Essex 20 – Sunday 15 March 2015 – a Race Report
Despite this race being available for entries from autumn last year and having sold out ages ago there were a number of late requests for a place and a scramble to transfer places in the week before the event.
This resulted in 8 of the Flyers Southend regulars with a place in the race. Two drivers volunteered (Ian & Rich, thanks chaps) and spare seats were claimed before a 7:30 start for all of us making the trip to Langham, a small village in the Essex countryside near to Colchester.
We arrived early to claim our race numbers and check out the venue. The weather was definitely on the colder side so we all headed into the gym in the Langham Village Hall to faff around, pin numbers to shirts and get ready.
There seemed to be a mostly positive mood within the group. Everyone has a marathon to run in 4 weeks and this event was going to be a perfect tune-up exercise:
Justin – was complaining of injuries and would be taking it easy (meaning that he was in the same shape as every other run he has ever done and would be running like the clappers).
Scotty – looked like he had been out on the razzle but claimed he was just a bit sleepy.
Andrew – was talking up his chances and mentioning times that would take hours off his PB times.
Guy – was half excited to be at the event and half terrified.
Ian – has been putting in some great runs in training but was concerned about a sore Achilles. He also had a long, long kit list which included nail scissors, flip flops and a whole load of other stuff. Prepared? You bet.
Elliott – was quietly confident.
Rich – was just smiling his usual big grin and happy to be there.
And I was hoping to test out my Brighton Marathon pace.
The Essex 20 is the Essex championship race organised by the Essex County Athletic Association. To qualify for the championship you need to be born in Essex or have lived there for a period of time and be a member of an affiliated running club. Which counts out most of the Flyers, but unless you think you might win it then it doesn’t make any difference. We were allowed to take part anyway.
The organisers describe the race as such:
A challenging 3 lap course around the quiet country lanes of North East Essex. A perfect test at this unique 20 mile distance, especially for those training for London or another Spring Marathon.
Which is a fair assessment except that being 3 laps the first lap is probably more unique than the second and third.
The event is not chip timed. There are no medals, or goody bags, or mugs or any frills. It is a bit like a parkrun except it goes on for 20 miles and there are no children or casual runners, no dogs, and loads more club shirts and serious looking runners. There is a 4 hour cut-off and the calibre of runners is pretty high. For example, if I run hard in a parkrun I can usually hope to finish in the top 10-15% of runners. At this event I just about made it into the first 50% of finishers. And I did run pretty hard!
I did this race for the first time last year and remember thinking at the time that it was a race for hardened runners and was pleased to think that I didn’t feel out of place. There were lots of familiar faces from Southend parkrun and from local clubs to say ‘Hello’ and give a nod to.
So, before we knew it, the runners had taken over the main road in Langham and were lined up at the start line. Someone must have shouted ‘Go’ because we were off.
The 3 laps were run mainly on roads with a small section along a paved path. The course skirts lots of open fields, through some wooded areas, past a number of lovely homes and thatched cottages and has a pleasant countryside feel. Oh, and quite a few undulations. The biggest being a mile long hill about half-way into each lap. It has a steep climb which levels out for a small stretch and then climbs some more. I could hear Scotty’s grumbles in my head as I went round, and that was just for the smaller inclines.
With over 400 runners the Flyers became stretched out. From my place roughly in the middle I could see the orange shirts of Justin, Andrew and Ian getting further away and knew that Elliott was with them in less easy to spot blue. Somewhere behind me were Rich, Scotty and Guy.
Although surrounded by runners I was a lone Flyer and intended to run my own race, testing out my target marathon speed to see if I could keep an even pace over the distance. Inevitably there were other runners with similar targets and bunches of runners started to form.
I was aware of the other runners around me after about 4 miles when one chap turned to me and said, ‘It’s Lloyd isn’t it?’ I didn’t recognise the face but he introduced himself as Mark and has been to Southend parkrun a few times and remembered me as one of the core team. This sparked up a conversation and I ended up running most of the race with Mark and his friend Paul. They were good company and even when the field became stretched out at the end and we drifted apart there was still a few shouts and banter between us. I was surprised how much this helped take my mind off the run and the hurting and made the event more enjoyable.
The lead pack of Justin, Ian, Andrew and Elliott did just that and ran as a pack together with some other faces friendly to the Flyers, helping each other to pace the race, to deal with the bit of wind that sprang up in the open, and to encourage each other around the 3 laps.
Scotty and Rich also started the race hand in hand and ran much of it together but I imagine the ‘guess the name of the marshal’ game would have become a bit tired by the third lap.
While on my second lap, having start on mile 12 of 20, I heard a call of ‘lead runner coming through’. I made way and then a man came past on a bike, quickly followed by the race leader. Incredibly I was being lapped. Not unknown at parkrun if I’m taking it easy but I was running hard and these were 7 mile laps!
This was a little de-motivating at the time but race winner, Paul Molyneux of Springfield Striders, broke the course record by nearly 3 minutes, recorded the fastest time in the country this year, and bagged a PB to boot in 1:45:49. An average of 5:17 min/miles for 20 miles!
A mile into my last lap I opened my last energy gel to give me a boost to complete the distance. As I opened it, instead of taking off the small opening at the top it also split down the side and I found myself covered in sticky gloopy gel. Oh poop! So I licked my fingers, wiped my hands on my shorts, and gave it a sticky push to the finish.
Very pleasingly I pretty much kept an even and steady pace throughout and, importantly, didn’t fade at the end as can sometimes happen on longer runs. I ran through the finish line in an almost empty field with just the timer on the line and a few fellow runners that had just finished. A real anti-climax.
All the lead Flyers had finished in amazing times and within a couple of minutes of each other. As it had turned really quite cold they had headed off into the Village Hall to change clothes and grab a hot drink. I grabbed a welcome cup of water and walked around to the hall only to see Scotty running along the finish straight. So I quickly turned around and hobbled back to the finish to cheer him as he stormed across the finish looking really strong and overtaking another runner in the final 30 metres.
A little while later Rich finished and then just after that Guy rounded the corner and looking every bit like he had just run 20 miles he reached the finish and then promptly dropped onto all fours in exhaustion.
All the Flyers had successfully finished and pretty much everybody had new PBs and had exceeded expectations.
That could mean only one thing. A celebratory drink in the pub a short crooked walk away.
The Essex 20 – it ain’t easy but it’s worth it.