My season – if you can call it that – has taken a bit of a twist towards the end of the summer. For a variety of reasons (the main one being my 8 year old daughter wants to do an off-road sportive with me and I couldn’t afford to enter both) the end of year triathlon I have been eying up has been shelved.
As a – and I don’t want to use the word, but – consolation I entered a trail race just outside Plymouth. I found the Armada Autumn Trail race as I was looking for some races to do over the winter to compliment the cyclocross races I’ve got my eye on. I noticed this race – which happened to be on the same weekend of the aborted triathlon – and entered it at a fairly late stage.
The race is set in Newnham Park, which is a fantastic setting for this kind of race. The race starts in a meadow, looking out on hills clad in woods – it’s hard to believe that the city of Plymouth is just behind you. As the race begins we run along the meadow past the parked cars and towards a gate on the far side. I start the race a bit further forward than I usually do, but I still spent this meadow section trying to pass people, while being mindful not to go too hard too soon. Out the meadow we take a left and make our first river crossing. The weather in the build up has been typically wet and as a result the river is going as a fair rate – and also about knee deep. I opt for a brisk walk, rather than run, through the water and get going again on the other side. We then go back along the other side of the river on a gravel fire trail, before crossing it again – returning to the meadow – this time the river is getting up towards my mid-thigh (I reckon if I had fell I would have ended up in the sea before I knew it).
We repeat the meadow stretch; however we turn right (and head up) as we head through the gate. The first proper climb of the race isn’t too technical as it rises through the woods, but it is steep enough (up to 25% if you believe Strava) to get the legs working. This climb only really digs for a few hundred metres at most before slackening off again, as we leave the trees we contour across a field above the meadow and the start finish line, gradually dropping down as we cross it reaching the bottom as we get to the far side. At this point we cross the second river crossing in the other direction and after just enough time to squelch the water out of my shoes the climbing starts again in earnest. As we join an estate road the route rears up right in front of us. Ahead there is a line of people; some who have gone too hard too soon have to resort to walking from the bottom. I move over to the far side of the road and just plod away, concentrating on my breathing – and trying not to look up and see how far from the top I am. This section of tarmac is only about 500 metres long, but that is certainly enough to hurt. As we turn off the road the gradient eases a little. The climbing continues for another kilometre before a slight drop and then further climbing. The surface along here is a combination of hard packed dual track with muddy puddles and muddy dual track with muddy lagoons. As we get toward the top of this section I move away from a fellow runner I have been alongside for the majority of this climb, and enter another section of woods – and mountain bike single track – on my own.
The climbing continues as the single track begins, and I target a group of three runners about 150m ahead of me. As I slowly reel them in one of them goes off the front of the group, just as I get on the back. I run with these two runners as we negotiate the single track, and I try to use the berms to keep as much momentum as I can on the tighter turns. As we join a forest track, the route ramps up steeply for a while and we catch and pass the runner who was with the group previously. As we top out we pass the second water station – I grab a cup take a quick swig and chuck the rest on my head. At this point our trio becomes a pair, before we begin to descend slightly along the forest trail. Once we leave the woods the path becomes a narrow, rutted in places single track. This is where I begin to struggle. I don’t do a huge amount of trail running, and what I do I tend to concentrate on going uphill, so once the runner in front begins to distance my I can feel myself beginning to get a little tense as I over think what I am doing. Once the gradient lessens I begin to feel a little more comfortable and once back on the gravely fire trails I begin to try to push on again. We stay on this fire trail for about 1½ km as we drop down towards the meadow for the final time. I try to catch my companion from the woods for the length of this track; I manage to reduce the gap, but never actually manage to get back to him.
All of a sudden, the route takes a hard left for the final river crossing – this on is deep enough for the supporting mountain rescue team to put a rope ‘hand rail’ across it. Back up a steep bank and a right hand turn and I am back on the meadow. Time to open up the tap and see if there is anything left. There isn’t much, but it’s only 400m to the finish line and I manage to hold on – just.
When I entered this race I wanted to use it as an indicator of my fitness, or lack thereof. After a summer of holidays and long days at work covering other people’s holidays my training had taken a bit of a hit and I wasn’t expecting too much. So much so that I forewent my usual prerace meal of pasta for pizza and a movie with the family – I did however stop short of having a beer.
The only problem with this plan was that I’m not too disappointed with my time. I’m capable of going quicker, but with how disjointed my training has been – that and the associated holiday/long work day dietary decisions. All in all I really am not too disappointed with 58:43 (good enough for 36/272).
Credit where it’s due: Photographs 1 & 3 Plymouth Sports Gazette (plymouthsportsgazette.com), photographs 2, 4 & 5 Louise Shipton (via Armada Athletic Network’s Facbook page)