28 February 2015

The infamous Belvoir Challenge

Harby Village sign marker
Hello Harby!

Oh. My. Gosh. This is the hardest race I have ever done and I'm not just saying that because it was 26.4 miles.  Not only was this a marathon, it rivalled and surpassed our toughest cross country course.  First off there's mud. Not just a little mud, there's a LOT of mud.  Ankle deep mud. Mud that sticks to your shoes with the tenacity of beggar lice on your favourite trousers (this section of mud made me curse out loud quite loudly which the guys behind me found hilarious). Mud that does its dead level best to make you slide into the ditch. Stinky mud with the eau de stench of cow and sheep poop. Mud that tries its best to steal the trainers right off your feet. I could go on but I'm sure you get the idea...mix that in with a few kick ass hills and you have got a doozy of a course.  Oh, let's not forget the seemingly endless stiles and gates to clamber over that caused huge backups in the beginning especially on those located on the uphills, I read somewhere that there were approximately 30 of those buggers in previous years, one of which this year seemed to be on the verge of falling over at any moment--we all were very careful on that one!

Marathon Runner thumbs up
Hey crazy lady, there's a bus right behind you!

Hmm, what else about the course that bears mentioning...there were more than a few brambles hanging over the paths waiting to snag you, I have several scratches on my legs and one caught in my hair then scraped my shoulder and I saw quite a few runners with major cuts from their bramble encounters.  There were a few sections that had small rocks embedded in the paths that beat up my feet something fierce--one of the perils of opting for the more aggressively lugged trainers. While most people avoided the mud puddles I looked forward to running through them because the cold water numbed my feet. There was also a somewhat fearsome near-vertical set of iron stairs with very narrow steps that we had to climb up!

Elevation Chart--Click to Enlarge

It might seem that I'm listing only negatives right now but there were some awesomely right things! There were an appropriate number of porta-loos at the start and they were some of the best ones I've seen at a race--not only were they clean, they also locked properly, you could "flush" and not have to look at the previous person's business, they were well stocked with the appropriate paper products, and you could wash your hands with soap! Ok, I might be gushing over-much about the loo situation but hey, this is something so rare it bears writing about!

row of porta-loos at race start

Other good things: the course this year even though there weren't many marshalls was very well signposted and marked out, there were only a couple of times that I had to pause a second to figure out the route (very important if you didn't bring an OS map along).  The checkpoint feed stations were amazing, very much like an ultra with the variety of foods available.  Be warned though that there are only 5 checkpoints on the marathon course and one is a water station only and a couple in the middle are spaced quite far apart.  Next year I think I might consider Nordic Walking the 15 mile option so I can partake of the massive cream tea stop!


When you weren't worried about having to stay upright in the mud there were also some gorgeous views and we do get to run quite close to Belvoir Castle. I was wishing I'd brought along the gopro in the chest harness in order to film some of this but I was having some delusions of grandeur about putting in a halfway decent time so opted to leave it home.

Belvoir Castle
Belvoir Castle

The finish line food was another plus, coffee or tea, 2 different kinds of soup, gluten free bread, quite an impressive array of puddings (pudding=dessert), water pitchers and cups on every table so you could refill as needed and enough room so that most people were able to get a seat.

Belvoir Challenge 2015 Course Map

Now onto my day...the wheels pretty much fell off for me thanks to a sensitive tummy.  I had to make 3 loo stops, 2 of which were sans loo.  Thankfully the third time I was able to make it to the checkpoint (Checkpoint 4) and not have to try to go off the course to find trees or a hedgerow to hide behind.  Wish I could say that took care of everything but my stomach continued to roil for the rest of the distance in a most unpleasant way.  I also had a few too many sideways slips in the mud and the same leg I tried to do the sideways split with at the Bakewell BDL XC started acting up around mile 7 and continued to get worse from there. I was almost in tears when it came time for the course to split off and I had to turn right for the 26 and nearly everyone else went left.

Hello Finish Line!

However I did survive the distance albeit with a new personal worst time, quite a let-down considering I clocked in four 20-milers at just over 3 hours each and this is the only race I had budgeted to do but I knew going into this event that it wouldn't be a fast one. I just didn't expect so many issues...ah well, live and learn.  A huge thank you to my partner and a friend who also ran the marathon today for taking such good care of me afterwards!

My favourite photo of the day

One thing to note about the Belvoir Challenge, if you expect bling then this isn't the race for you.  We did however get very lovely certificates that the local schoolchildren personalised, I think that is quite a meaningful finishing token. Speaking of bling, good luck to all the Arkansas friends running the Little Rock full and half marathon tomorrow!

Belvoir Challenge 25th Anniversary Finisher's Certificate and Badge