Cranham Boundary Chase
12th August 2017
The Cranham Boundary Chase was once an evening road race, an approximate 5 miles of undulating roads with a fearsome climb through the village itself to finish off. It has recently been changed to an off-road event and part of the Cranham feast, an afternoon fete which incorporates a cricket match and deer spit roast. The origins of the feast are thought to date back to the 17th century. I won’t go into the origins of off-road running.
The course (in its current off-road form) is traditionally two loops from the cricket club, taking in some of the Common land, maintaining the fearsome climb (adjacent to the road through the village) and throwing in another climb for good measure. This year the course was extended, from 4½ miles to 10k. A 5k – one lap – option was also included.
The fete (and cricket match) was in full swing: once registered for the run, one could take in outdoor skittles, a coconut shy and maggot racing, amongst other things. A straw bale maze and bouncy castle, as well as a couple pf performances from a clown, kept the younger ones entertained and a sizeable tea and cake tent was available for post-race refreshments… alternatively, the cricket club bar. Not forgetting, of course, the traditional deer roast for the carnivorous amongst us.
My role was much simpler than the above. All I needed to do was to put one foot in front of the other. Repeatedly. For 10k. Having collected my race number and attached the chip to my shoe (a very simple peel-and-stick affair, unlike my embarrassing effort at Frampton), we were called to make our way to the start, which was at the far end of the cricket pitch.
One briefing and countdown later, we were off. We skirted the cricket field, passed through the middle of the fete and out onto the first of the two loops. We followed a path, wide enough to accommodate one-and-a-half people. Overtaking would require co-operation from the runner in front and / or taking one’s chances with the caress of stinging nettles. I really wasn’t in that much of a hurry.
Having taken part in this event for the previous two years, I was quite familiar with the previous (and shorter) incarnation of the route. Consequently I was aware when we diverted from this to the present, extended version. The first diversion was into the field that, as we skirted it – adjacent to the road out of Cranham – we took on a gentle incline followed by a slightly more prominent one. Exiting the field we gently descended to meet the ‘old’ course again before immediately diverting away from it again and taking on a short but very harsh climb.
We crossed a road and rejoined the old course, crossing another field to meet a track. About 100 metres along we passed the point where we would have started the main descent previously. This year we continued along the track before partially crossing another field on a slight rise. Midway along we would almost double back to start a log descent towards a wooded climb, again rejoining the old route about a third of the way into this drop.
The climb through the wood was not severe and was largely in shade; a little respite from a sunny afternoon. Scaling this, we came onto the Common and immediately descended again, meeting a track, crossing a road and making a sharp right-handed turn at the foot to follow a path running largely parallel to said road. Despite the corner having been ‘shallowed off’ I was a little cautious – I had wiped out here last year and sprained my wrist (not to mention the damage to my ego).
We followed the path, largely level, for a little under a quarter of a mile before re-crossing the road and preparing for the main event – the climb back towards the cricket club. This one is a bit of a beast. Crawling might be considered a feasible option. I was doing my best to maintain a form of jog, but making no progress on people walking ahead of me (I was probably a little afraid to drop to a walk in case I could not get running again).
Completing that climb, we turned onto the track that would pass the cricket club and made our way to the water station that would signal the completion of the loop. All we had to do was repeat that one more time.
During that first loop I had managed to make a little progress through the field after an admittedly slow start. Despite panting from the recent climb I was still feeling quite reasonable, and confident of getting through the second loop at a similar, or better, pace.
Fast-forward through the narrowish path, around the field with its inclines, gentle descent, harsh short climb, track, slight rise, long descent, climb through the wood and out onto the Common again. I had, in my mind at least, maintained the pace and picked off a few more runners into the bargain.
Feeling quite smug about this, I managed a bit of a skip for the benefit of Lepha and her camera as I started the final descent. I was almost immediately taught a valuable lesson: do not mince on tiring legs. Turning onto the path and seeking to push the pace a little before that (thankfully, for the final time) climb I felt the hamstring muscles in my left leg tighten up.
One brief stretch and several curse words later I continued on at a much more sedate pace and took on the final climb at a shuffle. As I made my way up the track to take the left turn back to the cricket club, and finish, I heard shouts of She’s Catching You! I looked over my left shoulder to see who and, in doing so, virtually stumbled into She Who Was Catching Me.
One breathy apology (oh yes, I can certainly deliver them!), one side step and fifty metres later I finally crossed the line. Job done. Leg stiff. Otherwise intact. Looking forward to a reasonably-earned pint. I stayed around for the presentations (individual and team male prizes, congratulations to those involved) and a venison roll.
This is a great event to run – if you like off-road and undulations. If not – this is a great event to support!