Monday, 23 February 2015

Rail to Trail - Wendover Off Road Half Marathon

So Saturday was a first for me, an off road half marathon no less. This particular event was part of the Rail to Trail off road series, which consists of 4 events all within an hour of London by train. Wendover is beautiful little market town in the Chiltern Hills, just 47 minutes from London by train. As I woke up on Saturday I was greeted by rain and snow, now this wasn't forecast, and might make the half a little more challenging... Lucinda and I arrived at HQ in the centre of Wendover in plenty of time to sign on and review the route in a little more detail. Whilst I was doing the Half Marathon option, there was also a 10K and Marathon option should that take your fancy.

Around 280 runners started the day, with the Marathon runners off first, then half, and then 10k'ers. By the time the half marathon runners lined up the weather was beautiful, cold, but I was really looking forward to starting. Having studied the gradient profile before I was under no illusion this was going to be tough, with near 1,600ft of climbing over the 13.2 miles. I also wasn't sure how I would perform, I have been increasing my running more and more recently, however nothing of this length and certainly not off road, pacing myself would therefore be my downfall I thought. The start was straight up a small B road, and then almost immediately off across a field and climbing towards the woods. I was for some reason on the front, however I could hear the footsteps of my fellow competitors getting closer. Over the first 2 miles I took it steady, trying the gage the speed of other runners, my legs were feeling great though, no tight calves which is a problem I suffer from sometimes when going too hard. Now at the 4th mile and the second big climb of the day, very muddy, traction was difficult, but short strides meant I powered up. At this point I was joined by another runner, and caught up with the marathon leader. I lead the way for the next two miles, keeping my pace consistent and making sure I wasn't pushing too hard, I still had over 7 miles to go at this point! Seeing that half way sign was a huge motivational boost, the marathon leader had dropped off, and the other runner had dropped me (or so I thought) I made a decision though not too chase him, and stick at my pace, that was the right decision. The wooded sections were very boggy, with no clear lines and deep flooded areas of trail, which to be honest was great fun. Deep down I just enjoy running through mud and getting covered, yes that's childish.

From the half way point the route got harder, with a number of very steep down and up hill sections, although I was still feeling fresh and my legs felt good running of these hills was a false economy, so I walked. Getting going again was tough, this was a better option than running up these hills! 9 Miles done now and a flat section along muddy fields was a welcome relief, it was here that I thought I saw David Cameron, and yes I was right, the route did go over some parliamentary land, one runner even got a selfie with him, kudos! Final road crossing, and the Marshall informed me I was leading and had just 3 miles to go, the first of these 3 miles was up hill, not a steep hill, but again I was walking, legs were burning but I knew the last 2 miles were down hill. After descending I reached the road where we started, and finally the finish line, where I crossed the line in 1:44, and what I thought was second place. However apparently not, I was first over the line and had only gone and won! I couldn't believe it, very pleased indeed!
Strava link here:

The whole idea behind the rail to trail series, run by Trailscape, is to try and make trail running more accessible to runners in London and the South East. This is their first year running the series, and have run 4 different events (Essex, Kent, East Sussex & Buckingham) all of which can be reached from central London by train in under an hour. I supported Lucinda doing the one in Kent, and we both did this one in Buckinghamshire, both were very easy to get to and easy to find the HQ from the station. All very well organised, clear route signing, and a challenging, but rewarding route. You have a choice of either 10k, a half marathon or the full marathon, so something for everybody really, and there was a huge range of runners, from people who have never run off road before, to hardy fell runners! Unlike some of the other trail running series' this doesn't require a whole weekend away, and the associated travel and accommodation expense. I really do think Trailscape are onto a winning formula here, and will 100% be dong the full series when they start again in October 2015.

So Trail Running eh? What's all that about? Well for me, although my main sport is and always will be cycling, running offers a great opportunity for short, high intensity workouts when perhaps going for a ride isn't possible, and although I do ride every day, i also try and run 3 times a week, and often at the moment this consists of 5k-10k runs at lunch. Running for me is very simple, in winter when cycling it can often take 10 minutes from deciding you're going on a ride to leaving the house due to the amount of layers you need. Shorts (shorter the better) and singlet and a pair of trainers and you're off, and that's why running at lunch is so appealing. The issue for me is anything over 10k on the road is boring, and here is where trail running comes in.
In its most basic form trail running is about setting off, not really sure where you're going, not bound by junctions, pavements or pedestrians, just you, a pair of off road running shoes and a vague idea where you started. Ideally of course lots of mud. The attraction of heading off across a field, over the moors to a place where you'll probably not see anybody else really appeals to my sense of adventure. There is no real emphasis on speed, more of a desire to challenge yourself to run or walk up that steep climb or forge a new path through a wooded area, not really having much a clue where you're going, it's all about the adventure and exploring areas where you wouldn't on a bike. In terms of fitness, trailing running really does help, there is nothing quite like the all body workout of running through a muddy field, fighting not only to keep going at a constant speed, but also to simply keep upright and not fall into that muddy bog. I went on quite a few running adventures last year with Lucinda around Scotland and the Peak District, these were put simply, amazing, and hopefully some of these pictures below might inspire you to buy an OS map, sit down with a coffee and plot a route. If you'de rather not do that, there are loads of trail running books out there to provide ideas for routes of different length and level, something for everybody.

Thanks to Trailscape for putting on the event, the marshals as ever, anybody who baked the cakes. Look forward to the next one. More info here:

I paid for the race entry myself and am not supported by Trailscape, I just think more people should know about this awesome series. 

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