Friday 15 June 2018

Orpington High Elms 10k 2018

The Orpington High Elms 10k race has been a regular fixture on the running calendar since 2014 and is hosted by Orpington Road Runners. If I was to describe this a standard hilly 10k trail race I'd be doing it a dis-service, in fact I think the race organisers have summed it up very well on their webpage, where they write...

"Designed by a sadist, the course is challenging and hilly, but very scenic to make up for it"

It takes place within the stunning grounds of High Elms Country Park which cover 250 acres of woodland and meadows. The history books show that William the Conqueror gave the estate to his half-brother Odo Bishop of Bayeux after the Norman Conquest. However it is the Lubbock banking family that really made their mark on High Elms building a grand mansion (sadly destroyed by fire in the 1960s) and various other listed buildings around the estate.

I had signed up for this race once before (2015, I think) but pulled out due to injury, so it's been on my to-do list for quite a few years. The race has a limit of 400 runners and I entered via the runbritain website which cost me £16 as I am currently unaffiliated. The race instructions arrived by email about a week before the event. On the day, car parking was available in an adjacent field and it was just a short walk into the country park from there.

Race numbers were available for collection in the race village, and this process was quick and easy. There were 6 portaloos onsite and these seemed to cope pretty well - I queued for just under 10 minutes. That left plenty of time to warm up and have a little chat with some of my running buddies. There was also a mass warm-up, but I've never been into those so I carried on jogging around until it finished.

The race started at 9.30am and off we all went, some knowing exactly what to expect, and others, like me, just imagining what lay ahead. The first of the hills is encountered after 300 metres and from that point, it is a relentless barrage of more hills, gnarly tree roots and uneven ground. Of course, as the saying goes 'what goes up, must come down', and it does, often via very steep declines. Some of them have sharp corners at the bottom too - however, all the key points were very well marshalled.

The headline section of the course is 'Pylon Hill' and it has a reputation for being very tough - it is reached at about 2.8km into the race, so the legs and lungs are still fairly fresh. However, it still takes a considerable effort to reach the top - my GPS picked up a maximum incline of around 16%. It lasts for about 350 metres or so.

The course features sections within the woods as well as out on the meadows - the paths in the woods are generally wide enough to overtake and most of the trip hazards were marked with white chalk. The meadows feature single track pathways with long grass to the sides which are more difficult to overtake on. There are six noteworthy hills to climb ranging from previously mentioned Pylon Hill through to a 1.3km long drag when approaching the same peak from the opposite direction.

I coped fairly well with the inclines, but the final one which ascends Old Hill really did me in. I had to take a brief walk towards the top of the steepest section. Just after this point I was assured that 'it's all downhill from here'.... well 600 metres later I finally reached the summit, and then it was all downhill through the woods and into the main open grass area to finally cross the finish line.

Being a June event, there is always the likelihood that it'll be on the warm side, and it certainly was in 2018. During the open meadow sections the sun was intense at times, which made getting back into the cooler woods a relief. The conditions underfoot were dry and firm, so many runners would have opted for road shoes. However, I always wear trail shoes when off-road and I was very happy in them all the way around the course.

I tracked the run with my Garmin and you can view the course data on my Strava account. You will notice that it shows as being a little short of the full 10k. Given the amount of tree cover and twisty paths in the woods, I'm not surprised that it hasn't recorded the full distance. And trust me, given how tough this course is, even if it was a little short, you probably wouldn't ask for it to be lengthened!

The official results were available later that day and I was pleased to see that I finished in 66th position out of 391 participants despite having a pretty rough few months health-wise. My overall time by chip was 48.03 (gun time 48.16) which fits in just about right with the general consensus that you should expect to be around five minutes slower than your current flat 10k time if you're towards the front end of the field. Those further back could be looking at an extra 10, 20 or even more minutes to complete the course vs their flat 10k times. For the record, the final participant came in at 1 hour and 40 minutes.

So, it was definitely challenging, hilly and scenic, just as promised and despite the gruelling hills, it was an absolute joy to take part - I'd certainly enter again. The 2018 race medal was a nice bespoke design that featured 5 acorns - one to represent each year that the race has been held. There was also a drawstring bag handed out to all runners at the end and this featured the line 'I survived Pylon Hill'. And I think I did, but only just.

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