15 May 2017
A break from the marathon blogging this week to pick up on a blog I started before my leg started playing up. An unexpected embrace of the world of off-road running.
Spring has settled and the nights are lighter, the weather is warmer (no, really!), and running club turns its back on road running to blaze a trail off-road. This is new to me, I am very much a road runner with limited experience running off-road. I’ll stop short of saying no experience, I accidentally ran a half marathon last year that was half off-road, half on-road (by accidentally I mean I didn’t read the race description properly). That half marathon was an experience. Not a wholly unpleasant one, but in my mind I wanted to be running as fast as possible so that means stick to the roads. And I did.
This will be my first spring/summer with running club, and I hadn’t quite grasped just how much they’re going to focus on off-road running during this time. It was something of a rude awakening, turning up at club one Thursday to hear the list of runs going out and ruling each one out as they went by:
“9 minute mile group – 6 miles off-road” Hmmmm, not for me;
“8.5 minute mile group – 7 miles mostly trail” Oh-o…..;
“8 minute mile group – 6 miles off-road…. Enjoy your runs everyone” Erm…. ah.
I quickly looked around to see who else was expecting a road run tonight, thankfully there were plenty of relatively clean road shoes dotted about a room filled with battered and muddied trail shoes. A nervous group formed and asked about the footwear requirements. “Look, I can’t promise there won’t be any mud but you should be ok in those shoes”. This didn’t fill us with confidence. Talk of a splinter road running group briefly gained momentum but quickly died away, we were going off-road.
A group of around 10 of us set off on the 8 minute mile run, the experienced (and suitably equipped) off-roaders clearly enjoying the palpable nerves coming from the back of the group. “Make the most of this bit of road lads, it won’t last long”. He was right, it didn’t as we quickly diverted towards a footpath. This first bit seemed a bit of a waste, the footpaths were short and bookended by stiles that bunched everyone together. We could’ve quite easily got from A-B on the roads without all the stop-starting. “If it’s like this all the way round this’ll be a right ball-ache”. Thankfully it wasn’t. Eventually we got out of the town and in to the countryside, everything opened up and we were off.
First up was a fairly steep descent on a footpath. This was tricky, I was conscious I didn’t have the right footwear and had no confidence in my ability to stay on my feet. I took it steady, really steady. The gap between the road runners and off-roaders was clear. The off-roaders flew down, we did not. At the bottom, following some ankle testing, stone covered footpaths we regrouped and set off up the other side of the valley. This was better, the slower pace made it easier to watch footing and the group stayed much closer together. I never thought I’d find myself saying this but I was enjoying running uphill. Watching where my feet were going helped, to some extent, distract me from the fact that we were running up quite a sizeable hill.
All in all that first proper taste of off-road running was a nice change. For much of the run it felt like an injury waiting to happen. There was one ankle turned whilst we were out, and one minor impaling on a fence. But I enjoyed it and I’ve been trying to include a bit of off-road running on my runs since.
It turns out there are some beautiful woods around by us that I’d have never known about if I hadn’t gone off-road. The runs have been far more interesting, and although I’m still a bit unsure on the descents I am getting slightly more confident. Perhaps a little too confident in parts. I decided to take myself up a notorious hill nearby to see what all the fuss was about. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but believe me that is one steep climb! I made it about 2/3 of the way up before the gradient pitched still steeper, the surface became more unstable and I ground to a halt. My thighs were burning at this point, it wasn’t a long climb but the gradient was a killer. Helpfully a couple of walkers heading along the ridge of the hill had stopped to watch my feeble effort (think more mountain manatee than mountain goat). Not wanting to look a bigger fool I decided turning round and going back to the bottom was not an option. Besides, it looked bloody steep. Rather than shouting out to ask that they move on I decided simply to say “Ha, this was an error” and clambered my way up the last 1/3. That hill was indeed an error. But I don’t doubt be back once I have some better footwear. I do need to invest in some more suitable footwear. And the other big thing is going to be learning routes. I just about get by on roads but there was no point in that first off-road run with the club where I knew where I was or where we were going. There’s an excellent chance I’m gonna get lost this summer.
I’ll keep on trying out off-road running through the summer, perhaps exercising some caution. In the public sector world health and safety is king and recently at work we were given a presentation which highlighted some of the dangers of working on site in the countryside. It’s a bloody danger zone, nature does not want us there! Thankfully on my limited off-road runs I haven’t seen any adders, or noticed any ticks, but now everything looks like giant hogsweed. I’d never heard of that before, horrid stuff.