Bouncing back to the Grand Prix

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Well as most of you know, I was involved in a pretty horrific accident on the 1st October 2017. The finish line at the Burnley Fire 10K knocked me to the ground, resulting in two fractures and a break to my right leg/knee.

Six weeks in a locked brace, then weekly visits to have the dial altered to get the bend back in my knee, followed by months of ongoing physio. When I attended my initial physio, my first question was how long before I can run again? I need to be fit I explained, as I've said that I’m going to complete all fourteen races in the Pendle & Burnley Grand Prix!

Amanda (that’s the physio) looked at me as though I’d asked her for a million pounds. “Let’s learn to walk first Diane, then in about 3-4 months we can see about running, maybe you’ll learn to love a new sport like swimming or cycling.”

But no, swimming I can only do doggy paddle. Cycling, how do you do that without falling off, I couldn’t get to grips with it as a child. I burst into tears; she thought the consultant had already told me that my injury was life-changing in terms of running.

What made you start running she asked? ANXIETY! No need to think about that one, it sets me free, and I’ve made so many new friends. Physio was harder than I thought, but I did it because I was determined I was going to run again. I needed to remove the dark cloud that was starting to descend again. It took a while but I learnt to walk again then I slowly started to run/walk.

April came and the Grand Prix was looming, I needed to get that first race out of the way and the fear of racing again out of my system. Lee was already entered onto the Brun Valley 10K, so he convinced me to enter that. The days that lead up to the race saw the nerves set in. I couldn’t sleep the night before, and I cried the morning of the race and nearly backed out. We got there, got our race numbers and then I knew what I needed to do next, look at the finish line to see if I could finish this race. The relief to find out it wasn’t made out of scaffold was unreal. I surprised myself in the actual race. It was tough, but I managed to run the biggest part of it, and my fellow Humbugs were waiting for me at the end to cheer me on.

May brought Grand Prix season: first race Hamledon Hill fell race, well wasn’t that a tough one to start with! It was a boiling hot day and from the off, it went up and up, then when you thought you were getting a flat bit you hit the bogs zapping the energy from your legs. I nearly went arse over tit in one of them, hurting my wrist, I cursed that I was never doing this one again. Then I felt damn proud when I finished.

Next up was Pinhaw trail race. “You’ll love this one,” Lee said, “straight up and down.” Did I like this one? NO! I was last, which I know someone has to be but yet again I got my foot caught in a bog, no one else did just me. I think they must jump out at me. Pulling my foot out aggravated I felt a sharp pain down the side of my leg.

Next up, Wholan Nook trail race, this was my favourite last year and the first Grand Prix I’d ever done. I told anyone who would listen what a lovely race it was, probably being one of the easiest of the lot. Loads of people turned up on my recommendation. I wouldn’t like to have heard what they were calling me after. My God, it was tough. I must have had some kind of memory lapse. Sorry to anyone who ran that on my recommendation. It wasn’t an easy run, but you’ve got to admit there's fantastic scenery.

Up next Burnley Lions 10K, another not-so-flat course but one I’ve done before and what a tremendous turn out of Humbugs. I think this was one of my favourites this year, probably because it was a PB for me. Especially as I wasn’t expecting to run all of it because I’d been to the physio the day before and she’d done a bit of work on my leg to try and stop the numb feeling I was getting in my foot.

That was May finished and June brought us Kellbrook, Weets, Barrowford and Sabden. There's a picture that was taken at Kellbrook of Pam Buckel by the one and only Allan Boult (he’s not related to Usain by the way, chuckling to myself here) anyway back to the matter in hand the picture. Allan was lying in wait at the top of the hill waiting to take everyone's photo and watching them struggle to climb the hill. When I saw this picture, I thought this sums Kelbrook up totally – tough!

Next came Weets. I’d heard a lot about this race and none of it sounded good, so I was very nervous at the start of this one. It’s a typical Grand Prix event, a steep uphill start and when you get to the top you wonder where to go next. “Over the edge,” the marshal said when I got there. I thought he was having a laugh, no one told me there was an abseil involved or I'd have brought some rope. Over the edge I went, wondering how on Earth I was going to get to the bottom (without my rope). The backside came into operation followed by holding onto whatever was available. I lived to tell the tale though, and that was after a fall on the way round as well.

On to Barrowford – not a lot I can say about this except it involves laps and I got lapped several times. I was happy overall with my performance though. Sabden Trail Race came next – this one is a challenge. I’d done this last year, so I knew what the sting in the tail was, so I was prepared, or so I thought. I got to the bottom of the hill and decided to have a good run up it. Hooray, I managed to get halfway up this time without walking, just needed a lie down for a few seconds at the top though.

