After we completed the Langsett Trail 10k back in February, Martin and I were taken with some sudden enthusiasm to sign up for another race.
We found this one while browsing SIEntires and promptly signed up, all enthusiastic. Liz was a little less enthusiastic but was convinced eventually. Feeling like I’d be well into my training post Sheffield Half Marathon and getting ready for the Round Sheffield Run I figured 26k would be nice and simple and a good little mid training check in.
Well, I was wrong wasn’t I!
Quite a few weeks ago now, while talking about my plan for this, I’d decided that I’d use it as a pace test run for the Amsterdam marathon which I have coming up in October. I’m very vaguely aiming to run that at 3:15 pace (which is frankly rather crazy based on my previous times) and I figured that being as 26k is a lot less than 42k, I could run it at this pace. Foolish. Can you tell I haven’t done many proper trail runs before?
So, roll on the Sheffield Half, and my ankles are getting really sore so I have a 2 week break afterwards to recover. That’s fine, plenty of time to get the mileage back up to > HM distance. Then, remember in my last blog post about Hills Made Easy pt2 I was starting to come down with some sort of sore throat thing? Well, that developed into a full blown cold, my first of the year. Now being as I started feeling it on the 11th, I figured I had AGES to recover. 10 days is enough right?
To be fair, I didn’t exactly rest all that much while I was ill. There was a great morning run up to and around Damflask with the Kick.run community and a bunch of climbing. Maybe that prolonged it. Maybe it helped! Doesn’t matter now really though.
So, Sunday rolled on up. It was an early start as the start of the Tissington Trail in Ashbourne was an hour and a half away. Liz and I packed up up our stuff on the night before so we could basically roll out of bed and into the car. The gear needed was: One Ultimate Direction running backpack with two soft water bottles, 4 SIS gels (far too many really..), 2 protein bars, water and wind proof jacket, running gloves, waterproof taped over-trousers, a warm long sleeve for just in case, and looooots of tissues. We set off at just after 6:30 and made it to the venue before 8, giving us a good amount of time for registration and milling around. Because the weather had turned out pretty nice (considering all the rain we’d had this week) they’d relaxed the kit restrictions to just a windproof jacket, although the registration lady was at pains to explain that we could take more if we deemed it necessary. Although I considered dropping some things out of my pack, I decided to keep it just to have the experience of running with the full pack. Perhaps another mistake?
While waiting for our slots to start the race, the sun warmed up and we quickly all shed our windproof jackets. I stashed mine under the bungee cord on the back of the pack, figuring it would be reasonably safe there. It was about then when it started to rain a little bit, making us all briefly reconsider, but we held fast. We’d a long way to run and warm up!
Eventually, Andy’s early group set off at 8:10, and it was mine and Paul’s turn for the briefing. By this point I’d chatting to Paul on how I’d basically lost any plan for the run as I was still occasionally coughing up a lung and having to clear my nose. I ended up on deciding to take it “easy”, trying to keep to what my Endomondo training plan was calling my ‘Easy Run Pace’ of just over 5minutes per 5k.
Looking at the elevation map I figured that there were enough steady downhills segments to make up for the other climbs and keeping to this pace on average would see me dropping under the 2:15 barrier which could qualify me for a Gold position. So, that’s my plan sorted…
Finally it was our briefing and we headed off up the Tissington trail. It is the converted track bed of a railway build in 1899 starting in a big tunnel, lit with orange lights. Obviously starting and immediately plunging ‘underground’ caused my Garmin some problems as my elevation data was completely screwed from the word go and never really recovered. Much of the group I started in disappeared off into the distance without me, leaving me slightly disconcerted about pace, but I figured that being as we were all GPSless perhaps they were all either super fast, or just couldn’t pace themselves. I was feeling like I was pushing a bit hard to start with, so reined it back a little and waited till I was back out under the open sky to check in with the garmin paces.
Out of tunnel, there was a steep dip and climb where I believe there was a bridge missing, but from then it was a pretty even stone track with a slight climb for about 5k. Once my Garmin had calmed itself down a bit, I realised that I was running pretty much bang on pace, but feeling like it really quite too hard for the speed I was moving. This was my easy pace, not a tempo?
You can kinda see my error in the Strava screen grab on the right. Here I was, pushing along what felt like a reasonable stone path, thinking I was just feeling a bit tired because of my cold, and it actually turns out I was under-estimating the gradient. The GAP is Strava’s “Grade Adjusted Pace” where they convert your current pace into what it could be if you were on even ground. I was going quite a bit faster than I’d planned and as I result my HR was a lot higher than it should have been, right in threshold.
So yeah, another school boy error!
