Yesterday was the day of another cracking trail marathon, once again across the border (to the dark side) in Lancashire.
The event was hosted by Malcolm and Yuk-Lam Collins and family and the event took place along the trails around The Gin Pit Village in Tyldesley.
I was accompanied by my two daughters. It was a reasonably early start and I had thought that by packing blankets and pillows the girls would sleep on the way. No such luck. Millie played DJ the entire journey. For some reason, Mill is completely incapable of listening to one track all the way through, so instead, we had an hour and a half of random rap and dance songs, well just the first parts of them (only up until the best bits). Some we even had the joy of hearing 2 or 3 times.
After the interesting drive over, we actually arrived at the start in good time and were greeted by my dad, stepmum and sister, Fin. My dad is still poorly and not allowed to run too far (just steady jogging) so he and the rest of the family were there to support and help out.
A great bunch of runners were there and it was a lovely friendly atmosphere.
It was a lap race including both a half and a full marathon. The marathon being 6 laps of a 4.4 mile loop.
The route was brilliant, right up my street.....lots of trails, wooded areas, fields, a few stretches on road and lots and lots of puddles and mud. The end of each lap went straight through the start/finish area via the aid/water station and each time I was welcomed by the cheers of support by the marshals and my family. At the end of each lap was a hill. I had walked up this hill previously with my dad when I had attempted the Gin Pit Marathon in March and it didn't seem too bad. He had said at that time that the Lions Bridge course was a good course but I would feel it on the hill by lap 4. He was so right.
On the first lap, I tried in vain to avoid getting muddy and wet. No such luck. Some of the puddles were beasts and covered the entire path. I tried skirting around the edges for the first two laps but by lap 3, I gave this up and just plowed through the middle. Unfortunately I have rather short legs. I watched other runners just jumping and gliding over the puddles with ease. I jumped and landed slap bang in the middle of them. Mud everywhere. I had been prepared for the mud and dug out my old, favourite ever trainers. They are completely beaten and battered, with holes in the toes and the insides worn away but they have done me proud over this last year. I thought the Lions Bridge Marathon would be their perfect final race and I was right.
The course reminded me of something out of a Lewis Carroll novel, each lap seemed to get longer on each loop. On each lap, I noticed things I hadn't noticed previously. As the race went on, I started nickname parts of the course - for example, "Rattlesnake Valley". Yes, we were in the middle of Lancashire and no, there are no rattlesnakes there but on my first lap through this particular field, there was one of those bungee cords (for securing luggage) randomly in the field. It was green, I was running fast (ish), it looked like a snake and made me jump. I didn't stop to see what it was (I'm not crazy, honest) but by lap 6, I realised it was definitely not a snake. Anyhow, on the final laps through this field, I was all on my own and I could hear a rattly noise but couldn't see where it was coming from. It was probably some sort of insect but my brain thought rattle snake and this made me run faster (just through this section anyhow).
Despite trying to use the same route through the puddles, on my third time around the course, I went through one and it went up to my knees!
I seemed to sail around the first 3 laps with no problems. I felt good. I was having fun and even laughing as I leapt around like a loon (possibly due to hysterics). You had to be on the ball, deciding the best way to approach the puddles, avoid the giant piles of horse poo, whilst also avoiding the brambles and nettles trying to attack your arms and legs. All good fun. By lap 4, I started to struggle. I had been lapped a couple of times at the end of lap 3. On lap 4, I was lapped by a few more runners - being lapped is not good for your soul!
Lap 5 was the toughest lap by far. By the middle of this lap, I had been passed by so many runners, all on their final lap, on their way home. They were all great and supportive, offering me words of encouragement. Some started walking and this completely messes with your brain.
When people say, it's mind over matter, do not underestimate how true this is. When you see people walking you think, "I'm tired, it's fine to walk too" on the other hand, there's a voice in your other ear screaming "Don't walk, they're on their last lap, you have another to go. If you walk now, it will be midnight by the time you finish." Some people finished after 3 laps as they were doing the half, so the remaining 3 laps were a lot quieter.
4.4 miles is not a long distance. It's quite easy. I run over 4.4 miles most days. On the 5th lap, persuading your brain that 4.4 miles is not far is hard going. From about mile 2, I was accompanied by a squelching noise from my trainers. This stayed with me for the entire race. Sadly on lap 5, I took the wrong path at the start of Rattlesnake Valley (aka the big field) and I went ankle deep into a bog (I thought I would be smart and save time by just running on the pathway, instead of through the grass pathway to the right. I am stupid. There was a reason, this second pathway had been created, i.e. to avoid the bog). My shoe filled with tiny stones and mud. I tried running for about another mile with this, I even ran through "clean" puddles trying to clear out the stones but had to stop on a bench and empty my shoe - I could probably have made a sand castle/built a very small wall with the amount of stuff that came out of my shoe. I peeled my sock back on and squeezed into my squelching shoe and continued on my way. The emptying of my shoe made a difference for all of about 5 minutes!!
I had planned to take photos on my final lap, to give me another reason to keep going but also to document the tremendous amounts of mud there was on the course. I finished lap 5 and the finish area was full of runners who had all finished their race and were supping drinks and having a chat. The thought of photos and cameras escaped my little head and after a brief drink and a retying of my lace, I headed back on my way. Lap 6 was probably one of my quickest laps. I always say that it's fine to walk and I'm not worried about times but I have a fear of coming in last! I felt guilty....the thought of all the people at the finish all sat around waiting for me to finish....if I walked, they would have longer to wait. There was absolutely no other runners around and I was convinced I was last. With a second burst of energy, I sailed through the first part of the final lap, back to jumping over puddles. Sadly, on the last long stretch of the course (the long track, just before the final hill), my body stopped and decided it was fine for me to walk. I kept having sudden bursts of speed, but they were short lived. I tried giving myself mini targets....run to the third tree/the giant puddle/that huge pile of horse poo, then you can walk.
Just at the end of the long path, I was greeted by the smiley face of my youngest daughter, Eva. I turned the corner at the bottom of the monster hill and there were the smiley faces of my dad and Fin. We all walked up the hill together and then sort of ran the last little stretch to the finish line.
Despite being on my own for the last lap, I wasn't actually last so I was very happy. My time wasn't great, 5:16:50 but I wasn't last! I later found out that I was 3rd female (out of 5 but I'll keep that bit quiet) so I was very happy and I wasn't last.
Overall, a brilliant but extremely tough race with a friendly bunch of marshals and runners alike. The bling is good too. The perfect race to bid a fond farewell to my favourite shoes.
My girls also had a great time, serving pasties, having water fights and throwing sticky weed at unsuspecting passers by. The added bonus of this, was that my girls were so tired, they nodded off on the way home so I could listen to my "old people" music as they call it!
I would definitely recommend giving this race a crack and I'm looking forward to attempting this again next year (hopefully with stronger legs and mind and my dad in tow)!
As I wasn't able to take photos of the route, you will have to make do with some photos of my stinky, pruney feet, my mud lines and my (now retired) shoes......