In short: Remote low key yet uplifting run In full: Stelling Minnis is a village in the middle of nowhere between Ashford, Canterbury and Folkestone. They've been putting on this low key casual 10K for some years now, and manage to attract around 200 runners.
Such races are the backbone of amateur running. Pleasant everyweek events that provide a contrast to the big events like London and the Great North. I like the big events - the buzz and excitement are very special. But those are occasional events - and you wouldn't want too many of them. Events like this in pleasant countryside where you hear the birds tweeting as you trot along, and you get the friendly encouragement of genuinely interested marshals, are wonderfully refreshing, easy to enter, and low cost.
They also put into relief the increasing number of charmless professionally organised runs where the marshals look bored and impatient, the atmosphere is cold and impersonal, and profit rather than pride or fun is the main motivator.
Stelling Minnis is lovely, and every runner deserves to experience the relaxed joy of taking part in such a green and pleasant run. When you pull into the field car park by the ancient windmill, you know you are going to have fun.
It's a stiffly undulating run, with the infamous hill climb just after 6k. You think you've started the hill climb, but then a marshal tells you that the hill proper starts around the corner. Grief! I had managed a decent time all round, and decided to run the hill instead of walk it. The 1k climb added a minute and a half to my time, which seemed OK, but then I was totally blown, and could not get my rhythm back so the next kilometre cost me another minute extra, and I had to walk for a bit to get my strength back. I would have done better to do as those ahead of me did, and walk the hill - for though I caught up to them by the top, they then jogged away into the distance, and I never saw them again. Date of review: May 25, 2014
In short: Enjoyable In full: Enjoyable low key event with a pleasant relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and some great views near the end.
Signposting and information regarding the starting point could be improved, but I think everyone found it in the end. The course goes up or down most of the way, there are few flat sections apart from the start. However, it's mainly a pleasant up and down, though some sections are quite stiff and us slow ones at the back would resort to walking on occasion.
The views and scenery in the last half are very enjoyable, though, sadly, the first half is less pleasant. Indeed, after a few miles of dreary dried mud and dull trees either side, the consensus among those first-timers at the back was that unless the course improved we wouldn't return. The last half changed our minds about that!
Some sections of the course are clearly used by off-road vehicles, so there are deep ruts and frequent large mud puddles. If there has been rain recently, this could be quite a heavy going course - more of a mudder than a cross-country. Luckily the rain has recently held off, so the mud puddles were just about negotiable.
The finish is a steep drop, then one of those heart-breaking trudges around a field, mostly heading away from the finishing post. Oooh, I hate those. Do all the field circuits at the start, then let us head straight to the finish at the end!
Refreshing glass of squash at the end, and then told the engraved half-pint glass is yours to keep as a souvenir. Lovely! I do like a thoughtful souvenir rather than a medal or t-shirt.
We had an enjoyable weekend in Gloucester, so I wouldn't mind doing this again. Date of review: April 16, 2014
In short: Slightly flawed low key event, but I'd do it again In full: This is a pleasant low key event in an attractive location. The race starts and finishes in a small park by Fuller's brewery. Some facilities are laid on - swings for the kids, BBQ outside the pub, a dray horse for everyone to pet and take photos of, etc. Parking is in the streets nearby, and the event is small enough that spaces are available. The toilet is in the brewery visitors area; sadly, sufficient toilet paper was not organised before the race, though there was an abundance afterwards.
There was a slight delay to the start, though the time was filled with some organised warm up exercises. I think the chap doing it had a steep learning curve - he was a little hesitant, always checking with a list on his phone; and he discovered that it was difficult to demonstrate exercises and talk into a hand-held microphone at the same time! Bless.
The atmosphere was happy and laid back, and there was a local radio station present to keep things buzzing, so the overall charm overcame the little flaws. The main flaw, though, was exposed at the start. The start to the race was in the park, and the runners had to leave the park through a narrow gate. This did cause some congestion. However, we were soon out into the street and away we went, until we got to the riverside path. Very, very narrow entrance. Huge block. Some runners tried to go around the gate, and had to climb over a wall. Those who hadn't noticed that route (you keep to the right), were hemmed in by the other runners, and just had to wait in the slow shuffle. Thankfully everyone was good natured, but that was a three minute delay, so this is not a race for a PB, and that needs to be borne in mind - and organisers should not be advertising it as such.
There was a lack of marshals for a long period, and people did take alternative routes. So this is unlikely to be a precise 10K. Best to view this as a pleasant day out, than a serious 10K event.