I just pushed on, trying to keep a lady runner ahead within sight, and I remember overtaking a guy in grey shorts who I’d see again later on in the run.
After about 22 minutes, we took a swing to the left and this was the cross over point. Here the 10km runners who would have started behind us would be halfway through and looping back towards the finish. Us longer course runners would instead swing to the right, after a bit of a horrible little climb and a lovely downhill. Being as we were 5k / 25 or so minutes in, I took the opportunity to neck my first gel before we hit what I expected would be the easy running along Dovedale. (2 on the little plan above.) Now, I’d come to this conclusion by looking at that little elevation diagram. Turns out I’d been sandbagged!
Check out the real elevation graph on the right.
So, yeah, it turns out Dovedale is not flat! We popped over a style and into a really bright green field (even though my sun glasses) and start up a small hill. I knew there was a great downhill coming, so finished up the gel, summoned my lessons from the Hill training course and starting to push up it gaining a little on the lady I was shadowing. Soon we peaked and hit the downhill which was bloody brilliant, a really great piece of track down the other side into a valley with huge banks of hill and rock on either side. I managed to push into sub 5k speeds down here, really enjoying being able to use the hill to get a bit of a breather.
There was a little river I just stomped through, not minding my feet getting wet, and then I suddenly had a big deja-vu sensation as I realised I’d walked along here in the other direction with some friends a few years ago.
Eventually I hit the bottom of the hill to start off on what I thought would be a relatively flat section along the river. It turned out to be a sequence of smaller energy sapping climbs, sometimes with steps, or other times with rough slippery limestone. It was bloody lovely, but it was definitely not fast. There were plenty of times where I was really tempted to stop and get my phone out for some photos (and a secret breather) but a stubborn part of me still trying for some sort of good time held on. I managed to keep up with the lady ahead until we reach the first set of steps. Again I pulled out my hill climbing lessons and pushed up the steps… until about 3/4 of the way up where i just lost all ooomph. Embarrassingly (well, for me because I doubt they actually noticed) I’d just overtaking a rambling family at the bottom, only for me to splutter to a stop and have to walk the last couple of steps. I think it was pretty much this point when I really started to acknowledge that this was going to be a really tough run. The runner ahead of me had disappeared completely so I just sucked it up, starting to ignore my pace and instead working to try and keep my HR out of the upper zone!
It was at this point I realised I’d turned completely T-rex again and with thoughts of @RunStu waving his finger at me, I focused in keeping my arms moving.
Even though I was struggling, I really really enjoyed the run along Dovedale. It looked like a limestone climbers (dangerous) playground, plus lots of interesting little caves to explore and a lovely river to dip your feet in, but all enjoyable things must come to an end, and Dovedale did with a monster of a climb.
I went through one last gate and passed two runners who were chatting. I commented to them about Dovedale was harder than I expected and one of them laughed at me. “You haven’t seen anything yet!” he replied. “Oh, is it the hill?” I added rather dejectedly. Yeah, it was the hill.
I’d pretty much got comfortable again when the arrows along the path swung to the right and the foot of a bloody huge bit of hill. Garmin reckons it was about 75metres of climb in a rather treacherous to feet zigzag of path at a gradient of about 20+%. I attacked it, feeling pretty good about it keeping my feet beneath me and pushing with my legs, not pulling with my feet and made the first zig before I stuttered again to a halt as my HR hit 195 and I had to walk the remaining 4-5 zags. Ouch. Still, head down, keeping moving, really having to fight to not just stop to catch breath. Once I’d reached the first peak of the hill I looked back down the side to see Paul just starting bounding up from the bottom. Apparently he made it almost to the top running, but then he always was a better hill climber than me!
There was a little more climbing to do on the hill and a stile to jump and then we had a gorgeous slight descent along a ridge line above a river. At this point I saw the lady I was chasing again in the distance which gave me a little surge to try and catch back up. Well, I felt like it was a surge but my Garmin didn’t register much of one! From there we crossed a field down to a road, and followed it on a little switch back (with another horrid little hill) before we came across the feeding station.
Thank the lord! I stopped, munched a chunk of banana, ate another gel, and downed two cups of water and struck up a conversation with someone who had stopped just ahead of me. I was treating it like one of the between stage sections on the Round Sheffield Run, rather than a water point on a race, but I really needed it. I’m not entirely sure I’d have made it to the end if I hadn’t. Looking at my Garmin data, it appears I had about 2 minute break, which looking back on it seems a bit criminal.
