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The Harvest Trail
Sunday 20th September 2015
Dave Mail

Harvesting the Trail

I had scheduled the Harvest Trail HM as a training race for the Abingdon marathon which I am longer running because of circumstances, but I decided to still go along because it has a very good noteworthy local reputation.

We’re off! The Harvest Trail is quite a hilly course, but the first 3 miles are moderately flat which I run comfortably at about 8mm pace. The organisers are lulling us into a false sense of easiness ! In the 3rd mile I make a bit of an effort to pass a few runners because I know what’s coming next! In the 4th mile, we go up a long steep narrow wooded gulley with no room to pass anyone and I record a 9:23 mile.

At the top the Quarter Marathon splits to the left and I and the other Half Marathoners go right, and I’m back to running about 8mm pace over delightful undulating terrain with pleasing scenery.

I’ve been passing some runners and a handful have passed me, when in the 9th mile a large sharp stone chip gets into my shoe and jams underneath my foot. Despite flicking my foot as I run, it refuses to budge and within 200m I’m hobbling in pain and I have to stop to take off my shoe. It takes only about 45 seconds but that is enough to allow several runners to pass me.

We do a dog-leg crossing of the Therfield road, go down a gentle slope and just before 11 miles through a gate in a hedge with a “straight on” arrow. I go through the gate and see that all the runners in front of me have turned right. I have the confidence in my convictions and go straight on, feeling justified by the presence of more route arrows, and the errant runners rejoin us about a mile further on. One of them is a bit perplexed as to where I’ve come from. “You went the wrong way.” I tell him. He doesn’t seem best pleased about this and asks how much distance he’s lost. “Well, I’m now just behind runners who were previously 150m ahead of me.”

We then turn right and go up a short but viscously steep hill which most runners are walking; however I manage to continue to “run” although that term is used only to denote that both feet were off the ground at the same time rather than I was moving at any appreciable speed. Royston Runners know how to test us.

Through the woods and up and down lots of short steep testing slopes, and I’m absorbed by our weaving through the trees, so much more stimulating than running on a road. In the woods we cross the Therfield road for the last time, hurtling down a slope towards it. There is a fence with a V shaped gate in it, and instead of stopping and stepping through it, I amaze and amuse myself by using my downhill momentum to take a flying leap through the wider top part of it onto the road, this after nearly 12 miles of hills! The marshal is impressed!

Out of the woods, and shortly we rejoin the trees, where the lady in front of me hesitates to ask me if it is the right way. “Yes” I respond, and we jockey positions over the continuing ups and downs. This Flatlander relishes hills ! This is demanding, but I’m thoroughly enjoying myself, testing my abilities over the tree roots and trail terrain. Those hilly 12th and 13th miles take 9:13 and 8:58 which illustrate their very challenging nature.

We get out onto the top of the open heathland just before 13 miles and a Harlow Runner joins me, so I chat to him complimenting his club on their very well organised 10 miles race which I took part in 2 weeks go, and he thanks me. We continue to run along the top of the heath with another runner before descending to the playing fields to the finish. Harlow Runner has pulled ahead a bit but as I’m having a training race, I’m not bothered about chasing him. However, the other runner comes onto my shoulder and I think “I’m not having this!” and “sprint” for the line. I lied about not racing properly!

Based on my recce training run a few weeks ago, I thought it would take me about 2 hours today and I wasn’t far out. 1h54m36s Garmin time, a full 15 minutes slower than for a reasonably flat road HM, but this is a trail race which by its nature means it can’t be measured accurately, my Garmin recording 13.65. Just as well I didn’t go wrong on the course otherwise it would have been further.

The Harvest Trail is a delightfully well organised, picturesque and challenging event. It even has tea and cakes (homemade?) at the end, what more could one want? One doesn’t always need fast flat courses to enjoy one’s self, this will do nicely for me. No wonder that on Runners’ World it has a “Would you do this again?” 100% rating. The story might be a bit different on a wet muddy day.

My legs have been protesting since, but I’ve certainly savoured the race.

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