Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Weald Challenge Race Report - The Joy of Trail Running


Although this post is a race report, it is slightly different as it is not from a runner's view, but this time from the perspective of being Race Director.  Yes, the Weald Challenge Trail Races, started with a simple thought following a training run, and two years later, it took place.  And as the subtitle of my post suggests, based on the feedback received from those that took part, it brought plenty of joy to many runners.

It was Monday 4th June 2012, and it was the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, so the Monday was a holiday.  I was in training for the 2012 Montane Lakeland 100, and as I had lost two months training earlier in the year due to a stress fracture in my foot, I had been 'playing catch-up' since getting back into running at the end of April.  So I was wanting to make the most of the Queen's celebration, and so run that little bit further than I usually would from home.  I got out the Ordnance Survey maps and saw that I could head out along the Wealdway long distance path that passes my front door, which I usually run along.  But if I ran that little bit further, to enter the Ashdown Forest, I could run a small road section along a country lane and then join onto a second long distance path, the Vanguard Way, and follow this pretty well all the way back to my village of East Hoathly, before turning off the Vanguard Way at Graywood, just one mile from home.

So at 6:01 am I started my run, and 3 hours and 18 minutes later I was back home, having completed 22.02 miles.  How do I know this?  Well, because I was going that little bit further than I usually would in a training run, I wore my Garmin GPS watch, which I tend to only wear for races and special training runs.  So the run is stored on Garmin Connect.  I got back from my run and as I was thinking how fantastic the run had been with such a variety of great terrain and scenery, I noticed the distance of 22 miles and thought that it wasn't too far short of a marathon.  Our neighbouring village Chiddingly is two miles away, so there and back would add the extra 4 miles needed to make the run up to the marathon distance.  And at that moment, the Weald Challenge Trail Marathon was created.  Although the name I originally gave to the run was the "Vanguard of the Weald Trail Marathon", acknowledging the names of the two long distance paths.

Shortly after that discovery run, I proposed to training partner Kev that we do the run one Saturday morning, starting and finishing at Chiddingly, in order to measure the exact distance.  So around four weeks later on Saturday 7th July 2012, at 5:04 am, Kev and I commenced the running of the very first Weald Challenge Trail Marathon, starting and finishing at Chiddingly Primary School.  Later that morning, after running 26.35 miles, completed in just under 5 hours, Kev and I had the 'honour' of being joint course record holders!  Click HERE for the inaugural course record Garmin data.

So that was the beginning, and since then, until two weeks ago, I have been on a Race Director's journey; turning an idea into reality!

Although I have been race director for our village 5km road race titled the 'Kings Head Canter 5K' for the last eight or nine years, this is a pretty straight forward race to organise.  I have support from the East Hoathly and Halland Carnival Society, who provide the volunteers for the day, and with it being a road race along quiet country lanes, it requires I think a grand total of four direction arrows at the four road junctions along the route.  Organising an off-road marathon, and also a 50km ultra event and a half marathon as well, was a much more challenging task!  The additional 50km and half marathon distance events simply seemed the 'natural' thing to do, after discovering that these were the distances that resulted if runners either continued further into the Ashdown Forest to directly join the Vanguard Way before starting to head back to Chiddingly, or if they turned earlier at Blackboys where the Wealdway and Vanguard Ways meet.

I won't bore you with the 'million and one' things that were done prior to race day some 22 months later.  But if in the future, I hear anybody perhaps questioning the worth of a race director, I will just ask them if they appreciate just how much is involved in putting on a running race.  From: getting race permits; informing the police, councils, Ashdown Forest; sorting out first aid, volunteers for the day, race entries, race numbers, finisher momentos, prizes, feed stations, portaloo toilets, car parking, registration venue, etc.  You can be guaranteed that just when you thought of everything, something else needed to be done, or you discover that you have upset someone, for example local horse riders extremely upset at the flapping red and white barrier tape hanging from trees that 'spook' their horses, or runners that wish to enter after entries have closed, even though entries had been open for six months!

Now the above paragraph may come across as being a bit negative.  I don't mean it to appear negative, as it was my decision to take on the race.  It was my challenge, and as with running a race, if it wasn't a challenge, the satisfaction upon completion wouldn't be as great.  However, looking back now, if someone had told me that it would take so so many hours of time and mental energy to put on the event, then perhaps I wouldn't have taken on the challenge.  Fortunately, nobody told me about the reality of being a race director for a new event.  But now with the Weald Challenge Trail Races having successfully taken place, I am very pleased that I did complete the journey from thought to fruition.

I don't want this post to sound like 'The Oscars' with loads of thank yous, but I will just thank one or two people, which clearly isn't everyone, as the list would be far too long.  First and foremost I would like to thank my family Frances, Rob, and Chris.  To those of you that ran the race, the majority of the cakes that you enjoyed upon finishing were homemade by Frances, and the two photographers that were taking your photos, which are available to download by clicking HERE, were our two boys Rob and Chris.

