Now I'm no pussy, but when a field of 30 cows start charging at you down a hill you have to get out of there quickly right? I saw a few of them look interested in my confused look as I tried to find a path in a field. It does not look like I have to climb this gate but this fairly macro map just has a straight line and running in a straight line leads me to this gate. I start to head back and the cows (I later found out they were called "Bullocks" which I think means teenage boy cows") all started to face me. One started to walk towards me, then another and another. One broke into a run, then another and then like sheep (just to confuse the situation) they all started running at me.
I know people say they will only bother you if you have a dog or they have calves blah blah but I felt like I had no choice but to leg it over the gate that I knew was the wrong way and then watch helplessly as these animals assembled against the gate and looked menacingly at me. I looked at these delicious hulks of rump and sirloin steak and asked myself "what have I ever done to them?"
Actually I am a bit of a pussy.
Across the top of the field I saw a couple of runners heading in a different direction to what I did, a simple right turn I missed and they seemed to follow quite easily. In normal circumstances I might be a little annoyed at losing some time and losing a couple of places in a race, but that was not the issue here. I was NOT in the race, I was supposed to be out ahead of all these guys marking the route with glow sticks. Shit. My only hope was that the sun would not set tonight.
I was out helping out a friend in his first go at organising an ultramarathon. He mentioned almost a year ago about wanting to put on a 100k race along one of the most beautiful sections of countryside in England. I certainly could not argue with that, the small sections I ran were pretty stunning. It was amazing to see just how much work Matt had put into this race, organising volunteers, getting the T-shirts made, recceing the route, getting permissions, getting maps, buying food and no doubt answering all the inane questions that come with organising a race such as "what flavour crisps will you have" and "will there be any psychotic cows on the route?" I was really keen to help and for the race to be a success.
It started well, despite the weather. It had been raining all week and rained at the start for the early starters who may take upto 15 hours to complete the 100k. Matt wanted to be as inclusive as possible and so had two starts, about 20 heading off at 7.15 and then another 70 or so at 9.15. This start would have been ealier had the train companies not decided at the last minute to put on enginieering works making it difficult for many to get to the start. I was stationed at the first checkpoint about 12 miles in and then was "floating" for the rest of the race.
The runners came through the 12 mile point in good spirits, only one had got significantly lost and no one was really pushing the cut-offs at that stage. Sam Robson was leading at that stage and looking comfortable. The checkpoint captain was Bruce Wright who was a keen ultra runner and who's first ultra was the same as mine, the old Tring to Town race. We felt like old timers on the ultra scene. We ended up waiting for quite a while as we thought there were still three runners to come in but discovered that these hadn't actually started so we were fine to pack up. We'd heard that the sweeper had not shown up so Matt has to use his right hand man to sweep up which put him in a bit of a spot. I said I was happy to sweep some of the course if needed and he said that I could put glowsticks out for the last 12 miles.
Oh dear, this was a big responsibility, more than pouring cups of coke and repeatedly saying "you are doing really well"
We went to the 50 mile point where there is a really nice pub serving really nice food. The course was not as fast as people expected and although the CP was there from 2 is was not until 5 that the first runners came through. Sam had stomach problems and had dropped back a bit but was determined to finish. I left at 6 to give me about 2 hours to cover the 12 miles I needed to in glow sticks. About 6 runners went ahead who were likely to finish comfortaly in the light.
The first couple of miles went well, along and out of the lovely little villiage of Stoke-By-Nayland. It was as soon as I hit a ploughed field and was not sure on a direction to take. If I were in the race I would have taken the path where there was an arrow pointing (not for the SVP but for another path). I thought it would be a god idea to at least eliminate the possibility that the gate opposite the field was the correct direction. That's when the bullocks charged.
It didn't help that when texting my wife I said that I had been been chased out of a field by a load of boys. Damn autocorrect. Not sure what she would have thought on first reading of that message. I did think of the embarrasment of maybe having to be rescued from a field of cows. At least this didn't happen.
I thought it would be quite a funny story that the guy who was only supposed to put out 12 miles worth of glow sticks would be the one to need rescuing. I managed to man up a bit and re-enter the field, clapping loudly and marching towards the delicious livestock. They retreated quite happiliy and I was on my way, rejoining the other runners.
I soon caught up with Sam who was still running strong. It felt novel finding it easy to overtake anyone in the race. This section I heard contained a few more hills that most others. The overall route is pretty flat. I decided to just jog along with Sam to the end. Unfortunately I was now way behind where I thought I would be, I spent an hour wandering around those fields and getting trapped by cows so it was getting dark already. Not only that but I discovered that I must have dropped a lot of glow sticks as I suddenly only had a few left. I was going to run out by the next CP which was about 5 miles to go.
I thought about rationing them but I thought about how the runners would deal with these psychologically. By putting glow sticks down I have set an expectation that there will be some. There are two types of glow stick/marker. One is to tell you the correct direction and should be placed where there might be some doubt such as a junction or across a field. The second type is the "reassurance" glowstick which does not come at a turning but along a straight bit just to reassure that runners are going the right way. I figured it would be best to just use up most of the glow sticks on this section and warn runners that there would be none on the next and hopefully that would be easy to navigate as it is all on the river.
The section seemed longer than the 7 miles stated and it was dark by the time we got there. I attached a glow stick to a fence and with a big jolt through my arm it confirmed that it was an electric fence.
Getting chased by cows and getting electrocuted, this is turning out to be quite an eventful little run.
I arrived at the last CP and said there was no point me going on as I had no sticks left and instead headed to the finish to see Matt and the runners come through. Sam didn't take long at all on that section which apparently was quite hard to navigate. I saw a number of other runners finish too including Richard Cranswick who will be running a self supported LEJOG run next year.
It was great to see that the event went well and that Matt was keen to learn any lessons he could about organising events to make the event even better next year. From what I heard from all the runners it was very well organised, well stocked check points, lovely scenery, not too hilly, really friendly people and not too difficult to navigate.
Oh and the T Shirt is really good.