Monday, May 15, 2017

Two Tunnels Hilly Half Marathon

Back when I had my burned and couldn't run, I started researching half marathons in England. I needed a goal to get me motivated to start running again once the doctor cleared me. I came across the Two Tunnels Hilly Half Marathon in Bath, England. Bath was on my list and the description was intriguing to me.   The description was that you run through old train tunnels and then have the option to return back through the train tunnels or to go up and over and return on the hills.  Jamison encouraged me to do the race as he said, "Jen, you can't do something like this in Texas." He also encouraged me to run the hills for not only the challenge but to see the city.  I am so glad he did. Turns out to run just the tunnels you had to go out and back twice on the same route.

In the last few weeks I mentioned to some people over here that I was running in Bath. I heard comments like, "do you know how hilly Bath is?" "Have you seen the hills in Bath?"  "Wow, the hills in Bath."  Even the announcer at the start of the race said, "So, you are the brave ones?"  I must admit that I was a little nervous about the hills. As we drove into town, there were signs that on the road that said, "Caution 12% grade."  Surely these weren't the hills that they would put us on.

As Sunday morning rolled around and Jamison was asking me projected finish time, I told him 2 hours. I wasn't sure about the hills, I was doing this for experience and also, I was giving myself permission to walk as needed. Great idea. The one thing I didn't know going into the race was that the middle 7 miles were TRAIL racing!  Also, the paths we were on were open to the public.  At least I had some realistic expectations on time.  We have been telling the kids since we arrived in England, "think of this as an adventure." That's the view I took of the race.

The race started off as promised through three miles of old train tunnels. It was dark. It was quiet. It was a bit eerie as bikes came towards you!  Upon exit of the tunnels, I took a hard right into a narrow, one lane road and faced some oncoming cars, turned back under the bridge to a soggy path. It wasn't quite mud but it wasn't hard packed dirt either.  Surprise - it's also a trail run.  We went through so many gates and turns.  The brush was overgrown in places, in parts you couldn't see the path, the trail was marked by white ribbons tied in the trees and an occasional small yellow sign.  We quite literally ran the hills on foot, through pastures that at one point didn't have a path. I got bit by bugs.  I got stung by stinging nettle.  It was beautiful. It was fun.

As we turned into around mile 5 (there were no mile markers and my GPS lost signal during the tunnels), we started up the hill that the course was named for. I would love to say I ran all of it, but even "running" I was barely moving. My favorite part of the whole day was when an ultramarathoner caught me and said, "the key to these races it knowing when to walk. Start walking."  He was walking faster than my attempt to run.  I thought to myself, "Jen, you aren't in Texas anymore. Enjoy this." I also thought, "I'm definitely earning my medal today."

Past that point I couldn't' see anyone in front of me and eventually made a wrong turn adding about .25 mile to my day and ended up climbing a small fence to get back on course.I took a moment to stop and enjoy the view since I was off path. It was gorgeous. I was mad at myself for not taking a camera.  Eventually I came to a course marshal - at least I knew I was going in the right direction. She pointed me left.  I took a look, there was a small tunnel that had water running through it and stepping stones. You couldn't see the start or end of either stone and the marshal had laid glow sticks for you to aim for.  I wasn't running or even walking through this. I shuffled along so I could feel the edge of the stone. I couldn't see anything other than the glowsticks.  That was a new adventure for me.  

As with England, the weather turned on a dime.  During the time on the trail it went from sunny, to cloudy, to rainy, to steamy and back again to sunny.

Eventually the path merged back to where we got on and it was 3 miles back through the tunnels.  I had even footing at this point and found myself in a great rhythm all the way to the end.  Hope ended up running the last bit in with me as I came back across the field.

As my buddy Derek Bailey would say, it was epic.
Jamison asked if I would do it again and the answer is absolutely yes. 
Fun Day, even if I did have to sport the glasses due to pink eye.

You can sort of see the hills in the background.  Best support crew ever.

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