Date: June 24 & 25, 2017
Location: Sydling St. Nicholas, Dorset, UK
The giants head marathon is White Star Running’s first race and always wins best marathon in the UK running awards. Having done two white star races already I was eager to try this one out. I wasn’t quite ready for a marathon but luckily they had a 10km option so I signed up right away without any plans on who I’d go with or how I’d get there.
One major perk of this race is that they offer camping 2 minutes walk from the start line for £10 for both nights. Luckily Matt and Gary from Goodgym Bristol were doing the marathon so I tagged along on their trip all weekend. I was eternally grateful as camping all on my own would have made for a pretty dull trip.
So on Friday afternoon we filled Gary’s van with camping gear and provocatively named road trip snacks and drove from Bristol to the quaint and quiet village of Sydling St Nicholas.
The campsite was in the middle of a field which normally belongs to a herd of cows. We were given strict instructions not to touch any cows because apparently they are angry cows. I hope cow and human relations can improve in the future though you can’t really blame them for not wanting to be friends. We did put port a loos on their home (and we eat them but it’s all water under the bridge).
My friend Helena who I did the London to Brighton Challenge with back in 2013 was kind enough to lend me her pop up tent and air mattress so I was camping in luxury. Well it was luxury with added cow pies.
After setting up camp Goodgym it was time for dinner and picking up our race numbers. Camping came with the option of purchasing hot meals from the village hall which took all the stress of meal planning away. They also has a bar tent and we decided to buy our drinks in commemorative giants head glasses. They even gave us stickers to put our names on them so we didn’t get them mixed up. I was just thinking how I didn’t have enough phallic pint glasses in my life.
I was surprised at how quiet the camping area was after 10pm. It was almost like everyone was running a marathon at 8:30am the next morning!
I woke up at the same time as the guys even though my race wasn’t until 10am since I didn’t trust my alarm. Gary was a phenomenal human being and made porridge for us with peanut butter. It was the perfect pre-race breakfast. Thanks Gary!
Since Matt and Gary were already Marathon experts they opted for the added challenge of fancy dress. One thing I love about white star races is that although they are challenging trail courses and long distances there is still a laid back and silly atmosphere that surrounds them. Sir Matt of the GG round table and Gary the seahorse fit right in with the crazy collection of costumes on display.
I went to the start line to cheer on Gary, Matt and the other marathoners. The race briefing from director Andy was as no-nonsense as always and soon they were off to the sound of the village bells that you couldn’t actually hear from the start area.
I had an hour and a half to kill before my race so I headed over to the merchandise table to buy a couple of Badger buffs. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts my Dad’s (and my grandpa and great-grandpa’s) middle name is Badger so I’ve been eyeing this buff since they posted it on the Facebook group. Now my Dad and I will have matching badger headgear in which to proudly flaunt our badger heritage.
After covering myself in glitter and star stickers and posting far too many photos on Instagram it was suddenly time to start my race. It was so nice to be sleeping 2 minutes away from the start line. I ended up just bringing a jacket with my phone and some cash in the pocket to leave at the baggage drop. This was probably the least stressful start I’ve ever had to a race.
Because of the social nature of this race it felt like most people were running the 10km in pairs or groups. I thought I’d be alone the whole way but I ended up seeing Laura from Goodgym Camden with her mom at the start line which was a lovely surprise. I also saw someone from the Facebook group who recognized my name on my vest and remembered me as we both read each other’s blog posts about the Bovington Half. I love how friendly everyone at White Star Running events are!
I started off with Laura and her mom Sue. We began at a leisurely pace which was fine by me as I did not want to tire myself out early. Annoyingly my watch did something strange and turned off at the start so I missed the first 0.2 miles. At least I knew this 10km was over 10km so it wasn’t the end of the world.
We reached our first hill early on and it was a killer. The three of us (and everyone else around us) walked up the whole way since it was too difficult to run. Even with the walking my legs were throbbing. I felt like the countryside was mocking me for thinking we actually have hills in London.
The views at the top were well worth it however. There were miles of green fields and fresh air surrounding us. It felt great and reminded me that I should leave London more often.
I got a burst of energy after a few grassy descents and said bye to Laura and Sue as I raced on ahead. I tried to give myself a mental note to remember how good it feels when I don’t start off too fast. I will bet on that advice being forgotten on my next race though.
My speedy burst was came to a halt on the next giant hill. This one felt so slow and difficult that I walked backwards for part of it so I could at least enjoy the view behind me. The hills were not as steep as the Larmer Tree races but they still felt brutal nonetheless.
Another staple of white star running are the humorous signs along the course. I recognized some of them from Larmer Tree like ‘run you fools’ and ‘look at that hill. Just look at it. Must have a good moan about that on Facebook later’. There were a few new ones too. There was one that said something along the lines of ‘you’re nearly there! How much do you hate this sign?’. It’s so nice to not have any #fitspo type signs during a race and instead see signs that are genuinely funny.
