Monday, 8 June 2015

Grasmere Gallop 2015 Race Report

Three days ago saw me and Bassman driving south, having handed over cat care to Soo and Tony, so that I could join Cathy and Paul for the Grasmere Gallop (17k distance) on 6 June - my very first trail race ever.  I had no idea what to expect but was quite looking forward to giving it a go.

Until, that is, the weather report began predicting 40-50mph winds for race day.  And until I realised that I had misread the website and that the field for the 17k was only a couple of hundred runners, not the over-800 runners that I had thought (this latter number included all runners in all races).  Cue mega-angst and a not-so-secret hope that the race would be called off due to the weather and I could then avoid being blown off the hill and, more importantly, not coming last.  I might be middle of the field in larger road races but in a small trail race, in heavy winds, with mostly club runners?  I could feel a nightmare coming on!

But Cathy and Paul were encouraging and, despite my doubts, I did turn up on race day.  The 17k and 10k trail runners, 5k fun runners, and 10k Nordic walkers all mingled on our way to the start, and then we very gradually began to run in one of the more low key starts that I've been in.  Paul was in the front with the super-whizzy runners and Cathy very kindly stayed near the back with me.  We ran together for about the first 20 minutes, up a gentle and then not-so-gentle but still manageable incline and then off the road onto a forest path where, on an uphill section, I chose to walk.  Cathy floated off into the distance, looking very strong.

I'm not sure that I absolutely had to walk at that point, but the psychological games in my head had already started.  'It's a long race, save your energy' - not entirely bad advice from myself.  But 'It's just a long slow run, no need to push yourself' - not really helpful in a race, especially when you're less than 2 miles into the course.

Anyway, we came out of the woods and onto Loughrigg Terrace, which gave me my first experience of running downhill on a trail with rocky obstacles.  I was tentative at first, especially after coming across one woman who had fallen and was sitting in tears by the path, but seemed to find a rhythm of sorts; I did a weird hoppy gallop over the larger rocks and ran on the flatter bits and very fun it was, too.

Loughrigg Terrace
All too soon we were back on the road, although it was a very quiet and wooded and pretty road.  I had ignored Paul's mantra of 'be bold, go cold' and had overdressed so, by this time, I was soooo hot.  I walked briefly while I shrugged out of my jacket sleeves & tied them around my waist but this was too uncomfortable so eventually I gave up, stopped, fully took off my jacket, tied it around my waist, and re-pinned my race number from the jacket to my shirt.  When I looked up from this, I was alone.  All alone.  I thought that everyone had gone past me & I was now last.  It didn't bother me as much as I thought that it would, but any desire to push myself had gone.  Now, I was just out to have as enjoyable a time as I could.

Somewhere around mile 5, the route veered off the road onto a VERY steep lane that turned into a VERY steep rocky path.  I walked.  I walked the whole thing.  Slowly.  It wasn't fun.  I don't know how far it was but it felt like it was forever.  When I got to the top, I snuck a look at my Garmin and realised that I was on track for a finishing time of close to 2:30.  I still thought that I was last and this just confirmed my attitude of 'why push myself?'  It even occurred me to quit....but the trail was flat and then downhill after this point, the views into the next valley were stunning, and while I was standing around chatting with the marshals and wasting time (i.e. catching my breath), some other 17k runners came into view.

I said cheerio to the marshals, and ran.  Down what felt like a VERY steep rocky path where the dangers were divided between taking a huge tumble or running full force into the OAPs walking up the path with no understanding that maybe they should step off to the side so that I could get through.  I only went over on my ankle once, though, and didn't curse at the walkers at all.  Not out loud, anyway.

The path gave way to another bit of road running, past Loughrigg Tarn and past lots of fields with lots of sheep and lambs.  I started to feel tired and had a gel, walked a bit because my quads were suddenly expressing their fatigue and my head kept saying 'It doesn't matter if you walk or not,' but eventually pulled myself together and started to run again.  I perked up when I came around a bend to see two women that I had been behind when I stopped to take off my jacket - they were walking and I passed them!  Yay!  The first people that I had overtaken since the first mile!

This road wound its way up a hill - at the time, it felt very steep and I ran/walked it (but having walked up it today with Bassman, it actually wasn't that bad and if I had been in a different head space, I could have run more of it) - and eventually a path to the right took us back through the woods and again onto Loughrigg Terrace.  It felt like I ran this more confidently the second time, and I enjoyed it just as much.  Where we had gone right at the end of the Terrace on the first pass through, this time we went left and down towards Grasmere lake itself.  A quick jog across a pebbly beach where one of the official photographers was waiting at the far end (I had to shout at three portly walkers coming towards me to get out of the way so that the photographer could take my picture), a short section through the woods, and I was out on the wide and flat path that runs along the lake.

The beach is just around the corner.
There was one last hill to tackle - a short but steep incline at approximately mile 9, when my legs had already decided that it was flat or downhill from there on in.  Sigh.  I trudged up the hill to encouragement from the marshals, who turned out to be the same ones that I had chatted with at the top of the hill at mile 5.  I stopped to stretch my calves while we discussed how I was finding the course, then I trotted off to complete the last mile and yes, it WAS either downhill or flat all the way to the finish line. 

In this last mile, I overtook two other people who had been ahead of me way back when I had stopped to take off my jacket.  My legs felt fine, my speed picked up to a reasonable level, and I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. Then I checked my Garmin.  2:06 (and some random seconds).  I almost burst into tears.  I'll write more about this in the next post, as I've done a lot of thinking about why I reacted this way and about what this race means for future running plans and this post is already way too long. 

However, to end on a positive note:  I ran 17k on terrain that I have never run on before, on uphills and downhills that are steeper than any I've ever done before, and nothing hurt.  My knees, adductor, hip flexor, calves, achilles...nothing.  Not a peep from any of them and, in fact, I didn't even think about them at all during the run.  Two days later, and there's just a bit of residual stiffness caused more from sitting around all day yesterday than from any running damage. 

So, if nothing else, that's a phenomenal result and one that I can happily live with.


  1. A great achievement! Not some easy peasy 10k for your first ever trail race, but a tough 10.2 miles. See you there next year?!

  2. Hmmm. Maybe it would have been more sensible to try an easy peasy 10k first? Still, on reflection, the GG shouldn't have felt as difficult as it did. Curse you, psychological head games! I'll conquer you next year!