Fresh off the back of January’s Peddars Way Ultra I went into the Belvoir Challenge with a renewed self confidence. After running 48 miles across Norfolk in January I felt fearless, there was an air of ‘fuck it, I can do anything’ about my running and February’s Belvoir Challenge was just simply another race to tick off until my next Ultra.
Last Saturday I felt the Belvoir Challenge take this self confidence, chew it up and spit it out, or rather more aptly, drive it face first into the mud, time and time again. It was only a marathon I thought. Was I naive? Sure. Had I underestimated the race? Completely. Was the Belvoir Challenge one of the toughest races I had ever ran? Almost certainly.
After a tough few weeks I was desperately looking forward to the race and pushing out 26 hard run miles to help let off steam. Over the past couple of years running has transformed from a simple hobby into a passion and, at times, therapeutic pastime. My mind was longing for these 26 miles, but my body would prove to be far less willing.
Preparation going into the race was again far from ideal, a crap week of interrupted sleep culminated in a measly total of just two hours sleep on Friday, the eve of the race. The lack of sleep the night before would do little to hamper the race, the damage was already long done. After January’s Ultra I had taking a week off from running, a week that soon turned into a couple of weeks as anxiety over over-training resulted in me barely lacing up my trainers all month. Yet despite this my legs felt uncharacteristically heavy and with the frustration of another terrible night I knew it would be a case of dragging myself round and I would be very much in it for the long haul.
Any research into the event had been completely side tracked by the mention of the legendary feed stations, my eyes saw cake and my mind completely wandered off. The day started reasonably well as I uncharacteristically got to the race in plenty of time, so was able to park up easily and head across to registration at the Village Hall. I knew the race was popular, but was a little taken aback by the 1,000+ entrants that had turned up on the day, some seasoned Belvoir vets, others like me doing it for the first time. I had no idea what to expect of the course, terrain, elevation etc., but knew at least that I’d need my Inov8’s. Within a mile or two this proved to be a great decision as the surface soon turned into deep, muddy tracks, the type of surface that had vexed me at the Peddars Way was back, only this time I was prepared. This time I wasn’t slipping about like a drunk penguin, but managing to plant my foot comfortably without fear of ending up on my arse.
It would be a similar affair throughout much of the race, I can’t recall any particularly long stretches where I was able to get my running into any kind of rhythm, instead it was constantly interrupted by muddy, almost unrunnable tracks, stile crossings or hills. Simple hills that I openly mocked at my last race, hills that I would normally eat up, but not this day when my legs were begging for me to stop, every mile ran through the mud felt like five. When the second checkpoint came round at the 7 and 1/2 mile mark I felt like I had been running for hours, I had been desperate for a reason to stop for a couple of miles and when the sign came into sight I felt a momentary sense of relief.
But not even the sight of tables overflowing with cake would help matters, I stopped briefly to grab a couple of pieces to eat but with just short of 20 miles left I was very much feeling like I needed to get this crap over and done with rather than savoring any of the goodies on offer. Dropping my phone and cracking the screen whilst trying to place it back in my belt at this checkpoint only exasperated things. 10 minutes later the split for the 16 mile / 26 mile runners would appear and I admit to being more than tempted to take the ‘easy’, shorter route, but instead tried to pull my shit together and carried on to the next checkpoint. Things didn’t really pick up over the next few miles, by mile 10 I was really struggling, I’ve hit the wall several times before, but this was different, it was like being buried alive. As the third checkpoint came into view I was initially convinced it was a mirage, I stopped to eat as much as I could hold down before trudging onwards.
My mind had not been straight for quite a while, not just since the start of the race, but the weeks preceding. With a good half a marathon to go I knew it was time to suck it up and get on with it, time to sulk would have to come later otherwise I’d still be out on the course now. Most of the remaining miles passed without incident, it didn’t get any easier, my legs only got heavier and each passing mile felt longer and slower than the last. Thankfully the course was well marked throughout, else my day could have gone a lot worse. I did chat briefly to another runner who missed a turning and had to double back and ask for directions, but for the most part if you looked about for indication when approaching any crossroads you wouldn’t have gone far wrong. A long uphill stretch from 19 miles to 23 would take the last remaining bit of energy that was remaining in my legs, whilst the view from the top over Leicestershire on a better day would have been worth the effort, I was far from being in a sightseeing mood.
I couldn’t help but laugh when after crossing one of the last stiles in the race, around the 24/25 mile mark I encountered the above, what initially could be mistaken for a river, but was just another flooded section of the course. Thankful of my new toe socks, I just ploughed straight through, thinking that it couldn’t really get much worse. Another mile or so across/through muddy tracks just for good measure and it was back into Harby and the finish at the Primary School. In my head there was a sprint finish over the line, but reality would show it was very much a stumble.
Finally it was over, the ‘simple’ marathon I had dismissed at the beginning of the week had proven to be my most difficult yet, typical I guess for my thirteenth. At 5 hours 20 it was my slowest by almost a full hour, two hours slower than my PB at the Yorkshire Marathon last year and even a full hour slower than my marathon split at the Peddars Way Ultra in January and more than a minute slower pace despite being 22 miles shorter.
Lesson learnt. There is no easy marathon, particularly when they allude to it’s difficulty in the title.
Next up is my next Ultra, the Canalathon 75KM in just two weeks time, 46 and a bit miles from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge. It should be flat, and pending any mishaps much drier than Belvoir so hopefully it goes alot smoother.
All this suffering isn’t just for fun, it’s part of the 15 marathons/Ultras I plan to run this year for Mind. So if you have any spare pennies, please visit my JustGiving page.