3 August 2016
The penultimate RR10 tonight was the one I’d been looking forward to. To me it felt like home turf because it was at Itchen Valley Country Park, the meadows and woods between Allington Lane and the Itchen Navigation at Mansbridge. This was one race we weren’t going to get lost getting to for sure. Originally I’d thought I might even walk there but, with Commando still signed off with his injured ankle and wanting to cheer on his teammates, we took the car.
The land making up the country park includes two hundred and fifty acres of water meadows, ninety acres of ancient woodland and sixty acres of grazing land. The water meadows were once part of the Fleming Estate and, until the ninteenth century, were flooded twice a year using a system of ditches and sluices to divert water from the River Itchen. In the ninteenth century brick kilns were set up in the woodland and bricks and clay land drainage pipes were made here. Back then High Hill Field, where the race would start, was a brickyard. In 1979, Eastleigh Borough council purchased the water meadows and, when they also acquired the woodland in 1987, they turned it into a country park.
We were actually the first to arrive, so we went for a little hobble across High Hill Field where the race was due to start. Left to my own devices I might have gone for a wander on one of the woodland trails but, knowing me, I’d probably have got lost and missed the race. Worse still, I might have ended up on the course caught up with the runners. With Commando hobbling we didn’t get far before the first Spitfires began to arrive and soon the tent was going up along with the flag.
Things progressed fairly predictably, with a team photo some warming up, lots of chatting and, finally, everyone lining up at the start. There was a hairy moment when some idiot with a camera got in the way but a bit of shouting and I soon realised the course didn’t run the way I thought it did and I was standing on it. Then they were off, hundreds of runners charging across the field towards the trees, all long shadows where the sun was getting low. Amongst them was Julie, usually one of my cheerleading companions, feeling rather nervous to be running her very first RR10. Rather her than me!
None of us knew exactly where the course went but we did know there would be two laps. While we waited for the first runners to appear again we speculated on how muddy they might be. After yesterday’s rain the water meadows would be damp to say the least and the woodland trails are often muddy at the best of times. Every so often there was a woosh behind us as a child came down the zip wire at the end of the Go Ape course. Several people looked longingly at it. In fact I’m pretty sure Commando would have loved a go on it if his ankle had been ok. Personally a couple of hours swinging through the trees on ropes and crossing bridges and tunnels high in the tree tops doesn’t sound like much fun to me but what do I know?
As it happened, we didn’t have long to speculate or envy because, within a few minutes, the first runners appeared again. Confusingly, they came from the same direction they’d run off in. Presumably they’d just done a lap of the fields beyond the trees rather than a circuit. As expected, Andy was the first Spitfire to appear, with Young Sam and his flowing hair not far behind, closely followed by Gerry and Rob. No one looked muddy in the slightest and everyone looked happy and relaxed, well as relaxed as you can look whilst running. If I’d just run a lap of those fields I’d probably be in dire need of a stretcher.
Some people seemed to have far more energy than was good for them. Obviously this running malarkey is a great deal more fun than I thought it was.
One by one all the familiar faces passed, including Julie who, despite her fears, was by no means last and had her usual beaming smile. When Annie and the tail runners came past we went back to discussing where the course might go.
We never did work out exactly where they went but we saw glimpses of them between the trees as they headed towards Vocus Copse. Obviously the water meadows weren’t part of the course which, given the rain, was probably a good thing. Before long the front runners appeared back in the field and, one by one, the Spitfires crossed the finish line.
Eventually we were waiting for just one team member, Julie. Dave, her husband, ran over to the trees where the runners were emerging and waited a little anxiously. When she finally appeared and ran those last few yards she got the biggest Spitfire cheer of the day. She may have been the last Spitfire home but she wasn’t the last runner and that smile was still on her face. What a star!
With all the team home and not even slightly muddy it was time to pack up the tent and the flag. Much as I’d have liked to go for a little wander now the trails were empty, Commando’s ankle and the imminent closure of the car park meant we had to leave before sunset. Walking the trails will just have to wait for another day.
So now there is just one more RR10 left. This one is in Hursley, the furthest from home. It would be nice to make every single one but, whether I do, remains to be seen.
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