We were heading towards Keswick for the inaugural running of The Great Trail Challenge. This is the Great Run team’s foray into the world of off road trail events and combined the trio of 10k, half-marathon and full marathon events. I was entered in the half.
The constant rain was giving me the sartorial jitters. I just couldn’t decide on which shoes to wear. I’d dabbled with the Newton Terra Momentus but hadn’t had enough time to acclimatise myself to the weirdness and the Inov-8 roclite’s, which on the face of it should have been ideally suited to the terrain, just felt a bit too brutal for 13 miles. In the end I’d packed the bright pink Nike Free’s as it appeared the perfect opportunity to obfuscate the gleaming hideousness with a layer of Cumbrian grime.
When we woke the next day to continued monsoon conditions, I gave up on pink and took a detour to the Kendal based running specialists, Pete Bland, where I was kitted out with a rather comfortable pair of Brooks trail shoes.
We all know it’s foolish to try new shoes on race day but I’d have looked fairly foolish laying flat on my back in the middle of a quagmire. Fortunately Lynn was placed at mid-way point (also the start and finish point) with spare shoes on hand just in case I’d hobbled myself.
The start of this race filled me with more dread than usual and I usually have plenty. The route started with 1.5 laps of the spectator park to give them an opportunity to size up the field. This takes me back to school sports days and public humiliation and I was almost sick on the spot. As it was the crowd were perfectly lovely and supported the trailing runner from start to finish.
The race started with a flat section along a disused railway, it was my favourite bit but it was short and then the climb started.
I briefly joined the 10k runners at about 6k. It was a welcome merger as I’d been running solo since we left the spectators enclosure, I didn’t see another half marathon runner in the entire event apart from one chap who’d bailed and had to retrace his steps back home. I walked for a short period with the 10k’ers who also seemed to be suffering with the first serious incline. Our paths quickly diverged and I started running again a little nervous about the peak yet to come.
Looking up into the skyline I could see two trails of coloured ants, inching their way along tracks up to the clouds…….. they didn’t appear to be running ants.
The route for the half marathon consisted of one long loop at 12k followed by the short 10k loop. The marathon runners had to do two long followed by two short loops. It wasn’t long before I found myself lapped by the marathon runners. The leading two runners came through at a hell of a pace and seemed generally oblivious to the terrain. I really enjoyed the experience of being in there amongst these fabulous runners. I might have been crawling along but at times I was shoulder to shoulder with seriously talented runners. I loved watching them bound over the shale and descend like true fell runners. I on the other hand, descended like an overweight, half crippled old crone with relapsing plantar fasciitis.
Given the beauty of this course and the company I shared for much of it, I felt like I could have been an ultra runner on the UTMB or some similar epic race rather than the back of the pack slow poke. Almost every marathon runner who passed me had the generosity to encourage me onwards and upwards and it spurred me on no end.
The first loop had us ascending Latrigg, one of the many bumps in the Keswick vicinity. It was a killer. I alternated between a hands on hips or hands on thigh stance, trying to power my legs up the hill. I couldn’t run, I could barely walk but then very few of the participants seemed to run up the worst bits either.
When I made it back to the spectator enclosure most of the other half-marathon runners were finishing so it was rather tough to join the channel for yet another loop but at that point I did still have some energy and I thought I could conquer the short loop.
Half an hour later I found myself tackling another ascent that felt as bad as the first. I was staggering and swaying and looking longingly for the nearest bus stop. I was close to tears and trudged onwards only in the hope of finding a quiet spot on level ground where I could sneak off and have a very big weep.
The cadets that lined the course were great, they must have been chilled to the bone on those exposed ridges but they cheerfully pointed the way and one young lad offered me the chance to sit down and take on board some energy drink. He’d have had to call mountain rescue if I’d taken him up on it and eased myself into a seated position,
Eventually the descent came and although it was the slowest and most painful section, it meant the end was nigh. I came down the finishers straight to some very enthusiastic and appreciated support from the few supporters left standing. Lynn had sneaked into the press compound so I could see her welcome party just over the finish line.
I crossed over happy but tearful but then I sat down and opened the salted pistachios in my finishers pack and put my medal on, and the world felt better and then good and then fantastic.
Route: Karrimor Great Trail Challenge – Keswick Half Marathon
Terrain: F***in Hilly, a bit muddy if in monsoon season
Google map: link
GPX link: Great Trail Challenge.gpx
TCX link: Great Trail Challenge.tcx