Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Rail to Trail West 2015 marathon race report

I live in Maidenhead, but if I had to move to London the one thing that I would miss the most would be the countryside and the hills. Within a 1 mile run from my house I'm in the woods and I don't have to leave them or farmers fields for another 20 if I didn't want to. And of course all along the route you'll find all types of hill; such as the gentle, the muddy, the sharply technical, the abrasively rocky, the slimy and slick, the steep, open or wooded and more. It's a small piece of trail running paradise right on my doorstep. And that's why this particular series of trail runs is perfect for those less fortunate with access to trails than I.

Rail to Trail series

Specifically created for Londoners who are looking for a trail based escape. The Rail to Trail series is a collection of 4 events, North, South, East and West, that offer 10k, half-marathon and marathon distance runs that are all within an hour of London by train. Perfect.


West marathon route
I had found out about the event from a running friend, Ilsuk Han, who had volunteered for them at one of the previous events. He said that they were a friendly bunch and as I knew the area a little from my time on The Ridgeway Ultra, the event pretty much signed up for itself.

The February event starts at the Wendover Cricket Club, and after completing two circular-ish routes to the East and West (see map), ends there 26ish miles later. Having run The Ridgeway I kind of knew what to expect, but with recent rain, and even snow, I wasn't prepared for the mud.

Chat, navigation and boat loads of mud

Huge respect to Ilsulk who has transformed himself into a mileage monster. Steady, calm and confident in his abilities, he impressed me no end. Fortunately, he was also kind enough to stay with me for most of the run (I insisted he run on when things were tough right at the end) and I enjoyed the chat and company immensely.

I mention that Ilsuk was calm specifically because, at times I simply wasn't. The mud was horrendous. Real slop too. Deep and sopping wet and it just didn't let up. Maybe 60% of the course, and especially the second half, was for me at least a case of bracing my core on each step to reduce the sideways twist or slide. I had great shoes, lots of grip and deep lugs, but something was amiss for me. Probably training, TBH.

The route however was very nice. A mix of fields, hills, woods and open vistas, like the one below. In nicer conditions, this would have been one of my favourite runs.

Wonky I admit, but in my defence it was a fair bit windy up there

Would I run it again?

Probably not. The route was great, the organisation was good and the checkpoints were friendly (although lightly stocked). The marathon cost £44.50, which I think is quite high. There was plenty of parking at the train car park, which was a bonus.

So whilst I would recommend this for those who haven't run it, it's not special enough to go back to run it again. A lower price might attract me back, but if it was the same price, I'd rather spend that on a new event.

And don't get me wrong, the event was great, it's just doesn't have the edge over events like the Midsummer Munro / Summer Picnic or the Greensands Marathon that keep me coming back.

To train or not to train?

Smiles, tea and medals with Ilsuk
I'm usually a little blasé with my approach to training. It's obviously not recommended for long distance and at times it gets me into trouble, but for this run I was hopeless. I ran a 5k on the Tuesday of race week and by the end I was glad it was over. Yes, I had run it fast, but I was genuinely happy to be finished. I haven't felt that way about a run in a very long time.

I'm still not quite sure what this means. Am I awesome / lucky for doing a marathon with little training? Or instead am I going to pay the price in time with damaged joints and muscles? Or perhaps am I under-achieving when I'm capable of more? I rather think it may end up being a little bit of each.

I'm still stewing over whether it means I need to change my approach to running or whether I'm in a great place and should carry on. I had thought I would come away from the run inspired or encouraged, but I simply feel indifferent. My next race is the North Downs Way 50 and I will (read: should) need to train and focus to get the most from the event. Time will tell I guess.

Garmin route for the Rail to Trail West marathon.