Hellrunner

"When you are going through Hell, keep going" is my second-favourite quote from the great man Sir Winston Churchill. My favourite is obviously "I don't care what time it is, I go by tummy-time and my tummy says it's dinner time" but I don’t think that is his most famous one.
The Hellrunner event was staged at Longmoor army camp near Bordon in Hampshire on November 27. The rain on the final part of the drive was quite impressive, the wipers on full and still barely able to see anything. Not that this would make a great difference, we were expecting quite a wet race anyway.
I went to sign-on and collected my number. Having not done a race like this before I was unsure of the procedure for the start, fortunately there was no gridding, it was merely allocated on a first-come basis and, even better news, the sun reappeared and stayed out for the rest of the day.
The start itself was signalled by a very loud explosion, which caused most of the competitors to jump out of their skins, followed by a giant devil berating us all from inside a cloud of green smoke. The first half of the course was not what I had been expecting at all, a fast run along the forest tracks. The first mile was dispatched in 5min23, a pace which felt comfortable enough at the time. However, it is rather difficult to pace oneself for a race of which knows neither the distance nor the expected time, so I decided just to push on the sections which felt fast and back off a little on the others.
After about four miles the terrain changed and we were into the hills. None of them were especially large but all of them were steep, the biggest hill in the race was probably only around 60ft but there were many of them steep enough to require climbing on all fours. The relentless climbing and descending made the racing very close. Rather unusually for me I was descending well, gaining on those in front and opening a gap to those behind on the downhills but losing out a little on the climbs, I was swapping places all race long.
The spectators were out in force, the most vocal lot were at the top of a really steep descent of around 40ft, just passed half way, down which we were sliding in a shower of sand, rocks and flailing limbs.
The next really big group of spectators were gathered along the top of the ridge looking down into the infamous ‘Bog of Doom’. I raised a good cheer from them with my rather unorthodox entry into the bog, which even gained me two places. It is a curious sensation, being up to ones neck in freezing water but ducking to get under the fires burning on the gantry across the bog, especially when one can’t see through all the smoke. It was here that I gained my only, very minor, injury of the race by running into a half-submerged log.
I don’t know if it was me who sped up after the bog or if everyone else started to slow down a little but I stopped swapping places so much and began to make some places up again in the last few miles. The drop down into the lake in the old quarry was every bit as daunting as it looked on the videos, basically just a case of sliding from the top and hoping for the best. I aimed for the reeds on the basis that this might be the shallower part of the lake, which it was, but it may have been quicker just to swim rather than try wade through the reeds. The climb out of the quarry was also rather unpleasant as I had my head trodden on by someone falling back down the cliff, fortunately no harm done.
The last couple of miles were through what appeared to be a tank test-track. The ground in this part of the world is very sandy, it was very much like running through the dunes at West Sands, the same kind of relentless ups and downs too. I know we all used to swear when we were doing it but I’m sure those hours spent on the beach gave me an advantage here and I picked off a couple more people on the final run in to the finish, narrowly losing out to Matthew Yard right at the end.
I finished 28th from the 1,842 runners in 1hr15m, which I think is respectable enough as this was only my second running race of the year, the other being a 10k back in June. It was a good close finish, 27th to 41st were separated by less than a minute.
My next race will probably be the 13 mile XC at Ropsley on 15 January. Kate has already said she might come along and Russell, if you are reading this, we will drag you along too, no excuses! I’m hoping to go one better than the second place I had last time.


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