My racing history until recently has always been on the road. This was probably down to two reasons. Firstly, there aren't many trail races of a suitable distance for me - since my illness I have struggled to run regularly beyond 10k. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I am rather a clumsy person so don't trust myself off road!
At the end of last year Owain signed up for the Foxtrail Winter Series and casually mentioned that there was a 5k series which encompassed three 5k races over the winter. Could this be something for me? We have headed to Arthur's Seat a few times to simply plod around the trails there, which I have really enjoyed but have found more mentally challenging having to constantly concentrate on where to step next as well as being slower due to the more rugged terrain.
The 5k races tempted me as I knew I could get round 5ks in terms of distance so it would really be the terrain that I would be battling with. Looking at the series, the 5ks were on the same days as some of the full series races so I would likely be there supporting Owain anyway. Also the 5k races started just before the main series, which meant I could go out and plod round the 5k course with no stress, knowing the marshals would need to be out there for the longer runs anyway, and it meant that I could still be there at the finish to cheer Owain in. That was me convinced and I duly signed up.
Unfortunately the start of the Foxtrail series was around the same time I was following my Body Coach 3 month programme where my exercise was based on HIIT training with not much running. The first race was in November and I remember it being a gorgeous crisp morning, perfect running conditions. As I had not been running much, I found the first race particularly tough and my focus was just on running all the way. Near the start, you run through a field and we were in single file as the ground was frozen and I remember questioning myself as to why I signed up for it. However, the route itself was lovely with a wide variety of trails and scenery, including running through forests and alongside the beach. There were a few times when I was tempted to walk but talked myself into keeping running.
The second race of the series was at Balgone farm and it was a toughie with steep uphills and downhills. However, with the uphills came gorgeous views with the sun splitting the sky on a gorgeous morning. I did struggle a bit with my breathing in the lower sections of the route as it was a cold day. Yes it was tough but it was amazing just being out running paths I never knew existed and taking in sights you would only experience at that time in the morning.
The final race is the same course as the first and so my aim had been to beat my original time. However, come the last race the weather was awful. The rain was chucking it down on the drive to Foxlake but fortunately stopped before we started. I ran with a friend for the last race and it was probably the most enjoyable run out of them all - despite being almost last. I was really pleased to find the last race much easier than the first despite the more challenging terrain due to the wet weather - I don't know if it was having had more experience trail running, just more miles under my belt or having Jacqueline for company but the distance flew by. And I think it is fair to say I had definitely been inducted into trail running!
When we signed up, we knew there were no medals etc but I do think it would have been nice to have had a little memento for those that completed the full series (for the full and the 5k series). As the series went on, the numbers for each 5k race dwindled and I do wonder if more would have completed the full series if there was an incentive to do all three races.
Overall there were 76 runners that took part in the 5k series, with 15 completing the full series. I managed to finish 14th out of 15th. Normally I feel additional pressure racing at the thought of coming last so this series was great knowing that the runners for the full series were still out there so I wouldn't be keeping the marshals out. However I needn't have worried, the marshals were so friendly and encouraging, as were fellow competitors. The one thing I have learned about trail running from this experience is that it isn't about your time; it's about getting off road and enjoying the sights and sounds of running in beautiful surroundings.
At the end of the series, there was much talk about how great a summer series would be but the guys at Foxlake were just too busy with their day job to be able to put on a series as successful as the Winter Series. That's when Ali, Owain and I decided to step up and create Foxy Trail Runners, a social running group for like-minded folk to get out and enjoy the trails over the summer months. Had Owain not been running the full series, I am not sure I would have had the confidence to sign up for the 5k series and have my first experience of trail running in a "race" setting. One of the aims of the group was therefore to provide a safe environment for folk to increase their experience in trail running as part of a social run.
So far, we have two runs under our belt and we have been amazed at the turnout with runners of varying experience of trail running. As would be expected, the runners in the group vary in terms of pace. One of our aims is to create one group and this has been coming through in the feedback we have received after each run. If you want to find out more about Foxy Trail Runners, visit our facebook page and come join us on our next run.
I am now completely converted to trail running and opt to run off road where I can. The dates for this year's Foxtrail series have now been announced and I am currently facing the nice dilemma of trying to decide which series to run. The 5k series now has 4 races, including the night run which I really wished I had ran last year. Just now, the furthest I am running is about 10k. The full series has a range of distances from 10k to half marathon. I am sure that with consistent training I should be able to get round the races (with a question mark over the half). However, I know that these races are likely to be a bit of a slog, mentally as well as physically. I am also likely to be last so the big question is whether I would enjoy them. I am not sure whether the better option would be to do the 5k series and enjoy the shorter distances. There is a third option of picking and choosing between the two series however I do like the idea of being able to complete a full series. Oh decisions, decisions!! Any advice out there? if it was you, what would you do?