Wednesday 10 February 2016

Kent Fitness League 2015/16: Blean Woods

Blean Woods is one of the largest areas of ancient woodland in England. It lies between Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay in Kent. In total 'The Blean' covers over 11 square miles. The woods were the venue for the 7th and final match of the 2015/16 Kent Fitness League cross country season.

dartford harriers [photo: dani]

It was the first cross country match that I had been to since lasts season's match at Minnis Bay. Sadly I have had a pretty poorly knee for over a year, but after a bit of good advice from a physio at Darent Valley Hospital I finally seem to have made enough progress with it to allow me to put in the occasional run.

these are spikes [photo: esther]

Car parking here can be tricky. For the most part it's a case of trying to find a spot on a nearby side street. It's not easy and it's not always pretty but as far as I know everyone seemed to find a spot somewhere - a lot of cars ended up parked half on the grass verge along the main Rough Common Road. I think the best thing I can advise is to arrive early and leave enough time for a walk across to the woods.

warm up [photo: esther]

The Race HQ was located in the Rough Common Village Hall. I popped in here and found my Dartford Harriers team manager and made sure he had me down on his list. I also found a toilet here. There's also some space to get changed if required. About a kilometre down the road you'll find Blean Woods and there were plenty of marshals on hand to make sure the runners headed in the right direction.

raring to go with adam and lime [photo: dani]

The start/finish area is located on a large open sports field where each team of the league had found suitable spot to pitch up. A few minutes before 11am all of the runners were ushered over to the other side of the field for a short pre-race briefing and at 11 o'clock on the dot the race was started.

alongside richey [photo: dani]

The first section of the race took place over one-and-a-half laps of the sports fields which gave the runners plenty of time to sort themselves into appropriate positions before reaching the narrower paths within the woods. I was actually surprised at how boggy these sports fields were and with the first 100 metres or so I had already filled my shoes with water.

and into the woods we go... [photo: dani]

Once the runners have completed this section they dived off into the woods and were immediately plunged into the first of many quagmires. While in the woods, the course undulated all the way around. The surfaces underfoot varied from mildly stony paths to soft forest trails to knee deep mud. There were plenty of tree roots, branches, holly leaves and all sorts of other foresty items to watch out for.

in we go... [photo: claudia bates]

In total this race was pretty much spot on 5 miles in length and about four of those miles were run in the woods. The course undulated throughout and was a lot of fun. I wore my spikes but found the mildly-stony paths a little hard going in them - overall they did the job, but a really aggressive pair of trail shoes would also have been ok for this course.

approaching the finish [photo: esther]

At the end of the big loop within the woods, the runners emerged back out onto the sports field where the final challenge was to somehow trawl through the already churned up fields. It really was like running through treacle at points. The finish line soon appeared and the muddy adventure was over. If you'd like to see the full course in more detail feel free to take a look at my GPS file on Strava - KFL Blean Woods.

done [photo: dani]

My performance was nowhere near where I would usually expect to be but considering I've had a pretty miserable running year, I was very happy to finish the course in 42.40 and 135th position out of 313. The full results were published on the official results page about 24 hours later. It was a fab race, I think my knee just about made it through in one piece - just a very mild sensation of pain the following day.

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