Race Report: post-lockdown SVN challenge

After 4 months of announcements of race cancellations, some events are now starting to go ahead. It’s not practical for all, but some locations and formats can accommodate the current restrictions enough to make events worthwhile. Traviss & Rachel at Saxons, Vikings and Normans have made it possible and launched a series of events at Betteshanger Park (a former colliery spoil tip).

The traditional format of their events is a mass-start, lapped race with a 6 hour soft time limit – do as many laps as you want in that time (the soft limit meaning that you can complete and count a lap you’re on at 6 hours).
With current restrictions, a mass start is not permissible so they’ve made it more of a concurrent time-trial format. Start when ready (within a window) and have a 7 hour hard limit from when you start. This worked surprisingly well on a lapped course as everyone was spread out around the lap, but with a mix of speeds there was lots of overtaking/lapping and thus someone to follow or support as needed.
The other major change was that the usual picnic aid station was scrapped. Instead the snacks that you’d normally eat were provided in a goody bag and given at the start, with the instruction to use your own car as your base (the course went through the car park). This lost a bit of atmosphere, but is a reasonable decision given the covid restrictions.

This park seems to be a fantastic resource for the locals – there’s well maintained walking routes, mountain bike tracks and a one-way tarmac loop for road cycling. All of the cycling facilities seemed to be well used – recreational cyclists, racers training at speed and parents teaching children to ride.
I can see why SVN hold a lot of events here, and in turn they donate £5 from each entry fee to the park so that they can continue to develop the facility.

Having done no long-distance training for months, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations going into this race. The majority of participants are 100 marathon club members or working their way towards it, so the marathon distance is seen as the default option. In this case, the course was (officially) 4.37 miles long so 6 laps makes a marathon and that was my target.

I started alongside some experienced participants (SVN give named bibs rather than numbers when you’ve done over 1500 miles with them) and I ran at a comfortable speed with them for the first couple of miles. I quickly concluded that it’s virtually impossible to get lost on this course, so set my own pace and carried on.

After the first lap I decided that it was too hot to be wearing a T-shirt under my vest, so dumped that. I also took the opportunity to post my 5k time for the FRR virtual parkrun.
After the second lap I picked up my hydration vest so I could drink on the course.
Then the inevitable happened… last night’s Indian made it’s presence known. So after lap 3 (ie half-marathon completed) I took a detour to the on-site toilets.
Laps 4 and 5 were uneventful, just getting gradually slower.
Lap 6 felt tough, but knowing that it was the last lap made it more enjoyable. I even went up the mountain-bike peak next to the course to get a better view!

As I was coming into the finish, Traviss (the RD) said those fateful words “there is a 50k option” – 7 laps would be 30.6 miles, so there was an extra out-and-back to make it 50k – it just had to be done!

So I finished, a sweaty mess, having officially done 31.1 miles in 5:47:32 (my watch showed 32.2 including the detour and usual GPS discrepancies) and my first run over 20 miles since January. Probably only my 4th run over 10 miles since Stowmarket Half in March!

This event was called “Hedgehog Challenge” as the medal was a hedgehog design. SVN have a tradition where when a medal design is seen as “too girly” for Traviss, he adds some masculinity in the form of a tank, so yes there is a small tank on the hedgehog medal.

So, racing is coming back. It’s not quite how it was before the “terrible inconvenience” pandemic, but it’s not a bad experience at all. Other racers are still friendly, just don’t expect any high-5s.

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