"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Speedy Steeds Half Marathon - August 2nd 2020
Running on the Bristol and Bath railway path has been one of the great joys of this summer and I've clocked times at 5k, 2 miles and 10k that I didn't dare to dream I'd achieve at the start of the year. I have to be honest though - despite the charms of Bitton and Saltford I do crave new and different surroundings after several runs on the same track, just as I crave new roads on the bike after too many South-Glos circuits. When it was clear we'd be away for the weekend of the half marathon I scoured the internet for ideas and found the nearly-perfect half marathon course in the shape of the Granite Way. This is another sustrans railway path and has a lot in common with the Bristol & Bath, but it contours the edge of the moor and crosses some incredible viaducts.
I didn't have time to recce it and there was a surprising dearth of info online, so I just arrived with Kokila early on the Sunday morning at the old Okehampton station hoping for the best. In other words I was wanting a flat and uninterrupted course, but knew in the back of my mind that it might be hilly with lots of gates and styles.
I'd hit all my targets at the shorter race distances so I set my sights very high - I was aiming for 1:30 and set my garmin for the rather daunting 6.52 pace. In training I'd managed 2 x 4 miles at that pace with a 10 min walk/jog in between so it was going to be unknown territory once I got up above 8 miles. That 2 x 4 session had left me pretty wrung out but race day can bring an extra surge of energy, so I felt the target was achievable.
We meditated in the car then warmed up on the ramp of a path that leads up to the old railway, then Kokila took my start photo and I was off, running under the arch of the old bridge and testing myself against my target pace. I hadn't had much warmup so it took a mile or so to get on pace, but it soon became evident that the path was not as uninterrupted as I hoped. The views were inspiring and energising, especially from the viaduct at Meldon (another snap taken by Kokila below - as I wasn't carrying a phone or pausing for pics). I could see the dam where we'd hiked the day before and the clouds rolling in off the moors. The forecast was for the cloud to lift and temperatures to rise, but the weather was fair enough for racing and the cool start was welcome.
I was finding the pace testing even in the first few miles, but some good fortune came as I approached a gateway after around 4 miles when 2 local runners spotted me coming and could tell I was racing against the clock - they called out to me to keep up my pace while they "did the gate" for me and it was a kind gesture that saved me stopping and starting again to faff with the gate myself. Cheers!
Later there were slopes and more gates, another viaduct with panoramic views at Lake and then I found myself coming to my turnaround point (based on the mileage counting down on my Garmin) with my average pace just about on target at 6.51. I came to a road crossing and had to choose between a slight upslope on the road for a few hundred metres or a route through a gate on to the next section of the Granite Way. I chose the road route through a glorious avenue of beeches and found I'd made a mistake in glancing at it and seeing it as a "slight upslope" - it was actually a stiff climb. It was only a couple of hundred metres but it slowed me down a fair bit - after the turn I took a quick pitstop, taking in some energy gel and drink before using the slope to accelarate back up to race pace as I descended to the gate.
Heading back towards Okehampton with the breeze at my back I was slow at first, with the average pace on my watch slipping down towards 7 minutes and then slightly over. I was hoping I'd be able to speed up but it just got slower and slower as my energy ebbed away. I had to decide between taking another gel to get calories inside me (with the risk of a stitch) or just carrying on....I opted for the gel and needed a slow few minutes to get it properly down before I sped up with the aid of caffeine and carbs. I never pulled it back though - I was spent - and at one point I took a wrong turn which cost me half a minute or perhaps more.
I surged a little on the last mile but finished in 1:33:46. Not what I'd hoped for, but good enough for third place in the race and a fair return for the training I'd put in. You can't win em all. Anyway it was a gorgeous course and a satisfying time once I'd had a chance to reflect.
The Marastats website says I'm just about in the top 5% of over 50 male half-marathoners. Not bad after all then.
Sacred Steps Home