Monday 8 August 2016

Cross Bay Challenge

It's rare for a race cut off to be a matter of life and death but for the Cross Bay Challenge it truly is. This half marathon route crosses Morecambe Bay, a 'short cut' that has been in use for at least 700 years. I understand that every year the course changes to reflect a safe route across the river channel and quicksands that make any crossing of the Bay treacherous. This year the start was moved north 8 miles to Silverdale so that the River Kent was fordable.

The date is selected to be the weekend day with the deepest low tide at mid-morning giving a window of 4 to 5 hours to cross. That time is then shortened by the need to place way markers and have the safety team in place and you're left with a 3 hour cut-off.  That seemed a pretty achievable time even allowing for running on sand and mud.

The registration area was vey well organised although almost everyone seemed to be very cold by the time the race briefing got underway. At last we were allowed to start and within a short time we were in the water, much deeper than I'd anticipated.

By the first mile marker I was tired. I'd set off cold and stiff, I was wet and more cold and to make matters worse the route was directly into a 30mph wind. By mile two I had an abdominal cramp and wondered how I'd ever finish. I recalled all the advice I've read and decided to walk as required, keep taking small drinks and try to eat something. Really I didn't need to eat and my mouth was too dry anyway.

The 200-plus runners gradually made a snake curving across the sands and from an early stage the leaders were visible as distant dots, converging on the next strategically placed tractor.

I chose a plan of two minutes run and a minute walk and counted this strictly to myself. This worked and I gradually started to catch up with runners who'd passed me earlier. My abdomen settled, my breathing seemed less strained against the wind and eventually a 3:1 cycle felt right. With this rhythm the miles started to pass. Eventually I reached the 8 mile marker. For a little bit I'd expected a turn back to shore as we'd been heading offshore, into the wind since we started. This was it, a welcome relief.

Now the wind was to our left and there was a psychological boost that the path was towards the finish, which was just visible on the horizon. A 5:1 cycle was now achievable, albeit interrupted by small water crossings. I'd decided that it was far too much effort to run through anything over ankle depth, again this was a successful plan.

The final few miles became easier as the wind played on our backs and the finish solidified from a mirage. Then I could keep up a reasonable run pace.

After 2:25 hours I crossed the timing mat feeling very relieved and very slightly disappointed at my time; although considering how I'd felt during the first 15 minutes it was a good result. Being in the top half is good enough and completing such a unique race, reward in itself.

The scenery is so unusual that I spent a few minutes every so often just looking around, but the vast flatness can't be readily captured in a quick snap.

By comparing the route and my pacing splits it's clear how much effect the wind had on me and perhaps, unbeknown to me, I'd worked far too hard in the second kilometre. Luckily I took action early enough to not become too tired.

I recommend this run both for its 'challenge' (definitely an example of 2nd degree fun) and the charity it supports.

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