Sunday, June 1, 2008

Saturday 31st May: Garburn Trail Race

Distance: 14.81 miles (on my Garmin), Time: 2:41:42 (official time) Ascent: 657 metres/2155 feet (Sporttracks, not sure how accurate)

So it finally rolled round. I have pretty much rested since Tuesday's short one due to miserable weather on Wednesday. A check of the weather forecast on Friday night finally sealed the decision to move to the earlier Challenge event rather than try my luck in the race, it was going to be hot with very little wind - I am rubbish in the heat, I can really struggle. The Challenge would be setting off at 9:30 am where as the race would be setting off at 11:30, decision made for me! I had checked the rules on the website and my time for the challenge would still count for the series as well.

The drive up was pretty painless, partly because Pam had picked me up at 8am and partly because we were only going as far as Staveley and nowhere near the Windermere or Ambleside traffic. We were parked quickly and as it was pretty warm when I got out the car - 16 degrees already at 8:40 am, it was definitely going to be warm - I got myself ready to run, there would be no danger of getting cold prior to the start. I had my club vest on which is quite light and cool to run in thankfully, I put my running cap on and Adidas sunglasses then headed off to the registration marquee to get myself changed to the Challenge event. Pam and I parted company as she had planned a walk to do whilst I was running and it headed off in the opposite direction from where I was going.

Just opposite the entrance to the field we were parked there was a race sign pointing down a footpath, I could see the registration marquee so I jogged down it as a bit of a "warm up", I didn't need to get warm as such I just wanted my legs moving and heart rate up a bit. It was a good path, well surfaced and nice and shady, it ended at a very narrow stile which I had to shimmy round, I gathered it was the path back into the finishing area so made a mental note of the stile, it wouldn't do to hit it at any sort of speed. I headed to the marquee to pick up my number and move from the Race to the Challenge, this was done with minimum fuss as these events are always superbly organised. Up to now I was feeling I was tight for time to do another short jog prior to the 9:30 am start but they announced that the start was delayed until 9:45 so I headed off for a short run, I was feeling pretty warm so I ran down a shady road for about 3 minutes then headed back and did a bit of stretching ready for the start. When we were called to the start line I headed right to the front row, normally I wouldn't be anywhere near here but the speedy people were all going to be in the next event and I wanted well away from the poles of the nordic walkers doing the event after a near trip on a woman's poles in the last race.

A few safety announcements from the organiser, a few mumbled words from the mayor of Staveley , a countdown and we were off. If it hadn't been for the cacophony of other people setting their watches off I would've forgotten to do mine, I hit the start button a few seconds away from the start line whilst berating myself for being a muppet. The first 2 to 3 miles were basically uphill, all runnable and with lots of shade but the temperature was definitely rising. My goal was to run it all until the bottom of the climb to the pass. The terrain was typical Lakes bridleway, rocky and dry and quite loose in places due to the fact it was so dry. There was a nice section across some fields where I had to pay attention to my footing as there were lumps and bumps hidden in the grass and baked hard, no give at all and I didn't want to turn an ankle. The first descent of note for the day and I pass a few people, it was quite rocky and uneven but good fun then it was down to some woods .

There weren't any insects around thankfully and my memory is a bit hazy but the first water station was around here somewhere, about 7km in. I had my own water, about a litre in a bladder on my back but I still had some from this station. I decided at this point to take a gel as my stomach was a little rumbly, I wasn't sure if I really needed it but I have learned from past experiences to have fuel sooner rather than later so I managed to get it down my neck with some water and threw the rest of the water onto my legs which felt to be the hottest part of me. The trail continued along through some more woods and there was another good descent then it popped out on the road towards the Kentmere Institute and the start of the climb to the pass. The organisers of the race had put a safety time cutoff at the Institute, if you were not through here at 1pm then they would disqualify you. This time cutoff also played a big part in my decision to drop to the Challenge as I wasn't sure I would make it in time if I did the main race starting at 11:30am, as it was I got there in just over an hour so I would've been fine. It had been generally undulating terrain until Kentmere but now the main climb was about to start, the profile of the race is below:

It is not obvious from the graph but Garburn pass is at approximately 1400 feet and the climb to it starts from about 500 feet so it is approx 800 - 900 feet of climb and it is steep, the top section in particular I know that there is no way I would be able to ride it, even in my granniest of MTB gears as it is so steep and rocky. I knew I would be walking that part for sure as if I can ride it I can generally run it.

