Sunday 16 February 2014

Valentine 10ish Mile Challenge 2014

After the 2014 Dartford 10 mile race was cancelled, I started looking around for alternative 10 milers and I stumbled upon the Valentine 10ish Mile Challenge, hosted by Vigo Runners. It is a cross-country / trail race and takes place in the beautiful undulating countryside just outside of the village of Vigo in Kent.

10ish miles

In the weeks leading up to the race, I had mentioned it to some other runners. The ones that had run it in previous years all responded by smiling, laughing or grimacing! I knew why because I had looked at the photos from 2013's event. It is a tough race all the way through, but the headline grabbing section is the 32% gradient hill they throw in at the nine mile point.

vigo r.f.c

I entered via the runner's world website and received my confirmation email, but that was all. No further details came through by email or in the post and the only thing I knew was that it started at 10.30am in Vigo. Vigo Runners are based at Vigo Rugby Club so I thought it would start there and after looking up the route online I could see that the start/finish was indeed at the rugby club.

heading to the start line

So on the day, I drove down to Vigo Rugby Club and was pleased that I was in the right place. I arrived with plenty of time to spare and went into the club house hoping that they would definitely have me registered and that my number would be waiting for me to collect. Fortunately everything was in order and I collected the number. The clubhouse is also home to the toilets, changing rooms, bar, kitchen serving breakfast, tea, coffee etc. There was also a back room which had some toys for children to play with. The small-but-big-enough car park was marshaled by some army cadets.

start (and later the finish)

Ten-thirty quickly rolled around and the runners assembled in the start funnel. After a short talk from the race director a cannon was fired to signal the start of the race. The first section is a lap around the rugby field which was fairly spongy and muddy due to the huge amount of water we the ground was holding. After this we left the rugby club to continue our adventure in the countryside.

off we go

I'd usually try to describe the course in detail but there was a lot of course to try to remember! The early section went through the woods which lead into a section that was single file due to the path being waterlogged on both sides with the only dry-but-muddy-and-slippery section in the middle - I almost fell a few times during this part.

heading around the rugby field

There was a long downhill stretch on a path that was made up of loose rocks at the sides or slippery mud and debris in the middle -  This section felt hard on my ankles but I made it through without falling. It flattened out after about a kilometre or so of downhill running and soon after, around the 4k point, there was the first killer hill. All of the runners around me were reduced to walking pace and to be fair there wasn't any advantage in continuing to run it - the steepest part was recorded on my gps as a 21% incline.

the last photo before i disappeared into the woods

Things get a little sketchy around the middle miles. I know we ran through a good number of fields - mostly waterlogged and muddy. There were a few short sections on small country roads. There were some twisty trail sections, there were uphills and downhills and not really anything that was flat. There were a few stiles to negotiate. There was a hydration point about half-way round (water and jelly babies were on offer). There were tree roots trying to trip me and twigs trying to poke my eyes out. I have a little cut on my knee which I think was caused by some brambles or something similar.

course map

My main goals were to finish the race uninjured and enjoy it. So the race plan was to start strong but not all out and try to work my way through the field as the miles went on, and this is how it played out. At times I found myself alone on the trail, but then I'd see a flash of colour or movement in the distance and would work hard to catch them.

taken just after the mountain climb [photo: Brian Page]

There were marshals in all the right places, and where there wasn't a marshal there was an arrow sprayed on the ground or a sign attached to a tree which meant that I navigated the course without getting lost - always a bonus! Following the strong winds a few days before the event, some trees had fallen. Most of these had been cleared to allow safe passage. There was one fallen tree at the edge of a field but it was easy enough to navigate around it.

returning for another lap around the rugby field

The last bit is etched in my mind still. From around the 14 kilometre point, there is a lot of uphill running and the stretch along a very narrow single track country path at 14.5k was where my legs finally started to feel really heavy and I felt that I was slowing. At the end of the narrow path we turned onto another road section and continued climbing. I couldn't have slowed that much because I caught up with another runner here. We were then directed back onto the trail. This was where I saw the sight that I will never forget. The hill was not a hill, it was a mountain.


As the incline got more severe I dropped into walking pace and tried to find a good route to negotiate the climb, sadly I had left my crampons and ice picks at home today, but they would have come in handy! Looking towards the top I could see a congregation of supporters cheering the runners on - it was nice to have the support here and it also meant that the finish line wasn't far away! While going up the mountain you cover about 150 metres, so it was a relief to finally reach the top... But wait! It wasn't quite the top. Once at the top of the slope you then have a set of steps to negotiate which do eventually bring you out at the top!

goody bag, water, medal (hidden)

After this hill, I was pleased that my legs appeared to be working. And not only working, I was able to get back into a fairly decent pace and managed to move up another place during the last kilometre or so. It was along this stretch where I saw a photographer getting ready to take my photo so I tried to put on my best running face, and as I passed I realised that it was Brian from So Let's Go Running - it was a nice boost seeing someone I knew and during our quick exchange he advised me that two runners were on my tail, so I got to work in keeping it that way. The final section is another lap around the rugby field. This time the soggy, muddy grass felt much more difficult to run on. The last 10 miles had taken its toll. However I managed to keep up a half-decent pace and crossed the line feeling strong.

i was expecting to pick up more mud than this

At the finish line the race director had been informed of the incoming runners and it was really nice to hear him congratulate me by name over the megaphone just as I was approaching the finish line. Once past the finish line, I was handed a bottle of water, a goody bag and my finishers' medal. The first thing I wanted was the water, then I went to the car to retrieve my post-race banana. After this I took some time to walk around and get a bit of stretching in.

ahh.. there it is
It was a tough but brilliant race and I'd love to come back and do it again. The variation of surfaces underfoot and the undulations mean that there is never a chance to become bored. I found that I was fully engaged the whole time. There were some amazing views across Kent throughout the run. I mean really amazing. And the whole thing was made even better by the gloriously clear and sunny weather that we were lucky enough to have!

the hill profile

On the flyer for the event, it was billed as 10ish miles - my gps registered it as 16.8km, which I think works out at about 10.5 miles. The file was uploaded to Strava where you can view the hill profile and route in more detail. Plus if you're interested in my kilometre splits you'll also find them there.

The official results (direct link) were posted in a news report the next day.

I finished in 13th position out of 98 runners in a time of 1:24.34.

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