The Shin Dig in the Shire - mud, hills & cramp!
2016 was going to be the year of the Half Marathon for me; well, that was how I planned it anyway. Having beaten my 10k PB several times at races throughout 2015, and ran a HM distance in a much-improved time in the December, I felt ready for the challenge.
Unfortunately, the wheels came off my plan fairly early on, when in March a flare-up of Rheumatoid Arthritis in my left hip forced me to pull out of my first planned race, Stafford HM, less than a week before the race. In total I lost two weeks training completely, I gained about 8 lbs in weight, and on my return to running my pace (such as it is) had deteriorated significantly.
In hindsight, at that point I should have reset my plans for the year, and built back up again from scratch – but when you’ve entered races, it’s a tough decision to DNS.
Three weeks before this race, and about six weeks after my flare-up, I had got myself back up to running 10 miles over a fairly lumpy route (234m of elevation gain), after that I started to scale back and I went in with just one objective for the race – to finish.
Come race day, and I felt I’d done all I could do to be ready for the race. I arrived at the start feeling excited.
About 150 of us set off from the pub car park, a combined start for the mara and half. For the first stretch it was uphill straight away, and plenty of folks were taking walk breaks already at this stage – me included, this was all about completing it, it’s not a PB course!
After that, the route levelled out a bit, and I was able to start running at a comfortable pace. This lasted until about 5 miles, which was when I encountered the start of the mud, on a downhill stretch.
At this point I learned the difference between “trail” shoes and proper trail shoes; I had the former – a pair of Brooks ASR’s – but soon learned that I needed the real deal, some proper trail shoes with big lugs on the sole.
I don’t mind mud, but this was about 6 inches of sloppy, shoe-sucking mud that went on for ages; it would take a seasoned trail runner to skip through it like a mountain goat, and I am not that. What then followed for me then was sporadic bursts of running interspersed with mud wading – this went on until the second and final drinks station at 9 miles, after which we got to the big hill, labelled on the course for comic effect as ‘the bump’.
At the drinks station I asked which way to go. “Up there” said the chap, pointing.
This was the most challenging climb I’ve ever done; a steep climb up a narrow, winding, slippy path which rose 403ft (123m) over 800 metres. I was pulling myself up by grabbing hold of tree branches, and towards the very top I was on all fours; when nearly at the top I slipped back down a few metres, saved from falling further by the kind runners behind me. I regrouped and made a final push for the top; my calves were screaming at me.
Having reached the top, I decided to walk a while to stretch my calves out and let them recover. Just when I was ready to run again, the course made another turn into a path of constant, churned up sloppy mud. It was all I could do to keep upright, running was not an option for me. I finally got to the end of the muddy patch and reached a road at about 10 miles – finally, a chance to run and make some time up.
I’d gone less than ½km when my right quads suddenly seized up with cramp, it was excruciating; all that effort of staying upright in the mud had really taken its’ toll on me, but I only found out when I started running. So, more stretching, more walking and the occasional trot to see if my legs would tolerate running. Whenever I came to another climb, this was now automatically a walk as my calves wouldn’t cope with running uphill, but equally my quads complained at downhill. So, for the remainder of the race, I walked, ran whenever my legs would let me, and stretched. With less than 2km to go, I tried to increase the pace to the finish but my quads were having none of it, so it was nothing more than a gentle trot to the finish.
I came in 112th place out of 113 – only 7 runners finished in under 2 hours, and only 75 finished under 3 hours. In terms of my time, I finished in a Personal Worst of 3:53:03, which was slower than my PB by an impressive 1 hour, 41 minutes and 17 seconds.
Far and away the most challenging race I’ve ever done – which is why I entered it – and I also managed a distance PB as I got slightly lost at one point and had to backtrack. After all that effort, it was nice to claim a PB for something!
The bruising from the cramp came out a few days later; but the achievement has stayed with me for far longer. I now also have a proper pair of trail shoes (Innov-8 Mudclaw 300’s)!
A tough, but brilliant race, held by runners for runners - I cannot recommend this highly enough. For now, I have unfinished business with this one...