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Heading to the dark side or seeing the light?

POSTED BY EMILY O'CONNOR ON 10 MARCH 2017  •  PHOTO GALLERY →

This year I set myself a challenge to leave my comfort zone when running. Currently I mainly run road races, 10Ks, 5Ks and I've dabbled with one half marathon. Having only finishing Couch to 5K 18 months ago all these things have been a challenge, but it's always about the time you do them in and time stresses me out a lot.

I've been involved in a bit of off road training and really enjoyed it. My biggest barriers have been winter nights and just feeling inexperienced with navigation skills and descending. Off road in summer felt much more manageable. Racing off road has always been a mind challenge for me but one I wanted to tackle it this year.

In January I realised my husband, Gavin, had loads more races planned than me and I also had a gap in March and April. A number of people recommended I try Stan Bradshaw, the 10-mile fell race, maximum 300 entries and very fast fell runners on the results list. This at first didn't really bother me because I didn't think about it other than being a 10 mile race. I set about squeezing some training in. After a winter of mainly road running I was so unfit when running off road and then injury struck and I signed it off as one for next year.

However, the injury improved quickly and deep down I wasn't happy with not doing what I set out to achieve. So a second SOS recce appeal on Facebook and Molly and Peter met me the Sunday before. It was great to run with these two very experienced fell racers and both reassured me I would be fine on the day.

Earlier I mentioned the big unknowns of fell racing. As the week went on the weather was terrible, rain, rain and more rain. By Wednesday night I had an official wobble, I couldn't possibly see myself running on Pendle if visibility was down, I was panicking about losing my way on the route but I had set this as my first challenge and couldn't bottle it. I was even losing sleep over it and along with a poorly two-year-old this made me tired and very unsure. A few messages to other club members, reassurance from Gavin, I decided I would do it but pull out if I felt unsafe.

So the day arrived and the weather was perfect, in fact it was a bit warm, typical after all the worrying. All the rain had left it boggy, slippy and slidey. I noticed that fell people look the part, they read maps, the men seem to all have beards, and I even saw one couple with a file full of route maps for different races. The nerves kicked in again! I'm out of my depth here. Cue all Trawden runners coming over wishing me luck and being very reassuring. As I went to the start line I got talking to a Clayton runner, it was her first fell race so we had a good chat. Positive vibes returned.

As we climbed to the trig you could see for miles, it came flooding back why I enjoyed this. I was near the back but not at the back so that was good. At the first check point Liz was standing cheering on and shouted at me "This is your race, take your time and enjoy it"" She was spot on, I enjoyed the bogs, the slipping, I even got a tiny bit competitive and closed the gap between me and the runner in front. It really was fun and I really enjoyed it! I wish I could be more descriptive on locations and checkpoints but I would be making it up. I literally followed the runners ahead.

I carried on and completed Stan Bradshaw. This year I have three more races to achieve which take me out of that comfort zone and push my personal abilities. It won't be about times, it will be about learning new skills and enjoying the beautiful scenery we have on our doorstep. So bring on the Bah'tat Half, Hendon Brook (yep, I know it's road but it's a hilly road) and Yorkshireman Half(ish).

A massive thank you to everyone who helped me, who believed I could do it. Running is often a mind game and the physical side of running comes second; this race really proved that theory for me. Anyone reading this and thinking of turning to the dark side or seeing the light? Get along to the off road training intro group and enjoy it just like me!

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