Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 5 June 2016

25th January: A Brutal Spud

Over the last year I have had a very willing training buddy in the form of my 4 legged friend ‘Spud’. Since he was old enough to start running, he has been out several times a week with both LSS & myself and he has coped admirably with all distances from a 5k parkrun to 20 miles… Now he is well used to running, I felt he was ready for his first proper race: the Brutal 10k ‘Men Only’.

I have been taking part in Brutal 10 races ever since I started trail running a good few years back and in fact it was running one of these, experiencing how hard it was and realising how woefully unfit I had become, that spurred me on to further feats of two-legged lunacy.

This was the first Brutal I had done since my outing dressed as an ostrich the previous Christmas, so I was looking forward to getting back to the challenge of one of their 10k routes, although with a twist as today would be 2 laps of a 5k course strapped to a lunatic spaniel.

I drove with Spud & LSS (along for the ride to watch and laugh at us) to the event base on the army tank proving ground around the back of Farnborough airfield, the same location for the ‘Grim’ race. This race is always going to be a wet and muddy one as the soil there is mostly sand which becomes waterlogged in the open and creates large pools of thick sandy mud, so the trips through the hilly wood and scrub land are often very welcome as you can progress quite well as opposed to the cold sticky wade as soon as you hit the water.

Registering as one of the Cani-cross runners I was handed our number (drawn on in marker) and we readied ourselves in the chill to start. Our start was to be 15 minutes in front of the main racers to allow the dogs to be spread-out along the course rather than as a pack chasing-down slower runners from the beginning and finding ourselves all bunched-up with the field from the start, which is a very sensible way of organising things.

Awaiting the start amongst the puddles.
Both the 5k & 10k races start at the same time so we waited in the middle of the combined pack, with the cacophony of barking hounds all wound-up and eager to run assailing everyone’s ears. There were all shapes and sizes of dogs that you could imagine, some that you would never picture at an event like this, which I suppose could also apply to the owners as well!

Soon the air-horn blew and we were off, all the hounds eager to be away and doing what they enjoy, with the pace being very brisk from the start. We found ourselves with the leaders from the start and able to hold-on to them… Although I did realise that it was not possible to discern who was running the 5k or the 10k to tell if it was those running the shorter distance who were really haring-off in front!

Haring off all a blur.
The course was a mix of puddles, woodland trails, and heathland with the occasional short and steep hill thrown in for good measure (going both up and down them). The sections through the woods were well guided with the use of tape so you never found yourself losing the route, even though we were the first to be on the course, although Spud was very keen to take his own path at times rather than keeping to the track which caused a few stoppages to drag him back from around the wrong side of trees and on to the course once more.

One of our fellow runners was finding that his boxer, who was also racing for the first time, was not taking well to the mix of the other dogs around him and the water - refusing to go in the puddles from the start and managing to slip his leash on a couple of occasions as he fought to do his own thing rather than his owner’s intentions!

Through another wallow.
By the time we were halfway round we were soaked, covered in mud and a bit colder for our exertions, although by keeping a brisk pace it meant we never got a chance to cool-down too much. The ever changing terrain, ensuring Spud was taking a correct line, and easing-off downhill so as to not pull me over meant I needed total concentration at all times, so there was no danger of mentally 'zoning-out' at any point, or any real chance to take any pictures either. The whole way round the first lap we were in sight of people and was able to have the occasional chat whilst wading, and the braver spectators out in the middle of the course at the various wading points seemed to be entertained by the sight of the dogs pulling their owners through the mire.

Starting the second lap.
On the second lap, I knew exactly what was in store for us… and so did Spud! unfortunately with spending the 5k of the first loop going in and out of freezing water and mud that was up to his armpits, he was beginning to have a sense of humour failure and tried to avoid mud and water altogether, which was not possible (and designed to be thus), so he was trying to take the shortest route through it at all times, which for the most part was not following the course, so I had to spend time and effort fighting him pulling me off to the side and off balance to keep us going in the right direction.

For most of the second lap we seemed to be all by ourselves, and by my reckoning we would be in with a shot at a podium place if we could pick-off a couple of runners, so I went as hard as I could and managed to get to within about a minute or so of the man and his dog in front before Spud decided to exact revenge on me...

Through one particularly deep sticky muddy wade he decided he was going to get out by climbing the sides and he kept pulling hard to the side, forcing me to stumble blindly in the thigh-deep mud and water and pulled me bodily over on a couple of occasions, just managing to keep my head out of the yellow ’water’. I could tell that he was not enjoying himself, so I decided to ease-off on the chase and try to take as dry a route as possible to the finish, although this was not entirely possible.

As we raced onwards we overtook some of the slower runners from the 5k/10k race who must have been coming to the end of their first (or only) lap, including a woman running this men only race wearing a set of ‘Groucho Marx’ glasses complete with ‘tache to attempt to ‘fit in’ in a way that was reminiscent of the ‘Life of Brian’ stoning scene, which made me chuckle, and the fact that the leading racer from the main 10k race only overtook us with less than a mile to go did not hurt so much!

To be honest I was now sympathising with Spud as I was now no longer feeling my feet as they were getting so wet so often that any heat was being sucked out of them, so when we could see the finish line a mile away and hear the cheering of the spectators we managed to speed-up a little to get to the end as quickly as possible… One final splash and swim across the pool for the second time, lined all the way by the cheering crowd, with Spud getting lots of love and swimming as close to them as possible, we emerged from the other side and crossed the finish line in 5th place… Ok so it may be 5th out of 14, but I’ll take that any day!

The final wade to the finish.
As ever the atmosphere of the whole event was great, with the emphasis still being on the ‘fun’ rather than the serious head-down-and-charge mentality that 10k races can so often have, and being the ‘men only’ race it did not seem to make it ultra competitive as an entirely testosterone fuelled field might have been. They even gave us an event specific medal, something new for Brutal as they have always till now been a ‘no-frills’ operation. The course was well marked and cheerfully marshalled even in the cold wet conditions.

I really enjoy the Brutals as ‘speed-work’ for my trail marathons - my time today would have seen me placed in the top 1/3 of the main field, on what was a tough course to get much speed-up for large sections with the thick cloying wades to be undertaken - oh and by the time I had finished, the marker pen drawn number I had been given was now non-existent!

As you can tell I was #565 in the race!
I will definitely be back for more, calendar permitting, although I have realised that Spud is not one for continual drenching in the cold, so he will not be back for this particular course in the future, but will certainly race in other ones as he did enjoy the running part - he certainly got some treats later in the day as rewards for his efforts!

A bemedalled Spud :)
Big thanks to LSS for coming along to spectate in the cold & wet to take some shots of Spud & me in action :)

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

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