Another weekend, another race, they’re coming thick and fast towards the tail end of the year and there’s still a few more left to go. Looking through the list of events I’ve completed so far this year I’ve done somewhere in the region of 22 events! Madness! This weekends madness is being catered for by those lovely folk from ‘On the Whistle’. They’re a local events company that hold these wonderful little 6 hour endurance events, you know the ones where you go out and run as many loops of the route within the time limit whilst trying to consume as much food from the buffet as possible. Now I never used to be a fan of running laps of anything, I remember doing a 10k race on a small running track and properly losing the will to live. The mind takes you to some strange places when you’re running, on that occasion I was a John Player Special looping around a very dull Scalextric track, it wasn’t a good moment in my life. Come in number 77, your laps are up!
Fast forward to more recent times and that loathing of loops has been replaced with a new found love for them. These timed multi-loop races are brilliantly simple and very effective, but, and this is a big but (I cannot lie) the route has to be interesting. Well have no fear, the guys at On The Whistle have some rather splendid scenic routes in their repertoire. They’ve had a whistle stop tour up and down an old converted train line, a woodland challenge around the stunning Queen Elizabeth country park and today’s Frolic around Havant Thicket. Oh yeah, and should you be so motivated any marathon plus distance is recognised by the 100 marathon club, Brucey if that’s your bag.
“Havant Thicket, set on Horsefoot Hill, is part of the ancient wood called Forest of Bere, and is located within the parish of Rowlands Castle. The Forestry Commission owns and looks after the woodland for outdoor recreation for local people. It is next to a busy main road, but when you enter the wood it feels as though you are entering another world.”
The event starts at 9:30 with the pre-run brief at 9:15. I got there early doors to lend a hand with the free car park before getting ready to run. As it’s a Festive Frolic the run brief is led by an Elf, naturally, who is full of Christmas cheer and motivational words of wisdom, I think. The brief, summarised in my own words, was basically run as many loops as you can when you’ve had enough ring the bell, if you’ve done five and there is still time for another one you’ll be ‘encouraged’ not to stop, basically go out, have fun, enjoy yourselves and don’t be shit. We each received a wrist band with our race number, every time we did a loop it would get marked with a line to count the loops. Simple yet effective.
The start and finish is where race HQ and the aid station is located, there is also a porta-loo should you need it. This is where you either ring the bell to call it a day or stuff a mince pie in your face, guzzle some Coke and head out for another lap of the course. The aid station is constant banter and confectionary, there’s sweets and delights of all kinds, salty snacks, sugary snacks, fudge, Fredo’s, crisps and more of the good stuff us elite endurance ethletes need *cough*. I only really do these events for the running buffet!
So it began, a mottley selection of folk of all shapes, sizes and ability heading out into the Thicket on a chilly November morning for up to 6 hours of running. It’s a great atmosphere with lots of laughing and joking between competitors. There are loads of familiar faces, it’s wonderful to see, every one happy happy. The very nature of the multi-laps means that there’s plenty of opportunity to cheer(jeer) on fellow runners, dish out high fives, the occasional hug, pose for pictures and generally be encouraging of everyone you pass going the opposite direction. It’s nice to see a few people have gone to the trouble of donning Christmas attire, I reign in the inward screams of “it’s fucking November!!!” and cover my balding head with a Santa hat to start off the first lap..
As you can see marathon running is serious business, no time for airplaning and mucking about for the camera or taking selfies. Yes, serious business, I need to stay focussed and keep my eyes on the prize. 6 laps is the target, the goal, the end game, the desire, yep, my 4th marathon(+) distance run this year. I had originally planned on 5 laps, circa 20ish miles as each lap is 4.6 miles. This was going to be my last long run before the Coastal marathon on the 18th December, but it had been made pretty clear 5 laps wasn’t going to be an option I could live down! So marathon it had to be, seeing as the Coastal marathon is now my last long run before an 50k Ultra marathon on the 28th December how can it hurt…
Roughly 21/22 miles in I’m still smiling and enjoying it, but the course is feeling more mountainous at every execution. It’s not a really hilly course per-se, but it is constantly undulating, rarely ever flat. The back hill taking its toll each lap, but once the top is reached it’s a nice long run down hill till the rise up to the finish. It’s a lovely little run, hard pack trail underfoot for 85-90% of each loop. Tree lined forestry commission land, a world within a world. I love it enough to run it 6 times in a row at least.
Something epic (in my addled mind) popped into my head on my fifth and penultimate lap. As I was running down the first hill and back out onto the main section of the course I worked out I could quite feasibly nip over to the petrol station in Rowlands Castle on the way back on my last lap and pick up some Cornetto’s. Then it would be under a mile back to the finish carrying a bag of ice cream, standard behaviour on every marathon, everyone does it right? It also gave me the added incentive to get out there and grind out my 6th lap and then get that last bit done quickly before they melted! The last lap was hard work, there was some walking but hey, that’s normal and nowt to be ashamed of. I got some funny old looks in the petrol station, in my running gear, race number on, in winter, buying ice cream. Standard Sunday! I love the fact you can see my little detour clearly on my Strava map above, hysterical! Ice cream purchased I’m back on course and running like a loon with a carrier bag towards the finish! End goal in sight, oh yes, Cornetto time baby! I’ve earned it today, definitely earned it!
So there we have it, I crossed the finish line, my Garmin reading 28.5 miles and 5 hours 21 minutes elapsed, carrier bag of ice cream in hand. Now I could have gone and done a 7th lap to achieve ultramarathon status, but I couldn’t let my ice creams melt. So I rang the bell, received hugs and was awarded my awesome medal, my time was logged and I cracked open a nice cold one! No, not a beer, a Cornetto! Result!
Thank you On The Whistle for all the fun! I love their races and cannot wait to run my first marathon in 2017 with them at the Resolution Run, if you’ve not got a place yet then get yourself booked in ASAP, places are selling fast.