Squelch squelch squelch squelch splosh squelch splosh squelch squelch squelch slip squelch slip squelch splosh… That was the sound of the first 5K of the Trailscape Rail To Trail South half marathon in Ashurst, (Kent/Sussex border) on Saturday January 10. Trailscape had promised “trails, cross-country and tracks” and they certainly delivered. They also delivered what can best be described simply as farmland; no actual cows and sheep but fields with plenty of evidence they’d been there recently, fields with fresh furrows, and a farmyard… not a big one but an actual farmyard nonetheless. And all with one thing in common… MUD!
Once upon a time this part of England had quite a thriving industry making bricks. Why? Because you don’t have to dig very deep here to find perfect clay for bricks, and also perfect, as it turns out for making your feet feel like lead weights and for sucking your runners right off ’em. So no surprise then really, that a trail run here in mid January after a week of heavy rain is a bit claggy.
But after a tough first 5K we got some respite from the mud, to run up a hill instead. Not too long and not too steep thankfully, and we quickly joined the Forest Way; a disused single track railway line now a country path enjoyed by runners, cyclists and walkers. Tree lined, firm under foot and flat; this section provided some well needed respite and a chance to enjoy the moment and the countryside around us. And fitting too that a stage of this run is made up of what was once rail now literally the trail.
I took the opportunity to pick up the pace a bit on this section and take advantage of the firm going. Probably misguided as I should in hindsight have reserved more in the tank for when the terrain became a little boggy again, which it did before too long.
Then, after what seemed an eternity of more slipping, sliding, squelching and splashing we rejoined the Forest Way on our return journey. One last farmland section that was… you guessed – a bit muddy. And then for a grand finale a climb up a steep muddy hill before a nice gentle descent to the finish.
Did I mention the headwind?
The Trailscape ‘South’ HM was a small-ish field of 92 runners and a crowd that looked like it meant business. There were not too many club shirts and nobody was dressed as a giant kebab which I always think says a lot about a race’s character. There were also lots of lovely woofers running in both the 1/2 and 10K. This is the second Trailscape race I have done in this series (the other being ‘East’ in Cuxton, Kent) and if I had to sum them up in 3 words, I would say:
The whole event was well organised, and the Trailscape team really find a nice balance between efficient and informal. The course was clearly marked, there were cheery marshalls at key points, no mile markers, and the first fuel station was at 11K; so you needed to plan to look after yourself – which I quite like actually as it feels just a little bit more of an adventure somehow.
Did I mention the mud?
There was a warm welcome on finishing; the Ashurst Village Hall as race HQ had tea and coffee on sale with a wide range of cake. And if you needed something more substantial to refuel there was a ‘Rupert’s Street’ food truck on site selling delicious vegan grub. (which is amazing by the way, check them out here)
All finishers were awarded a medal and a nice goodie bag with locally sourced treats and a tech T-shirt (for once a contemporary design and a choice of colour!)
Race Directors Hannah and John are evangelists about the joys of trail running and their mission is to share this, spread the word and design races that encourage more people to try trail running by increasing its accessibility. Admirable ambition indeed, one which I believe they will fulfil if my experience is anything to go on. The two Trailscape races I have done both had a really nice vibe about them, which I think will prove a great basis for success. I hope that as they grow in popularity, which they undoubtedly will, they don’t loose this essence which so far makes them a bit special.
A trail run should make you explore and discover; at Trailscape South I discovered new places practically on my own doorstep which is great. And if the first 5K leave you feeling “utterly ruined” as one fellow runner described it, well that’s just a bonus!