Wrapping my arm around my friend’s shoulder and giving her a weary squeeze as we dragged our mud caked shoes through the finish funnel at the Harewood House Half Marathon we both looked at each other and concluded the same thing – that was one of the hardest races we had ever completed! We have both undertaken a number of running events in varying conditions and of different distances, so this was some statement! Yet we both still had that post run smile that said; yeah that was tough, but it was somehow still enjoyable!
Taking part in the Harewood House Half Marathon was always meant as more of a training run ahead of my forthcoming London Marathon rather than a PB chasing event. The race is set at Harewood House in Yorkshire and promises muddy off road tracks and steep forest inclines; it would be a challenge, a good training event and an excellent excuse to run and explore somewhere new. Before heading to Harewood I came across a race review from a runner who had taken part in the event previously. It warned; ‘if you are purely a road-runner this isn’t for you; in fact if you occasionally go onto flat grass and paths in a managed public park it still may not be for you.’ My friend and I are most definitely road runners, with trail shoes only hastily purchased during race week; so I began to think this may be a bit more of a challenge than I had anticipated…
Race day was grey with a gusty wind trying to whip up some force. It was also clear that the heavy rain the UK had been subject to in the days leading up to the event would make the course even tougher; cars were getting stuck simply trying to park, so god knows how we were supposed to be running up hills! Regardless, my friend and I joined the group of runners hardily huddled in the start funnel with the beautiful Harewood House looming behind us, ready to explore the rambling estate.
With what I had read in mind I started the race reasonably cautiously, the ground underfoot was good at this point and a nice long stretch of downhill greeted us runners at around mile two. I could have sped off optimistically, almost like running a road race, but I kept controlled. The route then offered almost a little teaser for what was to come, with some small hills appearing and a section of tough undulating grassland which required concentration to maintain good footing. At around mile four the president for the rest of the course was set as I was greeted by a huge hill; steep and long, which then cruelly twisted at the top to reveal a final leg breaking ascent. Now the challenge began…
The following miles were a constant hilly battle, sharp inclines mixed in with long steady climbs, all set on varying terrains ranging from thick grassland to bumpy fields and mud thick mounds. Even the downhill sections were hard to run on with the slippery mud meaning that it was less freewheeling, but more a careful and controlled navigation of the safest route. Amidst all of this was the most beautiful scenery, and a sense of almost peace as runners silently weaved through this vast expanse of nature. The course meanders the estate a lot, and spotting Harewood House itself played tricks on your mind slightly as it often seemed you were getting closer to what would be the finish point, only to turn and be faced with yet another hilly climb in the opposite direction. There are certainly worse places to be rambling through though.
A few moments in the race I doubted what I was doing. My pace had dropped to slower than what I have been ‘long running’ during my training, and although I had disregarded this being a race where time mattered, it was almost becoming exhausting just keeping my legs going and mentally being alert to the changing conditions. My favourite part however was on a long grassy section which ran almost parallel to Harewood House in the distance. My legs were tiring at this point, around nine miles in, and after another leg draining section, the sight of more hills in the distance seemed like torture! But as I glimpsed the house and viewed the snake of other runners dotting the serene landscape I realised what a joy it was to be out here, just running and doing what I love. I could keep going!
The final miles were tough. Although the terrain was perhaps kinder, with a good stretch of downhill, the wind had picked up greatly, so any benefit was almost negated. The final mile itself also featured an almost cruel, sharp hill; just when you thought you had made it, the course bit back one final time. My determination took me up that hill, and as I turned to pass by Harewood House it was a relief to take my muddy and battered feet over the finish line. My time was 1:56:12 – which is nowhere near my half marathon PB but after what I had accomplished, it felt like one.
Harewood House Half Marathon was tough, but I do have to disagree with the previous race reviewer who warned it is not for road runners. There were runners of all levels of fitness, backgrounds and running experience taking part in this race. I think the term race is perhaps even the wrong word for this event; it’s a personal challenge and even the finish times themselves are only published in alphabetical order. We are all probably guilty of saying running is not just about times, but then still secretly being preoccupied by our splits and stats. This event felt like was one of those occasions when running is just running, and it felt equally good to be reminded of that. The event also seemed extra special as it was the first time my friend and I had been able to take part in something together for over six months – it made me happy to share an experience again and create more treasured running memories.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...