As usual I turned up at Endcliffe Park without having a clue about the race I was taking part in, I seem to be making a habit of that – note to self, must do homework in future!
But today wasn’t about me, it was about Claire who had taken on her toughest challenge yet on what turned out to be a difficult off road route with plenty of hills, mud, obstacles etc. For those who don’t know Claire is visually impaired and needs a guide to be able to take part in the sport she loves – which is running, and she had chosen myself to help her get around this brilliant bit difficult hilly Sheffield course today.
After taking care of the formalities we settled at the back of the pack at the start and straight from the off it was a mud fest, with a loop of Endcliffe Park to start with in pretty much 3″ of mud which constantly threatened to pull your shoes off but Claire was determined to throw herself fully into this race and was good to her word.
I had been given brief Instructions on where to position myself and how to hold the tether etc and after never having guided before was a tiny bit nervous, especially knowing now that it was a tricky course – but I needn’t have worried as Claire was brilliant company and made it quite clear what I needed to do and how.
Once out of the park we headed up the road and soon turned the corner towards what was described as ‘the hill’ by marshal’s. Now I didn’t even realise I’d said it but Claire picked up on it. As soon as I saw the hill I must have uttered the words “oh dear”, what I saw was a wall of grass with people clambering, sliding, crawling, and the odd one walking – but nobody running – up the hill. It was a slithery mess of mud and grass which looked a bit worrying to be honest, but as I said Claire threw herself into this race so we picked our way around the casualties and plowed onwards and upwards.
The rest of the 5k loop, which we did twice, was a mix of wooded trails with plenty of roots, rocks, branches etc to trip us up and with steep slopes and lots of streams and waterfall’s alongside the trails. The route takes on part of the RSR route which is a very pretty route through Sheff and this was no different.
I was convinced that one or both of us would go over at some point and we were both kind of expecting it but apart from a slight stumble …. by me ?, we escaped unscathed and before we knew it were skirting through the park again onto our 2nd loop.
We had both anticipated the worst in terms of weather and had layered up beforehand but the gods had been kind so we both overheated slightly and had to adjust our pace accordingly on the 2nd loop but to be fair we still kept up a fair pace and completed the 2nd loop and approached the finish in a respectable 1hr 25min. I even joked that we should go for a sprint finish once we saw a few friendly DAC faces lining the finish straight – so she bloody well did and dragged me over the line in a decent 1:26:00 for a pretty testing trail 10k.
For anybody who might feel a bit nervous about stepping out of the comfort zone and helping somebody in Claire’s position, all I can say is don’t be. All I was there for was to point out any potential hazards, Claire did the hard work and is amazing in the fact that she pushes the boundaries constantly, despite living with ailments that would sit most of us on our backsides and make us give in and feel sorry for ourselves.
I loved today’s experience and will definitely be repeating it, if Claire will have me that is, at the upcoming XC series!