It was dubbed as ‘pretty tough’. Personally, I would think it leant more towards murderously tough, but then that is just me. But the Leith Hill Half Marathon was an experience and a half and despite scaling hills which could stop you in your tracks even walking, it was a much fun as you could have with your running shoes on.
As usual, I arrived early at The Priory School in Dorking, Surrey. It was cold – the expected temperature was 9 degrees Celsius – but although cloudy and although quite a bit of rain had fallen the night before, it wasn’t raining and it didn’t look like it would for a while. The school was…well, a school – the toilets were pretty awful and there weren’t very many of them, but because there were only about 90 women out of 300 runners, there were no queues for us. Not so for the men though! It was rather satisfying seeing them queue whilst we virtually walked straight in!
The race started…on a hill…so within the first mile you were panting and aching already. I think, because I normally run with an iPod, I don’t hear how hard I breathe so I was quite surprised at how much noise I make! In fact, one gentleman commented on it toward the end of the race, suggesting perhaps I should reset my heart (in a very friendly way, mind)! Strangely enough, I felt a lot better than I sounded! Perhaps it is the relic of my broken nose from back in my university days which means I do struggle to breathe through my nose, making me sound like I am almost dying.
I had estimated between 2 hours 10 minutes and 2 hours 20 minutes, taking the hills into consideration. So I was well pleased to finish in a super time of 2:05.44. Not at all bad for a very hilly, very muddy trail run!
Anyway, I was composing this blog post in my head as I ran, so once again, here is the good, the bad and the ugly of the Leith Hill Half, 2008
- Friendly Marshals: the organisation and the marshals were absolutely fantastic. Especially the lovely chap at the last water station who unwrapped and thrust a mini Mars Bar into my hand as I struggled past heading into the last 2 miles. They all cheered you on and gave you a clap as you went past – really lovely people.
- The Rain: the good about the rain, or should I say the hail, was that it held off. Well, for me at least! An absolute deluge came down when I was hobbling through the school to go to the loo at the end. I think you can see the hailstones in the photographs – but the heavens certainly opened and I was glad I wasn’t still on the muddy track.
- The downhills: oh the relief on your legs when the uphill turned to down. There is no doubt that downhill running can be tough on the knees, but in comparison, it was just glorious. Thank goodness the second half was mostly down, and not the other way around.
- The view from the top: Leith Hill is the highest point in the south of England I believe. Despite gasping for breath after the final climb to the top, I turned my head to the left and was met with a spectacular view of the Surrey countryside spread out before me. It was just magnificent.
- Out and back: I like out and back races because when you hit that turnaround point, every bit you pass is familiar and you subconsciously know that you are getting closer to the end. Of course, it was rather demoralising to see the front runners go flying past before I had even reached the second drinks station but, as I said to one of my fellow mid-pack strugglers ‘that takes fitness and focus which I simply don’t have’!
- My shoes: I was in two minds whether to wear my old trainers, which I know gave me blisters and really weren’t the best for my feet, or my 150 mile old ones which I want to wear for London. Fortunately, I opted for the former and they were completely destroyed by the mud and puddles. So, I have a couple of blisters this morning, but at least they can finally go in the recycling bin having done their duty.
- The T-Shirt and finishers memento: the T-shirt is great – a neon yellow technical T-shirt with our names printed on the back to commemorate the inaugural race! And, we also received a laser cut glass trophy which felt like it weighed 100kg when you collected it at the end, but looks lovely on my windowsill.
- The uphills, especially those on the way down: the hills were what set this race apart from any other. Those on the way up were incredibly difficult, especially the last climb to Leith Hill Tower. They were so steep, they had to be walked (it was quicker) but even then they were gut wrenchingly tough. But, despite the fact the return was almost all downhill, there were still a few uphills to get past. The worst of the lot was a set of stairs some mile before the finish. I had appreciated them on the way out, but on the way back, they looked and felt like they were vertical.
- The mad cyclist: I know that in order to run most of these smaller races, we have to share the roads and paths with other users. And most of the walkers or cyclists on this path were quite good. However, there was one who, without warning that he was coming, whizzed past me at a rate of knots going down hill, making me jump about 2 feet in the air and spraying me with mud. A warning might have been nice?
- The chap in the fluorescent vest: And while we are talking about getting splattered, I come to the chap in the orange fluorescent vest. There were a lot of puddles on the way, and most of us went around them as best we could. But as I was going around one, a gentleman came pounding straight through the middle of the puddle next to me, literally covering me from head to foot in icy cold muddy water. What could I say? A runner next to me smiled at me sympathetically as the water dripped off my nose and said ‘well, if it wasn’t for the mud, I guess it wouldn’t be as much fun’.
- My poor ankle at the 1.5 hour mark: going downhill on muddy, rocky, uneven tracks is pretty hairy. You tend to keep your eyes down (which is sad seeing the scenery was so lovely), but that didn’t stop me at the 1 and a half hour mark going over on my ankle and hopping around in pain for a minute or two. Terrible visions of spraining my ankle flashed through my head, but fortunately I ran it off, with it settling to a minor ache within 15 minutes. Phew – no damage done and an icepack last night means it is one of the less achy parts of my body this morning.
- LACTIC ACID!: I have never experienced the agony of lactic acid in my legs going uphill like I did during this race. Take the worst you have ever felt, and double it. I am sure if I could have stilled my heavy panting to silence, you would have been able to hear my legs screaming all on their own.
All in all it was a race to be remembered. And before you ask – did I need to go to the toilet when I got to the start line? You bet. Did I need to go the entire race? Yep. And did my nose run? It certainly did – the whole way, without stopping, even when I did…