Another month of drama and racing in the world of Holly Page. We’re almost scared to open the blog each month when Holly sends it over. Here’s what the mountain runner got up to this September.
Doctor: “How did you run so far in that state?”
Me: “With difficulty!”
Sadly it turned out that the “stomach upset” at the 100km CCC race was indeed a stomach virus, which explained why I felt so terrible before, during and after the race. It did at least mean that my legs came out of the race relatively unscathed given how steadily I was forced to go!
I was fairly drained, physically and mentally so after a final night in a beautiful bivvy spot overlooking Mt Blanc, I made a last minute decision to abandon the two skyraces I had planned for the coming weekends, and set off back to the UK in my van.
I posted the journey on BlaBlacar, a great car sharing website / app which links passengers and drivers going the same way. It’s not very popular in the UK, but “on the continent”, it’s very common and makes great sense. Rather than driving a van with empty seats, I often post my journeys to BlaBlacar so that I can take passengers along with me.
You get to meet all sorts of interesting people from across the world; on this occasion I had a girl from Cape Verde and a man from Algeria for company so the solo drive to the ferry at Dunkerque seemed to pass very quickly.
I’d love BlaBlacar to take off in the UK; imagine how much better for the environment it would be to have full cars of people arriving at races rather than one driver and four empty seats.
Arriving in Dover in the early hours of Saturday morning, my plan was to drive until I felt tired, and then check the Parkrun website to see where I could do some morning loops.
I made it to Luton, slept in the car park and was ready to run 3.5 laps come 9am. Well, after so long sat driving, and a week of no running because of the virus, as I warmed up my whole body was protesting the idea of running “quickly”.
However, once I got going I managed to crack out an 18.10 and only had one man ahead so that made me happy for the long drive north. What made me happier though, was the spirit and enthusiasm of all the parkrun brigade; runners, volunteers, all ages, speeds, ethnicities, shapes and sizes, everyone had got up on Saturday morning to complete the 5km.
Running really is a force for good and I bloomin’ love Parkruns for this.
Seeing the good in the UK
After spending many months outside the UK, reading the Guardian’s doom and gloom updates on the state of our fair nation, the Parkrun (and indeed BlaBlaCar) epitomised what I’ve always said about the world being made up of good people. Political ineptitude and scaremongering statistics and headlines shouldn’t overshadow the kindness and positivity of our communities.
I returned to Yorkshire that evening and of course the next day, cycled to a fell race. Blissful sunshine, beautiful countryside, a quick blast up and down a hillside followed by an icecream and a pedal home. Marvellous. I repeated the same thing two days later (minus the ice cream) when I found an evening race to cycle over to! Double marvellous.
Recceing the Bob Graham
For those of you not in the know there’s a classic route in the Lake District called the Bob Graham Round – around 105km with 8500m+, with the idea being to complete the circuit in less than 24hours.
Growing up as a fell runner, it’s always been on my radar to do, but the best time of year is the middle of the summer to maximise daylight. The problem with that is that the middle of the summer is the middle of my racing season so realistically the first available opportunity to do it would be the last weekend of October.
It’s rough and tough with a lot of route choice, so it’s important to know the terrain. As it’s split into five sections I hatched a plan to recce it over five days. It was a bit of a logistical nightmare, involving cycling, hitch-hiking, leaving my van in different spots and even Mama-Page volunteering to help out by driving up for a weekend of Lake District camping to avoid me having to run with a tent.
Only on two of the five days could I actually see anything, and the rest of the time was spent battling the wind, rain and mist high up on the tops – not the best conditions when you’re trying to learn a route, but nice days out nonetheless.
Golden Trail World Series
After a brief trip to London, I drove the van up to Scotland for my next big race. The Ring of Steall is 29km with 2,700m of climb and this year was part of the Golden Trail World Series, attracting a strong international line-up. As I’d only done two races (finishing 11th and 8th respectively), I was only ranked 17th in the series going into this final race and would need some kind of miracle to get enough points to finish top 10 overall and qualify for the “Grand Final” in Nepal.
The week before the race I was feeling pretty low, and kept wheezing when I tried to run, so I didn’t have any high hopes for the race. But for some reason I felt really good warming up, and as soon as the gun went I sped off up the hill, running “comfortably hard”.
Judith Wyder from Switzerland was up ahead but she was in a league of her own, and I was mostly concerned about all the strong girls behind me. Every time I looked back I was getting more of a gap on them, but I didn’t know how long that would last. I felt like a cyclist who’d broken too early from the peloton, leading most of the route only to be swallowed up just before the finish line.
Stressful running scared of those behind
Normally I set off slowly and work my way through the field, but this was the opposite. Although I had a big gap, I was really stressed for the whole race, running hard but worried I’d be overtaken at any moment. After just 11km I was really tired, my legs felt like they had nothing in them (5 x 3-5hr mountain runs the week before didn’t help!), I ran out of water and gels, but I just made myself keep pushing.
Once I got to the top of the last 1,000m descent, I knew if I could make it down in one piece I’d keep my second place. So I ran hard, but risk averse…. I tried to enjoy the moment, take in the sunny Scottish mountainscapes, but it’s hard when you’re bonking big time and still running scared.
I crashed hard into a rock hidden in the depths of one bog, uttering some expletives as I saw blood pouring out of my leg. A few minutes later I fell again, my left calf cramping as a reaction. I told myself to calm down, run the last few km relaxed, if someone caught me I’d have enough left to respond… and I made it down – 10 minutes ahead of the next finisher.
Not over until the last runners wees
Although I was desperate to eat something and my stomach was really unsettled, upon finishing, I had to spend the next 90minutes sat in a tent drinking 2.5litres of water in an attempt to produce a 100ml urine sample for Anti-Doping. It was a funny atmosphere as the top five men and women battled it out to see who could be the first to hydrate enough to fill their little pot.
With numerous mountain athletes being pulled out for doping abuses, I’m really pleased that there is an increasing amount of testing both in competition and that the Quartz program are doing some monitoring outside of completion too – the systems are far from perfect, but at least the off-road running community has woken up to the fact that it’s an issue which needs to be tackled to make sure that our sport is clean and we’re competing on a level playing field.
I was on my way to the after-party when I stopped by the medical tent to just ask them to clean my leg properly. It didn’t take them long to tell me that it needed stitching and that rather than frolicking around ceilidh dancing I should probably make my way to Fort William A&E to get it sewn up. What a disappointment.
Not one for rest
But stitches in my leg and a shoddy weather forecast didn’t stop me having a glorious week up in Scotland after the race, traversing the Aonach Eagach ridge, cycling, island exploring, van camping, campfires, loch swimming, kayaking… and of course two fell races to finish off a UK based September in style.
Saturday’s race was the Scottish Hill Running Champs; I wasn’t entirely sure that running a 3 hour race through more bogs and heather was a good idea for the stitches, but the temptation (and the promise of unlimited beer and cake at the finish line!) got the better of me.
The next day I was going to cycle and watch the World Cycling Champs in the Yorkshire Dales, but the route was diverted because of the torrential downpours so I changed my plans and… found another race to do, though given the paths had become rivers, it was perhaps more of an exercise in aquaplaning than running.
And now I’m into planning mode – because a miracle did happen at the Golden Trail Series in Scotland, I’ve now qualified to race in Nepal at the end of October, so the Bob Graham round will have to be put on hold for a little while longer…