2nd September, 2017
It was 9:30 on Friday night and I was just leaving work in Guildford when I got a message from Aleks Kashefi, who had been out for much of the day marking the route of The Hangman. "Ran out of arrows, so now taping it up."
OK, could be worse.
Shortly afterwards, another message: "Now ran out of tape."
Balls. He was 3.5 miles from the turnaround point at Combe Gibbet.
OK, where was open that might sell tape? I called in Tesco, they had nothing. B&Q had closed at 9. I contacted Toby, my AAT-events running mate who organises the Surrey Half and Fox Ultra, among other things, and has a garage full of tape and assorted gubbins. He wasn't at home. All sorts of things went through my mind; not least the 50-odd runners who would be turning up the next morning expecting a fully marked course. I mentally flagelleted myself for not buying any tape earlier.
Then another message: "Can you get light coloured nappy bags? They'll do the job for the last bit." And with that, we were saved.
The biggest laugh of a very smiley day came during the race briefing when I told the runners to watch out for red and white tape, red arrow signs and peach-coloured nappy bags. We have such a lovely community.
The runners all set out from Longparish on the count of 10, heading from the start line diagonally across a football field to the Test Way, a beautiful trail that covers much of Hampshire and a small but significant part of Berkshire. Their aim was to get to the 17-mile turnaround point at Combe Gibbet, a large wooden structure on a hill, and then come back. My wonderful team of volunteers, excellently led by race queen (aka chief marshal) Maxine Rhodes, dotted the route and I felt confident they'd really look after the runners.
At CP1, next to the George and Dragon in Hustbourne Tarrant, the marshals had set up smartly and had foregone any kind of shelter, assuming the rain would hold off - the correct prediction aside from a tiny bit of drizzle. David Andrewartha (cover star of ULTRA magazine Issue 7) and David Mallard led the way with just 1:09 elapsed, closely followed by Lajos Gergely Gyurko. Alice Evans came through as 1st female, 14th place overall, in 1:15, followed by Merilyn Davis (1:28, 19th place) and Low Smith (1:29, 23rd). The last runners Neil Wheeler and Andrew Ranson came through in 1:56, which was great for the race - we'd assumed 2:15 for the last runners.
Over at the Gibbet, a renowned windy spot that saw the blustery death of Richard W's new gazebo last year, the team had sensibly packed a beach-style windbreak to keep the cups from blowing over, and had also decided against a shelter save for the occasional trip into one of the cars for a warm. For drinks we'd set a one-cup-per-person rule, but next year I think we'll ask people to bring their own cup as it's such a waste of plastic. Still, people stuck to one cup, and that worked out - but the runners weren't really eating and that worried me - we had loads of food left over when many of the runners had gone through.
At CP2 the Davids Mallard and Andrewartha still led the way in 2:20, the latter beating his previous year's time by 10 minutes, but both a few minutes down on the 2:07 from last year set by the three leading runners at that time. No course records this year perhaps, but a lot of happy but determined faces. Gergely Gyurko had held on to third place two minutes behind, and Alice Evans was now just 9 minutes behind the leading men, 11th place overall. Low Smith was now 2nd female in 2:59 (19th overall) and Merilyn Davis 3rd female (3:00, 21st place). One of just three DNFs in this race occurred here, Michael Guest who pulled out while in 10th place.
From the Gibbet CP2 we could see the runners from literally a mile away, appearing on the horizon in a gap in the hedgerow and then moving like colourful ants (rather quick ants) along a ridge before they disappeared out of sight to make the climb towards us. It's a great sight, and a wonderful relief for a worried RD, given that some were navigating via impromptu nappy bags. Andrew Ranson was last through in 4:11, over 20 minutes quicker than the previous year's times, and over 40 minutes before the 2pm cut-off. Brilliant.
Back to CP3 and unfortunately both David Andrewartha and Luke Clifton pulled out of the race, injured, but having given it their all. Clifton's young son James was also in the race as his first ultra, and was going strong in 14th place. This left David Mallard clear in front (3:31) followed by Neil Vincent a minute behind, then the trio of Steve Muir, James Hassan and Jamie Thorp just three minutes behind Vincent. Five minutes separated the first six places in the male race; this was going to be a close finish. Alice Evans had crept up to 8th place overall (3:42) with Low Smith and Merilyn Davis both coming through in 4:25.
