Sunday 21st September, 07:25am
It was race day again. My now familiar routine started with a big bowl of porridge with honey and a cup of tea, followed by a quick shower. However, with this being a local event, it wasn’t any ordinary race day. My wife had seen me race a couple of times, but my kids, who turn three at the end of this month, had not. We were scuppered in Blackpool by the windy weather and the distance from the hotel, as well as their afternoon sleep. But this time, they were going to get their chance. We were going to make a day of it with friends of ours, and so this became a true family outing. Which meant resorting to finding Stoppit and Tidyup on YouTube, the classic kids show I grew up on whose clanking theme tune rose the kids from their slumber. After enough badgering and convincing, the kids finally came downstairs at 8:30am, and somehow, within 20 minutes, were changed, dressed and had eaten a bit of something. We were soon out of the door, out in plenty of time for our bus journey to Stainland via Huddersfield.
The nature of the bus timetable meant we had a choice of arriving extremely early – 8:55am – for the race, or around 9:55am, just 35 minutes before the start. Not surprisingly we chose the latter, and the journey ran smoothly. I completed my hydration and nutrition strategy on the second leg of the journey and finished off my drink outside the 1885 restaurant, the race HQ for the day. The location, Stainland Recreation Ground, was ideal – the race starting in one area, the park for the kids in the other. My wife took the kids over to the play area, and I spent the remaining 20 minutes warming up and preparing in solace.
The Stainland Trail was to be my first trail/cross country race, if you discount Blackpool, as a beach race on sand, as opposed to grass and mud. The race was only conceived the previous year by the Stainland Lions, in celebration of 25 years of their inception as a running club. Starting from the recreation ground, it takes in Eaves Top Wood, Fall Spring Wood, Milner Wood, Beestonley Wood, Whittle Wood, Crow Wood, Firth House Wood, across Stainland Dean and back through Whittle Wood, as well as some country roads inbetween, before heading back towards the finish in the recreation ground.
I’d heard a lot of good things about the first running of this race and was keen to try it out. I had managed to swap shifts at work in order to make it. That said, my preparation wasn’t ideal – I had three weeks to prepare since the Halifax Half Marathon, but my first run, three days after that race, was sluggish and I came down with a cold. I was well enough to celebrate my 30th birthday with a boozy night out on the 5th, before developing a cough the next day which put me out of running until the day of my birthday, the 9th. I didn’t run too much after that either – although I did manage to get some good hill sprint training in, finding suitable trails from where I lived varied in success, and that’s without an earwax problem that plagued me in the week leading up to the race. All of these problems eased off by race day, my ears calming down enough in order for me to concentrate on the race itself.
There was good attendance – an estimated 200 runners (186 in actual fact), and some very good information about a couple of points in the course to watch out for. I opted to start a few rows from the front – I knew I wasn’t going to be near the leaders and lacked experience at cross country, so felt fine just following and enjoying the ride. At 10:30am prompt, we were off and bounding around the hills and woodlands of Stainland.
It wasn’t long before the race entered the wooded areas, full of brambles, stiles and footpaths, and the race soon bottlenecked. Overtaking was going to be difficult at best if I even thought about it. It wasn’t too long before my pace then got reduced to a walk, not through exhaustion, but as a runner in front of me was struggling with a climb, causing a small tailback as we lurched up a hill. It wasn’t far beyond that when mud started to appear, along with signs of ‘caution: slippy slippy slippy’. I was going along OK and upon hitting the first road section I was keeping reasonable pace. As the race wore on, a pattern seemed to be emerging and I found myself struggling more with the hilly trails, but gathering momentum on the flat greenery or the tarmac. Indeed, the pics of me overtaking here was one such move I made, a shot I’m immensely pleased with. But I relinquished that place back later because of sheer exhaustion on a hilly trail.
Towards the end the run/walk frequency became greater on the hills and the closer to the finish I got, the more the thought of seeing my family cheering on became a driver. We got back to the recreation ground and I was a good distance between the runner in front and behind by now, neatly established on my own. It was around the car park, offering a quick thumbs up for the photographer, and there they were. My family and friends gathered, my daughters cheering ‘yay! Go daddy!‘. I crossed the line in 48:13, which turned out to be enough for 22nd. Easily my slowest and toughest 10K yet, but I sure was proud to have completed the race. I turned around to the crowd section and my daughters came running over to give me a big congratulatory cuddle and to tell me I was a winner. Running 10,000 meters on challenging underfoot surface was entirely worth it for moments like that.
They all headed back to the play area and I grabbed a goody bag, containing a bright orange Stainland Trail tech t-shirt, and a peanut Lion bar, which was duly demolished, and once I’d stretched and rehydrated, it was a short walk over to the playground to resume my parental duties. We eventually retreated to our friends’ house where they made a terrific post-race recovery carbonara, as well as a chat and a catch up. I also got rid of the mud that had built up on my legs – the picture below doesn’t do it justice!
This race did get me thinking about trail running and how much I enjoy it. I do enjoy getting off the road but I personally struggle to find many decent trails as I live near Brighouse town centre, and aside from the towpath along the River Calder or the Calder Hebble Navigation, there’s not much I can find without having to either run a few miles to reach it, or paying for the privilege via a bus or a train. The more I run, the more I’m exploring for these paths so I can at least map out a decent mixed surface run. Given I spent so much time preparing for the Halifax Half Marathon, I’d love to spend more than three illness-filled weeks preparing for a tough race such as this, but at the same time there’s only so much you can stop modern life getting in the way. With all that said, I approached this race with one simple approach – to enjoy it. No PB’s. No targets. Just running the course for the challenge and the love of running. Given so much of my year has been dedicated to chasing down targets and finishing in high positions, this race was so refreshing.
It was well supported, with the Lions putting on a well organised event, with marshals here, there and everywhere; in the fields, on the hills, at roadside, in the deepest neck of the woods. Stripy tape around posts and branches indicated the way ahead, plenty of caution signs were visible, and there were great pockets of support dotted around the course. The Lions really have their act together and it gives you the chance to really focus on your race. That they attracted 186 runners to this small corner of Calderdale and put on a cracking event deserves to be applauded. Whether I will return next year depends on how my racing and training schedule pans out, but I would certainly recommend others to make the trip up here. It’s a challenge alright, but one you will fully enjoy and respect.
As you read this, I’m now training hard for my final race of the year, the Great Birmingham Run, so I’m not seeking to let up until the race on Sunday October 19th. I don’t feel I was at my fittest for this race but I want to be in tiptop condition for a tilt at the half marathon PB I’m after. Aiming for that goal in itself will feel a bit more enjoyable having given that side of running a backseat here, and I’m eagerly awaiting experiencing another major event in the running calendar.