"...........and Belvoir's lordly terraces
The sign to Lincoln sent
And Lincoln sped the message
on o'er the wide Vale of Trent"
A poem about Lincoln's contribution to signals about the Spanish Armada by Lord Macaulay (1832) seen on the cain on the right.
I had heard about the legend that is the Belvoir Challenge but I was staggered by the popularity of the event. I've run countless off road marathons but I'm used to perhaps a couple of hundred people turning up to take part. The Belvoir Challenge must have attracted close to 1000 entrants. I've uploaded a video here which illustrates the numbers of hardy souls that turned out on a crisp February morning to run 15 or 26 miles depending on their preference. I plumbed for the long route which ran across the beautiful Vale of Belvoir from Harby to Scalford - Waltham - Croxton Kerrial - Harston - Woolsthorpe - Belvoir Castle and back along the escarpment which includes the highest point in Leicestershire, Beacon Hill.
I lost the mental battle with this race before the race had begun. I Felt slightly jaded after a big effort in Stamford the preceding week followed by some "balls out" track work the previous Wednesday evening. When I returned home from work on Friday feeling a bit "coldy" I questioned whether it would be counter productive to travel to Harby and take part. In the end I decided to run but without any race pressure I would just have a gentle plod round and to try and enjoy the course. Five miles in, I was reminded that it isn't really possible to run a marathon easily, whatever the pace, its always hard. I was well off my usual pace but that happened by default rather than me keeping to a consious decision. It was however good to have left the busyness of the start behind and to have found the great outdoors in which to find space to run.
|Gathering at the start|
At around the five mile mark the two routes split. The 15 mile route seemed the most popular and I was bit sorry that I hadn't chosen the shorter course. The event was run in cold conditions and I was looking forward to some momentary warmth at the first checkpoint in Scalford village hall. Sadly the checkpoint was in the car park. I paused to eat cake and drink water. The water was too cold to drink easily but I made sure I ate and drank plenty. I had decided to run without a bag today and used a strategy of dwelling at each checkpoint longer than usual to gain fuel instead of carrying my own.
We ran on towards Croxton. I was still feeling heavy and sluggish, very similar to how I felt during the Round Rotherham last year. Somewhere between Waltham and Croxton the route runs adjacent to some horse gallops. The ground was more forgiving, the hard frozen field tracks gave way to a more dusty track. I was able to extend my pace a bit during this section. It was the only part of the event where I felt mildy usual and as a consequence my mood picked up.
Just before Croxton the path joins the route of the Ponton Plod. The Ponton Plod is an excellent event which takes place in September. The events are similar but I doubt the Plod would attract near to a thousand entrants! As I ran along a particularly technical track I heard the cries of someone up ahead. I might have been concerned on another day but I knew I was approaching the tricky little turn through the hedge which people often miss on the Plod. As I approached the gap I looked ahead to see runners in front coming back to me. As predicted, they had run straight on up the track missing the gap in the hedge. I learned at the finish that some of the front runners had run ahead by as much as a mile before turning back.
The checkpoint at Croxton Kerrial was again well stocked with food but it was also in the car park. I was cold, my slower than usual pace contributing to the misery. The checkpoint marshall helpfully told me that he had encountered a couple of bulls in "the top field" when setting up the course the day before but they hadn't bothered him. I picked up the pace again on the way to Woolsthorpe. I knew this part of the route and that, coupled with my body temperature and the threat of bulls in the top field, gave me an incentive to run faster. The route from Harston to the Woolsthorpe - Denton road took longer than expected and I was grateful to approach the surprise view that leads down a sharp grassy incline to the checkpoint at Woolsthorpe by Belvoir. From the top of the incline you can see out for miles across Leicstershire and Nottinghamshire. The view is only interrupted by the grandeur of the imposing Belvoir Castle which sits proudly on a hill in the foreground.
I was still struggling and experiencing a bit of stomach pressure which was relieved by a trip into the village hall - momentary warmth at last! More cake and banana was stuffed down the hatch. It was so cold that the banana had no taste, it was like a soft block of ice but it provided much needed fuel nonetheless. The fuel took a while to kick for I had to walk a fair bit of the incline up the field and track towards the castle. I was grateful to reach the road and shuffled on past a Stafford Harrier whom I had seen earlier in the day. The route now crosses a long field before rising to the escarpment. The escarpment is grand, it rises off the flat plane of Leicstershire and forms a cliff that extends for miles. We ran across top of the escarpmment all the way to the descent to Stathern.
Mid way along the escarpment is the final checkpoint. Food was again plentiful and I wished I had more time to dwell. I stuffed more cake down and set off for the final push. Tracy had come out to support and reminded me that there was only 4.5 miles left. I was surprised but grateful, I thought the finish was at least 6 miles further on.
|Friendly volunteers look out for runners.|
The track along the escarpment runs through a wood of tall mature tress. Somewhere along the track we came up against piles of rocks blocking the path. The rocks were piled about 4 feet in height and extended down the track as far as the eye could see. I was a bit disappointed. Tracy's good news had given me a bit of impetuous. I had gradually found a pace and rhythm but now it was interrupted as I staggered and picked my way through the adjacent piles of rocks. Thankfully when the rocks ended the path returned and then followed the welcome descent to Stathern. I knew it wasn't far after Stathern to the finish at Harby but I was concerned that a runner behind was gaining on me. I stole through the village streets and out into the fields at the other side. As I passed through a stile in a field near to the finish the route turned sharply right. I could see a runner ahead that had gone straight on, he was coming back to rejoin the track and I thought how dejected he must have been to have taken a wrong turn so close to the finish.
Eventually I could see the wonderful sight of the buildings on the outer reaches of the village of Harby. I picked up the pace through the village and was glad to finish in a time of 3:45:27.I was surprised, given the way I had felt during the run, to have returned in 16th place.
The festivities began. Soup first, chicken or tomato, tea, tea and more tea. Spotted Dick with custard or a choice of other similarly tempting sweet delights, more tea and more tea. The village hall was buzzing with tales of the event and there were press cuttings on the walls which illustrated the history of this popular event. I'll come back to the Belvoir Challenge, the event was very well organised and supported by a cast of friendly marshalls. The route had been well thought out across some of the best bits of the Vale of Belvoir and across mostly runnable terrain with surprisingly little road. On reflection, the cold had done me a favour, the ground was frozen solid and on another cooler, wetter day, I suspect the mud would have provided a special Belvoir Challenge all of its own.