my running adventures – barefoot or otherwise

My Belvoir Challenge 15 mile running race experience

So, today’s post gets me up to speed with my running adventures!

In my last post, I spoke about why I like to know I can do the distance before I race and I said I’d explain why I went out again for a run just 2 days after that long one, knowing that four days later I’d be running the race for real.

Well, I could feel that my leg muscles were a bit tight (particularly my hamstrings) and I felt that a slow run might just help stretch them out a bit without causing any damage and also to let my body know that it still needs to keep on working in between long runs! While the first mile or two were slow and felt quite hard, by mile 4 I was feeling good again and pleased to be outside, enjoying the beautiful local parks and woodland close by. I always reflect on how sad it is that there aren’t more people around at the time I am who are experiencing the same scenery, atmosphere and nature in general. On the flipside though, too many people around would spoil the view and get in the way!

For this slow run, I ran my 6.17 miles in 48:13, starting at 12:44pm, at an average speed of 7:49 per mile. To put this in context, when I ran a 10k (6.25 miles) race before Christmas, I ran at an average speed of 6:24 per mile, which took me 39:24.

As before, at the end of my race I took the time to peel my shoes and socks off to run the same little route (albeit slightly longer) near my home along a gravel and concrete path for 3 minutes and 6 seconds.  The start time of my run was important, as it was now about half past 1 in the afternoon and as it was a sunny day, some of the little heat from the sun had warmed the path.

It felt so good.

I was running without the sensation of my feet being in a freezer and I loved it. Now it seemed completely natural to run barefoot and I was smiling like a little schoolboy. This time, I even got a ‘good afternoon’ from a friendly-looking lady who was taking her dog for a walk (they’re not all like the one I saw on a previous run – see my post entitled ‘barefoot walking – the first steps’)

I’d run maybe a hundred extra yards than before in almost exactly the same amount of time. After the Belvoir Challenge, half-term is over and I’ll have to be more disciplined in making time to do my barefoot running both at the beginning and end of my runs to and from school to start building it up slowly. The signs are good though, no issues with the soles of my feet and the relative warmth of the pavement has given me a further incentive to continue with my experiment.

My next two races are a local 10k race in a local country park on the 1st April (I’ll double check it isn’t a wind up!) and then a half marathon mid-May time in the Peak District, both of which I’m canvassing my friends about as entering races can be a lonely thing – see below for details of my experience at the Belvoir Challenge.

My alarm went at 6am – race day had arrived. Despite being woken up a couple of times through the night by my soon-to-be-1 year old son who is struggling with chickenpox, the adrenalin kicked in straight away. I got up and readied myself for the day.

I left just after 7am, with the race starting at 9am. It was less than an hour’s drive away, as long as I didn’t get lost, so I had plenty of time. I hate to be late for anything, and being late for a race just makes it pointless, so I do like to get there early, taking my time, and feeling relaxed.

I got to the 15 milers’ car park just before 8:00am and made for the registration straight away. I was handed number 525 and after a few questions on my part, I felt prepared for what to do at the checkpoints (run straight through them without being tempted by the various cakes and drinks on offer) and got a black A4 copy of the map route – which was actually about as much help as a sat nav without sound or a screen. It was too small to make anything out and too inconvenient to bother consulting on a regular basis. I guess it was my fault, I did have an OS map I could have brought with me, but I figured there’d always be some people in front of me, so I’d let them figure the way out for me!

Just before the race began, I was accosted by a teacher I used to work with and we chatted breifly, although I have to admit my mind was firmly on the race so I probably didn’t seem as chatty or ‘with it’ as I perhaps should have been.

My chosen attire for the race was my brand new bright blue long sleeved Nike Miler running top (that my wonderful wife had bought me for Christmas), and my controversial short Nike running shorts (2 inch shorts) that I bought with money received from family for my birthday. I wanted some ‘proper runners’ shorts’ like the pros wear in the Olympics and stuff. My wife wasn’t sure I should be wearing them as they obviously showed a lot of my legs, but I was firm in my stance, I was wearing them and that was that. Despite the temperature being 1 or 2 degrees celsius below freezing, I was still gonna wear ‘em! I could have worn other, longer shorts (but they make me look like a part-time footballer who’s gone along for a run for a laugh), but I don’t yet have any running tights so my new shorts it was.

I wore a pair of short black biking socks (which are actually good for running) and my new pair of Saucony Pro Grid Trail running shoes (£27.99 reduced from 49.99), which I’d been breaking in on every run I’d done since I bought them in early January with Christmas money.

On my head, I wore my black Buff snood (which I think I may have left behind in the Village Hall in the midst of my post-race elation of actually finishing the race), which certainly marked me out among the other runners as I was the only one with a vague resemblance (I imagine) to a smurf, albeit in black and blue rather than white and blue! Still, it did the trick in warming my ears enough not to feel like the cold was ripping them away from my head.

