Dominatrix

Dominatrix (noun):  a dominating woman, especially one who takes the sadistic role in sadomasochistic sexual activities. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Saturday 22nd October. Dunwich, on the Suffolk coast…

 

The early morning rain hammered on the window. In the darkness, my alarm unceremoniously announced the arrival of a day I’d been looking forward to for some time: the day the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series came to Suffolk. This was to be my second marathon of the year and my first ever trail running race. I silenced the alarm to avoid waking my sleeping wife and crept into the bathroom where my running gear was all laid out ready for the day. I headed downstairs for porridge with honey and raisins, a quick check of the mandatory kit that I’d packed last night and then it was time to go.

The drive to Dunwich took around 40 minutes. The rain had stopped, but the puddles on the road gave an as yet unappreciated indication of what was to come. Driving into the village, several red jacketed and friendly Endurancelife marshals directed me to the car park right next to the sea. The cry of the gulls was desolate in the salty morning air.

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What better place to start an adventure?

 

Looking around the car park, I saw a lot of serious looking trail runners assembling. “Normal” running brands like Nike, Adidas and Asics looked in pretty short supply here. Instead, there was lots of Innov-8,  Salomon and North Face kit on display. Yes, this was certainly a sub-culture of running I’d not been part of until now. Before I even left the car park to head for registration, I faced my first quandary for the day – how many layers to wear for the race? Despite having checked the weather forecast several times in the days preceeding, I was still unsure of what to wear. Leggings? Long sleeves and gilet? What are others wearing? I settled on the running shorts and long sleeves and gilet combo, dumped all remaining kit in the car boot and headed off to registration about half a mile away at Greyfriars – a site which over hundreds of years has had many different uses including a medieval friary set up by the order of St Francis of Assisi; a gaol and town hall; and even a radar station in WWII.

 

With a slick registration completed, the important business of pre-race dithering began. The usual pre-race people watching was telling me I had no business here and everyone present was by far more accomplished than me. The race briefing was a bit late as the ultra-marathon competitors were a little delayed in getting away and whilst I waited, I shivered. The layers strategy would be fine for the race to come, but didn’t really cut it in the chill morning air.

Eventually, with the route and safety brief complete, the marathon competitors were launched down the start chute at 09:14 and we were off onto a course with so much scenic variety it was certain to entertain.

With no trail marathon benchmark to measure myself against, but a 3:48 at Brighton Marathon back in April, I was tentatively hoping for a time of around 4 hours. Only time would tell if this would be achieved, but I was mindful of the absence of long runs in my training. I set off easily on the first section towards Walberswick.

The first section of the course into checkpoint 1 was a mix of road (just a tiny bit), footpath and beach. The sea looked beautifully calm and the weather had turned into perfect running conditions: not too hot, not too cold, just right. The hydration pack I was carrying to make sure I’d got all my mandatory kit was a snug fit on my back and all was good with the world. At about mile 6, I saw my parents who had decide to put on a show of support for their first born offspring. I first saw them from a couple of hundred yards away and waved. No response. I tried again. Still nothing. Getting closer it occurred to me that they’ve never seen me running in a silly yellow bandana, therefore they must not have recognised me or have chosen to disown me. I had to run right up to dad and give him a high five before they realised who they were looking at! This stretch of the course was really beautiful. The absence of wind left the river Blyth mirror like and the huge suffolk skies were reflected in its calm.

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Now that’s pretty…

Following the loop of the Blyth and picking up a return path to Walberswick brought us into checkpoint 2. From there the landscape transitioned again into a route over slippery boardwalks in amongst the tall reeds of the salt marshes. We passed a derelict windmill standing like a silent sentinel, guarding the reed beds in which it stood. Overhead, several birds of prey soared in the still air. Perhaps they were looking down from their lofty position wondering what these strange people were doing thrashing throughout the reeds below. At the end of the board walk, the route and the early morning rain exposed a tactical error on my part – poor footwear selection. Once clear of the boardwalk, the path turned inland and became a single track mud bath enclosed on both sides by bushes. The rain had made the path as slippery as ice and flawed logic on my part became apparent. At the round Norfolk Relay a month or so ago, I wore my Adidas trail shoes for a 14 mile leg on the North Norolk Coast. At the end of that run, I was treated to some rather painful blood blisters brought on by the fact that I bought those shoes for their cheap price, not their good fit (lesson learned there I think). I deliberately decided for this race I could not risk blisters on a marathon course, so I wore the pair of Road shoes that has the most grip. Regretfully, those shoes left me like Bambi on a frozen lake and I visualised Thumper the rabbit telling Bambi that “the water’s stiff” as I slithered and slipped my way along the course.

As the course went on, landscapes changed to forest, heathland and back again. I tried to keep hydrated and fuelled but at around mile 19, my lack of distance in training caught up with me. My legs stopped working and for reasons best known to themselves, decided to cease and desist performing the actions I needed them to do. Much to my frustration, my “run the whole race” strategy had become a run/walk one. After checkpoint 3, the run/walk became a walk/walk and I ended up walking most of the last 5 miles. Strangely, I did not feel depleted in energy terms. Instead my legs were experiencing a complete inability to run. They simply wouldn’t do it. Phantom aches and pains were appearing. I knew I was not injured, but my legs seemed to want me to believe that I was. Only dogged determination would get me home.  I came across a runner from the Ultra marathon who was similarly afflicted and he and I spent a couple of miles chatting and comparing notes on th race so far.

Checkpoint 4, being only a mile from the finish, was a welcome sight. From here, a slow run along a mostly uphill path led us back to Greyfriars and the finish. As I came into the finish area, I saw my wife and kids and my parents waiting. My daughter wanted to run the finish chute with me, so holding her small hand in my (rather sweaty) hand, we jogged the last 100 yards together, where upon crossing the line, I dropped to my knees and gave her the most enormous hug. It was over.

So where is the dominatrix in this tale? (I hope you are not too disappointed with what you’ve read. If you are, I suggest the dark web may be a better place for you!). I think that races take on the characteristics of people. They can be fun with a good sense of humour (like the colour run 5km series), or perhaps reliable and consistent (like Parkrun). For me, the dominatrix was the Coastal Trail Series herself. The Suffolk leg of this series was very beautiful but entirely unsympathetic. She slapped me at mile 19 and carried on doing so for around 5 miles. Whilst this was not sexual in nature (now that really would be weird!), there is certainly a degree of masochism involved in running a marathon. Yes, I think the Coastal Trail Series slapped me hard. And I enjoyed every minute of it. Just don’t tell my parents.

For those interested in the route, my Garmin trace is HERE.

 

Afterword:

The official results were posted online today (Monday 24th Oct). I finished the race in 62nd position of 103 finishers with a time of 4:55.  By no means elite and worse than I hoped for, but I’m pleased to have finished. The spanking I thought the Coastal Trail Series Suffolk marathon had given me was more “light slap” than “riding crop” and seeing 40+ names after mine with several “did not finishers” does please me somewhat.

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s necessary to recalibrate my thinking of what good is. Looking at the results I find that a 3:48 time (i.e. The marathon time I got in Brighton) would have seen me place in 8th in Suffolk, but this analysis is clearly like comparing apples with steam engines – they are just too different for comparison to be meaningful.

Sometimes you have to just run and see what happens.

Andy Ives

24/10/16

 

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