I did not have the Paras’ 10 in my plans at the beginning of the year but after my running of the Silverstone Half-Marathon went horribly wrong (you can read about that here) I decided I needed to do something else to test me, so I chose this – a 10 mile route on the local training area at Colchester Garrison, going across varied terrain in boots, carrying a 35lb bergen. Possibly I was somewhat mad to chose it, but then, according to my good friend, Sammy Farrell, it is just running with a “heavy bag”.
I made sure that I packed my Berghaus heavy bag ready the night before, trying to keep the contents as ‘realistic’ as possible, while topping it up with weights, so that it contained my bivi bag, sleeping bag, fleece, a change of trousers, my Mountain Equipment jacket, first aid kit, compass, headtorch, spare laces, notepad, gloves, scarf, hat, a bladder with water and two more bottles of water. If nothing else, that will be good preparation for my running of The Fan Dance in July. The weather forecast was predicting sun, sun and more sun, so I would be wearing my short sleeved half-zip Berghaus base layer, my North Face trousers, my Scarpa ZG-10 GTX boots, and my Outdoor Research sun runner cap. I also put on sunscreen because I was leaving nothing to chance. I drank a good amount of water as I got ready and left the house at 0800, leaving myself more than sufficient time to get to Colchester to register before 1000. Or so I thought. The journey around the M25 was remarkably clear but maybe I should have paid more attention to the sign which told me that the A12 was closed after the A130, because suddenly I came to a standstill, and for the next half an hour the traffic crawled along and I lost my time buffer – now I would be following a diversion off the A12 and rushing to make it to the start line. Things were further complicated when my satnav took me to a right turn which simply did not exist, and thankfully the map from the organisers was more than good enough to allow me to find my bearings and make my way to the car park, where the marshalls were both friendly and efficient and very quickly got me to a parking space. I ate some muesli with added flaxseed, hemp, chia, maca and spirulina, put on my boots, gathered up my bergen and set off across the grass to where I could see everything was set up. I was later than I had planned to be, but not too late.
I immediately made my way to the registration tent, to again be met by friendliness and efficiency. If people being delayed on the A12 was affecting the wonderful people dealing with registration then they were not showing it. I got my envelope containing my number and my timing chip, and was also able to get a Paras’ 10 passport, stamped with the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings stamp. Then I joined the very long queue for the toilets, attaching my timing chip to my left boot as we steadily made our way forward. I have a note of caution for you – be careful where you place your loaded bergen when you are using a portable toilet, because I suddenly noticed mine was pushing against the door and the plastic lock was threatening to buckle under the weight. I pulled it back just in time to save those outside from a most unfortunate view. I was back out in the open ready to watch the arrival of the Red Devils Free Fall Display Team, who all landed with perfect ease despite appearing to approach their landings at some considerable speed. You can probably tell that the road delay meant that my mind was somewhat chaotic right now, and as time was ticking away I went to have my bergen weighed, because it had to be verified to be at least 35lbs. The guy at the weighing station told me it was 40lbs and asked me if I was all right with that. I did not really have any choice, and as well as confirming that my bergen weight did include my water, I suggested that in this weather I would probably drink the excess weight. It was funny how things turned out…
We moved into the starting zone and were taken through a warm up, although it was difficult to follow the exercises given that I had a heavy bag on my back. We listened to the general instructions and then the runners were off, and the canicross runners as well, before we were told there would be another 5 minutes before those doing the tab would be sent on our way. It took a long time to count down, standing there under the hot sun, just wanting to get moving, and then we were off, although it still took me just over a minute to actually cross the starting line, time which I used to good advantage to start my Strava app on my phone, and to make sure that my Garmin was also ready to go – I wanted to record this one properly !
I gradually moved into a run across the grass, heading down a slope away from the parked cars and towards the road as I picked up the pace, then turning left and going into the barracks itself before taking a left on to a pathway. Something strange seems to happen to me in races – I can go through all of my training without even coming close to feeling an injury, and then I get into a race and something happens completely out of the blue. This time I began to feel an ache in my left shin, so I moved on to the grass verge to ease the pounding, and that seemed to work well. We were circling round to bring us back to the road and our route took us over a bridge, which gave an opportunity to pick up the pace a little as we came down the other side. And about a mile and a half in I felt a twinge just above the back of my left knee which was to stay with me for the rest of the course. Having said that, I am not sure I could have pushed it much quicker under this sun anyway !
