Ed: Chris Reports from a wet and tough Bewl 15 in which he achieved another personal best…
The Bewl 15 is a great event which I competed in last year, and it was my first ever race after about seven months of running. Back then I completed the course in 2h20 and knew I’d return a year later to do even better.
The day came around quickly and in typical British Summer fashion we drove through torrential rain to get to Wadhurst where the event was being held. Normally in July I’d be struggling to keep cool waiting for the race to start but today I was camping out in the car until the last minute and then shivering near the start line wishing the announcer would should ‘Go!’. I was also starting to regret my decision to wear road shoes although looking around I could see almost every other runner sharing my predicament.
The race began and we set off down a farm track towards the Bewl Water reservoir, which gives this fifteen mile event its name. Before long the large reservoir came into view (complete with sailors struggling to keep upright in the strong wind) and we were negotiating the narrow off-road track that follows most of the outside of the reservoir.
Mile 1 came quickly and I had barely begun to find my rhythm, at this stage runners were still jostling for positions and we were dodging the occasional recreational walker. The sun had come out by now and we followed the track though some woods and grassy embankments – the latter beginning to feel quite warm without shade.
At Mile 3 we passed the Visitor’s Centre and an aid station, and it was great to hear lots of cheering and clapping for the first time since the start. Immediately after the centre we crossed the ‘dam’ part of the reservoir – a section of very flat, barren gravel track perfect for looking back and seeing how many people you’re beating! Before long we were back into twisting, winding, narrow woodland trail (my kind of running!) and struggling to stay upright on fast muddy turns and slopes.
More grass track and woodland track followed with a short road section and I reached the far eastern tip of the reservoir, at around 10k, in just under fifty minutes. Looking around I saw that I was pretty much on my own. There was a large group ahead of me but too fast for me to catch, and seemingly no-one behind me. The course had felt strangely tougher than I was expecting given how well my training had gone, but I was pleased with the pacing on my own so far. I decided to slow down a little and ease off the effort knowing that some pretty mean hills would be greeting me from mile 10 until the finish. I also hoped a group would catch me from behind so that there would be people to run with.
I reached the 10-mile marker in 1:23 where we switched to roads and hit the first real hill. I took this one steadily and stubbornly, as I had walked it last year. Sure enough I made it to the top and enjoyed my reward – a short, fast downhill section that we flew down. I gained a few places here as a group had caught me up on the hill!
Immediately after reaching the bottom of the hill we began ascending the next one, and it continued like this almost the whole way to the finish – 3 big hills just waiting until you’re tired from the first two-thirds of the race. At the next aid station someone shouted ‘Go Vegan!’ which made me smile and gave me a much-needed boost. It was also great to be among other runners again and to feed off of their energy and persistence.
I crossed the half-marathon distance in around 1h51 – a little off my target pace but the hills were taking their toll and I was beginning to feel cramps in my quads and calves. Sure enough on the next hill they seized up and I had to slow to stretch them out. I continued running at a more conservative pace.
It was then that the heavens opened again. I won’t go into much detail as to what language I used on my muscles to get them moving, but suffice to say the final two miles were tough, and it hurt, and I must have looked a right state to the three or four runners who overtook me. Nevertheless, I managed to run it home, up the last brutal hill (don’t race organisers know we want a nice gentle downhill into the finish line?) and across the line in 2:08 for 238th place to collect my medal. Well off my target time but still a solid twelve minutes faster than my run last year.
Another really well-organised race, on beautiful trails (with a couple of miles of road), and I would absolutely recommend this to anyone wanting to push a little outside the half-marathon comfort zone!