Friday, 12 February 2010
Snowdrops were beginning to poke delicate heads into the blanched indifference of yet another winter's day as I made my way along hedgerow and through fields to the sawmill. Indulging my introspection, I stood taking in their detail whilst others hurried on by.
I was feeling an unaccustomed sense of detachment from my usual pre-race apprehensions. There was a belief that I had no alternative but to try my hardest - to give it my best shot. I was tapping into the strongly felt affinity with the motivation to organise the event...
Queue for loos. Lace up shoes - tight. Apply half a tube of deep heat to legs that have been maxed out on a cross trainer perhaps a little too much of late. Realise that I stink.
The Almosts are out in force today and Graham's in his element acting as master of ceremonies on the PA. Spend time trying to convince Duncan that a pork pie and a pickled onion is the best food for pre-race fuel, but he's not having it.
Mike's friend Megan blows the whistle to set us off - a pale, pretty face framed by coat collars and hat - and I'm pulled out of myself caught up within the surge of brightly coloured runners that streams away.
Finding focus, measuring my pace to that of the lead women. Championship fell funner and local, Helen Fines, is tactically tucked in behind Cheltenham's Laura Kent for what looks to be a tightly contested race.
The rush of the start gives way and evens out as the hill continues. There's a leaden feeling to my legs and the remains of cold make it hard to gather enough breath. Upwards through wet clay, brushing past conifer branches that reach out over the path edges where the traction is better.
"Hemlock," my mind says to distract me from the effort. "Western or Eastern? Look at the way the leaves lie along the top of the twigs. Tsuga heterophylla or canadensis? Can't remember. Which one is which?" And then,
"C.o.n.c.e.n.t.r.a.t.e." I try to level with my rambling mind and swing up some momentum with my arms to get back into the here and now.
Across the top of gorse clumped, grazed turf we run in diluted sunlight. Cheered on by vocal spectators waving pom poms of shredded newspapers.
On past the trig and throught he clump of pine trees that identifies the profle of the hill from afar. I'm beginning to feel as though I have gone off too fast, but a long downhill is coming up and a race plan is beginning to form in my head. It's not very subtle, or original:
"Brakes off, brain off as soon as you get to that gate..."
But it's hard to overtake the more cautious runner in front as his line wavers. Fell ethics prevail as I chop the corner off a hairpin to get ahead. I pass another, maybe one more, before the gradient levels off.
Another downhill, and I pass another, then overtake a veteran with a running style similar to the scarecrow out of Wizard of Oz.
"Go on Matt!!" Nick and Ed are marshalling at the road crossing before the drinks station. I manage a wave, but I'm watching where I put my feet.
Take cup, other hand over top. Get mouthful. Drop and then kick on, puny arms trying to accellarate myself back up to pace. Into the soggy clart beneath the trees. I pass Laura Kent who is trying to retrieve a shoe. I pass another runner.
Along beside the lake through more orange clay and then a further descent. Fifty metres ahead there's a distinctive red and white striped vest with matching headband: Helen Fines! Jeepers creepers, must be doing ok.
Push it a bit harder over the ploughed field that comes next. I know what's to come. I don't want to lose ground.
At the road crossing someone says, "Go on Matt," and then I'm back on the muddy extraction tracks and footpaths. I choose my lines and persevere through the sloppier bits and manage to make places on those who have slowed to a walk.
Someone overtakes me wearing road shoes!
The climb steepens, but I'm still running, drawn along by the pom pom wavers at the top. I've just run the whole of the second hill...
Take cup, hand over the top. Get mouthful. Drop it. Pick the pace up again feeling very close to throwing up.
I pace off the two guys in front, but I'm holding back because I know that this descent goes on for a long while. Then Laura Kent comes past not holding back at all. I gasp out some encouragement and try to stay apace but it's not happening.
Gravity assisted momentum makes my feet slap the ground, I'm beginning to hold off the effort again when someone else comes past. Copy his running style for a moment and my quads take a pounding. Things are beginning to get grim...
Back onto the road for the final slightly uphill section. It's a killer, but I dig in. Arjo the Almost's speedwork coach tells me I'm looking good and to keep going. I'm burning out whatever remnants of energy are left.
Sharp turn back upto the finish. Gurning now. Maximum effort. Mike's voice says, "Well done," but I barely see him.
There follows an epic struggle with shoe laces and shivering hands while I try to hold a conversation with Richard, a fellow tree man who's over from Swindon.
Later, I'm talking race plans with a scrawny, fit-looking runner with a measured northern accent when he asks if I write a blog. It's a small world indeed: good to meet you Si!
So, for me, the run went very well. I hope that I did it justice. At 1.03.38 for the 8.5m route, I was more than five minutes up on my time of two years previous and first home for the Almosts.
Cystic Fibrosis Trust