Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Ashby 20, 22nd March 2015

I'd heard so much about the Ashby 20; the legendary hoodie, a cheese cob afterwards and a gorilla (actually a man in a gorilla suit, but still) - other Harriers talked of this epic race as a must-do. A 20-mile race is a rite of passage for those with a Spring marathon in the offing, or for those who are more circumspect, waiting to see how they fare before signing up for the full 26.2. There aren't too many in the calendar and Ashby falls perfectly for anyone with a place at London or in my case Manchester. It seemed to book up quickly, but 21 Bournvillains took part, no doubt getting their places early as a result of previous experience or Jude's PR campaign.

There was the usual convoy from Rowheath on Sunday morning, but I was kindly offered a lift by Collette and Mike setting off closer to home at the same time. I'd seen signs warning of delays owing to the events over in Bosworth as they were moving the remains of Richard III to Leicester Cathedral on Sunday, but we had a clear run, arriving in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in plenty of time on a perfect day for running; cool and clear. 

As a club race with the backing of a major brand (Aldi) the race benefits from knowledge of what works for runners, a friendly feel akin to smaller races but a field size and organisation that compares well with large "city" races. The roads were mostly closed at least on the left-hand side and the water-stations were manned by a cheery bunch - with offers of gels, bananas and chocolate as well as both cups and bottles of water. With the benefit of chip timing too the slightly congested start area wasn't much of a worry and I found myself lined up at the start with a group of similar-paced club-mates. 

When I had originally entered I had intended to run at 9min mile pace (which would be my A++ target marathon pace), but was recently persuaded that this might not be such a good plan on a course with some hills just four weeks before Manchester and having been struggling with an IT band related niggle. Somehow though I changed my mind back again and thought I'd start out with the fellow BvHers who were all looking to get under the three hour mark (or at least intending to set off at that pace and see what happened). I told myself I'd hang back if things started to feel tough - it's all about making the Manchester start-line at the moment. 

After the first mile or two my knee was feeling okay and I was enjoying the course. There's support in places, but also a great sense of camaraderie with other runners. As well as chatting to Harriers I struck up a conversation with a lady from Southwell Running Club, which is one of the clubs I've been checking out as a potential second claim with my new job taking me up to the Newark/Mansfield area for a couple of days each week. The course is definitely best described as undulating, but the hills are spread out a bit and I don't think there are any that are real killers (a surprising result of training with Bournville is that my definition of a hill has changed considerably in the last two years!)

I can't remember the exact moment that I started to think I was going to have a problem but it was before the halfway point when I started to keep my eyes open for the portaloos. I located them just after the first lap and only briefly stopped to question whether I should lose time in going. I thought I had found a vacant one but unfortunately burst in on a chap who may have been having a similar issue but in his haste he'd not locked the door! I was a disappointed that I was falling behind Clare and Steve who I'd been running with, mainly because I'd been enjoying having some good company to pass the miles with, but I figured it was probably just as well as I'd not been intending to run at that pace and I could find my own rhythm. 

On emerging from the facilities I saw Taz with his trusty camera and think I managed a vague grimace in his direction gratefully taking some sweets too. I managed to eat two of the sweets before starting to feel really quite sick and realising that my relief was short-lived. Somehow I caught up with Clare and Steve over the next few miles but it wasn't my most controlled and comfortable running... I toyed with dropping out at the next water-station but somehow the thought of the hoodie pushed me on - no finish, no hoodie! I realised that I could walk a bit and still maintain an okay pace, providing I didn't run too hard down the hills or on the steeper sections. Mostly though I was embarrassed by the gurgling sound emanating from my stomach and started avoiding other runners! At the 17 mile mark I realised I'd come too far to stop, but that I really needed to find another loo... I asked at the water station but they thought the next one was at the end. At 18 miles we turned off back into Packington village and, like an oasis in the desert The Bull and Lion pub appeared! By this time, just coming towards noon the pub was fairly busy with people contemplating lunch so the sight of a panicky, sweaty runner bursting through the door shouting "where's the loo?" must have been alarming. I am starting to wonder if it is possible for me to take part in a race without drawing unwelcome attention to myself... 

At least the last two miles passed uneventfully, I felt hungry and thirsty but daren't take a gel or any more water until the finish line was in sight. The sound of the crowds and the PA system announcing runners crossing the line got me through the last few minutes, along with the promise that it was downhill all the way. Rachel Partridge had run for the first ten miles with us for company, and it was great to see her at the beginning of the finishing straight with a few hundred metres left to run. Taz was also waiting with his camera and I tried to summon the energy to smile. I crossed the line and registered the gun time was just over 3 hours 10, so I expected I'd come in just under that arbitrary boundary... The text message that followed confirmed it at 3:09:48 

I gratefully received my hoodie and inhaled the cheese cob followed by a cup of tea courtesy of Rachel, some amazing cake made by Taz and a lovely hour or so with the other BvHers who had finished. We compared notes; from amazing feats and a prize for Linda, PBs and great first-time runs for others and decisions to sign up for a marathon from four previously "undecided". I felt like a different person to the one who had started the race; blistered feet, the beginnings of a cold and a sick, empty feeling that no amount of food has put right since but also overwhelmingly proud and happy - to be part of a team, to have completed my longest ever run and just to enjoy sitting in the sun on a Sunday afternoon with friends.

Photo courtesy of Taz Yousaf

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