When January 25, 2009
First Man Adrian Mussett 52:31
First Woman Helen Decker 1:00:23
Last Finisher 2:09:12
No. of Finishers 745
Canterbury is well known as a place of pilgrimage, so it was appropriate that the devotion of runners was severely tested by some unholy weather on the last Sunday in January.
The fact that almost 800 of them were willing to haul themselves out of bed to race in driving rain and howling winds is a tribute to their commitment. And special credit must be given to the race marshals, who must have had the patience of saints to give out water, directions and encouragement in such conditions.
The almost wholly rural route was a loop that headed out of the city into the rolling Kentish Downs, with the first mile or so following the North Downs Way. The going was narrow here with both edges of the single-track lane covered with puddles – racers naturally massed along the middle of the lane, leading to a certain amount of bottlenecking in the early stages, which gradually dissipated as the field spread out.
At this stage many runners were attempting to hurdle puddles. But by the end, with drenched, muddy feet, caution was sacrificed for efficiency and runners simply splashed straight through them.
After going through the village of Bridge, in which the route followed the old Roman road from London to Dover, competitors came face-to-face with Keeper's Hill, the race's first, and toughest, incline, at around the four-mile mark. But the cruel reward for conquering the half-mile ascent was a blast of wind as the course moved onto higher and more exposed downland.
In terms of scenery, the race has plenty to offer, with hop and wheat fields, farms, villages and the odd thatched roof thrown in for good measure. All of these are no doubt charming on their (brighter) day, but shrouded in the day's windblown half-light felt somewhat desolate. But, as the great fell-runner Joss Naylor says, "There's nothing like bad weather for building up mental strength." And for every climb when the wind threatened to blow you to a standstill, there were stretches the wind got behind you and ushered your tired limbs downhill.
The reward for this honest endeavour was a rather meagre cotton T-shirt, but this minor gripe aside, this is an efficiently organised and welcoming race that even sodden weather couldn't dampen..