It would have been getting on towards 11 am as I approached Kentmere and I was now running out in the open, on tarmac and uphill again. I really started to feel the heat, there was no wind, none at all, I was in the lee of it on this side of the pass and I wouldn't feel any breeze again until I got to the top. I continued running though until the water station at the very foot of the climb, I was now 11km in and had another drink of nice cold water. I could really feel the heat now and if I had been sensible I would've walked from this point but as I have ridden this track several times, albeit as a descent on the MTB I knew that I should have been able to run some of the bottom half of this climb, so I pushed on. The track was so dry and rubbly I was sliding around in it making no progress until I got onto a firm line, my legs felt good and my heart rate was ok for me then my head started spinning and I felt like I was overheating, so I changed to a walk. It took me quite a while to recover from this as I'd totally overdone it in the heat, what I needed to do was stop completely for a few minutes but as this was a race there was no way I was going to do that so I kept going, trying to get a good walking pace up but it took a while for my head to stop feeling like it was spinning. I got it together in time for a flattish section and started running again but this wasn't a sensible decision. I got away with it until the track kicked up again and I started feeling dizzy again.

It took me even longer to calm down this time and I was actually weaving about rather than walking in a straight line, the sun was relentless at this point and there is practically no shade on the climb. The path consists of quite pale coloured rock and I could feel the heat reflecting back off it. I staggered on and noticed a sign saying I was halfway up, didn't know whether to laugh or cry at that. There was another flattish section but there was no way I was going to run it, I walked it quite slowly and started to feel a little less ill and also took the opportunity to have another gel before the long downhill. I plodded on and as I passed the little sign telling me I was 3/4 way up it clouded over, at last. The cloud cover helped no end to cool me down and before I knew it I was cresting the top of the pass and there was a breeze, it was lovely and cool and it put a smile on my face again. I walked for a little bit more then I started to run for the descent.

I had been looking forward to this descent. I have climbed it on a bike and the gradient is not as steep as the other side which suits me for running down, the other side is better for riding down however. I started speeding up until the descent proper started then I just let gravity take me. I knew there were a couple of sketchy loose and rocky corners on this descent but I ran them well, not for the first time offroad running have I wished I was hooning down a trail on my Titus rather than on my own two feet but it was excellent fun just the same. It was over so quickly though, as a climb on the bike it seems to go on forever but I suppose that's the nature of these things. I passed about 4 people on the descent and an advantage of being in this event rather than the fast one was obvious here, I am quite near the front in this one and have a lot of space to run my own line whereas in the main race I would be near the back and in more of a crowd. I have a couple of race photos which were taken near the top of this descent and it shows the kind of rocky loose trails, typical of the Lakes, the race was full of, I was really starting to get into it here and closing on the two in front of me.

The terrain after this levels out a lot and eventually a girl I've overtaken on the descent comes back past me, she's a good strong runner on the flat whereas I lack speed on the flat. I kept her in sight for quite a while then the sun came out again, I was running in some walled lanes, there was no breeze and it was like running in a sauna. I was going far too fast for the temperature really but my legs felt so good I just wanted to keep pushing on. I was feeling a little demoralised here, I was having to walk on stuff I was most definitely capable of running up and the kilometre markers just didn't seem to be ascending quickly enough. I had a brief thought about just walking from now on but gave myself a talking to along the lines of "it'll take even longer if you walk you silly moo, shift it!" I got to the third water station around the 17km mark and had some more water and another gel to give myself a boost for the end and threw the remains of my water over my head for an icy shiver. I had also been sipping constantly at my own water for the whole event and by the way my rucksack was moving around I knew there wasn't much left in the bladder, I was glad there was "only" 6km to go.

Quite soon after the station I was directed off the wide bridleways, through a gate and over some fieldsl. The marshal said something to me which I only just heard, something about a bit of a rut in the second field over. The first field was quite short and it was a lovely springy track which ended at one of those step stiles where the steps are embedded into the dry stone wall, my legs were fine for running but trying to negotiate this stile really flummoxed them. I got safely over the other side and carried on running on another springy track. I was running and making decent progress here and enjoying the forgiving terrain when I sort of noticed the track had a dip in it. The marshal's warning of a rut came back, it wasn't a rut it was a stream/drainage type channel cutting through the field at least a foot and a half deep. I comprehended it in enough time to jump it, if I had been slightly less compos mentis I would've probably fallen into it before I noticed it.

There was some more entirely runnable undulating terrain, but the sun was out and I had gotten wise, I ran where I could but backed off quickly if I felt I was overheating and this meant my head didn't spin and my walking pace increased too. It was still frustrating the hell out of me that I was having to walk stuff I could run but I just got on with it then three things happened at once: my gel kicked in (it was caffeinated, yeeha!), I passed the 20km marker, it clouded over - running time! I ran the last few lumpy bits of track then up (yes up, at last) a lovely incline and through a gate where the marshal said "just over that rise is the descent to the village". Hooray, he better not be lying. I crest the rise and it is a descent.

