Or how to create a challenging event, confuse everyone with differing entry clues and turn out a simply superb event.
This morning dawned bright enough and a plan was hatched to convince JB of the sense in cycling to the Hamstreet 1ok (only 4 miles down the road so not such a challenge, to be fair) but after a little while the clouds assembled into their masses and as I went out to open the greenhouse the first smatterings of rain were cascading onto all around.
A race in the rain followed by a damp cycle home? No, ta. We took the car.
All my online searches last night added to confusion about the event. Several showed it to be an outing on roads, mainly flat. One revealed the plan to run around the woods a couple of times in a hilly loop. Being so close to home and having destroyed and knackered legs, neither were going to offer competitive (my own competition…nothing to do with the leaders or anything, you understand) timings so it didn’t really bother me and an off road loop would be better for my foot, so I was edging in that direction.
The revelation when we got there that about twice as many people as they clearly expected had turned up (the biggest on-the-day entry queue I’ve ever seen…a race director hunched behind a laptop trying to keep up…all in a good natured and friendly atmosphere) was surprising. Standing on the start line after the children’s 800m run, listening to the starter revealing that two 4km loops of the woods would be through much mud and puddle, and the fact that the woods were on a hill let me know everything I needed to.
A slow time was prepared for and expected.
What wasn’t expected was a good start, a lap of the village green to spread everyone out and an entry into the woods before a climb to the highest part of the course over the first mile and a half. It got a bit slow behind some near walkers on the steepest bit where the trail was too narrow to pass (I did a couple of times and have the cuts on my thighs from the brambles to show for it…bah!) but generally the nature of the woods was ideal for such an event. A steady climb had my breathing quickening despite the slow pace, the ground was firm enough to start with if rutted and a bit ankle-turney at times and by the 2km mark, I wondered how bad I’d feel at 5k!
The answer, as I turned a cone at the highest part, was soon to be revealed as much better. As the run progressed I managed the weird feat of getting fresher and feeling better. My third mile at an average 7.07 pace only just shaded my 6th mile at 7.11 pace, such were the hills and the increasing freshness in the legs but the time was to take a turn for the worse.
After the high turn, a series of paths filled with flints to challenge the footfall opened into a proper slippy, boggy bit which made the climb out the other side a sliding backwards affair but was good as a gauge as to how well I fared compared to those around. Trail shoes would clearly be an advantage.
The second loop was much as the first but a touch more lonely. Some of the roots that I noticed first time around were forgotten with more view of the trail and fewer bodies allowing footfall to be predicted and placed. Some fantastically enthusiastic locals cheering us all on at the halfway point was very nice considering where it all took place.
The worst bit of the race was just around 7k, however. A man was simply staggering sideways, one way then another, as runners went around him. Marshalling was, I have to say, fantastic – very few areas existed where you couldn’t see a marshall in either direction (no mean feat in woodland) and all were encouraging and friendly. As I approached the errant runner, though, the marshall behind was stood at her corner (about 150m behind) and was leaving it up to another marshall ahead to make his way up to the “runner”. I shouted back to the marshall behind as I stopped at the man that he was in trouble and she waved me on in an “i’m dealing with it” gesture. Clearly, the bloke had no sense of direction, his arms were everywhere and his eyes were rolling in their sockets indicating either mental instability or loss of focus. I wagered the latter but got a little wave from him to leave him alone and, satisfying myself the marshall was approaching fast and had medical kit with him, whizzed down to the marshall, told him what I saw and asked if he wanted me to raise help. He assured me he was onto it so I carried on. Not a nice sight and not good for a finishing time…the bloke in the Southampton FC shirt I was closing in on was out of sight and gone by the time I started running again. Ah, well.
The 6th mile was quick-ish, as stated, and a loop of the finish field saw me head straight to the St. John Ambulance crew and ask if they’d been made aware of potential problems. They said they’d heard someone might be in trouble but were waiting for a proper call. About a minute later, two of them went sprinting up the course, clearly headed for the runner. Having got my medal I headed back up the road, chatting to a couple of marshalls about how I’d enjoyed the event but asking about the runner when I saw that he’d made it to the end of the lane, about half a mile from the finish where he’d fully collapsed. A stroll back saw electronic stuff plastered all over him and, 10 minutes later first a car, then an ambulance proper came to the scene. Poor bloke. Apparently he’s training for a run and cycle to Paris and had been on his bike before the race – the marshalls that knew him suggesting he was known for overdoing it.
So a bit of an odd situation in an otherwise fantastic race. A good challenging course (no pb potential but little chance of damage to overused limbs due to the softness of the terrain, either), good marshalling and organisation, very local, a decent sized entry. Best race of the year by far. And a course that, if run in winter, could truly be a Beast in the East…decent facilities, an undulating course that would become massively funny with a lot more added water or some snow but which was challenging in itself and fun on the day…basically everything to make up for a crap experience at Canada Heights.
If only my legs hadn’t felt so out of spirits to start. And to finish. And if only the marshalls had called for the ambulance crew earlier (but if the bloke staggered another 1.5k from where I saw him, maybe they did all they could without dropping the fellow!). But at least the rain held off for the most part.
I’ll try to be back next year. Great race. Smart.
908.62 miles to go.
28.37 Juneathon running miles.
252.29 Juneathon cycling miles.