Sunday, 17 June 2012

Great Langdale Trail Run (20k)

It had been planned for months. A weekend in the middle of June was picked as the date and I had been to the Langdales to recce the area. The Delamere Spartans were heading to the Lakes for our first weekend camping meet, so of course the Gods sent the heaviest rainfall to hit the British Isles in fifty years!
Great Langdale Campsite on the morning of the race

Our original plan of running in the mountains was scrapped but luckily for us there happened to be a 20km race, The Great Langdale Trail Run, taking place in the valley. Wallman had already entered this and the other five Spartans all signed up and tried to get our race heads on. Conditions meant the race had to be changed to two laps of the 10k route.
Sarah, Paul C, Paul A, Wallman (with swimming goggles), Nick
Stuart, Jason, me
I decided to push hard and really go for it today. As we lined up I got myself positioned on the second or third row, surrounded by the racing snakes. 3-2-1 and we’re off. Wallman darted off to mix it up with the front men and Jason and I settled in together in around 11th place.

The route started out on good wide trail, splashing through lots of puddles before it headed across the fields and into deep water for the first time. This was mid-shin depth and just about runnable. A group of three of us were all running together, with Jason and I swapping positions with another guy. As we ran down by the campsite I became aware that we were only two or three kilometres in and my breathing was heavy. I took a moment to listen to Jason’s breathing: calm as you like. To prove the point he started hollering out “Greetings from SPARTA!” at poor unsuspecting walkers as we passed them. I became a bit concerned that I’d gone out too hard and would fall apart somewhere down the line.

The good, fast trail continued for a while before it disappeared completely under water. The river had burst its banks and we found ourselves running through long stretches, sometimes knee deep. In some places the rocks were very uneven and you couldn't see what you were standing on so there was lots of stumbling about. It was tremendous fun and Jason and I finally made some ground on the guy we’d been battling with.
We reached the turn-around point and were suddenly hit with lots of short climbs. Climbing is not my strong point and I had to work hard to hold on to Jason. As we reached the top of the first hill, through some quarries, a quick-looking lad passed us. I thought “Oh, here we go…soon they’ll be flooding past”. Jason and I stayed together, with J pulling a little ahead until we came to the long descending stone steps that are on the Lakeland 50 route. The steps are slippery at the best of times but in today’s rain they were lethal and Jason was making slow progress down them. I jumped off to the right of the path and flew down the grass, pulling away.

At this point I honestly didn’t mind if I finished before or after my team mate. I knew I was around tenth place and all that mattered to me was getting a top ten finish. I knew I would probably lose ground on the hills in the second half of the lap so I decided to put in a big effort on the flat outward section to try and put some space behind me.

I chased the speedy guy who had overtook us on lap one all the way down the valley, slowly gaining on him. It was really hard work and my brain was trying to sabotage my race, telling me that top 15 or even 20 would be a great result…why don’t you slow down for a bit. I had to ask myself how much I wanted a top ten finish. Yes, I want it really badly. Then work for it! It really was thrilling to feel like I was out there at the front of the field, genuinely racing.

We hit the deep water again and the level had risen noticeably. It was impossible to run large sections of it now and the water was flowing in places, making it even trickier to get a solid footing. I thought I went through it pretty quickly but the guy in front managed to open up a gap on me.

All my thoughts so far on the second lap had been directed behind me. I hadn’t looked back once but I was obsessed with the idea that any minute now I would hear footfalls and then have numerous runners flying past. It wasn’t until I left the water that I decided to stop thinking about who was behind me and start thinking about those in front. I didn’t think I could catch the guy in front of me but if I held on to him maybe he could tow me forwards and we might catch others. This shift in thinking was massively positive and really changed my whole outlook on the race. Suddenly everything felt easier. It was like I had put the race in my own hands rather than just waiting to be passed.

The turn-around point is a long dog-legged climb and you can see in front and behind for a good 200m and I was stunned to find there was nobody behind me. This definitely took some pressure off but I forced myself to keep pushing…there’s still 5km to go. It was great to see fellow Spartans Stu and Sarah around that point, who were out offering encouragement on the course.
Climbing on one of the drier sections
of the course

We did catch someone who had crocked their ankle but apart from that we ran in our own bubble right to the finish, with me unable to close the gap of about 50m he had gained on me earlier. I crossed the line in 1:33 and discovered I had finished in 8th place. The mighty Wallman finished 3rd and with Jason coming in 9th the Spartans finished first team! Dave, Nick and Paul C also finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the V40 category so it was an outstanding day for the Spartans.

This race was a huge confidence boost for me and my highest ever placing. Don’t get me wrong, I am not getting carried away with the result here; I know I only finished so high because this was a weak field but there were plenty of fast looking lads there on the start line so it’s not to be dismissed either. This is only the second time I have finished in the top ten in a race and on paper my tenth place finish in the 2011 Sandstone Trail Challenge is the better result. The thing is, with that race I had no idea what position I was in until half a mile to go. In this race I knew I was battling for a top ten finish right from the start and I really worked hard to get it. This was the first time I have had the experience of really racing at the front of the field and I loved it! It has made me want to do some more fast stuff and not just the long slow runs.

Next time I run in the Langdale valley I will be 95 miles in to the Lakeland 100. I’ll probably be going a bit slower then.

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