What is Bacchus? Named after our favourite Roman god (of agriculture, and more importantly booooze) the Bacchus half marathon and marathon takes place in early September at the Denbies wine estate in Surrey (near Dorking). It is the English Marathon du Medoc and similarly involves hundreds of runners and walkers in fancy dress completing the distances with wine at all the water tables. Oh yes, this is a boozathon. Last year we had four wine stops and a dry table I think, this year 6 wine stops, with shot glass sized samples of the Denbies wine at each. Oh yes. The race includes a feast at the end included in the price with either veggie burgers, or hog roast and more booze, and an ice cream machine, the same as Medoc.
If you read my review of last year’s Bacchus half marathon, somewhere near the summary at the bottom, you will find the line “I could see myself doing the exact same thing again next year.” This in itself is quite prophetic, as, after the fun and games, and dancing and drink dressed as a unicorn last year, I will be doing the same thing this weekend, with the same (albeit expanded) group of #UKRUNCHAT runners, and yes, we will be dressed as unicorns.
I do not know what it was about that weekend that caught everyone’s imagination, maybe it was how we described it in our blogs and tweets, possibly it was the photos from Sussex Sports Photography that caused the enthusiasm, but our group of 7 unicorns grew, and grew, and grew. At the time of writing, the DM group in Twitter has 21 members, and there are others going that we know, including Kent’s finest, the Selfie Runners.
Much like the Goodwood Revival, the festival of speed where everyone is in vintage clothing, if you do not dress up at Bacchus you stand out, and you probably don’t have as much fun. Last year there was a bit of a debate about what we would wear as a group, with the final decision coming down to a Twitter poll. This year there was no such uncertainty. We were going to be unicorns, everyone wanted to be unicorns, and that was that. This did mean that those who ran last year had the option to recycle elements of their costume, including Emma and Jen who opted to wear there the exact same kit, but I decided against that, mainly because I wanted to buy new stuff, but also because I threw the hat, horn, tee, and furry calf sleeves away after last year’s race. The calf sleeves ended up looking like your nan’s Persian cat after it had gone missing for a week and was found in a neighbour’s shed all matted with twigs and leaves. The horn and hat didn’t even make it out of the hog roast tent, if you look carefully you’ll see it had to be rapidly reconstructed for the final group photos.
This year I opted for more of a colourful outfit, finding the hat randomly, and then trying to piece something in more of a pastel colour scheme together, with more of an Australian Rules football feel to it. The vest though did cause a little consternation, and so I bought a second option just in case. I shall make a decision on the day.
The original plan was to rerun the race weekend as close as possible to the winning formula of last year, and why deviate? Stay at the same hotel, preferably in the same room, drink the same beer at the same pub the day before, eat the same pasta at the same Italian the night before etc. I booked the race as soon as it opened, and the hotel (The White Horse) from last year. It was during a random conversation that Jason (@outrunninghills) mentioned the hotel was going through a refurbishment. I called the hotel but the girl on reception could not assure me 100% that the refurbishments would be finished by the time of the race, and so I cancelled my booking and upgraded the accommodation…
The only issue being that Hartsfield Manor is in Betchworth and not Dorking and so a little further away from the race HQ at Denbies Wine Estate, meaning that a Hackney Carriage is required to get us there. Oh, the stresses of modern life, eh? I do struggle sometimes.
On top of that the pub has closed down and was up for sale, and we were in Betchwork (along country lanes) and not in Dorking, so the pre-race dinner would not be at the Italian either. So there went the plan to replicate the race, straight out the window.
Change in Organiser
Events to Live (ETL) used to organise Bacchus and, other than the nonsense at packet pickup, I think they did a great job. But, last year was their last time of running the event. This, to be honest, caused a little panic, as people thought the race would not be run again. However, it was just a change in organiser, with Denbies themselves taking over with 2:09 doing the necessary, I think. Don’t quote me though.
So new hotel, new restaurant, different pub, different organisers, different race really? Maybe? Ahhhhh! WE DON’T LIKE CHANGE! Other than Jen and Emma, obvs.
The weekend would therefore be new, but no one was out of their comfort zone, not even Mike Rowell’s dear old mum, who joined the blessing of unicorns for her first ever half marathon. And we are old pros at this race business so the weekend fell into the a familiar pattern.
Train from London down to Dorking took less than an hour. The train carriage was full of a girls’ sports team (sport unknown), who were seeking career advice from each other.
GIRL ONE – I want to be a lawyer.
GIRL TWO – You, a lawyer? You need to be patient to be a lawyer. You are not patient at all. I mean, have you even seen Suits?
The previous year had been sweaty balls hot, but 2017 was much cooler and so, rather than a cab into town we walked, by the giant cock on the roundabout, and then into town, soon finding a pub (The King’s Arms) for an afternoon of drinking and lunch before heading to the hotel. It was here, over several beers, that the 2018 Bacchus costume theme was determined. It would be Toy Story (1 to 3) characters and I would be Spanish Buzz.
According to the taxi driver there would be 15 weddings over the weekend in the area, with wineries and country homes being transformed into wedding venues and indeed, upon arriving at the very picturesque Hartsfield Manor, two would be held on the site that night. Not that it was much of a problem, but booking cabs would be, so we left our details with the driver and checked into what was a pretty nice hotel before heading to the Red Lion in the village. Note, there are no shops at all in the village, just a pub/restaurant – my kind of village. More drinking occurred, and I was concerned about a taxi driver who took bookings written on a notepad in green Biro rather than over the phone through the main phone number, but hey, what can you do? The future of the race was in the hands of others.
