When the press release inviting us to the Beauty and the Beast Marathon popped into Digital Editor Mary’s inbox, she said “Oxfordshire, that can’t be too hilly, can it?” And promptly signed the whole office up for the team event. How wrong she was.
After two months of training on flat fenlands, with just the occasional bridge to push our altitude above 3 metres, we finally realise just what we had signed up for. Turning off the M40, we are suddenly amongst hills. Real hills. 10 minutes later we’re at the beautiful Stonor Park, but instead of gushing at one of the finest stately homes in the country, all eyes are on the “The Beast”, a sheer, 300 metre climb at the end of the course.
After huffing our way to the event registration (a struggle in itself), Dickie, our first-lap runner, steps up to the start line, marked by his knee-high grey socks. Along with 500-odd trail runners — some running in teams like us, the more hardcore competing in the 6-lap marathon — he disappears down the hill, while the rest of Team OAG wonder just what the hell we’ve signed up for.
15 minutes later, we catch a glimpse of the leading runner coming round the one of the final bends, before disappearing back over the horizon. Another 10 minutes wait and we spot the unmistakable grey of Dickie’s socks, a respectable distance from the front of pack. Not a bad start.
The leaders are starting to emerge at the top of ‘the beast,’ all but a very few walking rather than running the final climb. The rest of us look on in horror as even very fit, experienced runners struggle to tackle the beast of a hill. Dickie emerges 10 minutes later with a look that said “what did you sign me up for” before limping into the massage tent, while second lap runner Will starts the descent.
“Just walk every incline,” pants Will 40 minutes later. Next come the girls, Mary and Susan, who run/walk their way round fields and woodland to keep the team’s time at an almost respectable pace. “My god, they really do make the most of that hill, don’t they?” exclaims Susan, while all Mary could muster was “I enjoyed the flat bits”. Still, none of us have made it up the final hill without walking.
Susan passes the imaginary baton to Greg, who promptly blitzes the course in sub-40 minutes, edging Team OAG closer to a good time. Meanwhile, Paul Navesey easily wins the individual marathon event in 3hrs 29 Minutes. Amazing. We clap and cheer in awe.
Now for the anchor lap, and Matt takes over for the run of glory. He promptly puts the rest of the team to shame as he clocks a time of 32 minutes, without so much as stalling on the hills. Even on the almighty Beast.
Job done. Quads sore. Recovery shakes downed. Mobots performed. Beast tamed (kind of). Time to sign up for next year’s event.
Here’s the running gear that saw us through traning and race day.
Words: Mary Creighton, Photos: Will Robson