After a year out from racing due to injury, last weekend I decided to ease myself back in and take on the Box Hill Fell Race. A BM graded monster hill race, I figured those mountainous peaks would be a nice gentle segue back into the running world.
My good friend and spiritual guru Simon Lamb asked me to write about the day for his website www.sixsecondshigh.com, so I guess I better pen a race report. But as I didn’t technically race (I licked my way around on my hands and knees in the mud) and no one reads race reports anyway because they’re boring as fuck, I’m just going to tell you some stories instead.
Although it’s a great way to measure your running progress, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with race day. I respond well to the training and having a routine encourages me to get out there every day, but I turn into a rotting zombie under too much pressure. If I over train I get mouth ulcers, lose sleep and my eyelashes fall out. I shit you not. And a girl needs her eyelashes.
However, for a 34-year-old woman with no musical talents and a thirst for the disco limelight, running down a road (or hill) to a cacophony of cheers is the closest I’m ever going to get to being a rock star. So as much as I suck at running races, take it away from me and I’m a miserable old trout.
Until last weekend, I hadn’t entered a race since the Edinburgh Marathon 2012; that fateful day I tore a muscle in the freak 30-degree sunshine and was forced to stop running shortly before moving to the Scottish mountains. (Perhaps the run gods were trying to tell me something). After taking a long time off running, I was so desperate to get back out there I was humping chair legs. I missed the long Sunday runs, I missed the build up to race day, I missed the exhilaration and the crowds and feeling like a superstar. (All the things you don’t get from a muddy hill race in Surrey).
Despite this, I was reluctant to step into the fray again and get caught up in the quest for PBs, intensive training and mounting pressure. Having only started running again with any frequency in September, I decided not to enter a race until late 2014. But then some lovely friends of mine who I missed terribly while I was away asked me to run the Box Hill Fell Race with them. At 7.5 miles, a gentle stretch across the Surrey hills sounded doable; what’s the worst that can happen? Under the watchful eye (and dexterous thumbs) of the mighty Lamb my injured leg has come on leaps and bounds, so I figured I was ready for a challenge.
I went into (or up) Box Hill with no expectations. It’s the hilliest race in the south frequented by club runners and bona fide runnerds, so I knew I didn’t stand a chance. The start line is basically a vertical cliff face and I was on my knees within minutes. But if success is measured by how much fun we all had, I definitely won.
By the time I got to the top of the first hill, the other 200 odd runners had disappeared, so I assumed I would be on my own for the rest of the day. But then I turned around and saw three people panting behind me! An angry looking woman, a smiley old dude and my friend Tom. The woman dropped out within minutes, so I decided to run with Tom. ‘As long as we beat this old dude behind us we won’t be last!’ I figured. Until I realised he was purposefully running slower than us to pick up the mile markers.
Luckily Peter the sweeper liked a good natter and was happy to trot at our pace for the entire race. He told us stories, gave us orienteering advice, cracked jokes, and cut the route down into bite-sized chunks so we knew what was coming around every corner. I might have to enlist Peter’s help on all future races.
The route was a roller coaster of mud coated hills, lush woodland and verdant undergrowth and despite having utterly inappropriate footwear and the lung capacity of a ferret, I loved every minute of it. I honestly didn’t give a rat’s arse that we were at least 40 minutes behind the other runners; this was my comeback race and I was determined to run it in my own good time.
After falling flat on my bum taking a selfie over a muddy ditch, scrambling up and down monstrous hills and politely nodding at fell walkers moving much faster than me, we made it to the final descent. As we started to run downhill I grabbed Tom’s hand. There was no way we’d be racing against each other. We’d gotten through the adventure alive together and no one was going to be last. Running down a hill into the cheering arms of over a dozen of my favourite runner friends (everyone else had already buggered off, the bastards) was nothing short of euphoric and I’m so happy I was stupid enough to do it.
Afterwards awards consisting of marmalade jars and biscuit tins were handed out to scrawny club runners with weather-beaten faces and saggy tights. But then we discovered that we’d set our very own course record. At 2.10, Tom and I were the slowest runners in the race’s history! And we didn’t need marmalade to prove it, because the amazing Linda made us all our very own medals.
Smothered in mud, our gang shuffled off to the pub to eat deep fried stuff and marvel at our achievements. Surrounded by my cool friends and bathing in the warm glow of post race elation, I was so glad to just be there. Whether you choose to run up muddy hills, along concrete roads or on antiseptic treadmills, it really doesn’t matter how fast you run. You can run a good time or you can have a good time, and I know which I’d prefer. In the journey of my life, I’ve come a long way this past year but the race is far from over.