The 3 Peaks. A fell race? A trail race? a bit of both? Well the weather certainly seemed not to be able to make up its mind today. The forecast was always a bit unsure of itself. Could be rain, could be sleet, could be sun, could be snow... so the order of the day was take as many pairs of shoes as you can and decide in the final run up to the start as to which pair you're going to wear.
I did this one last year, and wanted to get some kind of idea where my fitness was at in comparison. Well. Some good news and some not so, but more of that later.
Essentially there was all the pre-race faff, looking around at the tops, which had snow on them, and then around us where it was sunny (for the moment). I decided to go with a race vest, as opposed to a bumbag for the first time in my competitive running career, to see how it (and I) fared.
From the off the pace was pretty fierce. Mark and I had been talking about not going out too hard at the beginning, and that got thrown out fairly quickly. I was enjoying myself, and jostled my way up the hill. Victoria Wilkinson was in close attendance and was getting lots of encouragement from everyone on the hill. I was thinking I was doing pretty well being at about the same speed as her (til I found out she's coming back from injury).
On up Pen-y-gent, which was a lot more pleasant than the last time I was up there. Despite being overtaken by Victoria and others, I still managed to keep my legs moving at a decent pace. However, there was a twinge of a pain in my right side- the potential of impending stitch- which is never a good thing, especially this early in a pretty long race.
Not a lot to do about it, other than carry on and see what happens.
Across the top of P-Y-G and down through ankle deep snow. A fabulous run off where I caught up and passed a good few people. My speed was pretty good, and no-where near reckless, but by the time we hit the track I had closed down on 3 more and passed them in good order. Now along the track with a bit of a headwind. I kept my head down and ploughed into it as fast as I thought I could manage for a good long run.
By the time we hit the official 10k sign the feelings of stitch were well and truely apparent, though not incapacitiating by any means. I carried on with a slightly shorter stride and fairly soon gave away a place.
Continuing along, food was consumed and by the time we hit 15k, crossing the river I had to pull up short, the constant low level stitch pain had suddenly turned into a wrenching, searing agony in my right side. Slow up, breathe, plunge fingers into abdominals and torso and try to stretch it out. So sudden was my decrease in speed the guy behind me had to check I was ok... I was, vaguely, and the treatment managed to last me along the road to just before we hit Ribble viaduct where I was brought to a struggling halt in view of the checkpoint. Victoria went past, as did Mark and about 5 others as I moved uncomfortably up to the checkpoint.
Time was taken as I stretched out and breathed for a short while, losing another couple of places, before I figured I might be ready to see what happened next.
The next stage from the viaduct is best described as interesting. There is a fair amount of path, followed by a river crossing, followed by a Bog and then an ever steepening hill to the top of Wherneside. I was a good minute or 2 back on Mark leaving the checkpoint, but as we made our way up, through the hail and wind, I slowly inched back some distance. I was climbing well and made some decent inroads into the lead his group had on me, until 3/4 of the way up Wherneside I overtook him and came out on top, within about 20 metres of Victoria. Quite a comeback from Ribblehead, I think.
My Hamstrings were screaming a bit then, as we splashed down through the snowy slush off the top, and I overtook Victoria on the steep section down onto the path, enjoying every bit of the descent that I could. Then, again onto more of a flat section, down a gently sloping path, and Boom - back it came with a vengeance, stitch. Again. my pace slowed, Victoria went off down the road and I had to stop to stretch and try and sort myself out.
Once done, I set off again, just as Mark caught me up again. We exchanged some words, and he easily outdistanced me leading into the next checkpoint at the Inn, as again I doubled over with stitch coming into the area.
The pace was really suffering from now on. I couldn't breathe deeply enough to get oxygen to my already knackered muscles, I couldn't stretch out, because as soon as that happened the stitch came back. I managed to run some of the way up Ingleborough, but the group that I was a part of were swiftly becoming dots in the distance as I slowed some more. The steepness of the ascent played a little into my hands as I climbed the side, overtaking a couple of people, but by the time I hit the top, it was a replay of last year - Mark just coming off the top, having been out and back, about 5 minutes ahead of me.
Out to the Checkpoint, and then back for the torturous descent. Normally it would have been fine. Normally I'd have skipped down the hill. Even with a sugar bonk I would have been ok, but from that point on I could barely run. I could just about manage a jog without feeling like someone was stabbing me through the abdomen and into the diaphragm. The lads who ran past saying I should just "run it off" nearly got a lesson in swearing, but by that stage I couldn't actually talk.
I lost places hand over fist, and there was little I could do about it. My legs were in pretty good shape, I had enough food in me and still in my bag, but the pain in my torso was stopping me dead.
Eventually I managed to limp in at just over 3:30, 5 mins down on last year.
Some positives- I'm climbing like I've never been able to climb before- so a lot of improvement there. My descending is still like it always has been- so lost nothing there either.
The main negative- stitch. Its come back, and with a vengeance. It is the main thing that has slowed me down in 2 races already this season, and I need to get it nailed and sorted. I reckon I'd have been on for about 3:20 without that... Still. Its bio-physical, and there is an answer.
I just need to answer it.