The finale of the Spring Trail series was being held in a new location for the Spring Tail Series: Tideswell. This was the race furthest away from where Liz and I lived and presented a new problem for us; no one we knew was running it! This meant it was going to be a bit more of a pain to get to. We looked at public transport to get there (not happening!) and even considered travelling down in the Sunday and stopping over in a B&B (Nope, none available!). We’d asked a couple of times on the Facebook groups for the event, and a couple of general running groups for anyone travelling from Sheffield who had car space and would give us a lift, but had no bites at all. Our last resort was hiring a car on the Saturday and returning it on the Monday, which did seem like a bit of overkill. Also, I’m not an experienced driver, so I wasn’t that sure about an early morning drive to a race and then back on beasted legs!
We’d pretty much fallen back to booking the car when Liz popped another request in the Dark and White Facebook page, this time on the course preview post and we got a bite! A Sheffield Striders runner called Chris was heading down and willing to pick us up. Best of all, he lived really local to us!
So race morning. It was an early one. Our pick up was at 7:20, so we were up before 7. UNHEARD OF! So early, the car park where we were being picked up from wasn’t open! Luckily we found Chris and got on our way. It didn’t take us too long to get to Tideswell, which turned out to be a really lovely little village, and we were early enough to be able to get into the event registration car park which made life easier. Registration at that time was nice and easy, and we were again faced with the clothing vs temperature dilemma. It felt nippy, until the sun popped out of the clouds, which started to heat us up a bit. We’d had quite a bit of rain the day before, and today was supposed to be overcast with some more rain later on. I’d elected to go with my full length tracksters for the legs and a short sleeve teeshirt. It just didn’t see like it was going to be cold enough to need a long sleeve. Wearing the waterproof jacket kept me warm enough for standing around, but it quickly got tucked away once we’d made it to the start line which was a 5 minute walk from registration. I fished out my gloves at this point and stashed them into the pockets on my bag as well just in case it was chillier out on the run.
We were at the start line ~20 minutes earlier than our start time, but decided to join in with the wave beforehand rather than hang around. We had our quick talk through the rules then dibbed in and after a quick “Good luck!” to Liz, I was off. The race started on an cobbled uphill, like Bakewell but for not quite as long. This time, I pushed much harder on the start, quickly over taking a good proportion of the group we were with. I could see Chris, our lift disappearing off into the distance though, so pushed harder to try and keep in his league. I’d checked him out previously on Strava though and could see that he was quite a bit faster than me, so I knew I couldn’t hang on to him, but based on the race profile, I figured a fast start was what I needed, Oh yes, the race profile. Check this out:
An interesting shape! Based on that, I knew I needed to bank some time earlier on to handle the climb, AND that agressive looking downhill, plus the climb to finish. Bolstered by the confidence in my speed endurance I’d picked up on the Sheffield Half Marathon, I pushed this first section really hard.
After the short climb ended, we ran out along a narrow lane between a bunch of fields, slightly downhill, dodging around some pretty massive puddles left from the rains the night before. I could have probably gone a bit quicker by going straight through them, but I’m always a bit wary of what’s under those murky waters as they were pretty deep! It wouldn’t be good to twist an ankle on a big rock within 5 minutes of starting! Also, I didn’t fancy wet feet for the whole run. Soon we started crossing some fields with the elevation getting gradually more downhill until we swung right over a stile and hit a nice big long downhill in an open field. I really opened out at this point, overtaking 3-4 more people and really enjoying myself. The downhill continued into a wooded area, and then spat us out onto a road where there was a helpful marshal to warn us of oncoming traffic. Over the road, through a small gate and then left and immediately right we crossed a wooden bridge, which was surprisingly slippery before we swung left and staggered up a really steep little section to gain the Monsal Trail. I’d remember spotting the crossing on the map and the steep bit after it, so once hitting the bridge I eased up a bit before tackling the hill. It’s probably a good thing I did because that section was really slippery and had already claimed a victim. Chris, who by this point was WAAAY ahead of us, but lost his footing as he came off the bridge and grazed himself a bit falling. Ouch!
