Anna’s Month in Running – May ’23
May has been an excellent month of running. The weather in the UK has started to pick up now and the sunshine and later evenings always make the days so much better. I started the month off with a 30-mile race in Yorkshire. Technically it was still last month, as it was the last weekend of April, but it counts as this month for the purposes of this blog.
The race was the Calderdale Way 30. There are two distance options for this race; 30 miles and 50 miles. I had chosen the 30 miles as a good way to do a long run with some hills thrown in, which is all good practice for my “A goal” race of the year, the 7 Valleys Ultra 100km in September. This is a little-known race which is very popular with the local running clubs in Yorkshire, but less well-known for people to travel to. It starts in a place called Southowram and follows the Calderdale Way route through to Heptonstall. The 50 miler starts and ends in Heptonstall and takes in the whole of the ‘way’. There’s a total of 1,500 metres of elevation gain across the whole distance, and on the website, there’s a warning of ‘two climbs we affectionately refer to as “Little B*stard” and “Big B*stard”!’ which are right near the end in Todmorden.
There’s a very generous 10-hour cut-off for this race, which was my goal going into it. We were bussed to the start and set off at 9am with a delightful downhill. It didn’t last long (a little under 4 km) before the first climb. One of my main aims for this race, as well as making the cut-offs, was to practice with my kit, so I had my poles with me and the pack that I’ll be wearing in the Lake District for my main race.
It was also a good chance to practise navigation, as this race is not way-marked. Navigation is something I’d worked on last month too, so it was good to be able to put it into practice in a race situation. Although the navigation element wasn’t too tricky on this one, as there are footpath markers showing the Calderdale Way.
Overall, the race went really well. There were tough times, but it was beautiful and I ended up meeting up with two other female runners,
Amanda and Claire, about 20 miles in, just after the penultimate aid station. We ended up sticking together to the end. It was so great to have some company and to see it through together, coming in an hour quicker than planned, in 9 hours.
Two weeks later, I flew out to Lake Como in Italy to take on the UTLAC 30 km. As with my previous race this month, there was a longer distance option: 260 km non-stop! 30km was definitely enough for me on this one! I stayed in a beautiful town called Lecco and arrived on Friday night, so I had Saturday to have a look around, pick up my race pack, check out the course and figure out timings for the aid stations. I was also able to see and cheer some of the 260km runners in, who’d been on the go since Thursday.
On race morning, we had to meet in Lecco town centre to get on a boat that would take us up the lake to our start point in Bellagio. It was almost an hour’s journey and I overheard some English voices as I got on, so I found some other runners to sit with and chat to make the time go by a little quicker.
Once we got off the boat and lined up in Bellagio, we were set off on our way. The race starts along the lakeside of Bellagio before climbing UP into the mountains, high above Lake Como. It has 1,820 metres of elevation gain and a large part of the route winds along the Tivano path passing through the villages of Limontasca and Civenna, up to the famous Colle del Tivano. It then continues on the panoramic path that leads to the mountain of Castel di Leves to then reach the village of Maisano from which to start the last climb to the SEV refuge at the Corni di Canzo.
There was one cut-off of 4 hours at the aid station at 18km, with a cut-off to finish of 8 hours. So the game plan was to aim for those. The first 13km of the race was pretty much all up – starting at 200m and climbing to 945m. The views were spectacular and the terrain was lovely. Some great rocky trails which were manageable and not too technical or steep. I reached the main cut-off point with 45 minutes to spare, refuelled, filled my water bottles and set off on the final 12km. It didn’t seem like a lot on paper, but I had been anxious about the second ‘half’ of this race, knowing how big the final climb was. The graph should give you some idea, but in numbers, it was over 700 metres up in just under 5km. It was basically like being on the stair stepper at the gym for 2 hours. Not only that, the terrain was technical, rocky and muddy. The kind of mud that is sticky and more like clay. I was using my poles like pick axes at points, just to try and keep myself upright. It mostly worked, but I ended up falling over a LOT.
I was kept company on this race by the course sweepers. These three ladies lived in the area and these trails were their playground. They were like mountain goats on the climbs and gave some great encouragement to keep going and to work my way through the tough bits. Once we got to the top, the views made all the climbing worth it. And it was all downhill from here, which was a great feeling; until I actually got into it…
Before the race, I was confident in my downhill running abilities and knew that once I’d overcome the final climb it would be relatively easy to the finish. How wrong I was. I had thought on the way up that the way down was probably going to be equally as technical, and I was right. It was arguably MORE technical on the descent and I had to watch every footstep to make sure I didn’t stack it, which I did several times. It was slow progress picking my way through the rocks and on the slippery mud I had to grab onto tree branches to stay standing, as the ground slipped away beneath my feet. The gradient of the descent ranged from between -20% to -40% in places and lasted for 5km.
It was the hardest trail I had ever been on. Right towards the end of the descent, before it flattened out to 4km of road running, I had a mega fall and landed heavily on my elbow. An egg of a lump quickly appeared and it made me feel sick. I thought for a brief moment I may have chipped a bone in it. I was so close to the end and the cut-off for the finish was creeping ever-closer, so I cracked on and ignored it. I’d just deal with it at the finish. I was able to put my foot down and get some decent speed up in those last few km.
Despite the energy-sapping ascent and mind-draining concentration on the descent, I had plenty left in the tank, as I hadn’t really been able to be quick at all until this point. I crossed the finish line with 20 minutes to spare – as the very last runner home. It was brilliant. This is one tough race, but totally doable with the right training and mindset.
The rest of my May running has been very run-of-the-mill (pun intended) in comparison to these two big highlights, and I’m looking forward to a slightly quieter June which will involve some higher mileage, but less travel.
Happy running and catch you next month! Anna.