It all started with a simple post on September 9 on the Runners World forum from Barkles:
Subject: The gauntlet lies at our feet! - Sodbury Slog, Nov 9. Team needed..
"Jethro has challenged us to a team competition at above-mentioned event. We need a fair number, eight I think. It's an eight-miler, with mud and water and stuff. He has offered sponsorship!!!!!!!
Come on guys,roll up. Who's up for mud wrestling.....?
Oh and it’s got a hill as well, I think.."
Errm, what on earth is the Sodbury Slog? We quickly learn that it’s eight heart-stopping, lung-busting and back-breaking 'country' miles around Chipping Sodbury, organised by Bitton Road Runners from Bristol.
It was in for a penny, in for a pound, as forumites signed up to the challenge, and quickly three mixed teams of five were organised/disorganised/moved around and coerced into taking up Jethro’s challenge. Illustrious forum names such as Barkles, TwoDogs, Jon, Dr Nic, MMmmm Universal Twinkler, Shambler, Knackered Knees, Fat Buddha, MadKat, Crash Hamster and Dragonbreath were just a few to commit.
A quick look at the Bitton RR website quickly reveals that in 2001 and 2002 the Slog was a complete and utter mud-bath, and it’s got hills, gates, and water crossings as well. Goddarn it – most of us are townies used to pavements and roads, not fields! Tactics are discussed on the forum – Should we wear spikes? How about thongs? What about teatrays for the downhill bits? In the end, the only tactics decided upon are to shout 'Eek' and do a lot of wibbling.
Slog Day arrives and thankfully for us novices it has not been raining much in the previous weeks, so the mud will not be as deep or sticky as the two previous years. We gather in a cold car park at Chipping Sodbury School to be issued with kit by Jethro – running T-shirts advertising his shop and Father Christmas hats. Hmmm. Unfortunately Cap’n Barkles cannot attend due to a family bereavement and was badly missed if for no other reason than his organisational skills!
The start is about a mile of road before veering off over heathland and farmland towards the base of an escarpment, on the way climbing gates with hay bales to help you get over without damage (to the gates, at least). The going underfoot is uneven, and not helped by ample amounts of cow 'ordure', which help give the run a certain aroma!! After a couple of miles, the 'hill' appears and there is no getting away from it - it's a BIG HILL. Near the top, the course becomes a narrow, steep footpath through woods where you are forced to walk in a single-file queue. For the faster, it's frustrating; for the fatter and slower, it's a welcome relief!
The run levels and then drops into a steep, winding wooded descent for the madder to hurtle down, through a manor house garden (interesting running past someone's back door) and then another steep climb on a narrow road. Then comes the really interesting bit - a couple of miles of very steep ups and downs - each short but almost impossible to run, all over uneven farmland. And yet more stiles, gates and fences to add to the fun.
After this, the course heads through a farmyard, which seems to have been specially sprayed with extra amounts of cow muck, and out into open country, heading back to Sodbury across heathland. Then finally, the piece de resistance: a very muddy channel followed by a short but deep stream crossing. In very wet weather this section is supposed to be where the real fun is, although Petal tried her level best on the day to entertain onlookers by launching herself full-frontally into the mud!
The final part of the run takes you through the Chipping Sodbury backroads and back to the finish at the school. For the earlier finishers – warm showers, for the later ones, a cold hosepipe. Lovely!
And the results of the challenge, I hear you ask? Nobody knew until Jethro came through and offered prizes to the first Darkside Team home. That was.... TwoDogs, Jon, MadKat, DB and Mo, who to this day have no idea what they have won. And probably don’t care, really! It was just excellent fun.
(Overall winning time is 58:12; fastest Darksider is TwoDogs in 1:16:18; slowest finisher comes in at 2:59:19; poor Jethro's team was the last Challenge team)
Big thanks to Cap’n Barkles for getting the Darkside forumites to do this; Jethro for supplying T-shirts, hats, and post-race water and choccies; Bitton Road Runners for excellent organisation and marshalling. And of course Runners World for providing the forum.
Ed: shucks... it's the least we can do.
Oh, and Sodding Chipbury, (sorry - Chipping Sodbury) – the Darksiders will be back next year. Be afraid, be very afraid,,, and bring that mud on!