A Pretty Muddy start to Autumn races

After enjoying the unusually warm weather of late, I could not help but notice the slight chill in the air that reminded me that autumn is on its way. Suddenly, the evenings are getting shorter and there is less time to finish late runs or bike rides before being enveloped by darkness. And now it is even difficult to recognise my own children while they train with their teams in the early evening dusk while I watch them from the sidelines. However, the autumn also brings with it some more sporting events to take part in despite the changing weather. Bizarrely, there are a great number of triathlons, road races and cycling sportives taking place just as the weather is starting to turn. I don’t know if the organisers have put them on so late in the season to spite the weather or as a dare to those who sign up for them. But like moths to a flame, there are plenty of punters who gravitate towards these events and they quickly sell out.

Of course, I am no different and have also thought about signing up because the events, themselves, sound like a lot of fun and surely, they wouldn’t be held every autumn if the weather was always awful. People simply wouldn’t sign up for them every year, would they? That would be ridiculous…Then again, when the summer is still lingering around and you see that the places for these events are filling up it is very easy to convince yourself that you should also sign up before it’s too late. Which is why I also tempted fate and recklessly signed up for what can only be described as a variety of unusual autumnal events and have even decided to repeat some past events that were not entirely successful. But in a true morning after the night before sudden realisation of what I have done, I am faced with training for and completing 5 completely different events this autumn. After all, why stick to just one sport…

Therefore, in an effort to avoid this scenario next autumn, I have decided I should actually rate these events in order to inform my future sign-ups and remind myself just how hard they were. Because even when it all goes horribly wrong, there may be a goody bag at these events but is it any good? So far, I can already tick off two events from my autumnal list: the Cancer Research UK Race for Life Pretty Muddy 5km and the Leighton 10 miler.

As I had run the Pretty Muddy race last year and got extremely muddy, cold and wet, I entered this without really expecting it to be much different. But I was wrong because this year the Pretty Muddy got supersized by the atrocious rain and wind. Even with the dreadful weather forecast, hundreds of runners still showed up to face the elements and a lot of mud. Despite having to start the runners in subsequent waves, there was a constant stream of pink clad women who sprinted through the starting gate. My daughter also decided to repeat last year’s mud-fest with me and we were lucky enough to be in the first wave of runners. However, this meant that we quickly became covered with mud as the course was filled to the brim with gunk in order to last for the next waves of subsequent runners. We ran, climbed, crawled and slid down a tricky course full of mud-filled obstacles. There really wasn’t much point in trying to avoid being pelted with more mud and sprayed with squirt guns full of muddy water by the gleeful race volunteers.

This year, some new muddy obstacles were added to the course just to liven things up a bit. We had to bounce our mucky space hoppers through a muddy field, run over several balance beams without toppling off and dodge past a motley gang of even happier race volunteers disguised as muddy sumo wrestlers in the dirtiest game of British bulldog. We squelched to the finish soaked to the core with only the remnants of our race numbers clinging to us. We were absolutely freezing and the rain and wind had worked to cement the mud onto us like a second layer of skin. As we went to collect our belongings and get ready to leave, we felt the eyes of several clean and dry participants who huddled together under their umbrellas, waiting for their wave to start. Our muddy appearance must have seemed like a warning of the impending mucky doom they would face in their race but I have to hope that they also noticed our big smiles because it was by far the most fun we’ve had doing a 5km. My rating is as follows (0=rubbish, 5=excellent):

Weather: 0/5
Difficulty: 2/5
Fuel stations: 0/5 but not needed
Race atmosphere/fun factor: 5/5
Goody bag: 1/5 (Nice medal but otherwise only a pain au chocolate and face cream sachet)

The Leighton 10 was another race that I was repeating despite the fact that last year, I only realised at the starting line that I had entered into a race full of very adept runners representing competing athletics clubs. Although I didn’t expect the participants to be any different this year, I was still planning on running it with my husband who was very keen to do it. However, as he had also just returned from a long-haul flight, we were treating it more as a long autumn run. But I wondered if the Leighton 10 would feel any less competitive if we were running it just for fun? I knew from a recent Park Run experience never to underestimate the level of competition inflicted on any event.

Only two weeks earlier, I had decided at the last minute to run what I thought would be a laid-back 5km Park Run at a local park. I had never done a Park Run before and I assumed that it would be similar to doing a fun run. I couldn’t have been more wrong because right from the start, the run quickly turned into a full-on aggressive race-for-your-life among two hundred Saturday morning alpha males. I was really surprised to find that the run was being taken so seriously but in retrospect, the fact that the 5km run has chip timing and the results are posted online should have hinted at this. But on the day, this competitiveness was confirmed to me in the last 100m sprint before the finish when I was literally elbowed out of the way by someone who didn’t want to be beaten by a woman.

With that in mind, and finding myself once again at the beginning of the Leighton 10 surrounded by a field of the other runners wearing their athletics club’s kit, I kept reminding my husband that we weren’t racing anyone. We started off well and surged forward in a massive crowd and everyone pounded the pavement and tried to set a pace. But there was no pushing or shoving as we headed to some wood-lined lanes where the runners thinned out. The course was the same as in previous years but this time I knew what to expect because although the Leighton 10 is one of the prettiest races it is also the hilliest. So we took our time and once again we shared the road with plenty of pelotons of cyclists who gave us the nod of respect as we tackled the climbs. The race was a long 10miles but there were plenty of spectators and race marshals to clap everybody on with encouraging words and the offer of jelly babies just at the flagging points. In fact, it is thanks to jelly babies that many people managed to get to the top of the monster hill at mile 9 because it was an absolute killer.

As to the competitiveness of it all, we actually managed to avoid being sucked into racing and we ran at a comfortable enough pace to chat to each other and enjoy the surroundings. There were definitely some sprinters ahead of us and plenty of others who were pushing hard to get a PB. However, unlike the Park Run, it didn’t seem to rub off and create a fight to the finish. In fact, this year I noticed several couples running together, parents running with their older teenagers and many others, like us, who were simply running for the pleasure of it. The age range was also very impressive as although it started at 17, I spotted several older runners who must have been well into their 70’s. And my finish could not have been more different from the Park Run because as I crossed the line and walked towards the water station, a fellow runner I had not met before shook my hand and congratulated me, asking me how it went. As my husband and I went to go stretch, we noticed several groups of runners wearing their event t-shirts by the finish line that were still cheering on the next finishers. I don’t know why the Leighton 10 breeds such camaraderie but it does. Perhaps it is because it is such a tough race to complete or maybe it is because it only attracts runners who will do it despite a lack of chip timing. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed the Leighton 10 more than my first Park Run. But now for the all-important rating:

Weather: 3/5 cold but dry
Difficulty: 5/5
Fuel stations: 5/5 With bananas at finish
Race atmosphere/fun factor: 5/5 (Definitely points for atmosphere, not fun!)
Goody bag: 5/5 no medal or bag but excellent technical t-shirt

So that is two down and three to go of autumnal events. Coming up is the Brackley Triathlon, Macmillan Cycletta Bedfordshire and the Squeaky Bone relay. But first to refuel with some food. I was inspired by the Autumn weather to come up with a new rosti recipe and my family voted these Mini Autumn rosti as a winner.

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