Usually when you enter a race it’s because it’s local, you’ve heard good things about or maybe you’ve seen an advert on Facebook. However, it’s probably less often that you stumble across an event purely by chance and based only on its name. That though was the case when I found out about the St Aidan’s Trail Half Marathon.

We were on holiday, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a tweet that had been liked or retweeted by someone. In it the user had posted a list of their upcoming races and as I scrolled aimlessly, the name St Aidan jumped out. The name of St Aidan means a lot to me as my wife and I met at St Aidan’s College at Durham University and the church in which we were married was also St Aidan’s. What’s more, we had just spent the day on Lindisfarne, an island intrinsically linked with St Aidan so my initial thought was maybe it was a race in Northumberland where I was staying so I jumped on Google.

It turned out the race wasn’t in the North East but just outside Leeds. Remarkably though, the start line was just 1km as the crow flies from my sister in laws house. As it was also a weekend we’d been planning to stay with her, fate seemed to be talking! With family commitments ruling out my usual October half marathon, my entry went in.

Unlike any other half marathons I had done before, this was listed as trail. However, reading previous reviews and looking at photos gave me confidence it wasn’t going to be a significant leap.

As the middle of three Autumn halfs that I had entered, I had originally seen this as being a building block. I’d got a PB last month at Bedford and had planned on keeping training high. Plans are made to be broken though! After a couple of lighter training weeks for varying reasons, as we approached the end of September, I got hit with the shock of my employer being all over the news and then going bust. This wasn’t condusive to training so the net impact was I came into this race with fewer miles than any other point this year!

In the days leading up to the race the rains came. The organiser was sending out Facebook updates but with parts of the run along the river, the risk of flooding was high. If the race was on, it was definitely trail shoe conditions. All well and good but unfortunately I don’t currently have a pair and having just lost my job, they have to fall down the pecking order!

We drove up north after my sons football match and I still wasn’t 100% sure the race would be on. Indeed as I fell asleep to the sound of rain on the window, I was half expecting a cancellation email in the morning.

Threatening Skies at RSPB St Aidan’s

Thankfully this wasn’t the case and the rain had stopped by the time I was up and eating breakfast. After quickly popping down to collect my number in the car, I then used the 1.5km, downhill road route as a warm up. The rain was still holding off but the clouds were still looking threatening.

As we amassed for the start the expectation was still very much it would bucket it down any minute. There was still a chance that if the river level kept rising we’d get turned about 4 miles in, shortening the race. The organisers were also very honest that, as a trail race, the mileage markers (and indeed the total distance) were approximate. Don’t complain if your Garmin says otherwise!

Within the 1st 500m it was clear avoiding puddles was a pointless exercise. Within 2km it was clear avoiding the muddy, boggy bits was a pointless exercise. The good thing this meant though was that my mind was immediately off the clock. Unlike a road race, I knew keeping constant splits was going to be nigh on impossible. At my last half in Bedford I’d had this freedom due to watch issues, today I just knew I could run free.

The paths got a little better when we hit some road in Allerton Bywater and then alongside the Calder Navigation. This also saw us start to go through 5 miles and the knowledge we were on for a full half. As we ran round Faiburn Ings the predicted rain still hadn’t come but I was needing it as it felt hot! The good news though I was still feeling strong. Unfortunately, that was about to change!

From miles 7 to 9 we headed back along a ridge of a flood defence alongside the River Aire. We’d gone out that way and whilst it had felt fine on way out, it was now very slippery. At this stage I really started to wish I had some trail shoes on. By the time we returned to the St Aidan’s nature reserve my legs were shot.

Medal and Buff

I stumbled my way around the last 5km or so and ended up crossing the line in just under 1:49. As predicted at the beginning my Garmin had measured long! I don’t know if it was the conditions, the incorrect footwear, the truncated training, simply going out too hard, or a combination of all, but I do wish I’d been able to keep strong until the end. That said, I was happy overall with my time and after collecting my medal and buff, it was time to collect the wife and kids and drive home.

I now have 6 weeks until I hit my home half marathon again. I hope this race has put some tough miles in my legs I can call on then. I’m also hoping that I can start to look for the positives in unemployment and get some more training miles under my belt while I search for the next challenge. One thing is for sure though. If this race is on again next year it will be in my diary as I do feel I have some unfinished business!

By Mike

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