Christmas. A time for relaxing, indulging and wading through a freezing cold river crossing 10 times. I’ve always assumed this was everybody’s idea of fun, so I was surprised to only see 200 people hanging around a field just outside Guildford, ready for the 2018 Mince Pi run.
Now, before you all start correcting my spelling, the race name is deliberate. The route consists of 3.14 mile loops – for those of you paying attention at school, 3.14 represents π (Pi), hence the witty title. On top of that, there is all you can eat mince pies on offer. Sums and savoury snacks – the dream combination.
So, whilst many were spending one of the last Saturdays pre-christmas celebrating appropriately in the pubs, our alarm was set for 6am – an earlier start than the working week. It took a bit of coercing, but I eventually managed to rouse sleeping beauty and we were on the road after a quick bowl of porridge.
The course is based in Shalford Park, with the mainly off-road route running alongside the River Wey, which was looking beautiful in the December sunshine. Other features of the loop included ‘Sand Hill’, ‘the bridge over the river by the pub’, and the river crossing that wasn’t even suppose to be there. But more on that later.
After a quick briefing and absolutely zero fanfare, we were set off en masse onto the only bit of tarmac section of the entire lap. Having agreed with a few of the other lads to run at a ‘social pace’ for a while, we watched as Ed Rees took off like a scalded cat, careering off into the distance never to be seen again.
Lap 1 – 24:06
Settled into a nice little group, with fellow Chasers Gazza the Salmon, King Martin Rutter and Andrew Wallace. We also had another chap, John, in tow. Turns out he likes triathlon as much as I do, so we had hours to talk about various races we’d done over the years.
We passed the location of the ‘water feature’ that hadn’t yet materialised, before reaching ‘Sand Hill’. Later on, this became ‘Sand Mountain’. It was impossible to run up this, with it essentially being a steep sandy bank up from the river to the ‘castle’ at the top, climbing over 100ft at about a 30% gradient.
After charging back down to the river, it was a relatively straightforward route back to the start/finish, broken up by climbing some steps over a bridge, which was bound to hurt a bit later on.
Lap 2 – 24:02
Round we go again. Reaching the riverside for the 2nd time, we all agreed that the water seemed to have risen, with our feet getting a bit damp. After a more spirited attempt up Sand Hill first time around, it was more of a hands on knees, power-walk job from here on. Lots of friendly marshals out and about, and plenty of chat still to be had.
Lap 3 – 23:50
Passing HQ to complete 10km, and people are already beginning to drop. The lure of the mince pies and other treats laid out is strong, but everyone knows I like to get my moneys worth – the more laps I do, the better value it is right?
Turns out the water levels are definitely rising – we’re now wading through and it’s ankle deep. Not being able to see the bottom definitely isn’t helping, and one misplaced step and you’re in up to your waist. There are most probably also sharks lurking down there.
The course is great, as you come across others heading in different directions at multiple points, which offered the chance to spot some other Chasers and swap a quick hello. The ‘not you again’ comments had already begun, with locals becoming increasingly bemused as we came running past every 20 minutes or so.
Lap 4 – 23:57
In a flurry of excitement, I’ve got rid of my jacket and one pair of gloves. This is about as thrilling as it gets in endurance sport. Reaching the water, it’s now at thigh level and the organiser is thinking of reclassifying the event to a SwimRun.
People are trying to tiptoe around with limited to no success, so we charge straight through. The water is freezing, but actually quite welcome on the muscles which are becoming increasingly more sore.
Passing the pub, the smell of bacon is now wafting out and the thought of sitting by a log fire (I’m assuming there is one) sipping a pint is becoming more tempting as the miles tick by.
Lap 5 – 24:26
4 laps down and we’ve got our first casualty. Wallace is a goner. To be fair to him, he did run a 16:30 5km just yesterday, so he’s probably just about excused. As I’d come in with the mindset of potentially doing the whole 10 laps, I still felt quite fresh mentally and physically, happy to keep on trucking.
At the start of this lap the organisers had strongly advised we took a detour as the water was becoming deeper and deeper. We politely asked if we could continue, taking any risks into our own hands, which seemed to go down well enough. I knew all that swim training was going to pay off one day.
Katie made it look easy. This guy wasn’t as stylish…
Lap 6 – 24:31
Over halfway now, with the Salmon and Martin calling it a day. That just left John and I at the ‘front’ of the ‘race’. Everything was still pretty rosy, with the pace still conversational. The only time we stopped talking was going up sand hill, which was now starting to hurt a bit.
I was proudly sporting my ‘Ed and Cathryn got married’ t-shirt, and this combined with my flat cap was quite the look. Luckily, personal appearance isn’t one of my more highly valued qualities.
Lap 7 – 24:56
It’s that point where details all start blurring into one as you’re going past everything for the 7th time. I was surprised not to really be slowing down, with my lap times still less than a minute slower than my first few.
I’d managed a singular energy gel by this point, and had been drinking plenty of water. The course had emptied out considerably, but Katie was still out there plugging away, and we said hello on a few occasions (aka I yelled at her from a distance with my foghorn voice and she waved).
Lap 8 – 24:55
By this point I’m really looking forward to the water wade each lap, as the freezing cold water is really soothing on tired legs, and seems to shock some energy back into me. I keep thinking at the end of this lap we’ll nearly be at marathon distance and I treat myself to a 2nd gel. Yum.
Lap 9 – 24:49
John’s finally called it a day, and it’s extremely tempting not to do the same as the lure of mince pies is nearly irresistible. But just two more laps seems manageable, so on we go. I passed through marathon distance in 3:26, before immediately being faced with sand hill for the 9th time. It wasn’t as funny by this point, and I slogged my way up with slightly less enthusiasm than earlier.
Lap 10 – 25:43
I briefly thought about stopping at the end of lap 9, but odd numbers are annoying and 50km sounded much nicer, so I went around for a glory lap. Despite being pretty tired, my pace was holding relatively steady and I hadn’t stopped to walk at any point (apart from the trudge up sand hill).
Once I’d waved goodbye to this for the final time, it was just a case of getting back to Mince Pi HQ, by this point very ready to stop running. The finishing arch had already been taken down and one man and his dog were there to greet me as I crossed the line.
Not a bad outing for the December off-season. After quickly getting changed and warming up, I set upon the food buffet laid out in front of me, demolishing a few delicious home made mince pies. That evening, Katie and I whipped up a mean Christmas roast, accompanied by a few well earned beers.
If you’re looking for a no frills but well organised event, the guys at Wacky Events know what they’re doing, and everyone I spoke to had fun and ‘enjoyed’ themselves. I’ll just make sure I bring my swimming trunks next time.