Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 22 January 2017

June 18th: Hoppit!

To be brutally honest I was not in the best of shape getting to the start-line of the inaugural Hampshire Hoppit trail marathon… Since the Jurassic Quarter a month ago I have been out for the sum-total of one jog. Partly it was work-load issues, but mostly it was through the state my knees were in after the race. I was troubled for a good week with aching and pain inside of them and a tender right hamstring that I have been nursing since March.

As such I had taken a near total break to allow my body some recovery time… The flip-side of this was I knew I would not be in any condition to push for a decent time and I was prepared to be hurting in the days afterwards!

I was alerted to the inaugural Hampshire Hoppit a few months back by CTS running buddy Luke when chatting about something to do in June that was different to the South Downs Marathon. An ad for it had popped-up on his Facebook so he messaged me and in no time I’d committed to this event as my June marathon… As an added incentive, it promised if you finish instead of a medal you would receive a commemorative pint pot filled with a bespoke brewed beer from the local Loddon Brewery to drink in celebration of your accomplishment.

The Hoppit, has a choice of either half or full marathon organised by the local Basingstoke & Mid Hants Athletics Club over the hills, fields and country lanes north of Basingstoke in a circular route from Kingsclere over the famous Watership Down, round to Hannington where they TV mast dominates the skyline for miles around, then back to the start.

Looking up the hill to the Hannington transmitter.
I drove with LSS & Heidi the short distance to Kingsclere where we were efficiently marshaled to a parking space a little way from the event base on the gallops of the Park House racing stables owned by the parents of TV sports presenter Clare Balding.

Crossing the gallops.
In the car park I bumped into Barry Miller, who’d just finished 2nd in the Grand Union Canal race a couple of weeks before - the race is the 145 mile length of the canal from Birmingham to London! I teased him about chasing the win today with the distance being merely a Sunday training run for him - which he laughed-off saying there’s ‘far too many young whippets for that’!

A trek of about a mile across the gallops from the parking and we were at the marquee to register, generally mill around under the strengthening summer sun and prepare for the off in a bubbly atmosphere that was bordering on a party.

Milling around ready for the start.
Both the marathon and half marathon were corralled together and unleashed on to the course at the same time. Initially it was a half mile dash down the gallops to the foot of the steep ridged hill the Hannington TV mast sits atop, a TV mast that in 2001 famously ‘died’ during England’s 5-1 defeat of Germany in a World Cup qualifier in Germany when the game was 1-1!

Galloping down the gallops.
As soon as we all left the gallop the field ground to a halt entering the woods. Unfortunately there seemed to be a lot of pavement-pounders amongst the runners who were frightened of a couple of stinging nettles that were hanging over the single-track path and had stopped in panic trying to figure a way around them rather than ploughing-on through! Eventually we were moving again under the cool shade of the leafy canopy until we turned a corner to leave the estate and we were faced with the climb straight up the hill on to the ridge.

The ascent.
Unfortunately there was a stile close to the summit so everyone had to stand and wait in line to cross that, so the entire field for both races was stretched-out along the side of the hill single file waiting to get over it under the beating sun - I suppose at least we did not have to make any attempt at legging it up the impossibly steep side on which we stood.

In the queue at the top of the hill.
Once atop the ridge and in the welcome slight breeze you gained from being up high we were off and running over the flat pasture, with the field able to spread-out with all the runners up to speed - although it was not possible to tell what race people were in, so the person in front you were running hard to keep up with could have been running the half marathon and after a couple of miles when the course forked right and left for the respective races, it was soon apparent that the majority of those runners in front were veering left for the half course!

As we kept to the ridge-top we could see off to our right side the area that gave the name of the book Watership Down, although at this time of day there were sadly no rabbits to be spotted.

After a couple of miles of the wide grassy plateau we descended to the well hidden A34 and the subterranean crossing of it, passing along the memorial stone to aviation pioneer Geoffrey de Havilland set where he flew his first home-made aeroplane - his family having been local to the area with his father the vicar for the parish.

