Thursday, 16 January 2014

Never mind the Frolics

Well the day had finally arrived when it was time to deliver on an idea that me and a couple of friends had months ago...

It was one of those "spur of the moment" things when a conversation post-event turned to "well could we do that?" Well a few days later I was still thinking about it and I started swapping messages with the fellow ultra marathon runners Bob Gear and Darren Coates who I'd spoke to originally about the possible event.

I was sure that I wanted to create something different from the norm that would be remembered for being a little special hopefully. Also as all three of us were distance runners it obviously needed to be long!

The first thing I thought important was the classic... location, location, location. This would then lead to the distance of the event and everything else should fall into place? Well that was the plan.
The idea of keeping things simple was always on my mind so I decided that we should use an established venue as a base and what better than a pub! By now I had an idea of both race distance and location so this defined the available area.

Eventually I chose the Eagle Public House in Gallywood Essex. Based near the old disused horse racing course (which can still be seen in a few places). Gallywood is situated on the south side of the city of Chelmsford and offers access to many decent trails with the 20 mile Centenary Circle passing through here and the St Peter's Way Path only a stone's throw away.

I shared the location with Bob and Darren who agreed it was a decent choice especially they said as all routes back to it were uphill! I met the boss and agreed the date (27th Dec) and we had an event. I next started to look closer at routes. To keep things simple, I liked the idea of a number of loops using the pub as a base. This would be simpler to manage and would also mean we could offer a selection of different race distances.

We all decided 30 miles would be a good manageable distance and we knew we'd only get a small amount of people interested which suited us. We chose two different twelve mile loops and a small six.

I highlighted two loops which were some of my favourite places to run, The Hanningfields and Danbury. The last loop would be a short 3 mile out and back down to Margaretting. These routes offered a mixture of terrain, road, track, trail and at times full on cross country mud but we had an idea that would mix it up a little.

What I didn't really want to put on was a traditional narrative trail race as there are a lot of these every week. So I thought about other options and remembered all the navigation exercises I'd taken part in when in was still in the Army.... These were always good and were a "leveller" for different abilities as people would need to think hard about route selection as well as just "head down, push on".

Darren Coates busy working
Well everything was set. The event was advertised (but not too well as we didn't want too many people at the first one). But actually we'd had quite a bit of interest and I was especially pleased that there were entries from at least a dozen people wanting to do the 30 mile route.

Sir Bob Gear with Lead helper and IT support Alistair Brazier

On the day the weather had turned and the high winds over the xmas period had reduced a little but I was hopeful of decent weather for the race. The runners assembled at the pub and were handed their route cards with the list of checkpoint grid references. It was interesting to see another side to running events as instead of last minute kit checks, runners were huddled in corners with maps busy marking them up and trying to decide the best way to get there. Looking at some of the choices being made, I could already see there were going to be some different results.

The Strider Dream Team of Siddy and James

It was then time to start. For the first loop, most people headed of in the same direction (always a good start!) After a couple of minutes, Darren took off to man the first aid station at the 6 mile point at Hanningfield. The first runners passed through there after just under the hour mark which was good work considering the heavy going with all the rain etc.

Sean Ketteridge and Alan Smalls were leading as a pair but were closely followed by the Strider double act of Simon "Siddy" Bowring and James Neugebauer. All these guys were working as pairs and were also running the whole 30 mile route. 

The leaders were soon back at the pub and onto the second loop and off towards Danbury. This time the check points forced runners under the new A130 at Howe Green and through some routes that even the locals probably didn't use often! (route selection at this point wasn't helped by the fact 70% of runners didn't have the A130 on their maps!)

By now all the loop one runners had finished and a large number had decided to it a day here at 12 miles. This was a respectable distance for anyone and many loved the event so much they even covered a few bonus miles. Stand out runs throughout the field but picking out MEC's David Game's run coming in as first "loop one only runner" and the large team from the Southend Flyers did well also and were in amazing spirits!

The second aid station at Danbury was now receiving the leaders and it was still neck and neck between the pair from Colchester and the pair from Springfield. This looked like it was set for a tag team fight to the finish until a call came through to race control that Simon Bowring had pulled up at the aid station and had to retire, a real shame as he was having a good run and it looked like the battle of the pairs would be over?

Back in the pack the ultra distance runners on loop two were also joined by some late starters who were doing the second loop only. Pillars of Essex running, the dynamic duo of John and Lorna Pettifer were joined by Springfield Striders Richard Rule and Andy Stroud and they looked good to go at the start of their runs but I have to admit it was entertaining to see them all head off in different directions. 

Eventually the first runner came back through the HQ... Richard Rule! Richard had started the second loop before the leaders of the "full race" but had a great run with no navigational issues worth speaking of and had the finish time to show for it as he was back just after midday. Next in were the leading Colchester pair followed only 5 minutes later by James N on his own now.

First, second and third paced runners were all now at the pub together refuelling and checking nav decisions but it looked like James might call it a day here at the 24 mile point possibly? Alan and Sean quickly transferred their grid references onto their maps and were off on the last leg, after a few minutes joined also by James!

By now the first three places were set but local runners Peter Chubb of Springfield Striders and Colin Harper were still fighting the route and by now the elements which had taken a turn for the worst again with driving rain and galeforce winds. Pete arrived at the Eagle again and announced he was set to finish here. By now I was rejoined by Bob and Darren and we all told him he should definitely push on as it was only a couple miles out and back to finish. Eventually after a little arm twisting Pete left only to come limping back seconds later announcing he could "barely walk let alone walk." We all sympathised as you can imagine and hats off as he left again for the second time!

Last back of the long course runners was Colin Harper. Chelmsford runner Colin was using the event as training for his Marathon Des Sables (desert multi-day event) attempt in 2014 and thanks to a couple of minor navigational episodes had already covered 30 miles without even attempting the last stage! He'd had a solid steady run so far but decided to call it a day here as he'd completed what he wanted to achieve.

So it was just left to see who came out as winner for the whole event and it soon came back that Alan and Sean were through the turn round point first and racing back to the finish line. Crucially James had chosen a slightly different course to the aid station and by now was back in sight of the leading pair. As all the runners headed back to the finish James pushed hard on the steep muddy climb but was still off the back of the Alan and Sean as they climbed the hill back into Chelmsford.

Just as the result looked set in stone with less than 300 metres to go, the front runners took a right turn  and James took a left... James entered the pub and was greeted by with applause. Poor guy didn't even know he'd finished first. Literally less than a minute later Alan and Sean followed. 

Over 30 miles across country with different routes between all the runners had resulted in a sprint finish decider in the last few metres of the end. We couldn't have asked for a better result.

Well done to everyone that took part especially Bob and Darren and their families for their support. We set out to give something back to the running community especially the efforts of other race organisers and volunteers and I think we achieved that. See you in the summer when the Frolic team presents the "Race to the Basin".....

James seen here "overwhelmed with joy" at finishing first!
(by the way what hobo did you steal those shoes from?)

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