Friday's 4.5 miles in the wind and rain had given me a taste for wintry running but lying in bed at 8am listening to the rain hammering down on the Velux window a few feet away did rather test my bravado.
Happily I realised it was the morning of the Harewood 10 trail race and as I didn't fancy trying to share a narrow muddy trail with either the quick or slow racers I opted to delay leaving until nearly 11.30. I spent the time looking at marathon training plans but more on that in the next few days.
Looking out the window at half past eleven I opted for a quick change of tops, switching the short sleeved climacool top for a long sleeved version in the same design. I had toyed with the idea of wearing the waterproof running jacket but I'd have over heated and ended up wet with sweat and condensation.
Off I went, down the hill to the single track lane which soon turned into a muddy track. At this stage the rain was quite heavy and there had been plenty of puddles but as I ran along the track it became increasingly difficult to avoid the muddy puddles that stretched across it. Through a couple of gates and into the woods following a slippy, muddy trail that then became more solid, built up alongside a raging beck. Funny that, as the beck was dramatic and noisy but although I'd ran alongside it dozens of times over the spring and summer I'd never really even noticed it was there before.
At the end of the woods I ran under a short tunnel under a main road and into the park. Normally its very busy there but all I passed were an old but sprightly couple bedecked in waterproof capes and a couple of dog walkers who looked like they'd rather be anywhere else. Along the lake side path then up the hill to the road and straight across. That was a rarity - to cross immediately - as on typical Sundays there's a constant stream of traffic but yesterday very few people had ventured out and I didn't have to wait at a single crossing.
About 1.5 miles on quiet roads followed, by which time I was completely wet and used to the feeling. There was a breeze but as long as I kept moving it wasn't enough to make me feel cold. Near the end of this stretch my route joined up with what was round about mile 7 of the Harewood race and I passed a number of marshals: some cheery and others clearly wishing they hadn't volunteered. Hat's off to them though - some would have been stood there for well over an hour by then.
Leaving the road I headed along the trail, part of Leeds Country Way, and immediately the conditions under foot changed. The trail was muddy, waterlogged and frequently 'blocked' by puddles. Up until then my shoes had been wet but not waterlogged. That changed. I passed 2 stragglers from the race in the 1.25 miles I shared with the route and struggled to get past one as the noise of the rain, and her concentration in trying to avoid puddles where possible meant she didn't hear me approach or the warning shouts of her friend.
As the trail left the enclosure it had been contained within there was the best part of a mile where it ran alongside the boundaries of wheat fields and along here it was constant mud and puddles that really were impossible to avoid. On the two hills I was running against or with muddy torrents that were quite dramatic. I loved this bit!
At the end of the trail there was half a mile of private road taking me to and across the dam of Eccup reservoir from where I followed a gravel path around the water. My plan here had been to break off left so that the first 1/4 of a mile or so would have been on a woodland trail that ran parallel and above the reservoir side path. That was partly because I like that trail and partly because I knew the reservoir path would be flooded. The path is slightly uneven creating opportunities for large puddles in heavy rain but it also drains poorly and sits within slight embankment going up either side meaning it traps the water.
However, within a few yards it became clear the woodland path was a no go: there had been tree felling in operation so the dirt path had been cut up by heavy plant turning it into a muddy bog. I picked my way back to the reservoir path and continued pretty much for 1.25 miles running through one gigantic puddle with the water at ankle height the whole way.
At the far end I took the steep access road past the deserted golf course and back to the leafy suburbs of north Leeds. On a mile or so of downhill from here I noticed the sky had got much darker. Until this point the rain had been heavy and persistent but what followed was an absolute cloud burst for 30 minutes. At the end of the road I crossed into more woodland and followed another muddy and deep puddle strewn path to join another road half a mile or so further on with the sound of the rain almost deafening.
From here the character of the run changed once again. Up until then it had been wet and often muddy and waterlogged but that was only to be expected on country trails. Here, I was back into an urban environment and expected rather more normality - but didn't get it.
First of all was a very steep 50m downhill with a reciprocal uphill. In each direction it was again like running in a raging beck and as I headed up the hill I saw a jet of water shooting up about a foot into the air out of the road - obviously a water pipe in the process of bursting.
At the top of the hill there was a short flat section that was flooded and then another short steep hill, again like a torrent. As I turned the corner the side of the road was flooded and what few cars were travelling along the normally busy route couldn't help but send a huge splash all along the path at waist height or higher, so I crossed straight over to a 1/4mile section of public footpath across arable fields to the main road. Once more the mud was thick and the up and down rolling path frequently awash. The tiny trickle of a beck at the bottom was knee deep and 6ft wide, causing a slight delay.
When I got out onto the main road everywhere seemed to be flooded. the path was awash the whole way along and gardens flooded. When I looked along a side road to cross water was gushing out of a drain 2-3ft up into the air like a broken fire hydrant in an American cartoon as the drains just couldn't cope with the volume of water.
After the best part of a mile I left the road to go back into the woods I'd started in and at this point the rain began to ease off to steady rain rather than storm rain. Across the woods and track and back to the road where, instead of just reversing the route I branched right to add in a couple of hills to take the mileage up beyond 13 miles. Round here it was a different world though. We live near the highest point in the city so it was wet but with no flooding - our water ran straight down the hills to add to the floods lower down!
And the key learnings?
- I absolutely loved it
- My Nike Pegasus trail shoes gave excellent traction in light mud or wet
Beyond that I was quite satisfied with the pace of 8:43 average. It was a hilly route and there were times where the conditions made it difficult to run with any rhythm (so running alongside the reservoir I was over a minute a mile slower than the average yet its a flat section that I'd normally expect to be amongst by briskest in the whole run). Moreover, it was a run essentially without breaks (other than a few seconds to open/close a gate, cross the flooded beck or cross a road).
All in all very pleased with my endeavours.