How is this for a novel idea? Find a local race that gives you a generous 10k but includes the word ‘marathon.’ Hey, guess what people? I just did a [mumble] quarter [exit mumble mode] marathon. If you feel that this is just cheating yourself, just do it for the atmosphere – this event has it in bags.
Established 30 years ago (the organisers even had a limited-time offer of 1980s prices for early entry this year) and organised by the local cricket cub, this is a multi-terrain gem of a race. By no means flat and easy but, in the same manner, not an extreme toughie, this is an ideal event in which to introduce a ‘roadie’ to the delights of trail running.
To add to the appeal, there’s a children’s race to make it a family affair, a barbeque for post-race hot dogs and / or burgers, hand-made bespoke medals (unique for each year, in my admittedly limited experience), selection of cakes (and – naturally, with me in mind! – flapjacks). Plus the cricket club bar. Oh – and fancy dress is positively encouraged.
It’s also in the club’s off-road race series; another reason to attract so many Almosts. Suitably attracted, and entered, I arrived at the cricket club in good time to collect my race number and chip, the chip in the form of a watch-face-sized lump which is Velcro-strapped to one’s ankle. It had the look of the type of electronic tag fitted to those who tend to flout the law once too often.
Entries were being taken on the day and, thanks to a record turnout, the race organiser’s back-up plan came to pass in that surplus race numbers (complete with names) from the recent Gloucester ½ marathon were used. It was rather amusing to see the likes of Mike running under the name Kev.
We almost missed the start: I was taking a picture of Matt standing with a lady wearing a rat on a hat – presumably she’d had a discussion with Dr Seuss. Suddenly everyone was moving! I hadn’t heard anything like a klaxon, or even countdown (or the word ‘Go’). ‘Phone (camera) hastily returned to Matt, we set off.
The run starts on the cricket pitch before crossing a field and making a left turn onto the lane behind the club. Settling into a rather modest pace I followed the crowd along the lane before we turned left again and down a short but rather steep descent.
The ‘modest pace’ was a result of recent niggles and an ongoing head cold. At least, this is the excuse I was using for a quite awful run I’d had, the Friday prior to this – struggling up towards Belas Knapp, I was passed by a man chasing the dog he was walking – he was in casual gear (and I mean gear more casual than Nick Spice), for crying out.
Anyway – in this modest manner, I followed the runners onto the lane that passed the front of the cricket club, climbing up to and past the entrance (with an appreciative crowd!) and towards the village itself. We continued into the village before taking a left turn at the main village junction and descending again.
I passed Mike (not Kev, the other Mike!) at this point – he was also recovering from illness, and using this race as a test for his lungs. Bottoming out, we followed the lane for about a half-mile to its climax, at the Coalhouse Inn. There was a water station here, though a little something from the establishment itself would have been just as welcome.
We turned right and followed the (Severn) riverbank for a good mile or more, on a grassy footpath. We ran generally in single file. There was plenty of room to pass; it just meant stepping off the well-trodden path and negotiating slightly longer grass. I wasn’t sure how much effort I was prepared to put in at that point.
Passing through one gateway, we saw the faster runners approaching from the other end before they made their way away from the bank. This was a small section involving a U-turn, an opportunity to look up for familiar faces and give some form of encouragement… or gauge how far ahead any specific familiar face(s) might be!
Doubling back (and therefore becoming the ‘faster’ runners to those coming from said gateway!) we made our way across the field, away from the river and towards the church at Deerhurst. Through the churchyard, we made our way onto road and snaked through the village of Deerhurst itself before tackling an incline that would take us back onto fields.
Up to this point I had been feeling OK, managing a reasonable – if somewhat modest – pace and making a bit of progress relative to others. The incline we took on was not severe by any stretch of the imagination, and I chose to take it on gently, yet I suddenly felt as if my energy had been snatched away. My running went from smooth (in my head at least) to broken.
Far from the original hope that I might up the pace in the latter part of the race I was now simply hoping to cling on to those in sight. Ironically, I was re-passed at this point by Mike who, having taken a very steady approach to the early part of the race, was now able to stretch himself a little. Silently wishing him well for the remaining couple of miles I continued to struggle across the fields back towards Apperley, still managing (just) to keep the runner ahead in sight.
The main approach to the village was on a slight incline back towards the village junction, the incline increasing as we approached the junction itself. Hanging on for dear life (a slight exaggeration, maybe) I made it over that in some relief, knowing that it would be pretty much flat for the last mile.
Knowing that the finish was not far off I was able to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We went back through the village and took a right fork onto the lane that would pass behind the cricket club. A short run along that before we re-entered the field adjacent to the cricket pitch, with the finish itself now in sight.
I was able to pick up my legs a little but not to the point of matching the spurt that the runner I’d been tailing put on as we looped around the cricket pitch. No matter – I crossed the finish line and succeeded in not folding myself into an untidy heap.
Several minutes (plus a bit of water, one acorn medal and the obligatory flapjack) later I was feeling fine. Where was this feeling when I actually needed it? I consoled myself with a post-race beer and some general chit-chat with fellow runners. It was too good a morning to start feeling down over my effort.
Congratulations to Gemma, who took the prize for first lady home, and a big thanks to the organisers, who put on – as usual – a great event. I’m off to put my feet up before I start the search for my missing running legs!