2015 Stort 30 Review by Anne Purdham
Well who would have thought 3 years ago when I did my first parkrun that I would be writing about a 30 mile race.
So here we go…
Stort 30 – one of the easiest things I have ever signed up for. So easy – all you have to do is type in a few details, press ‘Enter’ and pay. Anna and I, overcome with enthusiasm after HARP24 in June (maybe slightly envious of those who had run further than us) had one of those facebook messagy things going when all of a sudden we were very enthusiastic about taking part in the Stort 30. We were inspired by Caroline Hargraves who ran it last year and also the amazing Flyers who had taken part in the Stour Valley Marathon. I have always said I have no desire to run a marathon, but trail appealed to Anna and myself. What next? Mission – Get Keith interested! More facebook messages and all of a sudden a whole group of Flyers were signing up.
So then the fun started. Follow Keith’s newbie Marathon Plan. Tried and tested. We always intended that we would run / walk it – that’s what Ultra runners do we were told! I can honestly say I loved following that plan – especially the long Sunday runs with the Flyers. Apart from the 13 miler in searing heat along the trails from Benfleet that is.
Fast forward to yesterday. The big day. We were carb- loaded and ready – Rich Pryor had taken this to extremes. We travelled in a Flyers convoy to Bishops Stortford, grateful of the organisers planning the event on the weekend when we gained an hour. Not nervous really – only two pre-race visits to the loo! It turned out that we were running in a UK Trail Running Championship Race. There were lots of thin people wearing hydration packs, recognising each other from previous events – and us. Getting our numbers and trail instructions was straightforward, welcoming and informal. Pre-race photos, pre-race briefing, hugs from our supporters Lucy, Debra and Jacqui, and all of a sudden we were off.
Perfect weather for running in a t shirt – off we headed – two laps of the cricket pitch – easy peasy but rather damp, then out onto a brief section of road – nicely downhill. By this time Lloyd and Graham were heading off at a pace, closely followed by Kev and James, then the rest of us – Anna, Nicki, Mark, Keith, Rich and myself. Oh dear – Rich is rather quiet. We are half a mile in and Rich has a tendon issue. Out come the painkillers. This doesn’t bode well for Rich. We set off at our planned steady pace – then hit the towpath. Mud – slippery, sticky mud – for five miles. We had all agreed road shoes were the best. That decision was right overall – but for this bit it was a struggle. Anyway we had Checkpoint 1 to look forward to – just over 5 miles. Turned out to be much further but when we arrived it was great to see multiple marathon runner David Davidson who had joined us for LSRs manning the gazebo. So much food and drink available – I stuck to unwrapping my own tried and tested flapjack at this point. (Rather more dense than normal – they kept my stomach settled!) Back over the lock to the main route and the next section to Checkpoint 2 at 10 miles just flew by. We had been on part of this section on our trial run a few weeks back and it was much easier terrain. So beautiful running beside the river. We had not just the checkpoint – more food and drink – but Lucy, Jacqui and Debra to look forward to. Great to see them waving us in. A third of the way done.
The good terrain continued en route to mile 15. By this stage the lead runners were heading back on the straight out / straight back route. Despite being brilliant runners they clapped us and said well done. Graham and Lloyd then James and Kev and then Anna (who had forged ahead) were also returning in our direction. We had a good ten minute stop at the halfway point involving serious refuelling and chatting with the helpers. We arrived there at 2 hours 54, well under our planned time. The run / walk strategy had not yet taken effect and we had run all the way – apart from stopping and chatting at the checkpoints. There was a 3 hour 30 cut off at halfway so we had no trouble meeting that requirement of the race. The next part was to get back in the required 7 hours.
So we embarked on the return leg. Two checkpoints to look forward to revisiting were not enough for us, so following a phone call from Mark to the Thorntons we had an extra pitstop at a lovely café we had discovered on the other side of the river when we did our recce. I thought we were having just a nice warm cuppa but no, the Thorntons (Rachael, Alex, Nathan and Noah) do things in style, a picnic bench with mugs of tea and plates of cake laid out ready for us. I will remember that cup of tea forever – bliss! Another runner approached along the path – wearing orange he became an honorary Flyer and had cake with us! We left the Thorntons to tidy up – first having given them sweaty hugs – nice!
