They say that there's always a return to the scene of a crime, and this came to mind today. I ran the Sorbrook Challenge this morning. Nearly didn't - planned a rest day today, but had a message late last night asking if I was doing the "Bluebell Blunder" or the "Sorbrook Challenge" in the morning. I could have sworn that it was on the 18th.
I duly re-set my alarm clock and expectations, after all I quite enjoyed it last year. If you haven't done Sorbrook, then let me make it clear - there are hills, serious hills. Two of them, with a resevoir in the middle. As Julie put it last year - "the horse doesn't like going up there".
Ran it with Katie last year, and she moaned. As soon as the big hills came up, I started walking. Not walking all the way, but I just adopted a walk/run strategy - it worked for me, but I wasn't running. My goal this year was to run the whole way, slowing my pace down on the hills for my heart to catch up.
I met up with some fellow Lliswerrians on the way to the start, who commented on the low club turnout. Ah, that's because it was a Club Championship race last year, and not this year. Next Club race is the "Sirhowy Challenge" next week. Oh. OK, I thought. I've got the wrong race, and the wrong week. Never mind, here's a chance to put things right from last year.
Weather was a bit wet just before the race, and we were expecting a downpour while out. Walking to the start involved navigating a few puddles - always funny to see people trying to dodge them even though they needed to run back through just a few minutes later. This caused me to confess to shouting at a bloke at parkrun yesterday who "refused" a puddle in the woods, stopping and then turning 90 degrees to go around. Funny, checking my Garmin results, you can see the exact point that it happened!
The Sorbrook Challenge starts with a couple of kilometers of fast running, after an initial shallow incline, a nice drop that saw me putting in a quality 4:03 split. At this point, the sun was so good, I was wondering whether I should have applied sun cream. A few runners behind started making noises - loud noises, I couldn't decide whether it was effort or abuse, but I heard it. It was about this time that my music cut out - a good thing actually, I've been running more and more these days without it, and I can tell my effort by how noisy my breathing is.
On the first real hill, I started playing "catch-up" with a girl from Griffithstown Harriers. She was walking, I was running, taking baby steps to try to keep my heart rate under control. Didn't take long before she was ahead of me going up the hill, then I took her on the downhill. We spoke, and I mentioned the abuse I took last year when I was doing the opposite. After the race, she came over to talk and I seem to have kept her going. Looking at a photo of me with the puddles, she was directly behind, which was nice.
Spectator support is always great, and nice to see Julie at the resevoir - "you made the first hill then" she chirped while taking a photo, then proceeded to follow me up the hill a few minutes later... in her car! Still, I was grateful for the photos and to see a familiar face.
Also on the flat by the resevoir, I was talking with a chap from Griff who was also playing catch-up. He was quicker on the ascent, but slow going downhill. He commented on this, so I gave him my advice - shoulders relaxed, arms down, lean forward from the heels and pretend you're ten years old. This appears to have worked, since I couldn't quite catch him after that.
I mis-judged the last hill. Thought I had seen the last, told my new friends from Griff "downhill from here", only to turn the corner and hit another incline. They probably thought it was a spoiler tactive, but guys, I was as suprised (and disappointed) as you.
Somewhere in there, one of the marshalls had a cardboard box. She was running alongside runners up the hill (which was nice), and I was delighted to find some Jelly Babies in there. I deliberately missed the water stations, although one of them seemed quite aggressive with marshalls coming towards us, almost forcing water on me (maybe I just looked a bit of a state by then).
Just coming to the 8.5 km point, one of the Marshalls said "you look comfy". I took that as a compliment at first - if you can get comfortable at your desired pace, then it's a whole lot easier to run. That was great, but then I got to thinking about it - there's only a bit to go, maybe I should be in pain. Started ramping up the speed, getting just a bit closer to "Mr Downhill" from earlier on. I called out to him, to let him know I was on his tail. This had the desired effect, and he picked up the pace - pulling me along, but then he had a bit more than me, moving further forward as we climbed the last mini-ascent. I never caught him, but knowing I was there pushed him on. The lanes seemed to take longer than last year, but the second run through the puddles certainly went quicker, knowing that the finish line was in sight.
Once again, water, and a lovely goodie bag, designed by a runner (thanks Griff) - Banana, protein bar, coconut milk and water. Cake was available back at HQ (I remember it being really good last year), but it was time to go home.
And the reward for this "running all the hills" stuff - about 15 seconds quicker than last year. Worth it? I think so.
Just done my research on Sirhowy for next week - 10 miles of MT. I might just have a rest day.
Photos courtesy of Julie Lees - thank you :)