Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Belvoir Challenge 2014

A muddy race.
I had managed to get some good miles on my legs in the weeks before the Belvoir Challenge and I went into the event in a positive mood. I decided to "double up" this weekend and the Belvoir Challenge would be the first of two marathons, the second would be The Cambridge Boundary Run the following day.

I woke up to a crisp day of bright sunshine with a slight frost. The blue sky was uninterrupted and the good conditions only added to my enthusiasm. I drove to the start and as part of the usual routine, I played a bit of fast paced, big beat, house music to pump me up a bit more. By the time I got to Harby I was brimming, on it, up for it, this was my day! The registration hall was packed, as was the surrounding car park and streets. Make no mistake, this is a very popular event. the Belvoir Challenge sells out far in advance of race day. In addition to the 26 mile marathon that I had chosen to do, there is also a 15 mile version. I made my way the start line harnessing the positive vibe, the sun, the music, race day. I'd got my head around this one, it was going to be a good day.     

Event start at Harby.
We left Harby promptly at 9am and set off for Barkstone - Redmile - Belvoir Castle - Woolsthorpe - near Denton - near Harston - Croxton Kerrial - near Branston - through the beautiful Belvoir Estate - up through Bunkers Wood - on to and along the Escarpment before descending to Stathern - Harby.

The feature of this event was mud. Mud mud and more mud. In the first five miles my pre-race enthusiasm was knocked out of me, the house music in my head was replaced with Barry Manilow. It was grim mile after mile of bog. Mile after mile of struggling to stay upright.  At one part we approached a gate opening in a field and the mud had formed a swamp. It was the type of swamp that you needed to "negotiate". It was too early in the event  to be reckless so I tiptoed gingerly round the edge. As I did, a couple of other runners decided to run straight through. They decided to miss the orderly queue of gingerly folk and loped full on, into the swamp. What they hadn't bargained for was the swamp lasting about another 50 metres after the gate opening and I noticed they were as quick to leap out as they were to leap in. The damage was done they were soaked.

The event carried on like that, miles and miles of muddy boggy tracks. The kind of mud that either  tries to make you fall over or wants to come with you by clinging on to your shoes until it feels like you are wearing dumb bells on either foot. At Belvoir Castle the routes split. I felt slightly envious as I watched the shorter course participants turn back towards Harby. I ran on to Chequers at Woolsthorpe where the checkpoint in the car park offered fabulous cakes which I accepted with thanks and desperation.

Belvoir Castle. 
Although the sun continued to shine I was having a difficult run. Pressure had built up around my pelvis making it feel like I need to be put on a stretching rack. I could only put it down to a speed session on the track the previous Wednesday evening. A speed session is unusual for me and I think it had shocked my body a little.

I staggered on up the grassy bank and reflected how I had run down the same back just over two months earlier as part of Grantham Running Club's Christmas Eve run. I continued a reverse of that route until we hit the track that took us almost all the way to Croxton Kerrial. For the first time that day, I managed to find a regular pace and passed a couple of others on the way. The checkpoint at Croxton was just as well stocked. I'd intended to visit the WC in the school. The pressure was below my stomach but I thought a toilet trip couldn't do any harm, I was willing to try anything if it helped. It turned out that the aid station was in the car park so I gave the WC a miss. I quaffed some more cake and carried on.

The part between Croxton and the escarpment was unfamiliar but this event is very well marked with tape every so often. The sun glistened off the lake in the Belvoir estate that houses the River Devon. I had to squint as I glanced at swans swimming gracefully to my left. These were great conditions for running, the sun and the occasional snow drops along the route suggested that spring was about to spring.

The escarpment with great views to the west

I was grateful to reach the escarpment, I knew it wasn't far to go and there was a checkpoint still to visit where I could replenish my energy reserves for the last four miles. At the checkpoint, in addition to the usual array of fine cakes, there was a massive block of blue cheese supported by an army of crackers. Despite having run 22 miles I thought it would have been crackers not to have a bit, so I ate some and then ran on towards the finish. It was good to see Tracy in the last four miles, she had decided to do her own version of the walk and ended up clocking 13.2 miles.

Oddly the heaviness and pelvis pressure that had bugged me all day seemed to lift over the last two miles. I think it helped to see the finish village in the distance. I was able to stretch out a bit and pass a few others not before body planting in the latest muddy bog. I  was relived to cross the line in 4:07 but I was a bit miffed that I had felt so rough throughout and would have at least liked to go under 4 hours. Interestingly I just looked at my Belvoir Challenge post from last year and I bemoaned a tough day last year too. I think this is just a tough event.




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