Monday, 25 October 2010

Worcestershire Beacon Race


We make our way up the earthy path that switchbacks through the autumnal woods and I'm aware, despite the odd runner coming past, of having got away to a good start.

"Be careful at the start to be RIGHT up the front - calling the opening mile a bottleneck would be an insult to bottles," Ed had told me beforehand.

Jamie had said much the same, describing the start as a bit of a stampede as 200 and more runners charge the short distance over the grass of Great Malvern's Rose Bank Gardens and onto the narrow footpath beyond, "I've seen people fall and get trampled," he'd said with glee.

It's a bit alarming, not to say an unaccustomed feeling, therefore, to be in the first five as we race out of the park, elbows jutting.

The 'Race Plan' was simple and based on the principle that a Morris Minor is always at the front of the queue on country lanes.

I lose places steadily until I feel that I can go with the pace. Seem to have the edge on the roadrunners I'm with whenever the gradient dips a bit. After the Woodchester Park, I'm taking the tactical approach, sticking to others and pacing with the group.

As the track breaks out onto the spine of the hills, an overclad walker turns to his mate and says, "Absobloodlylutely mad" as we pass.

The training the Jamie feels like it's paying off. I'm running apace with Dave (Beardie Green Vest Man), short strides but a fast cadence. It's like being in a very low gear on a mountain bike - pedaling like mad, moving slowly but steadily.

The wind on the cloudy top is warm. We're steered past the summit itself, and then I open it up on the grassy descent that follows, arms windmilling, legs somehow keeping pace with gravity. I open up a big gap, but then Beardie Green Vest Man (BGVM) catches me up on the levelling stoney track that contours aound the back of North Hill. We chat intermittantly, taking it in turns to push on. It's hard work. It hurts a lot. He tells me that his half marathon best is 1:20...

But my new approach to training and pushing the pain barrier seems to be helping. On the final level section before the descent to St Anne's Well BGVM and I run side by side: competitive, focussed and in the zone. Spectators clap us by and I'm aware - despite the discomfort - that I'm managing to run with some strength.

The descent that follows is manic and I open up a gap again. Flailing arms, slapping footfalls and all the while looking for the next best spot to jump the drains that cross the path.

Past St Anne's Well and the clapping spectators, down through the earthy zig-zags (staying on route and resisting the temptation to just charge straight down through the wood) and finally back onto tarmac.

"Good running", the marshall says as I drop down through the trees and onto the final home straight. "It's only pain", says the advice of Mike inside my head, and I just concentrate on keeping going as hard as I can. As I cross the line someone says, "That was a strong finish..."

My best also ran result of the season: 51:28 and 16th overall in a field that included a lot of pretty competent runners. It turns out that BGVM (aka Dave) was a MV50 - as ever, there's some room for improvement.

Next up is my favourite race of the calender: the Cardington Cracker in Shropshire.

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