While I opted for the full marathon in the second of the Trailscape series, my mate Andrew McClelland decided to try out the half. So before I post about my muddy experience, I decided to hand the reigns over to him so he could tell the story from the perspective of a newbie trail runner.
A bit of trail running? Sounds fun. A half marathon? Hmmm. November? Yeah, why not, it;s ages away. So went the conversation between myself and the lovely marathon running machine that also goes by the name of Becs. I do a bit of Triathlon but came to sport very late. In fact, it is kinda my mid-life crisis and knocking on the door of 45, I hadn’t even run for a bus until 3 years ago. Before Saturday, the furthest I had run (for a bus or otherwise) was 14K.
A change of scene
Trailscape is a fab concept where trail runs are laid-on near to train stations so that smog-bound Londoners can swap pavement-pounding for some fresh air and time in the woods, all without resorting to a car. I was going to be the willing victim of the Cuxton event. Three distances were on offer; 10K, ½ and full marathon. The half was my ‘poison-of-choice’.
The weekend before the event was living up to the time of year weather-wise; whilst not cold, it was chucking it down and friends who knew the course attested to the stickiness of the mud but strangely glossed over the 1,600 feet of ascent they had clocked up!
Ready, set, go…it’s time to hit those trails
Fourteen degrees and sunshine greeted us as we registered on the morning of the race. The full marathoners were already a distant memory as I got my race number and timing chip at a very civilised 10am. A light-hearted but detailed briefing saw us lined up and dispatched through the starting gate and into a cemetery; I couldn’t help but wonder at what sort of omen this was setting!
The first 4-5K was pretty solid climbing, some subtle and some not so, and all in shaded woodland. Trees were broken by open pasture that was more swamp-like. But coming to the crest of the climb, we were treated to gorgeous views across the North Downs with not a house in sight. The decent was interesting to say the least with the beautiful browns of the fallen leaves hiding deep puddles and tree roots but I was starting to settle into this. No, I was enjoying it!
Stunning scenery and hills, so many hills
The open chalky fields tested ankles and climbing (again) through narrow paths offering glimpses through the tree-lines towards rolling country side kept the spirits up. The first checkpoint was lit up by the smiling faces of marshalls, a quick cup of jelly babies then a u-turn, shift to the left and…..a climb. No wonder the marshalls were smiling; they knew what was facing us.
Now I know that some of my fitter brethren were running up this but I adopted what I hoped looked like running shuffle. Half way up there was a message about conquering stuff and yeah, I patted myself on the back at the top.
Passing half way the mixture of ups, a few downs and lots more ups were becoming more interspersed with idyllic running through woodland, more squelching and more mud. The last checkpoint, where all three distances came together was a hive of activity and welcoming marshalls. Personally, I would have preferred it to be at the top of the nasty hill that came after it but it did mean that the last quarter of the course was more populated and frankly by that time, it did me some good to see other runners I could pace myself against and use for that inevitable ‘digging deep’.
About 5K from home there was the last nasty climb and actually, as the realisation came to me, my legs started working again. I was nearly home! A quick stop to offer an antiseptic wipe to a runner who had been attacked by a stick and I suddenly found myself at the finish.
Finished? Not quite
Yes, I am hooked on trail running. It makes a brilliant change to road, tests you in more ways than you would have thought; not least because you have to use your brain and concentrate on where you put your feet.
Will I do it again? Oh yes. Will I do the full? Who knows. Should you do it? It comes highly recommended!
Thanks to Andrew for sharing his story with me. Come join us at the next race in Ashurst, East Sussex, 10 January 2015. For more info, click here.