This weekend I was excited to take on a race that I had eagerly pencilled into my 100 x 10km 2016 schedule… The Isle of Arran 12km Coastal run.
As a wild and intriguing trial run, including beach, forest, cliff climbs, meadows, caves, rocks and boulders, this was one I was keen to throw myself into and test my endurance after 4 months of running 10kms.
As the crowds gathered around Blackwaterfoot’s ‘Best Western Kinloch Hotel’ it was clear that people were excited for something a little bit different! It was a short walk to the start line down on the beach.
When the time came, I strolled to the front but held back behind a cluster of runners that looked keen and were poised on the start line ready for action. The race started and we all ploughed forward spraying sand from around our feet. There was an initial jostle for pace and space and despite the beautifully wide span of beach we were soon channelled naturally into a line along a belt of sand, trying to avoid the stony pebbles and rocks on either side. Running in the sand bought back harsh memories of the battle on Southend Beach, and I remembered all too well the energy it can sap from your body. Trying to find my own early pace, I was forced to run wide out onto the rocks to overtake a runner and avoid a collision. I was 50meters into the race and I was already cautious of wasting unnecessary effort. I figured I was about 20th in position and was happy with that, as I ran forward admiring the enormous beach opening out ahead.
The course took us 500 meters up the shore, before looping back again. Having unknowingly overtaken a couple on the way with a km of 4:28, I was cautious the wiser runners may have taken it slower through the sand?
Despite this, I overtook another as we climbed up off the beach and doubled back past the golf course. With an elevated view back out over the beach it was a beautiful sight to see the streams of runners along the shoreline. This truly was a unique event!
The path turned right through an open field, and with a sudden silence away from all the crowds it struck me that I had absolutely no idea what the rest of the course had to offer. I loved that!
As I ran through the rolling wild green hills I hoped I could keep this pace up for the whole 12km, contemplating that I had already overtaken about a dozen other runners. That was before I crossed a narrow entrance and ploughed straight into a pit of mud. One foot sank much deeper than I would have liked, and it was only a few steps later that I realised the sh#t pool had swallowed my trainer! I ran back and had to fight to tug it out and squeeze it back onto my foot. Half a dozen runners past me as I struggled. I had a ‘Sumgong moment’ (London Marathon Female Winner) and decided I still had plenty of fight left inside me!
So I stormed ahead catching and overtaking one on the downward meadow, and the other just before the path meandered its way back out onto a very narrow ridge along the shoreline. The tranquil, peaceful meadow had burst back onto the wild and rugged coast. I could feel the wind in my face and hear the waves crashing against the rocks below. The grassy, rocky path continued for another km, before we started to climb, and climb and climb. The Marshalls were at key positions and I took great pleasure in greeting and thanking them. Despite the hard graft I was clearly loving this run! That’s until I got ¾ up the cliff and realised it just kept climbing into the clouds, so it seemed. One saving grace was to see two runners at the top forced into a walking climb, so I knew it was not just me. Despite my recent ‘Giant Hill Rep’ training on the Double Conic Challenge I also walked the final stretch. I still had another 8km to survive!
The race leaders had clearly ran off at an alarming pace, but it was good to know there were at least two more runners in my sights, albeit fairly far ahead. I disappeared over the top and dared not look down, but the runners ahead had disappeared too, off into the distance. The track open out into a forestry path and wound its way mostly downhill and away from the cliff and sea breeze. I love a good downhill, and thought this was my moment to capture some ground. So I opened up my stride and tried to let gravity to its work! I caught sight of one of the runners ahead but put my head down and concentrated not to lose my footing. Another km past but I had still not captured any ground, and at times the runner was even increasing the gap. Maybe that’s all I had, I started to settle for this position in my mind. Where possible, I looked to take the softer green looking line and after the shoe swallowing sh#t pool, I avoided anything that looked at all dark.
