So this weekend saw the curtain come down on another year of racing. A season ranging from cyclo-cross and beach racing earlier in the year, to triathlon in the summer; then to the muddy mayhem of off road running to round out the year. All with an off road sportive with my daughter as the cherry on the cake.
The season ended in Mothecombe, just outside Plymouth, at Pure Trail’s ‘Race the light’, an eight and a half mile twilight odyssey – encompassing estuary crossings, hills and mud. Lots of mud, but more of that later. The race started at 3.30 meant that you were all but guaranteed to be running in the dark, meaning a head torch was mandatory for the race.
After the usual pre-race double queuing to register and then for the toilet, we make our way down to the estuary for the race start. I say we as I entered with a friend of mine, Tom, whom I have been running with for a few months. We seem to run at the same sort of pace in training, so it was going to be interesting to see the effects of racing completeness on our compatibility.
At about 3.35 (we started a few minutes late to allow the back of the toilet queue to get down, and as someone who has missed the start of a race because of the loo queue I thought that was a nice touch) the klaxon goes and off we go across the estuary. Once again I start too far back, but Im not likely to ever win a race and if I am honest I rather like passing hordes of people over the first few kilometres.
We cross the sand and head for the first water crossing. Maybe it was because I hadn’t warmed up yet, or more likely because its December but crossing the river Erme is bracing – to say the least – and going by the collective groans I am not the only one feeling the water’s cold bite.
Once the icy waters of the Erme are negotiated we run up the slipway and continue up a track for about 500 hundred metres before taking a tight left, through a gap in the hedge and across a field and into the Flete Estate. Once out of the field, the fun (read mud really begins).
The route is flattish to undulating for a while as we follow dual track out through woodland. Despite the lack of real hill thus far the conditions under foot mean its anything but quick, as we constantly need to move across the track to find areas with the best traction.
I won’t lie, I was pleased when I got to the point where the route splits for the lollipop loop and I hadn’t seen the head of the race coming back the other way. From this point the route continues to climb gradually to the checkpoint.
As I head towards the checkpoint I cross what can only really be described as a mud lagoon. The first two or three strides the mud pit is only just over ankle deep. The next step sees me stopping dead in my tracks with the mud well past my knee. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue except Tom is just behind me and nearly runs straight over me. I can only imagine he saw an opportunity to use me as some kind of walkway to avoid the worst of the mud.
Once our timing chips have been dipped in the transponders, and with legs heavy from Lake Fuckloadsofmud, we are faced with a monster of a climb. It is a real grind which is only made worse by the lack of traction. As a result, the group I am in becomes a single file line, which internally I dubbed ‘The Pain Train’. As we climb, I really hope the right-hand turn is the top, it isn’t. I honestly think I would have just unhitched from The Pain Train had Tom not been there, but my ego couldn’t allow it. Not in a race. Not with witnesses.
We top out and slalom through the woods as we start to descend, before the trail opens up again and I try to hold on to the coat tails of the faster descenders in our little group. I don’t really manage this, but as the route continues to drop down Tom and I have a little chat while we can.
The route retraces the way out for a while, and as I’m feeling good (relatively) I try to set the pace for a while. I continue to do this for a couple of kilometres. We reach the foot of the second big climb, where I conspire to trip over a branch that I had seen and made a mental note to avoid, but still managed to run into.
Muddied, but unhurt, I am puled to my feet by Tom and once our rhythm has settled down I find myself at the front of the second pain train. This time it all seems less grim as I set the pace and concentrate on trying to reel in a few runners a hundred metres or so ahead. I don’t quite manage it, but it certainly helped having something to focus on other than the burn of lactic acid.
Once at the top its downhill nearly all the way back down to the estuary. As we pass through the woodland paths we must hurdle fallen trees and roots and duck lower level branches. One of those environments that test your concentration and reactions as branches suddenly appear in your sphere of visibility. This is reinforced when a guy about 10 metres ahead fails to see a tree root and just crumples to the ground before he has a chance to brace himself. Luckily, he is straight back up again and appeared unhurt.
Once back down to the estuary we cross the river again, this time it is almost like therapy for stressed muscles, but the rippled wet sand is anything but therapy for the ankles. The race started down at the bottom of the slip way, but Race the Light had one last trick up its sleeve. The race finished up at The Schoolhouse, and while finishing at a pub is always welcome the hill might have been less so. Thankfully my legs still have enough to get me to the top without having to resort to walking and I do my best to chase people down all the way up. Finally, I turn off the road into the field and over the finish line at The Schoolhouse. I finished in 1:18:43, which was good enough for 46th out of 273 finishers. I’m fairly happy with that, especially as I spend most my time feeling like I am running through treacle.
After running with Tom for the whole race we went our separate ways as he has to resort to a power walk up the final climb (sorry for ratting you out). Now, I never used to consider myself as very competitive, and certainly not with other people – claiming that I race to get the best out of myself, which is true – but I’m pleased to have beat Tom. I really enjoyed racing with him, and I didn’t have any ambitions to try and drop him at any point, but I didn’t want him finishing before me.
This does leave me in a bit of a dilemma, he doesn’t know that I write a blog, and if I tell him he’ll know how I feel about beating him. I’m pretty sure he would have wanted to beat me too, and if he had I would have been happy for him. That doesn’t mean that I want him to know I really wanted to beat him.
I had a really good time racing into the twilight through the beautiful Flete Estate. The route is a challenge without being too much, even with the seasonal mud. It was a great way to end my season, and I will be back again. I think I may have found my annual season finale.
Picture credit: 3rd picture taken from the Pure Trail Facebook page.