Training journal | weeks 14 and 15 | Drogo 10

Since Beachy Head the weather has turned colder and much more unpredictable. It’s impossible to know what to wear. I’ve spent lots of time either freezing or boiling.

I’ve got wet. A lot.

My new running shoes unveiled a few weeks ago have never come back from a session dry. They’ve enjoyed more newspaper in the last few weeks than I have the entire year. Frankly, I’m getting a little weary of rain.

Happily, G and I enjoyed a break in training and weather to head north to Ayr to see our wonderful friends Lee and Penny. All three are Scorpios and celebrate birthdays within a few days of each other. As a result, it had become a bit of a tradition to get together for a birthday dinner. Since Pen was celebrating a special birthday, it was a priority to get a chance to celebrate.

We drove to Ayr on Friday with plans for a weekend stopover before heading to the Lakes for a couple of nights to extend the weekend into a proper break.

I didn’t have access to a bike or pool while up north, but could still run. So on the Saturday we headed to Ayr parkrun for a little fresh air and exercise. The park was quite close to Lee’s residence, so we ran up and met the ladies there. The parkrun was beautiful. Wooded and undulating enough to make it interesting on made paths and woodland trails covered in leaves and littered with roots. It was vibrant with the aroma of decaying leaf mulch and vegetation. Deliciously earthly and a pleasure to run through.

It was a lot more technical that we were expecting. As a result, we were a lot slower than we expected. The times, not much off what we would run at Woolacombe. I tried not to be disappointed and just relish the chance to run somewhere different.

The lakes are hiking country and we had come prepared to spend a day outdoors exploring the terrain surrounding our B&B. We had deliberately chosen somewhere slightly off the beaten track for that reason. The inevitable rain was tempestuous but waiting for it to blow over was futile. So, we dressed in waterproofs and headed out to make the best of it.

To the rear of our accommodation was a byway heading steeply uphill to a tarn signposted about two miles away. That was our first destination.

We huffed and puffed our way up the hill. The wind was now howling and the rain driving and we pulled down hoods to protect our eyes from the weather. We met a farmer on a quad bike coming downhill towards us. He muttered something that we didn’t quite catch but could have been ‘you’ll get wet feet if you carry on’. As the weather howled around us those words developed via our own personal Chinese whispers into ‘you’ll die if you carry on this path’.

This was the somewhat dispelled when we bumped into a family coming down the hill with two children who could not have been more then two years old and toddling down the hill quite happily and certainly unmoved but the worsening weather. What a reality check!

We laughed at our own folly and carried on until we reached Hawkshead, where we enjoyed a hot coffee and a drip dry in the local cafe.

Later that week I travelled to Surrey for work. It presented an opportunity to head to the relatively new leisure centre for a swim. It was really impressive. Deliciously cool and quiet. I had a lane to myself for 15 minutes before another swimmer got in. I loved it. Definitely the best swimming experience for quite some time.

After a couple of days in Surrey and a very sleepless night in the van due to the cold, I arrived home feeling a little jaded around the edges. But there was no time for tiredness, as a race I was really looking forward to was finally here.

The Drogo 10 is a hilly, off road ten miler hosted by the National Trust at Castle Drogo in Drewsteignton, South Devon. It’s organised by South West Road Runners, strangely as there is barely a stitch of road in the whole thing.

The race director in the briefing promised mud and hills, beautiful trail routes and flat bits along by the river. This race was right up our street. We did the usual registration admin and then lined up in our usual spot at the back ready to go.

With absolutely no idea what was coming, I decided to start conservatively. The first few hundred metres were up the gently sloping (upwards) drive. We then forked right and onto a narrow trail through the woods. The trail led to some traditionally national trust steps (think uneven and muddy) before turning right back onto a trail that traversed the ridge at the top of the gorge. The picture at the top, shows the view from the bottom of the steps.

I knew we headed down the gorge to the bottom because the course description mentioned running alongside the river below. The path down was gentle in gradient but hard on the feet as the path was covered in loose flint and other stones. It was narrow in places and I was astonished at how much progress the leaders were making as we watched them descend.

The gap between ourselves and the rest of the field grew very quickly. At this point I didn’t panic, as a few of the back markers often start too quickly and we catch them in the later stages. Sure enough, as we reached a narrow bridge over the river leading to a stone stile, a queue of runners were waiting patiently to cross.

Over we went, then turned left down a rutted unmade road. Once again the field moved away, easily putting in distance between us.

We never saw them again.

The path in front was undulating – in the true sense of the word. My legs screamed on the uphills. Even though they were gentle in comparison with what was to come. In fact, this section of the route is described as flat. Although in Devon we’re quickly learning the concept of flat is ‘relative’.

Eventually we reached the water station. I tried to sound perky but the truth was, I was struggling. This was despite the romps around the Devon coast and our trip to Beachy Head a couple of weeks ago.

Once we left the water station the route turned right and steeply uphill. I struggled. I had to keep stopping. I couldn’t breath and started to panic. Then I started to cry. I just felt so dreadful. G was so patient and kind, with nice encouraging words and no judgment at all.

I debated turning back. I was rendered inert by panicking about being last and the gap that was inevitably growing. I worried about the poor marshals stood waiting for us. I worried about the judgment those marshals would inevitably throw at me. ‘What was she thinking doing a race like this’. I worried about the burden of Ironman Lanzarote. I wondered what I was thinking.

And then I pulled myself together and formed a plan. If, when we got back to the water station we were indeed last, we would formally withdraw from the race and find our own way back (I had an OS Map on me).

The route climbed and dropped for the next few miles. The NT were in the process of tree management in the area (although no work was happening at that point). The works gave me the feeling of being in the middle of a sawmill. Piles of logs everywhere.

It felt remote, stunning and normally I would have loved every second of it. But at least now I was less miserable. Although still shaking and weak, my legs were strong enough to trot down the hills.

We made progress and eventually, after eight miles we returned to the water station again. Enquiries revealed that in fact we were not last, there was one chap behind us. It felt churlish to remove numbers and ourselves from the race at this point. Especially after the marshals had waited so patiently for us. So, we carried on.

The next mile was a brutal climb on a narrow path which led back to the top of the gorge. I had to resort to counting steps to keep going. Taking frequent rest breaks to get my breath back. The views were stunning. Enough to lift your heart for a week. We crawled up and enjoyed the views and chatted to those coming down towards us. Until, we were back at the bottom of the original steps once again and Castle Drogo was in view, just over the crest.

We crossed the (now dismantled) finish line. Very relieved it was over but vowing to come back the following year and give it some justice.

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