On the way through the woods before the bridge I’d been chasing, and eventually overtaken two runners who looked really fast. I felt a bit sheepish overtaking them as I could tell they were much more pro than me, but I just really felt like I needed to use the downhill. Hitting the really steep little climb into the Monsal Trail and then starting the gradual uphill run along it, I realised how tired I was feeling from that downhill and started to wonder if I’d made the right decision. Just after we overtook a photographer waiting at the start of the trail, one of those runners, another long hair in a Mountain Fuel teeshirt, slowly drifted up from behind me, passed me and starting to pull ahead. My brain was starting to wibble a bit. I should be able to keep up! This was an easy bit! Eventually I remembered that this bit was actually a climb, so will feel tougher than it should and distracted myself by pulling out a gel and eating it, in preparation for the real hard bits to come. While running along here, we started to catch up with the back of the previous wave, so was able to start catching people up and overtaking them which is always good for distracting you from how hard you were working. We also ran through 3 tunnels here as well, which was kinda fun but meant I kept having to take my sunglasses off and put my gloves on.
Soon we reached the end of the Monsal Trail and turned right up a climb to a bridge over the trail we’d just come down. I knew the climb was coming and as we turned on the bridge my heart sank. Ahead of me was a MASSIVE hill with an awful looking track on it. I took a deep breath and then realised that the trail we were on turned left and we didn’t have to climb that mountain. Phew! The climb we did have was still pretty tough though! I set to it, overtaking a bunch of people on the bottom quarter before running out of steam and electing to walk. I’d got loads of time in the bank, I was telling myself and sometimes walking is faster than running! I’d fallen in behind a lady and attempted to overtake her while walking but just couldn’t manage it at all. At that point I realised just how tired I was starting to feel and stopped pushing, instead just tried to keep up with her. Someone in a blue top who I’d overtaken a while ago came past me here and started making good progress up the hill. I could only watch! As the gradient evened out a bit at the end, I’d recovered enough to start a small jog and finally overtook the lady ahead and started to try and catch Bluetop. Topping out the hill, I think I remember there being a stile but can’t remember anything else for a bit. I was definitely in recovery mode!
Next we dropped onto a downhill along a road into the village of Blackwell where I stretched out my legs a bit and caught up and overtook Bluetop again, but we could see ahead of us another hill. First there was a crossroads with some more marshals which was easy to cross and then we started climbing again. I pushed reasonably hard on this, feeling a bit recovered from the previous hill and thinking back on what I did on the Sheffield half again, but then realised that this hill went on further than I thought and reined it in again. The hill turned a corner to the left and kept on going past a camp site. By now my calves were really starting to burn and my pace was dropping accordingly. The road swung right at the top, and I could vaguely remember that this was the feed station and that this marked the top of the hill. I tried to push on, but Bluetop overtook me again just at the summit and pushed ahead. By now I was feeling really quite warm and my flavoured water was starting to taste a bit sickly (and was definitely body temperature!). I took the opportunity to pause and grab a cup of water, which was shockingly cold, before heading on to try and catch Bluetop up again.
Suddenly we had an open road downhill again. This was very quick and I suddenly felt strong and started to almost hit 5k pace. Where was this coming from? We had a good long downhill along the road that felt great into Priestcliffe before we left a smooth road and returned to something far more uneven. And another hill! Nooo! I spend a few minutes hearing what sounded like the crunching of car tyres on the stones behind me when an older fella on a bike with very fat tyres over took me and moved away into the distance. Hmm. That looks easier I thought to myself as the hill gradient started to increase. The tiredness soon returned and my calves were yelling at me again as we pushed up the hill and a woman caught me up and over took me looking really strong and I couldn’t keep with her. However, we were both catching the bike back up. I heard the woman call out to the cyclist for a lift as she overtook him, and he called back asking for a tow! It seemed that we were faster on this up hill than he was as we swiftly overtook him and eventually turned off into a field.
