18 May 2016
The second RR10 started out with all the makings of a complete disaster. For a start, the weather wasn’t playing ball. It had been raining on and off all day and it didn’t look like it was going to get better any time soon. Commando swore he knew where he was going when we set out but the further we went, the clearer it became this was not strictly true. The event was at Wilverley Imclosure between Brockenhurst and Sway. When I saw a sign for New Milton I was fairly sure we were lost but, having trusted Commando up until this point, I hadn’t bothered to check the map before we left. This turned out to be a mistake.
Yet again, thank heavens for Google Maps. From the passenger seat I found the place and directed. This involved turning round and going back the way we’d come but, with time fast running out and Commando getting a little tetchy about missing the race, we found it. As we got out of the car one of the Hardley Runners aporoached us.
“Your club were brilliant last time,” he said. “Most people just go home once they’ve finished but your lot all stayed and cheered every single runner, even the other clubs. It’s great to have that kind of support.”
As one of the mad finish line cheerers I felt myself blushing a little.
Then the rain started in earnest. It helped cool my burning cheeks but wasn’t the most welcome sight otherwise. We made a dash for the shelter of a little hut in a clump of trees. On the way we bumped into John and Rachel who were also looking for shelter. The hut turned out to be a toilet block, which came in handy. For once I didn’t have to pee in the bushes.
We all stood under the dripping eaves hoping the rain would stop and worrying about mud. There were a few moments when I wondered why on earth I’d come along but then the sun came out and with it a stunning double rainbow. John, who takes almost as many photos as me, dashed towards the path with his phone in his hand. I wasn’t far behind.
Mostly rainbows are ephemeral things, here one minute, gone the next. This one was different. Rather than fading it seemed to grow brighter and brighter. After the darkness of the storm the evening sun turned the New Forest to a world of jewel colours. Between the ends of the two rainbows a group of ponies seemed oblivious, munching away on grass so bright it didn’t look real.
We walked along the road eyes skywards. The rainbow seemed to arch between the roads in and out of the place and it felt like a good omen at last. Perhaps the rain would hold off for the race? Other people were arriving, the bright colours of their running gear making puddles of colour on the wet road. There were still dark clouds about though and we walked through a patchwork of light and shadow to the muddy field where the race would soon begin.
While everyone queued up to sign in I couldn’t take my eyes off the shimmering rainbow. Then some riders galloped across my peripheral vision, heading for the start line. A little knot of ponies were grazing nearby and I wondered what would happen when the race started. Would they stampede and join in?
More and more people were arriving, along with the Spitfire’s flag which was expertly erected by Gill and John. The pre race talk was mostly about midges. They seem to have an affinity for sweaty runners and there were some spectacular bites after the last RR10. Tori, who’d been badly bitten, had come armed with a can of bug repellent this time and she generously passed it around so everyone could have a good spray. It seems bug spray is an RR10 essential.
A few people went off across the field for a warm up and the low sun danced in and out of the clouds. There was a group photo but my phone chose that exact moment to refuse to work. Then, as the first pink tinge of sunset appeared on the horizon, it was time to head for the start line. Somewhere along the way I lost Commando in the crowd.
When the air horn sounded for the start I was glad to see none of the stampeding I’d feared, at least not from the ponies. Obviously, New Forest Ponies are a hardy bunch unphased by sudden loud noises and hundreds of charging humans. The runners streamed off into the sunset and I stood, trying to spot Commando.
Once the last runner had disappeared John said he was going to find the finish line which, unlike at most races, was not in the same place as the start line. The token collectors and I tagged along for want of something better to do. It didn’t take us long to locate it, a short distance away at the end of a path leading into the woods.
It looked like just the sort of trail I love walking but, with hoards of runners due to run along it at some point in the near future and darkness about to fall, it didn’t seem advisable. John, who’d be talking to the race organisers, said we should be able to see the runners a little way along the course so at least I got a little woodland walk.
We found the spot easily enough. The course was marked out by red and white tape and a few marshals in high vis jackets were standing about. In amongst the trees was one of the little teepee affairs that seem to be everywhere in the forest these days. As I was looking at it a tiny, high vis clad marshal appeared out of it. I’m pretty sure it was actually the child of one of the marshals but I could be wrong.
We even saw runners but the light levels and the tremendous speed with which they zoomed past turned the majority of my photos into landscape shots with multicoloured blurs streaked across them. With my eyes I could identify faces and shouted and cheered until I was hoarse but the camera couldn’t keep up. Later I managed to identify one blur as Commando but, if the Spitfires want heir photos taken in the gloom of the woods in future, they’re going to have to run a lot slower!
Still, it was pleasant enough standing in the forest watching the runners pass. After a while we were joined by a Spitfire who’d got even more lost than Commando and I and had actually missed the start of the race. She joined in the cheering. When the very last runner had passed by I marched back towards the finish line, hoping to get there before the first Spitfires finished.
As it happened I arrived just in time to see Gill powering down the trail looking determined but comfortable for someone who’s just run five or so miles. Thankfully the light levels here were better so I managed to get a half way decent photo, not exactly crisp but recognisable at least. As he flew towards the finish and the golden field beyond, I turned back just in time to see Gerry, hot on his heels.
After that they were coming thick and fast and it took all my concentration to spot blue shirts amongst the runners. I’m pretty sure I did miss a few but, when Commando appeared in the distance, my cheering and shouting grew wilder than ever. Somehow I managed to capture a blurry shot during all the jumping up and down and clapping.
There was a moment when I almost fell off the little hillock I’d found to stand on but I soon recovered my composure, more or less, and was back to Spitfire spotting and more respectable levels of cheering. As Spitfires finished and grabbed their jackets they came back to the course to join me in supporting their fellow runners. The run up to the finish line began to get a little crowded so I changed my position to get a better view.
Above the canopy of trees the clouds were turning golden pink as the last runners came up the track. By now the final yards were lined with cheering runners, the majority of them Spitfires. From the noise you’d have thought they were the winners.
The rain had started falling again and, as we emerged onto the field another rainbow arced across the sky. There really was gold at the end of it too, fields bathed in the golden light of sunset. While the Spitfires stood around dissecting the race and dismantling the flag my eyes were on the drama of the sky as pink clouds slowly turned to orange.
I could have happily stayed there until it was dark but Commando had to go to work and we had a long drive ahead of us. It was time to walk back to the car and with a wave and one last photo of the sky through the car window the second RR10 was over.
Since last time I’ve discovered, thanks to John, that although the races are all cross country the RR stands for Road Runners. Apparently, it’s because the clubs were known as road running clubs when the league first started. So the mystery is finally solved but, for this race at least, the RR stood for two rainbows.
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