As I ran through the forest, the path opened out to a group of Marshalls and youngsters who stood whooping and cheering, and I noticed a big smile creep up on my face. Supporters make a big difference to morale. More than that, they held out Water, and I am terrible at taking on fluid during a run, but I kindly thanked them all as I dashed past and took a couple of swigs as I ran.
That must be about half way. “Right”, I said to myself “You have done great so far, but are you Man or Muscle?” – I have no idea where those exact words came from, in fact I chuckled to myself for even thinking them, but it stirred me on to push myself that little harder, and leave nothing behind. I would use the runner ahead as a milestone. I looked up, he had gained even more ground.
I contemplated ‘Where the mind goes, the man follows’, so I concentrated on his heels, and on his pace and gradually pushed myself to dig deep and show some muscle. There was a long 1km downhill and I kept ground and maybe even caught a little but not much, so I dug deeper. The peaceful, forestry, cliff-top path wound its way and popped back out onto the cliff top for a very steep decline. The Marshall warned us for our safety, but I threw caution to the wind and launched myself down catching up the distance. I stayed on his heels, partly for safety on the windy path, and partly to time my run. When it opened back up into rolling grassy knolls I took my moment and started to overtake. He called out “Greet running, well done!” and I replied, “Thank you, keep it up, you’re doing great”.
Despite a momentary fear that I might not be able to keep the pace up, I forced myself to stream ahead and create some distance. As I did I noticed the second runner up ahead, he was now also in my sights. Part of me was delighted, the other part knew I had another challenge on my hands. ‘Where the mind goes, the man follows’, I told myself again before concentrating on his heels. The path was now edging lower down towards the coastline. As we squeezed through some giant rocks, we reached another marshal who gave another caution. The next 500m was spent rock hoping across, through and over boulders. Risky, to slip or twist an ankle but this was something I knew I was good at. Before the end of this causeway of rock I had caught him and as we leapt off onto softer ground we realised there was a long stretch of shingle. The road of rock had turned into a road of marbles. Have you ever tried running on marbles?
I was right on his heels, and cried out “You have got to be kidding me!”. We both chuckled. “And there is no other way around it!” he replied. Well I took this moment and overtook, and threw myself into it. My feet sinking into the shingle, moving forward sluggishly as if I was on the moon.
Hopping out of the shingle took me up under a dark cove before I turned left back onto the beach we had started on. I had hit the 11km mark, so just 1km left on the gruelling sand. I had no idea if the past two chaps, or the other few hundred people were hanging over my shoulder, but I wasn’t going to let the beach get me down. I looked for the best line… was it the soft sand, or the sea-weedy sand, or the pebbly sand, or the puddles? I tried all of them, and they all seemed ridiculously hard and slow. A final few marshals cheered me on as I hurdled a final few rocks, and splashed carelessly through some rock pools – just get me to the finish line!
The crowds were waiting, and most beautiful of all Isatou was there to cheer me in. I crossed the line in a time of 55 mins, and was delighted to have finished in 5th position! I shook the hands of those ahead of me, and thanked the child that kindly handed me a goody bag and medal. The two chaps I had managed to catch in the final few km crossed the line and gallantly applauded my efforts, one calling me “a gazelle” on the shingle that he just wasn’t going to compete with.
Chomping on banana and flapjack, I shook a few more hands and joined Isatou to cheer the others in. We all reflected on how that run had ‘absolutely everything’. I seem to become alive on such trail runs, and this was one I will defiantly look to do again next year.
Four months in, and I am constantly learning, but that’s another stunning run under my belt and one I will always remember.
If I had settled for 7th, I would have finished 7th. Where the mind goes, the person follows. I will try to remember that in the rest of my running.
Test yourself. Find your positivity, your own pace, and your passion!
Keep fit, have fun and smile.
Please sponsor me at: www.justgiving.com/MegaMeterRun
– Raising funds for community development in rural Gambia: improving poverty, health and nutrition.