And onward! I KNEW this section would be better, we had all the hill to descend again to get back to the cross over point again, so I pushed the pace up and started feeling good again. I was only doing “easy run pace” here or slightly ahead of that, but I could tell I just didn’t have anything faster in me so just enjoyed it. I started catching up quite a few other runners and overtaking them (which is always good for morale) and dodged plenty of cyclists who were out enjoying the sun. At about 16km I caught up with Andy who looked to be doing pretty well.
We chatted for a bit before I pushed on. I remember crossing a bridge over the A515 and then latching on to the back of a pack of runner who were only slighting going slower than me. It took probably 3-4k before I’d actually caught them up, finally overtaking as we reached the cross over point. There was (unexpectedly) a water station here but I pushed on as I still had my own and I’d realised I was at the cross over point
Next was that horrible little hill from before which was really tough, but I got my head down and pushed on just as my Garmin beeped at me. 20km. < 6km to go. 1hr 50min. Hang on, if I do this next 5 and a bit k at my target pace, I can still get the gold (which was < 2:15) ! I had a little surge of enthusiasm then, realising that despite how hard I’d found the first 3/4 of the race I was still on target.
Nearing the peak a girl appeared from my left, who I think had been paused at the side of the road. She was definitely faster than me, overtaking me quickly on the hill, but once we started on the downhill I caught her back up quickly. At the bottom we headed left and I tailed her really closely, being completely unable to over take her, but unwilling to slow down so I was breathing down her neck. I apologised out loud and she laughed saying she was feeling the same. We’d started on the return route now and it gave us a new hill to deal with which floored both of us. It wasn’t long, but both simultaneously ended up walking it and started up again once we’d peaked in the village of Thorpe. We ran together up to the next left hand turn where she offered me the lead. She jokingly, and correctly, had anticipated that I’d take the hill fast “like a mountain goat” I think was her words and it was a great hill for it. I left her behind me as we floated down the hill into a little wood at the bottom on the other side of a gate. After passing the gate I had a momentary worry that I hadn’t checked the arrows that this was the right path, but put it out of mind and pushed on anyway. Right on queue an arrow appeared giving me the confidence I needed to keep the speed up.
Eventually the hill bottomed out and we ended up following a decent path along a river, quite possibly the flattest section of the entire course, but I was blown. I couldn’t keep my pace anywhere close to 5mins/km, and every stile or gate I hit presented me with that tempting urge to not start running again as I got through it. I found the third gel I’d packed but lacked the coordination to properly eat it and keep running. I probably managed 3/4s before stashing it back in my pack. The girl from earlier caught me up, and yelled at me as I almost stopped, “Come on! Keep going! We can do this!”, which got my legs moving again. The next gate stopped me though, and I walked 5 steps or so after it as she bounced ahead and started to lose me.
And then there it was, the last proper hill. Another stile and we started to climb. The girl ahead slowed to a walk. I was already walking, and the guy in the grey shorts, (remember him from about 3 hours of writing ago?) overtook me and also ground to a halt. All three of us trudged our way along the path climbing the side of a rather steep hill up to the camping site. More people appeared behind us slowing to a trudge. It wasn’t a huge hill, it looked far less fierce in real life that it does in the elevation graph but I had nothing left. My walk was so slow people were pulling away from me, but there wasn’t much I could do. The path climbed, crossing into a new field filled with guys with metal detectors and wound up to the left before finishing in a camp site. Eventually I got my legs going again, getting some semblance of speed up again until yet another stile, but this one had a bunch of walkers trying to get over it. Muttering my apologies I skipped between them and then struggled to get my back leg over it. One of them laughed at me “Well, you’re blown!”, yes I was!
Now it was the final stretch, a nice downhill which I found a little speed for, a small stream crossing, and then, horror of horrors, some steps where we got back on to the Tissington trail and headed right back to the start. This bit should have been easy, but there were loads of cyclists to dodge around the barriers, then the dip and hill where the bridge was missing and finally, the tunnel and the finish line.
Liz and Martin were there to congratulate me finishing. I staggered past them and I think the first words out of my mouth were “holy sh*tballs”. I’ve no idea where that came from.
After I’d stretched a little I made a move to go and get my times and some cake when Paul finished. His last third of the course was much stronger than mine, with him pulling back a lot of time and only finishing a few minutes after me. Together we headed over and got our times printed out and grabbed a cup of tea, some crisps, sausage rolls, cake and biscuts. They know how to spoil us!
I clocked in at 2hr 27mins, over ten minutes slower than I was hoping for, but to be honest I’m happy with it based on the circumstances. It was a tough course in warm conditions and I couldn’t breath through my nose for much of it. I think 2:15 would have been possible for me in better circumstances (but I think my original ideas were wildly inaccurate!)