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
In short: Smaller-scale event racing at its very best, but some food for thought In full: I got my time text and placing info at 12.26, and seeing as though I finished in 2:03 (and I'm guessing it wasn't a spot-on 9am start - although I'm not sure), that's pretty efficient.
Proper event feel to that race. Great little village on the park, registration and bag drop was impeccably done. Short queues for toilets, and plenty of bushes to relieve yourself if you didn't fancy the wait.
The parachute display from the RAF lads, which I'd read about beforehand and rolled my eyes at somewhat, was actually bloody brilliant. I genuinely had goosebumps when I realised it was more than just a man with a parachute. Seriously epic way of kicking things off - would love to hear how they got on in the race.
On the course, water stations were brilliantly efficient. Great that there were four as well - most welcome on a warm morning. All bottles too. Haribo offered shortly before the last climb was a nice touch (I declined as I already had cola bottles in hand).
Were the advertised gels offered anywhere? I wasn't interested in them, as I can't stand Hi-Five's stuff, but I didn't see them getting handed out anywhere.
Lovely, lovely course too. I'm maybe less fond of the Cantilever Bridge than I had been prior to the race, given the climb up it towards the end, but from there and many other points there were utterly wonderful views.
Quality bling and goodie bag too. Alas I heard of beer on offer in the village too late to get involved myself (announced late last night on their FB page), but I'm sure that topped off a great morning's work for some people.
Only slight niggles I'd have, because I'm a meanie moo:
No track finish. This gutted me particularly as I entered about an hour before they announced this. Mainly a shame for me as it used to be my home track, and I'm got some great memories there. Hope it's just a one-off without it.
No official elevation published. Even though I'm originally from the town, there's a lot of the course I wasn't familiar with from a pedestrian or runner perspective, and I couldn't believe how much of the first two-thirds of the course was uphill. Granted, if I'd bothered with some hill training it would have been less of an issue, but I imagine some proper newbies suffered hard there.
Lack of staggered start based on time, which was particularly a shame because there were a few bottlenecks in the first couple of miles (particularly from the bridge off Ackers Road for a while) resulting in enforced slow going. Might have screwed a few PB attempts quite early on there.
Also, and this is badly nit-picking, but some (and I do mean a small minority) of the marshalls were a bit lacking in interactivity. Pockets of public around a handful of these put them to shame a bit on the enthusiasm front. Clapping runners through at the very least should surely be the base minimum for such things.
Could have lived without the queue after the finish for bling as well. It was really starting to stack backwards when I finished, and it looked very much like it was creeping back dangerously close to the finish line. Would certainly have benefitted from being a bit further along, and with a few more hands.
Finally, the PA system was tragically poor. I and many others missed Adrian Derbyshire starting his attempt on the hand-trike half world record (sadly thwarted by a puncture after 6 miles) as well as the group warm-up, which one group around me were particularly gutted about. With people so scattered at the start, announcements really needed to be relayed via speakers at all corners of the playing fields. It was horrendously directional, and unfortunately this meant most sound was going where the fewest people were gathered.
Make absolutely no mistake however, it was brilliant. I didn't even get the time I wanted and I loved it.
One thing I have noted is that the event director has stated that his ultimate aim is to have the race finish at the Golden Gates. Personally, track finish all day long would be my preference.
Incorporating the Gates would undeniably be a superb touch, but why not get the best of both worlds and start there, ferry bags and supporters by coach, and finish on the track in Victoria Park? I'm guessing the swing bridges are a non-starter for a race route, but surely a route past Bank Quay Station, over Bridge Foot, up Wilderspool Causeway, going out up Loushers Lane towards the Cantilever Bridge could work?
Then come back over the bridge and either go back towards the park the same way we left it today, or else turn right and go left under the bridge to head through Latchford Village towards the park entrance.
Seriously, fella, track finish all day long *taps nose* Date of review: September 8, 2013
In short: Huge potential, but some niggles to iron out In full: I competed and completed, but everything went to pot for me after the big hill. Well done to all those that took part.
It's a promising event, but there's plenty of little bits and pieces for them to work on.
Things to look at:
Confusing situation with parking. We and others wrongly parked on the high street at first because it looked like what the marshal was indicating. Definitely needed a sign at the end of the street ushering drivers further on.
Definitely needs more toilets, which in fairness the guy manning the tannoy acknowledged. Big, big queues from half an hour before the start.
Could've used more marshals on the route. I saw at least one tired runner turn left when we were supposed to continue on. Needed someone before the second last corner on the high street too, as at first glance there was a left turn I wasn't sure we should be taking.
One of the mile markers (maybe 10 miles?) was flat on its back. It was admittedly wind at time, but particularly for those not on a GPS watch, these things need to be up and visible.
It was advertised that there would be bins after each water station, and that those littering would be DQd. There wasn't one after the first station, the bin after the second station (which had bottles) was far, far too close to the station, meaning you either had to glug quick and dump it or hang on to it for miles, and at the third station someone was walking around with a bin bag with his back to the runners on the road.
At the finish, it was great to see barrels of water and bananas. The orange segments needed to have a lid on them though - there were flies swarming all over them.
Most critical though, unless I missed it (and apologies if I did) - where was a graph of the elevation of the route? Some of those climbs were massively, massively unwelcome surprises, particularly the one around 8ish miles.
Also, if I'm really honest, it would have been nice to run a little more on the castle grounds.
Lots to be positive about though - really nice route, slick registration, plenty of parking once we arrived at the right bit, and a good finish, with a tight turn followed by a perfect length run in for a final kick. Good quality medal too.
Very nice price too. Chip timing too, which is always a bonus at the cheaper end of racing like this.
A quick nod to the announcer as well - always great to have your name called as you're running in. It's an obvious thing, but beginners really, really buzz of it.
Sort some of the niggly bits out next time, and this one can be a real gem. A very promising first outing, and I really hope it returns next year. Date of review: August 18, 2013
In short: Great organisation and a joy to run In full: My first 10-miler, and a real joy. Lovely freebies, impeccable organisation, marshals friendly and encouraging throughout. Some lovely scenery to enjoy too, particularly around the middle 3 miles. Open roads for long stretches of the race, but at no point did I feel unsafe. Marshals where you need them, and lots of them - and many friendly spectators too - throughout the race. Police presence too at the loop crossing, which was very reassuring. Very fast last couple of km as well - fast downhill stretch followed by a long run-in that you can see from a while away. Even though I was suffering towards the end, it was my fastest mile of the race by some distance. Very beginner-friendly too - I'm 10 min mile pace right now, and there's plenty of company to be had in that sort of territory. Well done Biggleswade AC, and happy 30th! Date of review: April 7, 2013