At home with the Mavericks

Racing a trail race is something very, very new to me.  Project Hurtwood, was my first attempt and that was a 50km event. Always good to start racing on trails at Ultra distance right? The Maverick Original Hampshire Long was a whole different beast though.  Not only is there something very special about the half marathon-ish distance but this race looked fairly easy on paper. How wrong was I!

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Easy right?

I first heard about the Maverick in 2017.  I think it was the summer and I had decided to dedicate more of my running to the trails and of course I wanted to find a race. I signed up to the Kent event in September and arranged to meet this trail running group called “Wild Trail Runners” there. Apart from that, I knew it was not far for me to drive and the route looked pretty gentle with about 350m of elevation.  I have such fond memories of this race; meeting some amazing people who genuinely have changed my life, but also that feeling of freedom and running at the same time. I didn’t have a race plan; I just went out and ran, stopping occasionally to take a photo, talking with other runners and just smiling, a lot!

I finished in 1hr59ish and about 30th place overall out of 167.  Although this was so irrelevant to me, I didn’t even post about the time or pace on IG.  I did learn that I would need shoes with a better grip for winter though.  I had a few slippy moments; it wasn’t a mud bath but enough to make me think!

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Shoes, not quite fit for purpose

Next up, I went to the Sussex event in Feb 2018.  Again, I went for the enjoyment factor, a run on the South Downs, no plan on time or placing. Just go out and enjoy the trails. This day was beautiful but bitterly cold and it was my first experience of running/wading through knee high water 😂.  Again, I met some awesome people and finished 63rd out of 229. Time and placing was again not relevant. My learning’s were: 1. Don’t wear waterproof or splash proof shoes, as they don’t drain very well, 2. Wear sunglasses on icy, sunny mornings to stop your eyes freezing and 3. Get a buff to help breathing on cold climbs.

A year later, a week away from the Hampshire event, I found myself wondering what was possible in a race like this. On a marathon plan, you often put in a half marathon to race.  This will give you an idea of where you are at physically and mentally, (last year I did the Big Half and raced that).  So I had a chat with Coach Maggie about racing it and got the green light. Physically I felt good, still carrying a little Christmas weight but 7 weeks into the plan, I felt ready. We didn’t talk goals, she said forget pace, run to feel.  I thought ok, why not.  For me it would be about placing, could I chase down other runners? Where would I finish? These would all be decided on the day.

Kit wise, I planned on going lightweight but I didn’t want to stop at the aid stations unless I had to. So I decided on using the Pulse belt with a soft flask with SiS electrolyte, two SiS gels and the soft cup in case I did need some water, (Maverick races are now cup-less, which is great for the environment).  This, I hoped, would allow me to run free and fast. I also picked out my new red Sense shorts, Wild Tr top, a buff and Sense Pro 3 shoes.  The shoe choice would prove to be an important one!

When booking this race, I had persuaded Gillian to sign up for the short distance so that we could go together, she could meet some of my friends and enjoy the Maverick experience.  We booked in to stay at my mums as she only lives 30mins drive away and would be able to look after Poppy while we ran.  On the Friday evening we drove down.  It had been raining on and off all week but that evening it rained A LOT.  I knew then that the course would be a bit muddy. This didn’t phase me; it’s all part of the fun.  Hurtwood was fairly muddy and many of my training runs have been this way too.  I wasn’t ready for what was ahead though!

Race day morning was pretty standard.  I have a good routine now, it settles any nerves and I almost go into autopilot. The drive to the start was pretty straightforward; we parked and started meeting some of the crew. Lots of introductions for poor Gillian.  We had a quick team photo for Wild Tr, then, I did a mini warm up before getting near to the front.  This race was a sell out, so it was busy but not like a big road half, the vibe was great as always.  I lined up with Kirstie, ready to see what lay ahead.

Now I am a bit rubbish at remembering everything in a race. There are moments and feelings, which occurred throughout the next 22 and a bit Kilometres, which I will try to reflect on to give you a sense of what happened.

I went out fairly quick; well it felt quick, seeing as the last race I did was a 50k. It was fairly flat but you could feel the soft ground underfoot, parts of the path had puddles and mud.  I settled into a nice rhythm though with my running and was enjoying myself. I got to the first uphill section and engaged the plan: “run the hills unless it’s pointless too”. Sounds standard but, you can easily be caught up in a race and pay for it later by expending energy and not really getting anywhere.  I also know I am a really good power hiker on hills if need be.

