Fairlands Valley Challenge – 12 Mile Self-Navigating Course

This race actually took place a couple of weeks ago [17th July] but I’ve just not had time to do a quick blog post about it, and as it didn’t form part of the 12 in 12 challenge the urgency wasn’t there either. I had also taken my mobile phone in order to try and get some photos whilst out on the course to share, but it just ended up bashing into me and annoying me – and got no actual use from it at all. I really do need to start taking more pictures for this blog!

Anyway, not really knowing what we were letting ourselves in for me and Rox blindly signed up to the 18 mile version of the event. Due to a couple of injuries Rox had been unable to put in enough training to be certain of making the 18 miles (and in all honesty I’d been focusing much more on the swimming and cycling disciplines of triathlon). A quick email to the organisers in the week leading up to the event and they very kindly switched us into the 12 mile version.

So with the distance set there were only 2 more further unknowns for us to worry about. This was the first ever trail race either of us had done, but with reasonable weather the routes would prove to be road trainer friendly. I did decide to make use of my Adidas Kanadias (a pair of trainers I’ve gotten into the habit of wearing for fashion rather than abusing on the trail routes round leafy Hertfordshire after only one cross country race in them last year).

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The final unknown was the ‘self-navigating’ portion of the race. Would this require a compass? Neither of us owned one, let alone would know how to use one. Would we be given an OS map?!? Turned out we were given worded directions that only made sense as you followed them through to each stage whilst out on the course. There was a fairly high-level route mapped out on an OS Map as well so you could get the general direction but not much else. Having both grown up in villages on the south side of Stevenage we both had a fairly good idea of roughly where the route would take us. Both of us seemed to manage to cover the areas of each others shortfalls. Unfortunately the route wouldn’t take us past either of the in-law’s houses for a cup of tea though.

Around 100 runners set-off and we followed on the back of them. This was going to be easy – just follow the group. Upon crossing Fairlands car park I saw my old football team getting ready for their pre-season training. A quick conversation with them and a few ‘how far have you guys gone? Less than a mile – you both look knackered already – you’ll never make it’ quips we looked round and saw nobody from the earlier group. We really were down to self-navigate now.

And self-navigate we did, pretty well to boot. We even managed to start to catch a few people and quickly made the first check point. I’d obviously been cycling too much recently and immediately went for the cake – completely forgetting the problems that eating and running causes. Whilst I got the impression Rox would have been happy to stay at the checkpoint in Datchworth for some time we carried on, and were shortly overtaken by 2 very fast runners for St Albans Striders. Turned out they’d added a few extra miles onto the course by taking a few wrong turns. Likewise with some runners from Dunstable.

A few lucky turns (seemed to be described about right, but we weren’t 100% certain we were going the right way) we soon ended up at Checkpoint 2 in the middle of nowhere. Eating some Coca Cola flavoured jelly sweets that we got free from a recent race we didn’t feel that much more energised. Reading the packet later we found out there were in actual facts caffeine sweets. At this point we merged with some of the 18 mile runners – a few of whom left it to us to do the navigating as they seemed to be in a slightly zombified state.

Crossing the finish line in just over 2hrs 30m (with a moving time of around 2hrs 20) we were delighted to have ‘survived’ what originally started off as quite a daunting prospect. With a free race baseball cap and bar-b-q to boot, and the quick switching of our race entry at such short notice, Fairlands Valley Spartans really do put on some excellent and well organised events.

With numerous options on distances (12 miles, 18 miles, 26.2 miles and for the first time this year an ultra version) and also support for walkers this really is an excellent event. If I’d known there were walking versions available I would have pointed this out to at least one of my readers – hopefully he’ll be up for the challenge next year.

I’m certainly hooked and was even considering making this my first ultra next year – but there could be another plan/challenge on the horizon that may affect those initial thoughts. If I am back next year it might have to be at a different distance though, afterall I now know the 12 mile route!

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