Roger was forced to retire and register a DNF at this race last year, at about the 4 miles point, with a tight hamstring. This year he is also on his way back from an injury lay off and so was just looking to enjoy the race and the views out over Plymouth Sound on what was a lovely sunny day - if on the windy side - to have a little jog around. As this was his longest run for several months he wasn't putting any expectations on himself. Well, when you don't expect anything, you sometimes get pleasantly surprised, as Roger trit-trotted his way round the course in a steady 76:00 for 199th place overall (out of 556 finishers) and this was easily good enough for the top MV65 spot on the day. So Roger was awarded with a £20 cash prize for his category win: not bad earnings for a nice Sunday jog in the sun!
Last year I, Ellie, was disappointed not to have been selected to represent Devon on the women's team of 4 for the Peninsula Challenge and so I ran with extra fire in my belly to try and get in amongst the Devon runners to try and prove my credentials! I managed to get ahead of one Devon runner and was the only none-team athlete in the top 8. This year I was thrilled to have been given a place, but I knew there were some talented ladies who hadn't made the team and were in the same position I was last year who would be going all out to try and prove the selectors wrong and to try and upstage me! This added lots of pressure!
The Peninsula Challenge adds a little bit of interest and ensures that the race always attracts a highly competitive field. Last year both the men's and women's titles went to Cornwall and so this year, us Devon runners had something to prove! The line up on the men's side was super-strong, with Tom Merson of Exmouth heading it up. Us women had the talented and in-form SWRR runner, Lucy Commander, leading our charge. Both Tom and Lucy had shown that they were in good shape by winning our own Fulfords Five race 2 weeks ago.
I joined Lucy, Ami Yetton (Plymouth Harriers) and Alison McEwing (Erme Valley Harriers) on the ladies team. However, after having had a good solid 4 weeks of training, pain free, I had aggravated an on-going achillies injury at the Exeter Half Marathon last weekend. I rested it all week in the hope that it would heal in time for Plymouth, but even on the warm up track yesterday I was feeling it. This is nothing new: I have been stiff in warm up with it before many races and it's always worked itself out, so I was hoping it would do the same yesterday.... unfortunately, it didn't.
I started well - perhaps a little too well (first mile in 5:41!!) and was going strong up until about mile 6. At this point I was on target for my target time of 62:00. Then between miles 6 and 7 it all started to unravel. The stiffness and pain from my achillies began travelling up my calf. I could feel the pain spreading with each passing mile until by mile 8 it was excruciating. Around this time I passed a Torbay AC runner who had dropped out and was walking back to race HQ and I had a massive internal debate in my head as to whether I should drop out too. By this point I had slowed drastically and had been overtaken by two non-team runners from Devon - exactly what I feared would happen. As I have never DNFed before, I was worried that if I pulled out it would just look as though I had done it to avoid the embarrassment of being beaten by a none-team runner, and also, I would let the team down, so I decided to carry on.
The last mile and a half was the most painful running experience of my life. I was speed-limping and wincing with every step... and slowing with every step. The frustrating thing was that other than this injury, I felt great! My legs felt fresh and I wasn't at the limits of my fitness but had more in the tank. I tried to accelerate in the last mile but my left leg just couldn't match the pace of my right and my left calf felt like a tight, knotted, ball of useless, dysfunctional muscle. I hobbled into the stadium and still had 2 laps of the track to complete. Usually, however hard I have pushed myself, I can find a final surge in the last half mile, but today I just couldn't. I was getting slower and slower and the finish line just couldn't come soon enough. I staggered across it in 64:05 - amazingly, a PB of 13 seconds, but not amazingly really as I was in much better fitness than this time suggests. I was 56th overall and 6th woman, 4th woman in the Peninsula Challenge and 3rd for Devon.
As soon as I stopped, the pain really took hold and I was in agony. I consider myself quite a tough cookie and can ignore pain quite well, but this had me in tears! Luckily the Devon team manager, Dave Phillips, and my friend and team mate, Lucy, were there on the finish line to hold me up: thanks to them for that! With a bit of help I hobbled into race HQ to the massage table. I couldn't even walk a step, let alone run another one. The only saving grace is that I was still the third counter (3 count out of the 4 runners for the women's teams) for Devon and only one Cornish runner - GB international Emma Stepto - had beaten me, so Devon ladies had beaten Cornwall!!! The Peninsula Challenge trophy has only been won by Devon women once since they introduced the idea, and that was in the first year of it running in 2007, so it was a massive boost to be bringing it back to Devon for the first time in 6 years!
The Devon men's team were emphatic winners in the Challenge too, with 4 of the 6 runners to count, the first 4 runners across the line were all from Devon! So a good day for Devon and some great individual performances from the small Exmouth representation, with Tom Merson taking the honours in a new PB and a new course record time of 52:03, with Roger's MV65 win and with my brave-but-stupid injury-riddled PB effort for the ladies team.
The winning Devon ladies' team, L - R: Lucy Commander (SWRR), Alison McEwing (Erme Valley), Ami Yetton (Plymouth Harriers), and Ellie Sutcliffe (Exmouth)