Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Maddy Moss Mash hill race

80 days until my next attempt to qualify for the Boston marathon.


The Maddy Moss hill race begins with a steep, steep climb. It wasn't really runnable; everyone near me walked, placing their feet in the dirt "steps" created from previous foot traffic, or walked on the grass next to the steps.

It was raining. The race was 6 miles, with 2,329 feet of ascent, and I knew I was going to be pretty wet at the end of it no matter what I wore. So, I just wore my running shorts and a running t-shirt, fell running shoes and sox. Around my waist I had a bum bag with water-proof jacket, trousers, and a plastic bag containing a whistle, map page, and compass. Again, runners are required to carry these for a race of distance by the organisers. In the day's conditions, with the cloud covering the top of the hill, this requirement was reasonable.

I felt good on the climb. There were occasional breaks in the ascent where one could run a few feet, but it was mostly straight up.

Nearing the top of the climb the rain and wind intensified. The rain lashed the side of my face. It was going to be a proper hill race.

As the slope evened out near the top of the climb I started running. We ascended in a thickening mist.

Marshalls pointed us in the right direction towards the top of the of the major hill in the race, Ben Cleuch. I turned toward it, and had the wind at my back.

The lead runners descending from the summit began to pass us. They would appear in the mist individually or in groups of two or three.

Underfood, the partial trail was often underwater. My feet were already soaked, and there was no way of avoiding the puddles, so I ran through them.

I came to the summit cairn behind another runner. We rounded the cairn, and then I passed her as we began descending.

I passed the marhsalls again, who pointed us in the direction of the second summit in the race, Andrew Gannel Hill.

Worringly, I found myself alone in the mist. Usually, navigation in a hill race isn't an issue, as you just follow the line of runners in front of you. Not so today. I couldn't see anyone. I stuck with what looked like a trail, and kept going.

Eventually I caught up with another runner, and then one more. They passed me on the short ascent up to Andrew Gannel, and I stuck behind them.

Then we started the long descent back to the starting point of the race.

The two runners in front of me accelerated. We crossed a wire fence, and I scraped my leg on the top wire that I didn't see.

As we continued the descent, I passed one of the two runners. The rain was heavy, the visibility was poor, and the trail held lots of standing water. Without my glasses on, it was sometimes difficult to see the exactly where I was putting my feet. Despite this, I felt positively invigorated. This was proper hill running - all out, downhill, in a storm.

The trail thinned to a narrow path along the side of the hill.

The runner in front of me seemed to know the trail. Every foot-fall he made was correct - he seemed to know the little curves and drops in the route - and to adjust for these. I was right behind him, and the trail was too narrow to pass. We clipped off the distance.

Eventually, we came to a steep descent leading to the start/finish line. I passed the runner I'd been trailing, and descended gingerly. The rocks and grass were wet and slick - I didn't want to fall.

I slipped anyways, and skidded into some bracken. I got up and dashed to the finish.

My time for the race was 1:09:35. This put me in 47th place, out of 94 runners.

Afterwards, a friend who did the race and I went to a pub near the race start. We changed into dry clothes, but I continued to shiver. However, I warmed up in the pub, and enjoyed a terrific pint of beer.