Some people may have questioned why the event was going ahead, however being at the event – which offers a very inclusive range of distances from 5k to half marathon including options for Nordic walking and Canicross – it was clear for me. Firstly, the Covid-19 measures which had been implemented were thorough and over and above current guidance. Masks were worn from the moment we stepped out the car until we crossed the race start line, with our ‘slightly sweaty’ face coverings being worn again after we had crossed the finish line. Portaloos were cleaned and sanitised after each use – hence being possibly the cleanest portaloos I have ever encountered! – and hand sanitising was mandatory at all key touch points, including when picking up your own medal. Secondly, the happiness, joy, togetherness, and positivity apparent amongst all runners was something which has been so absent from 2020, it was a reminder that this was more than ‘just’ a race. 2020 has been tough, and if things can offer a beacon of light to people – and let’s not forget no one was forced to be there – we need to embrace those right now.
Anyway, enough of my justification – the event happened, and I loved it! I had not taken part in any of the Thoresby distances before and was tempted into entering the half marathon by friends from my Run Club. Unlike the vast majority of the events I take part in, this was a trail run, and I was keen to test myself on a different train, as well as wear my shiny new Nike Pegasus Trail shoes (in turn coming to terms with the fact my beautiful shoes would in fact get dirty…!) I had no real expectations for my performance, which I feel like I always say, but it was true. With the uncertainty of 2020 I have been following no training plan and simply running whatever I feel and whatever makes me happy. I knew I was fit though; I am not going to pretend I am not, so the half marathon distance would be less of the test, but more the terrain I was running on.
The half marathon course was two loops of the same circuit set in the grounds of Thoresby Hall country estate. I quite liked the loop nature, as from early on into the race I decided not to refer to my watch and simply approach the race as two circuits. This approach therefore meant I had no real idea what pace I was running, but then again, I had no real reference on trail course as to what I would expect my pace to be! After starting I simply settled into my running rhythm, focusing more of my concentration on assessing the terrain beneath me. The course was a lovely mix of some roads, woodland tracks and grassed paths, with a few hills added to the challenge – my beautiful new trainers, although now splattered in mud, were perfect and compared to my old trail shoes, felt a joy to run across all surfaces.
I felt really strong running on the trails; a level of strength that did shock me. The first lap flew by as I enjoyed the little test the inclines offered, smiled at spotting the famous Longhorn Cattle grazing in a field, enjoyed winding through woodland, as well as speeding down lovely road downhills. However, the second lap began with a short grass section, and it was almost like that little stretch shook my legs back into reality. I quickly realised the second lap would require a bit more digging in!
The initial stages of the second lap encountered some of the hills again; I battled up these (uphill is definitely my strength) picking off runners, so knew even though I was having to work harder, I was still going ok. A marshal station gave me a massive boost with the volunteers (in full PPE) blaring out The Killers ‘Mr Brightside’ on a boombox and giving us a full karaoke style rendition of the indie anthem, which I am pretty much word perfect on myself. I probably gave my watch its first real glance after passing this point, and my pace shocked me, as it was much quicker than I felt. I knew I had slowed a little too, so I assumed my first loop had been fairly speedy. Again, this gave me a lift, and I knew I just needed to keep steadily ticking off the final miles – my legs still felt up to the test, I just had to keep consistent.
My final mile was my quickest, helped by a longer road section and by the surprise of some of my Run Clubs friends popping up on a bridge to cheer our club runners home after they had finished their own races. My watch ticked onto half marathon distance annoyingly a fair way from the finish arch, and this told me I needed a good final spurt along the grass to keep under 1hr 40mins still. I had not set this goal, but suddenly on realising it could happen, I really wanted to achieve that time. I pushed on, desperate to get to the line in time.
I made it – 1:39:52 and the bonus of finishing as third place female. On stopping I realised how hard I had been actually working throughout, collapsing onto the hand rails and trying to tell my body to move again. I have missed that feeling – it’s a mix of feeling truly spent but utterly alive. It felt good, and I felt proud of what my body had achieved. I enjoyed some socially distanced chats with others runners as we collected our beautifully wooden crafted medals and then went to find my Run Club friends to cheer in our other running buddies. It almost seemed normal if it was not for the face masks!
I am very pleased with how I ran Thoresby Half Marathon – I am not a trail runner, and when I do runs trails its usually sociable, not as a race. My last trail half marathon in 2017 I ran in 1:47:31, so I am counting this as a trail PB... we have got to come out of 2020 with some achievements right!? In all seriousness, I have exceeded my own expectations in the small number of post lockdown races I have managed, and maybe this is because I have relished everything about taking part in a race so much more. As I said, its more than a race, and whilst I am unsure if there will be many more opportunities to race for a while, its something I shall always be thankful being able to participate in.