Arriving in Devon late on Saturday evening having driven directly from Toughest London I met up with some old friends for food. Taking part in the Redbull Steeplechase would partly be a social experience allowing me to spend time with old friends, a nostalgic one as I took part in this race many years ago when I was just getting into this running malarkey and I guess, a competitive one, as it’s always nice to win.
The race is 23miles long and was billed to feature 2000m of ascent along the scenic coast of North Devon. As a hilly trail/road race there is a major feature that sets this race apart from many others…this is that not everyone is allowed to finish. At three set points during the course a certain number of participants would be cut and bused back to the start/finish. This allows just 20 men and 20 women to cross the line creating races within a race and one that is certainly against your opponents rather than the clock.
To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about this feature of the race. What I was thinking about was my stiff hamstring/glute that has been bugging me for years but was especially irritated from the previous days Toughest race and the long drive. I was also thinking about if anyone else was any good. A question cleared up by David Hellard who nudged me on the start line and said, ‘that’s Andy Greenleaf, he has a 2:20 marathon time and has won this before’…oh great.
Still, it’s no fun winning if you don’t get a race out of it, I just told myself that I may have to run a little bit faster at the beginning than I previously thought. Considering it would be about being able to put down a marathon effort and being able to run hills I figured I stood a good chance.
The plan was to pace this race, which should take 3 hours, like I would a 6 hour Skyrace. This went largely to plan but as expected I had to dig a little deeper to hold my place in the first 10km when everyone was fresh and eager.
After the first climb it became clear that it was between Andy and myself. What I didn’t expect was where our strengths and weaknesses lied. It would seem that on the up-hills I would drop back some meters, only to catch up on the flatter sections. I would have guessed that it would be the opposite but I just thought maybe it’s because I am pacing the efforts better. I was happy in the thought that I could maintain our pace for the entire race and if anything beat him on the last downhill, which is where I was sure I was stronger.
If this is how the race had played out I may have won.
After 14km and the first cut point or ‘steeple’ I grabbed a bottle of water and kept running. Andy, who didn’t seem to have any gels with him, stopped for some 50/50 Redbull and water. Not thinking I carried on running and ended up with a 100m lead over the following downhill. It was a bit early to break away but I was enjoying being in my own rhythm and figured I would just run and see how it went.
16km later and all the steeples passed, I was still in the lead and later found out it was by nearly 4 minutes. With 8km to go you would think that’s it, all sewn up, maybe not.
The course had doubled back to the starting town of Lynmouth, we were then due to head out on a final loop before finishing in the same place. On leaving the town and throng of supporters behind I was suddenly at a loss for which way to run. I shouted at the two road marshals for instructions but they shrugged their shoulders, finally saying something like ‘dunno, follow the lane’.
Shouting back ‘find out’ I Followed the lane which went uphill for 400m where it split with no markings, in fact I hadn’t seen any since the town.
Getting a bit flustered I doubled back to find the same road marshals who were surprised to see me. A confusing exchange of words later and I had deciphered I was meant to follow the road, still unsure whether to turn right or left I felt sure when I asked ‘left?’ they had agreed.
So I turned left which went uphill making sense in my mind. On reaching the top of the winding road I was now pretty sure it had been wrong, I hadn’t seen any markings at all. I figured I would try another 100m and suddenly found a marshal on the other side of a busy road. Crossing over she pointed me in the right direction and I powered on. Coming back into the town I crossed the line to find I had cut the course short by some 6km…not much then.
I was then at a loss for what to do, I talked to the organisers and explained what happened, they apologised profusely. I then stopped my watch and figured I was done for the day when Ross Macdonald came running through. Thanks to my apparent DNF he was now in third. Remembering the social goal of this trip I decided to run after him a finish the final loop correctly by his side.
As it were, thanks to the other two guys getting lost at the same point I may have still been able to catch them. I don’t think that would have been quite as much fun as running with and cheering Ross through to an eventual podium position though.
It always sucks to go wrong in a race but at least this one wasn’t such a big deal in my calendar, in fact, I had only truly decided to take part the day before. I have asked the organisers to make the gpx file of the route available in the days before, which once uploaded to my watch would have negated the problem.