Short of a sprint finish?
Not prepared to give up unless you can’t actually stand up any more? Fancy the chance to win an event just once in your life? Then read on…
I have to confess that I’ve yet to compete in a ‘club counter’, and I’ve only worn my Helsby club vest once so far since I joined the club last autumn (2008). I’m sure I’ll do the odd club race when one fits into my training schedule, but they’re not really my sort of runs. What I really like doing is long trail and hill runs, generally 20 miles or more, out in the best bits of the hill country. There are plenty of these events close enough to Helsby, in the Peak District, Lancashire, the Calder Valley in Yorkshire, and in North Wales. Occasionally I’ll go a bit further if the event’s a good one, and make a weekend of it.
Most of the events I run in are classic long trail races. They follow public rights of way for the most part, usually on visible paths and tracks, with checkpoints every few miles, where you can usually get drinks, and often food as well. Occasionally they cross open moorland with no visible path, and you often need to do a bit of navigation with map and compass. There will typically be around 3000 to 5000 feet of climbing in a 26 mile event. Sometimes there is some route-marking, but often there is little or none, and you generally work from a written route description, which I generally use to mark up my OS map. The start, finish and checkpoints are manned by volunteers, and the events are generally charity fundraisers and very friendly. The atmosphere is not usually competitive apart from the occasional event that attracts a lot of runners (such as the Grindleford Gallop, run in March).
I can’t say I really enter any race caring much about whether I win it or not, as long as I get the best I can out of myself, but everyone would have to admit it does put a smile on the face if you do win something. I’ve been first to the finish in three events in the past year, and I even got a trophy for one of them. “How did he manage that?” I hear you ask. “I’ve seen him in action and he’s not exactly a classy runner.” That’s a great thing about these events. If you pick your race carefully you can occasionally win, even if you’re not that fast. All you have to do is to strike lucky and enter an event that no other runners have entered, or at least no other fast runners. Lots of events are organised principally for walkers, but support runners as well. This is true of a lot of LDWA (Long Distance Walkers Association) events, and others such as the White Peak Walk and the Across Wales Walk.
Another thing I love about these events is that where there are only a small number of runners, say 20 to 50, then there is a real community feel about them. You get to know the other people on the circuit, but the ethos is more one of each of you trying to do the best you can, rather than trying to beat other people. If you start running with someone else in the latter stages of a race you’ll generally finish the race with them as well, pulling each other along rather than trying to outsprint each other. And the runners get to the finish first, so we get first go at the tea, pie and peas, or whatever else is provided at the end, and there’s nearly always somewhere to sit and recover, as they’re usually based in a village hall or clubhouse of some sort.
Mountain Marathons are another thing altogether, long fell races with orienteering checkpoints to find, in much rougher country, and largely off paths. I did my first two MMs last year, and started a third (the notorious OMM 2009 that was hit by torrential rain, flooding and a whirlwind of news reporters). As I write this I’ve got heavy strapping on my right ankle, and I’m two days away from heading up to Coniston to run the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (SLMM). This is two days’ running with a partner in the mountains with camping gear on your back, across pathless and rocky steep terrain, virtually guaranteed to wreck even the best of ankles.
If I survive the SLMM, the following Saturday I’m defending my title on the White Peak Walk, a 26-mile route in the Peak District. And no, I’m not expecting to keep my trophy, even if my ankle survives. But there’s always next year…
My favourite events?
- The Sandstone Trail A race. 16 miles, so a bit short for me, with too many runners. Still, it’s a great race.
- The SLMM. A great Mountain Marathon, always in the Lakes, my favourite part of the country.
- The White Peak Walk. A 26 mile circular route in the Peak District, starting in Monyash. I’ve done this one many times, and it’s my favourite “orthodox” trail race, despite a few miles of it being on minor roads. The WPW started me running: I ran it rather than walked it one year on the spur of the moment.
- The Across Wales Walk. 45 miles from the Welsh border near Clun to the coast near Aberystwyth. You have to be barking mad to run this one. It just has to be the best race I’ve ever done.
If anyone’s interested in coming along to any of these events talk to me on a Wednesday evening, or look for events on the LDWA website (see Adair’s events list). The White Peak Walk and the Across Wales Walk have been full up for ages, but there are plenty of others coming up. I’ve sent Adair a list of some of what’s coming up over the next few months, and I’ll try to remember to give him an update every so often.
[Read Andy’s follow up, at the end of Summer 2009 in More long run mania]