We start the day with two unusual items of note.
Firstly, the sky is a cloudless blue, and predicted to stay that
way. It's going to be hot, very hot. We're not accustomed to that in
the English summer.
Secondly, and even more unusually, the National Trust biodigester
appears to be working properly, and not making everyone look around
for a flatulent hound to blame!
This is to be the last ever Picnic, and while the half-mad Munroers
normally far outnumber the full-mad Picnickers, the fact that it's
the last chance has dramatically shifted the numbers, with getting
on for twice as many Picnic entrants as the Munro.
Amanda, though, is only a crust short of a picnic, not the full
sandwich, so she's resisted the temptation. Claire had the sandwich,
but due to injury she's had to cut the crusts off too, and dropped
down to the Munro. From the sound of it, she's in absolutely no fit
state for that either, but hey, who applies logic to this sort of
She was, "And introducing..." at Dorchester; she was, "Also
starring..." at Dorking; but it looks like Lindsay may be joining
the permanent cast of "Crazy Running Folk" now. She certainly
qualifies by signing up for the Final Picnic, complete with
closing-down-sale everything-must-go extra bonus hills!
Their loved ones wave them off, hoping that they may one day
I jump on the bike and race off down to the bottom of the Burford
slope. I pass the piper on the way, but I don't stop because I want
to get pictures from the turnaround point and the first runners are
just too close to risk even slowing down a bit.
I get there with just enough time to set up my video camera on a
tripod before I start taking the stills.
Ah... now... the video...
When I put the camera/tripod assembly into the rear pannier of my
bike, I folded the head sideways so it didn't stick up so much. I
didn't put it upright again afterwards. Because the camera is
cylindrical in shape, it looks perfectly ok like that, not like it's
on its side at all. But it is. I have decided that nobody wants to
see the video badly enough to hold their head at 90 degrees for the
entire duration of the race. If I'm wrong about that, do let me
know, but I don't think I am.
Must try harder next time.
Nigel is one who has succumbed. He's done the Munro before, but not
the Picnic, and he's been running strongly when we've seen him
recently, so maybe he knows what he's doing. We'll give him the
benefit of the doubt, anyway.
Jo's also doing the Picnic. She did the Munro in 2014, so she was
probably looking back nostalgically having forgotten the pain when
she signed up.
Ah, at last, an almost sane one!
And this is not where we normally see Claire, plumb last and
not by a small margin. In fact, I was about to pack up thinking I'd
missed her in the crowd! But along she comes at a walking pace. She
reckons that she can walk the half in the time it will take the
slower runners to complete the full, so that's what she's going to
Crazy lady, eh?!
On to the stepping stones, then.
Another one! Claire and Jo's Dulwich mate Ed did the last two Munros
and managed pretty well up at the sharp end, coming 3rd and 7th. He
should be a strong contender.
We haven't seen Fuzzy Mike for a while. He used to be something of a
Trionium regular, but we gather he's been concentrating on ultras of
late. He did the previous Picnic, so he certainly can't claim
ignorance as his excuse!
Amanda had told me she doesn't like the stepping stones when the
water is low, because it looks like it's such a long way down. "But
darling," I replied in a slightly puzzled tone, "you don't like them
when the water level is high, because it rushes by so fast."
Fact is she just doesn't like the stepping stones.
She's not the only one, of course, and though she may not entirely
believe me, I'm pretty sure an earlier woman was actually slower to
cross and held up more people. Not that most of them really mind
being held up, because it's a completely guilt-free excuse for a
I'm not quite sure why the chap in front is pointing at
Gaz's reflection. Maybe he's trying to read his fate in orange
ripples on the water.
Claire's still last, but by less of a margin than one might have
expected. The slowest runners obviously aren't that much faster than
Right, time to move on again. I'll ride round to Juniper Bottom, but
then I can just walk up the hill rather than trying to ride or push
the bike, because I'll be coming straight back down again
afterwards. It's interesting that Rob's route change may have made
things tougher for the runners, but in some ways it's made them
easier for me.
Positively racing up towards Juniper Top is first lady Christina,
also of Dulwich, although I only know this because she was with Jo,
Ed and Claire before the start. But obviously, because she's only
doing the half despite lack of injury or other good excuseg, she's
probably a bit too sensible to be mixing in this sort of company.
And Ed's looking quite frisky too.
Need I say more?
Heatstroke; it must be! That or the air has somehow turned into
Mike, Nigel, Lindsay and Amanda all within a few yards of each
other. Nigel looks like he's suffering a bit, though. No funny faces
for the camera is always a sign of stress. The slope is steep, the
sun is strong and there's no shade for a while.
Our girls are gossiping like a pair of old fishwives though. [What
do fishhusbands do, I wonder? Take pictures of fishwives?]
Again, you have to wonder what they have in their bottles... Of
course, they're not even at quarter-distance yet.
Boys can multi-task: pose for the camera and carry on
Ok, back into the woods...
This is the treacherous descent to the turnaround point at the end
of the line. Half distance for the Munro, quarter for the Picnic.
It's very steep and very rough, but at least the ground is bone-dry
so as good as it gets. When it rains, this can be lethal.
I get to go up this bit myself, carrying a trekking pole for Amanda.
Is that a sort of Mona Lisa half-smile...?
There she is at the top. I give her the pole and take her other hand
to help her down.
And as we're slowly descending, Lindsay comes whizzing past us.
Well, maybe 'whizzing' is a slight exaggeration. If anybody whizzes
on this descent I've yet to see it, although hardened fell-runner
types would be long gone before I arrived, so it may be that
whizzing happens out of my sight.
