Race Review – Serpent Trail (2nd Running)

Something the race abstinence  COVID caused was a desperation in my 100 Marathon Club Quest. An urgency that wasn’t there at the beginning started to build as race after race was cancelled or postponed in 2020 and into 2021.

What this meant for me was that first, I shifted the goalposts somewhat, changing the 100 Marathon Club target from 100 marathons or above by the age of 50 to 100 marathons or above in 10 years, since the first, Berlin in September 2015. This effectively bought me 2 years and 9 months longer, to negate the time lost due to the coronavirus disruption.

A side effect of the downtime was relying on and finding new race organisers, such as Ultra Violet running, with whom I completed their slam of Round Reading Ultra (2020), Run to the Sea Bournemouth (2020) and Run to the Sea Brighton (2021), as well as more established small outfits like these guys, Freedom Racing, with whom I also completed the slam of their races in the pandemic, Hurtwood 50 (2021), North Downs Ridge (2021) and this, a rerunning of the Serpent Trail.

Serpent Trail quickly became my favourite trail race when I ran it in 2019. I loved it. It was gloriously sunny, the ground was baked dry, the route was gorgeous and the race photos prompted me to create the now infamous wheat field image.

Bad Robot. Badder Theresa.

This year would be different in so many ways:

  • It would be wet, boggy, muddy after virtually no summer at all
  • I would be staying in Petersfield rather than getting the train in on the day
  • I would be registering and getting my bib the day before
  • I’d be running it with Lewis, who was there for the 100K in prep for LLCR
  • The route at the start was now multiple loops around a hilly wooded area rather than just leaving the farm and joining the trail

But, and probably the most salient point, some things were the same:

  • I would wear road shoes, and it would be a mistake

The Weekend

This was a lesson in what’s good one year may not necessarily be the same the next, experiences change, and that the weather can often be the catalyst that separates the good from the bad.

After getting lost and finding ourselves in the next county, Lew and I finally found the race HQ, got our bibs and enjoyed a few beers and plates of beige food at the hotel before crashing early. This was all sensible, even with getting lost we didn’t miss our table booking and learned the important lesson that Lew’s satnav is bollocks.

It was good to see Lew, seeing friends at race weekend makes it all the better. So regardless of how we did, as long we we finished, we could take the positives.

How I did

After meeting up with Kyla at the race HQ and having her distract me from my travel sickness in the bus to Petworth and the 50K start we were out in a field of long grass in the rain. The RD had changed the route at the last minute, and the GPX file too. This threw me, as when I did actually get lost, or I thought I did, I checked the OS Maps app and the route wasn’t there (insert tiny internal scream here). Luckily, just because it wasn’t on the app under my routes on the phone, I could still search for it and download it (insert audible sigh of relief).

That change of route was also, not as the RD said, a lovely yada yada where he walks his dogs all the time. It was rubbish. It was a looping muddy, hilly set of tight turns around a field and some woods that ended up too congested, cramped and if anything detracted from the lovely open expansive course that we would get for the rest of the race.

I found my merry band, as you do, the group of runners who, regardless of whether you are running the whole way, run/walking, stopping at checkpoints or not, are always close by. I had 5 or 6 runners with whom I’d play the overtaking game when I was on a run leg, or be overtaken by on a walk leg, or see at a CP, and would join when trying to work out how to get across the large pools of water and vast muddy swathes that really made me question my road shoe choice.

And it was muddy, there were large chunks of the race where I had to slow down to a tip toe creep to get across ice rinks of clay, cursing my Nikes and my blind hope that the course would be dry as a bone even it has been raining for the whole summer. I didn’t go over but there was a field with a narrow bath and higher than head height greenery on  both side, I couldn’t get a grip at tall and had to just blitz through landing my feet either side of the path to use the plants for traction. It was not pretty.

Sure, there was plenty of road, and some of the paths in the deep forest were on pine needles, or flint and chalk, so you could get a spurt on and run it in. But by this point my feet had been drench half a dozen times, with mud above the top of the shoe. My socks were soaked, and a blister developed in the fold of the joint under my big toe on my right foot. Limping soon ensued.

But regardless of slipping and sliding all over the place, being tired as this was my 7th ultra in 11 weeks, the blisters, and the hills and rain, I did it. We persevere, don’t we? It is endurance racing. We endure.

The Finish

For a chunk of the race, despite it being in bad conditions, I was on to beat my time of 2019. It is always one of my targets when I run a race more than once.

  • Finish
  • Do better than last time
  • PB

Well, at least I finished.

The Bling and the Slam

All in 2021 too. And that is 100 Marathon Club number 57.

Summary

I was disappointed with how I did, but the good thing about a race calendar as busy as mine is that you don’t have time to mope. You throw the medal in the box, chalk up another 100 MC mark, record the pod, post the blog and onwards and upwards.

WOULD I RECOMMEND THE SERPENT TRAIL? From 2019 I would, the route and weather was better. This time? Less so.

WOULD I RUN THE SERPENT TRAIL AGAIN? Yes, but only in better weather. I have turned into a fair weather runner.

NEXT UP: RACE TO THE STONES DAY 1

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