Apologies for the late write up, this was a while back...
Over summer on the first Saturday of every month Orion Harriers AC run a series of five mile races through Epping Forest. At only £15 for the whole series it's incredible value and at 5miles it seemed like a pretty good race just to slot into the calendar. I'd missed the first one so I joined for number two on 2nd July 2016. On the way to the race I suddenly got a big attack of nerves. I'd run serious bonus miles that week and wanted to make sure I didn't use it as an excuse and BenFP had set me a challenge of placing top 20 and ideally first female. Plus, I'd heard tell of mud and hills (both of which were actually not that bad). This was only my second off road race and I suspected that it was going to be a touch more competitive.
The Orion Harriers' clubhouse is brilliant, with lovely changing rooms, showers and a little cafe but the pre-race chat insisde it was a little intimidating, with lots of ladies talking about how they'd just run the Harry Hawkes 10 in 60minutes . We walked over to the start of the race at the edge of Epping forest and as we stood waiting I noticed a worrying amount of club vests on show. People seemed to be in little groups and chatting to each other but I needed something to take my mind off things so I tried to make conversation with those around me and one lady have me a great tip to look out for the sawdust which marked the route. This was to prove very useful.
The race starts up a hill, then rounds into the forest on gravelly paths, across fields with boggy patches, back on to paths and then finishes across a field and back down the starting hill. I'd been reading "The Art of Running Faster" (get it, it's brilliant) where the author talks about running cross country and how you race against other runners rather than time. This was going to be a watch-off, brain-on kind of race.
I found the grassy uphill at the start expectedly hard going but managed to pick up as we came over the brow and down the other side. As we reached a boggier part of the route I started to hear what sounded like female breathing behind me and as the inexperienced off-roader I got overtaken as I slowed down to steady myself and keep to the edge of the sliperry and somewhat pungent puddles.
I made a mental note to plough straight through the next time and oh my, what fun it was. When else in adult life do you have free reign to go flying through mud and water, arms flailing and not a care in the world? This was fun. Back to the words from the book, I recalled how the writer explains that you have to know how to play to your strengths, attack when you're in the strongest place and really commit. I figured that if I could hold close until we got to firmer ground, that would be the time to make my move. The firmer ground turned out to be a slight uphill but it was time to commit. I kicked in and managed to edge past the lady (a brilliant runner and really lovely to chat to afterwards). Now I just had to keep ahead and keep trying to extend the lead before we hit more off-road. Through the forest I found myself running solo and grateful for the earlier sawdust tip. Back into the squelch, shoes fully submerged and having to slow down big time the route opened out to show those ahead. Things seemed to be going well until we came to the final field. The flat but spongey grass sucked away the energy from my legs and I was glad I'd taken the risk to open up as much of a lead as possible earlier on. I was sure that the lady would be on my tail any second so I was glad to see that we were near the end. I tried my hardest to catch the guys ahead as we hit the final downhill but couldn't quite make it. I finished in 21st place overall, 1st female in 33:53 and very muddy, smelly and happy. I can't wait to go back for the next one.