It starts off lovely and springy on grass then rounds a bit of a headland and I think whoah that is quite steep! I hope my legs are up to this as the track changes from lovely grass to hard rocky trail again and my feet complain but my legs don't. Once again I try to let gravity take me as much as possible and not fight it, my legs hold up and I pass a couple of people who are fighting it too much. I get to the gate at the bottom which is being held open for me by a lovely marshal, which is just as well because if it wasn't I doubt I would've stopped in time. As I'm about to pass through the gate I hear "Come on Julie" and I see Pam standing there. I try to wave and say hello whilst simultaneously not falling flat on my face, not sure my hello comes out too well but her shout of "You're just about there" is definitely most welcome and puts a huge grin on my face. I drop down to a road for the last section back to the finish area.

My legs are still feeling good, I'm feeling hot but not completely wasted as I run a short section of tarmac. I overtake two people who look in considerably worse shape than I am, I look at the Garmin and I'm doing just over 8mm pace. I arrive at the short section of footpath I jogged down earlier with the silly stile, I continue at my current pace down that and slow down in plenty of time for the stile. It is just the last section back to the line now. I pass a sign saying 300m to go. I nearly crash into someone as I take the blind left hander into the field but unlike me they actually have their wits about them and jump out of the way and very nicely I thought give me some applause and encouragement as I hyperventilate past.

It seems to take ages to go round the outside of the field and as I look at the Garmin I'm now running 7:30 mm pace, where did that come from! One of the nice things about this event is that they have a race announcer with the number and name of everyone running and as you come over the line they announce your name. As I had changed to the Challenge I had a handwritten number on and he couldn't read it so he sticks the microphone out as I pass him and asks me my name and....I actually manage to respond and its intelligible! As I cross the line he re-announces my name in a slightly less breathless style than mine. I stop the Garmin as I walk through the finishing funnel then get straight over to the water stand for a nice drink as my water bladder is now empty.

I sit down for a bit and realise that I'm not actually utterly spent, I'm just hot! The finishing field is a bit of a sun trap really but I'm enjoying not moving. I start to get my bearings then spot that the little queue to my left is for race t-shirts and I've earned mine. At the last event there were no small t-shirts left by the time I got in but yet another advantage of the earlier event is that there are plenty left. Its a nice colour and I will wear it with pride. I also get given a meal ticket. Wilf's catering are onsite and the free meal is a bean and vegetable stew, pitta bread and a piece of cake. I'm so hot and just want to cool down and the last thing I want is hot food but I know I need something. Pam wanders over and is concerned I don't feel like eating but I decide I want an ice cream and a cold Coke. I have some recovery drink waiting to be made up in the car so I suggest we walk back to the car so I can have it and get my feet out of my running shoes into some sandals and I can change my top and wipe my face.

We decided not to take the footpath back to the car as the runners were coming in, we'd just get in the way so we walked the long way round. Several runners from the earlier event (with yellow numbers) that I was in passed us and we shouted encouragement to them, some really did look in pain. We were just about at the gate to the field when we hear very fast footsteps coming up behind us, my first thought is "they don't belong to someone wearing a yellow number" and I was right. I turned round just in time to see the lead man from the race come steaming past, faster than anyone who has just run the best part of 15 miles over a large hill has any right to be travelling. He won the race in a time of 1:25 which is just unbelievable, he also won the last event so two out of two for him so far. The first woman over the line was 1:51. I got changed and had my recovery drink and took the Garmin off my wrist, I hadn't had any wrist pain from it at all during the run and although there looked like the beginnings of a rub mark on the edge of my wrist it was basically trouble free. I will be leaving the velcro strap on.

We decided to move the car from the car park we were in to somewhere in the village (if we could find somewhere to park) as Pam realised the implications of being parked along a lane the runners had to come down to finish. We moved into the village and found a parking spot then repaired to Wilfs for some Ice Cream and cold Coke. I picked a seat out on the decking and realised that the path on the other side of the stream was the little footpath to the finishing field so we had a good view of the runners coming in, some were looking more comfortable than others but as this was still around the two hour mark they were all looking quick. The ice cream worked a treat, I felt like I was finally coolin down. The decking area has a stream running under it and next to it and the water was definitely cooling things down. I still didn't feel hungry but I wasn't unduly worried as I'd had my recovery drink and three gels during the run. We headed back down the M6 shortly afterwards, I was looking forward to a cool shower. One of these days I'll be organised enough to arrange to stay up in the Lakes so I can stick around for the after race presentations and stuff but Pam had hung around quite enough for me today and it was nice sitting in an air conned car.

Overall, I was frustrated by the heat but pleased I felt so strong at the end. In reality I would've probably only been minutes quicker but I didn't think this course was as tough as the Hawkshead one. Having an easy training week prior to this was definitely the correct decision and I will do the same for the three remaining Lakeland Trails races I have entered. I've been reading other people's race reports and most complained about the heat too. I've checked my stats briefly from the race and my heart rate never got above 181, it hit 188 in the 10 miler the weekend before and I never worked anywhere near as hard. The heat really did make things difficult, if I do it next year hopefully it will be cooler.

Will look at the data in Sporttracks at some point this week.

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