What we had to look forward to were – longest run ever (for everyone in our group except Rich), marathon distance, the finish and the two checkpoints along the way. I can’t believe how good I was feeling. The miles just kept buzzing away on my new Garmin, no sign of a wall to be hit. Before we knew it we were back on the bridge with Debra, Jacqui and Lucy. Lucy with her trolley had carried our supplies – good to get some electrolyte drink down. Those ladies were troopers. There was such a lot of standing around for them. It was good to hear that Graham and Lloyd were forging ahead, not so good to hear that Kev had taken a tumble. James and Anna were reported as going well too. 20 miles done and we still hadn’t walked.
My previous longest run came and went at 21.3 miles. Then it was a focus on marathon distance. First of all we had our last visit to a checkpoint – the old Checkpoint 1 with David Davidson welcoming us back and commending out team effort. More food and drink and still no walking! The walk / run thing never actually happened, but it was a good back up plan and we would have used it if we had needed to. Doing the marathon distance didn’t seem as scary as I reckon running an actual marathon would be as it wasn’t the focus of the race. We still hadn’t walked – apart from the very brief steep slopes up to the bridges. 5 hours 20 including stops for a trail marathon – rather proud of that! It was all going well. Then we were back on the muddy section again. It had dried out a lot but was still very uneven with tree roots and rocks waiting to trip you up. Something tripped up Keith – he had a soft landing though – me! Nobody ended up in the river thank goodness – at times we were quite near the edge. On the route back I am pretty sure nobody over took us, and we overtook a fair number. We did of course sing, but we quickly discovered that we only know the first couple of lines of many songs – that didn’t stop us lalalaing though!
This stage was by far the hardest – not surprisingly – fatigue and the terrain were making us more introverted than we had been for the rest of the route. To our rescue came Rich. I’d been asking about his pain levels as we had gone along and was glad to hear the pain was diminishing. He was full of energy (this was after all a mere 30 miles compared to the Saltmarsh 75) – practically bouncing along – singing – shouting encouragement – taking photos. I don’t know what drugs they were that you took Rich, but they seemed to work a treat! Keith, of course, was looking out for all our welfare and kept me going in that tough bit. Never had a knee problem before, but my right knee started to hurt badly whenever I went downhill. Everyone was shouting encouragement to each other. Keith, Mark and Nicki were also into new mileage territory at this point. We stealthily overtook a male and female runner, and then they overtook us back again. This happened again, before the male runner headed off and the female runner – Ruth – stayed with us to the finish. I was so glad to get off the muddy terrain and back onto the road. I didn’t care that the road was actually the big downhill from the beginning, but obviously now a big uphill. That hill was the best hill as it was leading to the finish. As we entered the cricket ground we could hear our friends cheering. Then it was one more lap of the pitch – which seemed to have grown in size from the start.
We crossed the finish line in true Flyers fashion – hands joined aloft (including our new friend Ruth). Stort 30 gives the most beautiful medals, based on a sculpture you pass when out on the course, as you cross the line. We also got a t-shirt. The t shirts are the same each year so if you have run before you can have a buff instead – great idea! I told the organiser I was never doing it again, and he told me I would change my mind tomorrow – I have! It was good to catch up with how everyone else had done and be reunited with our supporters who had been joined by Anna’s husband Dave. I’m really proud of Graham as he got an extra medal as he was third in his age category. Everyone had done so well and looked so fresh at the end of it. We got our warm clothes on and sat in the pavilion with hot cups of tea, and eating the copious amounts of food we had brought with us – which wasn’t actually needed on course as there was so much at the checkpoints. That was that – our epic adventure over. I am feeling slightly bereft today – feeling great apart from a sore knee, but with no plan to follow and no carb loading to do. However I have memories to last a life time of a race (and the build up to it) of a friendship, laughs, swearing (Keith!), singing, struggle and triumph.
Do I recommend Stort 30 ? Hell yes! Start training now. If I can do it anyone can.
Age 53 ¾