Yesterday 25 or more Serpies tried their best to miss the start of a race that was unlike any other normally done by club members. No mile markers? No chip timing? No marked route? Mud? 50k??? Surely this is bad for the clubs reputation to be seen here doing this kind of madness?
The event was the Gatliff 50k, a Long Distance Walkers event that runners are allowed to tag onto. Every year there is the promise of mud and cake, terrible rain and wobbly stiles. The small town of Edenbridge swelled with the arrival of so many Londoners. 24 made the 38 second connecting train at Redhill, one missed it and got a taxi instead. We arrived to a general look of suspicion. "Serpentine? What are you all doing here? Can't you see it's raining? – you should all be indoors, on a turbo trainer."
"How do you know we are from London"? we said. We were easy to spot, 80% of us were wearing running shoes in pristine condition. "Those things have never been off the treadmill" they said. "Where we come from if you turn up to a run with shoes like that you are made to drink beer out of them, but I can see you are clearly more of a mojito man".
It started well. Knee high puddles in muddy fields meant we had to meander around to try and keep dry. One thing a Londoner should not have to tolerate is wet feet. However any suggestion that we were going to stay dry quickly evaporated, unlike the water on the path.
Paths turned to streams and streams turned to rivers as we struggled up and down hills. The grass turned to mud and the regular mud turned to that horrible clay mud that sticks to your feet and forces you to snowball more mud. The water was icy and freezing our feet as we complained about the lack of tube coverage in the area.
The reason (I think) why so many turned out for this was the promise of huge amounts of cake. Siobhan Reddy was quick to complain in capital style "Where is the cake? I've not even seen a Starbucks yet? How am I supposed to cope with this?" The first couple of checkpoints had little food, only juice and biscuits.
Onwards into the rain and mud and more Serpies showed their true Southern Softy colours. Claire Levermore would let out a high pitched wail every time there was a puddle with true London spirit. This noise would often attract several Rottweilers and she and Marianna would freeze, huddle together and scream. Jany would then show her fellow city dwellers up by standing up to the canine aggressors and assertively shooing them away.
It took 4 hours to cover 24k, less than half of the distance. A quick calculation meant that to finish we'd be running in the dark for about 2 hours. There were several more ahead of us, doing the club a disservice by making such quick progress along a surface that wasn't tarmac. However the 15 Serpies, while gorging on soup and sausage rolls, quicker than you could say "skinny Latte" almost all decided that bailing was the best thing to do.
Jo Proudlove and Jany Tsai bucked the trend and brought more shame on the club by carrying on in the rain and mud. What were they thinking? We should not suffer rain and mud, we are from London dammit. Leave those horrid peasants to slide around in fields and trails instead.
The true heroes of the day and those that represent the club and city best were those who legged it for the taxies at half way. Gus Searcy was possibly the most heroic, upon seeing a TV crew chasing him to immortalise his DNF he sprinted for the first available lift home, covering his face with his rain battered route description.
As this was happening there were 5 Serpies keen to give an false inpression of residents of the smoke and actually have a go at finishing the run. Nick Copas, Jon Hoo and Mark Braley were steaming through at a fast pace. Jono, to be fair tried to bring some credibility to the club by attempting to drown in a water filled ditch. Nick did the proper London thing of noticing but not helping (while laughing). Mark deviated from his zone 1 roots and cowardly pulled Jono from certain death.
Dan De Belder and Martin Cooper were also in poor form, having the audacity of preparing better and starting earlier. They both finished well under 8 hours. Jono was the quickest serpie in 6 hours, Nick managed 6.01 and Mark was a few minutes after. Jo and Jany struggled on into the dark and also brought shame to the female half of the club by finishing such a tough run. Serpie ladies exist to look nice, bake cakes for the boys and run the occasional 10k or half marathon. They certainly shouldn't be travelling outside the M25 and upstaging the men of the club when they really could make better use of their time by buying a nice dress for next week.
Alex Pearson was also intent on destroying our clubs road running credentials by completing the 50k mud slide. Rumour has it he did the entire thing grinning like a country simpleton. It's a disgrace.
So, hats off to the bailers, Mark Bell, Siobhan Reddy, Claire Levermore, Claire Imrie, Angus Searcy, Jen Bradley, Gemma Greenwood, Paula Redmond, Lula Rosso, Marianna Ivantsoff and Sam Ludlow. The southern softie award goes to Angus, his sprint for the taxi was the only proper running any of us saw all day. A special mention to Rob Westaway who got everyone into this in the first place then failed to make the start line, even though there was a birthday cake waiting for him. A wise move. The cake will instead be used for Andy Taylor's birthday on Tuesday (just don't tell him).
Commiserations (and derision) to Jon Hoo, Nick Copas, Mark Braley, Jany Tsai, Jo Proudlove, Dan De Belder, Martin Cooper and Alex Pearson for scandalously finishing such a pointless exercise. On leaving to catch our train back to civilisation we were greeted by some of the 50k finishers from the country. They all knew about the Serpentine capitulation and reassured us with some comforting words - "I hear there is a 5 mile run around some roads in Perivale next week, perhaps that is more your thing, I reckon more of you could finish that one".
There were 10 Serpies who were trying to lose their ultra virginity today. All but Jono and Nick were left feeling high and dry (or should that be low and wet?) Finish or not everyone was left feeling pretty dirty.
The official Big Southern Softie Rematch will take place at the Tanners 30 on Jan 10th. For those of you who shamed yourself today there is a chance to redeem yourself and tear up your finishers certificate as you sobbingly crawl into a taxi. Otherwise, you could always do the unthinkable...