Saturday, 25 July 2009

Ready? Steady? Go!

Regular readers will know that I go out running quite a lot these days. Years ago I ran in quite a few fell races. I was always more of a fell staggerer than a fell runner: my least impressive result (of which I am oddly proud) was coming 462nd out of 462 in the Langdale Skyline race.

Since I got going again I've been taking things a lot more seriously: not because I expect to do substantially better but because I'm now substantially older. I've put a lot of effort into interval training (alternating fast bursts with slow jogs) and fartlek (a Swedish word meaning "speed play") running, as well as going out for longer and longer runs.

Well, I reached the point this week when I decided it was time to have a go at a race. I searched the net and discovered that a fell race was being held in Hamsterley Forest: a 10k course involving 1,100 feet of ascent. Quite moderate as fell races go.

Karen came for the ride and to offer moral support. We arrived early so that we could drive round the signposted 'forest drive'. It was a cloudy, showery day, but quite warm. We'd brought a flask of coffee with us but whenever we stopped to enjoy the view a cloud of flies surrounded the car, making it impossible to open the windows. The only fly-free place to stop was the Visitor Centre car park.

Anyway, scenic drive over, I made my way to registration. It was soon clear that not many people were planning on taking part in this race. I was a little worried about this, as I half expected to make a fool of myself, and if I did, it would be better to do so in an impersonal crowd. As it was, only about twelve of us turned up.

The race was a handicap,
which meant that when you registered you told the organiser your time for 10k. Since I had not run a race for years, I had to give him my "best guess". The worst runner (me, in this case) was to start first, the best, last. The clock was to start with the first runner. Theoretically, everyone would finish together: anyone who managed to do just that bit better than they normally did would have a good chance of winning.

Unfortunately, 2 minutes after the start I got lost! I mistook a red cycle route waymark for the orange walk waymark I was supposed to follow for the first mile or two. By the time I realised and had made my way back to the course I had lost about 12 minutes. The next 5 3/4 miles became a desperate attempt not to come in ages after everybody else.

Desperate, but fantastic, nevertheless. The route featured exhilarating "demon descents" down steep, muddy, tree-root infested paths that wound in and out of the trees. There were also the inevitable ascents, which also concentrated the mind wonderfully. After winding through the hills of the forest for a few miles, the route emerged on the open fell above it. At this point I realised that I (along with everybody else) had aquired my own personal cloud of flies that buzzed round and round my head, taking it in turns to land there.

After a while the route plunged back into the undergrowth of the forest, suddenly emerging on a hardcore Land Rover track. This zig-zagged down the hillside to the main road through the forest: the end was in sight. It was just a case of going flat out until I got there.

Much to my relief, I wasn't last. There were three competitors behind me and I when I saw the times I realised that had I not got lost I might well have won! This being a handicap, this had nothing whatever to do with any prowess on my part. I had simply underestimated my own ability slightly when signing up for the race. It was good to do a bit better than I expected but I was pleased I'd got lost: I would have felt something of a fraud had I come in first.

Photo of Hamsterley Forest copyright David Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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Rachel Fox said...

Great tale!

Dave King said...

I can't imagine anything more frustrating than to lose your way in such a situation. I feel for you. Commendattions for bravery are in order though, I think!

The Weaver of Grass said...

I nearly asked to come along for the ride and to cheer you on. Glad I didn't - mainly because of your very vivid description of the Hamsterly Forest Fly Brigade.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Well done Dominic,forget 'The tour' I've always felt fell runners were the true grit.i think you did brilliantly.I also think 'fartlek' may inadvertantly be part of my (non) training schedule!

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments everybody.

RF: Pleased you enjoyed it.

DK: Thank you. I hope these sort of situations serve to toughen one up.

WG: The flies were irritating rather than truly unpleasant.

TFE: I have heard it said that fell running isn't as hard as it looks - at least at an "intermediate" level. Running fast down a flat road for a long time is arguably more demanding. I should add that I have been told that in Swedish the "t" in fartlek is silent - which does rather take the, er, wind out of the sails of anyone milking it for its humorous potential! :)

Poetikat said...

Well done! I could never do that.
Does the "fartlek" give you extra gas for the race, I'm wondering? (Sorry, I just could not resist!)


swiss said...

nice one!

my turbo trainer sessions echo a more or less fartlek schedule and i find they improve my performance dramatically.

the getting lost? it's a joy isn't it!

my other half is as taken with fart in swedish as she is with fahrt in german. where do we leave from she'll ask. where it says abfahrt i'll say and watch her dissolve into laughter. i;d love to take the high ground but i can't. the swedish word for sale is slut (pronounced sloot) and there's a beavis and butthead part of me deep inside that can't resist, anytime we're there, pointing and going 'woah, they're selling sluts in there.'

our swedish relatives shake their heads. you british they sigh and walk away....

Dominic Rivron said...

I, too, cannot overcome an infantile sense of humour (one of my favourite radio programmes is "I'm sorry I haven't a clue").

Fartlek does seem to improve performance. Interval training, too. I've just started trying a pyramid session (the intervals of hard work get longer and longer and then tail off) - it was such hard work, I'm sure it must be doing some good!

Poetikat said...

I just have to jump in here with another "fart" anecdote.
When we went to Europe as a family in 1977, we were doubled up with laughter upon seeing our first roadsign in Germany with the word "fahrt" on it.

We had a long-standing joke where my dad would say (and then choke on his tea, most likely) "Zu fahrt?" To which we would reply, "No. Did zu?"

Ha ha. (Still cracks me up!)


Poet in Residence said...

Dominic, congratulations on your 9th place! I enjoyed reading your report. I always say you can only run against whoever turns up. I'm sure your running career will now go rapidly from strength to strength and I'm predicting big things for you at the forthcoming Snowdonia Marathon.
At the weekend I won a trophy at the Hinteralm 'Brutal' Race (7.5kms/980mtrs+) for being 3rd M60 (yes, there were only 3 M60s running!!!) - a video-clip will be available to view for a few days (from Wednesday 19.8.2009) on which will give you some idea of the route). One runner had a TV camera fixed to his head! The winner's time was 44:05 and my time was 62:16. I came 35th out of 47 finishers.

Dominic Rivron said...

A prize for 3rd? Ah! The opportunities for us vets... :)

I look forward to the video!

I ran in my first ever road race last week - the Darlington 10k. Suprised myself coming 471st - I seem to have finished in the first half of the field. Managed 50 min 56 sec, which though not earth shattering, is faster than I expected. Interval and pyramid training beginning to pay off, I suspect.