Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Monday, 11 July 2016

21st February: Meon Valley Plodding

Through an unfortunate injury, Neil, a former colleague of mine and fellow entrant at this year’s UT55 and Lakeland 50 got in touch with me to offer me his place in the ‘Meon Valley Plod’.

This race is a tough 21 or so mile jaunt up and down hills on the South Downs centering on the Meon Valley not too far from Portsmouth.

With it being just 20 miles from my gaff, and the opportunity for a good training run not too far from the location of the Steyning Stinger that I am running in a few weeks it would have been churlish to decline the offer.

It is quite a low-key affair with a deliberately small field run by local running club ‘Portsmouth Joggers’ and because of it operating within its limitations of numbers it is never advertised and fills-up on word of mouth almost as soon as it is announced.

I drove down to the event base of the village hall early in the morning and gathered my thoughts and senses over my granola and coffee whilst we were all safety briefed on the route. Standing in the hall as we were briefed, looking around there were plenty of Portsmouth Marathon shirts and buffs to be spotted, along with loads of ‘Brutal’ ones as well so it seems the entry crowd is drawn from the same local events that I run as well.

Briefing... With a band to entertain before and after!
Once briefed we were all herded towards the nearby start in the village at a cross-roads and huddled-together against the cold we counted-down to the start and the headed-off along the road and up the hills on to the downs past bemused sheep as we hit the cloud-line.

The bemused sheep as we invaded their space and the cloud-line.
This lung-bursting initial climb mercifully plateaued and we made our way across the top of the hill over and through styles and gates before descending on the muddy slope the other side… Which was pretty-much a  template of the whole day.

Crossing the plateau.
Broadly you could describe the course as a figure of 8 on its side, with you heading off on to the westerly loop first before the slightly longer easterly loop. The race is in effect a series of 6 big hills all linked together, so you know every 4 miles you will be climbing a steep hard slope before getting some respite, then a good downhill and a flattish section to the next hill.

A welcome downhill track, even if a bit slippery!
Terrain underfoot for the most part was field/ farmland, some forestry road and some country lanes linking the various hills, so you were continually changing surface as well as attitude from climb to descent.

Downy view.
The aid stations were at regular points, with one of them being run by the guys responsible for the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon and included some shots of their beer that they gave to all the finishers back in December’s race!

Plenty of rolling countryside to be seen!
Signage and marshaling on the course was very good, and at the bottom of one particularly slippery field upon hitting the road at the bottom I was greeted by the cheery face of Claire, long-time friend and Pompey-based runner who was wrapped-up well against the elements marshaling for the day. I stopped for a bit to have a chat with her before pushing-on with the run searching for the next hill to conquer.

A cheery Claire marshaling away.
With the recent foul weather that has been the signature of this winter to date, the areas where water could gather had turned large sections in to complete quagmires - be they downhill tracks, or in the most amusing of fashions, a stretch of about a mile, the only really extended flat section we had, which was a sea of shin-deep mud punctuated by streams.

Which way now?
Attempting to run through this was highly amusing. You could not judge how deep the mud was with any step or be able to pick a natural path through it, so you kept weaving left and right through the mire, staggering along like a drunk kicked-out of the pub at closing time.

The start of the muddy fun!
The deepest mud though was saved to the very last section as you approached the finish line back at the village hall. Running around the top of the hill overlooking the village, the path was knee-deep at times with thick clay mud that sucked your feet in to it and I think pretty much everybody lost a trainer at some point and had to dig it out by hand before carrying on with the last few hundred metres down to the finish line!

One of the final views before descending.
Crossing the line I was knackered - it may have been around 21 miles, but the race was harder than a fair few marathons I have run.

Claire was waiting for me at the finish with her marshaling duties long since over so it was good to have a chat over a cuppa as I managed to wash the worst of the mud off of my legs.

Having been blocked-in by double parking I had to wait a while for other runners to clear-off before I could make my escape but a short drive home and I was ready to get the rest of the mud off me in a very welcome warm shower and warm-up for the evening.

This run I suppose was about as close as the south can offer to a ‘fell race’ and the atmosphere was very convivial. With its low-key nature and promotion only through word-of-mouth amongst local runners, most of the entrants already knew each other from their various clubs so it was quite cliquey in that regard, but everyone was still very friendly and willing to chat along the route between gasps for breath.

Lastly, I must say a big thanks for Neil in passing his entry on to me for this as it was a great training run ready for Steyning in a few weeks. I definitely owe him a beer or two if I get a chance to buy him one up in the Lake District later this year!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

No comments:

Post a Comment