3rd 1st Annual Headtorchruns Marathon

Marathons are pretty simple things. Run a measured 26.2 miles along a well-marked course, go as fast as you think you can sustain, wave at the crowds and finish with triumph under an inflatable arch accompanied by a band or a DJ playing that latest hippity hop music (see I’m down with the kids).

cowThe 3rd 1st Annual Headtorchruns Marathon is exactly not like that. Run a dark and mysterious route with some run guides, re-group at times to ensure nobody has been eaten by vicious night cows, and if lucky you’ll pass a few drunks on the way home from the pub who might cheer you on. It’s ridiculously pointless fun.

If you’ve only ever run London Marathon you’d struggle to get your head around this. No marching band at the end, but there is beer and food. Plus it’s all for charity so you’d be a bit of a knob not to take part really. In an odd twist on entrance process, you pay £35 to sign up, and if you turn up on the day you can get £30 back and just pay the £5. If you don’t like funding charities that is. 😊

If you’d like to help fund an excellent cause then please visit http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/markthornberry

giraffe_10
An actual Giraffe

A few people had recommended the event from last year and it seemed a good if perverse way to squeeze one last marathon in before the end of the year. The entry list started to fill up and it was a who’s who of running idiots I’d met over the trails (at least one of whom continually disappoints by not looking like his giraffe photo on Twitter).

I managed to rope in two mates to join me. Stephen was finishing off a monster year of marathons including 7 in 7 days, and Gary will agree to most events if there is beer present so was up for only his second marathon as he normally runs ultra for which he’s cultivated the obligatory beard. So late on a Saturday afternoon we bundled into Stephens car and headed down via McDonalds. Being responsible passengers Gary and I waited a while before opening the beers to ready ourselves for the event.

The start is at Mickleham Village Hall and has the usual pre-ultra odour of skanky trail shoes and waterproofs that haven’t quite dried out from the last race. It smells like home.

Registration was manned by Lou who plied with me with beer to finish the GUCR145 when she was crewing Phil who is also somewhere in the hall with his wife Suzie, counting down the days until his Brexit unicorn whilst I’m mourning the loss of a 4 day Socialist/Marxist week.

The infamous Karen is manning the raffle table. She’s perfected the art of mocking runners over many Enigma events and is now in high demand from Race Directors who need experts to cajole and taunt people to the finish. She’s also the gatekeeper to your £30 entrance refund. Coincidentally nobody is brave enough to ask. Her better half Matt is manning the kitchen and taking delivery of the various party items dropped off by runners. I bump into fellow Do-Badder Dimi as well who’s sporting the new Bad Boy Running Club vest which looks surprisingly professional.

After the safety briefing we’re off outside and mingling about ready to start. The various guides are pointed out, including Spencer “it’s not a giraffe it’s a goat”, Ally and the main man Allan who takes the lead. It’s an odd experience to set off on a ‘race’ that isn’t one. The jostling for position is more to avoid falling over stuff than gain places.

The route as it gradually unfurls is predominantly off road and a mixture of fields, footpaths and chalky slippy stuff. The recurring theme is mud. A wet couple of months have churned up most of the UK. Having spent a 10 mile run on Boxing day failing to keep up with Stephen (my dog got bored of watching my sliding and wandered off) in my Hoka trail shoes I’ve gone for something with grip and added cheat sticks. I’m using one as it keeps the other hand free to eat or carry my cider. Priorities.

We start with around 80 runners and we spread and regroup at times. Often stopping at landmarks we can’t recognise on a field we can’t name in a location we couldn’t find again if our lives depended on it. Which it might if the guides did a runner and we needed to call emergency services to bring more beer.

The steady pace leads to the random conversations you normally get on ultras, and the regrouping mixes people up further. Topics vary from podcasts, races, family, films and eventually onto the hardship faced by those who grew up before broadband and had to rely on Eurotrash once a week for a chance of titillation. At times there’s almost too many people to chat to and I miss saying hi to Simon, the founder of the Band of Runners Podcast (a new discovery to me and I’m slowly catching up) and also the Sussex trail eventsteam.

We stop at a gate to climb a hill. It had a name. Mostly it seems to be cow shit hill based on the terrain. Looking up at the imposing hill in the dark, there’s a chorus of groans as we power hike up. The wind is stronger at the top and for the first time in the run I feel a little cool. Despite being late December it’s surprisingly warm and thankfully dry.

When we regroup later Stephen is looking a little worse for wear. After a marathon on Christmas day and runs every day since he’s probably due a rest and decides to drop out at the halfway aid station along with a few others including Stuart, who I met along with Helen way back at CW50 a couple of years back. We sip down mulled wine and eat mince pies (a proper aid station!) as they set off for the short run back. Later we bump into Helen again and debate how long is polite to leave it before ribbing our mates for dropping out early. The consensus is at least a few hours. Harsh.

For anyone used to road marathons or faster trail events, the pace can be unsettling. We’ve been on the go for over three hours and only covered a little over a half marathon. It’s final stages of a 100 miler pace, in the dark. To be dropped into this without the preceding 75 miles of decline from fresh faced runner to haggard and broken embarrassment to the species is a new experience and a reminder of my love/hate relationship with ultras, and my yes/no dilemma to next years Lakeland 100 race.

One runner is accompanied by her dog who receives relentless fuss at each stop. I’m feeling guilty I left my hound at home as the pace would likely make this a good marathon for her.

There’s a long sequence of steps that never ends and to which my stiff knee objects (a memento from this years Lakeland 100) and I’m relying on the sticks more than I’d like to. At the top we surprise a couple of lads out for a quiet evening admiring the view and getting stoned as fuck. The fug of smoke is enough to envelope all 70 remaining runners. It’s impressive that after toking sufficient pot to achieve this that they can still stand. They wander off, and it’s unclear whether they considered us a joint hallucination or not.

After one final hill at Satan’s Staircase we round the corner into the hall and descend on the food as only a herd of runners can. It’s taking over 7 hours as promised, so excellent value for money on £/hr.

Time to relax, check your mates have got back safely and wait for the raffle. The prizes are properly amazing, and I win a grand total of nothing. This doesn’t detract from a great event, and one I’d recommend if you can get your head around a night time mystery tour of the hills, and like talking rubbish to other runners who have an odd sense of fun.  I’ve clocked over 4000ft of climbing, an impressive amount in a marathon.

Tim to head back to Milton Keynes and a few hours kip before ice skating with the boy.

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