A grizzly day in Grizedale - Montane Trail 26
Montane Trail 26, Grizedale 2014
It's never easy to train at this time of year. You get woken up by that iPhone alarm that sounds like an army of tortured robots. You're freezing and your body feels like some prankster has swapped it with James Corden's.
You tippee toe down the stairs freezing your jim jams off. Scout the labrador looks at you with a tear in her eye ("running without me again, shame on you!"). You set off running, get smashed over the head by a falling tree, drown in knee deep cow mess, but at least it gets washed away by the perpetual rain. I feel like I'm stuck on repeat lately and not much enjoying it.
The prelude to Grizedale was no different. It was to be my second ever trail marathon (26.2 is such a conventional distance). Up at 5:30am. Didn't feel like it. Still coughing. Still in denial that I would actually make the start. 8:30am: the usual suspect Nick and I arrive in the Lake District. The weather was gradually worsening as we approached. It would be beautiful if you could see beyond 50 metres.
We were greeted by very heavy rain and some damp looking Spartans. At the Start line Marc Laithwaite makes no apology for the weather (this is the Lakes) and sends us off with a hilarious quip - something about it being flat except for the flat bits are rather slanted. Boom tish. Might nick that one.
To be fair, not a bad description. The first half is an undulating channel of fire roads that really test your enthusiasm. It's not particularly technical so pretty much 100% runnable so long as you're willing to put some serious effort in. I didn't see anyone walking those hills but I bet it crossed many minds. By mile 5 I was feeling a little chesty and slightly concerned that the cough I'd got might finally floor me. A couple of good hits of Ventolin and everything was reet.
At that point it occurred to me that now was the time to get some good quick miles in. To hell with conserving energy, hit it hard when feeling good. It was a win-win situation. Serious fatigue in the second half would be a good test of character for future endeavours. No fatigue evident in those few half marathon runners who went flying by. They'd set off slightly behind us and the front runners were now steaming past like they were being chased by a Grizedale grizzly. This is an inspiration unique to the Grizedale 26... Seeing those guys and a girl rocket round at such at such speed was like the best spectator sport ever. It really gives you the impetus to be reckless. You know you shouldn't but it's a blast chasing rabbits. The rabbit who finished in 14th place was Spartan Alex. What a result! He caught me about half a mile before the end of his race. We cheered each other on, shouted "Sparta" a lot, and I did my best to encourage Alex to a sprint finish. He didn't disappoint.
The other unique thing about this race is that it really is a race of two halves, literally returning to the start at the half marathon point. I headed in at the half way point not far behind Alex. There stood checkpoint two and about half a dozen biscuit munchers. Time to take the initiative. No stopping in this race. It's not an ultra is it? I headed off immediately after gulping down some coke. This seemed to spur them into action and it was a real effort to stave them off on the next climb. Lest we forget, biscuit munching is a valid strategy in a tough race like this.
A gnarly climb over to the other side of the forest. This is where the real test of leg strength begins. The second half of the race is vastly more technical. It's the equivalent of switching from rally car to 4x4 (and sometimes boat!). There was a hell of a lot of water and mud now too as one dude will testify: face first into the quagmire. I fished him out thinking he might well be totalled. Fortunately just a bloody knee. He shouted two words, the first unrepeatable, the second "OFF". The rock that assaulted him seemed to give him a sudden turbo. Boom. He was off and I don't recall seeing him again.
Many more miles of the best technical climbing and whooshy flowing descent followed. I was having such good time involuntarily shouted "woohoo" and made aeroplane wings when passing some walkers. This was a race I won't forget in a hurry. It was a timely boost to in such a miserable winter. The last climb was possibly the toughest and you could see it in the weary legs of some of the guys I passed. It was a good day. I think I was overtaking all the way back to the visitor centre. I was tired but was comfortable pushing it hard without cramp or major fatigue. Definitely no 'bonk' or 'wall'.
I sprinted across the line a happy man. Content with my efforts on the back of a winter of very little hill training and lots of lurg. The main aim of the days race was a test of fitness with the bigger picture in mind. I left feeling like I was in a good place after a tough day in the hills. My strategy feels like a good one. If I throw some hills in I could be dangerous. It was a tough day but my developing core pulled me through the tough moments. I wore full body cover and didn't take it off all day. It was a bit of an experiment really but I didn't feel it hampered me at all. Would urge giving it a go as I felt like you may as well wear it as carry it.
Great race, excellent organisation and superb Spartan results. Really pleased with my overall time and placing of 37th / 4hrs 27mins.