The Horn Section (as I like to call us) Assembled
Some of the herd (Mike, Hells Bells and Jason) arrived two hours before the race started, some came by car, some by train, and others came in from Dorking, but a cooked (although cold) full English breakfast caused me to be waylaid until an hour before when the taxi driver miraculously arrived at the hotel to take us to the Denbies estate and the end of a very long queue. Last year, if you recall, the most annoying point of the race was packet pickup. It was a bun fight in a room of queues, where you jumped from one to another to get to the table of numbers only to discover that each table was for a subset of the alphabet. “Standard,” I hear you mutter, and that would be right, except they hadn’t put signs above the tables, so we didn’t know it was organised thusly until we got the front and saw the small sign on the table itself. This year was different, you needed to know your number and then just called it out when you got to the front. If you did not know your number, and you could have been confused as they sent out two emails with different numbers in them, they are printed and stuck on the wall. Still, before you get to shout your number out there was a HUGE queue to navigate that snaked through the building, outside, and along the outer wall and back again, and then out and through the start/finish arch and out into the car park. So, the number collection still needs work.
There were waves for the marathon to get away first, and then the half. Emma was part of the 10 o’clock wave that kinda wondered where the start line was as a huge queue of people in fancy dress waiting to collect their race packs queued through the area. But eventually, once her start wave was called, we managed to get inside, claim our numbers and get dressed in the café. It was here that the #UKRUNCHAT unicorns got to cry “UNICORNS ASSEMBLE!… For Wine”
And then we were off… (Without as much as a warm-up)
The course was quite different and markedly so. It spent a lot more time on trail this year. The first and last checkpoint was the same, which is a steep up above the start and the main building at the beginning of the race, and a fun sprint downhill on the way down to the finish. The wine did change between it being the first and the last CP, but the band (Broken Switch) had gone by the time we hit it a second time. A problem we had with this was that the band was by far our favourite point of last year’s race, at CP 4 (I want to say) when everyone had been running a while and had their fair share of booze. This time they were at the first CP, we had barely started (barely a couple of miles in), and hadn’t had any booze at this point. So they played to a sober, and less fun audience. I would have had them last or second from last.
6 wine stops- two white, a rose, two red and some bubbles I want to say at evenly(ish) spaced CPs. The markers were wayyyyyy off from the start. Jason and I ran along with my Polar and his Garmin measuring completely different distances to the mile markers. Although the only sign that mattered was the ones that said “WINE AHEAD”. There were bands at all the wine stops BUT and I am not making this up, the only band who played when we were at a CP was Broken Switch at the first, for two songs. This was very disappointing. It wasn’t like the weather could be blamed. I mean, the only music we heard on the route ended up being a random bag piper
And so to the route. It was better I think. We did spend more time on trails, and in the woods, and dodging cow shit and climbing I thought. The 6 tables were well spaced out, and the wines were good. I approve. Limited food stuffs though, I would have liked more of an offering than chicken nuggets or veggie nuggets at two stops. Last year we had sausages. Sausages, for the love of God!
To the runners
The costumes this year improved on last year. Sure, we had the flock of flamingos again but so many others made such an effort. My favourite by far was the Snail. Superb. Right down to the bubble wrap trail. He did overtake us at one point, but only the once, and he is probably in more photos than anyone else, and quite rightly so.
Snail was by far my favourite costume, complete with bubble wrap trail, Dia de los muertos guys and gals, in particular the bearded Carmen Miranda, the 7 dwarves, power rangers, host of animals (most notably the frisky rabbit and dancing giraffe), the flock of flamingos from last year, the Selfie Runners including Jo and Jules, and of course, the fabulous #UKRUNCHAT unicorns
It is all at your pace, whatever that is. In 2016 we ran it in 3:29 and never saw the Selfie Runners, this year, we ran it in 3:54 but, and not really excuses, there were 6 wine stops this time, the route was markedly different and, in my opinion, more difficult. But, I guess this is how you really measure Bacchus, as I discussed with Jules, her running husband, and Jen in the marquee at the end, the aim of Bacchus is not to get a great time. The aim is to have more fun, drink more wine, and take more selfies than in previous years. In that respect, this year was a complete success.
But you forgive the issues, the occasional “wine Nazi” not letting you have more than one small glass, mile markers being wrong, bands not playing, the complete clusterfuck to pick up bibs, the lack of toilets on the route, and any of the other minor annoyance because it is SO MUCH FUN!
I preferred the format to be honest, 6 wine stops, and no dry stop was so much better, bands at all the stops, or most was a good idea if they had actually been playing.
Measurements were way off. Bacchus coincided with the Strava record attempt at number of half marathons in a day, but the course was way short, and the mile markers were wrong from the start but, like I said, the signs that really mattered were spot on.
What would I change? I would probably offer food of sorts at all the stops. I would post out the numbers to stop the debacle at the beginning. But that is pretty much it. The Bacchus half and marathon is a fun one, it is made so by the people running it. The banter, the selfies, the sheer imagination that went into the costumes, that is what it is all about.
The Medal and Tee
Both are far superior to the previous year. I didn’t like the white cotton tee and the square medal, the one from the prior year was not the best. This, though, is great, with Bacchus himself making an appearance. Although he does remind me a bit of the Goblin King in the Hobbit movies.
Having just read the email from Mike Gratton of 2:09 Events, the new organisers, it looks as if the price of race photos was included in the entry fee. Now that is a nice touch. Well done, Mike.
No More Unicorns
No more unicorns for me, next year we decided in a pub that we would be Toy Story characters, with me taking the role of Spanish Buzz, as you do…
Would I recommend the Denbies Bacchus Half marathon? Absolutely. It is so much fun, you can’t help but enjoy the day. Just dress up and drink the wine and forget about the time.
Would I run the Denbies Bacchus Half marathon again?
NEXT UP: HULL MARATHON