The Derbyshire Peak District has some of the UKs most beautiful scenery, so I was looking forward to racing around the Carsington Water reservoir on a late February morning. The weather forecast hadn’t looked very good for the few days leading up to the race, and despite rain through the night, race morning turned out to be mostly dry.
I knew this was going to be an undulating course, the type of course I’m never quite sure on how to pace, so I hadn’t really got a particular plan of how to run it. I’d have to sort of see how it went.
We were staying only a few minutes away at the Marathon Talk Run Camp at Mount Cook Adventure Centre, so the trip to the race wasn’t a long one. I got a lift there with Jonny and Helen, Julian and Emma. It looked a bit ominous as we had to drive through an enormous and deep puddle on our way, just near to where part of the race course passed.
I never quite know what to do with myself before the start of a race, particularly if I’m ready well before the start time, so I was walking up and down nervously, whilst trying to stay warm in the cold wind that welcomed us at the start. I waited until ten minutes before the start time to get down to vest and shorts and drop my bag at the bag drop (a green tarpaulin close to the start/finish).
There had been some discussion amongst the Abingdon AC contingent about the most appropriate running attire for the conditions. Those who’d run the previous year on a glorious sunny day said that road shoes would be fine, but the organisers were recommending trail shoes. The biting wind made some reluctant to don just the club vest, opting for an underlayer too. I decided on vest only and racing shorts with my ASICS Tartherzeal racing road shoes.
We gathered at the start line, like penguins huddled together for warmth and headed off at the signal. The initial jostle for positions and suitable pace began as we ran through the car park and headed for the trail around the reservoir. The trail was a firm compacted sandstone gravel path, with no real mud to speak of but plenty of puddles, so the choice of road shoes seemed to have been a good one.
Those of us running the half marathon were doing an 8 mile loop of the reservoir followed by a 2.5 mile out and 2.5 mile back stretch. The 10K runners did a slightly longer 5K out and back on the same route. The first section of the course involved a few short and sharp ups and downs, before we soon settled into a more prolonged flat section of about a mile or so. It was at this point that we got a good view of the reservoir, which looked huge. Trying to put thoughts of how far the route around looked out of my mind, I settled into a pace of just over 3:45 per kilometer (6 minutes per mile), which felt about right.
I could see at this point that there were only three runners stretched out in front of me, and I could hear one more close behind. We hadn’t reached the 10K race turnaround point yet, so I didn’t know if any of these guys would be turning back or carrying on for the HM, so wasn’t sure of my race position.
We soon reached the turnaround point for the 10K runners and all three of the runners in front of me carried on, so I was in fourth place. I’d never really been this close to the front in a race before, so usually ran at a set pace with a time target in mind. So at this stage I decided to keep going with that idea. Run my own race at this stage and see what happened to the others later on. I couldn’t see the race leader, the second and third place runners were a bit ahead, but still in sight.
It was at the section between four and six miles where the course started to undulate a bit more and the hills were a bit longer. Keeping a regular pace was not an option any more, so I opted for a regular effort instead. My watch was telling me that I was still managing each kilometer in under four minutes.
As we battled up and down the hills, the second place runner was now out of sight, but it felt like I was making ground on the third place runner.
I could see that we were approaching the dam end of the reservoir which looked nice and flat, but pretty exposed with the wind likely to be coming across us up the valley. I braced myself for a bit of a battering and wasn’t wrong. The crosswind was a real challenge as we ran across the dam, along with a constant sequence of big puddles across the path. There were a few large groups of walkers out at this point too, so I tried my best not to splash them as I ran passed.
It felt like I was making little progress in the wind, but I could see that the third place runner was getting closer, so he must have been having a tougher time than me. As I got to the end of the dam and ran towards a little gateway, I spotted Tony Audenshaw taking some photos.
“You’re the first Marathon Talk runner, I think” he said.
It wasn’t long before I’d completed the first loop and was back near the start point. This was where the Williams and Yelling cheer squads really helped to keep me pushing. I had by now nearly caught the third place runner, so pushed hard through the next undulating bit to catch him up and keep pushing passed.
I knew there were about 5 miles to go and I was now in a podium position, a new experience for me. This was now going to be about making sure no-one came past me in the dying stages of the race. I tried to keep the same effort level, and could see the second place runner getting nearer ahead. Should I push on for second place and risk blowing up and finishing outside the top three, or sound I keep it steady?
I decided to try and keep going at the same effort and see if I could reel him in. I was getting closer still by the time we reached the turn of the out and back point. The lead runner was quite a bit ahead of us, but was there enough of the race left to catch second place? Seeing me close behind at the turn may have spurred him on to keep pushing. I could see that I wasn’t so far ahead of the fourth man and first lady that I couldn’t be caught too.
The last 2K was quite winding and undulating, so it was again difficult to regulate my pace. I felt I was getting closer to second place and didn’t dare look behind.
By the time we reached the car park close to the finish, I was only a few meters behind. It was at this point we went through a couple of sharp left and right turns before a short stretch to the finish. The turns broke my stride a little and I didn’t quite have enough to make it to second place. I finished in third with 1:23:18, just 2 seconds after the second place runner.
I was really pleased with my first ever podium finish, and learnt from my experience of racing for position. I could see that Jaffa Cakes were provided as the post-race nutrition which was pleasing, but then noticed the fig rolls, the ultimate biscuit – a great idea that all races should adopt.
Thanks to all involved in the organisation of the race. My prize of a big bobble hat was greatly appreciated too.
The first three men to finish were
- Paul Sadler 1:21:15
- Paul Harpham 1:23:16
- Peter Akrill 1:23:18
The first three women finishers were :
- Katherine Wood 1:24:24
- Kelly Butler 1:27:14
- Holly Rush 1:30:14