It’s 06:30hrs on a cold dark damp January Saturday morning. As I head out of the front door to pack the car with kit in preparation for the day ahead, looking around the neighbourhood signs of life appear very minimal. There’s the odd house light on here and there, but that’s about it.
However, for me, I am full of the joys of a spring day and it’s time for me to head off for the start of the first race in the Maverick Race calendar for 2020 out and about in the New Forest.
This race will mark my 30th race with the Maverick family and the start of my fourth year of racing (please have a look at my previous blog titled, Maverick Race Junkie).
The event is the closest of them all to my home location and only takes around 45 to 50 minutes in journey time to get there. But I still have this urge to set off as early as possible. So, all fuelled up with a litre of tea and a belly full of porridge, off I go. I suppose some old habits never die. I am one of those types of people that needs to be organised. Leaving things to the last minute drives me barmy. The thought of me arriving late at the start line is stuff of nightmares. Can’t be doing with playing catch up!
Arriving at the venue it’s still dark and the sunrise is masked with dark heavy clouds getting ready to drop a deluge of rain on top of everyone.
The first people I see when I arrive, are the car park organisers directing me to where I should park. I am not the first to arrive believe it or not. OK, all the other cars belong to the event organisers and volunteers. So maybe I am.
As I park up, a bit of welcoming banter with a familiar face or two begins. Spirits are high even this early in the morning.
For this event the race village and start line are approximately 200 metres from the car park so a short walk is required, taking everything I need for the day with me.
Approaching the village, I take a picture of the new set up. Wow! It looks impressive and slick. All the sponsors stalls are being erected and people are busy ensuring everything is in place. It’s managed like a fine-tuned military operation, teamwork at its finest!
There’s no rush to get the race number, so I embarked on a round robin and touch base with everyone and anyone, one by one, two by two. Hugs and man hugs were in abundance. For those that don’t know me, I can quite easily talk the hind legs off a donkey given half the chance.
I eventually collect my race number and for this event I was to be known as number 0325.
For those not familiar with Maverick Race, they offer three distances to run and I was running the long route for this event. Marked on the map as 24km. The middle distance was 17km and the short route being 6km.
To all those who are thinking of taking up trail running for the first time, it is worth noting that these are an approximate distance and should never be taken literally. Sometimes they can be shorter, but more often than not, they do tend to be slightly longer. But that’s the beauty of trail running, always be prepared to expect the unexpected and everything will be fine!
The village was beginning to fill with a heightened buzz as the start time approached and whilst the heavens did open up for a short period of time, this didn’t appear to dampen anyone’s spirit.
10:00hrs neared and the call to the start line for the safety brief was given. However, this was somewhat masked by the all the runners of the four legged variety having their own discussions at the same time.
Yes, some of the maverick races are dog friendly and each pooch gets their own finishers medal at the end. No need to share with their human companion. This year it is in the shape of a bone. Very cool indeed!
Not wanting to have a sprint start. I decided to opt out from starting at the front and moved towards the back of the pack, That way I could have a more gentler social run around the forest.
Safety brief delivered and the cow bell began to clang. We were off and approximately 600 runners were now making their way through the starting arch and out onto the trails.
Now if you recall, I said I wanted a more gentle social run around the forest. It was not to be. The moment I crossed the start line, I found myself doing what I often do and firing off like a rocket.
I took a quick check of the watch and it showed I was running on average a 4:40km pace. This was certainly a lot quicker than I would normally want to be doing at the distance I was looking to run and if I wanted to finish in one piece, I really needed to slow down a bit.
However, the very nature of the terrain around the forest makes it a fast course for trail running. Only six months previously I had achieved a PB in under four hours at the New Forest Marathon. I am also a very competitive person, especially with myself and the inner demon wanted me to beat last year’s time.
The course itself was not technically challenging. It was reasonably flat and made up of hard gravel tracks and muddy pathways with a large selection of puddles of water to negotiate every once in a while.
As I was running light in shorts and tee carrying only the fuel I needed. I dropped the pace slightly and continued to push myself forward.
I was also trying out a new fuelling strategy in preparation for the longer races that I have planned in the future. The aim was to have a gel five minutes before race start and then a gel every forty-five minutes thereafter. Topping up as required at both the outposts.
Being Maverick Race outposts, I knew they would be well stocked with all the good stuff to keep you going. The only thing you need to carry with you, is a cup should you wish to have a drink, as these guys went cup less last season.
I must say for once, my fuel strategy seemed to work. But then again, I was only out treading dirt for a couple of hours. But it’s about forming habits and I do need to work hard on the habit of fuelling up on a more regular basis over longer distance, should I wish to continue running and not crash and burn.
As I made my way around the route, the odd conversation was had with others and sometimes the odd conversation was had just with myself. Trail running is a great way to solve any problem that is playing on your mind. Problem solving also passes the time and helps you through those long stretches of trail where you can see how far you have to run as the legs start getting tired.
The finish arch appeared and as with every other runner approaching the finish line, the sound of the cow bell and cheers could be heard welcoming you back home. However, for me there was no sprint finish this time as my legs didn’t have it in them. It was clear I had pushed myself, but had I beaten last year’s time?
Stopping the clock on the wrist. I looked down. Yes, I had managed it. Beating my previous time by twelve minutes.
Now all I needed to do was collect my finishers medal, grab a race beer and go and order a pizza following up with some post-race chit chat and banter before finaly heading off home.
Until next time.
Happy trail running folks!