Race report: Vale Gallop 10k 2018

My triathlon club, EGTri, hosts an annual championship among members known as the Winter GP.

This involves a series of seven swimming, cycling and running events - beginning with a cross country 10k run in January and culminating with a sprint distance triathlon in April.

The idea is this cultivates a bit of “friendly” competition between members but also provides a good benchmark each year to assess whether your training has paid off or if you’ve let things slide over the previous 12 months.

For various reasons my attendance has waned at these event in recent years - often because I'm suffering from man flu.

However this year it’s my intention is to take part in as much of the Winter GP as possible. This is partly because I’m now probably the fittest I’ve ever been but also because I’m now on the club committee as communications officer.

Swimming, cycling, running = Triathlon, don't you know
Part of my role involves harassing, haranguing and cajoling club members to get involved with as many of these events as they are able. Which, for better or for worse means I have to lead by example.

So this weekend was the first event - the Vale Gallop which is organised by supporters of the Mid Surrey Pony Club and starts at the Pony club grounds.

Now, the Vale Gallop hasn't always been part of the Winter GP. Until fairly recently that honour went to the Perch, a cross country race, organised by the Epsom Oddballs Running Club

This was the race I'd taken part in last time I hadn't been sidelined with man flu, back in 2014, which you can read about here.

Anyway, true to form it was touch and go as to whether I'd make it to the start line as I'd been suffering with a virus all week.

But as I say, I have new club responsibilities so decided to head down to the event and at least give support to my club mates if I didn't feel like running.

But after swigging on a high-caffeine drink and blasting out some Rage Against The Machine in the car on the way (Know Your Enemy really does help foster those feelings of friendly rivalry...) I decided that I'd give it a go.

Best served with Zach De La Rocha, Tom Morello and the other two

With the Brighton Half Marathon just four weeks away I could at least treat it as a gentle training run. And with my 40th first birthday fast approaching (eight days and counting at the time of writing) it would have been a tragedy to miss out on the last chance to compete in my 30s.

"Does anyone have a sofa I can have a lie down on?"
Setting off I felt OK, particularly as we were going down hill so I upped the pace.

But as the saying goes (kind of) what goes down must come up and as I soon realised (I hadn't checked the map or done any research about the course) that the course was "undulating". Which means lots of hills.

Later I checked the Vale Gallop website. The exact wording states  that "the majority of the 10k course is undulating, on farm land. It does have  two longish hills towards the end. The route also includes some bridleway and some quiet roads. The farmland is likely to be fairly muddy."

Not sure which ones were the hill and which were undulations

I'm glad I hadn't read that because I know at each "undulation" I would have been praying that it was the second of the "longish" hills. And I can certainly confirm that it was "fairly muddy".

Having completed the Boxhill Ballbuster Duathlon in November (which you can read about here) I'd perhaps become rather blase about a "mere" 10k.

While it certainly didn't involve the overall time and distance involved in the Ballbuster, the hills, the undulations (whatever you want to call them) of the Vale Gallop were certainly a test of fitness.

By the 4km mark I was wondering whether I'd made the right decision to take part and rather than trying to stick it to any of my club mates it was purely a battle for survival.

The medical support was second to none

Some events you enter you get to a point where you "get in the zone" and can quite easily miss a mile or kilometre marker. It's always such a pleasant surprise to realise that you've got a lot less pain to inflict on yourself than you thought.

But this certainly wasn't the case with the Vale Gallop. Each kilometer seemed to last longer than the last, with each hill becoming steeper and longer than the last. And did I mention it was "fairly muddy?"

At one point I was running beside a gentleman wearing an Epsom Oddballs shirt. Now the Perch was no picnic but I really had to restrain myself from grabbing him by the shoulders and demand why his club had scrapped their race and put me through this torment.

Can you guess what it is yet? Am I still allowed to use that catchphrase?

(I've now discovered they had to cancel it due to lack of support so he could have quite feasibly demanded the same explanation from me. Sorry for not entering the last few years Epsom Oddballs).

But I'm making it sound like that the Vale Gallop isn't a fun race to enter! While it's certainly not for the faint hearted the organisation was excellent, with an army of marshals and supporters and despite the hills and mud it's a beautiful course.

However the highlight for me was a squad of superheroes handing out water. Well, a group of children in superhero costumes handing out water.

But if there's anything better than being handed a cup of water by a miniature Batman then I'm yet to experience it.

So despite the hills and mud I crossed over the line in 58 mins 39 secs and didn't stop to walk at all. But what I'm most excited about is I finished 92nd out of a field of 197.

And the prize for 92nd finisher goes to...
Not only is this the first time I've finished in the top 100 of a race it's also the first time I've finished in the top half of the field (er, the racing contingent, not the pony field).

So despite being a "mere 10k" I'd say this was one of the toughest races I've done but one of the most satisfying.

And  I certainly finished a lot quicker than I would have done if I'd been taking on this race when I was approaching my 30th birthday! Just goes to show that it's never too late to start making a change.


The greatest hits...