|Looking across to Rodney's Pillar|
I managed to get a quick recce of the route done on Friday on my way down to my cousins stag do (not the greatest of preparation for a final race, I have to admit), and was able to get a bit of an idea as to just how steep the ascents were, how long they went on for, and if there were any sneaky lines that might be of use. Well.... the recce basically taught me that there was going to be no let up for the entire race. The hills are all runnable - even the steep ones are short enough that if you can brute your way up them, they can be run. The downhills afford no break, and everything else is a short blast along the flat to where the next hill begins.
|This years route|
We headed back down the track to the start, saying hi to the usual suspects - Rob Grantham, Jez and the Buckley guys, and commenting that the field was particularly strong today. A good number of Mercia were out, and a few fairly nifty roadies as well - this was not necessarily going to be an easy day out, especially with a field numbering in at about 160 or so.
A short speech, dealing with the formalities of the race - the only kit required today was a windproof jacket, and with no more to-do, we were set off up the track.
Jez was pulling out in front of me, and we hadn't even gone 2km yet. Not a good sign. I grimly dug in, and as the path rose and rose, I just tried to limit my losses. By the time we finally came to the first downhill section, Lynne clocked me in at about 11th. I lunged down the narrow path, through the gate at the bottom and into the field of cows, who were looking lazily on as a steady stream of runners bisected their field.
The flat wasn't doing me any favours either. I wasn't gaining on those in front of me, and I really hoped I wasn't falling behind. The legs still weren't having any of it, despite trying to desperately go faster, they felt like they had been filled with lead. Ahead, the skyline rose above us- the route we were about to ascend and run along.
Through the gate where, 2 days before, I'd stood on a Blackthorn branch, and the thorn had gone right through the sole of my Inov8 and into my toe (ouch), thankfully, no thorn today, down the path, a right, a left, and the first "proper" climb of the day.
I was being pursued relentlessly, and was in danger of being out of touch of the runners in front of me, so tried to gun it up the first hard, steep slope. A swift turn to the right, and Jez is 4 places in front. Karl Steinegger was ahead of me, and a few others. The hill steepened, and everyone was walking pretty much. My legs worked under protest for about 20 running paces before I ended up walking, but still managed to power my way past Karl and another runner - keeping ahead of them during the descent, and then proceeding to be picked off by another runner on the way up the next peak.
|Looking back from Middleton fell|
|Downhill through loam|
Walk, run, walk, run, walk, run. We've done the grassy section of the race, thats out of the way now. Here come the rocks.
We follow the path over the top, and then it becomes rocky and dodgy underfoot. I've seen this before - only a couple of days ago, but really don't remember too much about it, only the 20ft cliff that we need to get down in a minute... oh - its here already, hop, hop, hop, crunch - argh.
My left ankle turns in, Hard and pain shoots through it.
That proper hurts.
I manage to get down and along, and keep running, swearing (not exactly under my breath). The pain massively takes my speed away - dammit, we're just coming to the gnarly descent, where I was planning on making up a fair amount of time. The Mercia guy who is with me voices his concern at my limping, I tell him I'll be fine, grit my teeth and attempt to hurtle down the loam filled descent in the trees, taking a huge amount of weight through my right leg - left ankle not being particularly happy. I make up no discernible time, and barely make it out of the trees ahead of the guy I should have trounced down the hill.
Into slightly more open ground and I'm openly limping. Left ankle - not good. Right leg - now a bit trashed and screaming at me for putting too much weight through it... really not good. I assure the Mercia guy I'll be ok as he again voices his concern as he passes me.
We hit the road, and I see Jez ahead... he slowed down and the Mercia guy is catching him. Dammit. There is no way I can go faster, this pace is pretty much it now. From now on it's hold on and hope for the best.
|Descent from the Pillar|
battling it out on the climb as I begin my ascent. No-one comes past on the way up - thats a bonus. I plunge on up the hill, top out and head down.
Final downhill. I've held onto this place so far, all I need to do is carry on as I am for another mile or so, and all will be good. Just don't do anything silly on that foot. Down the steeps, my left foot keeps turning in to try and protect itself - which isn't great, as as soon as it turns in, it is more likely to turn over again. Concentrate on keeping it straight.
Hammer down the path, and down and left, past Chris Atherton, marshalling at a crucial point. The final techy descent and each footstep is a rod of fire into my ankle, I'm nearly limping at high speed, but just keep it on going, a sharp hard right and down through trees instead of the path, and then the final 600m. Hard packed dirt road, wincing every step, I hurtle into the finish - not entirely sure if the guy holding the tape is holding it for me to run through, or as a funnel.
Your brain does funny things to you when you're that knackered.
|Trying to work out if I was to go through the finish tape, or if it was a funnel|
Without that sprained ankle, I reckon sub-hour would have easily been a go-er. Having said that, Medium races are not a strong point of mine. I've found that out this year, and I think I'm at the point of either saying "meh - they're not a strong point, I'll just race them when I have to", or going out there and attacking it as a weakness and trying to get better. I'll let you guess which approach I'll be taking.
|Checking the ankle|
As it turns out, there was a long and complex affair involving the results of the Welsh champs, I know I wasn't in the top 3 in the Open Welsh champs - (which was a shame, must try harder next year), but I came 2nd overall in the North Wales champs, behind Rob Grantham, who stormed into the lead at the beginning of the year, and has been pretty much unassailable, despite having a less successful couple of races towards the end of the year. Jez came in 3rd overall - so I was obviously just about able to come in close enough behind him to keep that 2nd overall.
Pretty pleased with that.
At the prizegiving, Craig - the Chairman of the WFRA mentioned something that should probably be mentioned here as well. All the money that gets paid to enter any WFRA race, apart from that which goes to help put the race on, is put back into local charities. Quite simply, there is no profit. By taking part in a race in this championship, grass-roots sport is giving back to grass-roots charity, which I think is really quite fantastic.
Al and I have been to pretty much every North Welsh champs race this year, and I have to say that it has been a very enjoyable experience. Friendships and rivalries have developed some excellent races have been run. The lack of politics has been most refreshing, as has the intelligent kit choice needed for each race, not having to be bound by overly prescriptive rules.... also - the enforcement of the kit requirements, and disqualification of those that try to cheat it.
The North Wales Series has been brilliant this year. If you have been reading this blog throughout the year and haven't actually got over to enter any of the races, I would highly recommend it.
My racing year is now all but over, and I have to say a massive thanks to Craig, the WFRA committee, all the race organisers, the sponsers of the series I ran in (inov8 and Cotswolds), and everyone that was so welcoming to the races in Wales.