Ian Pickett reports on the Trail Outlaws half marathon at Wooler.
Trail Outlaws Half Marathon (Wooler): Sunday 19th November 2017
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” – J K Rowling, The Prisoner of Azkaban
I’ve never been that interested in fantasy stories but with three kids who all love Harry Potter, there’s no escaping the tales of Hogwarts. Dark, shadowy Dementors appear from almost nowhere and suck the fun and happiness from their prey. They’re almost impossible to get rid of and are feared by all in the magical world. In many ways, I feel that running injuries are our dementors.
November 2016, I was running well. Training was good. I had ambitions of a 75 minute half marathon. But the first signs of a dementor’s visit were rumbling. I’d had a tweaky adductor for a couple of weeks and was trying to be careful not to aggravate it. Despite a PB at Brampton to Carlisle the rumblings were getting louder. Two weeks later, the dementor had arrived, my running stopped, and despair started.
Skip forward to February 2017 and despite countless physio appointments, an MRI scan and a visit to a specialist, the injury was managing to “drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air”. The Expecto Patronum spell, in the Harry Potter books, is the only known defence against a dementor. It’s a tricky incantation and requires the wizard to imagine their happiest thoughts whilst confronting their foe. I decided that I was going to launch my own Patronum Charm – I was going to imagine being fit and strong and enter lots of races that I’d never done before in the hope of freeing myself of this demon.
Sat in the car on the way to Wooler this weekend, Matthew Pearson, Rachael Perowne and I chatted about the beautiful scenery and perfect weather for our Trail Outlaws Half Marathon. It had been five months since I’d finally managed to rid myself of the injury that had blighted me for over six months. It transpired that my attempt to enter lots of races hadn’t fixed me. Nor was it a boy wizard, wielding a holly wand. My Expecto Patronum spell had been cast by a middle-aged surgeon, called Kevin, who was a magician with a scalpel!
The Wooler Half Marathon was one of the races I had entered when I was really struggling so I was delighted to be on the start line feeling fit and ready to race. The weather was very good for this time of year; a little cool with a slight breeze but excellent visibility and some sun. As we started the race, myself and one other guy took to the front. We raced along a short section of road, before turning to face the first incline of the day.
After 3 miles, I was finding the going pretty tough, I was comfortably in second place but the leader was starting to disappear. I accepted that second was going to be the best I could manage so I settled in and enjoyed the isolation and beauty of the Cheviot hills. At about 5 miles I decided it was time for some energy drink and I wrestled with my rucksack to free the drinking spout. After a few big gulps I pushed on up the next incline. Disaster. In the brief moments I’d been fiddling with my drink, I’d missed a sign pointing the route away from the main path. I ran on for half a mile before I realised my mistake. As I looked back, I could see other competitors streaming up the hill in the opposite direction. I charged back but estimated I’d lost between 15 and 20 places.
It transformed what was going to be a steady run in to a hard race. I surged passed the first few runners on the initial climb and I could see some of the other competitors ahead. As I managed to catch them, I found myself counting them off one by one. Nearing the 9-mile mark there was a turnaround point so I waited to see how many runners came passed me. The leader, still fresh and comfortable, bounded up the hill, but where were the rest? Eventually the second-place runner came through and that was it. I was in third place, 4 to 5 minutes behind.
The race was slated to be 14 miles, so I knew that I had about 5 miles to close the gap. Much of the terrain over the latter part of the course suited me. It wasn’t too steep and there were some fast-gradual descents. I was desperately trying to keep an eye out for the two runners ahead but when running on technical terrain I daren’t take my eyes away from scouting the ground for rocks, branches and other obstacles.
Unexpectedly, Wooler appeared from behind a hill and I knew that time was running out. I expected one of the marshals to direct me down the road and back to town but instead they pointed across a car park towards a muddy path. By this point, I had very mixed emotions. I had more time to catch the second-place runner but I was low on energy. The hills started to feel very steep and I could tell that my body was flooded with lactate and I just couldn’t clear it. Little hills now felt very challenging and, for the first time, I looked over my shoulder to check that no-one was catching me. Thankfully, I now recognised the route and realised that I had less than a mile to go. I pushed as hard as I could on the final descent, but the finish line came just too soon. The second-place guy was waiting to shake my hand. It had been a hard race but felt brilliant to have been challenged in so many different ways.
The winner, in a time of 1:45, had covered the route 15 minutes quicker than the 2016 winner. I managed 1:57 (including my extra mile) and was about two minutes behind second place. Rachael was 15th woman in a great time of 2:34. Matthew was running well until he struggled with a knee injury about half way but persevered to finish in 3:24.
Despite not being that interested in fantasy stories, running in the hills is magical and we all chatted on the way home about our plans to do more trail races. To be challenged by the conditions, the terrain and the isolation is the perfect antidote to the dementor who intends for you to be “left with nothing”. I hope you find your Patronus Charm if you’re struggling at the moment.
Full race results can be found here.