Beacon Batch Fell Race 2011
Fell races don't get more local than this for the Bristolian (or should I say Bristalien, as Venue magazine once described immigrants like myself to this great city). About fifteen minutes after leaving work in south Bristol I was in Lower Langford - not for the first time I was, as you'd expect, the first runner to arrive. That gave me time to change and meditate in the car for a while then have an unfeasibly long warmup of joging, walking, jogging some more and then a few easy climbs and descents on the bridleway at the start. Gradually as seven thirty approached more runners began to arrive from the race HQ fifteen minutes away - it was a record turnout (we hear that a lot at races these days) of well over a hundred runners and recognised quite a few from Chepstow Harriers as well as the local clubs like Weston and TACH.
The last part of my warmup was down a path that ran from the start along the base of the hill - a lovely quiet space in the woods to enjoy the stillness in betweena few reps up and down the sloping trails. Once at the start we formed a disorderly bunch crammed into the bridleway and I positioned myself about a quarter of the way back, or maybe slightly less. I wasn't sure of my previous time (36 minutes something it now turns out) so I was envisaging 40 minutes or so and hoping to finish in that top quarter. My achilles trouble had subsided quite well over the preceding weeks, but I was still in heavy, structured trail shoes so as not to aggravate it and my only real worry was a painfully bruised right foot - I'd somehow done that while doing hill reps a week before but it had not worsened in a ten mile jog at the weekend so I figured it would be OK. As I get older, having some kind of niggle or concern all the time seems to be something I just have to get used to - so long as I can see myself getting round a marathon at some point I can't really complain, and none of my current issues seems set to stop me doing that. Anyway, back to the fell race...
From the start I found myself able to keep pace with those around me and although the climb up a wooded bridleway was steep, stoney and in places muddy it was certainly all "runable". Emerging into open country, the path clung to the edge of the woods, twisting through a series of small climbs and descents as we crossed gulleys that ran down the hillside. The course reminded me a little of the Tintern races, with the path essentially firm but with sloppy patches to muddy you up every so often. There was little room for overtaking - I had remembered that from before and that was part of my motivation in starting near the front of the field. Finally we broke away from the woods and headed straight up hill on a path through bracken to the trig - here it was time to get hands on knees and walk a few sections, and there was a little sparring in the form of overtaking and being overtaken - jostling for position in the stack.
Marshals at the trig sent us across the open hilltop, essentially flat and with a course that runs through a deep gulley - again, overtaking was difficult and we kept our order almost unchanged. My right calf started to tighten up at this point - I remembered it had done this when I was doing hill reps the previous week, but now under the stresses of a race it was complaining a bit more loudly. Luckily the proper climbs were all behind us and as usual the challenge ahead for me was not to get overtaken by too many runners in the descent (my weakest suit in hill running). It was a grassy slope at first so getting purchase was easy, and I managed to hold my position.
Coming back into the woods and the uneven surface of the bridleway was trickier and I heard the noise of a runner gaining on me - I held him off as long as I could, but to only get overtaken once is ok by my standards so I was not too disappointed when he came through. After that it was just me against the descent, and I only lost my footing once on the muddy final stages, slipping just slightly for a fraction of a second, so I was all in all well pleased. My time was around a minute slower than 3 years before, which seems to be the pattern this season. I hope I can get back to the fitness I had at 40, but I guess only more races will do that. The calf was painful afterwards and needed a lot of massage and stretching, but the foot and achilles were fine. Two out of three isn't bad :) Great to be back in the hills again.
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