I have previously been quite disciplined in not starting off the race too fast, but I faltered in this regard and was in the front pack of 20 or so right from the start. It soon became apparent I’d gone too quick too soon as the early climb of 300 feet or so up farmers’ fields really took it’s toll on me and my breathing was really hard. I’d done the first two miles in times of 6:47 and 6:48, way too fast to be able to sustain over the half marathon I still had to run!

At the top of that first steep incline, I wish I’d consulted my map, but instead I just followed the rest of the runners and all of us soon had to perform a U-turn and run back along a trail we’d just started down. It was amazing how the runners in front of me, who were now behind me very quickly got back in front of me! I was still feeling the effects of the first two miles and so I had to settle for a comfortable pace while I regained my composure and my breathing.

The next few miles were entertaining, going over stiles and just trying to keep up with the group in front of me. At the split off point where the 15 mile and 26 mile route diverge, I was hoping that most of those ahead of me would take the 26 mile split. Only two of them did. I therefore counted that I was in about 11th place in the 15 mile competition. We traversed a range of farmer’s fields, some of which were boggy, some uneven, but all universally difficult to run on!

The views were nothing to write home about so far, but it was eerily quiet and I enjoyed the feeling of running on my own, fighting my own mind battles, but knowing there were people ahead of me to try and chase down.

At about 9.5 miles, I hit a wall. I’d recently overtaken someone and I was coming up to a stile having had to run up a steep but thankfully short tufted grass field which was sapping the life out of my legs. I could easily have started walking and I couldn’t see how I was going to run for another 5.5 miles if it was going to be like this.

I gingerly negotiated the stile and to my immediate pleasure, saw that the next section was gently downhill. The next mile or so was pretty gentle, but then there was another (seemingly) long uphill, straight section where I could see the next five or six runners ahead of me, where previously I’d only been able to see one or two ahead of me.

This carrot helped me up and over the next hill, but before long it was just the two in front of me I could see again. It didn’t seem to matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find any strength or speed to gain on the next man in front of me.

Mercifully, we reached a road section and I picked up my pace. Unfortunately for me, everyone ahead of me seemed to have done the same thing too! As I looked back from time to time, I’d lost the person I’d overtaken a few miles back and this helped me to relax into my running a bit more, knowing I could focus on those ahead of me.

We ran off the road and into the woods, past the checkpoint at 10.4-ish miles and along the escarpment which treated us to awe-inspiring views of the land around us. I only wish the path had been smoother so I could stare out for longer periods of time, but the ground was so uneven I had to snatch glimpses of the view as I tried to avoid turning an ankle.

This was the highlight of the route and one I’ll remember for a while. Those two ahead of me, particularly the one immediately in front of me, in a red and black top that seemed to mock my best efforts to gain ground on him, were stubborn in their staying ahead of me and I was making no gains at all. I decided that now it was all about my target finishing time.

I’d gone through 13 miles at 1:35:28. That gave me 14:32 to do the last two miles. 7:16 per mile for the last two miles. Game on.

Little did I realise that for the next mile, I would be fighting with some of the wettest and boggiest terrain of the course, and so my next mile was a 7:48.

I felt for the guy I passed with just a mile and a half to go, he’d been overtaken by Mr red shirt and the guy in a white top who had been ahead of him and now he let me go over the stile before himself – what a gent. I tried to give some encouraging words, but I was so tired myself I wonder if what came out of my mouth was even English!

The overtaking spurred me on to really put the effort in to making it a sub 1:50 time. With just one mile left and my time on 1:43, I knew I had to raise the pace. I did my final mile in 7:01 and left to rue the wrong-turning so early on in the race. I completed the 15 miles in 1:50:17, but the race distance to the finish line was 15.04 miles. My time according to my endomondo app was 1:50:46, but after I’d wrestled my running number tag for the official timekeepers, they got me down as 1:51:27.

I obviously miscounted the runners ahead of me earlier in the race, as I came 11th overall, where I’d been confident I’d just made 10th by overtaking that guy so close to the end of the race.

I was very tired, but the soup, roll, cup of sugary tea and flapjack soon made me feel better Until I stood up and realised that the cold had really got to my muscles I hobbled back to the car, with my right knee feeling rather delicate and got changed into some warm, dry clothes.

I’d come 11th out of a field of 684 and was the second non-affiliated finisher. I was very proud of my run, particularly as my training hadn’t been quite as I’d have liked it to be (I missed out a long weekend run a fortnight before the race as the kids and my wife needed me to look after them).

I’d definitely do this again, although it would be a nice walk to do too, as an excuse to spend more time with my wife, and to sample all those cakes I missed out on at the checkpoints in favour of getting a fast time.


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