Yesterday I got up bright and early and drove two hours over to Wiltshire and the Rushmore Park Golf Club for the start of the 2016 Ox Marathon. It is organised by White Star Running, much like the Larmer Tree Marathon that I took part in a few weeks ago. It was in similar terrain albeit a very different route. The previous few weeks of rain had made the ground a lot softer than the Larmer Tree race, and thanks to local troubles the courses for the ultra and the marathon races were totally new for this year. This had all been done rather last minute, which gave me a small amount of concern in terms of the quality of the route and the level of appropriate signage to keep the runners on track.
This was only my second White Star Running event and I needn’t have worried. The signage was exceptional, and the course challenging and beautiful in equal measure. Andy and his team proved more than up to the challenge. There was around 950m of ascent and the course was near enough bang on marathon distance. The terrain could be described as rolling with a few sharp ups, however for the conditions this time mud definitely needs a mention. There were some very soft areas that went on for extended periods of the time, with the worst of them coming in the last 10km. With about 5 miles to go we were presented with a long steep up covered in very thick and gloopy mud. It was littered with the bodies of half marathon runners begging to be put out of their misery. I did my part, lied to them about how they were nearly there and it all being downhill from just around the corner and trudged on.
The final kick in the proverbials was the last mile which featured around 100m of ascent. What a way to finish a hard race. I saw someone coming up behind me and managed to run quite a lot of it which left me a dribbling dizzy mess as I crossed the finish line to collect my medal. And what an awesome medal it is. I then spent some time lying down in a field before wolfing down a punnet of chips, getting changed and heading for home.
I think that gives you an essence of what the race was like, but it doesn’t in any way get across what it is like to compete in a long distance trail race. After doing lots of trail marathons and a few ultras over the years I tend to know a good few faces out on the course, so most of it is like a running reunion. I bump into faces I know, catchup and then pace changes so we part ways and I’ll bump into someone else and it will repeat. Often I meet new people and most are happy to chat. Quite often I will see someone wearing a technical T-shirt from a race I have either entered or want to enter, so a reason for a chat is right there. Long distance trail runs mostly seem to be about gossiping and talking bollocks. All great fun and it makes some of the hardest miles simply vanish. If all else fails there is always the weather to talk about and this time it didn’t disappoint. A mostly dry forecast was disrupted by a brief, but heavy shower just a few miles in. You know the sort, just enough to drench you to your undies before it vanishes off leaving you with a feeling of “well that was useful!” (note sarcasm, it wasn’t actually useful other than providing a conversation topic for later in the day.)
On one occasion a chap asked me how I found the Ivybridge 10k (the technical T-shirt I was wearing.) It was the same chap I had asked about Hope 24 a few miles earlier (The technical T-shirt he was wearing.) It turned out we are in the same running club, The Erme Valley Harriers, and only lived 10 miles apart. I pondered this later in the day as I have observed that no matter where I race I will bump into another Erme Valley Harrier and they will ultimately trounce me in any given race. This time I pipped him by 3 minutes, but it was by luck more than judgement and I’m sure he could have smashed me if he wanted to but he was too busy enjoying the beautiful scenery.
I had a lovely long chat with a chap called Jim who was in his 100 marathon club T-Shirt. He was 59 and on his 157th marathon. I caught him because his feet were playing up. He had forgotten his orthotics and was stuffing the heel of his shoe with grass. A few miles later he declared that it seemed to have worked, after giving me a few tips for Edinburgh Marathon, and ended up finishing just a few minutes behind me. I hope I can run that well when I am 59!
Well, that sort of describes what I find most trail races to be like, but what about White Star Running events. Well with signs 23 miles in saying things like “You paid for this. LOL!” and checkpoints like the Lovestation, what is not to like? That only scratches the surface. on top of that the race entry is pretty reasonable, the medals the best I have come across, the signage simply excellent, and the sense of humour pervasive throughout. Something fun always seems to happen, like the guy who followed the route signage instead of the event signage to get to the car park and ended up wedging his blue transit van several miles into a small muddy lane. It was still there when I ran around it a couple of hours later.
When I got to the Lovestation at 20 miles in I noticed a curious bottle on the table and asked what drinks were on offer. The lady replied “well, there’s cider, water, orange squash, blackcurrant squash, or that bottle is peach rum.” After a shot of peach rum and with a pleasantly warm feeling in my belly I shot off for the next mile, floating over puddles and around mud. I was deliriously happy and all was right in the world. After bout another 20 yards I covered all the symptoms of being hungover in about 5 interminable minutes. It was totally worth it though 😉
The last 10km really were rather brutal given all that had gone before. The elevation profile doesn’t show it to be any worse than the rest of the course, however in reality the thick mud combined with the steep hills and tired legs made it particularly hard. I slogged on though and crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 55 minutes with 53rd place out of 169 finishers. I was very happy with that and hopefully I haven’t pushed myself so hard that I can’t put in a good showing at the Edinburgh Marathon in a few days time.