I regained my energy at the top of the hill and when I saw we we had less than halfway to go to the finish any marathon envy I had disappeared forever. I definitely made the right choice with the 10km.
After the hill a women in a blue tank top and I kept passing each other then ended up running together and chatting. She had ran this before I asked how long the race actually was. Since the Larmer Tree half ended up being 14.4 miles I was expecting anything from 10km to 10 miles. Luckily she said this ’10km’ was more like 6.6-6.8 miles so that wasn’t bad at all.
We caught up with some friends of the nice blue tank top lady (I wish I got her name now). One of the guys running behind me apologised for his heavy breathing and joked not to worry because he was happily married (even if his wife wasn’t). I love the sense of humour these white star running regulars have. It makes me want to move to Dorset.
It was nice to have an insider prepare me for the rest of the course. It turns out there was one last tough hill but that the finish was all downhill. I was really looking forward to that final descent.
Luckily the final hill wasn’t that bad after all and before we knew it we reached the final aid station before the finishing stretch. Sadly the 10km didn’t get any of White Star Running’s famous LoveStations but that’s fair enough since we weren’t running that far. This aid station was still amazing though as there was a band playing. The song they were on when I passed by was ‘Dead Flowers’ by the Rolling Stones. It felt a bit funny running towards a steep downhill with the lyrics ‘I won’t forget to put roses on your grave’ being sung repeatedly in my direction. I thought if I have to die prematurely this is probably how I would want to go anyway.
That final downhill path to the finish line was a mystically invigorating experience. I felt like a magical running warrior goddess that no man can stop. There were points where gravity forced my legs to pump faster than the rest of my body knew how to handle but it all worked out fabulously. I thought to myself ‘this is the way fast people’s legs must feel all the time’.
I heard a women tell me I was making her nervous that I might fall. She had a point since I was throwing myself at the mercy of the downhill running gods without caution. It was potentially unwise of me but the gods were kind which resulted in the most epic finishing feeling I’ve had in awhile.
As the finish line approached I heard the race director cheer my name which was a real treat. There wasn’t a big crowd at the finish line since most runners were doing the marathon but when you have a spinning willy medal waiting for you you don’t need loud cheers to get you through!
After the medal was placed over my head I was directed to the t-shirt booth. The volunteer handed me an X-small which made me wonder if there was something on my number that said what size I ordered but it turns out she was just really good at sizing people up at first glance.
The shirts were amazing. They had the Cerne Abbas Giant on the back with a fluorescent pink penis and ‘5 years of Keeping it up with White Star Running’ written around it. I’m going to wear it everywhere!
Laura and Sue finished not long after I did. Sue ended up tripping and falling face first into the dirt. Luckily she was fine other than a few scratches and the medics at the finish line were there with wipes and plasters right away.
We made our way back to the start area where the women’s institute had tea and cakes for sale. At midday there were also burgers, veggie burgers and bacon rolls available for cheap. I had a few hours before the guys would be finishing the marathon so I had time for a relaxed cake and lunch with Laura and Sue before they headed back home.
The guys told me it would take them around 5 hours but I decided to head to the finish early anyway just in case. This was a wise decision as I was there just in time to see the naked guy cross the finish line.
My phone battery was running low so since I had time I thought I would grab my charger really quickly. As Sod’s law would have it the min I walked away I saw Matt heading towards the finish out of the corner of my eye. I was so gutted I missed him since it was a matter of seconds I was away. Luckily he forgave me and we were there for the glorious moment when Mr seahorse made his triumphant finish. I’m so proud of how well they both ran! What legends.
The first thing the we all did after the guys finished was join the queue at Jen’s ice cream van. I support any race that has an ice cream van right at the finish line. The ice cream line was the longest line of the weekend but the portion sizes more than made up for the wait. I ordered a medium and the guys got larges not realizing how gigantic they were. I mean I’m American but even by my country’s obesity propelling portion sizes this was ridiculous. Out of the three of us only sir Matt conquered the whole ice cream beast on his own although the battle cost him the feeling in his mouth.
The evening’s festivities brought more drinks, food and a barn dance which we opted out of due to race tiredness or lack of coordination on my part. Everyone was jolly and the area was full of families enjoying the long summer day. At one point The race director called everyone in to the building for a speech. It was someone’s 100th marathon which is well worth celebrating and all those involved in the creation and organisation of the race were thanked. It was a nice moment and definitely set it apart from the detachment of corporate races.
The band played later into the evening but we retired early since we had another race to run in the morning.
It’s tradition to have a ‘chaos’ fun run the day after a white star running event but this was the first time they divided the run into an advanced and easy option. Of course we went for the advanced 10km-ish course instead of the family friendly 3km because our legs are masochists.
I ran a fourth of what the marathoners did so I was being obnoxious Saturday night bragging how my legs felt amazing and joking I’d be running circles around the guys. They decided I needed to run with the jumbo inflatable banana I brought tied to my back as a handicap. From that moment on I became Bananica Priest.
