I clearly hadn't been paying sufficient attention, and the trail gods expressed their dissatisfaction. Before I knew it I was flat on my back, looking up at the sky. No time to lie around, lad. Up you get; this is a race, after all.
Emerging from the Adventure Tent, somewhat bleary eyed, my feet were soaked within seconds. We were camped in a field, with lots of long grass for dew to cling to, and it was mizzling on top. Marvellous. Over to the village hall to brew up, then breakfast before registering for the race and collecting my number. That done, I returned to the tent, with two hours to kill before the start.
Wet feet are a problem running, as blisters can quickly develop. By the time I changed into my race kit, despite having done my best to dry my feet off, I looked like I had trench foot. This is precisely not how one wants one's feet to look before setting off on a 13 mile blast through the Cheviots, but there wasn't a lot I could do. There were a few other NFR vests milling around during the safety briefing but, not being in the best of moods, I retreated into myself a little bit and didn't introduce myself to anyone. Somewhat defeats the object of being in a club, that! Soon, we had the five minute warning, then the one minute. I moved up to near the front of the field. We counted down from ten. We were off!
After a very short stretch of tarmac we quickly turned left into a field and the first climb of the day began. Both the marathon and the half marathon were running at this point, and I counted something like eight folk in front of me, with no idea who was running which race. I did see an NFR vest rapidly disappearing off into the distance...
I soon began to feel very rough, with wobbly quads and nausea progressing to dry-retching at one point. I still don't really know what caused this, but it was something I was going to battle with throughout the race. All I can think is that I started dehydrated as my mouth very quickly became very dry, and I hadn't drunk very much the night before. I had a litre of water with me, and kept drinking little and often, but it didn't really resolve the issue.
In all honesty, a lot of the rest of the race is a bit of a blur of type 2 fun. I was aiming for a top ten finish, and I knew that meant a lot of hard work with little opportunity to take in the views. Sadly, due to the aforementioned wobbly quads, I didn't really have my climbing legs with me that day, which was compounded by having to climb over gates at regular intervals. As such, there were rather more "tactical hikes" than I would ordinarily have liked, and I'm sure that slowed me down; I lost three places that I recall as a result, though at least one of them split off to do the marathon route, so with one exception I'm not sure how it affected my overall placing.
The course was well marked, for the most part, and the marshals were all pretty friendly. I must have looked really rough as more than one of them, including a medic who actually got out of his car as I passed, asked me in a really concerned tone of voice "...are you alright?!" (This suspicion is supported by the race photographs; a good friend described me as "some sort of dishevelled athletic techno-druid", which I would say is pretty accurate). I had the route loaded in my watch and checked it once or twice, but otherwise there was no need, and the map and compass stayed in the pack.
After the best part of two hours, 2663ft of ascent, and not one but two arse-kickings by the trail gods, I was back at the village hall. Definitely a bit wobbly on my feet from the effort, I inhaled a ClifBar and got myself a sports massage from Kathryn Forte as soon as the room stopped spinning. When I signed back in, there was talk of fifth place, but this seemed unlikely, and Rachel's impression was that more than four others had finished before me. With the official results being posted online, I was actually eighth! I'm really pleased with that; considering this wasn't really a goal race, I'd had a dodgy ankle, and I was feeling ill the whole way round I would say that the mission was well and truly accomplished, and it was a good first outing for the NFR vest. The winner of the half marathon, and the wearer of the disappearing vest, was Gary Jones, also of NFR, in a ridiculous time of 1:39.
Barry Kemp, of High Fell Events, is a bad, bad man, who sets brutal routes over stunning terrain. I'm already looking forward to racing at Cragside in November.