Well, what can I say… I can say that on a positive note that it was great to experience something new at the ripe old age of 40. On the negative note, I was not in any way prepared for what I just experienced; neither physically or mentally.
It started out as an advertisement in the paper. I read it and thought that it would be a good idea for two reasons. Firstly, it would force me to do some longer running and thus get me more prepared for Dublin Marathon in October. Secondly, because it’s a trail half marathon there would be no pressure to get a new PB since I have no PB for a trail marathon. I know today that I actually had no idea what a trail marathon involved and had I known, I wold have most certainly not been on the start line.
When I arrived at the start area I was immediately alerted by how differently everyone was dressed. The blinding obvious point that I somehow managed to miss was that they were not different; I was. I had what I wear to all my summertime running races: a pair of Asics Gel Tarther, 2xU Tri Shorts and a sleeveless top. Most others had long socks, trail shoes cammelbacks, long sleeve tops and some had shin or ankle guards. I somehow was still not worried by this – I actually scoffed at them if I am o be absolutely honest… that is until 1500m into the race where we left a perfectly good asphalt road and headed into a random bush. No trail, no path, just wild grassland. I thought “oh, this is interesting” but soon saw a trail on the forrest just ahead. All is well I thought. The problem was that the race did not follow that path. We crossed it and landed into knee deep water/mud/swamp followed by heather, large tree roots and large rocks. 2km into the race I knew that I was in for trouble. We then exited the forrest and started to head up Hammarbybäcken – a ski slope south of Stockholm. The race would go over this hill three times and this is what I thought the challenge of the race would be. This was not a problem at all. There was a path and plenty of room. Piece of cake compared to the deepest forrest. We then descended the hill and went straight into the forrest for seven torturous kilometres of falling/climbing and occasionally something closely approximating running. I simply did not have the technique to run in that terrain. There was rarely a section that was an actual path. Heather, rocks, roods, mud andy water. Nine kilometres into the ‘race’ I felt there was no point in going any further and decided that I would exit the race at the next turnaround (on top of Hammarbybäcken). Strangely enough, just a kilometre shy of the hill the race left the deep forrest and actually used a forrest path. I could run again and was passing people every few seconds… easy. Up the hill was the same. When I came to the turnaround -with 9km remaining- I decided to finish the thing; “I have suffered too much to quit now” I thought.
Down the hill again and into the forrest again. The second loop was a lot easier than the first. I could run quite a lot of the time and there was hardly any mud or water sections. Spirits started to rise and just then I was attacked by a swarm of something – probably deer flies. All I know for sure is that it hurt like hell all over. I was stung in the arm ass legs and blood was drawn.
After that it was just a matter of getting to the finish. My legs started to stiffen up with about 5km to go but nothing so severe that cast any doubt over finishing. Up and over the ski hill again and over the finish line I went.
I am in pretty good running shape at the moment; probably 37:xx 10k shape. I crossed the line of Stockholm trail in 2:01:28. I have a newfound respect for trail runners – now that actually know what they do. I also will not be on the start line of such a race ever again.
Done and dusted.