The dramatic scenery of the Exmoor national park coast certainly lived up to all the hype at the Endurancelife organised Coastal Trail series race on Saturday 9th April. It was the perfect opportunity for me to put my personal resolution NOT to get so stressed about it being a race into practice. Instead I wanted to enjoy this opportunity to run in a new place on a course chosen specifically to showcase the best that area has to offer. This race certainly did that with views so stunning it raised a new problem of trying to take it all in whilst keeping at least some focus on foot placement. The narrow little path hugging the cliff face that we were following didn’t leave much room for error!
Having been warned well in advance about the particularly tough hilly course at this race I chose to be a little kind to myself for once and not make this venue my first half marathon. I stuck with the 10km distance this time. This also fitted with my plan to focus on relaxing and enjoying the experience as all my training has been working towards my first half marathon next week I am regularly running the 10km distance so it is one I feel very comfortable with.
Pre race I was doing ok, having Mum there to chat too and Mawli to distract me with her constant ball throwing demands was very helpful. I bumped into a fellow pure trail evening runner who had taken part in this race before so it was great to get a quick course preview from her. The atmosphere was amped but friendly with a lot of excited chatty competitors raring to go, though I did overhear many a person dreading the forecasted hills! After an awful 20 minute wait from the briefing finishing to the final countdown (why is it so long?!?!) we were finally off.
The course starts with a mile long descent on road, the jarring the legs into life as we all jostled to make up a few places while the going was easy wasn’t my favourite start but we were soon off onto bridleways. A few quick, sharp climbs soon had the field spreading out and me feeling thankful for all that hill training I’ve been putting in. Painful as it was at the time it felt worthwhile now as at least I am used to the lung burning, leg screaming sensation. As the path narrowed the views opened up for one of the best sections of coastal path I’ve ever ran along with the path and ant-like runners dotting it winding along the cliff side into the distance before you.
Unfortunately, much as I love running, it is never easy so the course was bound to have some hard sections. After an incredibly fun scramble down a little cliff edge path you are given a brief respite on the flat before beginning a long slog of a climb back up. I had been warned about this climb so set a steady jog for as much of it as possible then began to include a few short breath catching walk breaks before pushing on again. I passed a good few people with this technique before buddying up with a similarly paced lady for mutual support. We took it in turns to try and convince eachother that the top is surely just round this last corner.
After a brief spirit raising downhill its on to the last mile. Excellent news you might think, however to me this just means oh god come on up the pace, which after that hill feels impossible. I do my best and gain a few places. The last 100 metres involves a pretty much climb up a bank but just as your swearing to yourself the loudest you hear the cheering of the finish line and the flags come into site. I drag myself back into a run and push for the finish line – done!
I finished in a time of 1.04.23 and came 8th out of 77 women in my category. I was very pleased with that!
However the biggest success of the day for me was the fact that I really enjoyed the race. I kept the nerves under control beforehand and then whilst on the race anytime I started to beat myself up for not going fast enough I just paused in my thoughts, took a look around at the amazing scenery and started to enjoy myself again.
Having said that I am going to go away and put some work into my final mile training. It is something I never do despite having read about the importance of tempo training. I do occasionally try to do most of a run a bit faster but usually slow down towards the end. Effectively this is what I have trained my body to do – slow down near the end. I feel its good to have goals and learn from what we do it is a sad day when you no longer want to strive to improve yourself. For now though I am happy with where I am at, I set out to get race pressure practice and have fun running somewhere new – Aim accomplished!