As all good ultra runners (and Girl Guides) know it pays to ‘Be prepared!’ It’s what we do best and while I won’t be towing the line at an ultra any time soon, I’m just as thorough in my prep for shorter races.
Why? Well, it can mean the difference between a pleasant experience and a gut-buster!
Others might choose to wing it and go with the flow but if planning is going to save me a few seconds here and there, as well as make it all that bit easier, I’m going to invest some time in it.
A month after I returned to running from injury I was tackling a night-time CXM (cross mountain race) which I’d completed the year before. Then it was a warm up for a mountain ultra; this year it was the maximum distance I’d run for quite some time.
Knowing the course meant I could plan my race to take advantage of the terrain. Conscious that I was barely fit enough to complete the 16 odd km (with 400m +-), I’d have to use the track to my advantage.
The 3 km flat riverside trail on the way out and back were where I planned to pick up some pace, plus – not much damage I could do to my leg here. And, the weaving paved track through the San Juan cemetery – yes, this is a Scooby Doo inspired course – is exactly what I was used to from running Doha pavements. Totting this up, I’d reckoned I’d have just 8km or 50 percent of trickier, riskier, leg-torturous trail to negotiate. Finishing seemed all the more realistic.
A visit to the global postural re-educator physio the day before meant I was in decent shape. He had showed cautious positivity about my progress. Of course he had no idea I was hitting a CXM Nocturna…but no doubt realised I was being as conservative as he wanted. The: “I know what you runners are like!” gave that one away.
The day of the race was hot. Hey, that’s why it was a night race! I wasn’t particularly concerned here – thanks to Qatar – heat is my strength.
Nordic Walkers ahoy!
The race was also the Andalusian Cup for Nordic Walking. The walkers would be setting out an hour before us and following a slightly different course. Steve and I had no idea Nordic Walking was so popular until we rocked up at the number collection.
Signed off as present and correct we headed to a local bar to rest up in an air conditioned room until the start.
Just after 8pm, I started my warm-up. Everything felt okay. There was definitely some twinging in the right knee/ shin/ calf but isn’t there always? My plan extended to starting nearer the back and gradually winding up my pace, ready to hit the ascent up into the mountains and the mines famed for providing the gold used to decorate the Alhambra.
At 9pm we were off, under a dying sun, and keen to make the most of the remaining daylight. The pace seemed pretty quick to me. I think the lead guys were trying to clear the first bit of narrower track before the lead Nordic Walkers hit it heading back.
All too soon we were into the hills and the first hard ascent. I’d overtaken a fair few women but had no idea where I stood in the field as we started to zig zag up the first climbs, which seemed steeper and more slippery on the gravel than the previous year. Combined with steep ascents, this track reminds me of UK coastal path, despite there being no sea in sight. I’d also forgotten about the ‘derelict building balance’. We climbed up onto what must have been the top of the walls of a once substantial building and then balanced along…one false move to the right and you don’t just fall off a wall you also roll down a mountain.
Relieved to reach the top
Reaching the summit, the track widened as we avoided the holes dropping into the old mine shafts. The gradual uphill was most definitely runnable as the lights started to twinkle in Granada below.
Dropping down into a small wooded track, I was aware that the race had started on time this year. Last year, we’d started 20 minutes later and I’d hit the wood as I lit up, weaving between the trees downhill, my beam catching the dust of faster runners. This year I was through the trees and into the cemetery before I needed to hit the switch on my headtorch.
Following the glowing flags up and down, round and round, the gardens of the cemetery is pretty surreal. I was definitely ready to meet the ‘ghost bride’ at the checkpoint on our exit.
All downhill from now I thought to myself. Last year I’d really struggled with the descent, but this year, on a less crowded track I made good time and was soon crossing the road and dropping back onto the river bank and heading back to race HQ.
I was now passing other runners and Nordic Walkers as I picked up the pace to cross the finish line in pretty much the same time as previously (but running 2km less as the course had been modified to reduce the distance on the river bank).
1st in age group and 5th woman overall.
Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? I’d finished feeling strong and injury free. Now to plan the autumn season 🙂