Signing up for this one seemed like a great idea at the time. A good chance to tackle a ‘multi-terrain’ course and burn off a few mince pies post Christmas. Putting our names down during a fairly mild October, it probably slipped my mind that the end of December would bring freezing temperatures and boggy fields.
Going to bed on the Saturday evening it was minus 4 degrees, and when rising early to get the obligatory bowl of Alpen on board, it was still below freezing. Katie and I jumped in the car and stuck the heating on full blast, and tried to forget about the upcoming hell we were about to put ourselves through.
The race HQ was on a small farm on the outskirts of Reading; so small that you weren’t actually able to park there! We had to park at a nearby hotel and get a 15-minute shuttle bus to the registration and start area. On the positive side, at least the bus was relatively warm, which was luxury compared to what we were about to be experience.
Stepping off the bus, we were greeted with a freezing cold farmyard. At least it wasn’t raining… Registration was a fairly smooth affair and we had our numbers and timing chips (a little ‘chip’ you strap on your shoe so the organisers are able to give you an exact final time as it electronically measures when you cross the start and finish line) on quickly. It was then a case of trying to keep as warm as possible before it was time to get going.
Todays event involved two races taking place at the same time – one a 10 mile race, and the other a 10 kilometre. Under Katie’s instructions we had signed up for the 10 mile version – I think it’s safe to say we were both regretting that decision in the moments before the start! After a quick briefing in the farmyard, we were lead round to the start-line in a nearby lane.
I put myself about 3 rows back from the front, and we were sent on our way by a man playing a trombone – one of the more unusual starting signals. Everyone set off quickly along the lane and a sharp turn left onto a steep track running alongside a field made me fear the worse about what was to come later on – a massive hill in the opening 400m did not bode well.
Just after the first mile there was a ford going over the road, around 10 inches deep, so nothing major. We had been warned about this during the briefing, and told there was an option to take the path around it, or go straight through. Obviously, I only had one thing in mind from the off, and while it seemed like everyone else was going round, I charged through. Great fun, and well worth the wet feet that I had to deal with for the rest of the run.
There was panic early on as a few of us realised we were currently being beaten by a chap in a spiderman costume. Feeling that I’d never be able to live this down and that my family and friends may possibly disown me, I worked harder than necessary to stay with him. Eventually, I drifted alongside him and had a quick glance at his race number – panic over, he was only doing the shorter 10 kilometre race. I could relax now and let him go, safe in the knowledge there was no danger of being beaten by some numpty in fancy dress – at least not today anyway.
The first half of the race passed without further incident, as we found ourselves being led across fields and forest trails, still having enough room and grip to keep up a decent pace. However, just after half-way things started to get a lot tougher! The path narrowed and we were led up a very steep track which had a stream running down the middle of it. Going up here was extremely hard work with the mud offering no grip and everyone slipping all over the place. There was a group of 3 of us at the time – a chap from Tonbridge AC and another guy in a red Adidas t-shirt (in fact we ended up together for most of the rest of the race). After a while the guy from Tonbridge on the front decided it’d be easier to just run straight up the stream through the water instead of running alongside it – this actually made things a lot less difficult and we ended up doing this the rest of the way up.
At the top there was a chance to get some much needed recovery on some flat surfaces before heading downhill for some quad bashing. The last 3 miles were some of the hardest miles I’d done for a long time. Almost all of it was on boggy fields and I was already absolutely shattered! Our group of 3 had swelled to 4 as we’d ran up to another chap who’d been ahead of us.
I sat at the back for a while then decided I’d try and move forward and found myself at the front as we were going over a wooden bridge. Throwing caution to the wind, I immediately slipped on the wooden surface and banged my knee on the way down to end up in a crumpled heap at the edge of a field. By the time I’d got up the other 3 were long gone and I had a fair bit of work to do to run back to them.
The tank was near empty in the last mile and despite being able to see and hear the finish from a fair distance away, it seemed to take forever to come. To add to the suffering, once getting onto the final field, you had to run the entire way across it, and it was entirely uphill. I managed to get back past two of the guys in our little group of 4, but the chap from Tonbridge eluded me at the finish.
I was absolutely spent at the end, and this is definitely one of the toughest runs I’ve ever done – the cross country element just sapped all the energy from my legs. I’d covered the 10 miles in 1.09.07, putting me 22nd out of 313 finishers. Not a bad effort at all considering the amount of running and racing I’d done in the last few weeks. I’d expect to run a lot faster over 10 miles on the road, but this was certainly not a ‘PB’ race, just something to ‘enjoy’ over the christmas period.
After personally experiencing how hard the last mile was, I thought it would be best to head back through a couple of fields and give Katie some word of encouragement to try and keep her mind off the hurt she was sure to be feeling. After we’d both finished, I ate both our mince pies (a trend seems to be developing here) and we got back to the warmth that was the bus and then car. Absolutely frozen to the bone, a warm shower when we got back was extremely well received.
The Gut Buster was an very well organised event, with some very friendly marshals and all the runners in good spirits which made for a great atmosphere. We might have to get in earlier next year so we can secure some on site parking at the farm – this would definitely make a big difference!
That ends my running for 2014, and I’ll post a summary of the year soon. However, I won’t be waiting long to go racing in 2015 – I’m doing a triathlon on New Year’s Day.