Rising from my bed after the previous evening's Night Run I stepped with my right foot with trepidation noticing that my [bad] toe was still sore from the slight trip the evening before.
So with the Delightful Mrs S in the car I zoomed down to Southampton with no difficulty and was unceremoniously dumped at Southampton Central station by my family who were off on a mega-shopping trip and I on the train to Brockenhurst.
Arriving at the Brockenhurst College I saw the final race briefing from the XNRG Race Director, Neil Thubron, as I ducked into the hall to put the final bits of my kit on. Today I was running light with a litre of fluid, a long and short sleeved top, shorts, trail shoes and light weight gaiters. I also carried a rubble sack which was invaluable as I was running across dense heathland and any other bag would have ripped to pieces on the thorns and gorse.
After my briefing I was let loose at about 11.30 am some 30 minutes behind the elites and 2.5 hours behind the walkers. I was provided with an Ordnance Survey map of the route in a plastic folder and with it I took my trusty bag and a pair of scissors. This was my challenge, navigate the unknown course unguided, collected rubbish and look after any back markers... I just LOVED the feeling of individualism that this type of job does, the self-reliance and secretly FUN.
I had heard that there were wild horses in the New Forest and I imagined they were scarce and hiding but was soon amazed when I saw hundreds throughout he day quite happily crossing roads, munching the grassland. Then there were deer, cuckoos, cows and bird life, my jaw dropped for part of the race as I realised that I was in an outstanding area of natural beauty. For the first 10 miles there were plenty of people to greet along well trodden (and ridden) trails but after navigating a heath and collecting some water from Check Point 1 I was all alone, not a person in sight, I assume that they tended to stay near the towns and villages and didn't venture onto the wilder trails. I was in my element, jumping gulleys to gather the signs and tape, my legs ripping against gorse and holly trees my Dirty Girl gaitors protecting my ankles amazingly well.
From Checkpoint 2
This checkpoint is 16 miles from the start if it were a straight line but due to the nature of the course it is in fact just 2 miles by road! I was told that I would start to catch people up at this point so it was just a matter of plodding out my miles at a nice "GUCR pace" which I did with the intermittent breaks of clipping down the odd sign or tape. The route then tapped into a series of disused railway lines, perfect for GUCR and so I ducked into training mode and use the long stretches where there were no turns to dig in, my legs were tired remembering I had run 7 miles the night before, then the turn off at mile 19 caused an issue for there in front of my arrow marker and me was this:
Yep, a Highland cow, probably the most docile wild creature I have ever met. He looked at me whilst chewing cud, a look of bemusement on its face as I chatted to him telling him he was in the bloody way...he moved..so cutting down my sign I then found him blocking my path down to the road, so a slap on the rear moved him on so I could move on back into the woods and then onto a long hard slog along another disused railway line.
It was only time.
There ahead of me in the distance I saw the tell tale sign of the back marker, the limp, the walk of purpose. It is not easy trying to be invisible on a trail that has only two people on it and it was only until we came to a switch back that my cover was broken and the runner stopped and invited me to join her. This was an amazing lady that was no stranger to long distances, this was a lady who had already run30 miles the weekend before and had discovered an injury.
We slugged it out over the next 8 miles, conversation was sporadic and fleeting but she remained focussed and in good humour as I ducked in and out of the course to grab my tapes.
Then the route became, drier, harder to touch and houses became apparent, children playing in the fields, we were nearing a village, the school, the driveway, the finish as my back marker walked strongly to her finish line..... a lovely thing to see. She didn't care coming in last, it was her birthday and this was her party.
Big thanks to the gang at XNRG for allowing me to be part of it....great race.