Where Arundel, West Sussex
When April 19, 2009
First Man Matthew Pearson 36:37
First Woman Hannah Fothergill 42:52
Last Finisher 1:32:01
No. of Finishers 353
The Bluebell Trail 10K, based a few miles away from the small West Sussex village of Angmering, is a rare opportunity to explore the privately owned 11,000-acre Angmering Park Estate, the woods of which are peppered with picturesque cottages and outbuildings.
It felt like a privilege to trample through these tranquil woods on a sunny spring morning, and there were few sounds to be heard on the winding course other than the runners' heavy breathing and the splash of muddy puddles – plus occasional unnerving gunfire from nearby farmland. The only people in sight were other runners, marshals and a few dog walkers looking on bewildered by the side of the path. For a country girl at heart, it was the perfect antidote to running in grimy, bustling London.
This year's run was the fifth staging of this trail race, and the buzz among competitors before the start suggested that there were many returning runners in the field, all looking forward to what one woman told me was a highlight of her racing year. It certainly lived up to that accolade – the course was a beauty. Participants never faced the same surroundings for more than a kilometre, and over the course of an hour I was treated to uphills, downhills, dusty tracks and boggy pools as the course twisted up tight woodland trails before heading out on a grassy track straight over the crest of gloriously wide-open farmland.
The out-and-back kilometre at halfway was an excellent chance to take stock – especially for those runners who, like me, were eager to stoke their competitive instincts by discovering how many runners were behind them. The straight and flat path on this section encouraged runners to take a moment to gauge their pace, and to settle down after the exhilarating opening kilometres spent plunging through
The final few kilometres saw the temperature climb on what was an unseasonably warm April morning – an unfortunate occurrence as the runners still had one final brutal ascent of their own to make.
My goal for the day was to make this my first sub-60:00 10K. As I approached the final couple of kilometres this was very much still on, and my confidence was buoyed by the memory of a tough hill run completed the previous week back home on the slopes of the Cotswold Way.
I'd heard a woman who was queuing for the loo pre-race nervously chanting 'keep something back' to herself, but dismissed it as nothing to worry about – and now, as I approached the final climb I looked scornfully at someone halfway up it reduced to a walk and increased my speed. I was a Lycra-clad personification of the phrase 'ignorance is bliss'.
A few metres up the hill, I realised that the magnitude of my error was matched only by that of the incline in front of me. Sub-60 just wasn't going to happen – and shortly before the top I was forced to join the ranks of the walking. I crested the rise and tottered the last few yards to the finish line a spent force.
A few minutes' respite was all it took for the competitive spirit to come flooding back, however, and there's no doubt I'll be back to tackle that hill next year – and along the way I'll take the opportunity to enjoy the bluebells, the invigorating kaleidoscope of scenery and the understated efficiency that are among the other hallmarks of this impressive race.