What is one of the cardinal rules of running a long-distance race?
Don’t go off too fast too soon.
What did I do yesterday evening in the final Wirral Multi-Terrain event?
Go off like a galloping heffalump, huffing and puffing before I got round the first corner.
But it’s so exciting! Being part of the crowd, standing behind the line, chomping at the bit, waiting for the gun (proverbial in this case) to go off.
Actually there is a slo-mo video of us all setting off, and there’s a clear shot of me near the back, looking like I’m just out for a gentle canter. Even when my breathing tells me one thing, my body looks like it’s doing something else!
This last race though, wasn’t all that long, just over four miles, and because we were starting on a flat grassy field instead of treacherous sand, and because the evening shadows were getting longer and clouds were gathering, I had good reason to want to get a shift on. Plus, it was two laps around a course that involved traipsing through the woods so I was hoping to get clear past the tree roots before I needed to turn on my half-charged head torch.
Arrowe Park started life as part of the estate of John Ralph Shaw, a Mayor of Liverpool, after he built his country pad Arrowe Hall in 1835. He was a Victorian in a similar vein to Edward Colston, in that he was big on local philanthropy but was still happy to use his ships to transport Africans to America. The park came into full public use in 1926, although the Army borrowed it for a while, as a base during the war.
The 350+ runners probably sounded more like the warring Vikings that may well have trod this ground over a century before, thundering across the field with our colours declared on our club vests. Yes, the excitement overtook me a bit, but I loved it.
I had done a bit of a warm up, which is still a novelty for me. I’d jogged a small quarter-mile ish loop with Jo and Carole, and then I’d attempted my high-knees and bum kicks for 10 seconds each. Yesterday, I’d done them before my little morning run and I was surprised at how comfortable my breathing was at a slightly quicker pace.
I knew this time, as we legged it around a small square loop of the field to thin out before the woods, that I’d still overdone it a tad. My breathing was ragged and we’d not even covered half a mile. But going into the woods there were some nice gentle downward slopes, and I concentrated on trying to relax myself on these. Not easy when you’re leaping around pools of mud and roots.
But what goes down must come up, and the grassy banks we emerged onto made us do just that. We ran past young boys having a football session, and I could see some of them looking bemused, as we trundled past in a steady stream. The incline carried on up the back of the hospital and brought us around to the start.
Heading into the woods again for the second lap, I knew I wouldn’t be getting a negative split (second half of a run taking less time than the first), as I was definitely slowing down, but I was hoping to at least make this a good tempo run. Having ear-marked it as such for my 10K training plan, I hoped my effort translated into a decent time.
Why do you work harder in a race to a normal run? Obviously the word itself strikes a loud gong in many of our heads, but it’s also seeing the people just in front of you. Just ahead by a few yards, and if you can only keep the pace going you’ll stay with them, or maybe even pass them. There were moments like this yesterday. Two fellow Pensbys just out in front pulled me along. Dave, the second one, who’s invisible cord I used to get me up the last big hill told me to push on ahead for the final few hundred yards. As I got to his shoulder, he said he’d rather take an 80 mile bike ride any time, but having him just in front made me zip up my woman-suit.
As I stumbled over the finishing pads, the first raindrops of the evening began to fall. I had managed to get out of the woods before needing to switch my light on, and the huffing and puffing had been worth it because I averaged just under 10 minute miles.
A superb evening, really well organised and a great end to a series. If you’re looking for reasons to join a running club, then a race like this is definitely a good one.