Bring it on Belvoir!
Months ago, before Christmas I’m sure but can’t really recall now, one of my fellow She Canners was chatting about an event called The Belvoir Challenge. She had taken part last year and it sounded like good fun so from that moment I was ‘in’. Well, I say that but in reality I was sitting on the fence for a while as it is a 15 mile event, on multi-terrain, which is tough. But when I heard about the cake stops along the course (more of that later) I was definitely, 100%, ‘in’! So, when the entries opened, I signed up, eager to get a place as I heard it was very popular – well, everyone loves cake don’t they – and it was popular, with all places snapped up months before the actual event day of Saturday 2nd March.
The options for The Belvoir Challenge are courses of 15 or 26 miles. You need to select one length when you enter but there is an option on the day to drop down – or up – depending on how fit you are. You might be wondering why I keep calling this an event but honestly that’s what it is. You can race it if you want, you can walk it, or you can do a mix of both. It’s a community event and I think that’s what makes The Belvoir Challenge so much fun! It’s light-hearted and friendly, quite unlike many other races I’ve entered, and everyone really wants to be there.
Anyway, back to the day itself! We were very lucky with the weather in the lead-up to Belvoir with just a small amount of rain in the week so the ground was pretty dry and firm. It’s described as a multi-terrain event, which means a mixture of paths, fields, tarmac, meadow, and the potential for a lot of mud if it’s wet. We arrived in Harby at about 8am (it’s around 1 hour drive from Kettering), parked up and trotted off to registration to collect our numbers. Then its time to join the long queues for the portaloos, but in fairness to The Belvoir Challenge organisers there were quite a few so the queue moved swiftly. The portaloo queue is always fascinating I find – bear with me here – it’s a hub of nervousness, excitement, and enthusiasm, both genuine and forced, and it’s a leveller… everyone is in that queue at some point on race day.
Once we had decided on how many layers to wear, loaded up our race packs with drinks, gels and in my case jelly babies, and pinned on our numbers we headed off to the start line, which was set up in the village play park. Fast runners line up at the front (always), then slower runners, with walkers at the back. We positioned ourselves between middle and back, set our Garmins (we were all wearing the same Forerunner 35!) and enjoyed the buzz and atmosphere whilst doing some dynamic stretches to prepare our joints and muscles. I’m not sure I even heard the starter, but soon we were moving forwards towards, filled with anticipation and just a slight amount of dread knowing we’d be out there for about 4 hours. I believe there were 1200 participants so it did take a couple of minutes to cross the start line but the event is chip timed so your own time doesn’t begin until you cross the mats. Then we were off.
The first mile takes you out of the village on the roads and it’s flat, which I was pleased about a it’s hard to go straight onto trail without a little warm-up first. Lots of the villagers were out at their doors clapping and cheering, which was nice to see.
The next 2 miles were footpaths and field edges, some uneven trail and only 2 people wide at places so we were quite bunched, but no different to any other event at the start. But we then came to the first field crossing and the start of an uphill section. Well, I think there must have been some runners who had never encountered a stile before because we waited for what felt an eternity (in reality, it was just over 30 minutes, but a LONG time) before hopping over the fence and cutting the corner. I’ll admit this is not good form and none of us were happy to do it, but we were cold and the majority of runners had already negotiated the same route. Once in the next field we went slightly up and towards another stile where you guessed it… we waited some more but all in good spirits. This time it wasn’t too long before we were on our way and we continued on and up the hill, where thankfully we all started to spread out a bit.
The next 3 miles were a mix of field edges and country tracks and then we made it to checkpoint one, or ‘cakepoint’ one as I now like to refer to it. I have never seen such an amazing array of home made cakes, sandwiches and drinks. Anything you could wish for was there and it’s all part of your entry fee. There’s a limit to the amount of cake you can eat when there’s still 9 miles to run, but we did our best and after two pieces and some rehydration we were on our way again, fortified by the sugar and generosity of the locals who were on the ‘cakepoint’, sorry, the checkpoint. Miles 6-10 we went past some beautiful countryside, through farmland, past chickens and cows, past stinky bits, got in the way of a Tesco delivery van, and chatted to fellow runners and walkers.
And then, if things couldn’t get any better, we arrived as ‘cakepoint’ two where a fresh delivery of hot sausage rolls had just arrived, to supplement the already burgeoning table of goodies, which this time included stilton and crackers as well. We hovered for a good 10 minutes or so and left refreshed and revitalised for the final 5 miles. I think we’d have stayed longer if it weren’t for the 26 mile competitors flashing past us (they were 21 miles in compared to our 10) so we thought we better get a wriggle on. More beautiful scenery for the final 5 miles, through woodland and more compacted paths, a super steep downhill, through a village, some more tracks and then before we knew it we were coming back into Harby to the finish line. The village, and by now other finished runners, were out in force to cheer us to the end and it was wonderful. Once recovered, you can enjoy the third ‘cakepoint’ of the day… a hot pudding and custard in the village hall. There’s also soup and rolls, and hot drinks for all the weary participants, served with a smile and a well done, simply perfect. Results are available to download immediately but no one is really that fussed – we all spent far too long drooling over the cakes to worry about times!
I’ve entered lots of races in the past and this is certainly up there as a favourite. What makes it even more delightful is when you learn the event is held to raise funds for the village, with proceeds going to Harby Primary School with the aim of raising funds for the school’s extra curricular activities. The entire event is led by parents and friends of children attending the school and what a fantastic way to raise funds. It’s a tough event though. Don’t be under any illusion, trail running for 15 miles is hard and you need to train for it as your joints and muscles are exposed to different angles and forces compared to road running, but its great fun and I’d encourage every to sign up for next year. Bring on The Belvoir Challenge 2020!