A friend at work introduced me to this one, billed as a “demanding scenic route” with written route description, it was going to be completely new experience for me so I eagerly posted off my cheque (the only use my chequebook gets these days is these types of events) and awaited my confirmation.
This is a point-to-point run from Cold Christmas in Hertfordshire to Good Easter village in Essex, mostly across farm tracks, organised by Springfield Striders.
We’d had weeks of record rain and my regular running routes have been ankle-deep in water all year so it was a coin-toss to decide between trail shoes and waders. Luckily the week before the race the weather calmed down a bit, Noah stopped hammering his boat together, and trail shoes were back on!
Although the race starts in Hertfordshire the meeting point is actually at the finish at Good Easter village hall. It meant another early wakeup call to get to Essex by 7:30 to pick up my registration pack and get my stuff together. As I queued for the gents I studied the route guide and wondered what on earth was I doing: was this the route description or a wartime communiqué to decipher? A quick check with a fellow runner and I found that I hadn’t been handed a message bound for Bletchley Park and did indeed need to run this route.
I met up with Chris and we piled on the coach to the start line. Saturday night had been clear & cold so it was a real crisp January morning with frozen ground. Perfect! We’d agreed to run together so we could help each other out with the route, making sure we weren’t just blindly following the people in front. It took a while to get used to reading the directions whilst running, especially when we had to turn the page and couldn’t see the key any more and had to just guess what all the words meant. Unfortunately none of my guesses were either a) correct or b) printable on a public website.
The first section to checkpoint 1 (Green Tye) went quite quickly. We moved at a steady pace over the frozen ground, taking it nice and easy, with plenty of other runners in sight to re-assure us that we were on the right track. With one navigation disaster narrowly avoided, we arrived at CP1 without much trouble and stopped briefly to re-arrange some kit and set off again, but this time we’d lost the comfort of moving in a group and were out on our own.
Although the frozen ground gave us great conditions on the farm tracks the black ice on the road wasn’t as welcome. We were trying to be cautious but unfortunately Chris lost his footing on a patch of icy tarmac and dropped hard, landing on his ankle & hip. I’ve got no idea how he got back up and carried on running, but he kept on going!
I’d like to say this next section passed through some pretty little villages, unfortunately all I could see was the route card as I tried desperately to make sure we didn’t make any wrong turns. It’s about this point that I realised that when you’re looking to run along “LHFE” (Left Hand Field Edge) not only does every field have a left hand edge but EVERY edge is a left hand edge, depending on where you’re looking at it from. I definitely need more practise at this kind of event if I’m to enjoy the scenery at the same time.
I got a bit confused just after we’d crossed the M11, in Woodside Green, but luckily we were caught by some runners from behind so after a quick sanity-check with them to make sure I wasn’t mis-reading the instructions we all headed off together for the mile left to go to CP2 (Ryes Farm). They headed straight through CP2 without stopping and we let them get ahead while we stuffed our faces with biscuits. Refuelling is important!
The difference in terrain between areas in shade and sun was getting really noticeable by this point. Sunny tracks over farms were just mud-baths, sucking at your feet and making each step hard work. We stopped at one point in the early stage of the race to help a guy who’d lost his shoe to the mud and you could see by the look on his face that he was regretting his elasticated laces.
Even though CP2 to CP3 (White Roding) was quite a short leg (under 5 miles) the claggy mud made it harder work than 5 miles should be. Seeing the signs for CP3 was a relief, and being greeted by welcoming volunteers handing us coffee, rice pudding and fruit cake was heaven.
We joined up with some more runners just after CP3 and stopped them taking a wrong turn, so they repaid our kindness by legging it and leaving us to lift a heavy gate back in to place on our own. Charming. It was just the kick up the arse we needed to get us moving, so we left them for dust on the next section.
We caught up with a group of half a dozen runners in the final mile and ran in to the finish together. The atmosphere in the village hall was great with loads of friendly runners chatting about the day, and being handed hot food & coffee as I walked through the door was even better.
Thanks very much to the race organisers and volunteers, you were all brilliant.