The South West Outdoor Festival, organised by the National Trust, took place in the Heddon Valley of Exmoor from the 23rd to the 25th September. The aim of the event was to provide an action packed weekend of camping and outdoor activities for people of all ages. Through doing this it would promote the area and the fun to be had being active and enjoying the great outdoors.
Over the weekend there were sporting events such as the Trail running Half Marathon I took part in and the alternative 10km distance or there was also a very tempting mountain bike sportive and an off road Duathalon. For the tarmack lovers there was a road cycling sportive or the brutal sounding Porlock hill climb.
For those not wishing to get competitive there were a whole range of activities to try such as Tree and Rock climbing, Coasteering, SUPs, Foraging and Wildswimming. For the open minded you could try slightly more random events such as barefoot walking or even axe throwing! The evening’s entertainment sounded great too with live music and a roaring camp fire where stories were told for the kids whilst the adults had talks from professional athletes and adventurers such as Tobias Mews, Anna Mcnuff, Monty Halls, James Ketchell and Phoebe Smith. The festival seemed like a fantastic idea with a real focus on this being a family based weekend with something going on to amuse everyone. I thought it was great to see so many kids running around outdoors playing and getting muddy!
The trail running races were organised by a local company called Wild running. They were a little disorganised first thing in the morning with a distinct lack of signs to find the registration area, which turned out to be a random unmarked table. We also were late to start with little instruction as to what was going on. However that said once we got started the route they had chosen was tough but very, very good. An abundance of spectacular views making the most of the SW coast path, river paths and climbing to a nearby summit for an extra high viewing point by running a figure of eight route. It was all well marked with marshalls at points where there could be any confusion. From speaking to other runners I know I was not alone in feeling it was a little stingy to only provide 1 aid station for the half marathoners. There was at least 1 other point on route where we crossed the road through a car park just up the road from the event base where there already was a marshall with a car that would have been a perfect point for a nice cold drink and jelly bear! Particularly as after a good long climb already you at that point realise this is still not the top! Also this may be a little childish but the no medal situation made me sad, a t-shirt is just not the same!
Personally I had a pretty rough race. This year for me seems to have been made up of races only in extremes, I’ve either very much enjoyed myself and finish feeling super proud of myself or, I feel like dying most of the way round and have to drag myself to the finish line on sheer willpower alone. I put this down to being part of the steep learning curve of my first year and my tendency to only learn through making my own mistakes. My mistake this time was not allowing enough rest and recovery time between my first marathon and next race. This race was only 3 weeks later and one of those weeks was spent mountain biking in the Lake District. For an experienced runner this would probably not be a problem but for me I was tired before I even started.
Once again, as I have learnt this year so much of running comes down to mental strength and keeping yourself in a positive “I can do this” frame of mind. In the lead up to this race I was totally unmotivated and dreading it, I felt like I had put so much mental energy into training for and completing the marathon, I simply didn’t have any left for this race. So for the first 6/7 miles I bullied myself along moaning and griping at myself in my head and occasionally out loud until for the first time ever I really felt like giving up. Then I thought back to a conversation I’d had just that morning with the lady running the National Trust stall at the festival. She had been telling me all about her friend, champion Ultra runner Jo Pavey. I had been quizzing her for some top insider tip on what makes these, super humans in my eyes able to keep on running for so long on such difficult courses. Her reply was that Jo believes 90% of completing an Ultra comes down to mental strength. How can I ever expect to achieve my dream of completing a proper mountain ultra that will be a minimum of 50 miles if I can’t complete this, in comparison, piddly 13 mile half marathon just because I’m a bit tired and not in the right mood? When I came to look at it like this and saw the race as a training exercise in battling on despite that tired feeling it all suddenly got a lot easier. I began to catch up and pass those tired runners not having such luck fighting their demons and finished the final coastal section admiring the views and feeling much happier than I did at the beginning!
Now for the next few months I plan to take a break from running competitively to give the mind and body a break from the pressure of always pushing so hard. I’ve always thought it is only the professional athletes that should need to have these ‘rest’ phases but actually as I have now learnt, through painful experience yet again, this does apply to everybody. No matter your level in comparison to others if you are pushing hard by your own standards then that is still tough on your body. The most important thing to me has always been that I run for fun, because I enjoy it, so I need to take a break before I ruin that for myself. In the past year I have completed 7 races and progressed from my first 10km to my first Marathon. A good enough effort for my first year I think.