I had heard so much about this race, it practically had legendary status. I’d be careful in interpreting it. I’d class it more as “notorious” than “celebrated”. As a hater of hills, the names “Saddington” and “Gumley” had been burned into my consciousness, and tales of them were enough to make me shiver with fear. That was when I was fit. On the back of flu, there was no way I would be racing this one, especially as a parkrun of 28:27 had been hard work. The thought of running it again had not been appealing, and The Hill would be a mere speedbump when compared with Kibworth 6’s two offerings.
On the plus side, our club captain had told me that the downhills were fantastic. Some friends, who have run along the route, had said that they were too steep, and were frightening because it felt like they would topple over, and roll down the hill, rather than running it. I’m a much better downhill runner, so I felt I had something to look forward to.
Sunday morning was bright, dry, and relatively mild, but by the time the race started, it was a lot greyer. Rain had been forecast for later, but reports had been ambiguous as to when. I went for a warm up with my mate, Lou, and felt cold, and heavy. It was a good job I would be treating this race as a training run, as I really didn’t feel like racing. I could have easily gone home.
We were directed to the start area, a good few minutes before the race was due to start. Runners stood about in their club groups, chatting, when all of a sudden, the crowd moved forwards.
Then people were running!
Then they weren’t!
Then they were again!
The first mile, or so, was a bit of a mess. I was overtaking runners who are slower than me, whilst quicker runners were trying to get past me. I kept my pace easy, but when my Garmin bleeped for the first km, it was quicker than I had expected. I felt fine, and settled. As we ran out into the Leicestershire countryside, the first few inclines weren’t too bad. There are some stunning views, in our county. I could just about see The Bloke slipping off into the distance, a new experience for me!
Saddington Hill was about 1 ½ miles in, and runnable. I passed my friend, Gemma, offered some words of encouragement. It was hard work, and my lungs didn’t appreciate the effort. I carried on through the village, and on the other side, I was rewarded with an amazing downhill section. I let the hill do the work, and felt like I was flying down, with no effort at all. I passed some Hermitage runners, and heard one say, “I don’t know how people do that, I always think they’ll fall over!” I didn’t. A quick glance at my watch, and despite the illness, and fatigue, I was going at 5:30 min/mile pace! Then it hit me that elite women distance runners do that pace going UP hills. Oh well.
I’m sure that the sun came out, at times. It was that kind of day where if it didn’t, it felt like it should have done, or at least at that time. I enjoyed the countryside views, and we ran alongside Saddington Reservoir. The road was one of those tiny country lanes, that if you were driving along, you’d hope nobody would be driving towards you. At one point, there was a horse rider coming from the opposite direction, and the horse seemed very jittery with the runners streaming past. I worried that someone might get hurt. It’s one of those dilemmas. The race happens once a year, so why take a nervous horse out in the middle of it, yet on the other hand, nobody had sole right to use the road. Thankfully, by the time I reached them, the rider had taken the horse off the road, and onto the field at the side, and it appeared to be calmer.
There was a hill, where running pals, Ali and Jane, were encouraging us, and taking pics of us looking our best.
I knew it wasn’t Gumley Hill, but I prayed that it was; I could run up it.
I then saw it. Every uphill hater’s nemesis. I could see people running up it, and I could see people walking past them. I knew what I was going to do. I’d been bedridden a week before, and I still wasn’t fit. I wasn’t going to risk my recovery, and so for the first time since London Marathon 2012, I walked. There was no shame in it, I wasn’t the only one, and much quicker runners had advised me that it was better to walk it, than to waste valuable energy on trying to continue running at walking pace, which is what most of those running it were doing. One lady from Hermitage did go storming past me, I was impressed. Their club race is also hilly, though not to this degree, and I guess they have the benefit of quality hill sessions. I even said I was impressed, as she went past, but she seemed so focused, and determined. I had my suspicions that Mark, from the running club, would pick the top of Gumley for photos; I was right.
There’s nothing like a picture of us all “enjoying” the worst part of a race!
I also saw one of my club mates, Jo, ahead of me, but I struggled to catch her up. As with Saddington Hill, the other side of Gumley Hill was a joy, and again, I took advantage of lots of speed, without using any effort. As I began to catch Jo up, I could see about three other runners closing in on her, so I shouted some words of encouragement. They worked, as she pulled away from me again! I did work hard to go past, I have to admit.
The downhill seemed to get steeper, and I needed to run faster, but two men were ahead of me, and I could hear a car behind, so I couldn’t overtake them, and had to slow down. It was frustrating, as I felt really good. It disrupted my rhythm.
We quickly arrived back into Smeeton Westerby, so I wasn’t far from the finish. There was a naughty hill, as my mate Gary would say, quite short, but steep. I overtook a Hinckley runner, but as I reached the top, I felt a bit sick. She came back past me, just as quickly as the nausea left me, and I went back past her. With just a few hundred metres to go, I heard what sounded like a cry of defeat, and I have to admit, I did a little fist pump in my head. I’ve had Hinckley runners do that to me far too many times, and it was nice not to be on the receiving side, sorry, Gemma, and Jon!
I then had a Huncote runner in my sights. She seemed to be slowing down, but I felt like I could push to the end. As I overtook her, I could hear her clubmates shouting, “go on Gina, push back past”, and I wondered if it was Gina from the Leicester Runners Facebook group! I could see the finish, and kicked for it. The nausea returned, and as I looked about for The Bloke, and other West Enders, Gina introduced herself to me! Looking at the results, we had the same gun time, but I finished just ahead. In the water queue, the lady from Hermitage came and thanked me for my support up Gumley Hill. She said she had been determined to run it, and had really appreciated it, as it came at just the right moment. The Bloke finished over a minute ahead of me, so he had a good run, considering he’d also been ill (he passed this flu onto me, after all).
My chip time was 50:35, much slower than Barrow 6, and my 10k races. Given I’d been virtually bedridden for three days, and wasn’t 100%, it was a great effort, considering. It was a very tough race, even if the downhills made up for the killer uphills. There were fewer runners than at other races, but my illness didn’t seem to affect my placings as much as I thought it would (347/508 overall, 74/182 women, 38/102 vet women, and 15/36 VW40-44). Other runners at around the standard I was running last summer, were a fair bit quicker, though. I’ve got a lot of hard work to get back to that kind of running, and it’s a bit disheartening. I don’t feel like I’ll ever be fit again, this run of illness has been so relentless. My last opportunity to get club Gold standard is in just a couple of weeks time, and I’m not confident of achieving it. It may just be too soon. Sigh.