Wind Back Wednesday

Published in Club News on 4th March 2015

This week it's a brilliant report from Peter Delmer on his experience at the 2007 Garburn Trail Race.

Never write down a goal … it might come true. I thought about that as I struggled up and down over the last few miles of the Garburn Trail Race. Thoughts weren’t coming easy at that stage, nothing came easy at that stage, as I pushed on over rough, country tracks back towards the town of Windermere and the luxury of just stopping. Standing still has a lot going for it!

A June weekend in the Lake District in northern England. Tea and cream cake country. Yachts on the lakes. Hill walkers in bright sunshine. Olde England at its best. Why then were hundreds of people running over mountain passes, hurtling headlong down steep inclines, heaving lungfuls of precious air just to say ‘I did it’? That’s why isn’t it … just to say ‘I did it’.

Early January 2007. Goalsetting. This was my year to run a trail race. Flirted with the idea for far too long – time for action. I chose the Garburn trail race for two reasons. First it’s a long run, if I’m going to travel that distance to a race then I’ll make sure it’s not just a quick dash. 21km of trail with less than 1km on road. Secondly, because it was voted the most scenic race in England by Runner’s World readers, so I had to see how it compared to Connemara.

I cajoled my Dad to come with me for the weekend, and we parked ourselves in Windermere for two nights. Got in a bit of sightseeing around the lakes, forests and hills on the Saturday and even an hour of mountain biking to loosen out the legs on the day before the race. (I know, I know, I know … might have been better off sitting with my feet up in the B&B but life is for living!). We took a drive out to the midpoint of the race to see what lay ahead and oohh’ed and ahh’ed at the scenic route. Passing through that point on the Sunday, the oohh’s and ahh’s were of a different variety – emanating from screaming leg muscles and heaving lungs.

Sunday morning. Bright, and thankfully not as sunny as Saturday. Staveley village hall was the centre of all activity as I picked up my race number and tried to avoid looking at the course map with all those closely nestled contour lines.

I knew the first kilometre was uphill, so I reasoned that I wouldn’t be moving too quickly. The warm-up was kept short and easy as I thought that first k would give me all the warmth I needed. My God, what a shock to the system! About five hundred metres of winding village streets past stone cottages and country village green, then a turn to the right, over a cow grate and ‘bang’ it hits hard. In the next five hundred metres we climbed one hundred. Welcome to trail running Peter. I think in other locations they call it mountain climbing.

We ascended the first climb with relatively good underfoot conditions. As a virgin trail runner I had not invested in trail shoes but my trustee 2010’s handled the dry conditions well. Further ahead on the course I reckoned that I was lucky with the conditions – some rain or mist might have made those descents treacherous without good grip.

Already the lead runners had disappeared over the brow of the hill and I guessed I was somewhere inside the top 50 in a field of 500. I decided to measure my performance, not against the nowhere-to-be-seen leading men which included two of Englands best marathoners, but against the ladies. I crested the hill in sixth position in the ladies race. A small sign in the grass marked the end of the first km and I looked with interest at the watch. 7:43. I knew the climb was slow, but 7:43 for a kilometre! I lied to myself that the course must be marked in miles, knowing full well that was the slowest kilometre I had ever raced. Not to worry, it would soon be bettered.

Now we’re running along a meadow, across a sheep filled field, down a country lane, up a hill, down a hill, but rarely on the flat. I’ve passed one of the ladies and am running in fifth position, completely blind to the fact that there are dozens of men ahead of me.

About fifteen minutes of running and I’m just learning how to run down the hills. The first few descents were minor but enough for an almost complete loss of control – arms flailing, gravity proves its point and I struggle to plant my feet on solid anything. I begin to realise that concentration will be all-important on the down-slopes if I’m to get through this in reasonable shape and then ouch, the left calf says ‘too late, you should have thought about that already’. It’s sore, but not enough to stop me. I keep going and hope that it will run off. No Brain, No Pain as a certain running partner of mine is wont to say.

Five kilometres have passed before I see the next km marker. After the first beast of a hill, it has been relatively easy, but consistently up and down. 23:33 for 5k. Time to stop paying any attention to the watch. It’s meaningless. At this stage I’m quarter way into it, more or less, and in good shape. I’ve climbed three stiles, negotiated a few narrow gates, passed a few people and feel I’m racing along nicely. Oh yeah, I’ve moved up to fourth in the ladies race.

No water! A marshal said something about no water. Although it’s not hot, it’s pretty humid and I’m loosing a lot of sweat. I could do with a drink. Turns out the water station was stolen the night before! Yes you read that correctly. In the wee hours somebody though it would be great fun to steal the buckets of water, the tables, the gazebo and even the km markers at 2, 3 and 4k. Beggars belief! I hope that if they catch them they make them run the course.

