Tuesday 13 December 2011

Mortimer Forest 10 - The final race of 2011

This year, I managed just over 50 miles of road racing - half of them in October.  The other 250-odd race miles were off the beaten track.  So, what more fitting way to end the year than a 10 mile jaunt through the trails and tracks of Mortimer Forest near Ludlow?  And in an unbelievably dry year, where the waterproof hat and the snazzy OMM jacket I bought last year spent most of their time on hooks, it was about time for a bit of mist, rain, and ankle-deep mud.  So, I joined some friends to take in the sights and sounds of the Shropshire hills.

Mortimer Forest has a fine history for our club.  Some keen speedsters have found their bodies crumbling (oh, sure, they blame the flu for that green pallor...).  A few bloody knees and elbows tell tales of treacherous descents where the brambles creep beneath the leaves to snare the unwary and unlucky alike.  Phrases like "I've never felt so awful in my life" and "I can't wait for next year" are heard in quick succession - not always from the same runner, it must be said.  Having never partaken of this particular race, it sounded to me to be too good to miss.

Arrival and warm-up were easy and without incident.  Parking is tight, so we joined up in Evesham and Bob drove.  Great for the environment, but it meant 3 runners, 1 car key, and all the kit in the boot due to a lack of secure bag-drop facilities (what do you expect for 5 pounds - at least they had hot showers).  I got to carry the key, on the assumption that I'd be back first.  No pressure, then.

The start was a little unexpected.  I lined up, ready to head around the playing field where we were gathered, and when the starter shouted "Go", everyone shot to my left.  Turns out we were going to run straight across the field, rather than around the tape markings (why bother with the tape?).  Anyway, I trotted along and tried to ease into the race.  I'd done 15 minutes of warm-up, but just didn't feel like I had it together yet.  After about half a mile, the first bottleneck trapped me mid-pack as we climbed a narrow path.  I wasn't really in much of a hurry, since I was still feeling my way into the race, but it is quite irritating when people shoot off down a road only to realise they should probably not have worn road shoes on a wet and slippery race.  As I picked my way past the ill-shod, the course levelled out and I was finally off and running with some rhythm.

As predicted, an even harder hill came along about a mile later.  Yes, it was steep.  Yes, it was slippery.  About 100 people had already scrambled up it, and there wasn't much solid turf left to grip into.  Where I could, I kept to the long grass.  It was harder to see what I might step on or into, but I could at least keep from sliding back down onto the runners behind.  The ascent seemed to go on forever, and I didn't know whether to hope for or against coming back down the path at the end - that would have been quite exciting!

After eventually levelling out, we had a mile or so before a series of three short and steep ravine crossings.  Both up and down were at a steeper grade than I normally get to play on.  With plenty of surface mud, the descents were part running and part skiing.  Or, in the case of the third drop, my youthful impression of a slide into second base gained me a place or two as I slid past my fellow runners on my right hip - righting myself straight into a run when my left foot found purchase on a clump of grass.  If I tried that a hundred times, it would never work so well again - with luck I managed to avoid all rocks, sticks, roots, and other injury-inducing obstacles during my slide.

Once out of the third little ravine, I was looking forward to a bit of flat running to sort myself out.  Instead, I found a long track winding its way further up the hill.  So, I speed-hiked up, losing only a little ground to a few guys who were moving slowly with a running motion.  This was the ideal place for pictures.  I could tell that, were it not for the heavy mist / light rain, I would have a fantastic view of something.  As it was, I was looking at water not quite suspended in the air and decided to leave the camera in its pocket.

By this time, I was starting to wonder about my choice of attire for the day.  At around 6C with heavy moisture, I'd opted for shorts, a short-sleeved top, and a club vest over the t-shirt.  Gloves and a buff came on and off as the temperature and gradient dictated.  But through this section the wind was up and reminding me that all of my clothes were wet.  I held off on digging my jacket out of my pack on the grounds that eventually I'd get back into the woods and be too warm.  Finally, at around 6 miles, we turned out of the wind and started the "easy" section of the race.

Footing for the final few miles was better on the hilly parts, and there were some good, long descents to help get the pace up.  A pine wood with a nicely needled track made for some interesting footing, but as long as you kept an eye out for roots it was quite exhilarating.  As I moved up what turned out to be the final climb, I kept wondering how far the race would actually be.  I'd mentally budgeted for 10.5, on the grounds that nothing is ever accurately measured on the trails.  Then, I topped the climb and headed onto yet another narrow path.  Soon, I heard the voices and cheering of the finish nearby and sped up.  I didn't want to be passed in the final approach - even though I thought I had about 3/4 of a mile left to go.  It turned out to be closer to 1/4, so the final effort was a good move.

The race finish is a 5-10 minute walk from HQ (depends on how cold it is and how tired you are).  I felt full of energy, if not speed, as I headed back to the car.  I grabbed my warm, dry clothes and headed for the changing room (eventually located in a nice, warm, basement of the hosting school).  Normally, at this stage, I would take my time to ease out of the wet and muddy gear and into something less disgusting.  But, as I gingerly eased off my filthy shoes, I realised that Bob should only be a few minutes behind me and wouldn't have any way to get his gear out of his car.  So, I quickly changed and headed to the cars to find a slightly chilled Bob delighted to see me.  Note to self:  next time, figure out before the race how to manage the 3 runners, 1 key situation.

Eventually, we all managed to get ourselves changed, listened to the presentations, and had a nice return trip home full of tales of running and runners.  Of the eight Evesham runners, we came away without significant injury, although Bob lost a fight with one of those creepers under the leaves, but it resulted in only a rather spectacular stumble and a few scratches.  It's nice, on wet and miserable days, to go out and have a good time, rather than let the weather dictate.  It's even better when everyone comes through injury free!

Now, it's time to review the year, reconsider the crazy ideas for next year, and chart out the thrills and inevitable spills that 2012 will bring!

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