19 February 2017
Today brought the penultimate CC6 at Denny Wood in the New Forest. For once it was an area I knew fairly well as I’ve walked through it many times as part of the Care For A Walk fifteen mile fundraiser. Usually it is muddy and I had the feeling today was going to be no exception. On a different day I might have gone for a wander across White Moor to Lyndhurst and Bolton’s Bench a coulple of miles down Beaulieu Road, or crossed the road and done my usual trick of getting lost in Matley Wood. Today though I was being gentle on my poor old foot with its healing blister. Besides, there wouldn’t be too much time as, James, one of the Spitfire’s super fast runners, was running his first CC6.
Commando and I were the first to arrive and, as we walked from the car park towards the start line, Commando spotted some ponies in the trees. One looked very much like the white mare I seem to keep seeing in this area on my walks. Although it’s quite possible there are a lot of similar looking white mares in the New Forest, this one always seems to have a cheeky look on her face.
“I wonder what they’re going to make of all the runners when they turn up?” Commando said.
“I imagine they’ll make themselves scarce,” I replied.
By the time Commando had put the little pop up tent up, the ponies had done a disappearing act and the field was rapidly filling with similar tents and flags. Pretty soon Spitfires were appearing out of the trees too. There were eight in all, which was a bit of a worry for me as the lovely Kylie was running a ten mile race elsewhere and I had been drafted in as number taker.
There was a bit of warming up and the obligatory team photo and then it was time to go to the start line. While the pre race briefing was going on I found a good place to stand and, moments later, the runners were charging across the field. As usual I shot blindly, hoping to capture a Spitfire or two amongst the masses. Success was limited but I did get a few.
Young James really is super fast. He actually won parkrun last weekend, running the 5k in 17.36, so I really didn’t have much time for walking anywhere much. It was too cold to just stand around on the field though and I’m not very good at just standing so I headed off towards the spot where the ponies had been earlier. Somewhere in the distance I thought I’d seen water glimmering, which could either mean a pond of some kind or boggy ground. Knowing my luck it would be the latter but I decided to check it out anyway.
The ponies were nowhere to be seen and the trail through the thin line of trees was slightly squelchy underfoot but walkable. It led me out into the heathland overlooking Beaulieu Road. With more time it would have been tempting to cross the road and head for Matley or up towards Beaulieu Station. Time was a luxury I didn’t have though so, after a few moments looking longingly across the Heather, I headed for the place I’d seen the water.
The closer I got to it, the boggier the ground became and I had to pick a circuitous route, hopping from one pony trail to another, all the time wondering if it would be worth the effort. A couple of times I stopped and looked back at the trees shielding me from the runner’s field and thought about turning back.
In the end I kept pressing forward, even though, by now, I was sure it was a bog in front of me rather than a pond. The last few metres were very boggy and I had to abandon the pony trails and walk on the heather. What I found looked very much like a pond with a single tree on its edge. My suspicion is that this is only a pond in winter when it’s been raining a lot though. Parts of the forest never completely dry out and, in summer, this place probably reverts to the bog it really is. Right now, with the tree and sky reflected in the still water, it was worth the muddy boots.
Turning back towards the runner’s field I followed one of the many pony trails criss crossing the heathland. Amongst the heather little spide webs glistened with dew and, as I got into the first trees I found them dripping with lichen.
My trail led me slightly away from the field and soon I came upon a circular trail made by men rather than ponies. The ground here was firmer and I circled round for a while looking out for the ponies I’d seen earlier.
There were no ponies but I did find a wigwam up against one tree and another that had fallen, it’s rootball sticking into the air with red soil still clinging to it. On its poor, dead trunk, someone had piled lots of little logs and branches as if to make a shelter.
The man made trail led me back to the road running through Denny Wood campsite. On the opposite side a group of marshalls were standing beside a fallen tree whose trunk was completely hollow. I still had a few minutes before the first runners were likely to pass so I headed towards it thinking to take a photo through the hollow of the trunk.
My plans were scuppered by a small stream running through a deep ditch. One half of the tree lay right across the ditch and I could probably have walked across it to get to the hollow trunk. The proximity of the marshalls and the possibility of falling and making an idiot of myself stoooed me though. Besides, a look at my watch told me I was running out of time.
The first runners were just beginning to appear as I made it back to the finish line. The front runner, wearing the red and white striped jersey of Southampton Athletics Club, sadly blocked my view of James, who was hot on his heels, and I didn’t manage to get a photo of him. Usually this is something that happens at the end of the race when everyone is bunched up but these two were so close and fighting so hard for first place you could hardly have got a credit card between them.
James, looking slightly muddy but surprisingly fresh for someone who has just come second in a tough cross country race, joined me in watching for the next Spitfire. We didn’t have too long to wait before Jamie appeared out of the woods, ran across the road and deftly leapt the shallow ditch onto the field. Next came Scott, the Spitfire who, last summer, became the fifth person ever to swim the sixty odd miles around the Isle of Wight.
Now there were four of us watching the woods discussing who we thought would be next. In the end it was Adam. He leapt the ditch and headed across the grass with a look of pain on his face that spoke volumes about just how hard these cross country races are. Close behind him was Darren and then Commando.
There were just the two brave Spitfire ladies left to come now and, while we waited, James reinacted his dash for the finish so I could at least get a few photos of him running. I’d hardly taken the camera from my eye when a couple of horse riders came along the road. They headed straight towards the race track and I wondered what the poor horses would make of humans galloping across the grass. Luckily they crossed the race track in a slight lull between finishers and headed off along towards the trees.
Leah, the first of the Spitfire ladies, arrived just as they were disappearing along the rack. She looked like she’d enjoyed her muddy run and even gave me a smile as she passed. Right behind her, Lucy had a very determined look on her face as she ran the last few yards.
Now all the Spitfires were back, muddy but in one piece, which is never something to be taken for granted on these difficult cross country runs. My job of collecting finish numbers was easily completed and, as everyone stood around talking about the course and drinking energy drinks, I couldn’t help looking at their muddy legs. Everyone’s trainers were caked with mud and no one had got away without at least a few speckles on their legs. The prize for muddiest Spitfire definitely went to Adam though. His race tactic had obviously been to run through the mud rather than try to skirt round it.
All that was left to do was take an after race team photo and pack away the tent. In the past tent packing has proved to be quite a problem and we have even had to resort to outside help from expert tent packers from other clubs. This time though, it was achieved with the minimum of fuss. Commando has been practicing at home and I think he now has the knack.
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