I have to say, today was an interesting one.
When I saw the Cranleigh 15/21 listed on the Runners World website, it looked ideal. The start and finish were a stone’s throw from my grandparents’ house, and it meant that I would have some company (and a change of scenery) for my longest run before the taper. I had decided almost from the start that the full 21 miles was a bit ambitious, given last year’s training and the fact that this will be my first marathon. I also wasn’t quite sure whether I could actually run 21 miles and recover in time for Brighton. I figured I would run the 15 miler, and then add a few ‘warm down’ miles on afterwards to make up the distance. Even better, the course was described as ‘relatively flat with a few undulations.’ I figured I could handle a few undulations. I mean, undulations aren’t a big deal, right?
Relatively flat, my bum. Minor undulations .. Again, not so much. Within the first mile we were heading up a seemingly never-ending hill. And every time we went back down one, we’d shortly be sent up another. And they weren’t small hills, either; they were steep, and went on for aaages. On the plus side, the views from the top were absolutely stunning, especially in the bright sunshine. Green fields, flowers, pretty little cottages .. It was idyllic. And for a lot of it, it was quite peaceful!
Then there was a stretch along a B road, which for obvious reasons wasn’t closed to traffic. Every now and then we’d have a car overtake us – and whilst most of them moved into the far lane to go past, as soon as another car appeared in the opposite direction, drivers would try and squeeze past us in the same lane. There was a particularly busy stretch later on where we had to run almost on the verge – which had a couple of downsides. Firstly, I’ve never been a fan of cars passing me at however many miles an hour, with barely an inch to spare (as if the hills hadn’t raised my heart rate enough, haha!) Secondly, to keep out of the way of traffic, we had to run right along the edge of the road, and the camber meant that my knee and ankle really started to niggle by the end. Luckily, they calmed down once I stopped, but even so – injury this close to Brighton would be a major issue!
I really wasn’t sure about the event to begin with. It was a mass start, and nobody was 100% sure where the actual start line was – there wasn’t a race briefing (at least, not one that us at the back could hear) and it was a bit crowded, being on a narrow lane. When we hit that big hill in the first mile or so and everyone seemed to speed into the distance, I thought I might have underestimated the race – that maybe I was out of my league. I didn’t want to push my pace too much (not that I’d have known, given I forgot my Garmin!) so I ran to feel, which was actually pretty good for me. I kept to a comfortable pace, and although by mile 3 I was struggling so much I genuinely considered dropping out (HILLS!) a few people had begun to drop back to where I was, which made me feel a bit better.
I stuck with it, and actually felt pretty good by about 5 miles. I also started to pass a few people, which was a confidence booster! I tried to ignore the achey legs, and focus on the scenery – it really was beautiful, and not somewhere I’d normally get the chance to run. Yay! And I had a fab surprise at mile 9 – my Granddad, with a camera! The course had us running on a long stretch of tarmac into the sun at that point, so seeing a friendly face really gave me a boost! We then ran along Cranleigh High Street, dodging shoppers (quite funny), before heading back out on the Downs Link for the second loop – 6 miles this time. After that, it was pretty much sun – hills – pretty views – sun – hills – water stop – hills – hills – sun.
There was a killer hill just after mile 14, which I found pretty cruel! From mile 11 onwards I had actually started taking a short walking break every mile, and I’m afraid that hill was one of them. I managed all of the hills up until the 11 mile point, but with the heat and the distance I found it easier to walk them after that. Though to be fair, that last hill was almost too steep to run up even if I’d had more energy! A very sweet lady on a bike (massive thumbs up for cycling the thing!) called out an ‘it’s ok, it flattens out shortly!’ as she passed me, which was lovely to hear, and pushed me to start running! Well, jogging ..
The one thing that made Cranleigh different to the other races I’ve done was the support from the faster runners. Almost every person that passed me on the second loop (on their second go round, for the full 21 miles), offered me a quick ‘good running’ or ‘well done’. This was brilliant! I generally offer encouragement to the faster runners, as they just look so impressive to me as I plod along; but to get some support back – despite the fact that they must have been really working hard – was lovely, especially as it was the first race I’d done completely on my own. Though I think my favourite part of the course was the steep downhill to the finish line! I’d forgotten the route was a little over 15 miles, and when I saw the 15 mile marker and a crowd of people I thought I’d finished – only to be directed further up the road, round a corner and across a field to the finish chute. They had 2 separate finish areas after the line – one for the 15 milers and one for the 21 milers – and gave us a medal with our distance on it, rather than a generic one, which I thought was a lovely touch.
Once I got my medal, I ran back to the start area and up through Cranleigh to my Grandparents’ house, which pushed it to about 15.5 miles. After a quick stop to drop off my number and medal and fill up my water bottle, I headed back to the bridle path and out of Cranleigh to make up another 3 miles. The bridle path was beautiful – and lined with trees, so nice and shaded. I stopped a few times to stretch out my legs and have some water, and it was completely silent apart from the birds. For a while it was completely deserted, and SO peaceful. Dappled light, a slight breeze, and acres of green fields on either side of me. It definitely made the sore legs worth it.
So I have no idea what my pace was today, or the exact mile count (though I know it was about 18.5), but it didn’t bother me like I thought it would. I had no Garmin, and no iPod – I ran with just a bottle of water and some gels, and I really loved it. It was tough, and getting my pace right at the beginning whilst everyone else shot off into the distance was a challenge – but I guess I must have done it right, as I was able to keep going! It was a good experience, in any case. I’ll definitely be wearing my Garmin at Brighton, but I think I might leave my iPod at home ..
Now it’s taper time! Whilst I’ve been told that 18.5 miles is enough for the final long run, I really have no idea how I’m going to add another 7.5! I’m hoping that the atmosphere, like at Surrey, gets me through the last few miles. Having watched it when my parents ran it the first time, I have high hopes!
I guess I just need to trust in the training ..