As you know, about a month ago I popped my cherry at trail running, that stupid past-time that involves running routes more sane people avoid like the plague. Having learnt not a thing, this weekend I did another one, this one called the Grim Challenge.
Even worse, this time I talked a friend into doing it too... a lad called Benjie from the gym. We've been training together for the Reading Half-Marathon, and theres a (probably unhealthy) amount of competitive spirit going on, as we have PB's within seconds of each other. I'll win, of course... We'd given ourselves target times of about 1 hour 10 - 1 hour 15 for the Grim, based on previous years results. I'd also said I wanted to try and get in the top 10% of finishers (I'm a bit competitive you see, and I like to have targets that include beating other people).
On Saturday, the two of us headed down to Aldershot Army camp for an 8-mile jaunt through the forest and vehicle training sections. The Grim has a good reputation for organisation, and this was quickly shown as we were parked up within about 5 minutes of arriving, and the race started promply at 10.30am (races starting on time is a rare event...the logisitics of getting thousands of runners and spectators to remote areas, along with parking, changing areas, numerous issues with lost and missing numbers and race chips typically screws up the best laid plans). We started of about a third of the way down the field, and quickly regretted it as the first ten minutes was spent weaving and pushing through slower runners to reach clear space and match pace with those around us. I lost Benjie here, and didn't see him again until the end, though he saw me a couple of times on switchbacks along the route.
The Grim is nowhere near as steeply hilly as Hellrunner was, so I was able to keep up a good pace throughout. The first couple of miles was uphill along scrubland and forest tracks, interspersed with knee deep pools, a small stream ravine that had to be negotiated and a cargo net to get under (not crawling fortunately). The regular soaking meant your legs never got truely warm, and my feet were wet and numb throughout the race. I continued to move up the field, and by the time I reached halfway (and the traditional water stop) I was away from the main group, and seeing the same faces around me. After 5 miles the course went onto a forest track for a couple of miles with a gentle uphill incline, and this is where I really started to lose energy. I'd surprised myself by hitting 5 miles with 36 minutes on my watch. It's been pointed out that when I run I'm a bit like a dog with cars, and tend to chase people down. I used this to keep my pace up throughout this bit, and apart from a short, vicious stitch at about 6Â½ miles (which needed a quick walk and breather to clear) I managed to hold my place.
The last mile was a downhill into the start/finish arena, then down a tank path with some really deep pools, then a loop round into the final "crater" of water, with the finish line on the other side. I generously allowed another runner to guide me through the tank path pools, before overtaking him when he found a nice deep point, then put my head down and did the lap to the crater, then picked up a few more places through the water before hauling myself over the line with 1 hour and 8 seconds showing on my watch, with an official time of about hour 1 minute. Benjie came in about 3 minutes behind me, which given it was his first off-road run ever is fairly impressive...
...so where did we finish? Well, the results came out today, and out of 1560 finishers I placed 43rd, and Benjie came 88th. We blew our own targets out of the water, and will probably be insufferable for the next few days (me moreso, as naturally I won), and we also reckon we'd have done better if we'd started further up the field, as we lost about 30-40 seconds getting to the line, and also lost time moving up the field for the first couple of miles... It was another great day, and we really lucked out on the weather (the race was run on the Saturday and Sunday, and Sundays weather was atrocious...). We now both have to get down to training for the half in March, but we'll both be keeping an eye out for more trail runs, as they are a good laugh (despite some of the expressions in the photos!).