OK, the second part of the title is a little bit of an exaggeration. I didn’t wear ALL my clothes (a supersized Michelin Man springs to mind). I did however wear a running vest, baselayer, longer-length leggings, up-to-the knee socks and Berghaus rucksack because I’m using the Trailscape Rail to Trail Series as part of my training for Marathon des Sables.
With four races located in some of the most unspoilt countryside just an hour from London (who knew), spread out over the winter months, Trailscape (Run it, Love it, Live it) are offering a brilliant escape from the hustle and bustle for people who love to run.
The races are:
- Newport, Essex – 18 Oct 2014
- Cuxton, Kent – 29 Nov 2014 (I’m especially excited about this one as I’m originally from Chatham, which is on the other side of the River Medway)
- Ashurst, East Sussex - 10 Jan 2015
- Wendover, Buckinghamshire – 21 Feb 2015
And after successfully completing the first one in Newport, Essex, I have to say they’re great prep for any spring marathon, half marathon or 10k you want to try your hand at. Here’s why:
1. The ‘Rail to Trail’ races are easy to get to
Irritated by races where you have to either rely on the car of ‘mum and dad’, great friends or some ultra-complicated plan that involves about three or four different methods of transport (trains, planes (bikes) and automobiles)? Me too. That’s why the rail to trail races are so brilliant. All around an hour away from Central London mainline stations, they are pretty easy to access for most of us without four wheels at our disposal. Then when you arrive at the other end, the start is only five minutes walk from the station. No fuss or faff, all you need to do is check for the right time train on National Rail Enquiries and then make sure you get to the station on time.
2. There are three different distances to choose between (and therefore wake-up times)
So I choose the marathon (surprise, surprise), that’s because I’m training for Marathon des Sables. You can also run a half marathon (roughly a half marathon) or 10K and not have to wake up as early as us crazy fans of the 26.2 miler. The marathons start at 9:30am, half marathons at 10:30am and 10K at 11:30am. Yes, those 10K runners can have an extra two hours sleep
3. You can try out your kit (if you so wish)
I chose to run with the Berghaus Hyper 37 Rucksack as this is what I will use next year on my crazy race across the sands. Hesitant as I was to carry the mandatory kit in THE BAG (everyone has to take a whistle, foil blanket, fully-charged mobile, water and money with them on the Trailscape races) in case I ripped it or damaged the light-weight fabric in some way or another, I’m glad that I did.
Measuring 61cm (H) x29cm (w) x 21cm (D) and weighing just 560g, it was super-comfy and so it should be as it was designed for the inspirational adventurer Philippe Gatta by Berghaus. With straps around the chest and hip area, you can securely fasten this light as a feather bag to you with what they call the Bergbuckle. There are also small pockets on the tummy straps, which I used to stash some jelly beans to keep me going. My only criticism is that as a smallish lady up-top who likes to wear things attached tightly to me, there was a lot of extra strappage going on. I think I will cut off the excess before my next race.
4. You will find it a challenge
In my limited trail-running experience, there are races which are billed as trails but turn out to be a mix of road, trail and routes through woods. Then there are the diehard trail races. Trailscape falls into the latter category. It was like running a cross country race in the muddiest conditions ever. The competitors were not just running around the ploughed fields of mud, we were running across them. Imagine wading through thick treacle that continues to stay with you once you arrive on dry land and you’ll catch my drift. It was tricky, my feet were at times weighed down with mud, and when coupled with knee-deep puddles, wet grass, rocky footpaths, gates and electric fences, you pretty much have a Tough Mudder, in the middle of nowhere, with no crowds cheering you on (or hardly anyone around). Add to this the fact that you only have markers and pieces of white tape plus various checkpoints to ensure that you stay en route (unfortunately a farmer removed one of these and a group of 10 of us got lost – the curse of the trail returns) and it becomes a whole different adventure.
5. There will be low points
You’re sweating, realised that your water bottle dropped out of your bag somewhere earlier in the race and you can’t see any more white tape or signs telling you you’re going in the right direction. The lead that you have created slowly disintegrates as you join up with those following to say that you think you’re lost. It happens. Especially on trail races. And it’s not the organiser’s fault that some farmers or walkers decide it’s a good idea to remove the markers that they’ve laid out the night or morning before. But my goodness, it is super-demotivating.
The best way I find to recover from this kind of situation is to switch my music on, stay focused and positive by trying to enjoy the scenery around you. You may have slipped back a few places and may not be able to hit your former pace but at least it adds to the adventure and makes for a better story. You’ll also learn that you really should take better note of the checkpoints that you’ve passed before, so if you do have to phone the organisers you have more knowledge than simply, “we’re in a field, at the top of hill with a church steeple and windmill behind us”.
6. And plenty of highs
You’re lost, a wee bit tired and, well, pooped. Then again, you’re surrounded by a great bunch of people, chatting about their running adventures. The best thing about the first Trailscape race besides the freedom of running in the countryside and the whole excitement of “where are these arrows leading us next, oh, it’s another gate to open or sty to climb over”, was the fellow group of runners. Even before the race started, I had already chatted with a bloke, who joked “you can’t be wearing all that unless, of course, you’re training for the Marathon des Sables” – he had already competed MdS and incidentally went on to win the first Trailscape marathon.
Then there was the impressive Marathon Man UK, who has made it his mission to complete a marathon a day for more than a year to raise money for charity. When we were lost in the wilderness he offered me a bite-sized Snickers or Bounty to cheer me up. Another guy called Paul ran and chatted with me during the tough mid-part of the race, and shouted when I almost went the wrong way. The atmosphere was friendly and all the competitors were very supportive of each other, spreading the running love.
7. You will love/ hate your first Trailscape but nothing will stop you from wanting to do it all over again
For all of the reasons above. Bring on Cuxton Rail to Trail Marathon and the consequential mudfest!