The WI had breakfast and cakes for sale before the race which meant we didn’t have to do dishes or have warheads and fairyland Haribo for breakfast.
We picked up our race numbers, paid our £7 charity donation and made our way to the start line. No one questioned why I had a banana tied to my back. It was a pretty tame fancy dress for a white star running race. I even saw He-man and She-Ra on the start line.
When it was time to start the ‘Chaos’ part of the fun run because clear. We were told to take off our shoes. The next instructions were to put one shoe in a bag off to the left of the start line and the other shoe in a bag placed at the right. Then we were told to sit cross-legged until a bugle was badly played which was our sign to collect our shoes and start running. I was already as happy as a kid at recess. It’s all on video here.
The Advanced bell race started on the same course as the Sydling Hill race the day before which meant going up that same maniacal hill at the start although this time it felt twice as long. Luckily we were greeted with a marshal with a super soaker soon after which had me giggling all over again. I was having so much fun and definitely wanted to do another chaos fun run in the future.
I felt ok at the start but soon regretted all my boasting and teasing. I was quickly put in my place as it turns out my 10km trail pace is still loads slower than Matt and Gary’s easy post-marathon fun run pace. Trying to keep up with them at the start quickly drained my energy and enthusiasm. I started to feel negative about my running abilities for the first time since the race for life half last September when I pushed myself so hard I threw up 3 times by mile 4. I hated feeling like I was holding the guys back even if we had agreed to run as a team that day. It’s never a nice feeling to have people waiting on you.
Luckily I managed not to puke this time and we finally reached the same aid station where the band was playing yesterday. This time there were leftovers from the love station and I had some water and a crisp and instantly felt less nauseous.
The bell race gets its name from the cowbell medal you are awarded at the top of the hill. Before you get your medal however you are required to do task by one of the marshals. I was crossing my fingers that I didn’t get push ups and my prayers were thankfully answered as I was told to do 5 (or maybe it was 6) sit ups. This was a bit difficult with the banana on my back and I got a few funny comments but I managed ok and soon had a cowbell to call my very own.
The cowbell medals added a new challenge to the race as they were hearty bells which forcefully banged against our chests in rapid succession as we flew down the hill. The noise of all the cowbells clanging together was deafening and my stomach was hurting just as much from all the laughing as it was from the clashing cowbell.
There was one last small hill to climb and it was amusing to hear our cowbell metronomes change tempo so drastically from presto to andante.
I had a strong feeling of deja vu when approaching the same final turn before the finish line for a second time. This time the three of us held hands and crossed all together as an adorable team. I’m sad there weren’t any pictures of that moment but there were plenty taken of my awkward poses at the top of the hill to make up for it.
I was sad when this spectacular weekend had to end. I can’t stress how much fun I had. The percentage of time I spent giggling was way off the charts. I want to thank white star running for putting on such a fun and friendly event.
Also The weekend would not have been as wonderful without Matt and Gary being helpful and hilarious. Thanks Matt for letting me use your shower and charge my phone at yours, helping me tie up and deflate my banana and giving me a ride to the coach station. Thanks Gary for driving us to Dorset, cooking us porridge and washing the dishes after, helping me with that one tent peg, and helping me fit my stuff back into my backpack. Also I think I would have had a serious mental breakdown if I had to figure out how to fold up the pop up tent on my own so thank you both for that. I give Matt and Gary an 11/10 for race and camping companions.
Sydling Hill Race
Medal– words cannot do the spinning willy medal justice
Goody Bags– a hilarious tech tee with a bright pink willy on the back. what more could you want!
Baggage drop– easy peasy
Toilets– not a cray long queue since lots of people were camping
Support/atmosphere– friendly and supportive even though it was in the countryside with few spectators. The aid stations were amazing.
Scenery- all the green field views you could ask for plus bonus sheep and cows
value for money- crazy good value like all WSR events
Chip timed- yes and results were posted on the website.
Start– small enough to not need staggered starts.
PB Potential– Ha!
Marshals– the best around
Overall Organisation– nothing to fault at all. Everything was brilliant.
Overall: What a weekend!The medal alone was worth it. I’d do it again in a heart beat.
Advanced Sydling Bell Race
Medal– more cowbell (I don’t mean that, there was a more than adequate amount of cowbell)
Goody Bags– cowbell, free pics and treats at the aid station.
Baggage drop– bit of a strange system for drop off with a long queue but pick up was easy
Toilets– no queue that I noticed.
Support/atmosphere– so much fun!
Scenery- same as Sydling Hill Race just a slightly diferent route and the sheep were louder
value for money- can’t go wrong with a £7 donation
Chip timed- nope. It’s a fun run.
Start– the most unique start I’ve ever had!
PB Potential– Ha Ha Ha.
Marshals– a whole new level of hilarious
Overall Organisation– fantastic
Overall: I had such a great time on this silly Chaos fun run. I now have cowbell and chaos run fever!