Highlights: Gaining a last-minute place, strangers giving me food, plenty of water stops, friends pacing me, easily navigated course.
Lowlights: running low on energy, forgetting my GPS watch so I didn’t know how far I had to go, no regular distance markers, being completely spent after the race, throwing up orange squash after the race!
One week ago I had put my name on the waiting list for the Sandstone Race (both 10 & 17 mile races), organised by the Deeside Orienteering Club. I had not expected the race organiser to email me the same day to confirm that I could have a place on either! I could not believe my luck at getting such a last minute place, but at the same time the enormity of the race loomed in the back of my mind – with 5 days till the race, there was no time to train.
Friends cajoled me into entering the longer 17 mile race and even offered to drive me to the start. It had been raining heavily most of the week, but mercifully on Sunday morning the air was dry and the wind was calm. I decided to go at a steady pace as I was not familiar with the terrain that lay ahead. Fortunately one of my running friends acted as a pacer, with another providing a running commentary (pardon the pun) of the course layout.
The race began gently uphill, tapering in places to single file where the track narrowed and steepened. Competitors naturally found their place on the trail so I kept seeing the same faces over the entire course. It took the first couple of miles to really warm up and stop my legs feeling like they were made of lead, by which point I started to really appreciate the scenery on a perfect Sunday morning. I was even striking dashing running poses as I went past what I thought were official race photographers (…but later discovered were bemused friends of other runners!)
Before I knew it, we were on the approach to Beeston Castle, approximately 7 miles in, and the starting point of the 10 mile ‘B’ race. I was still running with friends and keeping a good rhythm. Frustratingly one of my two energy gels had already fallen out of my race belt, which I anticipated would be a problem later.
After Beeston Castle the route started to meander through more agricultural land, and the race organiser’s prophecy of a muddy race came true. It was flatter than the previous section but there were fields so caked in mud runners were skating with every footstep. Ankle injury was a distinct possibility, and my trainers weren’t up to the challenge. In one particularly boggy field, I lost my whole left trainer and had to forcibly extract it from the mud!
By 13 miles in I was starting to run low on energy and was slowing down, but was out of food supplies. Fortunately a friendly runner who had been keeping a similar pace offered me a handful of their home-mixed nuts, chocolate and chocolate-coated coffee beans, which at that low point tasted particularly divine! It was just enough to perk me up a couple of miles from the finish and accelerate me through Delamere forest and towards the finish, lined with well-wishers screaming encouragement!
I was impressed with my time, and that I had dug deep to finish strong. I managed to cycle at the velodrome the following day, but running two days after the event was still hard work! If you are thinking about taking on a well-established, well-organised off road race, with varied terrain and great scenery, give it a go!