The Hampshire Hoppit is trail run through the North Hampshire hills. On offer to budding trail runners is a Marathon and Half Marathon distance. I decided that this would be the best option for my second marathon and my first ever trail marathon.
From the offset the organisation is great. Some good communications from the organisers and good active facebook, twitter and web platforms to inform and engage with participants.
Number and race pack is collected on the day, with final instructions sent out a few days earlier. I was getting a bit nervous about having missed something as the final PDF of instructions only came out 3 days before race day, but at least you know the details are going to be up to date! To be fair the organisers did communicate this date about a week prior too.
The marathon was set to start at 9am. I was taking the whole clan with me for support, but also as the in-laws live int eh village of St Mary Bourne my wife was making a visit whilst I was trotting around in the country, and then coming back to see the finish. Journey to the race was, as you can imagine with 4 kids, a struggle and I only got to the registration tent 15 minutes before the race start. Not my preferred level of organisation. Im a bit of a worrier (I generally manage to hide it, but I don’t like being late!!). So I was in a bit of a mild flap that I was going to miss the start. No need to worry. I was ready on time, but the organisers made it clear that the start would be held if anybody was still registering or getting ready, so that’s really great and immediately put my mind at rest!
So, number 266 was mine, bib fixed, vest on and thankfully sun out. Weather hadn’t been great in the run up (pardon the pun) to the race, but on race day it was simply spot on (maybe a tad too warm!), but I had the suncream and cap so all was good.
Going in to the race I was aware that this was a hilly course, and that there was ‘that’ hill at the start. I read on facebook a comment where somebody had asked ‘is the hill at the start runnable’ and the response was ‘it’s barely walkable’. OK! That really is a hill then! This was going to be an interesting challenge!!
Before the race my only marathon was Brighton in April this year (2019). I had completed it in 3 hrs 44 minutes. I had struggled on the final 6 miles and cramped at 25 miles. But I had a marathon time, and thought, given the hills, 4 hours on this one would be good. So the call to make the start line was made, I had 4 hrs in my mind and the family walked down the track a little to wave me off as the race started.
So race on, the course started in Kingsclere stables and then exited the stables/gallops area and off to the hills.
About 0.9Km in the first ‘barely walkable’ hill raised its head and there started the tail of the hills of the Hoppit.
So the elevation plot will give you some idea of the hills that lie ahead of any participant of the marathon. I think it’s fair to say that there really isn’t any flat sections, none, not 1! it’s either go up or down!
So I got to the top of the hill, even without the term running featuring, frankly a rope and climbing axe wouldn’t have been out of place!
Reaching the top was a relief, the pace picked up and I cracked on.
Not long after I hit aid station 1, and the ‘cup’ was the order of the day.
One of the excellent little features of the race was that the organisers decided to go cupless. I’ve run two races that have gone bottleless and seen varied success. Brighton Marathon had paper cups, they were fine once you learnt the pinch and pour technique. I also had a trail half in May that used plastic cups (not sure that’s exactly a real improvement on plastic bottles !!) and they were impossible., Pinch and pour resulted in pinch, split, splash! Anyway, the organisers of the HH decided to issue collapsable running cups to all for free. This in my mind was a genius idea. they were good little cups, worked well and branded as a memento. Well done guys, great decision.
The race then continued with some great scenery and some great (honestly!) hills. The aid stations were frequent and run by some excellent volunteers so keen to help and keep you fuelled and hydrated.
As the race went on the hills were constant. To be fair the elevation profile makes it look worse than it was. A lot of the ‘gentle’ hills feel flat based on the fact that there is the occasional steep one that stands out!
The Half Marathon starts at 10am and for a period it meets with the Marathon route and at this point I got a bit confused. reason being in a Marathon (or any other race for that matter) I make sense of my run and pace based on the people around me. When the two races merged there were a lot of additional runners around all of a sudden and it was hard to keep a track of the ones that were in the Marathon around me. That said it was not a real issue, apart from my pace was that little bit quicker than a good few of the HM runners at this point so there was a little more doing to be done. All the other runners though were fantastically accommodating and moved aside without any problem, thank you !
As I reached 20 miles I got a stitch, my fault! I do follow the rule that you don’t try a new thing (kit or food/drink) on race day. Always try things in training first. For some reason I was tempted by Pepsi on the aid station so pulled out the collapsable cup, filled up and slugged away. This was a mistake (and possibly my only niggly complaint) the Pepsi wasn’t flat, so the bubbles surprised me and I’m pretty sure gave me a stitch a little while later. But that’s life, you learn. So I cracked on, at 20/21 miles though another modest hill arose in front of me, and the discomfort of the stitch just meant I was down to walking this one! Im always disappointed when this happens, but to be honest, there were worse hills still to come!!
Hill over, surely that’s the last. Erm Nope. I refer you to the elevation profile earlier. But you know what, it’s the hills that make this an amazing challenge and a fantastic race. The hills just go on until the last half mile pretty much. every turn when you think there surely cannot be another hill as the race is nearly over, they slip another in, just to keep you awake!
So the end arises. The finish arch appears in the distance and as you descend the final stretch (a descent that is pretty steep and isn’t as easy to run down as you would like!) the aches and pains disappear. I find a few more ounces of effort, push the pace as best I can and for one, finish the race with an actual smile on my face.
Thankfully my family had made it back from the visiting the inlays to see me finish which was great. I always get a real buzz from having family there to watch.
I had finished, I completed it in a little over 3Hr 49mins and was so happy. Only a few minutes outside the Brighton time, but given those hills that to me is a massive win!
So race over, but that’s not the end!
The Hampshire Hoppit isn’t called the Hoppit for fun. A significant benefit of this race is that as part of the reward for surviving you get a pint (marathon) or half-pint (half marathon) glass. And the real bonus is the free fill of Hoppit Ale from the Lodden Brewery near Reading. Now I might have just completed a marathon, but that is a might fine ale!!!!
So, Hampshire Hoppit, thank you for an amazing day. The race is a real challenge but such a stunningly stout race with amazing views and hills on hills that it was a delight to be able to take part. The volunteers were amazing and helped make the day spot on. The medal, glass, T-Shirt and general feel before and after was perfect, and you even organised for about the only sunny day in June so far!
I’ll be back without doubt.
And finally, we all know that a marathon is tiring and the last thing you need is a long walk to the car afterwards….