My year of off-road racing
In 2013 I have run 11 off-road races. They ranged from flat to horribly hilly. If anyone is wondering whether to tackle any next year, this is my potted review of the ones I took part in. Maybe other Almosts would like to share their views on these and other off-road races, for the benefit of anyone thinking about entering next year?
I came last in one race – by about 10 minutes; I squeaked across the finishing line within a hair’s breadth of the cut-off time; I‘ve been stuck in mud, and fallen over in deep DEEP mud; I have tripped over tree roots and run down a scree slope completely unable to stop. I’ve got lost, thought I would die of heat exhaustion more than once during our lovely hot summer and generally, had a really hard time of it.
So obviously, I won’t be going anywhere near these races again in 2014. Err well actually...
Beat the Bore – I loved this one and will certainly do it again. The timing of the Bore meant we started running just as the sun rose on an icy January morning. It was difficult running on frozen ruts of mud, but it’s the sort of run that really lifts your heart. There were a lot of stiles and some mud, and the Bore gave me a sound beating, but on December 1st, when entries open for the 2014 race I’ll be clicking on “Enter now”.
Mayhill Massacre - Hideous. Mud, deep mud, slippery mud and plain ordinary muddy mud, together with what felt like non-stop hills. Very akin to childbirth – horrible to go through (and no epidural option) but now, months later, I’m thinking, well, maybe it wasn’t so bad.
Chedworth Roman Trail – Great race, despite the river crossing and the mud and the climb back up the valley side. I’ll be back for my 3rd attempt next spring. I wonder if next year’s goody bag will be just that – an empty plastic bag, as it was this year?
Magnificent Eastnor Castle 7 – A quite scenic but challenging course along tracks and trails through the woods around the castle. After climbing up to the obelisk you get a lovely downhill finish – except it isn’t quite the finish and you have to toil through a field before you can finally stop! I’ll probably have another go this year, though I’m not as fond of this one as say, Chedworth.
Cleeve Cloud Cuckoo – I’ve done this twice now and although I came last this year (as opposed to last but one in 2013;-)) I improved my time – so in 2014 I’ll be back for an attempt at improving both my time and my placing. It is a wonderful place to run and I run slowly enough to be able to appreciate the fantastic views on a summer evening from Cleeve Hill across the Severn Vale, and listen to the skylarks larking about. The marshals are a bit spread out and at one point this year I was so far behind I had no idea where to go, until I spotted a marshal in the distance and just over the brow of a rise, jumping up and down and waving his arms in the air!
Leg 7 Cotswold Way Relay – (and the recce run for it) This is a lovely route and is apparently one of the easier legs. It was quite challenging enough for me! The recce run was lovely. On the day of the race itself it was very hot and I got a bit lost looking for the Tyndale monument. I only just got in before the final cut-off time, but at least there was a proper downhill tarmac finish! The tech T shirt is great, and I’ve worn this year’s a lot.
Cranham Beast – this is part of the village fete, but by no means a “fun run”. I know the fete organisers will hope for another boiling hot day as they had this year but I would welcome a bit of cloud next time! I don’t think there was a level bit on the entire route – it was all up or down (but it felt like mainly up!)
Followed the very next day by the Standish Woodland Chase – another hot day, longer, steeper hills, and 9+ miles instead of 5. The 2 laps through the woods were energy sapping but such is the nature of the course (basically straight up the Cotswold escarpment to start with), at least you get a nice long descent to the finishing line!
Winchcombe 10k - only 10k! Just one hill! Shame the hill is in effect 5k long and climbs to the highest point of the Cotswolds. But it was a pretty route, and at least it wasn’t hot. There was no mud to speak of, either. It’s another race I’ll be revisiting next year.
Woodchester 8 –I’d had enough of running up and down steep-sided valleys by the time this one came round. No downhill finish but a very definitely uphill one! It also clashed with a road race. It’ll be the road race next year for me.
Finally, leg 2 of the JW Ultra. The bit that climbs, a bit. I was disappointed with my effort in this, which came as something of a surprise given that I’d tackled much, much bigger ascents in other races. I think it was the mental challenge of the unvarying (you could say monotonous) view of the canal, the lack of other runners around me and the pressure of knowing someone was waiting for me at CP2. If I was just out running the leg as an ordinary Sunday morning run it might have been ok but although I’m glad I’ve done it once, I won’t be doing it again.
So, to sum up, I still don’t enjoy mud very much, I’m rubbish at running up hills, and I’m amazed that I haven’t broken an ankle or injured myself in other ways. But overall, it’s been fun, and I’m about to buy a new pair of off-road shoes ready for next year!