Intro by Sue Mackie
A few virtual races have popped up since lockdown, but none have appealed, mostly because I was down to run the actual version and a virtual one didn’t appeal. This offering by INOV8 was different. We had entered the race with my in-laws and our assorted off-spring some years ago to mark Dave’s 40th, it almost felt like a return ‘home’ and involved a voluntary donation to some local (to my mum) charities. We decided on a virtual 18km distance and printed off our Race Numbers – no chip timing here, so like a proper fell-race.
The INOV8 ambassadors for the actual event were scheduled to have been local boy Damian Hall and ultra running queen Nicky Spinks. There was a fancy dress element so we decided on the alter-egos Damian Fall and Nicky Slinks. The RD had mapped a lumpy course which appeared to be devoid of any flat, and after a bit more time faffing I left the house around 10 as my alter-ego, Nicky Slinks, who I had developed an entire back-story for and who will take over the narration from this point….
Damian Fall has kindly invited me to have a crack at some of the hills in this gentle rolling Wiltshire countryside, to be honest I wasn’t expecting weather quite this warm – but he has given me a head-start and pointers as to where the nav may be a bit tricky. I’m also on the hunt for some cows.
At this point the RD’s warnings about unknown paths sprang to mind, so I stopped clarting about with the cows and started to concentrate. A track up on the right, that I’d never been along before had a gate, but the snicket was rusted shut so I spent time trying to rattle it open and then realised that it had a stile adjacent! I came out into a field that was steeper (and warmer) than I expected, which led me onto a side road through Colerne.
Colerne felt like an RD headquarters – there was bunting strung all around it and even an event ambulance.
I then got an inkling of why the RD had made the route go up here and enjoyed a spectacular view back down the valley into Box. At least I think that’s why I am grinning like a Cheshire Cat, that or heat exhaustion.
A km or so along the ridge running parallel to Bybrook Valley saw tremendous views and then turned left and started a lovely trot downhill. Partway down the ‘the obvious path turns left, but you need to go straight on’ advice caught me up and I stopped to check the map. ‘Bugger’ that lovely downhill stretch had to be repeated back up, or else I would miss a large loop off the course. I checked the map, but it was the quickest way to correct my error. As I reached the apex I saw Damian Fall hove into view. We swiftly exchanged pleasantries and I followed him, which was fortunate, as this next section involved trods across grassy slopes, numerous twists and turns, in short a tactical decision to follow! I stopped taking photos at this point to try and keep in view of Damo Fall and managed for a couple of km or so, then a steep up, sharp right and descent through scrubby woodland saw me catch a last glimpse of him shooting up a hill.
It was odd in that in most fell-races I start with the pack and rapidly lose them (as they are of fleeter foot) and have to rely on my own navigation, this time for the tricky ‘middle section’ I had company for it. I followed the farm track round and realised I’d made the mistake that I often do if I have been following someone and not checking the map at an obvious point. Backtrack. I needed to concentrate for the last few km.
The RD in his wisdom had chosen a stream rather than an actual path to follow, It looked a bit like a path, but not enough. I decided the road was a better option.
I trod through and across some nondescript fields that seemed to have dead crows tied around posts as footpath markers saw me glance up to the right at what looked at first like a pack of labradoodles with ridiculously long necks, and I realised they were llama/alpaca type things. I got a wave from up the hill and continued round onto more familiar territory, along Bybrook valley through the outskirts of Box – the flattest part of the course.
I was doing the maths, it had to be about 2km to the end, with ‘additions’ I didn’t need to do the extra out and back to Saltbox farm, I could just head straight up the hill. A quick check of my Garmin and the map and by my calculation I’d be just over 18km. Result. Taking a fell racers approach, I’d covered the checkpoint, distance and elevation, I could do a direct route straight up Hall’s hill to the end. Quick stop for a final Selfie at the bottom of ‘Halls Hill’ for my favourite, an ‘Uphill Finish.’
Damo Fall was sat waiting for me, beer primed.
Footnote: That was my second fastest time up Hall’s Hill. I currently hold top lady, of 8. I think the first time I may have been running away from some frisky young Fresian bullocks – but don’t let that put you off.