I entered this race to raise some money for Macmillan Cancer Support: a good cause, and also to raise the spirits of a relative who is seriously ill. I had never entered a “Challenge” race before – for the uninitiated, this generally means a vicious route, involving obstacles, mud and anything else the organisers can throw at you. In this respect, the Belvoir Challenge certainly lived up to its name.
The start was much like any other race – around 1,000 runners (with a preponderance of running clubs, from Newark, Lincoln, Nottingham, Grimsby . . .) gathered in the village hall to register and receive their race numbers. One difference was the number of cakes on offer and the start itself – a sign pointed to “Start in field”.
As soon as my feet sank into the rich, clay loam that makes the area around Melton Mowbray such good agricultural land, I realised what I was letting myself in for. Soon, a giant slipper of sticky soil was glued to each foot, making traction almost impossible. We trudged, staggered and slipped our way through field, after field, after field – I commented that you don’t need running shoes for this, skis would be a better option!
After five miles, came the biggest climb of the course – in total it involved 1,200 feet of climbs and descents – a brutal hill, involving clambering up the last section on hands and feet, using tree stumps to get some sort of traction. At least this was near the beginning, so we had some time to recover. The views across the Wolds made up for this ascent, however, with spectacular scenery – you could see the town of Grantham in the far distance and we had some respite as we ploughed our way through some relative wooded footpaths.
Soon, it was back to muddy fields, though – now with the added problem of a chill easterly wind in our faces, and driving rain. At least there was no danger of overheating. We had a welcome stop at the 18 mile mark, at the hamlet of Woolsthorpe – Stilton and crackers were on offer, and there was even the option of turning into the hall for some hot food. I wanted to push on, though, so wiped my muddy hands with antibacterial gel and a cloth, grabbed a homemade flapjack and a drink of orange squash and continued.
Turning the corner, the next stop was at Croxton Kerrial, where a friend of mine runs a pub (the Geese and Fountain). Knowing this was the only chance I was going to get to catch up with him, we had a brief discussion on the chances of Leicester City staying up and whether or not they should have sacked Ranieri, before reluctantly I said goodbye to the inviting warm interior, the pool table, dart board and range of real ales and turned once more into the wind and rain.
The route then took us through more muddy fields, more woodland paths and more twisty lanes – the last six miles took an eternity and I was definitely tiring by now. I passed another friend who was walking the 15 mile version of the course, who commented that I was on “top form” – appearances can be deceptive, as I willed my muscles to keep going and repeated a mantra of, “Not far now, you can do it” to myself. Soon, my energy reserves drained, I struggled through the last lanes back to Harby Village Hall and a welcoming bowl of tomato soup and rhubarb crumble, which might as well have been cooked by a Michelin-starred chef, they tasted so good.
My time was 5hrs 20minutes, which I was pleased with, this being my first challenge race, and having to negotiate countless stiles, the occasional electric fence, a road which promptly turned into a stream we had to ford, and seemingly endless muddy swamps.
I would recommend anyone to have a go and enter it!