The first surprise of the day came when I realised I’d mixed up Kirkby Stephen and Kirkby Londsdale. Fortunately they’re not too far apart, and the race had a flexible start time to stop the walkers and runners doing three different routes from getting all bunched up, so I set off about 0915 on my own.
I was feeling pretty crappy to start with. I’d woken up with a bit of a head cold, and although the cold and flu tablets I’d taken had helped, I was a long way from 100%. The first major climb up to Wild Boar Fell was pretty gruelling, and I worried a bit about how tired I was feeling so early on, but I had some food on the way up, which combined with running down the other side made me feel much better.
The terrain was pretty tough going, proper moorland with lumps and bumps, and lots of ankle deep grass with not many worn sections of track. I’m not really used to running on that stuff, so I was being really careful not to turn an ankle, and I could feel the strain of all the little slips and adjustments taking their toll as the race progressed. To make things even more interesting, there were lots of boggy bits. Some of these were obvious, black pools of standing water that forced you to either jump, or risk disappearing up to your neck if you ploughed through. Others were hidden, looking like a nice patch of green grass until you put your foot down and it just keeps going. I hit one of these at around 12km and twisted my left ankle, knee and hip, all in different directions which hurt like hell at the time, but subsided a bit as I went on.
On the plus side, the course was marked to death. Every 50 metres or so there was a post with barrier tape, so even I couldn’t get lost. Also, because they were set up for walkers as well as runners, the aid stations were really close together, and there were 10 of them for the 23 mile route. I only used one 500ml soft bottle, and I think I only drank it empty twice, despite it being pretty warm as the day went on. We had dibbers which seemed a bit of a waste of time as we only had to dib them at three checkpoints, all of which were manned anyway, but I got a little printout at the end to go with my certificate which was nice I guess.
In the end I finished in 4:24, and 33rd out of 206 finishers on the long course, although I’m not sure what to take from that other than it was good time on my feet and a great quad workout. The profile was tougher than the SDW will be, and underfoot it was a lot trickier. Most of the races I’ve done in preparation for the SDW have been tougher, either in the terrain or the profile, which I’m hoping will pay off on the Downs.