Marathon training is in full swing now and I always enjoy having this event as part of my build up. Despite not being a fan of cross country this race is one of my favourites. 14 miles of undulating off road running around some of Leicestershire's most beautiful countryside. It's classed as a fell race and involves around 1700ft of climbing through the Charnwood Forest running up and over Old John in Bradgate Park, Broombriggs Hill and Beacon Hill before heading back towards Bradgate Park through the usually tough Lingdale golf course section. I know the route well as I regularly complete long off road runs around the area and it's a race I've managed to win, or place 2nd a couple of times in the past.
In the preceding days leading up to the race the forecast was heavy snow but fortunately this didn't materialise. It was however freezing cold on race morning with sub-zero temperatures right up until the start of the race. The sun was shining though as I stopped to take a picture of Old John in the distance on my way to the race HQ in Anstey.
During my warm up the ground was frozen solid so I made a decision to run in my On Cloudflow road shoes instead of my off road Walsh fell running shoes. A risky decision I knew but with the ground feeling harder than concrete I thought I'd get away with it, how wrong I was!
The start of the race was the usual kind of stuff with some enthusiastic front runners but I stuck to my usual approach of holding back and letting them go and stick to my own pace. By the second mile I managed to catch them and found myself leading the race. I did have company behind me though as we headed through Bradgate Park towards the first peak of Old John and a herd of young deer hurtled across the path in front of us. The incident was caught on camera so at least I have a new favourite race pic!!
Approaching the first big landmark of the race, a good size crowd had braved the cold to cheer everybody up the steep ascent and through the iconic arch of Old John. Due to the icy conditions the descent on the opposite side of Old John was challenging but fortunately I managed to stay upright. There was only two of now in the leading group and it became a good tustle with us both pushing the pace as we made our way down towards and through Lingdale Golf Club, then up and around Broombriggs. This is a tricky part of the course, not just due to the ascent to the top of the hill, but the fact there's a lot of metal kissing gates which means a lot of stop starting to open and close the gates. This certainly can effect your rhythm. We negotiated Broombriggs without any issues and made our way over to Beacon Hill to be greeted by another decent crowd of supporters. The climb to the top of Beacon Hill is always tough and the descent from the top is a fast downhill mile but again due to the ice it was pretty hair raising in places trying to run at pace!
Myself and Daniel Connolly were still running together at this point as we headed away from Beacon Hill back towards the golf club. This is where I started to pay the price for the bad decision to run in road shoes. The ground had thawed and the ice had been replaced with mud, road shoes and mud don't mix well! Daniel started to pull ahead of me and by the time we'd returned to Bradgate Park he had about a 10 second lead. At this point I thought I still had a chance of chasing him down but by the time we'd returned to run along the wall of the ruins Daniel seemed to have vanished, so quickly in fact I thought he'd fallen in the ditch! I eventually caught sight of him in the distance though.
The final part of the course involves negotiating a muddy path around the edge of a ploughed field. By this time of the morning dogs and their owners were starting to appear and as I slid with every step towards one man and his dog, the dog jumped up and bit me! I continued around the field to approach the final kissing gate that appeared to have frozen shut by the latch. A few frantic seconds passed as I tried to open it before realising that the sprung handle wasn't frozen and I was able to open the gate and make my way towards the finishing straight and cross the line absolutely shattered! I have since seen video footage of the finishing straight and it doesn't make pretty viewing!
As it turned out I'd ran the course 3 minutes quicker than I'd ran it before but was nearly 2 minutes behind first place. I'd like to say the choice of footwear, dog bite and a frozen gate latch had contributed to me not winning the race but the truth is I was well beaten on the day by a much better runner. Regardless of the result I can still take the positives and it was still a good strong "training" run as part of the build up for the main event in April.