So, I’m sitting here reflecting on another weekend in Dorset. Or is it Wiltshire. I’m not sure anymore. OK, so a weekend on the Dorset/Wiltshire border.
This was my third 50 miler and the last big race before I tackle the South Downs Way 100. I wanted a confidence boost. I wanted this to convince me that the 100 miles is going to be OK. I wanted to get to the end of 50 miles and still feel OK, knowing that I could keep putting one foot in front of the other for a while (probably around 16 hours).
So, the Ox weekend happens on the Rushmore Estate (as does the Larmer weekend from White Star Running). It’s beautiful. It takes about 10 minutes to drive from the entrance of the estate to the race HQ. That’s how big the estate is. Seeing the lambs jumping and playing around first thing on Saturday morning fills me with joy.
The race is 8 laps, resulting in a total distance is 50 miles (ish). This means 8 visits to my own aid station, which is good prep for the 100. The course has everything. Amazing trees, varying terrain, long slow up hill sections, lovely long shallow descents and steep up hill climbs and difficult, technical downs.
Even with 8 laps it doesn’t get boring. OK, well laps 7 and 8 may have become a little tedious, but at least we knew what was ahead of us.
This is what the course looks like. Oh yes, and there’s a lot of wild garlic.
The goal was 12 hours. Take it steady and go at the planned pace for the 100. The course was slightly less hilly than expected, so we came in under that, but were still running all of the flat and down hill sections right to the end.
So, mission accomplished. Confidence boosted and every step powered by plants. Now, to stay injury free until the start of June.
There was something that really struck me about this weekend. Probably more than any other weekend away with lyrca people in the middle of nowhere.
This weekend had such a diversity of people. There were people of all shapes, sizes and ages, plus a lot of fancy dressers. I loved seeing the canicross participants, who gave me the chance to chat with their dogs and took my mind off the goal for a while. Everyone said ‘well done’ to their fellow runners. That’s all it takes to pick you up again.
We hear a lot about participation. About getting people off the sofa. parkrun registered its highest number of participants ever last weekend. Our running club is going from strength to strength with race entries growing. We have just had the London and Brighton marathons with more people seem to be thinking ‘I can do that’. The increase in mental health awareness and the positive effect of running and being outside on mental health is great to see. I think that we all get a release when we disappear for a weekend in the countryside. Nothing else seems to matter. It’s just you and the hills. No mortgage, no credit card bills, no job worries. This is one of the reasons why we do it. We enter a different world.
But I still hear and see a fear of trail running though. There really is nothing to fear and you don’t have to do daft distances.
Weekends like the Ox races are perfect if you want to get involved in trail running. If you don’t fancy the 50 miles or 12 hour races on Saturday, you can do the Dark Ox (10k on Saturday night in the dark, the Light Ox (10k on Sunday morning) or the Ox Half on Sunday morning.
These races are much more relaxed than road races. There is no time pressure, as no-one will ask you how quickly you finished. Every trail course is so incredibly different, times really do vary much more from course to course.
Where else do you get a Race Director who dresses up as a Mexican wrestler for the race brief and then gives you a high five as you leave race HQ on the first lap? And where else has an aid station with a man in a kilt, a badger sporran and a sombrero serving booze?
Trail races give you the best aid stations. Cake, sweets, biscuits, savoury, booze and love.
These smaller off road events offer a certain type of intimacy that road races can’t offer. You really feel like a club away from home. You see many familiar faces, many of whom have just spent the night camping on top of a hill in the cold in a howling gale. If that doesn’t bring people together then nothing will.
I’m not a huge talker on races. I really do like to keep myself to myself. It’s my space. Me, my head and my skinny legs. However, at White Star Running events (and many of the lower key trail events) I am finding myself chatting more and more. 11 hours on your feet is a long while after all.
That’s it really. if you haven’t already done it, give trail running a go. It really is fun and you don’t have to look at cars, houses and roads. Instead, you get trees and birdsong.
A huge thank you to Andy and the whole WSR team. I can’t think of anything that I would have changed (apart from making the pub a little closer to our B&B and blaming you for that would have been a little harsh). The marshals were amazing. It is impossible not to tell the world about the Lovestation. The vegan cake was the best. The cider and the vodka we had on the last lap was so nice. Thank you to our fellow runners for the smiles, the encouragement and the company.
Take care and please be good to animals.
Much love to you all and see you at the Cider Frolic.
Some of the photos are courtesy of Rob Hannam and Elzbieta Rembelska. They are brilliant. We can’t thank you enough for taking these.