Nice Belvoir, shame about the mud.
Another local race but not just for local people as the Belvoir Challenge draws in people from all over the country it really must be the cake. Bit of a Grumpy one this would have been even more so without the world class cake!
So another nice relaxed start time and the treat of not driving I could get used to this. Richard arrived and we were soon on our way to collect Gary and head in to the Vale of Belvoir via some Sat Nav Detours. Registration was taken care of swiftly while and they headed back to the car while I sorted out who I was swapping with as Rich had managed to register twice (its his age you know) and I was borrowing that one. But is its Dick Allan or Tony Redfern? Finally sorted I head back to the car to find no one there…. Mild Panic as it’s about 10 mins to go and all kit is in the car. Finally reunited we get sorted and to the start with a minute to spare, but the start is delayed for 10 mins time for a bit of jumping around and a plonker to batter everyone with the trekking poles he has stowed horizontally across his bag, more of this twit later. Finally the scrum is released and it’s a case of picking our way through the massed walkers this being a challenge walk with runners allowed. Finally after about half a mile the field starts to spread out a little just in time to meet the mud. The Vale of Belvoir is largely on clay and unsurprisingly it’s a tad wet in February. We hit a lane that’s ankle deep in thick sticky mud, any attempt at picking our way round this gloop was quickly abandoned the left edge had a drainage ditch the right a hawthorn hedge. Finally we came out on to more open but still soggy fields with each field boundary crossing was harbouring a large sludgy lagoon to be negotiated. This ended with a short road stretch which allowed some running but now with feet encased in sticky mud. I was now beginning to understand Richards’s aversion to off road running this being his main experience of it. Crossing some fields we came to a major choke point in the route as we crossed an old Holloway with a stile on the exit and suffered some ridiculous behaviour with runners trying to push up the line our friend with the trekking poles among them not satisfied with this he then attempts to climb the barbed wire fence, fortunately karma did intervene impaling his trainer on the way over. We’re not setting records here just wait.
Finally over a second less congested stile was negotiated but not with out some similar behaviour form our now extricated friend with the poles. Up the hill we went and a cross to check point 1 offering water. We continue on heading for check point one proper running at this point was feeling quite free and easy and we seemed to be making a good progress after a sort road section we encountered a field with a slightly miffed horse who was less than impressed with us lot piling through his field, but all seemed to be making it through with out incident. We continued on very soggy fields to find a ladder had to be negotiated to cross a disused railway and then steady running on the way down to Eaton and Checkpoint 2 7.5 mile and now for Cake.
Now there are checkpoints and there are CHECKPOINTS! And this was defiantly a CHECKPOINT! The village hall was rammed with food and it was quite a buffet on offer including a huge lump of Stilton and some pretty full on cream teas! This was truly awesome but I was still in racing mode so I took a hand full of ham sandwiches and Scone with clotted cream well it would have been rude not to, and on we trot it was at the next village of Branston the routes here split the 15’ers went left we 26’ers went right which was rather telling as very few went right. Some where along this next stage the running started to become rather hard work the soft ground and mud taking its toll and having pushed probably a bit too hard keeping up with those doing the 15 there was a feeling that the wheel nuts where not going to be done up tight enough. On the section after Croxton Kerrial there was a pleasant down hill but it ended crossing a field that was just sludge which was building up platform soles on my trainers and starting to pull them off. It was about here that the sense of humour failed me I really had had enough of the mud and there was becoming more walking than running. Scraping the mud off my feet on a fence post was in order before we climbed another small hill.
To think I had been quite bullish about this race, and in being so had forgot a number of important things that I should have taken in to account like its February, its been wet, you have run a marathon and a fast half marathon already this month, This is another Marathon and you’ve felt knackered on the bike all week…………… Deeeeerrrrrr you’re not going to have a good race if you’ve felt knackered all week and this race will take me to 85 miles for the week…….. Obvious really with the benefit of Hindsight. At the time this definitely felt like a step backwards the reality was I was getting cocky I run Ultra marathons don’t you know. I also came down with a cold two days later which wont have helped either and so it’s a good reality check.