The course is very pleasant - the return leg on the south bank being the more scenic with views of the Thames all the way; and it is flat, so after the dodgy start, you can stretch your legs a bit. You'll clock various pubs, and select which one you'll return to after the race. Though this is a Fuller's sponsored run, we did go for a Young's pub, purely because it is right on the river.
At the finish you queue for a pint of London Pride. It comes from a cask, but it's a "bright" beer - which means it has been poured into the cask without any yeast. I think this is because it was set up on the day, and it usually takes at least a day for a cask with yeast to settle. It wasn't that fresh, so I assume it had been filled a few days earlier. It seems a shame that the beer for which the race is named, should not be served in decent condition when only a 100 yards from the brewery.
However, the little flaws aside, I enjoyed the event and the day overall, and would urge people to give this one a go. It's in a great location, it has a charming, friendly atmosphere, and is damn good value, considering that a pint of beer is included. Date of review: June 25, 2013
In short: Wonderful low key event. Very charming. In full: I loved this. Warm, friendly, fun atmosphere. Well organised for the scale of the event. I felt that the organisers were in control, and were confident and happy with what they were doing.
You meet up on the grass area between the river and the sports centre. Free and ample parking on a Sunday - though the spaces are small in the indoor car park, so take care. There are toilets in the sports centre, though not sure how official the arrangements are, as I overheard one of the organisers say to someone to ask the receptionist nicely if they could use them.
There's a short and friendly pep talk before everyone is walked over to the station, where extra railway staff have been brought in for everyone's safety, and there's a station announcement to welcome the runners. Nice touches like that make you feel warm and safe.
Pretty train journey, which can be easily missed if chatting to some other runners. There's a real warm, social outing feel to the train ride. And everyone feels pally and happy.
Greeted at Wateringbury by a mayor. Another nice touch. And we are walked to the start by the river, where a press photographer takes a photo of the bunch of us waving. Even though this is a very low key event, with only about a 100 runners, the organisers have clearly put a deal of thought into this, and that makes the event so special. I want all local runs to be like this. Many of them are. But, sadly, there are some professional race organisers moving in now, who take the joy and pleasure out of running events, by doing it for the money. Events like this renew my interest in running.
The course is more fun than serious running. It's an unconventional distance which might detract some serious club runners, and the course is very narrow in places, which means that even with a small pack of runners, there was a little bit of walking and sometimes waiting at bottlenecks. If you want a fast run - get to the front and stay there.
There was one stretch where nettles grow both sides of the very narrow path. Leggings are advised. Either that, or squirm and tiptoe like a pansy past the stinging leaves. Three muddy streams across the track made this feel like one of those mud challenges - though the streams could either be jumped with a confident leap, or negotiated by careful selection of the correct fallen tree branches!
The scenery is delightful - swans and boats bobbing on the Medway, and some picture postcard views of bridges along the way.
Nice atmosphere at the finish, with supporters on the footbridge which acts as the finish line (I didn't notice, and kept on running until I reached the goodie bag table!) The goodie bag was the usual marketing samples nonsense - but there was an apple and a bottle of water. The medal was pointless as it was a generic charity medal which doesn't mention the race or the year, but some people do like medals - especially if they don't do many races.
Overall, a charming event. I'll be keen to do this again, and have already got several friends who want to do it with me next year. Date of review: June 10, 2013
In short: If only all runs were like this In full: The Hemel training runs are legendary - and rightly so. If only all runs were like this. Only £5, yet you get the support and protection of the marshals, and stand-by first aiders. Plus, you get unlimited hot tea and cake at the end. I've paid ten times as much for far, far less.
The course starts flat for three miles along the Grand Union Canal, but then goes up a long stiff climb for a couple of miles, and remains hilly/undulating until the end. The course is through attractive countryside and little villages. Very pleasant. The runners and marshals are relaxed, cool, friendly, and there is a special feel, as most people are doing this as part of training for London.
I can't think of any problems with this run at all. Yes, there's no supporters, yes, there's no big race atmosphere, but you aren't here for that. You are here purely for the run, and it's a perfect run.
