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Belvoir Challenge Marathon

There's a rich seam of races that abandon the traditional trimmings of medals and goody bags and are instead intent on stuffing more cake calories into you than you could burn off if you ran the event twice. That's just fine by me.  Mike Wells (also running today, in the 15-miler and a tutu) put me on to this one and I was keen to see how it compared to the plated lunch at the Woodhouse Challenge and magnificent crumble and custard at Seagrave.  It did not disappoint!

I've Transvulcania coming up and should really be running much hillier (mountainous actually) trails than this but it's almost all off-road and there are a few gradients along the way (about 500m of ascent over the marathon - a pimple compared to TV) which I vowed to run to get the most training effect from the race.

The Belvoir Challenge starts in Harby, Leicestershire next door to Hose which always makes me think of the famous Two Ronnies' Trail Race sketch. 

What, panty O's? Compression Tights you mean?
No, O's..

So I nearly missed the start. I always nearly miss the start but this time a 4x4 had hit what from the wreckage could previously have been almost anything and the roads were shut, a massive queue ensued and the air ambulance was deployed.  I hope the occupants came through it.  It turns out there were other holdups on other major routes so they delayed the start by 15 minutes.  I had considered dropping the race altogether as this year has already seen three colds and some kind of chesty thing still lingers to this day which caused me to adandon a run the day before within half a mile.  But I decided I could always drop at a checkpoint if it proved too much.

At registration (everyone registers on the day) a taste of the food to come filled the air courtesy of a hot dog stall right outside and I have to admit I very nearly caved in and had one. 

About 1,300 runners and walkers made up the field; about two thirds in the 15-mile race and the rest in the full marathon and we're sent off at 9:15 en masse.  After a short stretch down the high street the course heads out onto trail and it's immediately a swamp.  Deep, sticky mud and water that's impossible to get any purchase on.  I went for the Salomon Mantras again, and as with the Country to Capital I wished I'd gone with road shoes by the end of the run.. no shoe would have got any grip where there was mud and those shoes are quite hard on the roads.  I stuck to the extreme edge of the track where there seemed to be a few fragments of grass, a tactic that rewarded me with a blunt (luckily) branch directly to the eyeball.  'I'm in for along day' I thought, idly wondering if I'd detached a retina.

Nevertheless I started enjoying myself as the worst of the mud (for the moment) dried up a bit and there was a decent climb to blow the dust out to mile 4 and then a drop down the the checkpoint in Eaton at 6.7 miles.  The photo of the catering really doesn't do it justice.  This was indoors, there was as much again outside, and out of shot to the left is another large trestle stuffed with all the ingredients of a cream tea.  Had I entertained any thoughts of a fast time they wouldn't have survived the onslaught as I helped myself, keeping both hands fully employed with some morsel or other as the race carried on outside somewhere.  I'm sure volunteers create everything on offer and the volume and quality was unbelieveable.

Finally dragging myself away and still dropping a trail of crumbs, I really enjoyed the next miles - the sun so nearly came out a couple of times (but didn't) and all attempts by the various fields to engulf a shoe failed thanks to the great lacing system these Mantras have going for them.  The course split about 8 miles in and all the short course runners and walkers went left and the rest of us (a minority), right towards another spread at CP3, halfway round.   Belvoir Castle looked impressive on the ridge at 17 miles in - this whole route would be very easy on the eye (if you haven't poked it out with a twig) in better weather.  There's also some of my favourite type of  trail - soft, narrow paths twisting through woodland that let you get some speed up.

Another checkpoint (and more food) at 19 miles and also incredibly at 21 too by which time we'd rejoined the 15-milers and presumably the non-runners needed refuelling after their gruelling 4 mile walk ;)

The last few miles passed quickly; they were mostly downhill and there were lots of walkers - all very encouraging - to pass.  There was a marked reluctance amongst some of them to get their feet dirty I noticed which caused regular hold ups over the last couple of miles.  A pointless exercise thanks to an unavoidable knee-deep bath in the last mile they didn't know was coming.

The finish is back in the village hall where having had your pudding on the run, you get your main course with hot soup and a roll and a finishers certificate should you want one.

Another great event.. this has been going 25 years now so they know what they're doing, but there's something about these challenge races I really like.  Perfect for a training run as there's really no competitive edge to them and through some decent scenery.  Unlike some challenge events which require navigation, this one was very comprehensively marked out which I much prefer. It's very hard to read detailed instructions on the move.  I hope I get to run this one again.

I'm proud of my 4:15 finish, not for the time in itself which is pedestrian but for the fact that my watch recorded a moving time 30 minutes quicker than that which must mean that's how long I was eating for. A great result!

Next up it's a change of timezone, continent and terrain with the 6 Foot Track 45km race in Sydney's Blue Mountains!  It doesn't seem real sitting here typing that in but in 10 days I'll be on the other side of the world. Can't wait!

Race Website
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