Meon Valley Plod 21 miles 10/02/2013 10:30 start
The weather forecast was not good, but we are hard core GRR’s we are not fair weather runners, so 15 of us turned up for the Meon Valley Plod on a cold, wet Sunday in February. I had not done this race before but I was convinced to enter it by Jennifer Desmoulins who said it was her favourite race. She also convinced Ian Pugh to do it by promising sunshine. Outcome? Never trust an American. I arrived early and met up with Sharon, Andy, Steve, Sylvia, Kellee and Mike all fellow GRR’s. We went in to race headquarters which doubles as a scout hut but it was very crowded in there. This race has a limit of 350 but you could fit maybe 100 in the scout hut But nobody wanted to be outside. The rain had started. And it was very cold.
In the hut they were serving teas and coffee but as they had asked us to arrive by 9:00am for a 10:30 start I just wanted a bit of peace and quiet so I went back to my car to get ready there. At around 10:00 I went back into the hut to meet up with everyone else and everyone was getting worried about the state of the course, The organisers had said it was in the worst condition for 30 years! And there was no sign of a let up in the weather. We all looked at Luke Willis, one of our speedy runners, in just his vest and shorts and well, we all told him!
There was a quick briefing, manly for spectators trying to follow us around the course then we went outside to wait for the off. I was running with Jo Oakes, a seasoned ultra runner and Jennifer who was just coming back from injury so we decided to set off at a slow steady pace. This is not a “race” at the best of times. More an “endurance” event so we were not worried about time but I had it in my head to try and stick to maybe 5 miles an hour. That proved to be ambitious.
The first mile or so is up hill, then we ran across some fields, through a farm or two and at around 3 miles we hit our first Big Hill. Walking time. We plodded up the hill and turned left into a very strong headwind. The wind chill was very strong up there but it didn’t last long and after a while we were heading back downhill. I looked at my watch and saw that we had done the first 4 miles in 50 minutes. And I knew then that this would be a day for just finishing. Jen’s friend Matt was cycling around the course and met us at 3 miles, then again at 5. But by this time he was freezing and had to say that he couldn’t carry on supporting us as it was so cold.
At 6 miles or so there was another big hill immediately flowed by a punishing downhill sort of sideways across a field. You couldn’t get any pace up or let gravity take you because it was very slippy. You had to run with the breaks on which was hurting Jen a lot. We then ran through a stretch of forest with some “interesting” puddles. You didn’t know if they were ankle deep or thigh deep. Only one way to find because you couldn’t avoid them!
At about the 8 or 9 mile point Jen decided enough was enough. The pain in her knee, the cold and a stomach problem all contrived to convince her to pull out. Luckily GRR supporter Steve Cawte was on hand with his car available to take her back. As it turns out she wasn’t the only one that day to decide to pull out. Around 90 of the starters that day were beaten by either injury, the course or the weather.
I carried on and after another up and over we found ourselves treading through knee deep mud behind the back of a church. This section was hard to walk along let alone try to run. The then followed a brutal up hill and another face slapping wind chill. The best decision I made that day was to wear a buff snood. It is great for just pulling up over your face to keep the wind off for a while.
There then followed a little section on road through a village but even the roads were flooded so the was no respite for your sodden feet. We then went down a very tight path which was like running down a rocky waterfall! Oh and then running back up a rocky waterfall!
It was at about the 17 mile point that the race director decided to send us up Butser Hill. The back way. It was a very steep, awkward path to negotiate luckily there was a wire fence to help pull yourself up. At the top there was a water station which was providing teas and coffees along with cake, bananas etc. but at this point I just wanted to finish so I carried on. A lovely long downhill run on road then followed but just when you thought the worst was over we were sent up another hill and through another muddy forest.
We came out of the forest and could see Clanfield in the near distance but before we could get there we had to cross one more muddy, swampy field. At the end of the field we turned left up one last hill before turning into the finish. I crossed the line in 4:35 a little outside my anticipated time, but as I said all thoughts of time went out of the window very early on.
I got back to my car and tried to get my wet stuff off and change into dry clothing but I was finding hard to get my fingers to move! I eventually managed to get changed and went into the scout hut to try to warm up with some soup. I met up with Jen and Matt, fellow GRR’s Pete Hewitt and Colin Gardener were there too and they told me Ian had finished but Luke had had to pull out. Jo Mcbride was there too, she had had to pull out at 14 miles after going head first into one of the bigger puddles! Jo and Michelle Hayes another ultra marathoner turned up soon after and they both said that they had never been so cold or run on such a tough course.
We at GRR are very sociable and very supporting and we usually wait to see all of us back in, but I just couldn’t get warm and I was very tired so I had to apologise and head home in my car. What I missed at the end was the organisers awarding our ladies first prize in the team event. A magnificent achievement.
Would I do it again? Yes. It was so tough but very rewarding. The weather really didn’t help but you need to dress for the occasion. Also, you have to get used to running those hills and running off road. It is so different to running on the road. And the scenery up there is spectacular, you just have to earn the right to see it.