Up until 2 weeks ago, I wasn’t going to be doing this race. This would be the 3rd year the race had been run and I had already done the previous 2. The race itself is a charity run organised by the British Heart Foundation.
The reason I found myself running this race at all was down to the fact my wife was injured and unable to run. Since I had just found myself newly uninjured and only 8 weeks left to train for London I thought I’d give it a go. (more importantly it was already paid for)
Considering my poor preparation, I was really hoping for good running conditions. Well the running gods really had a laugh at that and sent down plentiful amounts of wind and rain the night before. At least during the race the rain had ceased and we only had the wind to contend with.
So to the race itself. The British Heart Foundation bill the race as:
“Take on 13.1 miles across muddy off-road tracks and steep forest inclines, all set within the stunning grounds of Yorkshire’s historic Harewood House.”
and to be fair this is a pretty accurate description.
As I’ve already mentioned, the race is in its 3rd year, however this year saw the addition of a 10k race which would start 30 minutes after the half marathon. I wasn’t too keen about this as I figured that would just increase numbers trying to enter and exit the grounds at Harewood House which was already a pain when just the Half Marathon is run.
I arrived at 08:55 (Start due at 10:00) to find cars already queuing out of the entrance and into the traffic lights outside. After sitting at said traffic lights whilst they changed from Red to Green and back again a couple of times I managed to squeeze the car into the grounds. To be fair, once into the grounds the marshals did a great job directing traffic towards the fields set aside for parking.
Once the car was left in the car park (muddy field) it was off to race HQ to transfer my wife’s number to myself. There was a short queue at registration and after 10 minutes I was good to go.
Next stop, find a toilet. As anyone who has done a race in the past knows, the availability of toilets / porta loos rates high on the list of things to make pre-race as comfortable as possible. I was surprised to find that the number of porta loos appeared about the same or maybe even less than in previous years and considering the addition of the 10k runners that seemed bonkers. Maybe the organisers were penny pinching (even more evidence of that later). Due to this, unsurprisingly, the queues were pretty damn long. This is really one of those times when being male is a relief (literally) and there were plenty of males to be seen scurrying around the tree lines! At least it made the queues shorter for the ladies 😉
Next, to pick up my race T-Shirt. The organisers ask that runners collect their T-Shirts prior to running and actually wear them for the race. On my way to pick up my T-Shirt I passed by the “Bag Drop”. This consisted of a cordoned off area about 10 meters’ square along with a sign saying that bags were left at the owners’ risk! I couldn’t see any marshal or volunteer anywhere near the place. As well as looking like an all you can steal buffet for thieves the area was open to the elements. Admittedly, this could well be put down to the high winds and any gazebo would most likely end up in Harrogate.
I now have my T-Shirt and race number firmly attached, I guess I should actually run the thing, so it’s off to the start. As is usual for many of these events, there are no indications of where people of differing paces should position themselves so the result is first come end up right at the front. This didn’t bother me as the shape I am in, I was more than happy to hang back. So, onto the race itself.
The first half mile is along a firm (if narrow) track which is pretty much flat. Due to the sheer numbers this was covered at more of a shuffle than a run trying not to step on anyone or be stepped on. We then turn onto a tarmac road which continues for about a mile of lovely downhill. This is one of the wider parts of the course and sure enough, there were loads of people flying off down the sides overtaking huge numbers of runners. Many of whom would regret it later. Issac Newton Up and Down and all that to consider. That glorious piece of tarmac was as good as it was going to get.
Once we had reached the bottom of the hill it was onto uneven, muddy, wet undulating trail. the real work was now beginning. After an uncomfortable uphill section, we broke out into fields and then proceeded to follow the route to a very steep downhill section. Most people appeared to be sensibly picking a safe route down. I knew better, arms out flailing, and let gravity take the strain. This worked for me up to a point when near the bottom my footing slipped in the mud and I let out a rather girly yelp as if that would keep me on my feet. Maybe it did as I (Just) managed to avoid a landing on my backside.
I continued on my merry way to clock up 4 miles. We then enter woodland again where the track narrows and makes overtaking nigh on impossible. On the plus side, you don’t get overtaken either! not that it really mattered here. The next stretch of trail has its own strava segment very accurately named “The Harewood Hill of Pain” I think that sums it up quite well! Lots of swearing going on around me.
The route continued through pleasant, if a bit wet and muddy woodland. I kind of zoned out at this point, plodding slowly uphill and slipping downhill slightly faster. I noticed 6 and a half miles come up on the Garmin and then Jon Bon Jovi intruded into my thoughts with “We’re half way there! Livin on a Prayer”. He didn’t leave for some time and became quite annoying.
Miles 8 – 10 were only memorable for how dull they were and how much of a slog it is through open fields after a lot of rain has fallen and the wind is trying to take you off your feet. The route just wound through fields and at one point ran along the bottom edge of the field, then up the side, before joining a path to go back along the top. Organisers certainly got their monies worth out of that field!
After this Mile 11 was a very welcome change of scenery. Back into wooded, muddy trails and I think it may even have been slightly downhill. That trail came to an end and whilst the 10k runners were waved on towards the finish, the half marathon runners were directed into another field and straight into a 20mph head wind. Just what you need after the previous 11-12 miles of hard graft.
It was whilst slogging my way through this latest boggy field that 2 guys overtook me chatting away about steel toe capped boots and health and safety nannying. If I could have found the breath to tell them, I would have accused them of not trying hard enough.
Half a mile to go and we finally hit another trail which turned up (yet another) hill towards the House and the finish line. I was really struggling at this point and was just looking forward to getting across the line and stopping. I was also feeling very hungry and was hoping for a goody bag full of food and drink.
So, top of the hill is reached and it’s the last 200 meters across the grass / mud in front of the house to the finish line. We cross the line exhausted (apart from the steel toe capped guys who were obviously just out for a stroll) and gratefully receive our finishers goodies. Only we didn’t 🙁 We were each given a finishers medal which didn’t even say if you’d done the half marathon or the 10k and a bottle of water! not even an energy drink or bar of chocolate!
My lasting thoughts of the day were of the organisers being a bit cheap. The lack of toilets, descent medal and a bit of energy type food at the end when entry fee was £30 for the half and £24 for the 10k was a bit of a poor deal. That said, it is a charity race and every penny that save will go to that charity. However, it may result in less people wanting to repeat the race next year.
So that was it. Just a 25 minute 5-mile detour around the grounds and surrounding roads to get back home.
Just need someone to clean the mud out of the shower now.
The above may (probably does) all sound very negative and give you an impression this is a race to pass on. I think that would be a bit harsh, much of my moaning was probably down to my lack of fitness and therefore increased suffering around the course. If you fancy a challenge of a tough (but rewarding) trail Half Marathon at a time of year when conditions can really play a significant role in how the run pans out then I’d definitely recommend it.
Written by Mark George.