Best-laid plans and all that. I was visiting my parents for Mother’s Day weekend; the idea being that I’d make the journey to North Devon on the Friday evening, take in the local parkrun (with little – and faster! – brother) on the Saturday morning, accept his invite to the local hang-gliding AGM (and knees-up) in the evening and pop out a cheeky 10k trial race on the Sunday morning – and still see the parents for Mother’s Day..
Illness to my youngest meant a revision to those plans, so it was early Sunday morning before I set off. I had time to call in and drop a little present to my Mum (promising to catch up with her later on!) before heading to the race venue: Arlington Court. This is a National Trust run estate with carriage museum – today it (courtesy of North Devon Road Runners) would host a 10k trail ‘canter.’
Entries were being accepted on the day, at a price of two pounds above that for (on-line) pre-booked entries. The on-line entries included a £1.60 booking fee which almost negated the difference – not exactly designed to encourage early entries. The entry fee did include (which I was not aware of until I finished!) a hi-viz tech t-shirt. Very nice.
A glorious sunny day was somewhat abated by a chilly easterly wind and I opted for two-layer attire. This seemed a pretty sensible options as the race started and we made our way across a couple of fields, open to the elements (well, element singular – just the breeze). We soon started descending though and found ourselves in sheltered woodland. Before I knew it I was rather warm.
We traversed the valley floor and there would be only one way out. Up. Sure enough, we started climbing. One positive to take from this was that, having started slowly and near the rear, I was able to keep running (of sorts) and picked off quite a few people as we made our way to the top of the climb and into another field.
We crossed said field and into more woodland, following a well-worn path, before exiting and taking a very sharp left turn, to skirt the edge of the wood along a rather lumpy track. Another descent followed, this one quite steep. Couple this with unevenness, and throw in a few loose stones, and it made for quite an entertaining hop, skip and panic.
We found ourselves on a stretch of road – that lasted for all of 300 metres and included a short sharp climb. Fortunately, this preceded the water station; I was quite grateful to take on a few sips at this point. A long track took us back into woodland. As we were quite strung out at this point, I was focusing on the runner ahead, trying to do just enough to close the gap between us.
I caught her just before we started a gentle ascent. I say gentle – my reserves were quite short at this stage and even a gentle climb felt like a real effort. Just as I was wondering whether I could (metaphorically) hang on to my fellow runner, someone came by us as if we were stood still. Whether that shook me up, or whether it coincided with a change in the ascent from gentle to moderate, I found a little pace respective to the runner I’d been struggling with and opened up a gap of my own.
The climb, whilst moderate, was also quite a long one! I felt obliged to keep pushing on, this brought about by fear of having the other runner come back by me and making me look a bit stupid (does anyone else get that period in a race where your pace is driven by your ego as opposed to reason?). I was willing the terrain beneath me to level out which it briefly did – a false summit to tease me before a further (though much shorter) climb.
The finish was in sight, though still a good few minutes’ worth of running away. However, this was enough to convince me that I still had some energy to spare and, with a rolling downhill stretch to the courtyard finish I was able to keep the pace up.
The race was billed as a 10k, but my GPS read closer to 9½. It more than made up for the ½k shortfall in terms of elevation, scenery, terrain and (in hindsight) enjoyment.