But we get to the bottom safely, which is more important than
rapidly, and after a flapjack and some water, Amanda heads back up
the slope while I get over to the Eiger Steps to repeat the pole
Aha! I stop to look down for a moment and I see Claire coming up. I
offer to lend her Amanda's pole but she finds that a single one is
too unbalanced for her. She's got a pair of her own in her backpack,
but even so, on the steps she thinks that just pressing down on her
knees with her hands is the best technique.
Amanda is obviously pleased to see us!
Interestingly, the woman in pink right behind her is the same one I
had in mind as being slower than her on the stepping stones, despite
being well ahead at that point.
As another consequence of the route change, I can now get to the
stepping stones for the second crossing and still have time to get
to the finish. Previously that would have been impossible unless I
took the car, but then I'd probably have had to wait half an hour to
park when I got back so it wouldn't really have helped.
It's now mid-morning, around 10:15, so the stepping stones are
becoming much busier. Ed and a few others have to wait a moment
until they're clear.
One chap makes a special point of holding out his shirt showing his
number because he's not wearing it. He's obviously been well trained
by professionals, but sadly for him, I'm not doing any indexing at
all. I will end up taking just shy of two thousand pictures, because
it costs me nothing and the computer can chug away without me while
I have a nice glass of something in the evening, but indexing is
real work and completely incompatible with having a nice glass of
something in the evening!
I'm not sure who technically has right of way here.
Fortunately, the stones are surrounded by flat platforms which are
only just below the surface of the water, so the chap with the dog
and his son do the decent thing and step down.
Not many are prepared to pose here. It's head down and concentrate
for all but a well-balanced few.
A number of people splash themselves with river water to cool down
here. Slightly to my surprise, though, I don't see anybody jumping
in, which I have on a previous occasion that wasn't quite as hot as
Argh, this is just what Amanda doesn't need. Parent and
small child start crossing and then decide to back up for the
runners, but they make a slightly ham-fisted show of it and
completely break her rhythm. She has to stop and can't get started
again. Eventually they do clear the way, but she's been badly thrown
off-balance psychologically so I rush across to make calming noises
for psychological balance and give her my hand for physical balance.
Ok, now to see if my theory about getting back to the finish in time
is correct. I'm pretty sure it is, but I won't know for certain
until I get there. I'm going to be cycling up the Zig-Zag Road,
which is hugely popular with road cyclists looking for a challenge,
but I've never counted myself among that number.
It's actually not bad. Of course I'm being constantly passed by
rather more stripped-down racers, but the one chap who does overtake
with luggage emits the tell-tale whine of electric assist!
Beforehand, I'd thought that where the road zigs, I might zag
straight ahead cross-country, but I realise that I'm making more
than enough speed to compensate for the extra distance.
Look closely and you can see some tiny dots. The runners are on the
next ridge and the ones heading from right to left are nearly home
(Munro) or half way (Picnic). The ones heading left to right, of
course, have an enormously long and steep descent, and hence an
enormously long and steep ascent, to get through first.
And indeed, the theory has worked. I'm even in good time to see
Lindsay loop round the cone before she heads off to do the whole
Yay! 3:00:39, which sounds a lot for a half-marathon, but
surprisingly is not actually her worst ever Midsummer Munro time.
The year we had the dismal rain and hence mud was slower still. (So
was the Olympic Edition, but that was a significantly longer
Joanne twisted her ankle and retired with honour at the halfway
mark. When she asked Christina how she'd done, she just said 2:26,
which on the face of it sounds like nothing special for a half,
although decent for this one; but failed to mention it made her
first lady! I thought if she didn't want to say anything, it wasn't
my place to out her, but everyone knows now.
You'd think I'd be hard to miss, but it's surprising how little
runners see when they're concentrating on not tripping over rocks or
tree roots. Even Amanda at one point didn't know I was there until I
called out "well done" to her.
Nigel had started his second lap, but after the stepping stones and
Burford slope, he realised that today just wasn't the day. Back at
the top he makes the eminently sensible decision to quit while he's
ahead. He's far from the only one to do that, and quite a few others
have chosen to downgrade to the half rather than kill themselves.
Claire just has to run the last few yards. And she's no
longer last! I'm not sure whether she overtook them or they
undertook her, but there are two finishers behind her.
We'd offered to do some relief marshalling at the trig point, but it
seems it's not needed. At this stage we're kind of juggling race
support with family duty, as Amanda's mother and two of her sisters and
their partners are all here for sister Jo's birthday picnic. We can
cunningly kill two birds with one stone by taking them for a walk to
see some of the places she's been running.
Did I mention it was hot? Nobody seems to want molten Jaffa Cakes.
Ah, now this chap starts taking what looks like a path to his right,
directly towards us. But he's cutting the corner! We tell him so,
but that it's all right, nobody will mind. Nevertheless, he gets
back on the correct path and when I jokingly say, "A marathon's not
a marathon if it's twenty yards short", he shakes his head sadly and
says, "I really wish I didn't think that".
Lindsay is still going strong!
Maybe what doesn't kill you really does make you stronger!
This must be quite a glorious sight as you emerge from the gap in
the trees and you are really, finally, at the end.
Well done, you've earned it!
Over six and a half hours and she's nowhere near the back of
the field! The final classified runner comes in just over the eight
hour mark, a new course record.
Ed, we will later learn, has been classified DNF, and Mike and Gaz
also joined the second-lap retirees. It's been a tough one!
Goodbye crazy person!
And that's it. A long report for a long race, and I haven't even had
time to ply you with fascinating facts about Box Hill or the
stepping stones, so you'll have to read Wikipedia yourselves.
I'm off to bed!
Love to all,