I'd missed the sprint finish last year, so this year I was determined to see as many of the runners through as I could, from first to last. My son Billy and I had stationed at the Gibbet to take photographs, and we got a call to tell us that the first finishers were half an hour away. The trip is almost half an hour. We drove fast, and we made it well in time. My wife Sarah and daughter Daisy were ready in the kitchen preparing Sarah's amazing vegan soups, the finish line was inflated. All good.
First male was a rather surprised David Mallard in 4:53, followed four minutes later by Neil Vincent, and Jamie Thorp two minutes behind him. First female was Alice Evans in an impressive 5:11, 7th place overall - a great run for her first ultra distance race, and second was an elated Low Smith (6:07) and Merilyn Davis third (6:11). All runners were home well within the cut-off, with Andrew Ranson cheered in to the finish after 9:37 on his feet.
We try to treat every runner the same, first to last, and so we were sure to welcome all runners to the finish, to make sure we celebrated each finish as a team, and to make sure there is plenty of food and drink for everyone. We also waited a while after the last runners had trooped off to the village hall before we started to pack up the finish line - this is important to us, as we've all been at other races where the staff are packing up directly behind the last runner and that doesn't make for a feel-good race.
Thanks to... Jeremy Barber and the whole of the Longparish Village Hall committee for allowing us to use their wonderful building and helping us with the race for a second year.
Massive thanks to Maxine Rhodes; without her enthusiasm, patience and organisation this race would be half it is; and to Aleks Kashefi for stepping in last-minute and doing such a great job with the marking. Thanks to Sharon Sullivan and Ed Chapman for heading out first thing and finishing off the marking, to the former for continuing to marshal through to the finish and the latter for sweeping the course of its taped markings. Thanks to Joanne Oakes for running the entire course as a back-marker to make sure all runners were accounted for, and her husband Toby Bettridge for taking some amazing photos - he seemed to be everywhere on the course, quietly snapping away. Good man.
Thanks to the epic Chloe Sellwood and Paul Gilbertson, who are very much a part of ULTRA events having helped out at both races and were instrumental in organising the festival earlier this year; and to Neil Grevitt who registered runners and then went to join Chloe and Paul at CP1.
Thanks to Sally Galsworthy-Andrewartha, Matthew Thomas and Tara Lambert for braving the wind at the Gibbet - it's such a long time to be up there in those conditions, and yet they always had a smile.
Thanks to Keith Godden of ULTRAmarathonRunningStore.com for providing the prizes for the three male and three female top-placed runners, and to Toby Jenkins of AAT-events for lending us the equipment for the start and finish lines. Thanks to the landlord and staff at the George and Dragon, Hurstbourne Tarrant, for once again allowing us to set up a checkpoint outside their lovely pub.
Finally, thanks to my wife Sarah Nuttall for helping me prep everything and holding fort in the kitchen - feeding 50 hungry runners and more volunteers is not easy and she does it effortlessly - and is getting a fantastic reputation for her soup. Also thanks to Daisy for helping her, and to Billy for taking photos - he's just 12, and excitedly learning about photography. Plus, he helped me make the trophies :)
Here's to next year!
|Bib no.||Name||M/F||CP1 Pos||CP1||CP2 Pos||CP2||CP3 Pos||CP3||Finish Pos||Finish|
|39||David Mallard||Male||2||01:09||1||02:20||1||03:31||1||04:53||1st Male|
|47||Neil Vincent||Male||4||01:12||4||02:23||2||03:32||2||04:57||2nd Male|
|15||Jamie Thorp||Male||7||01:13||8||02:27||5||03:35||3||04:59||3rd Male|
|42||Lajos Gergely Gyurko||Male||3||01:11||3||02:22||6||03:36||6||05:10|
|18||Alice Evans||Female||14||01:15||11||02:29||8||03:42||7||05:11||1st Female|
|26||Low Smith||Female||23||01:29||19||02:59||18||04:25||15||06:07||2nd Female|
|54||Merilyn Davis||Female||19||01:28||21||03:00||19||04:25||16||06:11||3rd Female|
Photos by Toby Bettridge, Andy Nuttall and Billy Nuttall.