It's never that much fun when you start thinking about how to get fit again after a good break from training and racing, but my friend Rosie had previously mentioned that she "races herself" fit hence I thought I'd try a race when visiting my sister for Christmas in Winchester (I'd also been inspired by two people at a muddy crosscountry Christmas Day parkrun - 1 was a 14 year old girl who led the guys for almost the entire 5k run, finishing in 18 minutes and change, and the other was my father, who also completed the three lap course despite slipping and sliding around on the hills, finishing first in his category).
The Ship & Bell
It was a sunny, if cold, day as we drove along beautiful winding Hampshire country roads to Horndean village. There was no obvious evidence that a run was scheduled for that day, but I spotted a man in a high-viz jacket near the Ship and Bell Hotel. He wasn't exactly chatty, but when I asked him where I could enter the "pub to pub" roadrace, he thumbed over his shoulder at the village hall.
The race was being held by the Portsmouth Joggers, but what really impressed me was the ethos of the race. All proceeds from entry fees, raffle tickets and mince pies/coffee/tea (well I couldn't miss out on those could I?) went to the Portsmouth Hospital's Rocky Appeal. In the 30 years that the race has been happening the Rocky Appeal has raised about £15 million for the hospital (though it seems quite sad that vital hospital funding has to be raised through charities), with this year's appeal going towards a new digital keyhole operating theatre at the Queen Elizabeth hospital.
One of the best race signs I've ever seen!
I think this added to the friendliness of the run, as the marshals were volunteers who wanted to be there, there were no fancy timing systems (and hence no accurate course measurements so it was advertised as an approximate distance) and no policed road closures (so iPods/headphones were banned).
The uphill start
After a very short briefing we were off....straight up a hill! Some people still hared off, while others seem to soon regret excesses of the night before (I passed a man bent over double within the first half mile so I believe that was the end of his run). My friend likened it to a "trail run on tarmac" as the initial couple of miles were on a single track road strewn with branches and mud. Most people, including myself, settled into their running within the first mile and so I spent the next 6 or so following the same man by a lesser or greater distance. He pulled away from me on the steep half mile downhill (the pack of cyclists toiling up it didn't have much breath to reply to my "hello"!), but I gained to within a few metres when it came to ascending it on the return leg.
The Red Lion
It was an out and back course with a drinks station at the far pub (the Red Lion), though unfortunately this was outside the pub rather than inside it. It was rather fun to run around a man standing on a crate in the road before heading back the way we'd come. It meant that everyone got to see everyone else in the race, though I nearly made myself hoarse by trying to say "well done" to everyone on the way back in! I managed to refrain from commenting on my poor speed to a horse rider when I passed her in both directions (she was wearing a high-viz jacket which asked you to "slow down when passing") but it did make me smile!
And so the downhill finish...
When you run a route in both directions you realise how deceptive appearances are....it's very rare that anything is actually flat, as you're usually either climbing or descending. Still, there was no doubt in my mind that the start had been uphill, which meant a nice run down into the finish (approximately 7.3 miles later) to get the legs turning over (and to earn more mince pies and coffee)!
It wasn't called the "pub to pub" for nothing!!
All in all, a nice morning out, running in the Hampshire countryside, meeting new people, yet still making it back to my sister's in time for a lunch of Christmas leftovers!