Sometimes it can be a bit tricky trying to fit ‘normal’ life around marathon training. This weekend my sister was visiting me in Lincoln and rather than ask her to join me in running around the streets for a number of miles, I decided a good option was to find a local race for us to do together (note; my sister is a runner so I was not forcing her into anything!) We opted for the Race For Life Half Marathon at Clumber Park, a short drive from Lincoln and a distance which came close to matching the 14 miles I had on my training plan. I have run around Clumber Park on a few occasions, visiting the parkrun and also a couple of times recreationally. I knew to expect the route to be in a beautiful woodland setting, what perhaps I was not fully prepared for was quite the challenge it would present…
At the start line, my sister and I stood among the other female runners proudly donning our pink running gear, reading and taking in some of the moving messages people had pinned to their backs. The race starter asked the crowd to raise their hand if they were taking on a half marathon for the first time today, and many put their arm triumphantly into the air. I was impressed, and was to be even more so by the time I came to finish. My sister and I had agreed to try and keep the race more of a training run, the setting was probably not suited to a PB anyway, and it would also be nice to try and just enjoy a run together. As the ’go’ signal was given we set off and soon worked our way out of the crowds to run quite freely, with only a few very speedy runners ahead of us. We ran the first two miles much quicker than intended (sub 8 min/mile), but the paths were quite kind at this point with only minor undulations and some pleasant views. Leaving a grassy field we were soon met with the first noticeable hill, a long steady climb on a roadside, and as we reached the top I think both my sister and I could feel the slightly optimistic start in our legs! The next section was consistently up and down, however we were running adjacent to the 10k race which was flowing in the opposite direction, and smiling and congratulating other runners meant these inclines were less obvious mentally, although physically were subconsciously taking their toll on the legs.
The following miles kind of all blurred into one in a strange sense, there were a lot of long gradual climbs all set amongst similar looking trees and woodland, and it was peaceful except for the repetitive crunch of our footsteps. The surface underfoot was very changeable, a lot was on gravel type pathways, which my older road shoes did not enjoy too much, whilst others was on dirt tracks. My sister and I were running together still and were now very spread from the majority of runners; the fast females at the front were long gone from our vision, and there was no one really behind us either. It felt like we were out exploring together, and even though I have ran in Clumber Park a few times before, I did not recognise hardly any of the paths were taking. Pace wise we had dropped a little from our initial speed, not surprising given the terrain, but it felt like we had settled into a nice steady rhythm during this middle section, climbing the ascents in control and keeping consistently moving.
The final three miles were the real test for me though. This section was mainly set on gravel, which by now was really draining to be running on and made every incline feel twice as steep. A few swear words were definitely uttered as more gravelly mounds appeared on the horizon! Even as we left the trails behind us, navigating a couple of cattle grids in the process, the final mile back on the more familiar road surface still incorporated two long hills.
I was very grateful by the time we reached the 13 mile marker sign, however not so much when I turned to see the final few metres were of course uphill! My sister encouraged me on, and we made it, crossing the finish line together. I gleefully took a bottle of water from the marshal, hung my medal around my neck and then promptly collapsed on the grass around the finish. As I lay sprawled on my back my sister obviously felt the need to capture the moment, as all good siblings would - see image! After a week of marathon training, racing a hilly trail half marathon had left my legs spent!
Although aiming to take things easy, my sister and I finished in 1:47:31 with an average pace of 8.12 min/mile, which not long ago would have a been a half marathon PB for me. We also placed 5th and 6th and actually were logged as having the exact same finish time (quite apt for identical twins), although somehow I was relegated to 6th – think I will let her have that one! Hats off to those speedsters at the front who ran it in really rapid times, but bigger kudos goes to the women who raised their hands at the start line and were completing their first half marathon. For the first time running a 13.1 mile distance you picked a tough one, and you should all be proud of yourselves and the cause you supported.
Race For Life billed the event as being unlike a traditional city centre road-race but instead offering the rare opportunity to take part in a half marathon in stunning, tranquil park surroundings. The beautiful surroundings were definitely no city centre, the course certainly did not offer the same speed or free flowing luxury of tarmac, and of course there were lots of long trail climbs and shorter sharp ascents to master. It really was an enjoyable test though and I am pleased I had my sister there to rise to the challenge with – even if she did beat me!
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...