It was the last day of the Tour and I couldn’t believe that it had actually arrived. Finally!! Of course, I realised that this running tour would continue a further day for me, as I had foolishly signed up for the Cancer UK Pretty Muddy event on Day 7. But for the moment, I put the bonus run firmly at the back of my mind. Which was easier to do once I remembered that the final Tour race was cruelly, also the longest of the series. I didn’t know whether this last push was originally set as some kind of endurance test or to really see if ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’. What it definitely would do is to demonstrate perfectly how the cumulative effects of continuous racing affects running style. At least I wouldn’t be alone in running with a slightly wonky gait as my ankle was still complaining about yesterday’s race. However, on the bright side, I had heard that this final race was mostly flat and it was routed through grassy parkland and around the same lake that Pretty Muddy would take place at. This meant that during the race, I would be able to have a sneaky peak at what Pretty Muddy had in store for me for the following day. It may even be just enough to distract me from the fact that I was running while knackered.
However, if I arrived at the race believing that the majority of other runners were also too tired to sprint and we would end up taking part in a celebratory relaxing group jog, I was wrong again. In fact, the opposite was true as everyone seemed to be really hyped up and raring to go. Many of the runners were performing different variations of warm-up drills. Some concentrated on doing leg swings whilst others conducted a series of high knees, lunges and stride outs. But they all looked like they were going to be setting some course records. I could not understand how they managed to catch a second wind of energy but perhaps it was more about the competitive spirit of the Tour. I suspected that I was the only runner left still trying to resist it and hoping to enjoy the last race without racing. In any case, on this final Tour day I knew my tired legs would dictate the pace.
I walked to the start for the final countdown and last whistle and off everyone sprinted in a massive pack. As we reached the end of a grass pitch the crowd was forced to thin down almost to single file, and we started to run along an uneven footpath. The footpath edged along adjoining fields home to several cows who didn’t appear to give much notice to the never-ending file of runners pounding past them. Each time we left a field to enter the next, we had to pass through a connecting gate alongside cattle grids. This caused a noisy succession of runners who continuously opened and slammed the gates. It also prompted some uncertainty about the running etiquette of holding gates when racing.
Should you hold a gate open for the next runner to grasp if you are competing against them? How long should you stop and wait, holding a gate ajar, before running on? Is there an acceptable distance, between you and the next runner, by which you shouldn’t be expected to wait? What about subsequent gates?? Should you take turns opening and closing each gate or is it first come, first serve? Do you thank your fellow competitors every time they hold the gate for you or just on the first time?
Some runners had thought enough to completely avoid this dilemma by running straight over the wide cattle grids, bypassing the gates, altogether. Which was extremely wise, considering that there were at least 8 more gates to get through on the way to the lake. It may have broken our stride but I was more than happy with this as the gates gave me the chance to catch my breath. This also caused the race to spread out and by the final gate, the little group I was running with had whittled down to only one other runner.
I recognised the other runner from some of the previous days’ races and she looked relaxed as she ran, listening to her headphones. We kept pace with each other and continued running as the course began to circle the lake. Looking around, I could see that they were beginning to set up several obstacles and deep, muddy baths for Pretty Muddy. As I ran nearer, I couldn’t help noticing the slightly ominous signage of ‘Body slam’ and ‘Get a leg over’. I was beginning to wonder if a lie-in wouldn’t have been a better choice than opting for tomorrow’s early start with a cold and muddy run. However, my tired legs soon caught my attention and I returned to concentrating on the task at hand.
We ran in silence and finished rounding the lake and I could see that we were still managing to keep pace with each other. As we headed back towards the fields again, I wondered if this meant that I was actually running in time to her music. Perhaps the musical pacemaker helped us to stick to a constant pace, as we continued running along the fields. But more likely, it was the companionship and a little running etiquette that was buoying me along when I was tiring. In effect, I had no choice but to keep up to share gate opening duty. Simply put, it would have been rude of me to slow down.
After several more kms of familiar fields and gates, we found ourselves confronted by a heavily blocked footpath. A group of sleepy cows had shifted their bulk over and completely blocked our way. We quickly scanned our eyes around the field for a way out. After a very cautious diversion, we made it to the last km of the race and heard that the finish was near. I found that I somehow had a bit of sprint left in me. My legs, naturally, started to very slightly speed up. I glanced at my running companion still holding to our steady, slower pace and I wasn’t sure what to do next. I hesitated further and looked again to see if she wanted to come but the distance started to stretch out between us. I decided to keep going and soon saw the finished runners in the distance who were cheering everyone on. The finish line seemed to move further away as I tried to keep sprinting as it took forever to reach. Finally, and gratefully, I crossed it. I was exhausted but shortly afterwards I saw that my running companion had also crossed the line. I went over to thank her for keeping me going when I felt like stopping and was surprised when she thanked me back for doing the same.
Eventually everyone had finished and after some milling around, the crowd moved inside for some awards and food. I ended the evening very tired but on a high as I really enjoyed the final race of the Tour. The Tour, itself, was quite an experience and I now understood why it is described as something that runners simultaneously dread and look forward to. Although my Tour had its ups and downs, I was overjoyed at completing it in one piece. I proudly put on my Tour t-shirt in Hawaiian blue, and as I ate I realised that I was now a vet! The only problem was that I was finding it hard to ignore a slightly nagging thought. Vet or not, I had another day left to run and Pretty Muddy was looming. But then I reasoned that maybe I could try to use it as a cool-down run. After all, it’s wasn’t going to be a competition. How little did I know…
In the meantime, with the stormy autumnal weather approaching, you might as well warm up with a warm plate of pasta. This Spaghetti squash with Autumn pesto makes a great recovery meal, as well.