New Forest Half Marathon 2015 Review by Gail Shorney

The Half That Nearly Didn’t Happen…

This weekend I managed a RunKeeper PB of 313.1 miles! Impressive huh?! Ok, I only ran 13.1 miles of it…the other rest was the 300 mile round trip to the beautiful New Forest National Park in Hampshire.  I’ve not run properly/regularly since having my daughters…my last half was the Benfleet 15 and that was in the early stages of pregnancy with my first daughter and then the Horndon 10k at 6.5 months pregnant…so this kind of became a big deal!  A month ago, with the help of a friend, I started running again, starting from nothing and suddenly I found myself on a race website, deliberating whether to enter the 10k or the half marathon…I hit enter on the half and that was it!  Training was on and I felt determined!

I guess I could’ve entered a nearer event…but The New Forest is just one of my favourite places ever and what better motivation to get off my butt than a weekend down there with a medal thrown in for good measure!  So off I went, armed only with a pop up tent, sleeping bag and camping stove to the beautiful village of Brockenhurst.  The car felt a bit empty with just me in it and for a few miles I wondered what the hell I was doing?!  I’d got to Basildon before I realised I was still listening to the kiddies’ Frozen soundtrack…at which point I swapped Elsa and Anna for some Take That, The Killers, Lily Allen and James Blunt (interesting choices I’ll admit) and before I knew it the motorways had melted into the distance behind me and the purple heather-dominated heathland of the New Forest stretched out on either side of the road until it met the horizon.  Blue skies, scattered with whipped up cappuccino clouds.  It was all good!  I was so glad I’d got that far!  However I hadn’t told many people I was doing it, so there was still a chance to change my mind!

gs2The event offered a camping onsite option at the initial booking stage and instead of finding the nearest 4* hotel with forest views and a hot tub, I opted to stay at a campsite next door called Long Meadow, which also had forest views…and hot showers…  I couldn’t fault it though…on arrival I was greeted by an ‘interesting’ lady who ran the place and more interestingly, a herd of approximately 60 magnificent fallow bucks with full antler, with three stunning rare white bucks in the herd.  These could be found wandering the campsite at dusk and pitched by myself in the middle of the field, I shone my torch around at 9.00pm and spotted many pairs of eyes shining back at me from the darkness.  It was just breathtaking…if you like deer… (unless it was half a dozen peeping toms!!)

Top camping tip #1   A double airbed does not easily fit inside a two person pop up tent.  It will fit eventually…but it’s not that comfortable…moving on…

The Race Village was well organised and was open for registration and collecting race packs on the Friday and Saturday before the event.  Everywhere was well signposted and everyone involved, from the car park attendants to the main organisers were friendly, helpful and welcoming.  Couldn’t fault them at all. So race pack collected ready for the morning, I headed back to the campsite.  No dog.  No children.  It was a little quiet but I made the most of it.  I had a little explore, sat and relaxed whilst watching two buzzards circling on the thermals above the tall pine trees that surrounded me and watched the deer, locking antler, preparing for the annual rutting season.

Dinner was as complex as a single gas camping stove would allow, cuppa tea, read my book and then darkness fell suddenly.  No beautiful, gradual sunsets radiating through the trees as I’d witnessed here in the summer and into my tent I crawled.  It was ‘cosy’.  Classed as a two person sleeping space, I was glad I was alone!!  The constant crashing of antler continued late into the night and surrounded by darkness, I could distinguish The Last Night of the Proms escaping from a distant campervan.  And it was cold! Slept in my clothes!  Something else that isn’t easy…removing your bra whilst fully dressed…in a sleeping bag…on a semi deflated airbed…whilst holding hot chocolate…lucky I’m a good multi-tasker.

Sleep was intermittent…I awoke to condensation dripping on my face….and the loudspeaker from the event next door, welcoming early arrivals.  So I breakfasted, decamped and headed down the road 50 yards to join the masses.  For those considering one of the four events (5k, 10k, half marathon or full marathon) in the future, the road from Lyndhurst to Brockenhurst is notoriously busy generally, so make sure you allow plenty of time to get there.  The marathon started on time, but the other three events had delayed starts to allow as many entrants as possible to get to the start line.

The starting enclosure was a happy place and I chatted to a few people as we waited to be called…a local lady told me she was doing her first 5k…and asked me if I’d like to use her shower after the race before I headed home…friendly, but I politely declined.  Another lady was training for the Loch Ness marathon in a few weeks.  Everyone had their own personal story and journey.

The route was perfect.  Stunning.  What was not to like?  A nice balance of trail paths, country lanes and scenic roads surrounded by heather, heathland, forest, fields, New Forest ponies, cattle, donkeys and deer…and some pretty manic cheering crowds at around mile 9!

Marshals were great, encouraging and smiley which is always good!  Some of the younger ones were slightly over enthusiastic, especially when all you want to do is stop, sit down and have a glass of wine… but they meant well!

And ( I know you shouldn’t start a sentence with And…) the run was made more interesting by the people I met… At mile 2 a lady with lung disease; running/walking with wings on her back to recognise her friends with the disease who were too ill to run….totally inspiring.  What reason did I have to stop and walk?  At mile 4 a German lady who was attempting to complete 20 half marathons in a year and this was her 13th…she didn’t care how slowly she did them and I took some strength from this….  At mile 9 in Brockenhurst village a rotund, tweedy man cheered us all on and after some banter he joked that he struggles to run a bath…and I reminded myself that I was there and doing my best!  And at mile 12 I came across a man who was nearly at the end of the marathon and was bent over with agonising calf cramps.  We passed each other several times before I warned him that if I passed him again bent over like that I’d smack his arse, to which he laughed (quite a lot!) (mission accomplished!) and got himself to the finish line!

Got myself over the finishing line, felt proud, got a pretty medal, had a meander round the New Forest before I headed back on the three hour journey home, with a little tea and cake pit stop on the way.  Thanks to my run buddy for helping me to improve massively over the last three weeks!

So to sum it up, this would be a fantastic event for just about anyone next year… unless you don’t like fresh air, beautiful scenery, wandering animals….

·         Events to suit all abilities

·         Nice weekend away for families, couples or individuals

·         Nice medal

·         Good organisation

·         Already booked for next year!!

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