Millford Cricket Club was the meeting place for my next adventure in racing by taking part in a cross country navigation race. This one was a 17.2mile event in my case or could be longer/shorter depending on your route and organised by Mercia Fell Runners. FRA (Fell Runners Association) rules were applied to the race meaning you had to carry mandatory kit (waterproof top and trousers, hat, gloves, compass) and gives you an idea of the type of race and competitors lining up at registration. After paying the entry fee, collecting your number, your are then presented with a red dibber! A vital piece of kit for proving you have been to the set points in the correct order, anything other than this order or not making cut of times at certain check points means you will be asked to leave the race. The dibber is an electronic dongle that attaches to your finger by elastic, when you reach a checkpoint insert your red dibber into the checker wait for a quick flash and a beep and all is done and logged.
Off to the start at Millford common, noticing that I am the only one carrying a map case, taking a bearing and working out which path to take. I must stick out like a sore thumb, only thing missing is the Sat Phone and flashing beacon on my head in case I get lost. Too late to worry as we are off, at least in the directional I wanted to go, but some are veering off to the left up over the hill, do I follow them or stick to my route with the bulk of the others? Stick to the route, over the stepping stones then wind up and round, chatting to people as I go. Not running flat out but trying to find a steady pace, check the map on the move, look where people are going up ahead, this is the right way. The first Trig point appears by the rifle range as planned, time to insert the dibber. Flash, beep and the marshal records your number, check map and off heading south towards the railway crossing and the first timed cut off point.
Through the 60min check point with 7 mins to spare, I follow the pack this time as we cut through the forest. Then its uphill and a steep one it is all the way to Castle Ring at the most southerly point of the Chase. Dibber done, then all the way back down and uphill again to the road. Keep going up to the next Trig point at Stile Cop passing a few runner on the way. The hill sessions are paying off and over half way! Heading back now but first a long slog up a track to a short road section then on to the last of the trails called Sherbrook Banks. Three miles to go and I up my pace at each mile from 9 – 8 – 7min, catching a few more on the last climb and then we can see the final Trig point called Glacial Boulder. Dibber done, quick selfie and off for the final push as chap blasts past but I just can’t hold on. A gradual downhill through a tree covered gulley before it opens up and the finish is in sight. ‘Don’t forget to check your dibber in’ shouts the marshal as I approach the finish line……bleep, flash and it’s finished. Not many of us around the finish area but all of us are congratulating one another and grabbing a cup of water. We watch some other faces I recognise from around the course finish and cheer them in. Mutual respect amongst runners as a tough mornings run has been conquered and I think maybe the first time an SDRR runner has completed it, but hopefully not the last.
A great experience on a chilly morning, the ground was fairly hard underfoot, a lot of hard compacted natural trails, some short road sections so my choice of trails instead of XC shoes was a wise choice. Navigation was minimal as most competitors had done the race before so at times I followed the crowd. Thank you to Mercia Fell Runners for organising an excellent race and giving me some happy memories for years to come. Managed to finish 61st out of 118 finishers in a time of 2:32:42, not too bad for my first attempt. Big thank you to all the marshals, supporters and helpers, cheers and may see you next year! Ade Middleton