A new race for me this - and for the others in our team of 4: Suswara (just back from some fast 2-milers in Myanmar), Rasmivan (building up to the Barry 40), Abichal (training for a 1000 mile multi-day race in Athens) and me (building up to a Marathon in April and the Helvellyn Tri in the Autumn). There was a club feel to the race, with lots of local vests in evidence, particularly as this was race 1 of the Somerset Series 2012. It was good to see the whole county represented with southerners like the club from Chard, northerners from Weston and of course Bristolians like ourselves. They announced a field of 306 at the start, and also announced Abichal's 1000 mile race which earned him a round of applause (even if they did misquote our club name as "S.R.I. Chinmoy", but we're used to that!).
The countdown came and we were off at the sound of a horn, down the drive of Hestercombe's manor house and out on to the hilly, winding lanes in the foothills of the Quantocks. Mile 1 was downhill, so I came through in 5.36, slightly worrying but I felt fine. By the time we looped back past the manor and headed out on to the second, longer loop of the figure-of-8 course, Rasmivan had breezed past me and I had settled into a rhythm that was more like 6.30 per mile. The first big climb came next, and I deliberately took my time, hanging back from the pack I was running with and taking short strides. It's so easy to blow up on hills like these, and I wanted to keep something in the tank for the climb at mile 8!
It was one of those grey, chilly winter days where the sun makes a fleeting appearance through gaps in clouds that threaten snow but don't always deliver. I was glad the snow didn't come, as the cold and the hills were enough to contend with. The lanes were silent and the landscape was typically west-county, much like the edge of the moors or Mendips. Some roads were closed, but even on those that weren't I only saw one or two cars. There were lots of marshals, including families who had the kids out pointing the way for us and sometimes clapping or ringing bells. Kids know how to marshal - they point enthusiastically at the turn you need to take and give you a big, excited smile. Most of them were jumping around to keep warm too - can't say I blame them. I found myself alongside a nice guy from Chard and we exchanged a few words, but not many as I wasn't really capable of conversation- he was fast uphill and I edged ahead on the downs, so when the big dip came in the second half of the race I moved slightly ahead. The first lady, from Weston, was within sight of me all the way but I couldn't reel her in - in fact I think she pulled away on the last mile. After the dip came the "Humdinger" climb at around mile 8, I eschewed the drinks offered at the bottom and just dug in for the climb, which wasn't as bad as expected. Rasmivan, who had a tough middle of the race where I edged ahead of him but battled back to a strong finish, reckoned the earlier climb was tougher. Once you give a climb a name though, you're bound to make it mentally tougher, even if it isn't as steep!
That final climb was followed by an undulating plateau of sorts before the 9 mile mark came around and there was a bone shaking plunge downhill towards the finish - the last half mile is half steep downhill, then half flat, and they thoughtfully provided a "400m to go" sign. The guy catching me up was about to come past me just before the line, but I had enough in reserve to stay ahead, finishing 23rd out of the 306. I was well pleased, it was a great race and a good workout, and a few days later my feet still hurt from the downhill sections! Thanks to Running Forever Running Club of Taunton for a real "runner's race" with a great course, great marshals, free finishing photo, good quality tee shirt, well placed signs and mile markers, easy parking and registration - they got everything right and our team all loved it. The free cookie with a hot drink in the stables cafe afterwards was a bonus as well, though Suswara felt compelled to purchase the chocolate-orange bread and butter pudding. Can't imagine why.
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