Lyme Park stood silently in the morning drizzle.
Droplets of untouched dew embraced the grass like diamonds.
The mist descended on the Cage, casting its ghostly fingers across the landscape.
The deer delicately picked their way through the woodland, and the sheep stirred from their slumber, bleary eyed in the dawn.
All was tranquil and oh so still...
Suddenly, a spindly 5 foot woman careered out of the mist, wearing a needlessly large 3 foot rucksack. She ran with a slight hunch as a result, creating a Gollum-like stature in the gloom.
She shamelessly shovelled handfuls of Kit Kat Biscoff Bites in her mouth, defiantly ignoring
the words on the front of the packaging: SHARE
... That 5 foot woman was me. I was that 5 foot woman with the 3 foot rucksack.
Okay, so I'm just going to come right out and address the elephant in the room. The elephant in the room being the bizarrely enormous rucksack I decided to wear for the Lyme Park Half Marathon yesterday (Sunday 2nd July 2023).
Running with the rucksack had never been my intention. Although it looked as though it could quite comfortably house The Rock and Peter Crouch, it in fact actually only contained my jacket, an umbrella, some dried mango, a Chapstick, an empty Kit Kat Biscoff Bites packet... And three pens (pens are obviously dead, dead handy to have on you during a run... 🤨)
I had planned to simply leave my rucksack at a bag drop, but I was all a-flap over the weather, wondering if I should wear my jacket or not. Before I knew it, we'd started running and alas, the rucksack was still awkwardly strapped to my back.
Honestly, I've never looked more like my year 7 self, bouncing along with my nerdy backpack. 🤣 I might as well have packed a Jacquelime Wilson book and been done with it - a real throwback to the 2005 vibes right there!
Reckon the photographer took this picture for banter, tbh. Seriously, that bloody rucksack! 🤦🏻♀️🤣
So that's basically why I ended up looking like a lost backpacker during the Lyme Park Half Marathon.
To be honest, I actually got used to it after a while, and it didn't hinder me as much as I thought it would.
No, the thing that hindered me the most was actually my inability to take advice and listen to experts. 🙃
The pre-race briefing strong advised trail shoes, so what did I do? I wore road shoes.
Truth be told, I don't actually even own trail shoes, which is quite shocking, given that this was my fourth trail race in just two weeks.
I'll be fine! I concinved myself. There's nothing these New Balance road babies can't handle!
... Um, yes, apparently there is.
For one, they certainly couldn't handle 'that hill' going down from White Nancy. My God, I thought that was the end of me. As I stood, dithering, at the top of the steep descent, I honestly believed that was how I was going to die.
I even contemplated sliding down on my belly - reckoned I'd probably break less bones than if I attempted to run it.
*Special shout out to my lovely fellow runners who checked on me as I slipped and picked my way down the hill. Despite running for their own times, many runners did ask if I was okay. True sportsmanship and the pure epitome of the running community. I am so proud to be a runner and share my passion with so many wonderful people!*
Everyone else bounded down the hill with such ease and finesse, and there was me dramatically clinging onto handfuls of grass and tree branches just to keep myself upright. The grass was slippy, and my [very worn] road shoes had absolutely no grip whatsoever.
It was like I'd suddenly lost all of my co-ordination. I mean, I do suffer from vertigo, but I think I needed to man up a bit, really. It was a small hill in Cheshire - nobody was insisting that I scaled the outside of the Eifel Tower.
My painfully slow crawl down that hill definitely did not help my overall time, and the moral of the story isssss… WEAR TRAIL SHOES FOR TRAIL RUNNING!
Trail shoes aren't a myth, or just something people recommend for banter, and I definitely learned the hard way.
Despite the various rucksack and footwear malfunctions, I LOVED the Lyme Park Half Marathon!
Seriously, the sense of pride and achievement that I feel today is just miraculous!
Organised by the brilliant Big Feat events, the race exceeded my every expectation, and I already can't wait to get back onto that course again next year.
I really appreciated the 7:30am start, as I do find that I run better first thing.
I can't really explain it, but there was just something really quite special about leaving the house at 6am and heading into Lyme Park as the rest of the world slept.
As we all stood under the magnificently imposing stature of Lyme Hall, it just felt like we were in our own little running bubble.
Many people would call me mad, but despite the Sunday moming early start and the rain, there was honestly nowhere else in the whole world I'd have rather been.
How lucky I am to have found this sport, and all of the unforgettable days it brings. Running really does mean more to me than I can ever put into words.
Last week, I took part in the Midnight Sun Half Marathon in Reykjavik, Iceland (blog coming soon). The race started at 9:30pm local time, which was 10:30pm here.
Running 13 miles at that time of night really did NOT suit me, and I felt so incredibly sick all the way round. I struggled so much that I finished in 1:39 - a frustrating 9 minute increase on my PB, over a course that I should really have done a lot better on. Despite having placed first lady at the Maple 10k and 6th lady at the Lyme Park 10k just days before, my result in Iceland knocked my confidence a bit.