This field became the seriously crazy downhill I’d been looking forward to. I do like downhilling, but this was definitely one of those that you had to try really hard NOT to slow down. It got steeper and steeper, but thankfully the grass was dry and easier going than the rocky path winding down it. I over took a bunch of people down here, but was being seriously outpaced by the woman who overtook me earlier. She was flying! Looking back on my Strava details, this was the first downhill I’ve ever seen where the GAP values (Gradient Adjusted Pace: It takes your pace and adjusts it based on the gradient to give you a better idea of the effort levels) were adjusted faster on a downhill! I guess this was steep enough to be harder to go quick on.
It was a weird combination of moving the feet and legs fast, while leaning into the slope, but dropping your bum down to try and control the pace. As soon as I hit the bottom of this hill my thighs complained very loudly! They were really hurting from the hammering they’d just got. We had a small respite from the gradient on the Monsal Trail before another little bit of downhill with a rather precarious limestone switch back before hitting the road at the bottom. Another lovely little bridge across the river and then it was the last section: 2.5k uphill. Oh no!
It wasn’t a serious hill, but you could definitely feel it. The last 12.5k really started to weigh pretty heavily on me at this point with thighs burning from the downhill and my calves broken from the previous climbs. I was really trying to not look at the elapsed time on my watch as I was close to just packing it in and walking. Seeing that I wasn’t on for the gold time might have stopped me in my tracks with how tired I was feeling! I did look at the pace, but covered up the elapsed time on the top of the watch and it gave me a bit of resolve. I was mostly able to keep it well above the 5:30mims/km I needed for the gold and the first half was pretty quick.. could it be on?
This section just went on and on. Almost every time the course turned, I was expecting to see the finish around the next corner. Keep on going, keep pushing. I caught up with someone who had started run walking and tried to encourage them on a bit, but it felt a little hollow as I felt that that was going to be me soon. I could remember from the course preview that there was a big wooden Water Vole sculpture so kept an eye out which took far longer than I expected. After passing it, it still seemed like an eternity before the next thing I remembered from the video appeared: The path getting squeezed between the wall next to the road on the left and a steep hill on the right. Running for the finish, I had nothing left, only just able to keep the pace up, rather than my customary fast finish, but it was done and and MILES under the gold target at 1:15:51. I really couldn’t quite believe it.
After a few minutes of stunned recovery, I started the long walk back to the registration point to hand in my dibber, but soon doubled back after realising just how far it was. Instead I headed back to the finish and walked back down the route to find a good spot to wait for Liz. I was originally aiming to get to the vole, but found a picnic table about half way to it and waited there. I’d pulled my waterproof out of my pack as I was getting cold and then hung around for Liz.
Once she arrived I ran back with her, getting in a big grin for the photographer who’d turned up to snap people finishing. After a brief pause, we started the long walk back to Tideswell to download our results at registration and stuff our faces with cake and sausage rolls. We found Chris pretty quickly, who was looking at the results nervously: He was currently in first place!
Race done, and happy with my 28th place, there was just a matter of the Series Standings to be done with. They weren’t out for a couple of days, so impatient as always I had a little go at calculating it myself. The standings were worked out by calculating a score out of a 100, with 100 for first place in your ages/gender category, 99 for second place etc. Then you take your best two races and add the results together. I filled out a sheet from the results I could find and was really surprised to find myself in fourth place for the series. Wow. That was really unexpected!
A couple of days later I had another surprise. I’d got it wrong and I was actually in Third! I guess this means the pressure is on for next year? The guys in first and second place really are in a different class though, so getting higher than this isn’t going to happen.
I’ve a couple more races coming up, a timed 5miles on Wednesday 8th, and then a repeat of the White Peak Trail, a really tough 26k run I did a few years ago. Fingers crossed for those!