This week we were going to a location which was new to me, but one which Nick Day had mentioned to me before, so I was very much looking forward to it. Tony Leary painted the picture, “We are heading over to Hertford on Sunday – to the quarry, this is an awesome place to train if you have not been there. I’m planning on doing a last set of tough hills to get the legs ready for Tough Guy – there is also a river nearby for those who want/need a dip – we won’t spend long in/near the river – just some last minute acclimatisation, again for Tough Guy, so as usual the river is totally optional.” He must have a strange definition of “totally optional” because we always all end up in the nearest river to where we are training. I brought a towel and a change of clothing, just in case.
Tony was giving myself, Rebecca Cohen and Neil Rainbow a lift over in the morning, and being my usual disorganised self, I found myself running from my house to the meeting point, and arriving before the others. At least I was starting the day not holding anyone back !
It was not a long drive to get over to the duck pond by The Woodman pub, our starting point, where we met up with Robert Boarder, Ray Fletcher and Coach Tony Campbell. It was somewhere between minus 5 and minus 7 degrees, cold enough that I decided to keep my fleece on over my base layer and The 100 Peaks Challenge vest, and I was also wearing gloves and a fleece hat. The hat is good, the gloves are pretty pointless when it comes to OCR, and need to be upgraded. Robert’s famous last words were that the air temperature was not too cold, and the seven of us set off at 0740, running past The Woodman pub before turning right up a lane which soon led us to a track. We followed that until we got to a gate into a field, where we took the opportunity to regroup, stretch off and remark on just how very cold it was ! We went into the field and ran alongside the left boundary on the frozen ground.
It was a good footing this morning, with the ground frozen but not slippery, and that saw the group split into two as the faster ones were able to pull away as we ran along an extended ridge, stopping at the top of the slope to get a quick sunrise selfie !
We turned right at the end of the track, leaving some mountain bikers to follow the route we had taken along the ridge, and continued until a gap in the hedgerow brought us out on to Sacombe Road. We crossed over and made our way into Great Mole Wood, following a route which was heading downwards and gradually became steeper. I was feeling comfortable with the descent, and then, just as we were coming to the end of the slope, I lost concentration, took a tumble, turned it into a commando roll, but sadly there was nobody there to witness it, not even a bear doing its business in the woods. We emerged from the wood, went through a gate into a field called Waterford Marshes, which was frozen, so did not resemble a marsh, then ran across to the other side of the field and turned left to follow the River Beane. This took us along a narrow track, past a weir, and up some steps to a road crossing an impressive looking bridge.
We stopped for a while to survey the scene, this morning’s session being as much a recce for future sessions as anything else, and then went back down the steps, retracing our way along the river before continuing on to a footpath junction which brought us back in the direction we had come to where we had exited the woods in the first place. I was feeling the cold, and I was feeling all this running. We went back into the woods, ran up the slope we had come down, and turned left before curling round to come back to where we had entered these woods in the first place. We ran down from there, along a long track that eventually took us into a wood where we came back on ourselves to the top of some wooden steps which curled their way down to the open heath. We ran up and down them a few times, with 10 push-ups each time we got to the bottom. Tony had noticed a man out walking his dogs and asked him for directions to the quarry. That set us off across the heath before we turned right to follow a footpath…which Tony quickly realised was not taking us in the correct direction, so we came back on ourselves and continued running up the length of the heath, until we reached Vicarage Lane.
We crossed over and ran into the woods alongside the north heath, until we reached a set of steps which we could have used to take us down on to the heath. Instead, we ran down the steep slope to the side of them, and hopped back up the steps, the first time with two feet together, then just the left foot, then just the right foot, and repeating the process until we were done. Ray picked up a forfeit for being the first one to use the handrail, but only because I had not made it down the initial slope yet ! As it turned out, this was just a warm up for a couple of more serious slopes, as Tony took us into the section of woods next to us, where we found a bowl of hard mud ridges, which looked as though they were used by BMX/mountain bikers. We set off to run two laps, with the frozen undulating ground very firm underfoot, the course twisting round on itself and having a wonderful flow to it, a flow which finally brought us to a very steep slope out of the bowl, a slope so steep that I had to take advantage of the support of a couple of tree trunks to get up it to the point where a bear crawl finally brought me to the top. I managed one lap while the others did two, and Ray put in a third. We came out of the wood, crossed Sacombe Road on to another track, and this brought us to the top of an open trail which lead down to the quarry. It looked like a wonderful OCR playground, a wide open space, mountains of sand and stones, pipes, walls, and almost certainly some water lurking somewhere.
We were running out of time so we could only take a very quick run through the middle this morning, stopping for a photo opportunity at one of the walls, and for some ice break dancing from Coach Tony Campbell, before heading down a steep slope into a long, winding canyon which we ran through, avoiding the icy puddles, before running up the other side.
From there it was simply a matter of running back through the fields to the village and the parked cars, by which point we were so pushed for time that we ate the bacon sandwiches during the drive back to St Albans. We had managed to avoid getting cold in some freezing cold water, but we had spent the whole time running in freezing conditions instead. Not including my little jogs to and from the meeting point, I had covered 11.2 kilometres, Ray had covered 12.7 kilometres, and everyone else had covered somewhere in between. It had been a good, long morning run for me.