I originally signed up for the Mendip Marauder on 21 September 2018. The race wasn't until 3 August 2019, but I'd seen the medal and I really, really wanted it.
Unfortunately the race was cancelled at the last minute (4 days before the event) due to a road closure which the organisers had only just found out about. Hmm... not great. You'd think race directors might keep an eye on this sort of thing... Apparently both a road and a path were closed and the only possible diversion would add at least six miles to the route. This was deemed not viable so it was cancelled. I wrangled with my non-refundable accommodation, who reluctantly agreed not to charge me.
The rescheduled date was 8 August 2020 - which was towards the end of Covid second wave. Although a few races were running, the logistics of this race made it difficult (including one way coach travel due to the linear route) so fair enough, it was cancelled again.
The re-rescheduled date was 7 August 2021. Yay! Then on 31 July 2021, 8 days before the event, I received an email to say that the race had been substantially changed. Firstly, it no longer started or finished in the same place. I had already booked accommodation in Weston-super-Mare but luckily I could drive to the start, albeit somewhat inconvenient.
Secondly it no longer followed the same route, and now didn't go on the East Mendip Way at all, significantly changing the race to something which no longer resembled the race any of us had signed up for. Luckily for me though, it WAS still in Somerset, so I wasn't particularly fussed.
Thirdly, the new route added an additional 600m of ascent to an already substantial 1100m of ascent, when I am not remotely trained for ascent and my last two races and all my training have been on the flat. Bummer.
I was not particularly impressed with the race organisation by this point, I have to say, but they did seem nice and well-meaning so I just tried to go with the flow. They could definitely take some lessons from the Norfolk race director though. Pretty sure this would never have happened at one of his events!
The day before the race, I drove down to Weston-super-mare. The journey was pretty hideous with driving rain and loads of traffic on the M6 and it took me 3 hours to drive 84 miles. I stopped off near Bristol to see an old friend, Phil, and we had dinner together in a pub off the motorway. I had this delicious and beautiful (but quite small) goats cheese and beetroot linguine:
Afterwards I continued on to Weston-super-Mare. I was staying in a B&B and when I arrived, was delighted to find there was a mini fridge in my room. I decided to go out for a wander, to buy race snacks and have a look round the town and maybe get some chips.
Weston turned out to be a pretty deprived area - at least the bits I saw. It had the air of (very) faded seaside town, with nothing to do and no money invested in it for decades. I saw paralytic teenage girls at 7.30pm, teetering in high heels; overweight parents shouting at their overweight children; a man lurking outside the bookies with the red, puffy look of a heavy drinker. Outside Tesco there was a gang of teenagers with bikes and hoodies with the hoods up. To my surprise, they politely moved out of the way as I approached.
I walked down to the pier, which was closed, and as I crossed towards
it, an older guy on rollerblades skated in front of me. His wheels caught in a patch of loose sand and he tripped. Meanwhile, a man sullenly swept the empty Pier from behind a locked gate. It was a pretty depressing and soulless place. I
tried to imagine growing up here, this being the only world you knew. I
thought grimly of Banksy's Dismaland. It made sense now why he put it here.
Then I drove to Wells, the new start of the race. As I arrived at 09:30, the 50 mile runners were just setting off. I stopped and clapped through the car window until they'd all passed and then made my way in to register. The weather forecast wasn't great but it wasn't raining (yet). I went to the loo and ate a banana and attached my race number.
There seemed to be a lot of Serious Athletes there. You can always tell because Serious Athletes fold their numbers up really small and put them on their legs rather than their t-shirts. And they have lots of expensive kit. And they are Local People who are obviously used to hills compared to my weak Liverpool legs. I felt unfit and unprepared. I was probably going to be last.
The race literally started with a savage uphill that got fiercer as it went on. Just about everyone overtook me immediately and I ended up right at the very back with a couple of girls from Weston who were also walking. I told them I wasn't keen on hills and they laughed. I'd always planned to walk the hills and this was definitely not a hill to kill yourself on.
After ten or so minutes, we reached the top and the views were pretty good. It was spitting with rain but not too bad and I lost the girls as soon as the path evened out as I was a bit faster on the flat.
It was pretty painful as there were splinters in there, which I fished out, and actual blood and everything! It stung but wasn't serious so I just ignored it and kept going (after taking a photo, obviously). I didn't know this then, but it wouldn't be long before I got so soaking wet that there'd be no blood left to see....
Shortly after this, a fast runner came past me in the opposite direction. I was confused - was he lost? He didn't look lost? I tried not to worry about it. Then a few minutes later, another passed me. Then another. I suddenly recalled my friend Emma, who was going to run this race with me last year but had deferred, saying it had changed to an out-and-back course. I'd only looked at the OS map where it wouldn't be obvious. Der! After that, loads of runners came past.
