I knew it was going to be hard, and it didn’t let me down!
On a cold, wet and windy morning I joined approximately 50 others on a muddy side road somewhere near Telford for the Winter Holly Challenge, run by How Hard Can It Be Events. In near freezing temperatures I signed the disclaimer (“Yes I understand that I’m an idiot and may injure myself today”) and wondered, not for the first time, just what the hell I was doing.
I attempted to make conversation with the other entrants, but failed to impress when I had to admit that no, I’ve never done an ‘ultra’, and I still don’t know what ‘fartlek’ really means. I’d managed to leave my new running watch at home so couldn’t use that to send out subtle signals of prowess either. Fine, I thought, I’ll tell them I’ve got 12 marathons planned this year, that’ll get some respect for sure. I turned round to be confronted by a vest proclaiming the wearers intention to complete 40 marathons in the same timescale. Suitably deflated I bought a cup of tea and tried to mentally prepare myself…
The course consisted of 32 laps of a very potholed and muddy tarmac road, with puddles stretching the entire width at points. There were also not one, but two steep inclines totalling about 1/3 mile, the first of which was to become an object of dread in my mind. (“Must. Do. More. Hill. Training”). I managed to keep running all the way up it for the first 12 laps, but as time went on I was walking more and more of that b***** slope and cursing How Hard Can It Be Events! Thankfully it appeared almost everyone else was in the same boat, which made it feel a little easier.
Apart from ‘the hill’, the course wasn’t as soul destroying as I thought it would be. There is something reassuring about knowing what you’ve got in front of you, even if it is the same thing 32 times over! Given the small number of entrants it would probably be uneconomical to man multiple checkpoints across a wider course. The start / lap / finish station was very well kitted out with a seemingly never ending supply of squash, water, coke, haribos, cereal bars and my personal favourite, Jaffa cakes. Added to that, the race ‘officials’ were all really supportive and the large bell rung by each competitor as they began their final lap was a nice touch.
As was the case in the other marathons I’ve done, I was once again hit by debilitating cramp in my legs. I felt the tell tale twinges at about 15 miles and had a few spasms in my calves that caused me to wince and limp. By lap 28 (approx. 23 miles) I was really suffering but trying not to show it. I passed another runner and we exchanged a few mutual compliments. Ascertaining that she was three or four laps behind me, I pulled ahead feeling happy that at least I wasn’t going to finish last. 50 yards later and my right thigh gave me such a jolt of pain that I staggered off the road into the muddy bank, and in trying to keep from falling over sent my left leg into spasm too. There was nothing for it but to attempt to stretch, except this seemed to cramp every other muscle in my legs and feet. I limped round the rest of that lap in agony to find that the runner I’d passed (who had subsequently overtaken me again), had stopped at the base and located a bottle of ‘Deep Heat’ spray from her bag, leaving it with the officials with instructions to look out for ‘the hobbling guy’. (I declined the spray in favour of a few more Jaffa cakes. I think I made the right decision).
What really helped me through the cramp was knowing that donations to the DCT were rolling in. Every time my phone emitted the ‘cash register’ sound of a JustGiving receipt I gave a little cheer, gritted my teeth and increased my stride. Thank you to everyone who donated!
Anyone watching my running style over the last few laps must have thought I was experiencing periodic electric shocks, as I jolted with the cramp and stumbled off course. It’s definitely something I need to work on, although from what I’ve read the prevailing advice seems to be that I need to do more long runs. Bugger.
With one notable exception, all the other folk taking part were really friendly and I didn’t experience any ‘snobbish’ behaviour that I was half expecting given my lack of ‘serious runner’ status. Whilst I can’t say that I had a great day, I’m coming to realise that a part of me must actually enjoy this in some way, even if it’s only the euphoria of finishing! (I finally limped across the line in 4hrs 52mins, 20th out of 34).
My blinkers are off now, and I know what to expect for the next one, in 2 weeks time. I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to it, but I’ll be taking it head on.