Surrey Badger half marathon - race report

22 March 2017, 09:57

I didn’t mean to run this race.

When Events to Live made an announcement a month or so ago that, after ten years of putting on races, this race would be their last, I was really quite sad. ETL are one of the very few events companies that I would go and enter races from specifically because they were putting them on. They always chose fantastic, interesting routes around the Surrey Hills, yes, but you could just tell that the organisers cared deeply about the people running it and there was always a family feel to each one. Their best known race is undoubtedly Bacchus (which I’ve run twice and will carry on, organised by Denbies Winery in the future), but their smaller races have been just as enjoyable for me, and I know that I will have a fabulously good time whenever I sign up to an ETL race. I just thought I’d have years to try them all!

When they announced that Surrey Badger half would be their last, I didn’t think I’d be able to run it, as it was only a few weeks after Cambridge Half and the day after a big Team GB training session in Coventry, where I’d be running a hard track session. But as it turned out, I just ended up doing some easy miles on the track with my teammate Ruth instead (another trail runner and Bacchus alumni), and after I got home that evening I was still feeling good, but unsure about where I fancied heading for my planned “two hour trail, HR zone 2” run in the morning.

Badger selfie

And then I saw ETL tweet that on-the-day entries would be available for the Badger. And miraculously, engineering works had spared the Waterloo-Dorking line so I could get down there for the start. It seemed like the Universe was pointing towards me moving my planned trail run to the Surrey Hills instead, and so I got up early and hopped on a train for the second day in a row.

Usually I race in a Run dem Crew tee to pay back my crew for everything they’ve done for me, my health, and my running, but this time around I wanted to run as a celebration for everything ETL had done for the running community and my growing love of long trail runs (if it wasn’t for their runs, I doubt I would’ve signed up for Transylvania, for instance!). So instead I wore my Bacchus 2013 tee, paired with my Steeplechase capris made in fabric designed by Laurie King, who designs all the medals and shirts for the ETL races and is well known in the area (prompting lots of compliments from other runners!).

Melissa and Laurie at the Badger half
Myself and Laurie King, who designed both my capri fabric and my Bacchus race tee!

I’d never run this particular course before, but, having studied the route on the train ride down, it appeared to be fairly similar to the 2nd lap of their Three Molehills race, which I’d run a few years back in biblical weather. The Badger takes a nice loop around the vineyards to thin out the field, then a few straight miles on a tarmac path along the motorway – easily the most boring part of the race, but it meant I was able to get some decent speed in and also meet a nice chap named David, who was running it for the third time and hoping to break 2 hours. That’s the other thing – I always end up chatting to people more in trail races than road, and I kept catching up with David throughout the race and saying hello.

As I meant to treat this as a training run rather than a race, I set off thinking I’d keep the pace relaxed and just enjoy myself and the gorgeous scenery and spring flowers. I wasn’t vigilant about staying in heart rate Zone 2, but I didn’t want it to go too high either, mind. Once the route finally left the motorway, it was all trail and logging roads, and a ton of hills!

Badger elevation

Now, I’ll take an undulating course over a flat one any day as I just think the variation is more interesting, but in the spirit of keeping my heart rate down, I opted to walk up nearly all of the hills. This meant that I was passed by a few stalwarts chugging away up the hill, but in every single occasion, once I reached the top of the hill feeling fresh as a daisy, I’d blow past them and never see them again. So what started off as a “preserve the HR” strategy actually ended up being a speed strategy! For years I was that runner who thought that walking was giving up, but seriously, I’m won over to the ultra mindset now – walking up hills frees you up to be able to run harder on the flats and downhills, plus gives you an opportunity to eat or drink and actually get it down. It just makes sense.

What started off as a training run mindset gradually ended up morphing into “just let the legs do what they want to do” run instead, so at times that meant walking, but at other times it meant just letting loose like a Kenyan. I think this freedom from a set pace goal plus the gorgeous woodland scenery went a long way towards this being one of my most enjoyable runs for ages. I also noticed that, just like in Cambridge, I caught a second wind around Mile 10 or so and just flew, really easy strides, passing people left and right (including David, who I’d been just behind for most of the race) and just feeling like it had all come together. I continued that streak into a sprint across the finish line with 1:56 on the clock, then turned around to cheer rather than join the teeshirt queue just to see if my new friend would make it in time. I waited what felt like an eternity, cheered in a few more runners, and there he was, finishing in 1:58 with a massive grin on his face.

Badger tee and beer

There weren’t any medals for this race, but instead we got a lovely teeshirt (which I’ll actually wear and cherish!), plus a bottle of beer and chocolate and biscuits galore (not seen in photo – already eaten!). Which isn’t quite the post-race hog roast and wine that Bacchus delivers, but an awfully fine end to a fine, fine race.

Badger beer selfie

And if Events to Live had to pick a final race in order to move on to new things, then they couldn’t have gone out on a bigger high. They’ve created quite a legacy in the Surrey trail running world, and they will be sorely missed.

Post-race Badger pose

Spring Surrey Badger, 19 March 2017, 1:56:26

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