We were very much in the garrison now, still running along the tree-lined road, thankful for some shade from the trees, and with buildings on both sides of us, until we left the road to go on to a track. Which is when I first heard what sounded to me like someone firing a GPMG, and I wondered if there was more to this run than I knew about. I kept hearing that sound as I continued to push along a very dry and dusty undulating track, which rose up a slope before levelling out and turning left to the first water station, and I was able to keep moving while others stopped at the water station because I had my bladder in my bergen, so I carried on down the track and soon came into a wood where I found myself going downhill quite steeply before the track levelled out and I saw our first obstacle of the day, a river crossing. I waded in and the surface under the water was pretty firm and mostly even, and given the weight on my back and the fact I was wearing a solid pair of boots, I was steady as I moved forward. The water came up to my knees and it was not an issue. I thought getting out the other side would not be an issue either, until I tried it, and then tried it again. I could get my left foot on to the bank but the rest of me would not go with it until the guy behind me gave my bergen a very helpful shove and I was out. I turned round to see if he was all right and was able to return the favour by grabbing his wrist and giving him a pull up and out. I came out of the trees to the realisation that crossing the water had been the easy part of this section of the course, because now we entered a swamp, our boots sinking into the very wet and sticky mud, every step uncertain in the slippery conditions as smoke drifted across our path and the sound of GPMG fire suddenly seemed much closer. It was a long hard slog making my way through the swamp with the weight on my back, and all around me people were slipping and falling down, being helped up by others, everyone making sure that everyone else got across. I clung to the outer edge on the right, finding the firmer ground, eventually exiting the swampland to find that things did not get any easier because it was followed by a steep slope. At least I knew my trousers were going to dry out quickly in this sun. I had less hope for my boots.
Now began a long stretch over grass and tracks and out in the open with the sun still beating down, and I was thankful for my water bladder so I could drink as I moved. We were being very well guided on the route, and always greeted with a smile and encouragement as we passed the marshalls. This seemed especially so with the one who told us that there was some refreshing water at the end of the field we were moving through. It was not another of the three water stations on the route, though, it was the second water crossing, and as I stepped into this one it was immediately deeper than the previous one, coming up to my waist.
I think my experiences with the Wolf Run have got me used to this type of discomfort and I just made my way through it, being careful with my footing and feeling for any sudden drops, managing to avoid the overhanging branches, before I got to something stone at the far end which I used to help with my exit, not needing to take advantage of the hand offered to me by the marshall who was standing there. I came out on to a dry track but it was not long before the route turned to mud and I was moving from one side of it to the other to try to find the firmest ground. At least that type of section had some tree cover, as the sun was still hot when we were out in the open, and I could really feel that at one point when we were coming up a steep hill. Thank goodness my anguish was captured on film.
The course continued to throw up a variety of terrain for us to deal with, which meant we were moving across grass, along tracks, down lanes, through woods, but the final obstacle we came to was nothing more than gratuitous torture – running down into a dust bowl, then running out of it up a slope to the right, before turning around to run back down into it, and turning right again to come up a steeper slope to exit it and continue on our way. Unfortunately for them, at the top of the final slope someone was receiving treatment for what appeared to be an ankle injury, and once I had got around the corner away from the dust bowl I had to move to the side and stop to allow a military ambulance to get through. Of course, something like this is unfortunate for the person taking part, but I always find it a personal comfort in terms of my participation in these types of events to see how very well such incidents are handled, and the person here was obviously in very good hands.
I was on the home stretch now, even though there were still a couple of miles to cover, because we had come back round on to the route we took to come out. The recent familiarity of the surroundings gave me a good feeling and the sure knowledge that I would be finishing provided I did not pick up an injury. So now in my head it was just a matter of what my time would be. I continued to push on as fast as I could, keeping in touch with a few people who had almost constantly been just ahead of me all round the course, and passing a few others along the way. As I approached the bridge the marshall there told me that was the last hill and the 9 mile point was just ahead, which were both very welcome bits of news, and a great encouragement. Now I was running down the far side of the bridge, striding out at the bottom, knowing that I was very close. I was passing some finishers who were going back to their cars, with all giving encouragement as they passed, and then I was being told what I already knew, that I only had to get over the field to the finish line now. I pushed it up the slope and then broke into a run, determined to not leave anything back out on the course. Not that I had very much left, and I could feel that, but I had enough and the sudden realisation that the cheers I could hear from those gathered around the finish line were for me definitely gave me a final motivation to keep on running.
I finished in 2 hours 32 minutes and 04 seconds. From my training I had expected to come in between two and a half and three hours, so given the hot weather on the day I was not disappointed with the time, but it is a little gutting to have got so close to beating 2 hours 30 minutes and not quite making it. By my chip time I came 375th out of 429 loaded runners. I stopped my Strava and Garmin, and collected my medal as I crossed the line, then went to have my bergen weighed, to make sure I had finished with 35lbs. You will recall that I set off with 40lbs, and now I was told that I had finished with…42lbs ! I had been drinking water from the internal bladder all the way round the course so I had expected to finish with a lower weight. I can only think that all of my sweat had soaked into my bergen on the way round, and that my sweat weighs more than water. Anyway, moving swiftly on from that, I had completed the course carrying the requisite weight in the correct attire, so that was my first Paras’ 10 under my belt. I wandered off to collect my goody bag, to find that all the ones with Large tshirts had gone (as had all the Mediums, which clearly means all the fit people had finished before me), so I took an XL, which fits me fine. The bag also contained a car sticker and a couple of water holders, so I was more than pleased with that. I sat down to collect myself, which proved to be something of a mistake because getting back up again was not the easiest, and watched some of the presentations before making my way back to my car. Making my way very slowly, because my left leg was very tight, but that seemed to be the only injury I had sustained.
The whole event and the day itself had been perfectly organised, with great communication throughtout. The route was very well marked out and manned by very friendly and helpful marshalls. I had enjoyed a brilliant time doing this, and not only will I be back next year, but I have also entered the Paras’ 10 at Catterick on 31 August.
You can see more of the photographs I took on the day here.