This week has been a double whammy of off-road running. In fact, the only running I have done this week has been off-road. (I had a slightly lazy day off in London on Tuesday, although I did cycle on the velodrome!) It’s been really nice after the crazy year I’ve had of mad training and racing to have a chilled out, light week of exercise.
Just quickly though, the velodrome was FANTASTIC! I had been bought a taster session on the track as a present and had finally got round to using it. My best friend came along, and we headed down in plenty of time to the Olympic Park in Stratford to see what it was all about. Around the outside of the velodrome there are BMX, mountain bike and road circuits, as well as the indoor track, which actually makes it the only place in the world that houses all of these disciplines. I had a great time racing round the velodrome, and although I was initially terrified of the 42 degree slope on the bank, I did actually make it the whole way to the top several times! I had two 10 minute blocks of track time, and I’ll be honest – that was tiring! I have full respect for those elite athletes who can race flat-out for a full hour’s time trial on there. This is definitely somewhere I would like to go back to, to try out the sport again, but also to watch some serious cyclists compete.
The trails started on Thursday night. I had spotted my friend had liked a clothing company called Ashmei on Facebook, and it had shown under that piece of information that they had an event on a week later. It was a 10km trail run that was completely free to sign up to and there was cake at the end. with the opportunity to buy some discounted running gear. I signed up and managed to persuade two of my running buddies from the club to come along and we all met up at the clothing shop in the middle of a farm estate ready to run at 7pm.
At first, it didn’t look like much, and we weren’t quite sure what we had signed up for! Soon enough the room was filled with about 20 like-minded runners, and there was a quick chat about what would be going on that evening. Then it was time to run. We ran through the farm, apparently along the edge of a golf course, and onto the trails – straight up a hill, naturally. This made a clear split in the group of the faster runners, and us novice trail ‘joggers’.
I really loved this trail run. We started in Aldbury, ran up to the top of Tring Ridgeway with fantastic views that I reckon would look even better in daylight, and then up a bit higher towards Ivinghoe Beacon. Lots of climbing in the first half meant only one thing – after a stretch of flat, we had a brilliantly fast descent from Bridgewater Monument down to the road, where there was a short tarmac jog up the hill back to HQ. The route was great – it featured my favourite part of all off-road running: some leafy woodland sections, as well as plenty of hills to sink your teeth into and enjoy the view from the top! In fact, I have just started to listen to Marathon Talk (from the very beginning, I might add – gulp! I have a lot to catch up on – a great weekly podcast about running, for those that don’t know – and a mantra that was shared this week was, “The bigger the hill, the harder the climb, the better the view from the finishing line.”.
We ended the evening catching up with people we had run with and even the others that were speedier than us, enjoying some beautiful cake and a lovely warm cup of tea. We had run with a man called Brian from Tring Running Club, who was a wonderful guide along the way; as well as Stuart, the owner of Ashmei. It was great to talk to people who have a completely different experience of a club night run to us. These guys never run on the road. All year round they run off-road on trails and tracks. I think that’s so great and I will definitely be looking at entering the Tring Ridgeway Run that is organised by Brian’s club because I loved running the section of the route that we did. Also, quite handily, it’s a club championship event for us, so there will hopefully be lots of members of my running club there. A huge thank you to Ashmei and Brian from Tring Running Club for hosting us. We had a great evening.
At the back-end of this week, we hurtled into cross-country, and my first XC race of the season. This Sunday was hosted by Sandhurst Joggers in a new venue, Lord Wandsworth College in Hook. This meant it was a new route, and the whole race would be new to everyone competing. I had also purchased some shiny, new, bright green cross country trainers the day before with the intent of christening them in the mud today!
There was a bitter wind this morning that was threatening to bite through my skin, so I kept my layers on for as long as possible! After a frivolous dancing warm-up with my buddies (soon to be choreographed, I’ll have you know), we were (sort of) ready to start running. I’ll be honest, none of us heard the pre-race briefing at the start line, but there were mumbles in the pack about two laps. This was confirmed a few minutes later. We ran along the field we started on, a quick few steps onto a bit of pavement where I found out that my Saucony’s really can “run anywhere” – no slipping for me – and round a track corner up a hill. The first of many, this was a long, but not too steep climb with a cheerful marshal at the top saying, “Well done! See you on the next lap”. There we have it.
At the top, it got proper cross-country. Through the woodlands – my favourite – and into lots of muddy, boggy, slippy slidy-ness! I loved hurtling down the hill after all of the sliding about. I have definitely got more confident descending this year. This helped me gain a bit of ground back that I probably lost going up the hill! Then THE hill came. Super steep mountain of a hill. I enthusiastically dug in, and I reckon I managed to run about a quarter of it; my steps getting smaller and smaller, my heart-rate getting higher and my breathing getter harder. My legs screamed at me and I decided, especially if it was a two-lap course that my legs would benefit more from me walking this climb than they would burning them out getting to the top. I was right, because I could overtake some people who had amazingly run the whole way to the top on the flat – they had burned their legs out. I flew along the flat and got ready to fling myself down the last descent of the loop.
I enjoyed the twisting downhill section, and used my confidence coming out of this onto the last stretch really helped. We crossed one solid, ploughed field that was hard and rocky underfoot, where I made up a bit more ground, then entered the last field. This one had a bit less traction in, and I had to work up the slight incline, which when you turned a right-angled corner got a bit steeper and a bit bumpier. I pushed on up to the top and enjoyed the respite of the flat. One lap would have been enough!
The second lap is always a bit tougher because you’ve been there before. I used something else I had heard in a Marathon Talk podcast that mental performance coach Midgie Thompson had said she uses. I told myself, “I can and I am”, i.e. I can do it. The first hill proved challenging because so many feet had crossed over this once, and in some cases twice. My legs were getting heavy towards the top, but I had been up it once, so I could do it again. All of the course was extremely slippy now, but I enjoyed the challenge of staying upright and ploughing through mud that was desperate to steal my new trainers! I’m pleased to say that they did not succeed!
The big mountain soon came round and with tired legs, I gave in to just walking up it. I had made good ground on the downhill section before. A fellow club runner caught up with me on the hill and we crawled to the top together. Then for the last muddy flat, the last descent, and time to fly along the fields. I was rejoined by my friend for the last few hundred metres, where I sent her off ahead – she’s speedy and I was surprised to see she had been behind me – and it was all worth it because she overtook someone on the finish straight. I made it onto the flat, and tried to muster up some speed for a finishing sprint. Encouraged by another member of my club, I did just that and finished with that bitterly satisfying lactate-in-your-throat feeling.
It was a great cross-country event, especially for a new venue, and my shoes had been well and truly christened, along with some extremely muddy legs! I polished off some sandwiches, cake, and tea, then set off home to defrost my feet. There was a small detour to Odiham Castle on the way home, which is definitely not a conspiracy from people who make brown signs, and actually just needed finding on foot! All in all, a great week with lots of new/different things, so it makes sense my legs are tired. Monday is definitely a day of rest next week!
Thanks for reading,