The Maverick Original is a series of trail events hosted around the UK that I had only recently come across. Just in time for the end of the season I made my way out to Groombridge Place and the Kent event. The race offered three distances, short (7km), medium (14km) and long (21k), not calling myself much of a distance runner, I decided that I should challenge myself a bit and signed up for the 14km one.
Turning up on race day, I look around at the other participants. There aren't many people in club or charity tops, but many more in various trail jackets and a range of "I'm attached to my backpack" looks. The event is dog friendly and the runners with four legged friends come well prepared with a harness rather than just a regular lead. Regulars? Plenty. They have a season pass for a reason.
As we prepare for start, they make us form two lines. All distances start from the same place, at the same time but the long distance then immediately take a left turn whilst medium and short peel off to throw right. We're informed that anyone who wants to race for a time should make it up to the front as the path quickly gets narrow and overtaking opportunities may be restricted. To my surprise, a lot of people still hang back, being there for the joy of running the trail more than hitting a time.
The cow bell rings and we're off. Staying true to my race habit (not necessarily a good one), I set off at a pace I know I won't be able to maintain for the whole route, hoping to get some space to find my rhythm later. After about 100m, we're faced with the first bottleneck: a cow gate. It is a trail race and noting to be surprised about, but I'm glad that my quick start means the queue is shorter than for those further back. Obviously there wasn’t going to be only one and for the first kilometer there’s probably four or five. People and dogs gradually perfect their crossing to make the race flow as much as possible.
The last few days before the race had been wet enough for the ground to be properly soft and my shoes quickly gain extra weight from the mud they're putting on. The route goes over fields, through woods with root laced paths and, only when necessary, along some tarmac roads. The short and medium races follow the same course for the first 4-5km. It is well marked with arrows and blue bands, but there aren't many marshals around and you're strongly encouraged to not just blindly follow the person in front of you as they might be doing a different distance. Each category has about 120-125 runners, and the small number has its benefits and drawbacks: you don't have to fight for your space on the path but neither do you have many opportunities to find someone who can pace you. I had the intention of racing but after the first third I'm feeling how much tougher the undulating trail is compared to the flat road that has made up my training base. My race plan had been too aggressive and I'm forced to walk for a bit just to get my heart rate down. When I'm able to start picking it up again, I’m surprised by the lack of people going past me, and I readjust from "push, push, push" to a gentler pace. The surroundings were varied, open areas giving you a view of the place, followed by twists through the forest and later easy straights across fields.
With only a few kilometers left, you start seeing the long runners, but they're coming the other way! By this point I think the short and medium courses have joined up again, we're running on a wide ish path and people are going both directions. Even if it's not quite two person wide it passes very smoothly, no one seems particularly bothered by it and are just in their groove. I was glad I didn't have to dodge any dogs, instead I spot a friend of mine and high five as we pass.
Across a field, past the photographer who's shouting some cheering words and to the finish. All those cow gates we started with are now tackled the other way, my legs significantly less excited about them, and a few of the finishers are stood along the final stretch looking out for their friends. I usually try to go for a sprinting finish, but this time all I could do was to convince my legs to keep the same pace, across the finish lines and to the goodies.
One thing they do differently is to include a beer instead of a finishers tshirt in the race entry, with medal designed to double up as a bottle opener. I chat briefly to another lady I had exchanged a few words with before the start and someone who had used me for pacing for a while. Not many have stayed around or, as I discovered later when looking at the result list, the majority of runners from medium and long haven't yet finished.
There were certainly things with the race which were different to what I've been to before: fewer marshals and a very casual bag drop (non-guarantueed-attended during the race) being the main things. None of those really bothered me, but I was a little annoyed that I had planned on there being two water stations but then only came across one. That aside, the course had everything it promised and was beautiful to run. My race had been tough, but of the type where you're not regretting getting into it but just take notes on what training to focus on for the next one. I still finished 9th lady on middle distance and was happy with my time. With that in mind, it’s time to look over the weaknesses and turn the mind to cross country season!