Over the past few years I have found some great trail races that take place on London Marathon day, and I was hoping to uncover another little secret this year.
The “Aldbury 5” is a 5.3 mile (8.6km) trail run that hosts just 100 runners and finishes with a picnic on the Aldbury cricket oval where the race starts and finishes. The conditions were perfect, with crystal clear skies, very little wind and the mercury sitting just below 20 degrees in the sun.
This race is very much an old school affair in terms of organisation, and is not affiliated to any running club. No website, no online entry and no prizes for the winners. It was only by chance that I heard about it from some friends in Tring, but when I mentioned it to several Buzzards during the week it seemed as though a number of club members have run it in the past, and they certainly gave it rave reviews. One of those to speak highly of the race was John Adam, so it was no surprise to see him warming up beside me just before the start.
After a succinct pre-race briefing of “The first 2 miles are straight uphill and very steep but the views are worth it” a loud hailer sent us on our way across the cricket field, onto a small laneway and then left onto a steep and windy dirt path. We wound our way upwards, through the Ashridge Forest, with the first mile taking those at the front just over 8 minutes – without doubt the slowest first mile of any (non ultra marathon) race I have done in recent times.
Before the race I had taken a glance at the winning times over the past 10 years. Apart from one blistering time of 31:00, the first finisher has always been between 32:30 and 33:30, and I was starting to understand why!
The only downside of the reviews I had heard and read about this race were that arrow markers are few and far between, and for runners who aren’t familiar with the course it is very easy to get lost in the forest. For this reason I decided to stick with a small group of runners and follow the leaders for the opening mile or so. However, their appeared to be a lot of arrows on the course this year, and supportive marshals pointing the way, so I threw caution to the wind and made a little break for it.
After joining the Ridgeway Trail we continued steadily uphill, emerging into a clearing on top of the ridge at about the 2-mile mark. I had been here once before – last October during the Ridgeway Race – but the pea soup fog and muddy trails on that day meant that I didn’t actually see anything for the entire race. This time round was the complete opposite though, with breath-taking views over the Hertfordshire countryside that made the quad-zapping opening stages all worthwhile.
The next section of the course was a gradual but welcome descent on a grass path, which took me to about the 3-mile mark and into the last proper climb – a short and sharp grass hill which has a name that escapes me but I am sure anyone from around this area will know the one I mean! After summiting this hill the course continued straight along another chalk ridge with more fantastic views.
The support on the course was much better than I expected – no doubt due to the fact that the good weather had encouraged other runners, ramblers and dog walkers out onto the ridge. I suddenly realised that I was now running by myself, and a lady sitting at the top of the grass hill told me I was “about a quarter mile in front”. At which point I didn’t know whether to relax and enjoy the views some more, or wonder if I’d taken a wrong turn! However a yellow marker in the distance assured me that I was still on the right track with four miles under my belt.
The next mile was a twisty, turny, rooty, stairy dirt path that took me down off the ridge and onto the homeward stretch. Apart from the obvious obstacles, a big group of scouts, a bigger group of ramblers and a few enthusiastic dogs meant that this single file downhill track was even more precarious than might have been expected. Nevertheless I managed to navigate my glass right ankle to the bottom and was directed by a marshal to turn left through a gate and follow the bridleway around the side of the golf course for the last half-mile. Just before the end of the bridleway I turned right, emerging onto the cricket oval, with a 100-metre dash down to the pavilion to cross the finish line in 32:42.
After picking up my souvenir mug and a bottle of water, I headed straight into the pavilion to get first dibs on some great sandwiches, biscuits and a coffee. I then set up camp on the grass in the beautiful warm sunshine next to the finish line to cheer on the other runners filtering through over the next 45 minutes or so. John crossed the line in a very respectable 1:01 and then joined me for a bite to eat.
Given that this event has no website, the results were typed up at the finish line and posted on the window of the cricket pavilion once all runners crossed the line. At some stage after the race, the Tring Running Club do post the results on their website, and application forms for people wanting to do the race in future are also on that site at http://www.tringrunningclub.org.uk/News.html
As an amusing footnote, it was pointed out to me after the race that the same application form has been in use – unchanged – for about the past 10 years. For this reason, the date of the race and closing date for applications is “approximate” (!!) and should be checked against the Tring Running Club website. Even though the running club is not involved with organising the event itself, they are nice enough to put the correct date, results and entry form onto their website.
I think this race is in its 30-somethingst year but no-one seems to know for sure! What I do know for sure though is that it is superbly organised and, given the fact it sometimes takes place on London Marathon day, is very much a hidden gem. I loved the fact that it is a no frills, well supported little race where each finisher – from first to last – gets the same nice little memento and a great lunch for completing the race.
As a slightly more serene alternative to the London Marathon – or in those years when it falls on a different weekend – I would highly recommend it.