Swaying in the gentle breeze.
This stretch of the run seemed to be continually downhill and changed from the grassy hill-tops to the farm trails, green lanes and ‘B’ roads that led us around the southerly section of the course… It was along here I encountered a freshly deceased rabbit - not being far from Watership Down and its tale of migrating rabbits looking for a new mythical home, I commented to my fellow runners that ‘Fiver had not quite made it to Efrafa’.

The unfortunate Fiver.
With us now in the midst of summer the first of the poppies were showing their heads amongst the fields of barley and wheat, the sharp red a notable counterpoint to the soft greens that shimmered with the crops moving in the gentle breeze.


The entire southern half of the day's route seemed to just blend in to one continual unremarkable meander through the agricultural countryside we are lucky to have in this part of Hampshire. Running was easy with even the climbs being steady, slow and not very taxing. It serves as an ideal introduction to a trail marathon for the worshippers of black tar running as a good half of the distance was on their favoured surface and with the baked-hard trail underfoot, even the off-road sections were more than passable with a pair of road running shoes.


With around 10k left to go we encountered the first major climb since leaving the grounds of the gallops as we turned northwards towards Hannington and the ascent back up the hill with the transmitter with the finish at the bottom of the hill on the other side.

Passing through the village we hit a plateau, the village clearing to reveal just flat fields with Buzzards and Red Kites circling above us ominously as if waiting to feed on the carcasses of any fallen runners. Venturing in to the fields we could hear an absolute chorus of bleats. The field on our left was filled with some very vocal ovines who seemed to be cheering us on. I couldn't help but stop to record the sound of them all giving it what-for!

Bemused.
Playing 'king of the castle'.
video

Turning the corner at the end of the field there was a sharp descent which I found a bit hard on my knees with all the pavement-pounding of the last 10 miles or so, however in no time we seemed to be climbing again and veering left as we circled on to the northern edge of the hill overlooking Kingsclere and the finish a mere couple of miles away.

Closing-in on the finish in yonder field.
Spirits lifted for everyone it was a simple jog in and descent off the hill and a final mile up the gallops to the finish line and the waiting LSS & Heidi who was going bananas at all the runners woofing like a thing possessed with all the excitement.

The finisher’s swag bag had within it a medal, 2 packs of crisps, a ‘Bounce Energy Ball’, samples of lube plus, some ‘Rock Tape’ kinesiology tape, a mini pack of Haribo. The best gift of all was what I had been looking forward to since I entered and was yours straight after the finish; the etched pint glass which was filled with the ale that gives the race its name… Those who finished the marathon received a pint glass and those who ran the half received a half-pint which I thought was a rather apt way to do things.


So much for his prediction of there being ‘too many whippets’ in the race: Barry finished 3rd… A successful couple of weeks endurance running by any standard!

As much as this run was me just ‘going through the motions’ and spending the time on my feet with the Lakeland 50 looming, by not putting much effort or pace in to the race, I enjoyed it as a gentle local jaunt in the local countryside. As it was organised by the local athletics club it was well managed and marshaled by people who care about what you are out there doing. The atmosphere was very friendly and from looking at all those around me the field was composed of mostly club runners from the local surrounding areas of Hampshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire, although there were plenty of other vests from farther afield to be spotted... Must have been the lure of free beer!

Will I be doing this one again? Certainly. On a purely logistical level it works better for me than the South Downs (although not as taxing a run) and I get the impression it will grow with every year it runs. The course is one where you can put a very good time down for a trail marathon as it is undemanding terrain underfoot and has few significant climbs to really slow you down... so long as the 2 pinch-points near the start are taken care of that force everyone to stop and queue as soon as you have started running.

As a first-time event there was an added bonus for all of us who ran it. Due to miscalculation on quantities of beer required, there were seconds to be had of the amber nectar - and thirds if you could manage, although I doubt this will be repeated for future iterations!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.



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