Preparing for my first race outing of 2013, it feels like such a long time since the last time I pinned a number to my shirt for the Oldham Half Marathon back in October. While I’m still formulating my full race plans for this year, last Sunday’s Lactic Flashback off-roader across the hills and moors has been planned since early in January.
Organised by Kiwi Classic Events, Lactic Flashback is a resurrection of what used to be the Lactic Acid Test, providing 8 miles of muddy, hilly trails on the moors above Millbrook in Stalybridge, Tameside. Following on from the hugely enjoyable Dovestone Diamond in May last year, I was prepared for Jason’s relaxed but meticulous organisation. Registration went smoothly, and I was soon strolling the 200m to the start line.
One of the things about running in smaller events is that most of the other runners look a whole lot more professional than me – never something to give a huge confidence boost at the start line! Larger races become events of their own, with charity competitors and fun runners usually outnumbering the more serious racers. The smaller the race field, the more serious it seems to become, and the more that novice racers like myself fear being left in a cloud of dust at the start. The perceived stern faces of the hardy souls on this early March morning soon cracked into smiles and laughs as usual slightly nervous banter took over the start of the race.
Launching into the unknown from the gun, I was immediately presented with a 1.5 mile climb to open the race, winding up through Stalybridge Country Park and onto the footpaths beyond leading up the hillside. This first climb, followed by a steep and swift mile-long descent had the effect of stringing the field out massively. This allowed me to enjoy one of the nicest things about this type of race – running along seemingly alone on the trails, all the while knowing that there were other competitors a short distance in front and behind. At times you have to refocus on the race and try not to relax into a Sunday morning jog in the hills…
Crossing Walkerwood reservoir at the dam, the course took its second uphill turn into what proved, for me, to be mentally the toughest part of the race. The first climb had taken quite a lot out of my legs, and tweaking an ankle on a slightly overenthusiastic descent knocked my trail running confidence a bit. Therefore my inner monologue, that most runners have to keep them going in all conditions, was working hard over the next two miles of running uphill. My feeling of moving at nothing more than walking pace wasn’t helped by the cheery greetings of a group of recreational runners travelling downhill at pace in the opposite direction, though a few shouted words of encouragement go a long way. They’ll never know the boost their quick comment gave me through this section of the race. Thanks to the Runner’s Union…
Another all-too-short downhill section led to the halfway drinks station at the next reservoir crossing, before the final major climb on the course. Having survived the middle climb, and with the knowledge that this was the last one of the day, I had a welcome return of energy and determination to send me upwards. Travelling across varied terrain, and punctuated by numerous stiles, I found this climb easier and somehow more rewarding than the previous one. After a couple of disappointing moments when I thought I had reached the top only to be greeted by another section of climb, I emerged onto the small plateau to see the trig point at Wild Bank marking the highest point for the day!
In some ways it was a shame not to have the chance to linger and marvel at the 360-degree views taking in the Manchester suburbs and the Peak District at the same time, but as a weary runner, the prospect of a downhill run all the way to the line was hugely enticing.
Jason had picked out the major descent of the course in his pre-race brief, describing it as ‘Triple-X’, but nothing I imagined came close to the reality. The narrow peat track through the heather which disappeared over the precipice of Wild Bank was one of those paths that you tend to step down sideways when out on a hike, so running down it takes a further step in courage/lunacy. The basic figures speak for themselves – a drop of 525 feet in less than half a mile.
Running downhill is something I need to learn how to do properly, given that on this section I was passed by two other runners who disappeared rapidly into the distance. Although it sounds strange to think that I need to learn to run with gravity, the speed and confidence with which proper trail runners can tackle downhill sections must make a huge difference to their finishing times, given that two runners who were behind me were out of sight at the finish less than a mile down the road.
Safely arriving at the bottom of the steepest part of the slope, the remainder of the course was a section picking a path along a rocky route between fields, before a joyous sprint downhill back through the wide and smooth pathways of the park.
Crossing the line back into the finish area (with big cheers, thanks Christina and family!), the usual sight of doubled-over runners was joined by that of injuries being patched up by the attendant St. John’s Ambulance crew. Most of the bumps and scrapes seemed to have been collected on the triple-x descent, and nothing seemed more serious than a drop of blood – perfect post-race war wounds to show family and friends.
A finish time of 1:23:54 and 69th out of 109 finishers was good enough for me on a course I hadn’t run before and with not the best week of preparation ahead of the race (missing one training session and a pint of blood!). Massive thanks to Jason and his team for organising such a good event – if any other proof is needed of their superb organisation, the chip butty included in the entry fee was a masterstroke! I’ll be ready for the Dovestone Diamond in May.
Route details: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/280014634