Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Event Review : Leith Hill Half Marathon

About three years ago someone suggested the Knacker Cracker race up Box Hill to me as a "fun" way to start the New Year. That's when I first became aware of Trionium events. Two years ago my now-ex boyfriend decided he was going to run the Leith Hill Half Marathon that they also organise. I decided that I could support him *and* marshal at the same time. It was an amazing day out, cheering the runners up the hill and seeing just how hard Rob, the organiser, works behind the scenes to ensure everything goes smoothly and that runners and marshals alike are well looked after. As a marshal I was entitled to free entry into a future event, something Rob very kindly let me cash in two years later.

And that was how I found myself in Dorking last Sunday morning, in a school car park, eating a hot cross bun before registration. I'd had my usual race day breakfast but with an oh-so-civilised start time of 11am, I decided an early elevenses was in order too, particularly as I'd wanted to arrive early enough to watch the Wife Carrying race that precedes the half marathon every year. I'd not had the chance to watch this previously, having been dispatched to my marshal point but it was well worth getting there early for. The write up on the Trionium website is worth a read but participants from all over the world took part on the tough but short course, over hay bales and through water obstacles, one man with two "wives"!
Prizes for the wife carrying race.
So with a coffee inside me (provided free of charge) and last minute loo trip made (no queues!!) I joined the crowd on the start line to do something I'd never done prior to a race before, sing the national anthem! And then we were off. The courses is predominately trail, mostly up hill (1836m of ascent) on the way out and up to the top of Leith Hill where the Leith Hill Tower stands (a National Trust property, well worth a visit). I've walked up there before so knew roughly what I was in for. I'd also seen my ex, rather broken two years prior, having completed it in 2h19. Trionium are know for putting on "challenging" events and this was certainly going to be that. My aim was just to complete it and as I found myself in the last 4 or 5 people shortly after the start I prepared myself to be last. Well someone has to be.
Made of tough stuff.
There were a couple of lovely downhills near the start, which I used to gain a couple of places, realising with a sinking heart that I'd have to face these as uphills in the last two miles of the race later. The weather was cool but bright and the route quite pretty, through woodland with few places for spectators to gather. But with only around 250 entrants it soon felt quiet at the back. I played "leapfrog" for course places with a couple of guys and looked forward to seeing the marshals on route, all of whom were cheery. Although it was pretty much a straight track I worried that I'd missed a turn, especially when I'd not seen anyone for a while. But no sooner than I'd had the thought than there was a marshal or a bit of tape or a paint marking.
Not enjoying the hill at this moment in time.
I started to see the front runners coming back the other way as I reached the 4.75 mile mark, haring down the hill. Maybe it was the jaffa cakes I'd discovered on the water stations, or the knowledge that I was almost at the top but I caught myself starting to actually enjoy the event. The hill got steeper as I approached the turn around point but the views at the top are worth the climb. I'd used my walking time to take a few videos and snaps and I even managed a star jump or two for the photographer at the top.

I'm rubbish at uphill running. I don't train enough for it. But downhill is my forte. I've enough confidence to go quickly, not holding back too much, so the return leg was glorious. As I overtook one chap I'd been leapfrogging he referred to me as a tortoise, steady if not fast. I understood his point but he didn't catch me again. I felt free and happy, even when it started to sleet, making aeroplane arms on the steeper down hill sections and skipping around puddles. I gained a few more places in the last two miles, despite the uphill sections I'd been dreading. As I turned the corner in to the last downhill stretch to the finish line I noticed a familiar shape near the finish line... my mum! A total surprise, prompting me to whoop and sprint to the finish, overtaking one more chap in the process. My Garmin hadn't been fully charged and gave out in the last half mile so I was truly delighted to find out I'd achieved a time of 2:29:57, coming 217th out of 232! Not a patch on the female course record of 1:33:21 of course.
I reckon I could have taken 5 minutes off that if I'd not gaffed around with photos and jaffa cakes but I was never going for a time and in this case I'd rather feel buoyant than broken. I collected my goodies, gave mum a huge hug and we made our way back to the school hall to find the canteen.
Normal entry costs around £38 and includes a technical T-shirt with everyone's names on the back, a hefty medal, a pint glass and free cooked "breakfast". I'd rather that than a goody bag any day! There was a bit of a queue for food but the single chef was doing a fine line in poached eggs and there were even vegetarian sausages to be had so no complaints there.
Now that's what I call recovery food!
All in all a great event, and one that I'd recommend to anyone in search of a challenge. Brilliantly organised and I can't fault it.

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