The scenic 10k run through this beautiful National Trust Estate in Taplow is organised each year by Burnham Joggers, a local running club. The race has been held for more than 25 years but 2009 and 2010 were the first years it had to be cancelled due to adverse weather conditions. Fortunately, this year all runners woke up to a rather chilly, but glorious sunshiny morning to participate in this hilly and very challenging post-Xmas competition.
Originally built in 1670, the grand stately home is set in the heart of the Berkshire countryside surrounded by 376 acres of magnificent landscape gardens and woodland. The estate stands on a high cliff, so visitors can enjoy breathtaking views over the River Thames. Between the two world wars Cliveden was at the centre of political and social activity, and was a popular gathering place for the glittering hub of society and politicians. The house itself is now run as a hotel, and only three rooms are open to the public, but the gardens are maintained by the National Trust. Each year, numerous events are hosted at Cliveden, including concerts, open-air theatre, and the previously mentioned running competition.
Simon and I were pleasantly surprised at how many people turned up (later the number was confirmed as just under 500), despite of the unfortunate cancellations in the previous two years, and given the fact that most of us were still full of (the memories of) mince pies and mulled wine. The atmosphere was lively and cheerful, and most of us gathered in the Orangery to collect our race numbers and timer chips and to stay warm as long as possible. Thankfully, after doing a brief warm up, we started to feel warm enough to face the race ahead! We were all lined up in front of the gates of the country house hotel to start the race, which proved to be one of the most challenging but at the same time one of the most beautiful runs I have ever done.
The different types of terrain provided enough challenge on its own, including mud, dewy grass, soft soil which felt like running on pillows, narrow forest trails covered in a thick carpet of rust coloured leaves. A number of hills, zigzagging paths, sharp turns and slippery slopes with little grip added to the challenge later, and I needed all my strength for a steep stepped climb up to the last hill, which lead us back to the hotel…twice (!). I could not help but marvel at the beautiful views whilst running by the side of the River, on top of the cliff, and in the heart of the forest, which compensated me for all the pain during my run!
Midway through the race, I found myself wrapped in sunshine and warmth, and felt like I had wings to fly. And for me this is the true reward in running, not so much chasing the trophy at the finish line: at some point, under the layer of sweat and mud, with a pounding heart and aching lungs in your chest, you can taste the sheer beauty of being alive, with all your senses awakened, and experience total peace with yourself and your surroundings. The moment when you meet your true self because the constant buzz of your busy life is finally silenced in your head, there is nothing you “have to do”, and you find strength in places deep inside you never imagined existed.
58 minutes later, I crossed the finish line feeling very tired, almost ready to faint, but moments later I walked off feeling energised and feeling light, as if I had lost something heavy that I had been carrying along for a long time.
Happy New Year, everyone!