By Georgina Brooke
There’s generally a bit around the race where I think ‘what am I doing here?’
This time, for my first trail run, it hit before I’d even got to the start. On the way to the race I realised I’d gone down the wrong steep single track road and would need to turn around. The catch was my onward path was barred off by a long gate and the way I came was a single track road anticipating traffic coming in the other direction.
It had also just begun raining and the temperature on my car was reading 1 degree.
Around this time, I began wondering whether I really knew what I was doing here. I’d left the house at around 8am, when it was still pretty dark and my husband had stayed firmly under the covers. I was beginning to wonder whether this was not a more sensible approach to January 14th.
Things improved once I made it to the right car park.
My major dilemma at this point was which of my remaining shoes to wear. There was much talk of being ankle deep in mud. This inspiring image was shared to the race facebook page the day before. The general consensus amongst racers seems to be that it would be so epicly muddy that you could go barefoot for all the difference it would make. This was – fortunately – nonsense.
When I talked to the marshalls I got a more accurate assessment of the conditions: most of the 10k route is on hard packed trail and the occasional road; not dissimilar to Kielder. There are a few seriously muddy sections up on the plateau at the top of the climb and some slippy sections around the river for the final mile or so.
So that settled it. I packed the inov-8 talons away (which I find a pain to run in on hard surfaces) and brought out the saucony peregrine’s (which aren’t as good on very muddy stuff but much nicer to run on firm ground in).
I did still fall over and gave myself quite an impressive graze on my right hand and knees, not on the very muddy/liquid stuff on the plateau at the top, but when I was probably concentrating less on the final homeward mile.
Note muddy right arm
Hamsterley battle scars a few days later
But my most impressive bloody incident was earlier in the race, the first real bit of uneven/rocky trail, steeply downhill and muddy. This section ended with some slightly flooded terrain that you could leap over. I reached out to a tree to steady myself for this bit (partly as there was another runner hot on my heels behind me) and felt a sharp pinprick in my little finger. I looked down and it was gushing blood. It was only a tiny nick, but it turns out that, with a heart rate at 172, that can still produce quite a lot of blood. Still, the runner behind me slackened off ;).
During the (literal and physiological) ups and downs of the race, I came to a sort of realisation about why I like trail running – if I have enough distractions I can forget that I’m also working quite hard. Beyond the blood related distractions, there was also the excitement of nearly getting mown down by a mountain bike. But mainly it was a really beautiful, varied course.
I’d gone into the race with no hard expectations. Matt Walker had given me a brilliant training plan which I’d been working on since early November. It had been a bit complicated by working remotely from a Greek island – although Matt’s training, and race-related-vanity, drove me up island mountain paths I would not have had the impetus for otherwise. Then there was the 20 hour round trip from Exeter to Newcastle over Christmas. My hip had been playing up the week leading up to the race (after a particularly slippy run up Cow’s Hill on the Town Moor). I’d decided at the start line to try and enjoy it, to track the amount of time I’d been running but not the distance, and so not get too hung up on pace and whether I was going to reach my goal (under 60 mins).
Training on mountain paths on the island of Serifos
I started towards the back of the around 530 runners heading off from the same start line for the 10k and half marathon. The first few minutes were slow and there was a stationary choke point as runners were forced into the bottleneck of the first uphill trail. There was a lot of uphill and after the start, the crowds began to fall away and it was easier to overtake. I did a fair bit of overtaking but didn’t feel I’d enormously changed my position. There was a lot of uphill, around 3 miles of it. Quite a few of the people who had been ahead started walking, I didn’t (I’m a quarter Scots and my grandma would never forgive me).
Once we reached the top of the climb the route flattened out onto a plateau, this was initially a nice change but it was incredibly muddy, there was lots of leaping and some foot submersion. But it was relatively short lived (if hard work). At the end of this section the half marathoners peeled off rightwards (and uphill. Tee Hee.) whereas the 10kers went steeply downhill. Most of the people I’d been running next to went off to the Half Marathon. There was a man I’d just overtaken who I felt sure would overtake me again soon and far in the distance I could see another woman runner.
Heading steeply downhill on the road I made up time and while I didn’t change my position I could no longer hear the male runner behind me and got much closer to the female runner ahead.
The last mile or so was really meditative – it’s the same finish as the Half Marathoners and there’s a lovely video of it here:
I felt a bit like I was in my own video game, and could almost infinitely follow the runner ahead through these beautiful and gently undulating tracks surrounded by trees, with just the beat of our strides through the forest. I was working hard but I wasn’t fighting it, I wasn’t thinking about when it was going to end, I was just in it.
In the end the finish came up quite soon, my watch read 5.8 miles rather than 6.2 (it also failed to log any elevation, rather than the race reported 800ft, so I’m taking what it says with a-pinch-of-salt-and-a-factory-reset. But I’m glad I hadn’t checked the time because I probably would have been disheartened with my reported pace if I had. It did make me think that perhaps times for runs around the forest aren’t always that accurate.
My reported race time was 56:36, which I was very happy with. More excitingly I discovered in the TBH weekly round up that I was the 6th female (out of 79), and 20th overall! (out of 159).
Because Greener Miles is an eco event there’s no t-shirt or medal, but you do get a mug to keep, soup (in said mug) and a roll. Sitting in the sun waiting for my heart rate to return to normal and watching the other runners come in, realising I’d achieved my aim, was a fab reward.
And the drive home was somewhat simpler…