Eventually I got to the turning point, which was virtually completely unmarked but there happened to be a couple of spectators shouting 'turn around!' - hmm! - and I headed back the other way. I passed two or three people behind me and then nothing. Five minutes later, still nothing. I realised I must be right at the back of the race. Virtually last! How had I been overtaken by *everyone* already?
Ten minutes passed. Suddenly runners appeared in the opposite direction. Then more, then even more. There were probably at least 30 people behind me. Later, I started to see the 50 mile runners passing as well. Phew.
I passed the first checkpoint, picking up some Coke and snacks but not stopping for long. I bumped into Mark again - he had taken a wrong turning and done some bonus miles since I last saw him. We carried on together for a while. In places it was pretty muddy:
Eventually we got back up the top of the hill that was at the start of the race. Mark wanted to take a picture of the trig point so I did too. Then I zipped off down the hill. I'm a speed demon downhill and can outrace most people because I have no fear (thanks to the teachings of my old coach Matt Buck - I think of him every time I overtake people on downhills)!
I had to pay for it later with my quads, but there were some REALLY fun downhills in this race.
I ran back past the place where the coach dropped us off and carried on. It was getting rainier now. I don't remember much about this part of the race.
The rain was making the paths muddy and there was mud all up my calves:
By the time I got to the second checkpoint, the rain was torrential. There were a couple (also from Devon) who I kept leap-frogging who arrived around the same time as me. The checkpoint staff were trying to put a gazebo up in absolutely horrific conditions, all the food was getting wet, we were all soaked to the skin despite being fully dressed in waterproofs. I didn't hang around for long. This picture does not in any way depict how bad it was:
Just after this, as I tramped along a rainy road, I saw a big Landrover type car coming towards me. It stopped and I tried to hurry up so they didn't have to wait too long for me to pass. As I approached, I recognised it as one of the aid station volunteers/race staff. He wound down the window. There were three young children in the back. They chorused, "Well done, you're doing great," as I passed which definitely gave me a boost.
A bit further along - I was running along a gorge in heavy rain and realised I'd gone slightly off course. I retraced my steps and bumped into the couple who had also gone the wrong way. Together we picked a route through the woods using my watch and OS maps until we managed to rejoin the path we were meant to be on. I'm pretty sure lots of people got lost there!
Some point around here, I was running along a farm track in absolutely pouring rain. All my clothes were soaked as if I'd got in the shower. I ran past a walker, dressed in waterproofs and wellies, head down battling against the rain. I turned towards her and shouted, "This is my hobby!" She laughed. "I do this for fun!" I shouted over my shoulder before running off down the trail. It amused me, but it was also true. At times, running is bloody awful, but I try to remember that it really is always a choice.
I came across a field of cows. They were blocking the gate I needed to get through. It was annoying because I was wet, getting cold, and didn't have time for this shit. I normally am a bit scared of cows, but I rose up to my full height, held out my arms and shouted, "I am the Cow Commander and I demand that you MOOOOOOOOOVE!"
They did. I plodded onwards. Still it rained.
The path opened out here and became a lot more grassy. I took the photo to show how wet it was, but as usual it's hard to tell.
I got chatting to a couple of lads at one point - one of them had done it
before, in 2018 and was hoping to beat his record but was having issues
- cramp, possibly. The other was a cheerful chappy, happily telling
me about his other mates in the race, quite upbeat despite the weather, clearly having a good time. He told me there was going to be a steep uphill on our left in a minute and low and behold, there it was:
Just after this incident, still needing a wee, I followed the GPX route on my map slightly off the path and across the field. To my surprise, something shot off out of the grass in front of me and I realised immediately it was a hare. I don't remember the last time I saw one - they are pretty rare compared to the ubiquitous bunnies - and it was a real treat.
I continued onwards. This was the last photo I took during the race. It was pretty near the end, I think I had done a marathon by now. The weather had finally dried out and it was actually quite pleasant. Needless to say, I did not get to see the village, the caves, or the inside of the farm shop. Sad face.
Dude Shower", which was like a giant wet wipe. I'd been given it in the goody bag after Chicago marathon and decided now was the time to use it! It was actually pretty cool although somewhat Americanised: "Directions: Grab one, scrub down your face, body, pits and DUDE regions - we suggest in that order". Sorry dudes, but the whole wipe only just about managed to cleanse my calves... need a bigger wipe.
Here is the lovely medal - not as huge as I had imagined but still well worth the wait. I was 31st out of 79 runners in the 30 mile race. Marginally better than my usual middle-of-the-pack position! I finished before Mark, before the couple, and before the lads I was with near the end. Not a bad showing considering my lack of hill training...