One evening, on my way home from work on the train, I was reading the latest issue of the Runners World Magazine. An article caught my eye in the race reviews section about a scenic winter cross-country race, on the borders of Oxfordshire and Berkshire – the Mapledurham 10 by My Sporting Times Events. I remember almost instantly feeling an itch to sign up for this race, despite the course profile promising to be quite tough and most likely to be a mud-fest (not something that usually deters me…). I found out that this race is part of a special winter trail run series, whereby people can also sign up for the Muddy Welly Run (5k or 10k) and the Gut Buster Run (10k or 10mile) – if you sign up for all three events, you can get a discount. Unfortunately, this was not an option for me as Hubby and I were going to Germany to visit our friends in December, so I was not going to be around for all three races – but definitely something to consider for next year as I quite like the idea of a challenging multi-part event.
Race day turned out to be a grotty and drizzly one – one of those days when all you want to do is to stay in your Pajamas all day and binge on Netflix with a mug of hot chocolate keeping you warm. The drive to the race wasn’t too bad – the starting point happens to be just down the road from Grey’s Court in Henley-on-Thames, so I was at least on the edge of familiar territory. Thankfully, my car managed to survive the narrow and mucky country lanes that lead into the heart of the beautiful Mapledurham Estate – always a good start!
Upon arriving, I took in the tranquil views alongside the river and walked up to the information tent to pick up my race pack – a stone’s throw away from the car park. One thing I would like to mention here is that this is one of those races where they don’t take registrations on the day itself so you need to sign up online in advance. It was still relatively early and it really started tipping it down so I took shelter in the tuck shop tent hoping that the conditions would improve. Whilst waiting for the race briefing to start, a lady started chatting to me – it turned out that she had recently got into running and this was going to be her first race. (You could tell as she was wearing an almost brand new pair of minimalist road shoes LOL). She signed up for the 10k version whilst I was doing the ‘full monty’ aka the 10 mile version of the event. It was a nice way to kill some time and distract myself for a bit – one of the things I like the most about rural races is the friendly atmosphere and the sense of camarederie that brings people together, especially at the most punishing events!
After the race brief, all was left to do was to line up for the start and then sprint off at the sound of a rather funny alarm. The first mile of the race was equally funny as a herd of cows from the local farm decided to trot alongside us from behind the fence! It was not long before the 10k runners peeled off to the left, thinning out the group of runners. The first 2.5 kms is not too bad at all, you are running on well paved, flat farm tracks before the ‘real fun’ begins. I got the first 5kms out of the way relatively fast, in about 26 minutes which seemed to be a good strategy.
At around the 6km mark, we came to face the most monstrous incline, leading past the Delta Force Paintball centre. I managed to run up halfway, then switched to power walking like many others – reminding myself that I needed some energy left for the remaining 10k of the race. Big thumbs up for the smiley face at the bottom of this hill!
After leaving the cruel hill behind, I managed to recover somewhat (except my pride), only to be tested again on the next hill which was a gradual, long incline between 7.5km to 10.5km. I realised the organisers were not exaggerating when they said this was going to be hilly! And I haven’t even mentioned the thick, gloopey mud that nearly claimed my shoes a couple of times in the woods and sapped even more energy from my poor legs. It was time to get really dirty!
Fortunately, I am very much used to running in mud at this time of the year so I knew what I was getting myself into (courtesy of my Saturday running group), and I can wholeheartedly say that practice makes perfect! Instead of allowing myself to feel defeated by the mud-bath, I decided to embrace it and just plod through it, trying really hard not to face-plant in the full view of everyone. (It would have made a great selfie, no doubt!). On the positive side, mud is actually a great way to improve your balancing skills, develop your core muscles and give your glutes a bloody good workout.
After what seemed like forever, we finally left the bog behind and I was able to draw strength from the fact that it was only about a parkrun left from the race (who else divides their race into parkruns??). I felt very challenged and my legs were burning but I somehow managed to tap into some dormant energy reserves, and really pushed the tempo on that final hill. I felt rewarded by the glorious surroundings and the views over the river and the valley when I reached the top (had to peak really hard through the trees, though). I switched to higher gear and ‘flew’ towards the finish line amongst the clapping and cheering spectators. It took me 1 hour 31 minutes – a whole minute slower than I had planned. I felt broken but certainly not defeated!
I can honestly say that this has been one of the best organised and most rewarding races I have done this year – the scenery is breathtaking; the route is well marked and marshalled, you get a lovely medal, free professional photos and even an iTab after the event with your finishing time (!) Not to mention the mulled wine and mince pies that are waiting for you at the finish to warm your cockles.
This event will definitely go on my race planner for the coming years!
What is the toughest race you have done this year?
Photo credits: Rob Gower Photography, taken from Rob’s Flickr page.