July came, the month I was dreading because I knew the ultimate test for my legs was coming up this month (Hendon Brook). The month got off to a good start though because the first race of the month was Trawden 7. I was looking forward to this because I’d ordered a pie to eat at the end and then there’s the buff and a bottle of beer as well. I quite enjoyed the gentle tootle round, and then for the last bit, I met up with a lady I live near who runs for Rossendale Harriers, Christine Smith. We ran together for the last stretch, and then when we got to the field where it finishes, she said “If you’re going for a sprint finish I’m coming with you!” Well what can you do when someone challenges you like that, you’ve got to go for it! Off we went in a sprint to the finish line, and there was no way I wasn’t winning this one. I loved it you can’t beat a sprint finish with some friendly rivalry.

Then Hendon Brook – it had arrived, the one I knew was going to challenge me mentally and physically. I found it hard last year and that was before my injury, and the three-hour time limit piles the pressure on you. I knew it was going to be a hot one, I’d been checking the weather forecast all week hoping for the temperatures to drop or even a spot of rain. No such luck, the sun was blazing the morning of the race. Everyone at registration was saying the same thing, it’s too hot!

The race started, and the sweat was pouring off me before I’d even got to the start of the first climb. I made it up to the Shooters, David was there with his camera taking shots, Elaine and Craig had come to support bringing with them ice water and Karen Holland was there too, handing out cups of water. She passed me my cup and told me I was doing well, then my eyes sprang a leak, I was blubbering like an idiot. My emotions had got the better of me; mini-meltdown. Karen walked with me for a few seconds talking to me. I remember asking if she had seen Lee and if he was okay, as I was worried about him running in this heat, whilst trying to better his time from last year. Other than that, I haven’t got a clue what we talked about, the heat must have frazzled my brain, the only bit I can remember is her telling me not to put too much pressure on myself.

I think knowing I’d only ran a short distance and had a long way to go within three hours was playing heavily on my mind, a bad place to be in so early in the race. Luckily the next section was a bit of a downhill before it started to climb again. I was feeling a bit lonely as I ran this section and was worried because two very good Clayton runners had started walking back because they’d had enough due to the heat. I even contemplated walking back with them. I carried on though and turned the bend to find Pam, Lindsay and Ian Barton. Oh my word, was I seeing things, was it a mirage, someone to run with even if we didn’t have the energy to talk. Just the comfort of knowing someone else was with you in your battle.

They waited for me to catch up and we ran as best we could around the rest of the course, taking advantage of all the water stations, Jelly Babies and hosepipe showers on our journey around the course. By the time we got to Lenches, I was getting panicked about whether I’d make it back within the three hours. My legs were finding it tough, but Ian was there encouraging us every last step of the way. When I crossed that finish line, I can’t explain the way I felt, yes relief that my legs could finally rest but proud to that I’d finished the mighty race that is Hendon Brook. I can’t thank Ian Barton enough for running around with me on that course, his encouragement was second to none. Thank you, Ian.

Well after a quick week’s break in Majorca it was time for the Townley 10K, and you guessed it, not a flat route. I was expecting a difficult run due to all the eating and drinking whilst away but I was pleasantly surprised. I ran around the course with Julie Bithell and Anthony Hudson, we even managed a chat on the way round and to run, not walk, the dreaded Mount Lane, another achievement for me as I’ve previously had to walk that stretch.

That left two PBGP races to do, Worsthorne and Boulsworth, which I’d never attempted before. Worsthorne turned out to be another hot one and a difficult run due to the uneven terrain. I was pleased with my performance though, even if it did result in another fall leaving a couple of bruises. I know I gave it my all and definitely think I’m getting stronger with each race.

Thankfully, but a little sadly, that just left Boulsworth fell race. Lee decided we would run together for this one because it was the last race of the Grand Prix and we had both completed all the races this year to complete the Grand Slam. What a race! We got to the start and the lady on the speakerphone was saying “That’s the last of the runners being counted in, a very important job to make sure we get them all to come back.” I thought to myself, what on Earth is this race, I’m sure they only said we needed waterproofs. No one mentioned maps and compasses, not that they’d have been any good to me anyway, I can’t even follow a Sat Nav. Something for me to learn in the near future.

Well, they set us off running to the music of Chariots of Fire, very apt I must say, made me feel like a proper athlete it did. Lee and I started the steady climb up Boulsworth. We couldn’t really see anything due to the murky conditions except the silhouettes of the other runners in the distance going up and up. It felt like it was never ending and the climb was a real struggle but nothing compared to coming down, my knees were screaming at me. We did it though and coming through that finish line with Lee was the best feeling.

Completing all those 14 races together and having the support from all our running buddies was fantastic. If anyone’s thinking of doing the Grand Prix, please do. The races are so well supported and the friends and memories you make along the way are unbelievable. I’ve never written anything like this before so hope I haven’t bored you too much.

Diane Ford

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