Monday, 13 March 2017

Race Report: Brough Law

Me, Dave, Tricia, and Hels. Photo: JB

Sunday was a beautiful 'bluebird' day in the Breamish Valley. Double figures on the thermometer, and a genuine feeling of Spring having sprung, which seemed to put everyone in a good mood. This year Brough Law was the first counting race for both the NECAA fell championship and the NFR club championship, so the turnout was huge: 167, which I think took everyone by surprise. JB was seemingly unflappable in the RO role, however, and everything appeared to run smoothly during registration.

Being an AS race, kit was 'best practice' rather than mandatory. It being basically perfect conditions, a large number of runners, myself included, decided (with JB's permission, on my part at least!) to ditch the bumbags. I'm not a huge fan of eyeballs-out efforts carrying kit; despite having both a race vest and a bumbag that fit as well as can reasonably be expected, they still feel like they're in the way over shorter distances. Doesn't seem to bother other folk, but I was glad of one less thing to worry about.

There was a sea of purple and green at the start (unsurprising, given it was a counting race for the club champs!), and some of it was being worn by Hels and Tricia, both of whom were making their debut for NFR. Who says bullying-I-mean-peer-pressure-I-mean-gentle-encouragement doesn't work?! Birthday boy Dave completed the quartet pictured above.

Dave and I spent a while talking about the route:

Dave: "You head up here and then across to those woods (as he pointed to the right), at which point it becomes undulating and you'll be able to use that speed."
Me: "Ok... So it's left at the top, yeah?"
Dave: *DISBELIEVING/DESPAIRING* "No, Ben... It's right..."

Yes, the good old Heathcote navigation was threatening to make an appearance! Luckily, or so I thought at this point, it was a clear day and I was certainly not going to be a front runner, so I'd just follow the caterpillar.

JB blew what sounded like a dog whistle?! to get everyone's attention, we had a quick briefing, and then the countdown began and we were off. The route starts with a choice of two trods; one goes straight up the hill, and one contours a little bit, making it ever-so-slightly longer but a more runnable gradient. I'd decided to take the longer one, but got myself stuck on the wrong side of the pack so had to cut across to get to it. I don't think that made a huge amount of difference though. A tough climb up out of the valley reduced a lot of the pack, myself included, to the classic fell runner hands-on-knees-blowing-oot-yer-arse pose; big mileage in the week previously, plus a long run the day before, not to mention 2017's injury woes, had not left me with the best hill legs but, once I got to the top, I was pleased to be able to open up a bit, as Dave had said would be the case.

About 3km in there seemed to be a navigation issue with the front runners; apparently they missed a flag (the route was partially marked) and went off-piste. This happened to a group just in front of me too but, fortunately for them, someone shouted them back on course. I'd loaded the GPX into my watch but hadn't been following it until that point, when I decided I'd better have it on display since I would have undoubtedly followed the others if left to my own devices! As a result, I mostly avoided any errors.

Rain the night before had made the route a tiny bit boggy in places. Most of the time this wasn't a problem at all; X-Talons chew that kind of thing up. The only time it did cause me a problem was on the downs. I descend like a big girl's blouse at the best of times; add in slippy conditions and I mince with the best of them. Sunday was no exception; perhaps even more so, I just couldn't be arsed with risking another injury. I know that actually it's better to disengage the brain and the brakes, flow down the hill, etc, but I just couldn't commit. Consequently, I lost a few places, particularly on the final descent back down from the woods. As I wasn't expecting to be particularly competitive, had no real idea where I was in the field, and it certainly wasn't a goal race, I didn't worry too much, beyond my natural aversion to being overtaken.

The only nav error I made during the race was missing the final descent; I spotted one of the trods, and thought it was the one I came up, so was aiming for the second (The steeper one. No idea why, given my aversion to downs!). Turns out the one I spotted was, in fact, the one I'd been aiming for, and the one I eventually did come down was much less steep, but also required doubling back over some rough ground. I probably didn't lose much time though, as I was definitely able to run that route faster than I would either of the other two. By the looks of it, I wasn't the only runner to make that mistake/choice.

Crossed the line in an official time of 45:18, about 3 minutes behind the winner (which sounds more impressive than it is, given that they got lost!), in 20th place, 5th NFR. I was pretty happy with that result, under the circumstances! Most importantly though, I had a fun day out with good people racing on the fells, which is something I've missed these last few weeks. Top job by JB and his gang of helpers.

In non-fell running news, I finally made it to a Tynedale Harriers session on Tuesday, and didn't embarrass myself. Which was nice. Surprisingly, I'd retained a lot more of my track speed, such as it is, than I expected. Nice bunch in Group 1, who made me feel really welcome, and I ran into a couple of them (Phil and Neil) racing in Harriers colours at Brough Law.

Next Saturday is the Dark Skies Marathon at Kielder, which should be awesome. Being a trail race, I'll be wearing Harriers colours for that though. Not sure how I'm going to approach it: long run or something more competitive? We shall see.

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