I’ve learned something else about trail running. Although you are aware of the beauty all around, all that you see is the six feet of ground ahead of you. I’m watching every step, trying not to favour the right leg too much and just concentrating. I’ve noticed that people are catching me on the ups but I’m making back the ground on the downhill sections. As we descend towards Kentmere village, and a few hundred yards of solid, blessed tarmacadam, I begin to steel myself for the Garburn Pass. The half-way point is some way up that monster and I look forward to an easier second half mostly downhill. But first the climb.

I told myself that under no circumstances would this climb get the better of me. Rising about 300m above where I now tried to strengthen my mental reserves, the Garburn pass is a rock strewn path meandering up a steep incline. As I ran (okay that verb might be stretching it a little) I put a lot of effort into steering the most solid path up the hill. The trail was about four feet wide and all the runners criss-crossed it avoiding the bigger stones. Tough climb. People around me began to change from a laboured run to a concentrated walk. But I fought against that. I had never walked in a race before and was not about to do so today … yeah right! Funny how your staunch ideas fade away when necessity demands. I walked. Walking was a little slower than running, but was much more efficient. I could keep going at a slightly slower pace but with half the effort. Up, up, up.

After an eternity I saw a sign saying that I was half-way up. Bottle half-empty or half-full? Just put it out of your mind and keep going. I was clicking the watch out of habit at the km markers and the eleventh split, still climbing, was a 10:29 kilometre. Unbelievable. I was passed by two or three people on the climb. Only one mattered to me and that’s because she was a lady – I’m back to 5th place.

Like all good things, eventually it ended. A mountain biker, sitting at the side of the trail congratulated me on making it up there. I debated stealing his bike but instead took in the magnificent views and ran on genuinely looking forward to the downhill running ahead of me. Oh foolish, innocent me!

Downhill. Everybody loves downhill. But downhill, on a steep mountainside, with nothing but hard, loose rocks is a little different. This is where my inexperience as a mountain goat really came to the fore. It starts with carefree downhill running; changes to ‘oh shit, I better get control here’; braking, braking; using the banks at the side of the rocky trail to steer from side to side in a frenzied slalom style; imagining what my shoulder, knee or face would look like if I did go over. Some semblance of control is regained, then two guys fly by me like Himalayan goats flitting from rock to rock. Decision time, race or continue to brake? I decided to give chase and then it started again - carefree downhill running; ‘oh shit, I better get control here’; braking, braking … You’ve heard it all before.

Feeling a bit like an over-worked jack-hammer I eventually left the tough descent behind and found the country lanes, grassy fields and undulating hills a pleasure. I was very low on energy and had slowed up a bit but was making reasonable progress and was hanging on to my fifth position in the ladies race. A water station up ahead gave me another first – the first time I ever came to a complete stop at a water station. Two lovely cups of water and some sugary mints. Heaven sent.

The sugar revived me quite a bit but the truth is I was seriously flagging with perhaps 5km to go. I was passed by three or four more people – and yes lost another position in my imaginary race against the ladies. A little too exuberant over the first 5k and chickens were now coming home to roost. Back to sixth.

It was at this stage that I began praying for uphills. Uphill is hard work, we all know that – but the descents are torture. My ankles took the brunt of the twists and turns, but my left calf was in ribbons, quads were knotting up a bit and hip joints were quite sore. At each turn in the path I hoped I’d see a hill to climb.

18k, 19k and 20k are a bit of a blur to me. Running, climbing stiles and trying not to fall off, cracking jokes with the marshals (in my delirious state I thought they were funny), negotiating gateways and loosing a few race positions. Suddenly a mountain appeared. This was the third of the three big climbs. It was also the easiest but at that stage in the race …

Up I went and managed to pass one or two people (all men unfortunately). As I crested the peak I could hear samba drums in the distance and knew that I was nearly there. It was a sound that called to me and dragged me home. Some energy reserve was opened and I found an extra gear on the descent through leafy deciduous woods. A forest elf – or perhaps it was another trail runner – passed me by even though I felt I was running as fast as the wind, and I gave valiant chase. Passing some marshals I asked how far to go and was told ‘not far now!’. What does that mean? Another mile, 100 yards? I had no idea. I pushed on trying to catch the guy ahead, and suddenly we broke out of the woods and into the tented village that was the race finish. Like circus performers we had to spiral around the tents and into the centre to cross the line. I didn’t catch him.

Jack-hammered was how I felt. But through it all there always comes that feeling of satisfaction … a new life experience, a huge learning curve, and the knowledge that I’ll be back for more!

Place     Time                     Name                    Team                    Category              Race No.

58         01:47:36              DELMER, Peter       Athenry AC           All Men                531

Never mind that result. I was 8th lady!

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Check out a quick video of the race on U-tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1hddWScJ1U