It’s a bright and sunny Sunday morning, the wet weather has cleared and it’s promising to be a lovely day. The only thing that could ruin this lovely day is the small matter of a cheeky half marathon, the Stansted Slog, and believe you me it’s not called the slog for nothing! Slog by name, slog by nature. The Stansted Slog is a trail half marathon held by the Portsmouth Joggers starting and finishing in the grounds of the beautiful Stansted Park.
: to keep doing something even though it is difficult or boring : to work at something in a steady, determined way : to walk slowly usually with heavy steps
Stansted is a Grade II Listed Edwardian country house set on a 1,750-acre estate within the South Downs National Park. Stansted Park is a popular wedding venue, but today it’s being used for another grueling ordeal, it’s housing the half marathon race HQ.
It’s quite a late start, 10:45, so plenty of time in the morning for a nice long lie in and a bit of breakfast before embarking on the huge 10 minute drive from my place. You can’t beat a nice local event. With me being me I’m still there very early, which obviously means no hassle parking in the free car park. It also means time to have a bit of a wander, chat to the volunteers and help out a bit. All the medals were individually wrapped so I assisted in unwrapping them ready to be dished out at the end, and very nice medals they are too, you just can’t beat a bit of bling.
Another benefit of it being a local event is familiar faces. I bump into Matt & Emma, a couple I first met at Queen Elizabeth parkrun. Matt’s running his first ever half marathon today, it should have been a first for both of them but Emma’s out injured so she’s there marshaling instead, top stuff, volunteers are the best! I also spot another face I recognise from Havant parkrun this time, Gissele, another one who is out injured but there volunteering. There is also a crowd of Baffins Fit Club runners gathering, you can’t miss them as they have the brightest shirts ever, I’m sure those shirts get brighter each time I see them! My friend of many years, Helen from BFC, is also volunteering, she’s tail running today, I joke about not wanting to see her later in the race, as you do, tail runner jokes.
There are a few other Boshers running today so we arranged online to meet up near the registration tent before the start and actually get a bit of a group shot going! As always with the guys from Bosh there is lots of laughing and joking, quick and easy banter and fun conversation. It feels like I’ve known some of these guys for years. Lots of Bosh love.
As time marches forward the small matter of why we are gathered there in the first place rears its head, yes, we are actually here to run. There is a pre-run brief and before you know it we are at the start line ready to hit the trails. There’s a good number of runners there from all over ready for the challenge ahead. The mood and atmosphere is very jovial and upbeat, something that I find comes hand in hand with trail runs.
Whilst I’m mucking about taking a few pictures of everyone queuing up to start the runners are released to run wild and free, I’d better get a move on and get going myself, I’m here to run a race not take pictures! I merge into the pack and get going, the first initial trudge around the outside of the cricket pitch is seriously noisy as it’s gravel underfoot, once we get off the gravel path the silence is almost deafening!
In less that half a mile we are heading out of the main grounds, running through the long grass and heading towards the woods. This is where the fun really starts as we collectively weave our way down the muddy woodland tracks, bouncing from side to side, leaping, jumping and dodging as much of the mud and puddles as is possible at this stage, delaying the inevitable. Avoiding jutting roots and branches, sidestepping nettles and brambles, it’s only a matter of time though before you find that there is no way of avoiding the puddles, the mud or the nettles and brambles. The joys of trail running, you do have to keep your wits about you or you could end scratched to pieces or even up flat on your face or arse!
It really doesn’t take long until the hills start coming. This course really epitomises what is popularly known as an undulating mix terrain course. There are small patches of road running where we have to transition from one field to the next. There are churned up muddy bridleways, I almost ran head first into a couple of horses coming the opposite way which certainly gave me a bit of a jump!
We are taken through kissing gates, over stiles and through gates. There are public footpaths running through fields of corn. I had a moment where i was running along with my hand held out to the side brushing the tops of the corn reminiscent of a scene from Gladiator, it’s funny where your mind takes you whilst you are out running through the countryside… “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the TRUE emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
The scenery really is something else, which is handy as it’s quite a lonely race this one, I found it to be as mentally challenging as it was physically demanding. I think given the nature of the route you get a bit spread out, when you are actually clustered together you’re normally either breathing like a telephone sex pest or trudging up a steep hill so conversation is at a minimum! Then again, you don’t tend to put yourself through things like this for a nice chat.
There were three aid stations out on the course serving up water, unless I missed something (most possible) not much else, given that it was pretty warm in the end I could have done with a bit more than just water. I’m not having a grumble here mind, totally my own fault, I didn’t take my hydration bag with me as it was only a half marathon. Not the best of decisions on my part, but not as bad as the decision I’d taken over footwear!
Before the race I’d be in two minds over what footwear I was going to go with, my Hoka trail shoes which are OK on light trails or my more hardcore Salomon Speedcross 3’s which are built for mud. I opted for the Speedcross given that we’d had some seriously torrential weather over the past week and I’d expected it to be very muddy. The first 8 miles or so these seemed ideal and a good choice, after that though they became instruments of torture as my feet swelled. I’ve done a couple of runs in them, the Meon Valley Plod and the Portsmouth Summer XC, and thought that they might be a half size too small, this run confirmed that. I’ll not be wearing them again, I seriously could not wait to get them off, it was pretty much the first thing that I did having crossed the finish line. There were some downhill segments where I could feel my toenails slamming against the front of them, I’m fully expecting to lose another toenail from the battering that they took. I also had a blister by the end of the race, that never happens in my Hoka’s, though I don’t think they would have been up to the task.
Make no mistake, this is a tough little half, I would have loved to have run it in under two hours but with the hills, the mud, my current fitness levels and the ongoing issues with my shoulder/back that was never going to happen. I was very happy indeed to be crossing the finish line in a smidge under 2:20 today. I was very happy to finish!
After the race, once all Boshers had finished and collectively cheered each other over the line, there was some general lounging around in the sun next to the cricket pitch, eating cake, drinking coffee and laughing and joking with each other. What a perfect end to a tough morning running, chilling with friends in the countryside on a sunny afternoon.
I’ve got a lot of time for events held by Portsmouth Joggers. They are low key, friendly events that offer great value for money. The marshals on the route were superb as always, very friendly and encouraging, hats off them for being stood out there for three hours or more, these guys are awesome. I think you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a really interesting run, I don’t think I’ve ever run one that you could label dull, all very scenic and all very challenging. It’s something that always goes through my head whilst I’m out on these runs, who comes up with these routes, recce’s them, talks to land owners etc etc, it always amazes me. I’m already looking forward to the next adventure.