Woodland Challenge 10k – Huddersfield

Graham Millington represented the club at the Woodland 10k:

Sunday 21st October was one of those days sent from heaven for runners; barely a cloud in a sapphire blue sky that spoke of Autumnal freshness and crisp clean air. Having blundered around Witton Park on club cross country duties only 24 hours before, Sunday morning found me packing my race bag and fuelling up the car for another racing appointment. This time it was a trip across the Pennines to the Stadium Runners 10k Woodland Challenge.

The main purpose of the trip was to take my wife to only her second ever 10k event on what I decided to be an ideal event for beginners. Last years results contained a number of runners finishing in times outside her PB of 1:10, and the host club Stadium Striders seemed to have gone out of their way to welcome new runners. I concluded that if I was driving all that way it was a waste not to pin a number on and have run round myself, (although I had no intention of actually racing hard due to the exertions of the previous day).

Harriers’ club mates had suggested that anything in Yorkshire usually involves great big hills, which may explain the slower race times, but obviously I knew better. There was some talk amongst the pack of a hill at mile 4, but there’s always some sort of little incline to tackle in a race and it wasn’t likely to be anything dramatic!

We were met by perhaps the slickest organisation I have yet come across in a race as a Marshall personally escorted us to the check in desks where we registered and paid. For £10 the race supplied chip timing along with a technical shirt and goody bag which is pretty outstanding value. After a brief warm up and recce of the first half mile we were taking our places in the starting funnel. I spent a few minutes calming Sandra’s nerves and assuring her how perfect for beginners this little toddle would be, before making my way towards the front end of the pack.

The first couple of kilometres wound steadily uphill through the forested land surrounding the Race HQ and involved a fair bit of muddy trails. A trail shoe would have been better than an outright road shoe on these sections, but I’d been assured by a Marshal that there were long stretches of road and firmer paths along the canal to come and road footwear would be fine. Sure enough were soon enjoying a speedy downhill section along the roads towards Huddersfield and taking in a scenic panorama over the valley. I decided to take advantage of the hill to put in a bit of speed, particularly as I was bound to slow up at some point when the cross country caught up with me: I definitely wasn’t racing this one flat out all the way.

The descent seemed to go on rather a long time and as I picked off runners on the way down I did wonder a how much of this drop we would have to make up in order to get back to the start/finish point. Once on the flat I reined my pace in a bit from the sub 10k PB pace I was doing and a couple of runners drifted past me. As I definitely wasn’t going to run this one hard I let them gain a few yards before my pace strangely lifted again and I was sitting on the shoulder of a small pack.

The course then hits a canal towpath which at first was very pretty and pleasant to run on. Then the path turned to a churned up mud bath and everyone in road shoes were carefully picking the least slippy route through and cursing their choice of footwear. It was a relief to turn off the path and up some steps onto a cinder road, at which point a lady runner appeared on my shoulder.

“Well done 4th lady” shouted a Marshall.  

“By the heck 4th lady?” though I. “I must be doing alright here… may as well dig in a bit rather than throw away all that good work”.

I upped the cadence to sit on her shoulder for a while and wondered how long it would be before I began to blow and could fall back on my ready made opt out excuse of having run at Blackburn the day before. I kept on wondering as myself and 4th lady matched each other step for step all the way to the 4 mile point when the route turned uphill for a while. This incline did hurt a little and I was relieved when the “dreaded hill at 4 miles” was behind us.

Then the route left the cinder tracks and turned sharp right, and my heart dropped to somewhere near my knees as I clapped eyes on the real “dreaded hill at 4 miles”. I’ve done a fair bit of gallivanting about the Lake District this year, and I do have a bit of a masochistic fondness for running up the odd mountain, (at least a bit of the way). However, never have I encountered such a leg burning, never ending, soul eating incline as the calf creasing drag that the next 2 miles involved.

My Garmin later told me the hill was about 1.7 miles in total, but measured in time it was at least two months. It was steep enough to hurt, and shallow enough to still allow a reasonable 8 min mile pace and rule out walking. Whilst enduring my own agony I did have time to consider jut how bad this was going to feel for Sandra on her “easy” beginner’s race. I then began to consider just how much trouble I was going to be in when she eventually finished….

My only consolation was that 4th lady and I were passing runner after runner as they slowed or bottled out to a walk. I did think about walking it out myself particularly as I wasn’t going to run this race hard… but by the time we turned off the road from hell and begin a slight descent across the M62 towards the finish it seemed pointless to back off now. In fact having worked so hard up that hill I decided to go for broke. A spirited last half mile rounded off with a bit of a sprint that saw me overhaul 4th lady along with a couple of other runners I thought had dropped me earlier in the race.

I then had a nervous wait for my better half as I clapped in the other finishers and worried about what kind of state / time she would be in. I was pretty relieved when a good 15 minutes earlier than my most pessimistic forecasts she came into view with a huge smile and still running strong. She even managed a bit of a sprint down the hill to the finish and crossed the line with arms raised celebrating like she’d won it, (don’t know where she got that from…)

Sandra was nearly as delighted with her 1:18 time as she was with the bacon butty and pint of lager I obtained for her at the end! Considering this wasn’t a race I was going to run hard, I did a pretty good impression of it as I dredged up every last ounce of lactic resistance to get me up the hill and pretty much run as hard as I could the whole way round! The result was 45th overall from 220 odd, and 13th in my age group in around 48 minutes. Time wise it wasn’t quick but this is about my best ever finish so far. If Dave Collins is taking note: I had nothing left at all at the end – left everything out there Dave…..!

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