I was worried that the difficulty of the Lyme Park Half Marathon course would knock my confidence even further but, happily, it has done the complete opposite.
This was - without a shadow of a doubt - the toughest course I've EVER run. It made the Buxton Half Marathon feel like a lazy stroll to Aldi (and those ghastly inclines in the Buxton Half were utterly heinous).
Right, I'm not being funny or anything, but what on earth was that first 'hill?!'
The only thing going through my head at that point was, 'I wonder if it would be frowned upon to voluntarily DNF within the first 5 minutes...'
My calves were like, 'Nah, sorry mate, but you're on your own with this one! We're out.'
Half way 'up the beast!' 🥵
My legs didn't even feel like they were attached to my body, which isn't really a sensation you want half a kilometre into a half marathon.
The Lyme Park Half Marathon route starts in Lyme Park and runs along part of the Gritstone Trail, taking in Bowstones and White Nancy, before winding back to the park along the Peak Forest canal.
Having grown up in the area, I suppose I take the local scenery a bit for granted. Running the course yesterday just reminded me how spectacular those hills really are.
Okay, maybe not to run up, but wow! Those views are unrivalled, and how fortunate are we to enjoy them so freely?
Being up there on the moors by Bowstones - marvellously exposed to the elements, the biting wind and the rain - breathed the life back into my soul.
It really is another world up there.
If you’ve never run this event, I urge you to go for it next year, purely so you can share in the magic of those hills.
There is really no other way to describe the Lyme Park Half Marathon course other than really, really challenging. And beastly.
I know I've labelled races 'challenging' before, but this was another kettle of fish entirely.
But in a good way!
It was one of those courses that gives you a proper, full body workout. The kind of run that leaves you aching in all the right places for days afterwards.
Josh and I have walked the Gritstone Trail a few times, so I did kind of know what to expect,
but my God, running the damn thing was a lot harder than I could have ever imagined!
The canal section was a really welcome retreat from the uneven bumps of the fields, and I was able to make up a bit of time on the flat.
For me, the hardest section of the course was the final few kilometres. We re-entered Lyme Park via the woods, and that last stretch was a real killer. I'm not even sure it was an ascent, but I just felt like I was slowly going uphill all the way back to the centre. The terrain was not especially kind, either. Loose pebbles were not pleasurable for tired legs, and I tripped a few times.
... No idea what this pose is, but at least I've stopped doing the peace sign 🤦🏻♀️
I was that knackered that I almost missed the finishing arch! I just carried on running to the left of it, and had to be redirected by the spectators. Not my finest hour, ha! 🥴
But. I am so, so over the moon to say that I placed second female, and 21st out of 335 overall! My time was 2 hours and 38 seconds.
I would have liked to have finished under 2 hours, and I think I might have maybe just about managed it had I not been wearing the wrong shoes, but nevertheless, I am really, really pleased with my results.
The lady who placed first was an AMAZING runner, and absolutely rapid! I clocked her as I came down the hill to the finish, but no way was I catching her up!
I was really proud to finish second to her.
I also feel that the finisher's medal deserves its own little paragraph, because it is just bloody beautiful!
I can't believe how much thought and care has clearly gone into designing and making this stunning medal. It's definitely my favourite from my collection. I especially love the little Gritstone signs - super, super cute! 🥰
How ridiculously beautiful is this medal?! 😍❤️
Oh, and can I also just say how great the photographers Geoff Quinn and Two26 were? The official pictures from the day are such amazing quality and there are so many to choose from! Sometimes, you can go through race pics and not find any of yourself, but there were literally loads from various pivotal points on the course.
One of the lovely marshalls (Kinte Chan) even went TOTALLY above and beyond by taking a photo of every single runner from his spot, all the while cheering us on AND keeping an eye on traffic. Talk about a complete legend! ✨
I did it! 😁
While obviously not a PB, the Lyme Park Half Marathon is one of my proudest achievements. Given the tough course, I would have been happy finishing in the top 50 females, let alone the top 3!
It was the boost I needed after Iceland, but more importantly, it was another reason to be thankful
for my anorexia recovery. Following on from the recovery blog I posted a few weeks ago, I have never felt healthier than I do right now, and watching my body flourish under this new love and care feels incredible beyond belief. Performances like this almost feel like my body's way of thanking me for fuelling it and looking after it properly.
Nothing intensifies or cements the respect I have for my body like running does.
And this is why I love running more than I ever thought it possible to love anything. It breeds the very BEST of moments and make life such an indescribably happy place. ❤️
Belting along those hilltops in good company yesterday moming, the refreshing rain in my face, my eyes taking precious snapshots of the staggering scenery... That's a moment I'll never forget. I wish I could relive it again and again.
... Minus the backpack, obvs! 🤣
Cara Jasmine Bradley
😍 Check out Big Feat Events:
📸 The incredible professional photos were taken by:
Geoff Quinn - https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnys/
Two26 Photography - https://two26photography.co.uk