The Check point at Croxton came at the end of a long jog and was another fine array of cakes and sandwiches which helped, but also stated that we were not yet half way…… This was going to be a long day with water bottles refilled we trudged off down through the village to be caught up by an interesting chap who announced himself as a member of the 100 marathon club and then the LDWA and then told us his name oh and that he was doing another 26 miler tomorrow. He then gave an encyclopaedic account for the route a head and that he’d done about 30 back to back marathons, having done a few ultras and marathons I often wonder if I’m abit too forth coming with my CV but I do like to think I keep my powder dry in these conversations. So we just swapped LDWA event stories before another runner took him off our hands. We continue on round Denton res and the emergency jelly babies are broken out but don’t seem to have the desired effect. We walk on picking up another section of disused railway we really should have been jogging this and Gary provides some subtle prodding and we jog on before turning off to climb up to the Viking Way and descending to Wolsthope by Belvoir to think that I have a the Viking Way Ultra on my Ultra to Do List (I wont kid you that will be anytime too soon) feels a bit comical at this point as I am about ready to throw my trainers in to the next bin and never wear them again!
We now have a stunning view of Belvoir Castle picking up an estate road we walk up towards it past a house with a fine collection of early 90’s VW hot hatches and turning left past the kennels for the Belvoir hunt we try to avoid getting run over the wind at this point drowning out the engines of cars on the narrow road it’s a long straight that finally brings a land mark Belvoir cricket club. Superb setting for cricket pitch, which I have had the pleasure of playing on. I say pleasure shame the home team were not the most affable, if there is one thing worse than a sore loser it’s a sore winner. This is Knipton and location for Check Point 5, bottles refilled and more excellent cake washed down with a nice cup of tea or two. The check point was a village hall which was rather unusual and Gary being a Semi-Pro historian was busy photographing some WW1 rolls of honour that were hung in the hall until he managed to prise me away from the cake to continue running and the next section there was a concerted effort to run as much as possible down through the village and back to join the walkers on the 15 mile route as it made its way up on to the Belvior Escarpment. Where his Grace the Duke has been working on improving the view by removing the stands of pine trees. We continue past some sections of the ridge that I remember for the Viking challenge last year and it was pleasant if slow running that took us along the ridge on relatively solid ground before the final check point more tea and cake and a chat with the marshal with the tea. He asked how it was going I said the wheels had come off some what and he said I wasn’t alone. Grabbing a hand full of mars bar chunks there is more mud before we were shaken and battered by the decent in to Stathern on a very dilapidated lane and in to a strong head wind which would accompany us on the last 3 km which would turn out to be a very long way the first part was through sodden fields and involved crossing a rather large stream which our rather immodest friend from Check point 2 has earlier suggested was Thigh deep turned out to be much shallower but still an impressive scale this was followed by a k of wallowing along a narrow track with the choice of having you eyes gouged out by the triffid like Hawthorn hedges or fighting with ankle deep mud finally after what fell like forever I recognised a banner that marked the end of the mud and I actually exclaimed out loud! it was back on to the road for the last 500 meters Gray and pulled ahead as I fought to get my legs moving. Negotiating the bizarrely un marshalled main road I managed to cross after a being congratulated by a group of cyclists and forced a run towards the finish the small hill was a challenge and found Gary waiting for me I waved him to go on but we ran the final 50 meter together finished Thank F#&k for that.
Incredibly the race we won in around 3:15 presumably by a man in a hovercraft Rich managed a respectable 4:50 and myself and Gary just nosed under the 6 hour mark at 5:57.
We were found by Richard and had a brew at the finish before picking up the commemorative T-Shirt which were in comedy sizes it was time to head home.
So a rather grumpy account of a tough race the moral of this story is that 26 miles is a long way and deserves respect. This was as tough as the Trail 26 at Grizedale and that had nearly 1000meters of accent more than this.