Get off the damn road!

While I now know quite a few fellow runners, I’m constantly amazed that so few of them ever venture off the road, either in training or for organised races. Living near a beach with plentiful dunes, I’ve always loved to run off road, and now that more and more off-road races are springing up around the place, I find myself much more tempted by them than by run-of-the mill, there-and-back half marathons.

And so it is that with just 2 months to go until Hellrunner on November 2nd, I’m dropping my road mileage still further, in order to spend as much time as possible running up and down sand dunes. Which is a very necessary form of torture if I’m going to fare any better this year on the ‘Hills of Hell.’

Hellrunner, I have to say, is my favourite off-road race by a country mile. For those of you who have yet to partake, it goes something like this: start off in a large, grassy bowl, run up a steep hill a couple of time, then head off through some delightful, bouncy trails through Delamere Forest for a mile or two.

And then, of course, you come to the first of the ‘Bogs of Doom’, where you are required to clear a large, fallen tree and jump into a peat bog that’s up to 5ft deep in places. Please note, however, that the bottom of the bog is pretty slippy, and it’s perfectly possible to go right underneath at this point. – something a young lady next to me did last year, causing something of a commotion amongst her and her friends. At this point, medical help, or at least someone with water to sluice out people’s eyes and airways would be a good idea. But sadly, that hasn’t been thought of yet…

Neither, incidentally, have mile markers entered into the Hellrunner lot’s deliberations – which is possibly one of the most fiendish things about this race. Even when your heart and lungs are telling you that you’re approaching half marathon distance, the race stewards won’t tell you where you are or how far you’ve got to go…

You then plough on through the forest again, before reaching the Hills of Hell, where you are required to climb numerous sandy hills, including one where the roped-off route requires you to zig-zag up and down the same hill about 10 times in succession, before releasing you back onto paths through the forest.

Before the end, you’ll also meet another substantial bog, and even when you make it back to the starting area, they’re still going to send you back up the hill before you’re allowed to cross the finish line.

Hhhmmm. OK. I’ve just read that bit back to myself. And it doesn’t actually sound like that wonderful a day out. All I can do is tell you that I loved every muddy, horrible minute of last year’s Hellrunner, which was held in April, and I really can’t wait to find out what that course is going to be like in November.

So if there’s an off-road experience anywhere near you, I can’t recommend the experience highly enough. And if you live anywhere near Cheshire, you really have to try out Hellrunner.

Check it out for yourself at www.hellrunner.co.uk

Oh, and if you do enter, don’t forget to wear some old clothes, and bring a change of clothes with you on the day. And a portable shower unit if you have one. I had to be jet-washed at the mountain bike hire place before being allowed back into the car last year…

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