What had started out as a rather modest off-road 10k(ish) event, then known as the Beagle Bash, has (much like our club, I’d say!) expended into an incredibly popular and, as a result, larger event in its current guise as a 9-mile ‘slog’ attracting well over a thousand entrants (I should note that entry for this year’s event sold out within 48 hours of opening, back in May).
The race has always been held on Remembrance Sunday and, as such, incorporates the traditional commemoration and two minutes’ silence ahead of the start. All entrants are strongly encouraged to wear a poppy – though the course being what it is, not all are guaranteed to bring it home with them!
It’s a rather muddy run. There is an element of wading. There is one significant climb. You are likely to complete the race somewhat heavier than you are at the start. Put another way: you’ll get your money’s worth of sod. This race is not about time, but about both enjoyment and endurance. Mud is a featured plus (not an optional extra).
I arrived at Chipping Sodbury quite early, hoping to secure a parking spot fairly close to the school / Race HQ. Ironically, I’m quite prepared to run a muddy (and partially hilly) nine miles but prefer to keep walking to and from the event to a minimum. Against the more popular practice, our numbers have been mailed to us so no on-the-day registration was required. I purchased a cup of tea and waited – it was not a very warm morning and I had no desire to strip down until it was necessary.
As people arrived, I greeted other Almosts and used the time to grab a pre-race flapjack. Not my usual practice but this isn’t exactly a ‘usual’ race. Eventually we were informed that the warm up, and following commemoration, would shortly commence. I stripped and took my bag to the drop, rejoined my colleagues and prepared for the warm up.
The warm up itself was quite lively and the atmosphere almost party-like. Quite a contrast to what followed – the Last Post and the exhortation, preceding the two minutes silence. There are mixed feelings about Remembrance but, to me, it is a moment of respect to those who went to battle for our liberty, almost certainly knowing that many of them would not return to their families:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Time to go and make the most of what they had given us. We were shepherded to the start and waited for the hooter. We set off, passing through the town and following the bypass before turning off towards the first section of off-road.
Immediately off the road we were introduced to the mud. A rather gentle introduction but, having said that, a need to mind one’s step. The ground underneath was quite uneven and a turned ankle a possibility. This risk was soon replaced by the possibility of a lost shoe, as we negotiated some quite sticky stuff. Clearing that, we had a bit of ‘just grass’ before some more muddy / wet going.
This was merely the introduction. Soon enough, we were steered into a wide ditch. Immediately, one was calf-deep / thigh-deep / waist-deep, depending on where one stepped and how tall (or otherwise!) one was. Cue plenty of staggering, slipping, grabbing onto any form of support (this included fellow runners though, at this point, the word ‘runners’ is a bit of a misnomer).
Having successfully negotiated that section (in terms of not falling over), I set off back on grass – albeit with one or two further muddy ditches to cross. That wading had seemingly drained me and I was not moving at a great pace. Onwards, however, I continued (what other option is there, unless you’re unwell, injured or so far off your game?), reaching some tarmac which conveniently coincided with an incline.
We crested this at a water station, in the hamlet of Little Sodbury End, before a short descent took us to a left turn into a field. This was skirted before the next was crossed, all on reasonably grassy going! That wasn’t to last, as we crossed a track and skirted the next field to cross the following, both with much more mud underfoot. This brought us to the Sheep Dip.
A couple of things that are worth mentioning here. One: the Sheep Dip is a wide trench filled with low-consistency mud. A little like the ditch section I mentioned earlier it can be thigh- to waist-deep depending on one’s height. Two: I tend to seek out my money’s worth of Sod at this event so generally opt for the full Monty (one may substitute dunking there, but avoid any reference to the film of the same title – I’m not that brave and, in these conditions, poor old Monty will not amount to much).
Having climbed in and ducked myself under in previous events I found myself with a gap ahead of me (sometimes one has to queue for the privilege of getting muddy) and opted for a graceful dive. At least it was graceful to me; the hi-viz-clad Olympic judges on the other side helping people out may have scored me a little less than ten.
Exiting the Sheep Dip I found myself picking off several clumps of grass that was also present with the mud. We exited the field, made contact with tarmac (again) and started to climb (again). This was the main hill: almost 90 metres of climb over the space of a kilometre. There was a bit of respite a little over halfway up – a stretch of relative flatness – before we left the road and completed the climb on a footpath.
We crossed an old fort site (this is part of the Cotswold Way) before taking a right turn and taking on an initially steep descent. Fortunately the ground underneath was quite firm but, as the descent went from steep to shallow, the going went from firm to ever-so-slightly-slippery. Tip-toeing (in a manner of speaking, I was pretty flat-footed at this stage) my way through that, I came to the next water station, having a quick sip before continuing, this time on tarmac (this time with no incline!).
After about a half-mile we turned off into a field (by way of vaulting a couple of hay bales kindly placed across the gateway) and skirted that before approaching the Pig Trough. The Pig trough is a narrow section of ditch, again muddy. As you make your way through it the mud level gradually deepens, from ankle- to waist-deep (again, this is dependent upon one’s height… vertically-challenged people may wish to pack armbands).
As we queued our way through the Trough we were cheered on by onlookers. Hearing my name called out I politely acknowledged the supporters with a (rather less graceful) belly flop. I exited the Trough dripping in mud but in the knowledge that we were into our last three miles. Another couple of field crossings and we would find ourselves on the approach back into Chipping Sodbury.
There were plenty of supporters expressing enthusiasm over my mode of insulation (whilst sunny, there was a chilly breeze!) / beauty treatment, as we arrived back in the town, crossing the bypass and making our way along the footpath that followed the river. However, several supporters / marshals appeared to be less enthusiastic about the prospect of a high-five, or hug.
As cheery as I may have been feeling I was decidedly one-paced, seemingly unable to go with the faster finishers despite putting in what I felt was some extra effort. Content with the knowledge that I would get there in one piece, I crossed the High Street, made my way under the flyover bridge and jazz-hand-waved my way to the finish.
Collecting the race momentos (a nice shirt too), all that was left was to clean up. This involved hosing myself down as far as I could before squatting under a waist-high shower (all the others were taken!). I’d deal with the clothing later.
If you like trail running and want something a little more extreme in terms of mud, give this a go. If you’re a dedicated mud runner, this is a great ‘lo-cal’ option. If you don’t fit into either of these categories, I’m still going to tell you that it’s a lot of fun. Do it!