A week is a long time to sit staring at beautiful mountains that you’re not allowed to explore. Every fibre of your body screaming at how lucky you are to be there, and you should be making the most of it but your head is telling you to be calm, relax. You’ve got a long way to run at the weekend — almost twice as far as you’ve ever run before — enjoy the rest; you’ll need it.
Bearing all of this in mind I had spent a week in the fantastic youth hostel in Klosters with only light hiking and the occasional run to keep me sane. This meant I was wide awake and raring to go before my 4:15am alarm on race morning. The hostel owners (absolute saints that they were!) had got up even earlier to prepare breakfast for us runners and I managed to eat a fair bit, despite the nerves.
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A friend at work introduced me to this one, billed as a “demanding scenic route” with written route description, it was going to be completely new experience for me so I eagerly posted off my cheque (the only use my chequebook gets these days is these types of events) and awaited my confirmation.
This is a point-to-point run from Cold Christmas in Hertfordshire to Good Easter village in Essex, mostly across farm tracks, organised by Springfield Striders.
We’d had weeks of record rain and my regular running routes have been ankle-deep in water all year so it was a coin-toss to decide between trail shoes and waders. Luckily the week before the race the weather calmed down a bit, Noah stopped hammering his boat together, and trail shoes were back on!
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I love spending time in the mountains, I can’t get enough of it. Snowboarding trips are the highlight of my year and I didn’t manage to get one in the 2012/2013 winter season so I was miserable. When spring rolled round I started looking up summer trips but it was looking quite difficult to get something interesting while travelling alone so I shelved the plans for a while.
A month or so later I was training for my first marathon and a friend recommended I give the Marathon Talk podcast a listen to help me pick up some training tips. I’m not really a podcast fan but, as a complete running newbie, I needed as much help as I could get to get me to the finish line of the marathon so I gave it a go. I really liked their easy-going attitude and how it comes across as if it’s just a couple of mates chatting about running. One of the hosts, Martin Yelling, mentioned he was hosting a trail running holiday in the Alps so I did a bit of Googling and the itinerary looked perfect. The trip is organised by a company called Adventures in the Alps so I fired off an email and got myself booked in.
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Keswick is a gorgeous little town in the Lakes that I’ve been meaning to visit for years so when I was thinking of places to go for a late summer/early autumn running trip it was pretty much top of my list. Right beside Derwent Water and surrounded by hills it has a reputation for being an ideal walkers destination so it should serve me perfectly to get some hill running and navigation training. I found a decent looking B&B, packed up my gear and set off.
As I was driving towards Keswick the scenery was breathtaking, but what stood out most of all was a massive ridge line connecting 3 or so peaks on my right hand side. I could see people walking across it so I said to myself in the car that this ridge was going to be goal for the weekend. I arrived at the B&B and, in my excitement, got the maps out straight away to start planning. It didn’t take long before I found my ridge had a name: Blencathra, and that the disused railway line from Keswick (now a footpath) would take me almost to the base. The map was a bit ambiguous with footpath markings at the point I wanted to leave the railway but I figured I’d just have to explore.
I’d been in Wales the week before arriving in the Lake District and with three Snowdon ascents in my legs I was looking forward to a rest day with some easy hiking before starting on my running but the weather forecast didn’t want to play. The only good day would be Saturday, the rest of the weekend was forecast as a complete washout and, while I’ve got no problem running in the rain, if I was going to run up these hills I wanted to be rewarded with a decent view when I got to the top! I was more than a bit concerned that my legs wouldn’t be able to deliver what I was asking of them, so I went to bed nice and early to give them as much recovery as possible.
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I haven’t really been running very long and lots of my routes are circular which can sometimes lack the feeling of achievement as you finish in exactly the same place you start, only a couple of hours later. I’ve always liked the idea that when I was a confident enough runner I’d want to run from A to B instead of A back to A again. I’d been weighing up some different options for a couple of months; waiting for a break in my training so I didn’t risk a long run in to the unknown when I had specific events for which I needed to prepare.
After the Beach Head Marathon I knew I had a couple of months with no set goals in mind until the next training plan kicked in so I thought I’d make the most of still being “marathon fit” to just have an explore on a decent length run. I picked the section of the North Downs Way from Canterbury to Dover for a few reasons:
This race was going to be the first time I’d opted not to stay somewhere local before a marathon so I knew it was going to be an early start. In my usual OCD state I’d set out my race kit the night before and had my post-race bag (with a change of clothes and some food) already prepared. I made sure I got to bed early and didn’t struggle nearly as much as I was expecting to when the alarm went off at 5:30am and I jumped in the car at 6 to head to Eastbourne.
The organisers of Beachy don’t send out any chips or numbers in advance so you’ve got to get to the registration tent to get everything on the day (or the night before). After collecting all my stuff I met up with some of the BOSH team for a chat then made my way to the start line to be greeted by a massive scream and my sister running at me with her arms waving shouting “it’s my brother, it’s my brother!”. My parents had stayed at my sisters the night before the race and they’d all come to see me at the start line. It was fantastic to see them, I’ve never had a group of people to support me at a race. My dad was running the 10k, due to start 30 minutes after, so we wished each other luck, had our photo taken, and got ready for the off.
I’d been checking the weather forecast every day on the run up to the race and every time I checked it was completely different. Friday night’s forecast said prepare for gale-force winds and although we were sheltered by the school and first hill you could tell it was going to be evil.