On Sunday 27th October (yesterday as I write this), I ran my first race in 2 years – “The Stickler“. Despite being a bit nervous about it all beforehand, I bloody loved it!
Before the Race
For some reason, I started getting a bit worked up a few days before the race. I entered it on a whim a couple of weeks back, thinking it looked interesting with all those off-road hills, and figured I’d be fit enough to just run it without any specific training. On the Wednesday before the race, I thought I ought to try and get some vague hill practice in and ran 13 times around the block.
On Friday night I dreamt about the race, and Saturday I was a bit worried that I may have bitten off more than I could chew. I’ve run on-and-off for the best part of 20 years, and over most of that time I’ve not found 10 miles an easy distance to run (I’ve only ever got to a level of fitness and consistency that made 6 or 7 miles feel relatively easy in the past). But in the last couple of months, I’ve managed to just go out on 10-27 mile runs without much preparation and found them quite doable, more so as the time has gone on. But those hills on the Stickler profile looked quite daunting and there aren’t any like that on my usual training runs. On top of that, the Southern UK was forecast to have the worst storm in years within 24 hours of the race, so I wondered just how windy it would be up there!
Needless to say, by Sunday morning I was really quite nervous about the whole thing.
The car park is about half a mile from race registration, so you get a bit of a warm up on the way. I picked up my number, had a few cups of water and trotted a little under a mile as a warm up, finding the station at Shillingstone (where the race ends) and the 10 mile marker.
About 10 minutes before 10:30, we all headed down a couple of roads and lined up ready for the start.
I started about 2/3 of the way back (lack of confidence!), and when the horn blew I shuffled to the start line just managing to have enough room to start running by the time I crossed. It was busy going for the first 3/4 mile along the narrow road without much chance to overtake. I was pleased to some extent – I didn’t want to start off too fast, so being held back in a big pack was good for me to get into a comfortable pace.
We turned onto a narrow muddy path that started the first – and biggest – climb of the run. I ran about 2/3 of the way up the hill, overtaking quite a few walkers, but near to the top I switched to walking. The hill itself and the slippery mud all the way up was taking it’s toll on my calves, and I thought that although I could run to the top I would probably end up with a better overall time if I could run quicker on the flats and down-hills.
The trees cleared and the terrain opened up to a grassy (and muddy) path, continuing uphill but at a gentler gradient to the beacon on the top of the hill. The wind wasn’t too bad, and the the clouds were high level, meaning there was a beautiful view down from around 750ft up (the starting elevation was around 150ft).
The terrain was much flatter on top of the Wessex Ridgeway (I think that’s the bit you run on at this point!), and I hit the first refreshment stop and grabbed a cup of water. We then continued along fairly muddy paths, and I was really thankful I’d chosen to wear my Salomon Speed Cross 3’s as “normal” running shoes would have been slipping all over the place (as I could see from people in front of me). The SC3’s just gripped in all but the deepest mud, and after a mile or so I had pretty good confidence in them so was just running normally through mud and puddles and thoroughly enjoying it.
We started a descent which just seemed to kept going so I loosened up and opened up my stride and let the hill take me down. I overtook runner after runner, and near the bottom my watch beeped to tell me I’d just managed a 6:55 mile! Bearing in mind the 2nd mile (up the hill) was 11:47, you can see this was a pretty hilly run.
More gradual up and downs continued to the refreshments at around 5 miles, where I grabbed another cup of water. At this point I was starting to wish I’d bought my drink bottle along – I’ve got very used to sipping throughout runs and I was finding my mouth getting pretty dry in between the drinks stations.
Running on from here, I was beginning to feel the effort of the hills but decided that as this was a race and not a training run I’d just try and keep pushing it. At 6 miles we hit the second big hill, and it wasn’t long into this one that I was walking along with almost everyone around me. I tried to keep my walking pace high and overtook a few people, but I was getting pretty tired now. The hill gradually levelled out, and soon I was back to running along the top, although slower than I would have liked.
The next downhill was all on grass, and my right ankle was giving me some grief as I descended (I injured it 3 weeks ago during this run), although it didn’t stop me running and as soon as we got back to flat it stopped hurting. Round the corner was the final drinks stop – around 7.5 miles in – and I stopped to slowly drink the cup of water. Then it was straight on to the final hill, which was a bit of a killer.
It’s funny though… the hills were what you entered this race for, and they didn’t disappoint. Walking up a hill 8 miles into the race, feeling the aching in my legs made it just perfect! I was hurting, but for the first time in any race I was just loving it all – the experience, the runners around, the hills, the weather, the ups and downs.
The hill continued up, then along a few muddy paths and we were on to the final descent before a mile or so of level ground. This last descent was steep, windy and on grass, but I found my grip much better than the last one and has some illusion that I was a fell runner charging down a hill! I overtook 4 or 5 people who were being far more sensible, then met a muddy patch at the bottom and did a giggling flying dance to try and stabilise myself before I ended up in a heap. Luckily I managed to catch myself in time and carried on running, laughing at how stupid I must have looked 🙂
The last mile – although flat – was probably the least enjoyable of the whole run. I don’t know if I expected it to be easy, but it wasn’t. My legs ached, and I was starting to just want to be at the finish. Then we passed through a gate and onto the trailway with less than half a mile back to the finish line on the platform of Shillingstone station.
With the end in sight, I sped up, and as I was the only runner coming down the platform at the time I had my number and name read out over the loudspeaker which spurred me on to a fast finish with a great big smile on my face. The finish is lovely – you get a clear platform to yourself, and there’s a big crowd on the other platform watching the runners coming in.
My final time on the Garmin was 1:38:22, averaging 9:39/mile. I’m happy with that – I had no target other than completing it.
So, would I recommend The Stickler? Abso-bloody-lutly! It’s been the best race I’ve ever done 🙂
Here’s the blurb from my Garmin,which shows I probably need a bit more practice at going up hills! My total time was 1:38:22, so I’ve got a time to beat for next year. The route map’s on The Stickler website if you’re interested in more information.