Grindleford Gallop, 11th March 2017
21 miles cross-country with 2600ft of height gain
Time: 3 hours and 13 seconds
You can see my arm on this picture! Blue top just behind Martin James (no.278).
This was a crazy race. Something a bit more than cross country. Something approaching a fell race. It was entirely possible to have totally soaked feet within the first 30 seconds, something I narrowly avoided. There’s a big bottle neck (leading into the above picture), and you get channelled by the crowds so you can’t avoid whatever appears in front of you. This was a bit more drama than I expected, but was just the beginning. There was plenty of mud to come (some on steep sections), unavoidable water at about 4 miles where I did get totally submerged feet up to the ankles (a first for me), and two hills so big and steep they were impossible to run (another first for me). The run taken as a whole was also the most technical I’ve ever done, and a few people had falls – somehow I stayed up even when the legs were totally gone to jelly.
Yet another, very surprising, first for me: when I turned on my Garmin at the start the battery was totally dead! This was quite a shock, since I train with it a few times every week, and have never had that happen before. Very weird. I had to quickly re-think my strategy, since I couldn’t think about trying to maintain a certain average pace, or trying to keep up a certain pace on the hills, etc. I usually spend a lot of time during a race looking at the watch and doing calculations; none of that this time. But then again, maybe that worked out well. After all, it’s hard to assess what pace you should be doing, or what time you should be on, when there are so many tricky sections and it’s your first time doing the event. I had to make do on feel alone, and a few updates from fellow runners.
It turns out, I ran most of the race with a chap called Lucas. That wasn’t planned at all, and it’s funny that someone else there was exactly the same standard. I also wonder whether we really were exactly the same standard, or whether, once you start running with someone, something holds you together. We chatted a bit, talked about running and the race, ran side by side a bit, and took it in turns to take the lead. All totally unintentionally. I think this has got to be healthy, somehow – helps the miles to tick over, and when one of you is struggling for a bit the other one somehow pulls you through and keeps you going, even without saying a word. We stayed together from about mile 3 to about mile 14, then I pulled away in the Chatsworth estate. I kinda thought that was the last I’d see of him, but turns out that wasn’t to be. I’d see him right at the end.
Just possibly we made each other run a bit too fast for the first half of the race: when he was getting ahead I would make sure I didn’t lose him, and perhaps vice versa. In addition I sprinted a bit at the start to avoid the bottle-necks as much as possible, and then on mile two there is a ridiculously punishing hill – this is not a race for those who like to gradually warm up over the first four miles! By half way I was really wondering whether I’d totally overdone it, and predicted (correctly!) that I would have to hold on for dear life through the last few miles. We ran the first half in 1 hour 26 (when we reached the 4th checkpoint on the Monsal trail). Although I was tired already it felt good to know that I could run the second half much slower and still get a decent time. But I was a bit worried.
The weather was good, and the sun even peaked through a bit. Although I was cold at the beginning, I could (and should) have done it in a vest. The gloves even disappeared soon after this photo! There were plenty of amazing views – rewards for the hill work. And the air was so fresh. There were large sections in the middle when it felt really good to be out there. And running through the Chatsworth estate was pretty cool. There were also plenty of people cheering on and kids giving high-fives, which is always nice! Near Chatsworth two kids were arguing about whether I was the 32nd runner or the 35th. I think I must have been 32nd at that point, since a few people passed me after that, and I ended up 37th.
Although I pulled away from Lucas around that point – between miles 14 and 16 – I’m not sure how exactly. I think perhaps I was a bit faster than him on the flat, overall. Or perhaps at that point it felt like the long straight home, and our partnership was no longer so important as I started to put my head down and dig in for the final stages. But I also thought I should be holding something back for the final, massive hill, after the last checkpoint at 16 miles. Probably I should have, since a bit into the hill I started to get painful twinges of cramp (another total first for me). I had to stop and walk for a bit, and started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to run to the end. On the other hand, I started to realise that I might just complete the race in 3 hours or less – at one point somebody told me we had 9k to go and we’d been running 2 hours 5 minutes. That seemed totally do-able – unless I had to walk a lot. And *everyone* has to walk at least some of that final monster hill. In the end I thought I had a chance, and pushed on for 3 hours. The cramp came and went, but once the hill was done it had mostly gone, and I could shuffle along at a half-decent pace. It was quite technical (flat, but rocky), and the legs were rapidly turning to total jelly.
I was mostly on my own now, although one guy who must have left plenty in the tank went past me quite fast. I tried to stick with him for a couple of miles on Froggatt Edge. Everything was an effort now, and it was grit-your-teeth time. I was desperate for the race to be over, and not really caring about the 3 hour thing. I had a certain pace, and couldn’t possibly go even a tiny bit faster. If that was fast enough for 3 hours, then great, but if it wasn’t, then that was just the way it was.
Earlier on it had seemed that Lucas was faster than me on the downhills. Nearly everyone is faster than me on the downhills – I am much better on flat and uphill for some reason. This was important for the final mile, which was a semi-technical descent through muddy woods. On totally dead, wobbly legs, this was really bad for me. I hadn’t realised but Lucas had me in his sights along Froggatt, but couldn’t catch me there. Now on the descent he could. Right at the bottom I heard him coming. But then it was flat, and I could see the finish line, and I could put in some speed. He was still behind me when we reached an awkward road crossing immediately before the finish line, with a car coming at just the wrong moment, and each of us wondering whether it would stop. In the moment of confusion the cheeky begger pushed past me and scanned his timer. I also lost a couple of seconds as I’d forgotten about scanning it at the finish line. So he beat me by 5 seconds. Can’t complain though! We both helped each other, and both did hugely better than we expected. It was a good partnership.
The soup at the end was fantastic. Then I saw Martin James, who’d had a nasty fall. But he was OK. He’d run a fantastic 2 hours 47 (20th place). I grabbed my flowery picnic rucksack and headed for the car for yet more snacks on the way home. It would have been nice to stick around and recover a bit longer, but I had a kids party to get to! Thankfully the legs still functioned for driving.
Later that evening an ice bath was in order. Never had one before, but had so many people (and books) advising me on them. This time I knew my legs were really beat up, and I took the plunge (with cup of tea and clothes, as recommended on some forum!). It was horrendous getting in, but then felt pretty good, and the legs did feel quite a bit better even immediately after. Or maybe they were just numb.
Legs so sore today (2 days on), but no niggles or injuries (yet). A big long rest needed now before I even think about running again – there will be no recovery run!
Final thoughts on the Garmin: I must have left it on stand-by. But it’s very temperamental, and I should really get a new one. Still weird that I’ve never had that happen in training, then it happens for a race.
Fuelling: muesli five hours before, and half bagel with peanut butter two hours before. One MaxiNutrition caffeine bar eaten in five bites between miles 10 and 16. Then one gel at mile 16.5 (going up the last hill). All seems perfect to be honest.
Water: glad I took my hip bottles. I used them. No need for a backpack though. There was water at every checkpoint.
Final thoughts on the time: Really pleased with 3 hours, and sounds like it will be possible for me to run a 3 hour marathon. (Last year, Martin did a better time for his marathon than he did for the Grindleford Gallop.). We’ll see in October!