Thursday, 31 January 2019

Beyond The Far Side - And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose!"
 Dr. Suess

Race date: 19 Jan 2019
Organisers: Crooked Tracks Wiltshire -
Location: Westbury, Salisbury Plain
Weather/Conditions: Wet, becoming wetter.

It had been a year, a whole bloomin' year since we were last huddled in this marquee, staring out at the near-freezing rain, wishing the race was in the summer and the hills were shorter.  The hour before the race quickly diminished into minutes as the noise levels increased along with the participants.

Numbers for each of the races were up from last year's inaugural running of this mental event.  Hills, winter and short loops do not make great reading when you are looking for possible races, and normally I would ignore the Race Directors well-crafted words, professional photos, and move on quickly before the idea took root in my brain.  Normally.  But when the Race Directors (and most of the crew) are running friends you tend to sign up for the first race and if it stinks, make plans to be somewhere else the next year.  But as much as I hate looped races, I loved this one, and I was back.

Getting busy down here!

I checked my kit, which consisted of a Naked Running Belt with a phone and some snacks, and filtered outside with the rest of the runners, ready for the 9am start.  From the start, the 10k runners loop the field first before joining the 6 and 12-hour runners heading up the first hill.

Just follow the arrows.....

The course needs a little explaining.  Each loop is about 5 miles, there are 3 hills, the first being just mud, fallen leaves, and loose stones.  It is the steepest climb and a few trees have fallen across the track making it tricky to navigate in the rain.  After a few loops of the circuit, the hill becomes one big mudslide, making descending it as hard as ascending it.  At the top of the first hill, you turn left along a level towards Hill 2.

Hill 2 is a short steep descent on chalk steps.  At the bottom, you turn around and climb back up the hill you just descended plus half the distance again.  At the top of Hill 2, you turn right onto the range road and run downhill towards hill 3.  After a short descent, you reach the main chalk steps that make up the upper part of the hill before it flattens out to the turn around point at the bottom and then start the long climb back up.  At the top of Hill 3, you immediately turn left and descend Hill 1 again, the soft, slippery topsoil and wet leaves making it more hazardous than the climb up.  A quick run through the woods at the bottom before returning to the ground of the leisure centre.

Some bloke on the race

Upon climbing Hill 1 on the first lap and I could feel my calves and quads burning already, there is no real way of running this hill and so it's just a case of picking your way up along the least muddy path.  Even the faster runners in the 6 hour race, and on the course for the first time, found the hill a killer, the realisation that this would be at the start of each loop was starting to sink in.  At the top, I opened up a bit, not normally a tactic for my ultra races but I knew the course would deteriorate very quickly and the more laps I did earlier in the race, the easier it would be to get the miles in.

Getting down Hill 2 at pace is easy, it just takes nerves, which is why I had been running the course regularly over the summer months.  The chalk steps were now wet and a little slippery, adding that little "excitement" to the steep, but short incline.  Turning and climbing back up I just dug in forced my legs again, knowing I would soon be at the top and on the range road for easier running.  The open and exposed summit of the hill brought a driving crosswind and rain with it, reminiscent of the last 10 miles along the Imber Ultra that finishes at the same location as we had started today.  Heading back down Hill 3 the first of the 10k runners started to pass me, going hell for leather down the longer chalk steps and onto the more shallow path below.  At the bottom, they turned and at pace got away from me, not my race, but I had soon caught a few back up, and even overtaken a handful heading down hill1.  But other runners (from the 6 hour race) were already heading back up the hill on their second lap!  By the time I reached the checkpoint the 10k leading pack had crossed the line and were filtering out of the race.  I picked up my soft bottle of Tailwind, my running poles, and headed back out onto the course.

In 2018 I ran each loop with another runner, this year there was no one around my pace to run with and so just carried on, occasionally chatting to runners either in my direction on the course or passing in the opposite direction.  On arrival at the checkpoint for the second time I ate a little and headed back out again and before I knew it I had completed 13 miles and arriving at back at the checkpoint for the 3rd time, and 15 miles in, I still felt strong.  I ate some more, ditched my poles as they had made no real difference, and headed back out, aiming to stop for a change of tops at the end of my 4th lap.  The rain threatened to stop, but the threats came to nothing.

Always eating

After the 4th lap and 20+ miles, I had come to a few decisions.  With only one weekend between this race and the Pilgrim's Challange I would curtail my race to 50k and ease back a bit as I was way ahead of my timings for 2018.  Having run Pilgrim's before I knew that I needed to go into the 2-day race on strong legs, not recovering legs.  I tucked into some food, had a cup of hot sweet tea, swapped my shoes, socks, base layer and jumper for dry ones before heading out yet again.

The rain continued in its quest, failing to even look like stopping and making short work of my new dry layers.  The conditions on Hill 1 had made the climb extremely hard work and very time consuming, the elevation and mud now taking its toll on every runner, but once up and on the flat, I had the strength to push on.  I finished the lap strong, ate a little more and then waited for Anne Kelly to complete my 6th and final lap.  We headed out at a slower pace, Anne's recurring knee injury slowing the pace to almost a walk, but it had been a while since we had run together and had a lot of catching up so I was happy to take it easy.  As we headed down Hill 3 the light started to fade quickly and returning to the top for the final descent with only my head torch, Anne had set off on the lap without hers, made the task even trickier.  Anne had also decided that this would be her final lap.

If I only could... Hill 1 

As we approached the finish line in the dark and rain I think we were both happy with what we had achieved.  For me, it had not been monumental, in fact, I was 7 miles shorter than last year, but I was a lot stronger in my race and had fun chatting (and singing) to other runners during the race.  The supplied post-race, vegan-friendly, hotpot and bread quickly warmed me and filled me up.

Regardless of the organisers being my friends, the whole event is well thought out, adequately staffed, but goes well beyond the normal when it comes to stocking the Checkpoints.  A fun, happy crew that go the extra mile - normally about 31 miles.

Result  14/29
14 Mick FARRAR – 6 Laps. 8 hrs 12 mins 22 sec. 31.8 miles. 5,100 ft elevation

Altra Lone Peaks, Saucony KOA TR, Leki poles, Naked Running Band, Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket, Sealskinz (nearly) waterproof gloves

Tailwind, peanut butter & jam wraps, oranges, creamed rice

Yep!!!  Great staff, lots of fun, mental route and the best weather in Wiltshire!

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