Brent Knoll: race report

This post originally appeared on Ben’s old blog, Running From the Physio.

In mid-October, I completed my second half-marathon, Exeter’s Great West Run (you can read about how I did here), which was my last major race of the year. However, to end my season, I decided to book in the Brent Knoll race. Brent Knoll is a 137 metres (449 feet) high hill a couple of miles from Burnham-on-Sea. Apparently, one of King Arthur’s knights, “Ider son of Nuth”, went to the hill on a quest to slay three giants. Or so says Wikipedia. While I didn’t spot any giants, I can report that the hill itself certainly felt like a giant one!

The race started at a very sociable time: 11:30. I know that it isn’t really a practical time to start a summer race, but at this time of the year, I certainly appreciated the later start. I travelled up on my own, and didn’t know of anyone else doing the race, but as I was idling around waiting for everything to get going, I heard a cry of “Ben”. I ignored it. Yes, I’m called Ben, and yes, that’s what was shouted, but I just assumed it was for someone else. When the shout was repeated, louder, I decided to pay some attention, and saw Rob, Kerry, Chris, Eliza and Louise from my running club!

Louise, Eliza, Chris and me, looking very
clean prior to the race. (Photo credit: Rob Murr)

After posing for a few photos, we headed off to the start line, where I saw a fellow parkrunner, Andy, and had a quick chat to him. Before we knew it though, the (pretty quiet) announcer at the start called 3-2-1-Go, and we shot off. Knowing that Andy tends to beat me at parkrun, I let him ahead of me, but then stuck pretty close behind him. At least, I did until I saw him hopping out of a muddy puddle: his shoe had come off! The route, which heads out from Burnham to Brent Knoll, is flat for the first mile and a half, which I completed in about 7:30 min/mile. The subsequent mile and a half was done at about 10:50 min/mile. That mile and a half included the two significant hill climbs.

The first climb was the smaller of the two, but the terrain made it, in my opinion, much the harder. It was the slowest part of the race, and there were a couple of points that I was genuinely on my hands and feet, scrambling for some, any, sort of grip. More than once a fistful of grass stopped me from slipping back down the slope. To add to the chaos, everyone had their own idea of which route was the best, and this resulted in mass of bodies all frantically trying to just reach the top. Despite my worries that it would only take one overeager person near the top to slip and take us all out, the climb was eventually completed, and the course levelled back out for a while.

I would love to say that the level section allowed me to regain my energy and breath to attack the second hill. Actually, I just ran like a mad person to try and make up for the “time lost” scrambling up the hill, and as a result I slowed to a walk almost as soon as the second incline began. The footing was much better this time though, and after a while there were even steps. Oh, the luxury. Despite this, no one around me looked to even be contemplating running, and I certainly wasn’t going to be the only idiot! But on reaching the top, the first stride off the step was back into a run. No time to stop and admire the wondrous views, ya know, this is a race!

Okay, I did have a glance around and take in what I could, and it was stunning, but I certainly didn’t have the time to do it justice. A quick half loop of the top, and we were heading back down again. For this section of the race I have to thank the chap in front of me, who demonstrated an effective technique which I shamelessly copied. I’m sure all fell runners are aware of it, but it is essentially to continue to lean slightly forwards, and to zig-zag down the hill. The pair of us passed a number of runners as we descended. In the back of my mind, the next descent was starting to loom large: I’d struggled to scramble up it, how the heck was I going to safely get down it?!

Well, as it turns out, with a commando roll.

My mind began to buzz about the hill as we approached it: I didn’t know how people would be attempting it: crawling back down, scrambling, sliding? It turned out, just running. The runner who was now in front of me (not the downhill expert) lost his footing at one point and slid a couple of metres on his bum, and then in the same place, my foot went completely from under me. I have little recollection of exactly how I rolled, but the mud was on my elbow, back and bum. Thankfully, after one roll I was back on my feet, and still running down the hill at pace. Amazingly too, I’m bruise-free!

With that descent safely (ish) navigated, it was just the level slog back to the start/finish, though by this stage, my legs were feeling decidedly tired! With just over a mile to go I was passed by another runner, and after a short argument, I convinced my legs to speed up a little and keep pace with him. I essentially dragged myself along behind him, and then, like the bastard that I am, I found that little bit extra and passed him in a sprint finish.

In fact, I was then told off by Rob and Kerry, as I’d ruined their photos by running too fast. They suggested that I go back and do the finish again to get better ones. I demurred.

I finished with a time of 51:11, which was probably faster than I was expecting to go, although the conditions were probably better than in the past couple of years, which I’d used as my benchmark for times. Andy came in about a minute after me, having lost his shoe twice more during the race: possibly tighter lacing is needed! I was surprised, but pleased, to receive a finisher’s medal, as I hadn’t seen anything about one in the race information!

So, it might have seemed mad to make my celebratory end of season race a muddy hill climb, but all in all, I had a great time, and will probably be back again next year!