The Bolt is a tough, hilly, off-road 10k run that normally takes at the Alice Holt Forest. It was moved to the beautiful Loseley House near Guildford for 2016 and made for a perfect setting for the two 5k lap course that took us up and round the house and into the nearby woods.
It was pretty wet underfoot, so definitely a day for the trail shoes, and a reasonably warm April morning with only a few clouds in the sky. Having struggled with injury a few weeks before, I didn't know where my running was at and I had no expectations for the race. I simply wanted to have a hit out after starting to train with Blair and banking lots of his sessions for a number of weeks.
A field of just over 200 assembled at the start line with everyone jostling for a decent position in the crowd to make a fast getaway. The gun went and it was straight up hill towards the house before a sharp left turn and a change underfoot from a level concrete path to long wet grass and an uneven ground. The first 1km was uphill, gradually getting steeper, and with everyone pushing hard from the start I could hear everyone blowing hard within a couple of minutes.
I found myself near the front right from the gun and a group of 5 of us got away from the main pack fairly quickly with the uphill start. Not having raced for months and being a bit short of fitness I quickly realised that I may have got a bit excited and needed to reign it back in a touch to find a sustainable pace. Two guys started to pull away at the front and I settled nicely into 3rd place.
The course continued to wind uphill into the woods with one or two very steep, eye-popping mud banks to negotiate. The false flats after both these were very welcome. After getting through the hardest of the climbs on lap one, I started to check around me a few times to see if anyone was chasing and I had a good cushion to 4th. A flatter section through the woods meant to I could settle into more of a 'flat course' race pace temporarily, before a couple of very sharp descents out of the woods felt just as taxing on the legs as the earlier climbs!
The leaders were well out of sight now and much to my surprise, as I came to complete the first lap, I noticed that one of the leaders was actually doing the 5k race and had finished. Boom – up into 2nd place! I felt pretty amazed and hugely buoyed by this, having never had even the slightest sniff of any kind of podium before, and it gave me just the lift I needed before hitting the climbs again at the start of lap two.
It certainly helped to know the course for the second time round and I managed my efforts a bit more sensibly, leaving a little in the tank for the steeper parts of the course. Into the woods again and, as the km's were ticking down I had a few waves of paranoia that someone was catching me. Convinced I could hear heavy breathing, I checked back a number of times but all was well. Once the hills were out the way for the final time, I enjoyed the downhill stretch back to the house and onto the finish. A few more double checks to see if anyone was behind me and on into the finish stretch where a fairly large crowd had gathered by now and generously cheered all the runners home.
I had no expectations for the race and simply wanted to run as fast as possible and feel strong the whole way. I finished in a time of 40:59 which I felt really good about given the type of course. Taking 2nd place just seemed stupid and way beyond what I had imagined. The best thing was that it gave me lots of confidence for the new triathlon season and a reminder that the engine is in a reasonable place already. A good day! :-)