JEN SCOTNEY: THE RACE
We set off with the 120km runners and wound up through the steep streets out of the town. I had actually started nearish the front so a few people were coming past me, yet I was going past others that walked the hill. We soon turned off the road and started the next 39 miles of dusty winding trails which made for an absolutely stunning race. There were a few bottlenecks at canyons at the start but otherwise, I got into my rhythm, plodding along, waiting for the first of about 5 big climbs we had in the race.
Between the climbs were some lovely winding descents and running under large rock faces or caves, including running through caves, bashing my head twice. I don’t think describing the landscape would do it justice, and I’m not sure the pictures from my phone do either, but it was a beautiful race, and impossible not to relax and enjoy it as it felt such a privilege to be winding through this historical and fascinating place.
The race just ticked along, the descents were mostly singletrack and although I am fast on descending (there, I said something positive about my running!) I struggled to overtake at all due to the narrow paths, so I just held back, not too concerned. The day had been cool with drizzle to start, but by midday the heat had built up and it was just slightly uncomfortable to race in places, out of the shade of the canyons or wooded valleys. I hadn’t been thinking too much about placing or pace, and had only briefly chatted to a UK runner before she dropped back, but as there weren’t any other UK runners I saw (the flags were on our numbers) I didn’t chat with anyone and just carried on, stopping to take photos when I wanted and not feeling under pressure.
In one valley I came across a runner on his back, crying out with cramp, and his mates trying to help… he was covered in compression kit, head to toe, and as I passed other runners in that gear I had been so intimidated by on the start line I reflected. Maybe they aren’t this separate breed of ‘international ultrarunners’ to me, maybe our training isn’t so different, and I’m sorry guy on the floor, but no amount of compression gear can stop you from cramp if you haven’t trained… I felt the same as I saw runners getting attention at the checkpoints – blisters on every toe at 17 miles? Cramp? I might be wearing half the kit of these guys, but I was in and out and overtaking them at checkpoints.
My confidence stacked up along with the miles. The only time it I started ‘watch-watching’ was at about 29 miles and where I had expected the 4th and penultimate checkpoint to be. It seemed longer than I had worked out, and the dust and dry heat had made the gorgeous climb up the red valley seem endless. But the rocks and colours seemed so magical it really was still amazing to be running there. It just felt it would take so long for the last ten miles that while I had given up an 8-hour finish a while ago, a 9-hour one seemed impossible too. We finally got to the last checkpoint and I just popped in to fill my empty water bottles, before heading out the last climb.
I looked up and felt my heart sink; it looked huge, and I was hot and ready to finish having been out hours longer than I thought I would. But self-talk is the most powerful tool I have on these runs so a second glance, renaming the climb Penyghent, and reminding myself that I managed that climb 90+ miles into Montane Spine Challenger race, meant it was no trouble. And that was the final tough climb. The top of the hill was rolling, but was probably the most suited terrain to me – technical rocky skippy paths I love. Though by that point I wasn’t too bothered about time, I knew I would finish, and before Marcus, so pushing myself to the finish didn’t seem too important.
I had one woman come past me, but overtook another on the descent, but again, wasn’t too bothered by placing. My lack of training meant my legs were feeling a little more tired than in other races this year, but with no pain, niggles, or blisters there was nothing to complain about. It felt again that my laziness meant I didn’t push in the last 5 miles, which were rolling vineyards and then the last few tracks and road to finish.