After a few weeks of Christmas excess and very little running thanks to a stinking cold, I was feeling pretty unfit as I stood on the start line of the East Hanningfield Trail Marathon. I reminded myself that this was just a training run and it didn’t matter if I took it slowly, but I still felt pretty daunted at the knowledge that this one was going to be hard work!
After a short race brief we were soon underway with a loop around the playing fields before turning into a narrow enclosed path that took us out of the village and off across the fields. We had been given a set of route instructions on arrival, which we would use to navigate our way around the course. These were well written, but the route was pretty complex and a lot of concentration was required to keep following the correct place in the instructions. I think by halfway my brain was hurting as much as my legs!
The early stages of the course were relatively flat, before the start of some surprisingly tough hills took us up towards the first checkpoint at a pub. I believe that this was The Bell in Danbury, but with no knowledge of the area and without a map I could have been anywhere really! The area around Danbury has obviously been an affluent one, as we passed numerous impressive country houses and ran through some lovely parkland, before heading down to join the Blackwater Canal. The towpath provided some easy running, although I was nearly wiped out by one of the many fishermen seated along the bank as he swung his fishing rod across the path – brush with danger number 1.
After leaving the towpath and following more quiet footpaths and country lanes it was time for brush with danger number 2 – thankfully the last major incident of the run! The footpath passed through a large equestrian property, involving crossing several fields of horses. Unfortunately a group of horses in one of the middle fields had been spooked by the runners crossing through and were now careering around. I slowed to a walk and for a while it looked as if they were settling down, but then they set off again and came towards me at speed. I grew up around horses so am fairly relaxed around them (thank goodness it wasn’t cows!), but one in particular was clearly very spooked and thinking about kicking out. I gave up on trying to make it past them to the gate and wriggled through the electric fence into the next door field instead, with the runners further behind also opting to follow my example! The adrenaline was definitely flowing as I ran on, hoping that things would now calm down a bit!
After more winding paths I reached checkpoint 2 in a village hall somewhere in Essex (checking my GPS trace I think this may have been Woodham Walter)! The checkpoints on this event were really great, with fresh fruit and a fantastic selection of pick ‘n’ mix style sweets; there was a great temptation to eat far too much. I had come into the checkpoint with a few other runners, but left more quickly and now had some time running on my own, with just the occasional glimpse of runners ahead or behind.
From here to the finish the route was mainly around or across agricultural land and I was very grateful for the dry winter we have had so far this year; it was fairly hard going and would have been even more energy sapping had it been muddier. We passed through the outskirts of Maldon (I think!) and it was very surreal running through the car park of Morrisons and getting bemused looks from the shoppers, before crossing a busy road and quickly escaping back into quiet countryside. As I approached the third and final checkpoint I caught up with another runner and it was nice to have someone to chat too after a long time running on my own.
From here it was only 5 miles to the finish, but now my lack of fitness was starting to tell and it was becoming a bit of a slog. I gritted my teeth and concentrated hard on the route instructions to avoid making tired mistakes – I didn’t fancy adding any extra distance now! I plodded on across more fields, before another enclosed path brought me back into East Hanningfield. My legs started to seize up once I hit the tarmac road, but they gradually loosened up again and allowed me to run smoothly up the drive to the village hall to finish in 45th place in a time of 5 hours and 15 minutes.
After a disrupted few weeks with little running, it was great to get a nice long run under my belt. This was a really enjoyable low key and friendly event and a great way to start 2019. I’ve got a busy schedule of races and long runs planned for the next few months as I build up to the Hardmoors 55 in March and then the Hadrian Hundred in May. Next up is the 32 mile Wilmot Wander at the end of January…