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Crazy Running Folk. Season 5 Episode 17: "Crazy From the Heat"

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 thing!

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 return...

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 do.

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 moment's rest.

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 walking.

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 laughing gas.

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 walking!

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 procedure.

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 today.

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 thing again!

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 distance.)

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,


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