The weather was perfect and the two circuit course was dry but being told by a ‘local’ runner whilst you are reading the route map that this was the 10k race from hell did not fill me with optimism. “There are parts of this course which are downright dangerous” he explained “and you are going to be running uphill for more than 6k through a forest, in sand, with gorse and nettles ripping at your legs.” I quickly sidled away from him (he had wild eyes and an untrustworthy mouth) and we moved over the road to the start to find that this was to be signaled by golfing legend Peter Alliss.
There was a 5k race option and my wife wisely plumped for that ( as it transpired, if I had done that instead I would have come second but I am not one for backing out).
The first 200 metres of the race sent all of the runners down through a single farm gate and plummeting down into woodland. Now from recent experience the excitement of a race that begins downhill is tempered by the certain knowledge that the steeper the decent the more you are going to be punished by the ascent. This was steep and there was only room for 1-2 runners at many points as we careered down a forest trail, trying to pick a route that was safe. Runners were tripped by outcropping stones and tree roots and the race quickly thinned out. I am really quite good at downhills and not so good at uphills. A fortnight before at the Littlehampton 10k I had taken the risk of running flat out for the first 7k and surviving the last 3k and decided I would do the same here.
I was about 8th going into the beginning of the gradual ascent and although my time was not great I accepted that and pushed on, knowing I had the second circuit and the downhill to come. The last 1k has vicious gorse on either side of a sandy trail and there is no choice but to suffer a few cuts. The last 100metres is really steep uphill climb and as I passed start point for the first time and the winner of the 5k race I looked into his eyes with envy.
I could still see the Gurkha I had been tracking about 50 metres up front and there were very few people close behind me.
I passed the woman who eventually finished second in women’s race at 6k and tried to put as much distance between myself and her as I could on the downhill (which I experienced with far less relish second time around).
With 7k to go I caught the Gurkha. By this point I was 14th overall and experiencing something which felt quite a lot like agony. The Gurkha (I knew he was a Gurkha because it said so on his t shirt and on his registration form and because he was about 25 and resembled a militarized gazelle) and I exchanged positions and with 300 or so metres to go, legs ripped, lungs almost empty, little legs blurring like egg beaters I seized by opportunity to strike the front for pride, for Hestia and with a stroke of tactical genius. Now I should warn you that I often strike for the front in races with 300 metres to go and have never succeeded in doing anything other than fading with 100 metres to go but today was going to be different.
As I faded with 100 metres and the huge finishing incline to go and the Gurkha shot past me to take 14th place I would have taken some time to reflect on my lack of tactical nous except that I was fully engaged in persuading my lungs that sprinting up a mountain at this point in a race was a good idea.
Anyway I finished 15th overall and I finished first in my age category M50 (male aged 50 to 54). I had run a PB of 43.27 in Littlehampton so my finishing time of 47 minutes does not sound very fast, however only 5 other people ran under 50 minutes. This is a hideously hard race but I was really proud to have run it for Hestia. We raised £105 which, considering this was our first event for Hestia and we had a short run in, was not bad at all.
Thank you in particular to Oliver Breckon, Roger Brooks, Jerome Bloom, Vera Clark, Kelly McCormack and Ruth Giles for their incredibly kind donations and kind words of encouragement and particular thank you goes out to Francois Ferriere, Beverley Howes and Emily Gillatt for their tireless work for Hestia and their fantastic support for this race. Our next project with Hestia is being planned as I write.