When I said to a friend after the Box Hill race, “jeez, that was tough”, they looked at me with the sort of disdain most people reserve for contestants on Big Brother. “It’s a race at Box Hill, called Tough 10. What were you expecting?” they finally replied.
And in truth I’m not entirely sure what I expected. For some reason I’d discussed the event internally (i.e. with myself) and I’d come to the conclusion that it would be a relatively enjoyable little jaunt in the countryside. Which it was, in a way. If you don’t count the hills. Those massive, winding hills that went on for miles. Oh those hills.
The week before, I’d headed over to High Wycombe for the Chilterns event in the Tough 10 series. A fairly taxing 10k made significantly more difficult with the advent of relentless rain. Something that always turns a pleasant trail into a thing of dread. It still wasn’t too bad though. Sure, it meant I had to slow down a bit and be a tad more careful, but in terms of actual raw effort needed to get up and down the hills, I did okay.
It was perhaps from this previous race that had caused my blasé attitude. Because in truth, I hadn’t really bothered to investigate the fact that, unlike the Chilterns, with its one out of three rating for toughness, Box Hill was a three. Which, if my percentages are correct, means that this race was 100% tough. After finishing it I can indeed validate that. Really should pay more attention to the damn guides in future.
Luckily, save for the crisp autumn air, the weather was pretty much perfect. I wandered over to the little start village and met some friends. One of them looked at me and pointed up into the distance. “We don’t have to run up that do we?” she said. I turned and looked up at the kind of thing you’d expect to see in Middle Earth towering behind us. “Erm, yep. I think we probably do,” I replied with a sigh.
After some light chat and some general race admin, we finally set off. A nice little kilometre on the road seemed like a treat before we suddenly turned a corner into the woodland. Within a few minutes we were there, a winding, ruddy steep route heading around and up to the top of the hill. Already too steep for most people to run up, and too thin for any overtaking, we all clambered our way upwards.
It seemed like a while until we finally reached the top, managing to spread out and pick up a pace again. Suddenly things started to feel nice again. The initial climb had meant that we were pretty much at the highest point, the result of which meant no more climbing.
Now, if you’re a road runner, you probably quite look forward to the downhill sections. They’re almost like free race distance, where you can pick up the pace without putting in loads of effort. Trail running is nothing like that. Instead of a safe road you can head down, you have to carefully navigate a treacherous series of branches, rocks and wet mud, meaning you can’t take your eyes off the ground. The occasional time you do, say if you spot a deer or something, you can slightly lose your footing as land wrongly on a branch. Oh yeah, and the ground was covered in leaves, so you can barely see anything anyway.
The next couple of kilometres were a mixed bag. The CRUK guys even threw in a couple of little hill detours just to make it that tiny bit harder for anyone enjoying the flat sections too much. Thanks guys.
Then finally came the second big hill. This time it was a long run of about a kilometre, with a visible trajectory leading from the bottom to the top. Not nice when your legs are already in pain. I looked up at a few dozen people in front, the majority of them now walking.
From here on in things changed a fair bit. The route looped back round in itself to find us heading back down the incredibly steep first climb. Now we had the other problem, navigating a relentless set of steps all the way back down to the bottom. People were sprinting down either side, many slipping about on the ground as they desperately launched themselves towards the last kilometre. I didn’t, my main concern when running a tough trail run is that I finish it with no injuries. To hell with getting the fastest time.
Crossing the line, after an impromptu sprint finish, was glorious, with some impressive cheering from the crowd. A hard, but ruddy enjoyable race, which are often the best ones. A pretty damn successful year for the guys over CRUK and the race series. Definitely one to prepare for in 2017.
The Box Hill event was the last in the 2016 race series. You can head over to the website here to find out more about it, and any updates on future events.