Saxons, Vikings & Norman Challenges run a quarterly event at the Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve. I ran this last year in April as something to do near my birthday. That time around I managed three laps, totalling a half marathon (should have been a 17 mile marathon training run, but a hilly, muddy half was substituted).
We signed up for this ‘Winter Challenge’ a while ago while Adam was contemplating running 33 miles on/around his 33rd birthday, and this could have been the place to do it.
After a terrible night’s sleep (people screaming outside the house, students returning from nights out in the early morning), we arose silently at 6:30, not wanting to voice how badly we just wanted to stay in bad, in the warm and sleep some more.
But, bloody hell, was it worth it!
We parked and dragged ourselves out of the slightly-warmer-than-outside car and started climbing the hill to the start. But once we arrived into the first field, the sky was so beautiful that I started wondering why everyone else was still in bed when you could come and see this!
We then went through the usual pre-race prep: collect number, attach number, fight for an accessible place for bag, receive race briefing, worry about number of layers to wear, take a pre-race selfie with Adam, share a good luck kiss etc. and then we were off. Though I was late starting – the race started while I was in the queue for the loo, so I started at the back. Never mind!
The route is through a field, some woodland, up some hills, more fields, around a mausoleum, more woodland, along a narrow path along some train tracks, more woods then a road back to the start. Repeated as many times as you like.
I had decided on: C – 1 lap, B – 2 laps, A – 3 laps (half marathon distance: same as last time I ran this course). I didn’t have high hopes for anything more than a B, due to having run only three 5ks this year, but headed out in good cheer, taking in all the beautiful surroundings.
Everything was so crisp and glistening! Once you had realised that the ground was nice and solid (no mud in sight) you could try and keep your head up and look over the rolling fields and hills and just be glad to be alive. (I know this sounds gushy, but seriously it was stunning out there!)
The first lap went without a hitch and I returned to base camp reasonably quickly (55 mins). I stopped for a moment to swig some Lucozade, blow my nose, and then headed off again.
I was about 50m down the road when I realised I had just signed myself up to another 4.4 miles with no drink or nutrition… IDIOT! I could have turned back and collected a bottle and an energy bar, but nope – I kept going, knowing it would be no-ones fault but my own if I got a banging headache and/or fell apart on the way around.
I had taken my phone on this lap – I had wanted to capture what I was seeing (see pics above) and I was thoroughly enjoying this race. I got chatting to ‘Ruth’ who was on her 22nd marathon (if she completed this one), which was a good distraction from the annoyance of forgetting any kind of sustenance, but I soon went off running while she jogged a little (I didn’t need to hold myself back for a marathon distance unlike her!)
The second lap was a quiet one after that – I seemed to spend ~1.5 miles of it alone, which I enjoyed (I don’t like feeling the pressure to talk to people – sorry!) and once back at base camp I didn’t even consider whether I would go out again – it was a given.
I bumped into Adam as I wandered around a little taking on some drink and putting my phone away – he was 4 laps in and feeling good for what would be another 2 and a 6th marathon under his belt. I headed out happily; this time with a bottle of watered down Lucozade and an energy bar (that first bite was heaven…).
I don’t recall much of the last lap (good thing?) apart from the arrival of quite a bit of mud (thanks to hundreds of feet and the dew thawing), which made it more interesting underfoot.
Coming out of the woods, I ran that last bit of road, got my card clipped (lap counting method) and rang the bell. A medal over my head and a bag full of sugary treats thrust into my hand, and Claire was a happy-bunny! I had run a hilly, cold, slightly muddy half marathon in 2:55:40 (OT) – an improvement of 12 minutes on the last time I ran that course (even more taking into account I started a minute or two late) with not nearly as much training as I had done prior to the last one. Life was very good!
Once covered up in joggers and a massive coat, and with a load of jelly babies in my hand I wandered around for a while to stop my legs from falling off and got chatting to a man who had been clapping all us runners along (his son was about to win the marathon distance today before going to Gran Canaria to run his 30th marathon on the Sunday ahead of his 30th birthday on the Monday!!!). Adam then came into view, ahead of when I expected him, to storm to victory as the second-fastest marathon of the day.
I won’t bore you with details of the aftermath – the uncomfortable down-hill walk to the car, the epsom salt baths, huge amounts of food and much sitting around, but basically we were happy and proud of ourselves. This was probably the best race I had run. I never expected to say that of a race in January, at 8am, with no training but hey – life can be like that some times I guess!
(Am hoping that I feel the same after running the other three on the same course as I have now spent another £120 signing up to them!)