There’s something mesmerising about the mountains. At least that was once the case for me. I could sit for hours staring into the distance at these magnificent creations of Mother Nature, dreaming about the changes the world had gone through in the millions of years they’ve stood. Often I would ponder over what creatures lived in the shadows and the types of plant life that covered the slopes. Sadly though, these feelings have now gone from wonder, to fear. I now look at them with a sense of terror for what they could do to my chicken legs should I dare to explore them by foot. This all came about thanks to one particular event – The Hounslow Classic.
I had spectated the event a number of times, but hadn’t toed the start line. I had wanted to, but it never fitted in with my work/running calendar. This year, thanks to a flu, I was unable to participate in a race the weekend before, so I jumped online and started grovelling around to score a last minute entry. Once secured, I spent a bit of time on the phone and scouring the web for details about the course. Immediately a few things became clear: there was a lot of climbing, countless stairs, loads of technical stuff and some of the best scenery you would ever experience. Only one of those things appealed to me – the views!
Race day arrived and an accident on the highway meant for a delayed start. I sat in the queue of waiting cars and thought to myself “Maybe I should just go for a training run on the six foot track?” This of course, quickly passed as I started chatting to fellow runners who were excitedly waiting and hoping the road would soon open. Needless to say it did, and after a mad scurry to get my number and warm up, I was on the start line listening to the race briefing from Sean Greenhill of Mountain Sports. If you’ve done any of their events you’ll know they’re always well organised, safe, fun and above all else, challenging.
The race was quickly underway and I went straight to the front. My plan was to set sail quickly to make the most of the flatter sections in the opening kilometres, as I knew I’d battle on the technical stuff and stairs. I very rarely run on trails, let alone hills, so I rely on my engine and capacity to suffer to get through these types of races. And suffer I did! The flu was lingering which meant for a feeling of weakness in my pins. I noticed it immediately when we hit the first small set of stairs. I have to admit, it did make me a tad nervous. There was a very long way to go and about a million stairs to climb, so if one flight of steps was unsettling, then I knew I was in for a world of hurt in the final 4km.
Descending into the valley I used my standard downhill technique. I call it ‘The controlled fall’. I essentially grunt and groan as I bounce from tree to rock, occasionally ending up on my hands or off to the side of the track. If you were to watch from the sidelines, you’d either laugh, or cover your eyes through fear of what might happen. However, I usually don’t seem to get too bashed up, and emerged with a few scratches, bumps and a tender ankle. The only real problem in this instance is that I took a few wrong turns, largely thanks to overshooting corners or being so focussed on where my feet were landing that I missed course markers. Any of the more runnable stuff, I hit hard, but on the technical sections I was like Bambi on roller skates and stumbled my way through. I actually think it works in my favour to have these slower sections as it means I recover a little.
By the 14km point I was pretty cooked. Behind me was a trail of destruction (Thanks to my terrible descending) as well as a volume of snot and flem. Lets just say that the poor folks behind me would have encountered a more slippery trail than I did. All the downhill and flat running had been done and from here it’s up, up, up. The climb starts a little tamer, but gradually increases in ugliness before becoming what can only be described as horrid….In the nicest possible way. I entered full suffer mode, barely looking up as I trudged towards the top of the escarpment. It’s an epic climb to say the least. Nearing the top Locky Kennedy gave some encouraging words. I managed to say something to him. I can’t remember what but I more than likely swore a few times. I don’t think I insulted him because we had a chat after the race and he didn’t slap me.
Once reaching the top the final couple of kilometres a rather cruel. The views are awesome, but there’s a few pinchy little climbs and a final set of switchbacks to get you to the finish. Arriving at the end you’re greeted with cheers and ringing bells. It’s really rewarding and looking back at the epic wilderness you’ve just run through gives you goose bumps. Winning the race was awesome, but that’s really not what this event is all about. Yeah it’s a competitive race, however what makes it really special is the place it takes you. The Grose Valley is a true wilderness area. It’s a pristine environment that can only be explored under your own steam. For me, the thing I’ll remember most fondly about The Hounslow Classic is what I saw along the journey. It’s these wild paces that trail running takes you, that motivate me to take part in the sport.