Hitting the trails from Bury to Clare

This weekend, I did something very unlike me, and took on Positive Steps’ Bury to Clare challenge in aid of St Nicholas Hospice Care. It was a little over 18 miles of farms, forest trails, some road, hills and a whole lot of phlegm courtesy of yours truly.

Too much? You should know by now that I don’t hide stuff from you on this blog.

So how did I come to find myself standing in Nowton Park in Bury St Edmund’s at 9am on a misty Sunday morning, shivering so much that I struggled to fill in the emergency contact details on the back of my race number and cursing my life choices? Well where there’s a Lauren doing a run she would never normally do you can guarantee that there’s a Justin who made the madcap suggestion in the first place. Even he admitted that he got me at a weak moment, egging me on and betting that I would never run such a race at a time when I had just recovered from my latest bout of plantar fasciitis and was feeling all optimistic and upbeat about running again. Plus I’m exceptionally stubborn and someone saying “I bet you won’t…” is like a red flag to a bull. Not even the threat of soul-sapping boggy conditions put me off – I gleefully signed up and then did what I usually do. Completely forget about it and waited for the date to creep up on me.

This it did, and along the way we recruited our fellow Ely Runners Bethan and Janet, and then had to work out the logistics of getting one car to be at the finish line waiting for us in Clare, and then somehow make our way to the start in Bury. The legend that is my dad stepped up, picking me up at 7:15 on a Sunday morning and driving to Clare to meet the others before bombing us to the start line. Thankfully as a golfer he is at least used to early starts on a Sunday, but he saved us a huge amount of logistical stress by scuttling around Suffolk on our behalf.

This smile did NOT last

To add to the chilly conditions, I had started developing a cold mid-week and by Sunday morning I was at the really grim coughing up green goo stage. I’d also had a rubbish night’s sleep, overheating and waking up pretty much every hour, and I’d stupidly done a fast parkrun the day before (so much for a gentle one eh Justin?) so my legs were not as fresh as they could have been. Common sense would have said not to run, but then common sense might have also said that a 5k road runner might have a tough old time on an 18 mile trail run. As we waited for 30 minutes for the event to start, the others did at least keep my spirits up by generally being legends (see below). But even then I was struggling to get my head into the game. Probably because it was full of the aforementioned goo.

No Bethans were hurt during the making of this photo.

At 9:30am we were off, and early on Bethan set a strong pace and after a mile or so we managed to find our place in the group where we were no longer held up by runners in front of us or got in the way of those behind us. This is not a big event, and as it started in two waves there were maybe 40 or 50 of us who started at 9:30am so the runners spread out nicely quite early on. If I’m honest, those first 7 miles to the first aid station went by in a bit of a blur, and I can’t remember all that much about them other than remembering that at the briefing we were told the first aid station would be at a little over 6 miles, so I picked up the pace at mile 6 only for it to appear at almost bang on 7 miles. I would regret that later.

I’m not one to eat during runs as my stomach gets unsettled really easily, so I had borrowed a hydration vest from my friend Charlotte (this ACE Salomon Advance Skin 8) so that I could stay hydrated with an electrolyte drink on one side and water on the other. So this meant that I didn’t take anything from the first aid station, knowing that I had a couple of cereal bars in my vest as well should I need them. The next 5.5 miles went by pretty quickly as well, but I remember going a bit hazy on some of the field sections where you had to keep your eyes down to make sure you didn’t turn an ankle in the tread from the tractors. I also think the climbs were taking it out of me more than I realised (it was 270m of climb across the whole run, which is an awful lot when you’re from the Fens). So when we stopped at aid station number 2, a wave of exhaustion washed over me and I just burst into tears. I didn’t even see it coming. Yes it had been a hard run to that point on a poor night’s sleep and my breathing was a little laboured because of my cold, but I hadn’t even hit the half marathon distance yet! Why was I crying? Thankfully the others talked me off the ledge and told me that if I needed to walk, we would walk, and that we would make it to the finish come what may.

And that’s exactly what we did. We encountered some sticky trails that battered my exhausted legs even more, and some more inclines that I may have told to eff off (Justin commented that he had never seen me so grumpy) but that last downhill coast into Clare was one of the most glorious parts of any run I’ve ever done, and when Janet shouted that she’d seen a sign directing us to the finish I didn’t even dare to believe her. The run ends between the two platforms of the long disused Clare train station (closed in 1967 fact fans) and under the gaze of the ruins of Clare Castle. I’d like to say that I ended strong, but apparently I was pale(r than usual), I was shivering and I was 100% DONE IN. I also managed to burn my mouth on the coffee Justin bought me, and as we chatted with two other Ely Runners who had started in the earlier wave, Debbie and Ann, I started getting nasty cramps in my lower abdomen.

L-R Debbie, Ann, Justin, Janet and Bethan. Gollum like pale creature in the foreground – yours truly.

The car journey home was actually hilarious. Justin decided to beep and wave at every person we passed (you’d be amazed at how many smile and wave back), and then he started getting tremors in his legs as his fuelling during the run hadn’t quite gone as he’d hoped. I think we were all a little delirious and desperate for a shower and some food by the time we made it back to Ely. It was actually mid-shower that my hunger suddenly hit and I nearly ran downstairs, my head covered in suds, just to grab some crisps. I then ate for most of the rest of the day.

Was I happy with how I’d run? Originally I was in two minds really. I was disappointed that I mentally crumbled, but I was pleased that I still managed to finish (because honestly if there had been an option to quit and just go home at the second aid station I would have taken it). And then on Monday my period started (if this is TMI for you, you’re not reading the right blog) and suddenly the terrible hot night’s sleep, the cramps after the run and my heightened emotional state made sense. Normally I’m pretty hot at using Clue, my period tacking app, but a really busy week at work meant that I wasn’t on top of my cycle and it just didn’t occur to me that it would play its part on Sunday, and play its part it did (this is the reality of life as a female athlete). And I also found out on Monday that I had won my age category. I think I got super lucky that there weren’t many women aged 35-39 taking part, but it’s an achievement I never would have anticipated.

So you know what? I am happy with how I ran on the day. I kept going when everything was telling me not to. I managed to do this run after being injured for a good chunk of the year. And I got an absolute corker of a medal and helped to raise funds for a really good cause. One that you can donate to here if you’re so inclined. So I am really bloody proud of myself. Just don’t ask me about running a marathon any time soon eh?

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