got some rather sore legs from a cheeky 12 hour race a fortnight ago! :) London Man has dropped back a little so I chat with two runners; Irish UTMB Guy #2 and Portuguese Guy. I believe their real names might be Roger and Hugo. We get some more UTMB chat in and generally just have a good giggle.
We're busted walking up the hill to checkpoint number ten. This is the checkpoint of COKE and the last time I will see the Wesley crew until the finish. Tony reminds me not to be late. That gets us on the discussion of time. UTMB Guy #2 Roger, just casually throws in that we are likely to finish at around six hours and 40 minutes. What?! I had estimated that I'd be nipping in just under eight hours! I feel quite chuffed now and run strong on the long road section. So strong that I leave Roger and Hugo behind and end up running on my own. I'm a bin insecure about this. Just running beside the road on my lonesome, eyes peeled for pink signs.
|A bit of road running|
I'm doing well. Right when I see a pink sign. Run to the end of the road. Ask a lady at the corner if she's seen runners. Yes, I am going the right way. Small group of people cheering as I cross the road to run between the farm fields. There haven't been many people out in the villages so far so it' nice to see the support there. No runners ahead. I'd really like someone to follow.
Turn right at the stile
Pink sign turning me left! I give myself a wee fist-punch for noticing. The sign says to turn right AT the stile. As I am running down the farm road the stile is on my right so I climb over it... into a field of cows. Now I'm unsure; was that my right or do I still need to go right? If I go right then I am just running the way I came from but just on the opposite side of the wall. And maybe if I was to do that the sign would have said to turn right AFTER the stile. So I plod very tentatively down the hill through the field of cows. It's rather scary.
There's nowhere out at the bottom. Dam it. I climb onto a wall to look behind for another runner. I can see Hugo's yellow top near the top of the hill. Then the cows start running down the hill. I am stuck by the wall and it's too high for me to climb. People have been killed by cows this year! Now the cows start coming straight for me. I'm screaming. PLEASE HELP ME!!
Hugo runs down shooing the cows away. Who knew that a Portuguese would be more confident around cows than a Kiwi?! I'm a bit upset but manage to apologise for leading him in the wrong direction and thank him for saving my life. We climb up onto the wall to look for any other runners that might be about. We see Roger running up the hill to the final checkpoint and another runner following the track a few fields over. Hugo checks the route on some snazzy device that he has. We run across another farm field and scramble over a wall. This is the furthest Hugo has run and climbing over these walls is not doing his legs any favours.
Earlier in the race I had been warned that when you see the final checkpoint you need to be prepared for a steep down and then up. My eyesight is rubbish so I never actually saw the checkpoint in advance but I guessed what the hill was. And it was actually absolutely fine. Especially in comparison to the cow trauma I had just experienced. The boys give me a bit of jiff at the checkpoint for getting lost. Fair enough. Gate Man is also at the checkpoint.
Just get this done Antonia. I'm a bit annoyed with myself for getting lost but I'm surprised that it hasn't happened earlier to be honest. I open a gate to find that it didn't really need to be opened. With only a few miles left I decide to do a Usain Bolt and go for it. I'm not racing the boys but I know I will feel proud if I push it to the finish. It was very nice of the horse farm owner to keep his gate open with a water pail. And for also not having the horses about. They scare the bejeebers out of me.
If you ever go into the woods at night
Now I'm into Buxton. At least that's where I hope that I am. I'm a bit uncertain about running up the footpath as I can't see any pink signs. I stop halfway up to make sure that the boys are also coming up this way but they are not in sight. Continue up. Pink sign, pointing left. Get in. I pass a local runner in the race and almost comment that I'm feeling a bit lost but I carry on. I ask a lady pushing a pram with a dog on a leash and a child on a scooter if she's seem any runners coming this way. She hasn't but I assume that she's probably been a bit busy looking after her mob so continue on.
There's obviously a handful of errors that were made here. Then I make another as I am running along the path dodging horse riders; I ask a bunch of youths where the school is. Through the woods they tell me! So off I trot to the woods. There are no pink signs in the woods. Those youths are bigger than me. What happens if they follow me into the woods?! My backpack has a massive hole in the side so they are unlikely to want to steal that. I love my shoes but they are caked with mud so I don't think they will bother with those (reminder: wash your shoes Antonia). I don't have a watch. Baby wipes? Could be fun for youth I guess. I'll be in mega trouble if they steal Scott's bladder. Spin your ring around Antonia, they'll steal your diamond! And high tail it out of those woods.
I run back towards the main road and see the local man still running. He tells me that I need to go across the field. Ugh. So I tear up the field and stop at the top until I see another runner start coming up. Down a wee lane. HORSES. Six times the height of me in a narrow space. I don't really do animals. I squeal a little as I try to sneak past. A man turns me into the school and I run around the car park. Apparently I was the only runner that came in that way! I was anxious not to cut corners! Gate Man is sitting in the car park with his family. There are giggles as I finish and see Hugo and Roger looking at me surprised. Lost again!
|Let's hope I can run the last path without getting lost|
Turns out that there's been a bit of car trouble during the race and now the car is away being tested by a mechanic. Thank you for not letting them take it away earlier in the race Tony! So we sit in the sunshine watching runners come in. Some people choose to take showers, I choose to stay smelly. Then I get told that there is going to be a prizegiving! But I've already got a medal! I win a bottle of fizz which I manage not to drink on the way home. I also win another medal. Second place gets two medals you see. Third place gets three... that's how they avoid a fight for first place you see.
It feels quite special to get the second medal for being the first senior lady. Usually there is no category for the younger runners as we just count as the open age group (which is usually won by Vets and Senior Vets) so it's a nice surprise. The man handing me the medal is confused as to why I am called a senior though! The lad who comes second in the men's race is a right wee youngster and he doesn't realise why he's getting a second medal either! My two medals jangle for the entire journey back to Doncaster. Oops. How annoying for the other people in the car...
|Cheeky bottle and some medals|
Thank you to all the volunteers who were out manning the many, many checkpoints. It was a great day for running but I suspect less so for standing out supporting. I hope you all went and had a fish supper at the pub later. Thanks to the race director, Bill, who really cared about where I'd got lost. He could have easily said that I was a silly wee girl to be out running without a map or gps device!
Thank you to Tony for sorting out the navigation, driving and waiting around for what is not a particularly exciting spectator sport. Thanks to Scott for standing around holding drinks for me and remembering to put my coke in a wee bottle.
And thanks to Doncaster for putting on a cracking day on the Sunday and Ann for putting on good grub. It's good to practice this good lifestyle before we head on holiday to Mexico in a few weeks...
|Catching some rays in Doncaster|
Great Scottish Running
So now my knees are more shot which was totally expected and absolutely fine. They just need to hold on for another week so that I can run the Great Scottish Run in a week. WHAT?! If i thought that I had to run fast in the 40-miler then I am going to be in for a major shock in the half marathon! Come on Glasgow, show us a good day :)
*Opinions in this blog are mine and may not reflect the views of others even when it is explicitly mentioned that they are their views.