Chris the Photographer

Rob the Photographer and the Medal Designer

In addition to these specific tasks, they provided non-stop support and positive encouragement, right from the concept, all the way through to creation.  They, along with running friends such as Kev, Rob, Jim, and physio Luke, were my 'market research'.  I would sound an idea with them, and following their comments, the decision would be made.

The Original Medal Design Concept

The Weald Challenge Medal

Hopefully if you finished the race you would have recently received the finisher's medal, designed by Rob.  Which although two weeks late, I am pretty pleased with it.  Also before I forget, a big thanks to the potter Trevor who created by hand all of the Weald Challenge coffee mugs and trophy plates.

A Proud Trophy Winner

In terms of putting on the race, one of the very first things I needed to sort out were the many volunteers required for race day.  Being a member of the recently renamed running club Uckfield Runners, I raised the idea with them regarding jointly putting on the Weald Challenge Trail Races.  They were really keen on the idea, so it was mainly Uckfield Runners who were the friendly encouraging volunteers that were so widely praised within the extremely positive post-race feedback provided on facebook, or via e-mail.  Although in addition to members of Uckfield Runners, there were also four injured runners, or runner's partners who also volunteered and provided great help on the day ensuring the event was a success.  So many thanks to all of the race day volunteers.

Will there be a 2015 Weald Challenge?  Well, I am pleased to say YES.  The intention is to hold the event on the same weekend next year, so please enter Sunday 24th May 2015 into your diary.

Although it was a tremendous amount of work, seeing the amount of enjoyment that so many of the 311 runners that took part on the day experienced, although a cliche, did make it all worthwhile.  Yes, my number one running passion is my own personal racing, and the joy I get from the competition with others, whilst challenging myself to complete the race as quickly as I can.  But having been fortunate to experience so many excellent trail races over recent years, the least I could do was to put that little something back into the trail running community, through organising the Weald Challenge Trail Races.

Time to sign off. 
“The reason we race isn't so much to beat each other,... but to be with each other.” 
Christopher McDougall, 2009, Born to Run.

Hopefully see you at a trail race during the coming year, or at the Weald Challenge next May.


PS  Shortly before the Weald Challenge Trail Races took place I was fortunate to receive from Mizuno a pair of their newly released Wave Hayate trail running shoes.
Mizuno Wave Hayate Trail Shoe
The timing was perfect, as although I do the majority of my training and racing wearing my Mizuno Wave Rider 17 road shoes.  When the ground is a bit wet and slippery, I prefer to run in trail shoes.  Therefore on the Saturday prior to Weald Challenge race day, following loads of overnight rain, I was able to test out the Hayate Trail Shoe as I finished off marking the race route.  

So following around eight hours of running, all be it very stop-start running, on at times rather muddy terrain, what were my feelings on the shoe?  Well probably one key bit of feedback was just how 'responsive' the shoes felt.  I am a big fan of light shoes, and with an official weight of 252 grammes (Mens size 9) they are pretty light.  Although one can find shoes that are plenty lighter than this, I find that it is the lightness in combination with the feeling under the forefoot, that creates the perception in terms of whether I like the shoe or not.  The Hayate seems to feel about right, with their being sufficient cushioning under the forefoot, so one feels light and responsive to the underlying terrain. without either the soft spongy unresponsive feeling one gets if there is too much cushioning, or alternatively the dis-comfortable feeling in sensing every sharp rock or uneven surface that often results if there is too little forefoot cushioning.  So my initial feeling, is that with the Hayate, for me, Mizuno seem to have got the balance pretty well right. 

Will I therefore be wearing the Mizuno Hayates this Saturday in the Centurion Running South Downs Way 100 mile ultra trail race.  Well unless there is non-stop rain between now and Saturday, which is looking unlikely, the answer is no.  With the South Downs Way tending to be pretty smooth underfoot, and consisting of mainly a chalk based surface, there isn't really the need for a trail shoe.  So as I have done in the majority of the trail races I have recently raced in, unless there are muddy conditions, I will be wearing my Mizuno Wave Rider road shoes.  Which with an official weight of 244 grammes are a tiny bit lighter than the Hayate trail shoe.  But the reason I like the Wave Rider shoe and why I have predominantly trained and raced in these shoes over the last six years, is that to me they are plenty responsive, but also, especially important when racing 100 miles, they feel pretty comfortable. 
Mizuno Wave Rider 17 Road Shoe

Look out for my South Downs Way 100 mile race report here on UltraStu next week.  Where hopefully the many hours of physical training spent marking the Weald Challenge race route, and then collecting in the route markings following the event, will have paid off with a strong race performance.

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