After I entered the Vale of York half marathon, I lingered on the RaceBest website to browse through the other races that were there. My eyes fell upon the Mulgrave Castle 10k which takes place near Whitby on a private estate. I have a friend who loves Whitby and quite likes running 10ks so I asked him if he was interested. He was, but he also didn’t do anything about it, so I didn’t book a place. It’s a nearly 90 minute journey away from home, and seemed a bit to far to travel alone, just to run a race.
Still, my internet browser kept flicking back to the race, so I asked around to see if anyone else was up for it. I didn’t find anyone else, but I eventually booked my place anyway… it was to be my first off-road race and, I expected, a lot hillier than I’m used to. It would be an adventure.
Before a race it’s traditional to ponder on what time you hope to get and what time you realistically might be able to run it on. I’ve never run a trail race before and I’ve never done a 10k that was quite as hilly as this one promised to be. It was meant to be pretty, so I might want to take it easy to enjoy the views, plus I hadn’t been training for 10k speed at all this year, so I kept my predictions conservative. “I’d be happy with under an hour.” I said to anyone who asked.
Secretly, I reckoned I might be able to manage a 57 or 58 minute time, given that my 10k PB is 51:51 and Sheffield and Leeds Half marathons which I’ve run recently weren’t exactly flat.
Race prep was a bit unorthodox this year.
The Thursday before the race at about midnight, I decided that we (my boyfriend and I) would go camping in Pickering, which is about half way to Whitby, so on Friday after dinner, we packed up the car and off we went.
After an unpredictably wild night in a village pub (the barman was giving out free pints because he was cleaning the lines), I woke up on Saturday morning dehydrated (because neither of us had remembered to bring anything we could keep water in), yet determined to go ahead with my plan of attending Dalby Forest Parkrun. It was one of my slower efforts (00:26:52), what with the massive hangover, but I felt like I was getting some good woodland trail practice in ready for the race the next day. When I got back to the car, Paul had bought me a Rocky Road bar for breakfast (healthy, I know).
After lunch, we walked back into Dalby Forest from Thornton le Dale. Y’know, just a little 8 mile undulating walk to make sure my legs were extra fresh for the race the next day…
In the evening, I had a disappointing curry and one beer before snuggling into my sleeping bag for an early(ish) night. There was a newly purchased drinking vessel filled with water by my bedside. At least tomorrow morning I was going to be hydrated!
I bravely didn’t set an alarm. The race wasn’t until 11am and I was sleeping in a tent so I was bound to wake up on time… and I did! It only took about half an hour to pull on my sports kit, pull down the tent and pack up the car. We were in Whitby by 9am and went in search of breakfast:
With time to spare, we went for a wander down the pier where I perfected my pretending to run pose:
Pretty convincing, huh?
Next I drove to Lythe, a little village outside of Whitby where the race was set to start, dropping Paul off in Sandsend on the way because he decided he didn’t want to come and watch.
I arrived at 10.30am to an empty car park… but it turned out that most people had parked in the village, rather than at the sports club which was buzzing with people in club race vests. It seemed that there was more than one race going on today, but I soon found out where to pick up my race number and joined the crowds on the sports pavilion.
At 10:45 someone blew a whistle and indicated that we should follow him on a short walk down to the estate. I trudged along alone in the crowd, keeping an eye out for a fellow GoodGymmer who I thought might be there (he was, but I didn’t see him) and listening to the chat around me. Someone was talking about the hill at the end. I knew about the hill. I’d seen it on the Strava maps. Someone else was describing the fast downhill start – for about 1km where everyone goes off at great speed, before running under a tunnel and then out the other side into some somewhat more ‘undulating’ terrain.
There were two races going on that day. The 10k race I was in and some other more serious league race full of people who had their age category pinned on their back. They were to set off a few minutes after us, but follow the same route. It was a small race, only 142 entrants for the one I was a part of, so no chip timing. I lingered near the start line, where, from the look of the photos I really didn’t belong. We set off at the sound of a whistle.
Since I’d been right at the start line on the whistle, the first km consisted of everyone sailing past me as I tried not to fall over, or trip anyone else over on the very much downhill, uneven ground.
