It’s very easy to get pace-obsessed with running. Particularly at times when things are going well and improvements are very visible. But always focussing on your watch takes away some of the simple pleasures of running, and can lead to disappointment. After a string of PBs, I needed to slow down and forget about my finish time. Time to hit the trails then…
The Wambrook Waddle is an off-road 10k through private land in, you guessed it, Wambrook, Somerset. That was pretty much all I knew about it when I signed up. That and the fact you have to go through a river. Pictures of people making a splash somehow made it all seem more fun.
We arrived in the parking field the same time as other members of the club. The marshal organising parking asked us to park further over, as the runners would need to get through. I looked across the grass, down the hill I would go up at the end, and wondered what I’d let myself in for. Race registration was in a beautiful barn. Picking up my number was a fast and smooth process, and pots of safety pins were freely available.
My husband, there in supporter capacity, had been talking to some people about the course, and mentioned to me that it had hills. Which is, of course, just what you want to hear at the start of the race. We headed over to the start, which was marked by a tractor. It was difficult to hear the instructions, as people further back were talking, but I picked up the key points of yellow arrows, red & white tape, and marshals. And then, we were off.
The start of the race was downhill through a mostly grassy field, with the odd rock here and there to spice things up. Not that I really needed it spicing up. Being a certified scaredy-cat I’m not good with steep downhill at the best of times, least of all when it’s off-road. So quite a few people passed me on the way down. At the bottom of that hill lay the moment of truth – the River Kit.
For me, the difficulty lay not in the river itself, but in the muddy bank on either side. I couldn’t work out where to get a footing at all, let alone a fast one. Still, I found a route through and made it safely to the other side. Without falling over. Which is more than a lot of people can say (they likely went faster than a tortoise). With the river safely crossed, I started up the other side, blissfully ignorant of what was to come.
The uphill lasted for over a mile. Grassy fields turned into woodland, but the hill carried on regardless. This is the first 10k that I’ve seen with a water station before 1.5 miles. It was a much appreciated water station. A brief respite followed in the form of a flat-ish track, but the uphill woodland continued shortly after. For me, any form of pride at keeping running had disappeared in the river, so almost all of the uphill climb had been a brisk walk. Then something magical happened.
The terrain started to flatten out, and we were running through bluebell-filled woods. It was twisty and turny, with tree stumps threatening to take people out, but it was beautiful. And flat. Suddenly I had a tiny bit of confidence back, and my outlook changed. The route turned downhill, on the sort of bumpy path that normally freaks me out even walking. But somehow I was running down it. Until it got wet and slippy that is. I pretty much ground to a halt then, and was lucky enough to get words of encouragement from some lovely Axe Valley runners who nearly bumped into me in the process.
From this point on, my memory of the route order gets a little hazy, so while these things all happened they may not be in the right places. Reaching the end of one field provided yet another race-first for me, when I worked out that the arrow was indeed pointing for me to climb over a fence (thankfully a short one!). Running along the edge of crop fields was an enjoyable experience. Hard work though.
One memorable slog uphill was on a farm track. In a fit of optimism I was attempting to run, until I realised that the person in front of me was walking and going faster. Needless to say I followed suit. The second water station was very welcome, and the lovely marshal told me I was welcome to keep walking up the hill with my cup, which suited me well.
Although I knew about the river crossing, there were actually 3 water crossings on the route. The third was my favourite, as the ground was solid either side and the water was clear enough to see the rocks. It was actually uphill just before the water, but I made the effort to run through (ok, so there was a camera). Clearly I got a bit too carried away at the excitement of splashing, as I lost my footing heading up the other side. I successfully broke my fall, although my wrist and elbow spent the next few minutes wishing I hadn’t.
I learned a lot as the race went on. I found myself running downhill on grass – at one point I nearly couldn’t stop for a turning. The sorts of uneven surfaces that had fazed me at the beginning started to feel natural. I even started to get better at working out when to run and when to walk. But my legs really struggled, and I realised that I hadn’t eaten anywhere near enough beforehand.
Turning a corner, I could see the field with the cars in. The target was in sight. Until it got hidden behind the hill. One of those wonderful hills that keeps giving more every time you think you’re approaching the top. But eventually the top was there. Faster runners were heading back to their cars. A few of them stopped to cheer me on, which was very much appreciated.
This just left the short stretch of country lanes to get me back to the barn. The solid, downhill ground, combined with lots of support from faster runners, made for a positive end to a difficult race. Other members of my club were cheering at the final corner, and then the finish funnel appeared. I wasn’t 100% sure exactly where the finish line was, so I kept going until I’d passed all the official looking people.
Someone else was handing out the race mementos – stretchy scarves with the race name on. The barn contained several very cheerful people selling food and drinks. Whoever baked the chocolate brownie was particularly amazing. I joined my fellow club members to cheer other runners home, and to reflect that we didn’t feel cheated at all by the 10k ‘only’ lasting 5.8 miles. That was plenty.
Chard Road Runners should be proud of a wonderfully organised race. Despite the cursing, the legs of lead, and the feelings of inadequacy, I really did enjoy it. Definitely one to put in your calendar for next year,