Be careful who you finish up with…

At my most recent 15k, I had a very bad experience in the finishing tunnel. Admittedly, I hadn’t run well; as not only was it a very hot day, but I’d also misunderstood the race notes and assumed that it was largely off-road. Therefore I’d worn my cushionless but very grippy New Balance 782s, which weren’t much help once I’d discovered that when the race notes said ‘no paved sections’, they actually meant that it was 90% tarmac.

So it really wasn’t my fault that I ran so very, very slowly, albeit with a decent surge of speed over the last 400m which got me into the finishing tunnel at least 50 places higher than might have been expected a minute or so earlier. And then tragedy struck…

The bloke in front of me turned around to shake my hand and congratulate me on nearly catching him. Well, I say bloke. In the interests of strict accuracy though, I should probably just refer to him as a ‘very elderly gentleman’ and have done with it.

He was at least 20 years older than me. And if I’m going to have to peg a specific adjective onto him, I think, on balance, that I’m going to have to go with ‘spry.’

The only saving grace was that with it being a minor club race, there was no finishing line photographer to immortalise my shameful performance by capturing me crossing the line next to Harold Steptoe, as I now don’t like to think of him.

However, not everyone is so lucky. I have friends who I won’t name here who have all had their marathon and half-marathon experiences spoiled by crossing the line just behind people of similarly geriatric appearance. And so, I would like to leave you with this shameful and disgracefully ageist piece of advice…

The next time you’re in a road race, try to be aware of the people around you as you head for the finishing line. This may be your one and only shot at the big race of your dreams, so that finishing line picture will be with you for a long time.

That’s why it’s undoubtedly better to ease off a bit and cross the line behind a lithe young lady with ‘Loughborough Sports’ written on her vest, than to go for the big sprint finish and beat a particularly ‘senior’ runner to the line.

I know more than one person who has run the race of a lifetime, set a huge PB, crowed endlessly about getting under 1.30 for a half – and then had the bottom fall out of their world when the photos finally became available on Sleepmonsters or Actionphoto, when it’s become clear that they may have run well, but crucially, not quite as well as Granny Clampit…

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Get off the damn road!

While I now know quite a few fellow runners, I’m constantly amazed that so few of them ever venture off the road, either in training or for organised races. Living near a beach with plentiful dunes, I’ve always loved to run off road, and now that more and more off-road races are springing up around the place, I find myself much more tempted by them than by run-of-the mill, there-and-back half marathons.

And so it is that with just 2 months to go until Hellrunner on November 2nd, I’m dropping my road mileage still further, in order to spend as much time as possible running up and down sand dunes. Which is a very necessary form of torture if I’m going to fare any better this year on the ‘Hills of Hell.’

Hellrunner, I have to say, is my favourite off-road race by a country mile. For those of you who have yet to partake, it goes something like this: start off in a large, grassy bowl, run up a steep hill a couple of time, then head off through some delightful, bouncy trails through Delamere Forest for a mile or two.

And then, of course, you come to the first of the ‘Bogs of Doom’, where you are required to clear a large, fallen tree and jump into a peat bog that’s up to 5ft deep in places. Please note, however, that the bottom of the bog is pretty slippy, and it’s perfectly possible to go right underneath at this point. – something a young lady next to me did last year, causing something of a commotion amongst her and her friends. At this point, medical help, or at least someone with water to sluice out people’s eyes and airways would be a good idea. But sadly, that hasn’t been thought of yet…

Neither, incidentally, have mile markers entered into the Hellrunner lot’s deliberations – which is possibly one of the most fiendish things about this race. Even when your heart and lungs are telling you that you’re approaching half marathon distance, the race stewards won’t tell you where you are or how far you’ve got to go…

You then plough on through the forest again, before reaching the Hills of Hell, where you are required to climb numerous sandy hills, including one where the roped-off route requires you to zig-zag up and down the same hill about 10 times in succession, before releasing you back onto paths through the forest.

Before the end, you’ll also meet another substantial bog, and even when you make it back to the starting area, they’re still going to send you back up the hill before you’re allowed to cross the finish line.

Hhhmmm. OK. I’ve just read that bit back to myself. And it doesn’t actually sound like that wonderful a day out. All I can do is tell you that I loved every muddy, horrible minute of last year’s Hellrunner, which was held in April, and I really can’t wait to find out what that course is going to be like in November.

So if there’s an off-road experience anywhere near you, I can’t recommend the experience highly enough. And if you live anywhere near Cheshire, you really have to try out Hellrunner.

Check it out for yourself at www.hellrunner.co.uk

Oh, and if you do enter, don’t forget to wear some old clothes, and bring a change of clothes with you on the day. And a portable shower unit if you have one. I had to be jet-washed at the mountain bike hire place before being allowed back into the car last year…