Sunday 15th January heralded the arrival of the Benfleet 15, which represented the first of twelve races I have committed to in order to raise money for St Clare Hospice in Harlow.
A cross country race known for being tough and hilly, the Benfleet 15 started at 10.30am from (and then through) Hadleigh Castle Country Park – taking runners out past the castle, down to Leigh On Sea train station and along Benfleet Creek before heading back into the park. At first glance this sounds a fairly straightforward assignment, especially after consulting the official website and reading the race description. It must be tempting to think: ‘It can’t be too bad, can it? A few hills never hurt anyone…’
And so at 6.45am on that Sunday morning I was a bundle of nervous excitement whist sitting in the kitchen eating my porridge – the only time you will see me eating porridge is on a race day! I hate the stuff, but it does the job.
Just over an hour later I was on the road to pick up my running buddy Wei and by 9.30am the two of us had arrived in Hadleigh Castle Country Park, suitably beset with those pesky nerves. There were nearly 600 runners taking part and it was comforting to spot some friendly faces whilst we waited for the run to start. My favourite #ukrunchater @kennedy107 was in attendance along with @baztav and @kythespy, who were more than happy to say hello.
The weather, on the other hand, was less than accommodating – dull skies and rain with a temperature of around 2C, it was freezing! I was wearing everything: hat, gloves, rain coat, leggings, shorts, long sleeve top and my hospice top. I was taking no chances!
The race started at the peak of a small hill and from there we ran down into the park – shortly before I realised that my choice of footwear had been ill-considered as the course was muddy, really muddy. I was sliding around everywhere and within half a mile had fallen over, rolling around in the mud. Fortunately that knight in shining armour @baztav came to my rescue and quickly pulled me up, thus preventing me from becoming the first casualty of the Benfleet 15! Luckily no damage had been done and I managed to carry on with the race, chuckling away to myself as I went. There would have to be some walking involved, in fact over the first 3 miles there was quite a lot of walking – this part of the course was proving just too slippery for running, but this unexpected turn of events only added to the fun.
Having familiarised myself with the routine of sliding around everywhere, it felt very strange around the 4-mile point once we had negotiated the park and moved onto the concrete path. I had been unable to get a good pace going until I started heading out towards Benfleet Creek. With flat trails and soft ground, this part of the race was lovely and the views could have been spectacular if only the sun had made an appearance – alas the rain continued to fall (although mercifully the ground resisted becoming too muddy to negotiate) and my glasses were getting steamy.
We followed the creek for around 6 miles before heading back towards the park, my favourite part of the race – we were heading uphill and back into the mud again. I can safely say I haven’t laughed so much in ages, trying to navigate a muddy hill that 500 people have already run up is very interesting. The advice from the course marshals was to aim for the middle, apparently the muddiest parts are more likely to work in your favour. I’m not sure if that was the best idea but I did manage to at least stay upright this time! As we headed up the last hill there was one section where we had to pull ourselves up with the handrails, it was steep and very slippery. Whilst climbing up I asked the marshal if anyone had actually run this part of the race and it transpired that only a brave few had attempted to – before it had become so muddy. I can’t imagine these runners had as much fun as me!
Finally, as we reached the top of the hill, the finish line hove into view. The promised land was now just 100 metres away and we could scarcely believe that 15 miles had been completed. Time had flown by and I don’t think I have ever had so much fun in a race. Wei and I collected our finishers t-shirt and then located our running friends to enjoy a thoroughly deserved pub lunch. Once I was home I had to throw my trainers away, they didn’t have much life left in them and were completely coated in mud – farewell Hoka One One’s, you have done me proud. As for my body, now that’s a different matter! My hamstrings in particular were a little angry with me, but I know they will forgive me soon.
When I decided to run 12 races for St Clare Hospice, I had struggled to find a race for January. If truth be told, I was a little worried about the length but I did want to make sure I was pushing myself. The London Marathon in April has already started to loom large so this first race had been earmarked for training, I couldn’t have picked a better race! The Benfleet 15 was fantastic, definitely one of my favourite races ever. It was very well organised and there were marshals everywhere, braving the cold and wet throughout so that all these game runners could complete the race safely. I don’t think you can enter a race like the Benfleet 15 and expect to emerge with a personal best, but if you like a challenge and want to have fun then look no further…this is the race for you!
Next up: The Winter Run in London on Sunday 5th February.