Friday, February 26, 2010

From that to the May Hill massacre

The weeks following my return from Dorset saw a little more hill work, and then a switch to speed sessions. It was four weeks until my next race – the 4th May Hill Massacre near Gloucester.

November had seen a weeks hill walking in the Lake District cancelled by heavy flooding in Cumbria before the Beastly Feast and, strangely, another lay-off occurred in the build up to this race. A week of tempo work and a 13 miler in heavy snow, from North Hill to Gullet quarry, gave my body the excuse it needed to call a halt to such excess. I was struck down with a mystery stomach bug and prescribed medication for the duration.

I was soon on my feet again. I even managed to get out onto a great local MTB route for half a day. The route has fun technical descents and lung shredding hill climbs. It’s pretty mucky and makes for an enjoyable couple of hours riding / 25 miles.

The 7th of February rolled around eventually. I’d borrowed my sisters’ car to get to Huntley and parked up an hour and a half before the start. The weather looked good – cool and overcast, unthreatening. A marshal explained that race HQ was a fifteen minute walk across fields, so I figured I go and scout it out.

In a sense this seemed like my first ‘real’ race, as the Runaround event featured man made obstacles and features that I felt hindered running progress. It had a novelty value because of that. This was a more straightforward race, with a greater number of participants. I got a feeling that, even though it was a race to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis, the competitors would be more…competitive. In the end this presupposition turned out to be partially correct; it seems that running races attract all sorts of loonies that defy my na├»ve attempts at classification, but the overwhelming presence of vast numbers of fit and prepared looking runners was totally refreshing and exciting. I collected my timing chip and turned the volume up – Black Flag in the toilet queue!

435 people took part, across 8.75 miles, with 1,000 feet of ascent, over all sorts of terrain from muddy clag to the smooth grassy top of May Hill. The few road sections were brief and tolerable and the downhills were fast and consequently exhilarating. The mud wasn’t too bad although I remember someone swearing loudly as I passed them at one point. I think they must’ve lost a shoe!

I was having a cracking race. My pacing was good. I wasn’t going too fast to be unable to pay my debt, and I’d stuck fast to the shoulder of a bloke that I thought was running at a level slightly above the race that I was running. I figured that would give me the encouragement I needed to push myself a little bit. It worked well.

Quite a lot of people were gathered at significant points along the course to give support. The crowd on top of May Hill, the great bunch at the top of the second hill spring to mind.

I had an unexpected splash-about in a deep rut that I failed to avoid but that was the only set back in the first half of the race. The second hill caught me out completely and my hands stuck fast to my thighs as I switched to fast walking.

This was the start of my ‘troubles’.

Me and a mate went down the canal once, down near Perdiswell, with fishing line and some bread, and made a half arsed effort to ‘fish.’ That’s the extent of my fishing experience. I’ve seen A River Runs Through It though. Brad Pitt makes it look easy whenever he lands a big ole’ fish on the riverbank - the fish flops about, trying to touch its head to its tail, its fishy mouth opening and closing. Then he puts it in the wicker basket on his hip with the others. Nothing to it – a cinch.

Both my calf muscles went into spasm at the top of the second hill. The worst cramping I’ve had in ten years of running. They were flopping around on the riverbank, trying to touch their tails with their heads, and my my fishy mouth was opening and closing. From then ‘til the finish line my stride was reduced to a hotchpotch of comedy running styles, walking and stopping to stretch. I tried downhill hopping at one point.

It was infuriating to watch all the people I’d worked hard to keep up with or pass as they stormed past me. A few runners asked if I was ok and offered words of encouragement but I was face to face with my latent competitive streak and not a happy bunny.

What do you do about cramp? Bananas? Oats? Nuuns? Elete? Do more training? Run more hills? People that I spoke to after the race were saying that even if you take all the precautions known to mankind you still can’t predict for cramp. It’s just a matter of bad luck. I don’t know about that.

The supporters around the last mile or two were great. It’s a pity I felt so ragged. The road section back was torment and I was passed by a Gloucester runner about two hundred metres from the finish.

I joined the queue for my souvenir T-shirt. Someone had to cut the time chip off my ankle. I stuck around afterwards, talking to MattR until the prize giving ceremony.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the marshals and the organizers, the people that staffed the water stations and every one who played a part behind the scenes.
It took a day or so for the results to be posted on the webpage and I was pleased with my placing – 96th with a time of 1 hour 13 minutes.

“Gimme gimme gimme
I need some more
Gimme gimme gimme
Don't ask what for

Sitting here I'm a loaded gun
Waiting to go off
I've got nothing to do
But shoot my mouth off”

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