In short: Lovely course, lovely atmosphere In full: Tremendous setting at Hatfield House. Weather was unseasonably good, which made for a great summery atmosphere in early October.
Race number and chip arrived in the post a couple of weeks ahead of the race, as promised. Results were up approx 5 hours after the race finished.
Ample car parking on the day. No portaloos - there was use of the House courtyard loos - mens were fine with minimal queuing, but there were lengthy queues for the ladies' as the start time neared.
As mentioned in reviews from previous years, the warm-up was very good and extremely well-received. Soundtrack in among everything: early-to-mid 90s chart dance. If you, like me, enjoy the likes of Strike's U Sure Do and SL2's On A Ragga Tip, you will arrive at the athletes area with a big smile on your face. I would urge whoever was in charge of the music to repeat the playlist next year.
Start was staggered based on predicted time. Slightly hamfistedly applied, but worked for me. There was apparently a bottleneck at the start towards the back of the field, which made for some slow early progress.
This year's course started with a long downhill stretch. Plenty got extremely carried away by this, so if the route carries into next year, I'd definitely urge caution to any beginners.
There was a well dealt with loop out across a field, then on to slightly muddy trails. At this point plenty were complaining about the terrain, but after a 1km-ish sojourn round this way, we briefly rejoined the path we arrived on before travelling elsewhere. The first and last of the muddy trails were over and done with before 3km - beyond that some loose stones were as treacherous as footing got. The vast majority was on good quality tracks and asphalt.
There's a lot of downhill on the course, but two or three uphills of note. 1st was between 4-5km, which I suffered on quite a bit due to undertraining.
Next was milder, around the 8km mark.
The real sickener, which we all knew was coming, was the finish, up the hill we'd started on. It's not the steepest of hills by any means, but it really sapped the legs, and pretty much killed any prospect of a kick for the line. I normally have a 150-200m blast at the end of any race, but all I could muster was a half-hearted 20m burst to the line past a couple of runners that were suffering more than I was.
Put simply, whatever your level, if you put in the time on some decent hills to prepare you for this race, you will have some serious joy cutting through the field. Loads - myself included - were underprepared, and were just asking for someone to steam past.
The finish is right in front of Hatfield House, incidentally, and is a really epic setting. Just a shame it's not a flatter road in!
TV and Arsenal's Bob Wilson - head of the Willow Foundation along with his wife - was a game host for proceedings, and also manned the mic to usher runners home, a lovely touch. Unfortunately many runners missed out on having their own finish commentated on, because he was being extraordinarily accommodating with photos in the finish area. Not a complaint - I got a couple myself - but perhaps a bit unfortunate.
Goody bag was good quality - water, medal, energy bar etc. Someone mentioned fruit, but I didn't see any.
Now, gripes. Firstly, some of the route was vaguely described in an email (mainly talking about the loop, which is a change to previous years) but not published. Bob himself jokingly said that he hadn't realised the start/finish hill was quite so severe, and he's not the only one that was surprised by it. Would have been nice to have known more about it and the route as a whole, in fairness.
Water stations were definitely undermanned, particularly the second one. Could have used at least a couple more pairs of hands at each of the first two -I wasn't in huge traffic on passing and they were struggling.
It looks like a third station was hurriedly added because of the hot weather at the 9km mark - not sure when this was decided upon, but an announcement at the start would have been appreciated.
I'm told the third station ran out of plastic cups somewhere after the hour mark, which is a huge shame.
Marshals on the whole were a bit thin on the ground, I thought. Certainly no problems with keeping to the route, but there were a few very cuttable corners that I thought could've done with a hi-vis on standby to keep runners in line.
Good to see marshals identifying hazards - a guy by a huge pothole in particular was well stationed, as were a couple of ladies by a couple of cattle grids. At the first, the marshal perhaps got a bit too much into the spirit of the day and was encouraging high-fives on passing, but in doing so unfortunately was distracting us from the fact that there was a hulking great grid right there behind her! Hairy and humorous moment rather than anything to get too het up about, but definitely made me think of what could've gone wrong if my footing had been slightly less sure.
Marshals on the whole were very encouraging - always a huge plus.
Physios were apparently available for a post-race rub down. There was a stall doing bacon or sausage rolls, and there was also a veggie option, as well as teas and coffees. The price list also mentioned squash, but apparently they'd run out, which struck me as a teensy bit rubbish. At this point there were still 40 mins-worth of runners and walkers still on the course, so somebody clearly miscalculated somewhere.
If you relish a bit of uphill grind, there's definite PB potential here as there are huge stretches of downhill to really let you get motoring. That's not me, unfortunately, and the tricky finish was a bit of a sickener.
But not to take away from an excellent event for a massively worthy cause. I really enjoyed myself, and there was a great showing from spectators at the finish.
It sounds like it's scaling upwards gradually and sensibly, and if they can scale up the fundamentals like some more marshals and ensuring enough stocks of essentials are on hand, this is a race that I can see with at least twice the capacity.
Well done Bob, well done Willow, and I'll definitely have my eye on the date for this one next year. Date of review: October 7, 2013