It’s my birthday today so I celebrated by taking part in a local off road race, one I’ve done a couple of times before in 2012 (report here) and last year (where I didn’t appear to write a report). Like last weeks XC race, the course was very, very muddy and the water in the stream crossings (hence, X-Stream – still think it’s one of the best race names out there!) was quite high. And cold.
Given that my time was the slowest I’ve ever completed the race, you might be surprised that I think this was my best attempt yet.
Very grey and overcast skies greeted us when we arrived at Hardwick – a far cry from the very sunny race days we’ve had over the last couple of years. There was a definite chill in the air which is obvious given it’s the middle of February but did mean that for once, I was going to race in my long sleeved Helly. And gloves. And I even thought about a hat. As usual there was an extremely good turn out in general and from my club in particular. There was even a pair of runners who were going to attempt the course while wearing 20lb packs – obviously training for a charity sponsored marathon attempt or similar. I quietly hoped that I was currently fit enough to beat them at least. I needn’t of worried – I passed them at the start and it was clear they weren’t hoping to break any records today.
My goal this year was to find a steady pace and stick to it and try not go out too fast. The course is hilly and I figured this was a good chance to test some of the hill training I’d been doing recently (nothing specific – just taking on hills to improve my ability to do so rather than stopping to walk on every one I come across. I’m rubbish at hills!) Shortly after the start though, I realised that the biggest challenge wasn’t going to be the hills or the streams – it was the mud. The course runs along farmland, skirting around the edge of several fields – something I particularly noticed this year as, without the sun, it’s not a particularly scenic route. The mud and soil underfoot was particularly claggy in areas and suck to the bottom of my shoes, making my legs heavy and slowing me down. The streams actually helped because they washed the mud off.
My pace ended up being fairly consistent but not particularly fast. That was fine and I just decided to settle in and stick to something that felt steady and just on the outside of comfortable. The first 3 miles were spot on: 8:25, 8:40 and 8:40. Mile 4 slowed a touch, largely down to the last stream crossing but was still in the same region. Most of mile 5, however, is taken up by the biggest climb on the course. The mud was particularly bad and at one point I felt like I was trying to run on 3 inch high platforms with a decorative garden attached to each. I had blades of long grass rubbing at my calves on every step and it felt like I had shoes made out of a shrubbery. But on the upside, barring about an extremely short stop to try and clear my shoes, I actually ran up the hill without stopping for the first time ever.
The last mile was all downhill. I was only wary when remembering that I had put my ankle over in my first attempt at the race but I still managed an average of about 7:30 min/mi for the last stretch. I knew I had being pushing it some when I realised I didn’t even think I had it in me for a sprint finish – but I managed one just the same, even if I did leave it until a bit later. 5.85 miles in 51:22 – an average of 8:47 min/mi. This was slower than last year although last years was cut short about and was 400m shorter and 2012 was a lot drier underfoot so was quicker overall. But today’s run felt the most consistent, steady and strong and is a good indication that things are falling into place.