The Monsal Trail Half Marathon, Peak District, Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tamsin Imber

What if you were in a dark tunnel?

A third of a mile long.

I was running straight into the mouth of a giant beast! Wow that was one big, eerie tunnel entrance! Aghh! Running head first into it was like plunging into the sea! Freezing cold! Aghh! With a freezing cold ‘tunnel wind’ complete with big blobs of icy water splashing down on my head from above! It was bendy. Dark. No light at the end of the tunnel to be seen. And there were mysterious echoes ..somewhere.. ahead?..behind?! …I was deep in the tunnel. The sound of my breathing in, out, in out. Rapid echoey footsteps, go faster, keep on!

The Monsal Trail is a disused railway line in the Peak District, now used as a cycleway and footpath. Starting near Bakewell, it doesn’t go round the ‘Peaks’ of the Peak district..it goes through them, meaning seven long tunnels! The Monsal trail half marathon takes a ‘there and back’ route from the Bakewell end, taking in three of the tunnels, several viaducts…and back again!

This half marathon was part of my London marathon training plan, and fell within weeks of training, so there was no tapering before and it was done on tired legs! But, no way can I race and not race. I wanted this. I wanted a podium finish. I wanted a PB. And, I wanted to beat all females younger than me!

I arrived early, so chatted to other runners for a while, but inside I was itching to start. With half an hour to go I escaped for a short warm-up, and to get away from the crowd. As I set off, I spotted my husband and two kids! I thought they had gone to the cycle hire? My daughter skipped towards me, her hair flying about getting in her face, waving her Care-Bear in the air. My son remained by husband’s side, looking serious. As I reached them he looked up at me earnestly, his big green eyes open wide and said “Mum, if you want to run faster, just imagine you robbed a bank and the police are chasing you!” I thanked him. It was original advice. Maybe it would work!

Five minutes to go. The runners just behind the start-line looked in scarily good condition. Tall skinny guys. ..and a large contingent of young twenty something looking girls. Hummm. Was I deluded? I climbed over the rope and squeezed my forty year old self in beside them. Tension and nervous anticipation filled the air. It was also absolutely freezing cold but I was fussing that the two layer option I’d gone for would be too warm. Make a decision, make up your mind. I stuck with two layers.

Last minute loudspeaker instructions over, the gun fired and we all charged forwards like sheep escaping from a pen. My legs protested immediately! I ignored it and forced myself to get into a steady rhythm, building up to a pace that was hard and painful, but that I hoped I could keep up. It was gravelly underfoot. As I got into my stride, so did runners around me and I found myself running in a group of four guys. Concentrate. Keep pushing that steady pace. You can. We reached Hassop station. A small crowd outside the cafe cheered us on! Pounding on I became warmer and warmer as the first sun of the year got properly up and I was soon totally baking! And looking forward to the first water station! I managed somehow to rip off my long-sleeved top from under my Striders vest top whilst running and threw it to the side. Then I saw the grand, eerie looking entrance of the first tunnel was looming closer and closer! Wow that was a big entrance! Aghh! Running head first into it was like plunging into the sea! Freezing cold! Aghh! With a freezing cold ‘tunnel wind’ complete with big blobs of icy water splashing down on my head from above! It was bendy and I could hear mysterious echoes ..somewhere.. ahead?..behind?! I was deep in the tunnel. The sound of my breathing in, out, in out. Rapid echoey footsteps, go faster, keep on! Suddenly out of the tunnel and back into the bright light made me feel a bit spaced out for a few moments. Focus! I concentrated on keeping on it. I was running on my own now, having dropped two of the guys and two had gone ahead. Focus. Keep the pace up. My lungs were OK but my legs were tight. Oooooo! Two more tunnels, viaducts, valley views, cycle path…and then, the first male, having reached the turnaround point, came speeding towards me. Then more guys. Then the first lady…and the second. And the third..Noooo! The fourth..Nooo! The fifth ..Noooo! ….Then…me. I quickly reached the half way point and threw myself round the tight bend round a disused platform. Speed up, get on it! The girls ahead all looked a lot younger than me…but even more reason to try and catch them! My legs hurt more now, but they can speak to the hand, cos the brain ain’t listening. Back through the third tunnel, then the viaducts. More runners were coming towards me now. I heard one say “oooo she looks in pain!” I tried to smile at her but grimaced. Back through the second tunnel, more cycle path, I kept pushing on. And on.

I reached mile 9. Never been best buddies with mile 9. I really needed that next water station too. Swinging my arms more strongly to battle with my legs I ran on. I tried and failed to relate to a police chase. Instead I chanted ‘Mo Farah, Mo Farah’ in my head over and over in time to my feet. Mile 10! Phew! One final ice tunnel and there was the water station! Thank God! Literally! I stuck my hand out in advance, grabbed the cup, threw as much as I could in the direction of my mouth, got most of it over my face, threw the cup to one side and carried on.

Only 3 miles to go! I can do this! Yes! I found I could run a bit harder. A runner then caught me up (male so that’s OK). I kept up with him and we pushed each other on. Yes! I can do this! Lets go catch em! I increased the pace, and so did he. Back past Hassop station, just cycle path all the way now. The sun was really burning down, why was he putting his woolly bobble hat on? Ignore it, focus! Where are those girls? Catch them! I held on. The faster I run, the sooner I can stop. I ran harder and left the guy behind. 12 mile marker, only a mile! Yes! I will catch them. Aghh, the pain! Go, go go! I tried to run harder. Where are those girls? At last the finish in sight! Then suddenly he was right on me, running flat out! No way! I stopped him passing me and raced him to the finish. Aggghhh!! and then we were both over the line, stopped, bent over, gasping for air…!

I didn’t catch those girls. I came 6th lady. But not catching them makes me more determined for next time! I got the FV40 trophy. I didn’t get a PB. I tried my best and and ran as well as I could have done on the day. You win some, you lose some, especially in running! My watch showed even-pacing, which boosted my confidence as I didn’t look at it. And I love my medal with its Bakewell pudding on!

Extract from the book Running My Way by Tamsin Imber with permission from Pitch Publishing.

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