At the bottom of the hill, we reached the tunnel that I’d heard someone talk about. It was maybe 10 metres long and all of a sudden I had a different problem – I’d been relying on my eyes to scope out the uneven ground ahead of me to help me not fall over, and suddenly it was pitch black! While I slowed down to temper the sensation of blindness and impending death, others carried on at their standard pace and I tried not to trip them over. I emerged into daylight again before I knew it and we were soon approaching our first uphill climb. By now, most of the people who were faster than me had gone past, so I could concentrate more on my own race than worrying about holding them up.
The course was described as undulating and it undulated for a fair few km after that. In a race of mainly club runners, I was pleased to see one or two women up ahead starting to walk the hills. I didn’t need to at this point, but it was good to know that it wouldn’t be frowned upon!
It was perhaps during the 3rd km, that another rush of people started coming past me. This time they had their age categories on their backs. Those who had started 2 minutes after me were now overtaking, starting with the V35 men, then the V45s, V55s, and someone with V60 ran past me. A man who’d been running at about my pace whilst chatting to me pointed him out and called him a ‘youngster’.
At around 4km a marshal called out that I was the 41st lady. I distracted myself by, counting any other women who passed me for the next few minutes, until I lost count at about 50th position. Just after 5km, the wood lined track opened out into a clearing that reminded me of farmland (there were some tractors) and cups of water were being given out. I gratefully grabbed one, swallowing down a mouthful before chucking it to one side. The marshal called out for us to watch our step… because we were about to run through a brook. I didn’t take too much care, trading it in for keeping up some sort of speed and came out the other side with some very wet feet to tackle the next hill. On the bright side, I had cooler feet for a few minutes.
By now if I ran past people on the hills, they were calling out a breathy ‘well done’. Everyone was feeling it!
At around about 8 or 9km, there was a sign that said ‘WARNING, STEEP DESCENT’ which my brain calculated as meaning steep ascent until I heard someone say ‘you know what that means don’t you. We’ll have to go up after we’ve gone down.’ As I turned to corner, my brain recalibrated and remembered that descent meant down. While some runners called out for others to stand clear and let gravity hurl them to the bottom of the hill, others like myself put the brakes on a bit. It was pretty steep – and took us into potentially more muddy ground on a beautiful path alongside the brook. I kept waiting for the uphill (my research had led me to believe that the last km was mostly uphill) and though short rises did appear, they didn’t seem all that bad. We went back through the tunnel. At my slower pace, it didn’t seem so scary to be temporarily blind. After the tunnel, the path did indeed start rising. But it wasn’t too bad. We’d done worse on the trail so far. My watch buzzed on my wrist to tell me that I’d run 6 miles. About 400m to go. This hill wasn’t so bad after all. Then round a bend and suddenly… I had to walk. Everyone around me slowed to a walk. Mine was a firm, decisive power walk up the hill, but it was still a walk. It had suddenly got so steep and I just didn’t have the power to keep on running. I still couldn’t see the finish line but I knew it must be near. Up ahead there was a photographer. I broke into a trot because, you know, photos. A few people around me called out ‘well done love!’ ‘go on!’ as they kept walking upwards.
As soon as I passed the photographer, I had to walk again. The finish line was probably no more than 150 – 200m ahead of me now. I could see some people gathered on the side of the track,meaning that the finish line must be just there, but I couldn’t muster up my standard sprint finish. Or even a jog finish. I looked down at my watch and it said 00:58:something. There was no way that I was going to be slower than an hour for this one. I walked faster, breathing more like I’d just sprinted the last mile. I can’t remember if I managed a few jogged steps over the finish line, or if I just walked over it. Most of the people I watched after I finished did manage to jog those last 10 paces, but to me, it felt like it was the first finish line I’ve ever walked over.
As I stumbled through the finishing funnel, gasping for breath, someone with a clipboard asked me if I was coming back next year. “Yes” I said.
It was hard, it was the first time I’ve ever had to walk to a finish line, but it was beautiful and it was fun.
My official race time was 59:42.
I was 89th in the overall race (out of 142) and 22nd woman out of 51, and 5th (out of 20) in my age category. Obviously my race didn’t include the super-fast league runners. They have their own results table.
Then I went and ate fish finger sandwiches and ice-cream in Teare Woods in Whitby.
I’m definitely going back next year. Who’s in?!