The Epping Forest Tough 10k
Cancer Research Tough 10k
Terrain: Hilly, Trail
Sunday morning gave us bright sunshine, blue skies and an autumnal crispness that was perfect for running. I'd packed everything I could possibly need into a excessively large kit bag that could comfortably carry a Labrador (and puppies).
The morning of races are always a bit surreal. You know what you are about to do. You've done it before, but you can't square in your mind why you'd do it instead of staying in bed but you do it anyway.
We left the house and made our way to the station bumping into a fellow racer on the way.
Sitting on the train you glance around and suddenly start to spot them. Fleeces, leggings / shorts and running shoes. The trickle becomes a.. well not a flood, but steady stream of slightly nervous runners chatting excitedly about the coming race, the conditions, the course.
We'd looked at the course on the race website and we were warned that it was hilly but how bad could it be? It's Epping Forest, it's not that hilly. Is it?
Well it turns out that there's hills in that there forest and some of them are absolute swines!!
The layers came off quickly as the day warmed up and after some mobility work, some jogs and strides we started getting our heads around the task at hand. As usual, pre-race time warps in the most perverse way. The start-time surges closer while the toilet cue slows to a speed that can only be captured by time-lapse photography. Your bladder asks you some uncomfortable questions but after the 5th time it's safe to say you are probably empty.
There's music, there's chat, but it's time to zone things out. Run through your checklist. Everything feels good (I need a wee), my calves feel good (I need a wee), I'm feeling fresh (I need a wee). I DON'T NEED A WEE!!!
We're heading into the the final few minutes. The MC is building up the excitement and the chatter dies. Silent... Still... BLAST of the air horn and the clatter and rustle of 332 pairs of shoes hit the trail.
The early trail rises gently into the forest, the path shaded by an arch of trees. The marshals get us across the first road crossing and the race settles into a nice strong pace. The trail takes us down hill and I relax my legs as I let the hill do the work. The first mile is cool and flat. The cover of the trees allow you to open your stride and build a strong rhythm, then the course opens out into a trimmed hay field. Golden and glorious in the bright October sun.
We start to climb gently and the faster guys start to put some speed down and pull away. We hit the corner of the field turn left and the first climb starts to hit the legs. It's worth it though, because once you get to the top you get to see this.
The view across the reservoirs is stunning. We take it across the top and by mile 2 we're back into the trees.
The trail does get pretty technical, and from this point on it seems that if you are not running up a hill, you are running down one. There is very little of anything that could be described as flat.
It's fun though. You have to keep thinking your way through, when to dig in, when to relax and when to walk.
Some of the hills are so steep that you are better off walking. You don't go significantly slower and your legs are fresher when you get to the top. I learned my lesson a couple of times, being passed by hill walkers once they hit the top and could hit their stride.
It's a course that really requires your concentration. The trail changes in width and condition across the route, you need to watch out for soft mud, baked cracks, low tree branches, high tree roots, and keep your eyes peeled for course markers as the trail isn't always clear.
The "final" climb comes at around 4.2 miles. I decided to walk this one. I wasn't going to go any faster running at this stage. At the top of the 78m climb was a giant talking fox with a microphone. Thankfully he was cheerily giving us all encouragement and playing music. Not just going through the bins and making those strange noises foxes make when they're making friends with each other.
"This is the last hill!!!!" said Mister Fox. I should have known never to trust the brush-tailed varmint. Surprisingly he lied LIKE A FOX!!!!
It was a cruel little twist. Just as you think you're heading home in the last mile and a half, you're down a hill, "not long now" you think, then a marshal with a guilty smile turns you 180 at the bottom and sends you straight back up the hill you just gleefully descended.
Then. Finally. One last road crossing and the home stretch through the forest and the path back to the finish. There's one more little kink before the end as the course takes you away from the finish line even though it's within touching distance, then one more hairpin and you're home.
A final burst, just emptying the legs of the last drops of juice before gratefully receiving your medal and the best tasting flapjack and bottle of water I've had in a while.
It was a great day and a great course. Everyone who raced did superbly. Some were running 10k for the first time and for a 1st 10k this was a tough one.
This is a race series that runs throughout the year, all over the country. It supports a brilliant cause and if you fancy doing the next one, click here for details.