After having Alex last November, I decided to focus on taking my running off the roads and into the countryside. My motivation behind this initially was to take off the pressure to be able to run at a particular pace whilst getting back into shape after pregnancy, and being able to focus more on enjoying the scenery. The beauty of running in nature is that the challenge is navigating different terrains and weather conditions, not necessarily racing against the clock. Having participated in many types of running events in the past, I can honestly say that I won’t be returning to running on roads any time soon; the trails are the very place where I truly feel alive and energised when I need some time to destress and reconnect with myself.
This new trail running event by Maverick Race cropped up one day on my Facebook page and turned out to be an exciting highlight in my 2019 racing calendar. This stunning race is just one in the trail running series that Maverick Race brings to cross-country-lovers. Their races are all about celebrating the extraordinary beauty of the British countryside, bringing runners of all abilities together at some of the most iconic areas that the country has to offer.
Starting at Princes Risborough school, this race takes runners through ancient woodland, with incredible views over the surrounding Chiltern hills AONB. Running on the splendid green lanes of the famous Ridgeway, which is a one of the oldest roads in Britain, was also a special experience.
The route starts off with a steep climb up to Whiteleaf Hill – this is the first technical segment with wooden steps leading to a kissing gate at the top. If you do not start out fast enough at the school, leaving the crowds behind you, it is quite likely that you will find yourself get stuck in a bottleneck here, losing some rhythm and precious time (if you are gunning for a particular finish time). Getting through this first obstacle is quite rewarding though, as you will be able to see the famous white leaf chalk cross, and some stunning views of the surrounding areas.
The route consists of many technical trails, fast descents and quad burning hills through some of the finest tracks of the Buckinghamshire countryside. Overall, you will experience a great mix of challenging, slower sections and easier, faster segments that allows you to recover and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Talking about highlights, a section of the race route takes you to another picturesque viewpoint where you can see the famous 16th Century country home of the Prime Minister, Chequers.
In comparison to Wendover Woods and Ashridge, which is where I had recently completed two races before this one, the trails were in a much better condition on this route and even the sun decided to come out! Nonetheless, I found this race pretty tough – plenty of hills and sticky mud tested not only my physical stamina but also my mental muscles.
A few people from Marlow Striders including Mickey and my friend Brie from Strava were also running this race. Seeing them on the route lifted my spirits somewhat when the going was getting tough. I was trying hard to ignore the fact that I had got overtaken by both Mickey and Brie despite them getting stuck way behind me in the bottleneck at the beginning… In moments like this, I need to remind myself that I am only just getting back into running at a more serious level after giving birth, so I guess I should cut some slack for myself when running with people who had done two or three times as much running as I have this year alone!
On the route I also encountered plenty of hikers and some overly friendly dogs. The doggies decided to show their affection by salivating on my pants whilst brushing against me! To top it all off, I managed to squeeze half of an energy gel on myself later, so I ended up looking like a real mess even before reaching halfway point! On the positive side, my Ultimate Direction race vest was a real life saver with the various pockets for the snacks and gels, and the front pouches to store my squidgy bottles in – I even received compliments from other runners which made me feel somewhat better about the fortune I had carved out to get this gear for my long distance trail running adventures… (If anyone tells you that running is a cheap sport, feel free to punch them!)
I was really impressed with the refreshments and treats that were on offer not only in the race village at the school, but also on the race course. At the feeding stations we could pick up TRIBE bars, GU gels, fresh fruit slices, jelly babies and energy drinks by Precision Hydration, which made those two stops a real oasis! At the race HQ, a generous helping of snacks and post-race fuel were waiting for the finishers. A bottle of ice cold beer was handed to me upon crossing the finish line which I would have really loved to drink to cool myself down in the increasingly hot weather, had Alex not been waiting for me at home ready to be breastfed. A company called Trail Mix was selling tea, coffee and a generous selection of scrumptious cakes – I can still taste their fabulous Dorset apple cake in my mouth as I’m writing this. I also spotted Chulli Pizza – regretfully, I had to head home after the race so I did not have the chance to sample their delicious looking oven fired pizzas.
And have I mentioned the brilliant race photos that were available shortly after the race for free? All in all, for the £35 entry fee I paid, I would call this race an absolute bargain in every respect.
Last, but not least, it is worth mentioning that the Maverick Team operates a plastic free system during their events, whereby we had to bring our own bottles or cups and take home our finisher goodies in our own rucksacks at the end. This was no inconvenience at all. In the midst of the world-wide environmental crisis, I feel that cutting down on waste is something that can make a big difference long term, so big kudos to the Maverick Team for being environmentally friendly. Hopefully, more events companies will follow suit.
How did I get on? My legs got completely thrashed during the race but I managed to pick up the pace again nearer the finish; sadly, the final mile with its hilly segments turned into absolute torment, so I missed my target time marginally. I can’t help thinking that if I had set out faster at the beginning, I would not have got stuck in the bottleneck at Whiteleaf Hill; and if I had not been faffing about so much at the feeding stations, I would not have lost so much time. However, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that I had a fantastic time, regardless of the time it took me to get to through the finish line, and having some friends run with me made the day even more special!
I’m completely hooked and am very much looking forward to my next two Maverick events this year – The Maverick x TRIBE Run Free Half Marathon in Ibstone late May, and The Maverick inov-8 Original Oxfordshire Half Marathon near Stonor Deer Park in October.
What is your favourite spring trail running race?