Heading back to the Gutbuster was like going to visit a long lost friend you were never really sure if you actually liked, but hadn’t seen for absolutely ages. We’re talking about back in the days where this blog was still in nappies and the quality of writing was akin to that of a Daily Star columnist.
We’re usually off gallivanting in Edinburgh around this time of year, so haven’t taken part since 2015, but with Scotland deciding to still be mostly closed, we opted not to bother this year, opening up a nice little opportunity to go back to sample the joys of boggy fields and river crossings of Berkshire.
The morning of the 25th incorporated the 5th annual Christmas Day marathon, before a couple of days of the usual food excess and driving halfway across the country left me suitably knackered by the time the 28th rolled around and it was time to attempt to drag myself around 10 miles of hills and mud.
I’ve just had a quick check in the book of running (not a real book), and it turns out that running a marathon 3 days before an extremely hard race is not in fact brilliant preparation. But then everyone that knows me knows that I’m a total moron, so my participation will come as a surprise to practically no one.
After a relaxing evening at Katie’s parents, we woke to howling wind and driving rain, which led to a lot of dragging of feet, and attempting to do everything apart from leave the house and head to the race. Eventually we had to go, and made the short 30 minute drive to the start – a farm in the middle of nowhere.
After picking up race numbers, everyone was huddling under a massive, open-sided barn to try and get some shelter from the elements. There were a lot of ‘I could be at home right now in front of a nice, warm fire’ faces on show, amongst the usual lunatics who looked like they were actually looking forward to this. I’ll let you guess which one Katie was.
Friends and super-talented triathletes Dan & Rebecca were in attendance, which meant we were both in for a good thrashing. Rebecca is part of the Zwift triathlon academy, and Dan has run under 3 hours for a marathon DURING AN IRONMAN. While us mere mortals had sat in our cars, blasting out as much heat as possible on the journey across, they’d obviously cycled over to the venue. Nutters.
We went for a quick warm up (still all wearing our coats), before waiting until the very last moment to discard the 25 layers we had on so only a vest and shorts remained. Baltic. Everyone had to jog out of the farm and around the corner to the start line, where thankfully there was minimal faffing before we were set on our way.
10 miles was the race distance, with a real mixture of road, tracks, trails, bogs, rivers and any other kind of terrain you could possibly think of. After less than 200m, if was a sharp left and up a horribly steep gravel track, which soon had everyone blowing out of their proverbial bottoms. The field spread out quite quickly, and at points during the opening mile I was as far back as 20th and as far forward as sharing the lead with Dan.
As things started to settle I found myself in 6th as we charged through the ‘optional’ river crossing, which is without doubt the funnest part of the entire race. There’s zero point trying to keep your feet dry, as they’re going to get soaked anyway. Plus I can probably now count this as my first and only ever swim-run event. Tick.
After a bit more road, we hit the trails and did a lap of the old Roman Walls. At this point I realised that the trail shoes I had really weren’t as grippy as I thought they were. I made a mental note to order a new pair, as a couple of guys glided past me as I made it look like I was trying to run over a sheet of ice, slipping all over the place.
Back on firmer ground, I made a few places back and settled into 5th place approaching halfway. We were running over a couple of huge, open fields, and you could actually see first all the way through to 7th strung out in a line across them. Dan looked like he was having a nice scrap for the lead, whilst I had a couple of guys breathing down my neck.
The advantage of keeping my nose in front was that I reached the gates first (there were lots of gates), so I knew I wouldn’t be held up waiting for someone in front to open and go through them. We dropped down a steep, narrow track completely enclosed by trees and hedges, before climbing out the other side by running up what is best described as a small river.
The mud was relentless and at times was halfway up to my knees, making forward progress slightly challenging. Hitting a road section was heavenly; it actually felt like you were floating on clouds after going backwards in the mud. I employed my standard race tactics of chatting to the guy behind me, so when he beats me I can say we were friends so it doesn’t matter as much.
Just after 7 miles we hit the 2nd river crossing, with everyone too knackered to care by this point and just charging through whilst blinding hoping not to fall flat on their faces. It was all fields from here, and me and my new mate had company in the form of a charging 7th place. He caught us with 2 miles to go and surged past us, and I quickly made the decision to try and go with him.
This led to the other guy dropping off and the two of us fighting for 5th and 6th. I managed to not stack it on the bridge I fell over on last time, and we entered the last mile, having to weave around lots of the slower 10km runners who were also heading towards the finish.
This could quite possibly be the hardest final mile I’ve ever done in a race. It’s across 2 huge fields, that have just been freshly ploughed. There is no footpath, or obvious route – it’s just deep mud. With every step you just sink ankle deep into the ground and have to pull yourself out again.
This led to the most comedy sprint finish you will most likely ever see. Both of our arms were frantically whirring around to try and maintain balance, but it’s like we were moving in slow motion as forward progress was nearly impossible.
Quite unbelievably, I managed to inch ahead in this never-ending ‘sprint’, noticing just slightly too late that with this ‘rapid’ acceleration we had actually closed in on 4th and he ended up just 2 seconds ahead of me at the finish. I was plastered in mud and extremely happy that it was all over.
Naturally, Dan and Rebecca both won outright, whilst Katie had a great race finish 3rd and securing the last spot on that podium. Mince pies, mulled wine and free beer at the finish line – what more could you ask for? (A hot shower probably, but that would have to wait until we got home)
I do really recommend Gutbuster as a race if you’re in the area over Christmas time. The team that put it on are incredibly friendly, and despite the horrendous conditions it’s great fun!