The drive over was fairly bleak, very overcast and we even had a heavy downpour once we reached Bristol itself, thankfully it was short-lived and friends who were approximately 20 minutes behind us never encountered any rain at all. Typical British weather!
First view of the venue (bad phone pic)
Much better photo of the other side
Ashton Court is beautiful but I would love to go back to explore on a sunny day, yesterday's cloud cover while nice for the duration of the race obscured a lot of the scenery. This website does an excellent job (much better than the "official" ones) of detailing the estate. I was chuffed to be able to see the fallow deer during the race, we were all oohing and ahhhing over how pretty the herd was.
Setting up--the woman on the left is Catherine Hughes who introduced me to this sport
Before arriving I was waffling about which distance to do--whether to amble about on the 20k or try to see how fast I could do the 10k but once there I opted for hanging around chatting with friends instead of immediately leaving out on the longer distance (it started an hour earlier). I also decided to use part of the time to go for a short run in order to recce the course--highly recommended because I stopped to chat with nearly every course marshal which meant I got extra cheers when it came time for the race, it's all about the strategy, lol.
What a background!
Not that you can tell in the previous two photos but I missed most of the warmup exercises because I had to make a last minute loo visit! Nothing new there, I'm usually not in any group photos because of being in the toilet queues. It's ok though, the instructor led a far more coordinated routine than what I can keep up with anyway, it was more akin to aerobics and I am always the one out of sync with everyone else.
Finally made it to the start line, cheeky grins and all
In order to keep everyone from being right on top of each other and having to dodge poles we were lined up in rows of four across and then had to pause at the chip timing point for a few seconds--very much like an orienteering event.
And we're off!
The course was a mix of terrain, we started off in a civilised grassy area that quickly turned more pasture like complete with hidden holes and where it had been mowed (bush-hogged is what we would call it in the southern US) the tall grass would clump up around your shoes and ankles. It was almost like trudging through ankle deep water. After we got through that the course turned sharply uphill on a rock and dirt road that was slick from the earlier rain, this was also a heavily wooded area so it was the most picturesque section in my opinion.
I think there's far too much relaxing happening here
After the lung and quad bursting climb, the course turned left onto a path that was more open. We were still climbing but it was more gradual, it was also covered in pea gravel and had several large speed humps built in that were a pain in the butt to Nordic walk over. I'm guessing the humps served a two fold purpose, the first being to slow the cyclists down and the second to help prevent the path from eroding. Once you got past those it was an awesome area for the poles, I was really able to get a good bite without them sliding about and powered through. The path did finally level out and there was a water station just before we started the downhill. The volunteers told us we could walk on the grass alongside the path through here and I did so on the first loop but on the second there were far more golfers and dog walkers about so I stayed on it. Absolutely hated this section on the second loop because it was covered with a mix of large and small rocks that made it impossible to use the poles properly and it hurt my feet!
"What is taking them so long?"
We then took a right onto the pavement for a short distance, it was noisy with the tips clacking but at least you could get a good pace going before making the left for the steep downhill back to the start/finish. I knew the gentleman who was marshaling here so had a quick chat (still moving, mind you!) before negotiating the photographer gauntlet, both the professionals hired for the event and everyone down at the tents.
Reacting to a catcall
The above pic was me reacting to my partner yelling out "Be tall!" as I was starting the second loop, it got quite a laugh from everyone around. Not long after that photo I was also finally able to chase down the woman who I had been slowly closing ground on for the last mile of the first loop, I was quite pleased with that because she started in the very first row and I started in the next to the last. Unfortunately I'd lost sight of the other person in a blue shirt I'd been using as my rabbit as well. The second lap ended up being slightly slower overall than the first (but only by 31 seconds if I read the timing slip right) but it also had a faster pace at certain times. According to my garmin stats I hit a 9:44 pace on one of the downhills and for walking that's very good--I'm fairly sure I know the moment when it happened, everything just clicked into place perfectly, stride length, pole planting, shoulder swing--such an amazing feeling.
Stats for the race, click to enlarge
As you can see from my Garmin stats, the course was just shy of a full 10k. I also forgot to push the stop button at the end! Nordic Walking is one of those sports that you can make as easy or as difficult as you want, you certainly have to expect a fair bit of teasing when you are doing it--if you think Forrest Gump running references are bad, wait for the "Where is the snow?" and "Did you forget your skis?" comments. As for me, I am as sore today from yesterday's event as I am after running a hard half marathon. I am not even sure I was this sore after doing the Marine Corps Marathon a few years ago.
I didn't get one of these
But I did get this :-)
And a goofy pic like this!