Belvoir Challenge – 26 miles 25th February 2017
Looking at dates in the calendar and possible marathons to do, Guy had mentioned this a few months ago. I had pencilled in Bolton Abbey, however having already done that course, Guy persuaded me to sign for this. Reasoning that they were both off road and this was slightly closer, this was the preferred option.
It is about a two hour drive with the start being at the village of Harby, which is about 10 miles from Belvoir castle, from which the event takes it’s name.
Guy volunteered for driving duties and we arrived at around 8.00am with the start being at 9.00am. This gave us ample time to walk the short (uphill) distance from the car park to the race HQ, pick up our numbers and prepare for the joys that awaited us. We ambled back to the car, pinned numbers, changed, stretched and made our way back to the start, drawn in by the smell of bacon butties. We wisely resisted the urge to add to our carb loading.
There were around 1,000 competitors, split over two distances. Around 650 did 15 miles with 350 braver souls, including Guy and myself, doing the 26.2 option.
We timed it quite well and got in the middle of the crowd at the start, with only a few minutes remaining. It was a bit difficult at the start as both distances started at the same time, as did walkers and runners. This didn’t create too much hassle as we weaved our way around the slower runners and walkers, gradually climbing uphill and making our way into fields and heading North towards Plungar.
Within the first mile I decided I needed a pee and my right ankle started to ache. Unfortunately we were moving single file like ants up and through the fields, making overtaking difficult and risking getting arrested for exposure if I wanted to answer the call of nature.
To say that the fields were muddy was an understatement, I was wearing trail shoes for only the second time, the first being at the Ennerdale EHH handicap and although they seemed to give much better grip than my usual road shoes, they also attracted a couple of inches of mud to the bottom of them. It felt like I was running in lead shoes.
I had lost Guy in the first few hundred metres, but was sure he wasn’t far behind. After about 3 miles the gradual incline turned into a steeper climb. Sod this, I thought, it’s a long way, my legs are already hurting and I need to conserve energy, so I started walking and running alternately. I was sure that Guy would soon catch me.
The route then turned East towards and through Barkestone Wood, with the steep incline turning into what can only be described as a wall of mud at mile 5. The path was 2 people abreast and most of the runners were using shrubs, small trees and bramble bushes as leverage to pull themselves up. My morale fell through the floor. I was already wondering how I was going to continue and this just floored me. Luckily I had taken off my gloves, so although my hands were muddy, my gloves were clean and safe in my pockets.
I’ve had quite a few low mile weeks, following a painful back injury recently. My last marathon was about a month ago and although I ran the first 14 miles I had to walk the last 12 as my legs had just gone and it was too painful to run. This started to pray on my mind and the running demons came into my mind with a vengeance.
The first checkpoint was at the top and I took the opportunity to use the toilet and wash my hands of mud. I was sure Guy must have passed me, however when I came out the portaloo, Guy had just reached the top. I told him that I couldn’t continue, I was finished. I would try and make it to the next check point, but I could take no more. This was where the 15 mile and 26 mile split and marked the point of no return. I chose to continue on the 26 mile route.
We set off to the East and I gradually crept a few metres from Guy. He caught up a mile or so later and we ran together for a couple of miles. Every time I stopped to walk he kindly reassured me and helped to push me along.
We ran around the Belvoir castle grounds, where I afforded a quick chuckle to myself, as there is a metal sculpture of a frog with a cocktail glass in hand, what I would have given for a drink or two at that stage. The route must have began to make it’s way downhill, so I gradually started to get into a bit of a flow and kept on going. Guy gradually lost ground, however I thought I’d try and get some miles under my belt whilst I could. The legs were both stiff, but not unbearably painful.
I continued to make progress, running where I could and walking when I couldn’t run. It seemed that none of the terrain was conducive to running, it was either muddy, very muddy or uneven. In fact I think we must have seen 50 shades of brown, seeing every type of mud possible.
At the second checkpoint I was in higher spirits, I thought even if I had to walk I would finish in under 6 hours. Should Guy overtake me, he wouldn’t have to wait a ridiculous amount of time for me at the end. I continued with my strategy of running and walking. Running all the downhills and most the flats and walking most of the uphills. I set myself little targets, such as run to the next tree, then walk to the next route marker.
This was quite a sociable strategy as I found myself passing runners, who would in turn overtake me when I started walking. Funnily enough this helped me to move up the field and I gained a few positions.
At around 14 miles the route turned South heading towards Croxton Kerrial. I had a bit of a chat with a friendly chap from Cambridge who told me this was the 8th time he’d taken on this event. The first time was his muddiest, I imagined only madness could have made him return. I also got chatting to a local runner, who told me this was his first ever marathon. He was walking and only had a t shirt and shorts on. The weather had just turned for the worse, with 40 mph winds and a gentle drizzle. He asked how I usually feel the day after a marathon, I warned him that it is the next few days that will hurt, but it does get better the more you do. Offering the advice that as long as he is moving forward, he will finish. I was happy to see him run in at the end.
I refilled my camelbak at checkpoint 3, around 19 miles in and the route took us to the West, heading back in the direction of the start/finish. Thanking the marshals, I set off feeling happy in myself.
Passing through Branston at around 20 miles, I began to pass some of the walkers who were doing the 15 mile route, as this is were the paths rejoined. I tried saying hello to as many as I could, whilst passing them and exchanged a few words with the odd one or two.
The last checkpoint was at Eaton, where we headed North, joining the Jubilee Way and heading West again.
I started to tire, but knew that the end was only a few miles away and carried on with my run, walk strategy. By this time I had put my gloves back on as the temperature had begun to drop. This was quite fortunate as I found myself knee deep and stuck in mud, with about 2 miles to go. I had to pull myself out and the gloves had a thick covering of sticky, smelly mud. I carefully took them off, turned them inside out and put them in my pockets, keeping my right hand pretty much clean, so that I could still use my camelbak water without getting the mouth piece dirty.
Passing through Strathern, I made my way back to the finish at Harby in a time of 4.42. This being a lot quicker then I had expected.
My legs looked like they had been manipulated by Patrick Swayze to the sound of Unchained Melody. They were covered in what looked like thick muddy clay from the knee down.
The race HQ was fantastic, with rows of benches and tables. The canteen gave me a lovely hot bowl of tomato soup and I helped myself to a couple of bread cakes. I was absolutely finished and happy for the food on offer. I also helped myself to some chocolate sponge and custard.
I decided to go outside and had a nice stretch and was happy to see Guy cross the finish line in a time of 5.13. I followed him back inside and whilst he had some choc sponge and custard, I had a sneaky helping of lemon sponge.
Unfortunately there is no medal with this event, the only memento being a certificate that you have to print yourself. Apart from this minor quibble the event is well organised, with friendly marshals, a well marked route and plenty of fodder, both at the check points and at the end.
This was one dirty Belvoir I will never be doing again. I’ve ticked it off my list and consigned it to the never again pile.
I would say that this is probably harder than any tough mudder and although it isn’t the hardest marathon I’ve done, it’s certainly the most muddy. The views were tremendous, unfortunately I was concentrating so much on digging deep and getting the job done that I failed to take in the fabulous scenery.
I need to say a huge thank you to Guy, who saved me from quitting when I had totally given up and felt there was no way I could continue. A proper mate.
Next up is Golden Fleece, I don’t know why I do these off road ones, I hate them. At least it’s nice and local.