I did it in 3.10.43, and finished strong, so I was buzzing. Date of review: March 23, 2013
In short: Good flat course - poor organisation In full: I only run this course because it's flat. Very poorly organised, and expensive for what it is. I didn't see any technical shirt - I finished after 2.10, so perhaps they had run out. I was given a toy shop medal that isn't worth keeping. No food or energy drinks. The organisers need to close the lane to traffic. And perhaps buy a few bags of sand to fill in the potholes. You know, do some actual organising! This is probably the worse organised race on the calendar, and given that people have complained in the past, I don't quite get why Martin and Cathy Burke don't do something about it. This could be such a great run if only they made a little bit more effort. You can't have cars and runners together in a narrow lane filled with pot holes. The lane is private so can be closed off. Close it off. Date of review: March 22, 2013
In short: Rather dull and low key In full: Sometimes the weather makes all the difference. This was a cold and mostly grey day, so that brings down the spirits. Even so, I found the course to be largely uninspired and dreary, with some pleasant bits, that never quite opened up into anything really enjoyable. Once out of the park there's some suburban streets, then there's some narrow country roads where the view is either the hedges or trees either side. It's actually a bit better than I'm painting it - certainly it's not ugly, but the views are not worth talking about, and are not what is going to bring you back.
The course is fairly challenging. It's a series of small hills, combined with a gradual slope upwards, so if you're not running down a hill, you're doing some form of climb up. This does become wearying after a time, but eventually the slope does come down until you're in the flat of the park for the finish.
The race and the organisation is rather low key. It feels like a very modest local run, but does manage to attract a decent crowd, and it has pace runners, which is impressive. There is little in the way of frills or actual organisation. There's a tent in the park, which is useful, and there are marshals, and you get a running top as a souvenir, but other than that, it's not what you'd expect for the money or the amount of runners. Everything feels a little too minimal and modest. And this is summed up by the lack of food at the finish. After a hilly half marathon in cold weather the least one can expect is some form of nutrition at the end - a sports drink, a cereal bar, even a banana. The only food on offer was some greasy meat you had to pay for. Veggie's like me had to walk into town.
The support of the other runners as I finished in the park was very moving, and it brought home that while there had been some support from the marshals, on the whole, it had been modest. And it would be helpful if organisers advised marshals not to say "Not far now", unless the runner is within 400 yards of the finish. It's not helpful. Really. Especially if you still have another hour left to run. And, the last few miles are NOT "The easy bit" - that is so demoralising. The last few miles are bloody well the hardest bit, and you need to dig deep, and to get the right support from the marshals, not to have your efforts dismissed as "easy". I would rather marshals kept shut than to tell me it's "not far" and that I've done the "difficult part", and that this is "the easy part now". Run a mile in my shoes and tell me that!
The combination of the hills, and the cold meant this was a stiff and painful run for me. But I kept at it, and did it in 2.40. Not a great time, but given the circumstances I shouldn't be too hard on myself. Date of review: February 15, 2013
In short: Loved the ford! In full: The delayed 25th anniversary running of this race was worth the wait. Great atmosphere, attractive and mildly challenging course. The ford is great fun, and then there's the long hill climb which it is possible to do without stopping, but is a bit of an effort for a lumpy old -timer like me. I'll be happy to do this again. Date of review: November 20, 2012
In short: Typical Great Run event - big and bland In full: I like big races, so I'm a sucker for a Great Run event, but they do come with negatives. Course is going to be crowded, and usually quite bland - running on wide roads through residential areas. The size of the event is part of the attraction, and that means an effort to get in and out. I planned this one to get in early, have breakfast in the nearest Wetherspoon to wait until the race start, and then to have lunch in the pub afterwards while waiting for the crowds to depart, so it worked out fine for my party, but I can understand that for those who just want a quick run and a getaway the Great Runs are going to be a problem.
The best part of the course is through the old harbour - that was quite nice, but overall not a very interesting course.
The support from the crowds was very good, especially as it wasn't an inviting day. Amongst the best support outside of London events and the Hastings Half that I've experienced in the UK. Certainly better than the Great North.
Goodie bag was usual - no surprises or disappointments there. The usual ignoring of time zones so the course was packed all the way round. Whatever you do, you're either going to be blocked in front, or blocking someone from behind. Great Runs are not for setting PBs, they are for enjoying the experience.
The t-shirt was rather sad. A corporate advert, a poor design, and a dull colour. I'll be using it for gardening and then as rags.
My time was 1.45, which is what I expected. The low air pressure doesn't enable me to breathe easy and run fast (due to less oxygen in the air), and the crowds inhibit getting into a rhythm, so I didn't expect a PB.
Overall, I enjoyed the run, and the whole experience of the weekend, and I'm glad I did it, but that run is now ticked off, and I shan't be doing it again. Date of review: October 31, 2012