So here we go again, summer is way over and the world is dressing into bronze and golden colours to salute the arrival of the new season. Autumn is not only my favourite season (the only thing I resent is much less daylight) but also the beginning of the cross country race era. So I say bring on the mud, foresty trails and the kiss of the morning chill on our cheeks!
After completing the Up Tow, Down Flow half marathon with Bori in the summer, we embarked on a new challenge – a local 10 mile village race between Marlow and Henley, which really put our endurance and leg muscles to the test on the infamous inclines of the Chiltern Hills.
Medmenham is a quaint little village which could easily be mistaken for a filmset from a period drama like Downton Abbey. The charmingly perfect cottages and the peaceful, unspoilt surroundings quicky stole their way into my heart as I drove into the race car park, which was just off the road towards Hambleden Lock. The first thing that struck me was the friendliness of the organisers and fellow runners. Everybody seemed to be ready to share a kind word which sets smaller and less-advertised races like this apart from the huge mass events which do tend to lack the personal touch aspect sometimes.
Apart from a minor hiccup at the beginning when I was mistakenly given out the race bib with #1 on it (but which was spotted just in time before the arrival of the lady with the same surname), the organising was perfect. In total 116 runners (out of which only a fraction, 38 were ladies!) gathered on the dewy grass of The Common to brave the Chilterns.
Bori and I ran head to head in the first half of the race, which led us alongside the bank of the River Thames with some spectacular views, then straight into a farmland. We passed the first test by successfully jumping over an electric fence and avoiding being electrocuted prematurely; and by dodging dozens of obstacles in the form of giant cabbages and marrows, such as these (as we learned later, this was just the warm-up part of the race):-
Views from the race at Medmenham river bank – the magnificent Culham Court and its terraced gardens.
The second half offered other types of challenges, including climbing some insanely steep hills, and sliding downhill on narrow paths almost in a 45 degree angle. The organisers added a kind touch to these segments by putting up some encouraging signs on the trees, spurring us on saying things like ‘half way up!’ and ‘you’re almost there!’. I have to say the views from the top really made the laborous climb worthwhile! I coped on the hills remarkably well. I guess doing most of my training on the muddy and steep sloped of Hughenden forest really paid off. Almost entirely through the whole race I was chasing the same guy wearing a running club T-shirt and even though I came very close to him on numerous occasions, I never seemed to have enough energy to overtake him permanently. I am pretty sure that I must have worn him out mentally by my consistent panting behind his back and re-appearing by his side, not letting him ease back for a single moment. What I like about racing is the mental aspect, how you can gain competitive advantage through applying some basic physhology. Speed is not one of my strengths (I have not been blessed with special genes) but my endurance and my ability to manage and renew my energy reserves in a race is definitely something I can exploit to achieve a decent time in the end.
I was staring at the back of this bloke until the very last few hundred metres. However, as we emerged from the final foresty bit, I somehow managed to draw strength from some really deep reserves to pull off a sprint to the finish line, whizzing past and completely leaving him behind me, gasping for air! I made it through the finish line in just 1 hour and 30 minutes, exactly my target finish time. I finished as the 9th fastest lady and the 59th runner, which, considering the testing terrain and the overly masculine composition of the race, is not too bad at all!
For Bori this was the final race before her first marathon in Budapest in a few weeks’ time.
I have been seeing a physiotherapist in London for a few weeks now to find some remedy for my hip and pelvis niggle. They ascertained that there is nothing substantially wrong with me and this is not an injury but it is likely I have a weakness on one side and probably my running form has been causing this issue which was dormant until I increased my mileage and intensity in training. So I have been prescribed some exercises to strenghten my glutes and I have signed up for a full running form analysis in a few weeks’ time to get a clearer diagnosis on the problem areas. I have had this annoying niggle since June, a few weeks before the Up Tow, Down Flow half marathon. There has been some really slow progress since then but at least it is progress, and I am determined to work through this. I want to be able to run without subconsciously worrying about anything. This niggle seems to have impacted me mentally much more than physically.