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Just after the start

The first hill you could definitely run and I enjoyed it. Alas, what lay over the other side was a downhill on a road. I think it was about 1.5km in total. This kind of annoyed me at the time but I pushed my pace a bit here.  Downhill running is something I have come to love too. I prefer bouncing around on the trails but I will take anything if it’s there and try to make it work for me. Before long, I was back on the trails again and loving it.  The mud was getting thicker and more constant though. This is not a complaint but a fact. Running on trails is harder than road; running on muddy trails is even harder.  It saps the energy like nothing I have experienced before.  Some of the mud was soft and splashy, some was thick and clay like.  Adjusting to possible sliding or getting stuck was an interesting and new experience for me.  Every day is a school day right.

Soon I was heading up again, mostly running as per the plan.  I enjoyed catching and over-taking people. I knew I had lost the front pack within the first 5km but it’s all about the person in front of you right?  I allowed myself to push a bit harder.  There were a couple of points where I felt I needed to hike on this climb and I got over taken on one of them but I soon gained those places back on the flat. Mentally I did have a little dip around the half way mark.  The doubts crept in!  Had I gone off too fast?  Would I crash and burn before the finish?  These are pretty standard ones for me. Then something happened, running along a flat section with many puddles, there was a familiar pair of legs in front of me. They were not avoiding the puddles like many runners do, they were just running, through them, without even any thought or worry.  Where did I know them from?  Oh yes, they were Paul’s!  We had met at Hurtwood and he had told me that’s what he does.  Keeps the route simple to avoid wasting energy and it makes sense, mostly.  A lovely guy, full of heart.  We had a quick chat and he mentioned that he had a bit of a bad cold coming on and was feeling rubbish.  I wished him well and ran on.  This moment really picked me up, it’s funny how a simple interaction can refocus your mind.

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Chasing down Paul

Not long after this I saw another friendly face in Sarah, who was marshalling at Aid station 2 on our route. I gave her a hi-five, thanked her and the other marshals, (note: please thank or give a nod to marshals on races people), and ran on. I was catching up with another small group again who I had been swapping places with and just following the directions/blue tape, when suddenly we stopped.  The guy in front had the route on his watch and noticed we had gone off course, not by much but bless him, he helped us get back.  Some annoying person/people had moved the route markers! Luckily we noticed fairly quickly though.  This happened to Gillian on the 7km course and a group of them ended up doing 13! This is not cool and can be quite dangerous.

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That moment, when you see Photographer Sue at the top of a hill!

Anyway, we were back on the correct route 3 or 4 mins later and who do I see up in front of me but Paul, lol! He looked very confused as I passed him on the next climb. I kind of explained and ran on.  The mud and water on this section had stepped up a level, but by then I just didn’t care.  Knee high water sure, thick bogs ok, slippy steep down hill bring it on.  I was loving this race, I even managed a grin at the top of the 3rd climb, when Sue, the photographer was waiting for us with the words “look at that view” 😂.  Out of our pack, I was first up this hill and feeling good.  I ran on strong, bounced and splashed around the route, the distance was ticking down and I lost the chasing pack but no one was in front of me. Then I heard the sound of a drone and remembered Adam from Wild tr was out on the course filming!  It was kind of cool running along this section with the giant bee tracking me with its camera.  I said hi to Adam and ran on.  I was ready for a wicked sprint finish with only a couple of KMs to go. Then I caught some runners and realised that we had merged back with the 7 and 14 distance courses and had the sudden realisation that a rather large hill lay ahead before the finish!  This annoyed me a lot because I could’ve have run in the flat quite easily but I had expended too much energy to run up the hill.  So I engaged the power hike, with a couple of little runs too.  This hill went on longer than I had imagined though, it was at this point that I looked at my watch to see the time and it was coming up to 1hr 50 something. Right then I decided, I wanted a sub 2 hour race. This is totally irrational and has no bearing on anything at all but it gave me that last little spur to push on, run over the crest of the hill, turn the corner and pick up the pace onto the field and get my ass over the finish line.

Like I said at the start, time is really irrelevant. I ran to feel, I felt good, mostly, which is really reassuring.  After finishing, I caught up with Gillian, who only finished 5 mins before me due to the course detour she had.  Then we hung out with some of the gang and found out how they did/felt about the race.  Everyone seemed to have a great time which is of course is the main thing. For many, it was their first Maverick experience and I was super pleased they all enjoyed it.

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On the way back to the car I asked the lovely Elyse  what position I finished in. She said 19th (un official), I was pretty chuffed tbh. When the official results came in, I was 20th out of 223 people. A placing that I am super happy with. My legs felt destroyed from the mud, I felt like I had run a marathon.  I hadn’t felt this way for a long time and it felt great. Maverick, you are everything I remember from 2017 and more.

Notes:

Timing wise I finished in 1hr59 mins and 19 secs. The winner finished in 1hr39 06.

Garmin said I ran 22.59 KMs with 523m of elevation gain.

I am not being paid to promote Maverick races. I genuinely love them. If you have any questions, about the races, then please do ask. I feel. They are perfect for a first trail race.

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