Sometimes running is all about contrasts. Getting a bit of variety in the places and types of running you do is a great way to keep things interesting. Just as well, because after a few weeks running around Texas while on holiday, on my first weekend back in Britain I found myself heading for Cornwall.
When it comes to running (and, indeed, lots of other things), Texas – at least the area near Houston I visited – and Cornwall don’t have that much in common. Texas is hot and humid; Cornwall is prone to grey skies and rain (yes, even on the last weekend in August…). Houston is swampy; Cornwall is windswept. And, perhaps most significantly when it comes to running, Texas is largely flat; Cornwall is most definitely not.
The last two weekends provided a vivid illustration of that. As previously mentioned, on my final weekend in Texas I tackled the Run the Woodlands 5k. The course for that race was pretty much flat: over five kilometres there was ten metres of elevation. And most of that was due to the footpath dipping down to run over a footbridge. That’s basically flat.
I started last weekend by tackling the Lanhydrock Parkrun, which takes place in the grounds of a stunning National Trust-run 19th-century stately home near Bodmin. It was an absolutely beautiful place for a parkrun, with the course going past the imposing house, and along a variety of trails in the grounds. And the route was very definitely not flat.
How not flat? Well, I can’t tell you exactly for reasons I’ll get to in a bit, but over the five kilometre route there’s around 100 metres of elevation. And most of that was contained in a gruelling second half of the course.
I couldn’t tell you exactly how much elevation change was on the course because I forgot to wear my Garmin GPS watch on. This seemed like a major set-up error, but was probably a blessing: without a constant update on my pace, I couldn’t compare my efforts to any previous 5k run I’ve done. Which was probably just as well, because with the hills this was unlike any other 5k I’d done. So I just had to judge my pace to the hills.
My eventual time of 22m 05s was more than two minutes slower than I’d managed in Texas the previous week, but given the leg-burning climbs involved, it actually felt like more of an accomplishment.
And the Lanhydrock Parkrun was just a warm-up for a bigger, hillier challenge the following day. I was in Cornwall at the urging of my friend (and foolish fellow London Marathon finisher) Matt, who was proudly born and raised in Kernow. For several years, he’s been urging me to join him in tackling the Treggy 7, a run based in the town of Launceston.
It’s one of those truly brilliant and very British events, covering a slightly odd distance – seven miles – run by wonderfully enthusiastic organisers and volunteers. The route started from the centre of Launceston and took in some beautiful Cornish countryside. Oh, and a big hill. A very big hill. A massive, challenging, gruelling, painful hill.
The race route featured 135 metres of climbing. One hill, just before the halfway point of the race, accounted for around 85 metres of that elevation. All in the space of about a kilometre. And it was utterly brutal – a largely relentless grind up a tight country lane. It hurt. It really hurt.
It was the kind of hurt that briefly made me question why I was running up that hill, that made me question if I was actually taking any enjoyment out of it. The sort of hurt that made me want to stop and walk. Many did. Somehow, I kept going and ran the whole way up. Just. By the time I was approaching the top, I was running so slowly I might as well have been walking. That said, I counted that I overtook 11 runners going up the hill – and only one runner overtook me. That felt good.
The finish felt good too. It was in the grounds of Launceston castle, with an enthusiastic crowd cheering all the runners home. And that uphill struggle was rewarded with a bulging goody bag. Instead of a medal, there was a Treggy 7 thermal mug. And, thanks to Ambrosia sponsoring the race, the bag also included a pot of custard and a four-pack of rice pudding.
Granted, a travel mug and some rice pudding might not have eased my aching legs over the last few days, but as the pain slowly subsides the satisfaction of conquering serious elevation on two tough runs has kicked in. As has a realisation. I’d previous written about the challenge of running in Texas humidity. I now realise a spot of humidity is nothing compared to running up Cornish climbs…