Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

28th December: Brutal Blues

After a couple of days of eating, drinking and being merry I was back in action this morning for the first part of today and tomorrow’s 10 mile cross-country double header. I had chosen to run this race (and tomorrow's Gut Buster) dressed as a Blues Brother just to be different as no-one seems to do these in fancy dress, and with the time of year I thought it would bring a bit of festive cheer.

After the Christmas Day collapse of my bike’s bottom-bracket, today saw me driving off to the Brutal 10 - or in this race's case: the Brutal 16. Normally the Brutal's are 10k races, hence the name, with the Brutal being a reference to the terrain: lots of short sharp hills, mud, swamp, puddle, pond and more mud (as detailed in previous blogs), but this race for a change had 2 options: an 8k or 16k distance, with the 16k being a different route to the 8k rather than 2 loops of it as you may suspect. Naturally I had opted for the 16k version of the run: looking forward to pitting myself against the usual terrain only over the longer distance to see how I held-up.

Driving the 20 miles to the event's location of the Longmoor Camp army base, we passed through security at the gate-house and on to the camp itself, following the marshal's directions to the race base of the camp's gymnasium. The weather was looking perfect for the run: Glorious clear skies, a pale winter sun shining upon us and a chill in the air that meant we would not be overheating on the run. With all the rain of the previous week the Brutal gods were really smiling down on us today having been busy prepping the course perfectly then giving us the conditions to enjoy it at its best.

The gymnasium base.
Parking on the field next to the start/finish it was a quick registration and I hung round to watch the CaniX racers get their run underway before heading back to the van to get changed in to my fancy dress.

Dogs taking their owners for a run!
Taking my place amongst all the other starters it was not long until we were off in pursuit of those hounds.

Under starters orders...
...and then it was all a blur.
 The first stretch of about a quarter mile lulled us in to a false sense of security: a nice easy downward stretch out of the centre of the camp and on to the training grounds… And then the mud, sand and hills began.

The easy bit!
Yours truly on the ascent.

Looking back from the sandy summit.
After weaving our way across the sandy plain and climbing the short steep hill at the end it was the first stretch of many through the pine woods that make the bulk of the camp’s terrain. With the torrential rain we have had of late I was half expecting to be running through a continual quagmire, but with hills a plenty under the trees it was soft pine needles under foot - until we hit the first bit of fun - the course’s inaugural stream.

Taking a breather... The guy on the right prepares for his dip.
Queuing to cross there was a chance for a snatch of breath and recovery, before taking the first of many icy plunges of the day. Scrambling out the other side freezing cold, you were eager to get moving again to get some warmth back in to your legs, to stamp the frigid water out of your shoes to try and get some life back in to what felt like two solid blocks of ice dangling off the end of your legs… And then straight up a very steep slippery hill.

Looking back down the steep slippery slope.
Just as some life had been brought back in to the frozen feet then it was back in more water for a knee-deep jog, then waist deep wade through more icy water, where for the first time in the run the water was deep enough to give that freezing cold stroke of the scrote that makes all men gasp, and instantly sends your knackers retreating back in to your body for some shelter, only to reappear when having a warm shower long after the event has ended.

Lovely weather for a paddle.
The course continued as an enjoyable, as much as it was challenging, blend of hills, streams and mud, with your feet never getting a chance to warm above a certain temperature from hereon through continual immersions. Approaching the half distance, the field had spread-out and there was little in the way of overtaking going on around me, so I decided I would do my utmost to keep in touch with the people in front and if possible reel them in one at a time. The trouble with running these courses by yourself is when you hit the swamps and the mud you have no reference point of where the good path through is in order to steer clear of the submerged obstacles, as there’s no watching others making mistakes and falling over! It certainly slows you down having to tentatively find your own path. 

The view from the most easterly part of the course.
At the halfway there was a drinks station, where I stopped for a cup of water before carrying on my way. The second half started with a run through more pine woods with the 8k runners who were with us on this section of the course splitting off in a different direction. This stretch was more wading through blackened swamp so pace was reduced somewhat once more!

The long final wade.
Catching up on a CaniX runner.
By the time we emerged from this section, a breather could be had as I joined the queue for the last long watery wade of the day. I could see on the opposite side of the water a couple of the CaniX runners were there, so I must have been doing alright for time if I was able to reel-in back-markers…

Climbing through the heathery heath.
Out the other side and a climb up some heather & gorse covered heathland and I caught and passed the second of the two CaniX runners, the dog not looking too impressed with its owner as it trotted along clarted in mud and its coat all soaked.

Hello & goodbye!
One soggy doggy.
A rumble of traffic meant we were near the A3 and the knowledge that we were approaching the closing stages. As we ran along one of the woody tracks we passed another of the CaniX runners by the side of the trail. Unfortunately the race had been too much for the poor dog - what looked like an Irish Setter, as it was wrapped in a foil space-blanket to warm it up, and being held tight by its owner as they awaited a rescue to the finish… It turned out the dog was fine, it was just exhausted from the running in the cold and the soakings, which for the dogs amounted to several total immersions, had gotten the better of it. Perhaps the 16k in the cold of December on a course like this is a little too much to ask of the dog's no matter how eager they are to get out and run.

One last hill and a few muddy twists and turns and the finish was in sight, crossing the line to the customary round of applause from those already finished, the welcome post-race snack of a banana, a few Quality Street and a cup or two of water.

Running dressed as a Blues Brother seemed to amuse quite a few people, with (understandable) questions of whether I was on a 'mission from God', or 'getting the band back together' and engendered some respect for taking on the course attired this way. At the finish, I could see one of the marshals looking at my feet so I couldn't help but look down myself to see if there was something the matter. He noticed I as following his gaze and said "I was just checking to see if you had run it in proper shoes". I told him that even I'm not that mental to attempt the course in them!.. The costume itself was surprisingly unrestrictive on my movement whilst running through an environment as demanding as this, although at one point I did overstretch a little and tear the stitching on the crotch. It was also cool enough to not make me overheat, so as far as costumes go its a pretty easy one to get along with whilst running.

I thoroughly enjoy these Brutal runs as they are not too serious and the entry field is wide in its age-range and is edging closer to a 50/50 split on male/female entrants. They are well organised with very friendly marshals cheering you onwards around the course. The races are getting ever more poplar as even more people discover them and word of mouth spreads. It seems as though there's a majority of runners in the field that wear their Brutal jerseys at the races, so there's certainly a 'Brutal cult' developing out there - of which I am one!

I think the idea of having the 2 lengths of race was a good idea and something worth them pursuing for other dates - perhaps keeping them to the Christmas and last ones of their season so as to keep the idea as a novelty and something special for an event and to not move away from the core idea of the runs: a brutal 10k course.

In case you're curious, position-wise I finished in the middle of the pack: 125/245 so a decent end-result for me as I aim to get my speeds up to the 50% finishing mark in my races for 2014.

Pulling a Blues moose :)

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