One of my goals for 2013 is to learn to love mud, so what better way to start than by entering a race along one of the most flood-prone, and thus inherently muddy, riverbanks in the country? Add the attraction of seeing a 3 star Severn Bore as you run along – well, why wouldn’t you want to enter this event?
I suppose one reason might be the ridiculously early start – it was still dark when I left home, and the sun was only just over the distant Cotswold escarpment as we gathered for the pre-race briefing. Another reason might be the weather – after one of the wettest years on record, thus guaranteeing that there would be plenty of mud for me to embrace (metaphorically only, I hoped) the weather forecast had initially threatened snow and then promised sub-zero temperatures. My family certainly thought I was mad, not just for entering in the first place, but to be looking forward to it? Practically certifiable!
Suitably layered up (4, since you ask ?) I gathered with a couple of hundred others at the Anchor Inn in Epney and, once we knew the Bore was on its way (the timing can vary up to 20 minutes from that predicted) we were off. We’d been given about a 20 minute head start – well that was never going to be enough for me, so I knew it would pass me somewhere along the 7 mile route.
We got off to a slow start because we had to queue to get over all the stiles in the first half mile or so. The path in between the stiles was not too bad at this point, grassy and quite firm, so I had time to enjoy the gorgeous views around me. The sky was a wintry, early morning pinky-blue, the river was still, there were flocks of birds wheeling around…heart-lifting stuff.
As we carried on the path got muddier and more rutted, which was tricky to run on. Sometimes the mud was soft, deep and “sucky” – my heel lifted out of my Inov8s on a number of occasions but I managed not to lose my shoe completely, fortunately. Other times it was frozen hard, which was tough on the ankles, as was the path when it was on a slant along the side of the embankment.
After about 3 miles, so less than half way along the route, the shout went up behind me “The Bore’s coming!” It’s been many years since I’ve seen a big Bore, (listened to a few though ;-) ) so I’d brought my little camera with me to capture the moment as it went past. The buzz of the motorboat which precedes the wave got louder…and the path headed into a stretch where the riverside bushes were dense and impenetrable, so although I heard the wave I could see nothing. Damn.
Never mind, there’s always next year or even the night-time version of this race in September – I’ll know to run faster or (more likely) slower next time, as the river was clearly in view throughout the whole length of the route apart from this stretch!
The next couple of miles really were tricky and difficult to run through. Danny Dreyer and his Chi Running is all very well but when the mud is inches deep and sucking at your shoes it’s not easy to relax and pick up your feet in a smooth, flowing action – not for me, anyway!
However eventually my Garmin showed 6 point something miles, the path turned back to reasonably easy grass, the stiles got closer together again, and the finish was in sight. Well it was for my fellow club mates who were saying “Ooh yes look there’s the finish!” (Glenda Stanley, Ian Gill, Coralie Pearson and I had been more or less together for most of the run). I was having trouble with my glasses steaming up – every time I had to climb over a stile they steamed up and I could barely see where I was going (though fortunately even I could see a fast-flowing river on my left-hand side!!)
I was very glad to know that I’d got to the end (even if Coralie sneakily sprinted past my in the last 5 metres – good on you Cos, it was a race after all) and that I hadn’t missed the double decker bus ride back to the start!
This is a lovely event which I thoroughly recommend. It makes your ankles hurt, it’s muddy, the stiles are simultaneously a pain and a welcome excuse for a breather as you wait for your turn to climb over, but it’s also very well-organised, very friendly and with nice touches. I liked the minibus organised to transport our baggage from the start to the finish so you could pop a warm top on once you’d finished; the free hot tea and chocolate muffin on offer at the end, and the homely and appropriate wooden medal. To be returned to the starting point on a London double-decker bus (I sat upstairs) along the winding Gloucestershire lanes, well that was the icing on the cake!