Bacchus half marathon - race report

10 September 2013, 10:45

If you’re not familiar with Bacchus, it’s a fancy dress, off-road, hilly half-marathon (or full marathon if you fancy doing two laps) with wine tasting every two miles and free wine and hog roast at the end. Yes, it is exactly as much fun as it sounds!

I first ran it last year in 2012, and having sewn my sailor girl costume in wicking lycra to great success but not having had much cause to wear it in the intervening year, I decided I might as well wear it again this year too! The nice side effect of that is that you get to see a nice comparison between my body since last year (and I was deep into training for Amsterdam marathon then, too!)

Bacchus half - comparison

With all the mention of wine, you may have missed a crucial word in my description: hilly. The race starts off in Denbies’ vineyards, then briefly through Dorking and then for the remainder of the race it snakes through woodland trails and up the sides of hills, until you get a blissfully steep downhill on the last 2km which lets you sprint finish pretty much by gravity alone.

I plotted the elevation again this year with my GPS app, which I’ve cleaned up so you can see exactly how hilly I’m talking about…

Bacchus elevation

You’d be mistaken if you think the sharp blip at around 14km is the one to be concerned about – look again at the relentless uphill climb from approximately 3km-9km – this is the one that will turn your legs and spirit to jelly! I had the advantage this year of already being through the course the year before, so I was mentally prepared for it, but the big difference was that last year I was essentially “fun running” it as my reward for getting through my marathon training.

This year I had different goals in mind:

  • To beat last year’s time (1:58). I felt fairly confident I’d be able to do this, since I hadn’t hill-trained at all last year, and this year I’d been hill running every Saturday (including Swain’s Lane), plus I’d switched to forefoot running and just come off two months of track training.

  • To earn a new PB. My current half marathon PB was set at my first ever half, in Paris 2012 (1:47), and I thought I might be able to beat this despite the hills, but that was only if I could maintain a 5min/km pace throughout, which seemed iffy.

  • To win a prize. The first three males and females win a prize, along with the first from each age category. I was the 5th female last year, but there were far more runners this year, so this was the toughest goal, and not one I’d admitted to many people.

Bacchus composite

I set off at the front of the pack, with about 20 men ahead of me, but maintained my position of lead female up until about 4 miles, when I was overtaken by a very friendly Barnes Runner lady, and we had a great chat for a few minutes before she moved on ahead. The great advantage to having a strict “no headphones” policy plus fancy dress is that the runners actually talk to each other during the race, with the costumes providing great conversation starters! I got to chat to quite a few runners in the first half (even during the rain!), but I was on my own for long stretches of the latter half of the race, so it wasn’t quite as easygoing as last year.

My husband brought along the DSLR again this year, but thought to bring his bike, too, so he was able to zoom around the shortcut trails and snap me at a few points along the route. I must admit, though, that I was fairly annoyed to see him at about 4km into that relentless 6km climb, when I was feeling well and truly spent, chewed up, and spat out by the monster hill. I remember trying my hardest to smile, but looking at the photos afterwards, I’m so glad he decided to take these photos where he did.

Bacchus - long climb

The vista over Dorking and across to Box Hill is spectacular, but you can see every ounce of effort and sheer determination in my face and legs. In short, you can see exactly how hard I worked for this race.

I used a lot of the same mental tricks I learned during my recent track race – I find when the going gets really tough and my brain starts to let doubts creep in, counting to 20 over and over in time with my breaths really helps me. I also used the few flat and downhill segments to mentally refresh me – nothing more complicated than thinking to myself “Look, this is flat and the forest is lovely. Isn’t this refreshing? Let’s pick up the pace to make up for the next climb!”

Nutrition-wise, I went very minimally this time around, with only one pack of margarita Shot Bloks and a few sips of water from about half the water stations. I’d normally take at least one extra gel in there to be comfortable, but having practiced with less on my long runs, I knew that 3× 2 bloks would be enough to fuel me around.

So, back to those goals – how did I do? Well, I am absolutely over the moon to report that I achieved all three!!. My official time was 1:43, meaning that I beat last year’s time by over 15 minutes, set a new PB by almost 5 minutes, and ended up as the 3rd female over the line, meaning I won a prize!!

Bacchus shirts

The prize itself was almost inconsequential – for me it was the act of winning it – but I ended up winning a very nice Gore long sleeved running top that is very me indeed – dark purple with hot pink seaming and it’ll get lots of wear in a few months’ time! On the left above is the official race shirt, designed by my friend Laurie King. Isn’t it fantastic? It’s great to have a take-home technical tee that I love every bit as the race itself.

Bacchus is such a friendly race, with the warmest organisers, volunteer marshals, and other runners, and even in the rain and cold this year it managed to maintain a great village fete atmosphere. If I could give this entire race a giant hug, I would.

Bacchus half marathon, 9 September 2013, 1:43:19

tags: , ,


  1. Wahooo! Huge congrats on the finish and what a great race to PB on. Challenging and fun to say the least. Great recap and loved that you set and achieved your goals. Yay running!

    Laura Stewart    10 September 2013, 11:03    #
  2. Love the report – really handy as we’re running it this coming weekend. But, where is the account of the wines tasted :)

    Needless to say, I’m not running this to get a PB. Well done on your time.

    Suzie    9 September 2015, 14:08    #

Add a comment:

  Textile help