You may remember the I wrote how not to run a race at a Maverick Race Dark Series event a couple of years ago. That was a baptism by fire, running every split of the 11 miles of extremely runnable trail, slower than the previous, some how holding onto 5th and feeling like I’d run an ultra by the end. I truly depleted myself and left everything on course. Last year I ran the Original Somerset Long Course, 5th again, met Bruce Duncan and ran a better race (race report here). I planned to run the X Series Exmoor marathon last year, but I felt drained before the race and took the option not to travel. Gutted about that one, as I’ve never ran in that part of England and the course looked a beast!
And so, I found myself in the Chilterns at the Maverick Race x Tribe Run Free Chilterns challenge at the end of May. I briefly mentioned this in my update, Reality Check, last week. The race is in partnership with the Tribe Freedom Foundation, to raise awareness and funds to put an end to slavery and human trafficking. All those who entered where either raising money or made a donation. There was a different atmosphere to the other Maverick Race events I have run, as this wasn’t for purely for running and community, but in aid of helping those without a voice.I was also there for a different reason. Yes I was running, but I was also volunteering. Before the race kicked off, I helped in registration, signing people, collecting bags and learning quickly that despite big letters determining which area you must go to sign on – corresponding to your surname – a large percentage of runners either didn’t see or ignored them.
A quick change, Mountain Fuel Cola Jelly down the hatch and I nervously scanned other runners numbers for the tell tale marker…. S, M or L, the distance they would be running. I was running the short race, a little over 10km, still on my way back to training and full fitness. Having seen at previous races the front runners tended to be on the Middle to Long distances, I was keen to make sure I didn’t go with a pack that had different plans. I couldnt spot anyone, other than a tall chap in a blue vest, but a few guys were not carrying any nutrition/water and given the heat, I assumed they would be going short. And fast.
Coming off the strong run at the Milton Keynes Marathon Relay, I was feeling better about my ability. However, keen to get back onto my training plan and with the race not being scheduled till last minute, I did run two interval sessions on the two days leading up to the race. I knew this was going to hurt.
But, you got to keep things fresh, roll the dice and have fun. I’m sure that’s what I was thinking as Ben counted us down, before the front runners shot off like stabbed rats.
The course started down, across a hill on a diagonal off camber pitch. With warren holes either side of the trail, a few went for it, while I and a couple of others took it a little steadier. There was a clear group forming as the trail mellowed out, exiting the field and into a traditional english hamlet, before the first hill kicked in.
There was no power in my legs. Having not really run any hills for a while, I’d not really taken elevation into account in my ability to turn legs over at pace. After all, the relays were extremely flat. A couple people passed me, I composed myself and figured it could be a long day, flat out is not going to happen, strike a balance.
What surprised me more than anything – other than the sinking feeling, your legs may literally sink beneath you at any given moment – the trails were epic. I mean, seriously, why I have I not been running in the chilterns?! They are all of 40 miles from my home near Milton Keynes and despite their relatively small stature, deliver some great routes that offer a real mix. And all runnable, giving you a chance to train for bigger hills. I must go back. If you don’t see me writing about them by the end of September, please call me out. For example, the 6.75 mile route of the short course contained 1,145ft of climbing, which, given the rolling nature, feels a lot more and in many ways, kicks you harder because you can carry speed. And as you can, so can everyone else, which means you keep your foot on the gas!
The mile clocked in at 7.05 minutes and I was feeling ok. Yes, I was compromised on my ability to push harder, but I had control. Control is king. The trails meandered through woodland with my favourite sign, nailed to a tree “WARNING – PIGS ROAMING FREE“. It was shortly after this I made my first mistake. I spotted the guy in that blue vest veer to the left and spotted another runner doing the same. I carried on for a few meters, before back tracking, shouting ‘fuck’ at the top of my voice, to the intersection. Had I gone the wrong way? Had I missed something? A conversation held with a runner and a fellow volunteer at registration when they were asking about navigation “Don’t follow the feet in front of you, at a course split you’ll always see a marshall.” They were my own words. I was questioning myself, I knew there was no marshall present……
As soon as I saw there were no signs and 3 guys had passed me asking if I was ok, I ran hard to regain lost ground, as I spied one of the two runners who had gone off course rejoin further along the trail. Damn it!!!
I was feeling the heat, I was in my fresh summer Pyllon colours, the white Pyllon Ultra T was a great move over the black, heat sapping version and I found myself running with my Maverick Race Ciele Cap in hand through the woods. The day had started overcast, 14 degrees C on thermometers, but with a fine hazy rain in the air, it felt much cooler. Almost to the second the race started, the clouds parted, Justin and Ben with some voodoo like timing and it was a scorcher. In the open there was a breeze, but you wanted shade, in the shade, there was no breeze. It was relentless.
The next four miles were all about catching the guy ahead. I’d hear a gate slam shut and see how far ahead it was, likewise, when a gate shut behind me, I’d listen out for the next person through to gauge distance. Occasionally I caught sight of the back of his head and then he would be gone again. It was a nightmare trying to work out a pace to maintain, unsure of what challenge laid ahead of the course, but also, how fast he was moving. Efficiency was the aim of the game. Don’t stop, clear gates and other natural obstacles calmly.
I was counting down the miles, breaking down the estimated climbing left and within the last mile saw the guy I’d been chasing and one more ahead of him, the gap in between them was minimal. Right, time to really give it some. BANG! The gate behind me went and some 100 meters or less behind me, two guys were on my tail, the first people I’d seen for a couple of miles. I really need to move.
We were moving downhill and I let my legs move as fast as they wanted to. That was until I clocked 3 road cyclists coming from my right, along a road I needed to cross in a matter of seconds. Please don’t do this. Of course, our timing was impeccable and we met at the same time. I stood there, sucking in air like a supercharger and bolted once more. Through the hamlet and oh crap, that hill we ran down.
Unlike the start, it was straight up. The two men ahead of me were 30 – 40 meters up. They were in reach. Well, it at the time. Attacking the hill, it felt like a death march (when I finished I went back out on course to take some photos of this spot).
Get over and run, get over and run, I repeated internally. A miracle was the only thing that was going to gain me a place and I move with all I could across the final fields. Shade and water were all I wanted as I crossed the line. A hot day. A great day. Another 5th place.
A chat with Ben and Justin, as they wanted to know about course markings, how it flowed and how I found it, I necked a drink (not the beer) and went back out on course, shooting runners on the final hill for 90 minutes. It was great to share conversations with all those cursing at the final hill.
Big shout out to Ben and Justin for putting on another great race. Can’t say enough good things about Maverick and if you love exploring new areas, meeting new people and having a great day out, wether you run for performance or fun, the team at Maverick will always look after you.
For more info on the remaining Maverick Race events this year, including some running camps abroad – CLICK HERE