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.|
|Crossing the gallops.|
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.|
|Galloping down the gallops.|
|In the queue at the top of the hill.|
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.|
|The unfortunate Fiver.|
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!
|Playing 'king of the castle'.|
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.|
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!