The runners crashed by me, skidding on the loose rock trail, exhibiting tremendous speed and technical ability. I also ran. Just, not like that. Part of my interest in trail running is that it is beyond my comfort zone. I do not possess tremendous speed and technical ability, particularly not on steep downhills. Think less mountain goat, more lame duck, scrambling for purchase on the scurrying stone. My ankles stiff, my feet spatulas.
Perhaps I am being harsh on myself, but it is impossible to avoid comparison when the competition is speeding by within touching distance.
The Staveley 18k Trail Race by Lakeland Trails was a chance to race with a mate, enjoy my first event in the Lake District, and immerse myself in the communal atmosphere of race day. It also hurt.
The opening road miles took us steadily up. I was moving well, although my legs felt heavy. Holiday, illness, niggle, is my excuse shortlist. We eventually moved onto the trail, and this is where things went not so well. I think that little niggle, in my achilles, probably made descending a stiffer affair than I would have liked it to be, but regardless it is still a glaring weakness of mine. Racers rushed by, crushing the loose stones with quick, strong foot strides, gravity dragging them gloriously down the hill. I pitter-pattered over the top, as if with each step I was dipping a dainty toe into a slightly too warm bath. It was exhausting.
For the next few miles I had plenty of company, but I was miserable. We were all miserable! We chose this! I walked uphill, noticed the photographer, began to run, forced an almost menacing grin which spoke of immense suffering, and then walked a bit more. The descent, which I think in theory is supposed to be the fun part of the race, had wrecked me.
It took me a few miles of slow climbing again to get my groove back. Through Garburn Pass the terrain was mildly technical, but the running was fast and smooth and fun. A few boggy sections got our shoes wet and our legs muddy, and the views were glorious. Wide skies, rolling fells, deep valleys. Even under overcast skies the Lake District never fails to impress. In fact, I felt pretty good all the way to Reston Scar – the sting in the tail as the race organisers called it. It certainly stung.
Type II fun then. The beer, curry, and company made up for the Type I deficit. It was good to go back the next day and enjoy the environment at a slower pace, to actually absorb it instead of it being beaten back by a wall of obscuring pain. And yet…and yet. Am I looking at booking something else? Something else beyond my comfort zone, something steep and technical and bound to cause me to cry and curse? You bet.