Trevor Elkins & Richard Brawn in New Forest Running Festival 20 Miler

Trevor Elkins (left) and Richard Brawn (right) were taking on their first ever 20 mile race and they were doing so in the most extraordinary of conditions

On a weekend where snow played havoc with running fixtures up and down the country, one event that did survive the entrenchment of the white stuff was the New Forest Running Festival.

With several races called off including the Eastleigh 10k and the Reading Half Marathon, the latest cold snap from the ‘Beast from the East’ had more than made its mark.

The organisers of the New Forest Running Festival, however, were determined to battle against the adversity and stage each and every scheduled race over the Saturday and the Sunday. That included a 20 mile race, a 50k race and a 50 miler on the Saturday. Then for the Sunday, it was a 10k, a half marathon, a 10 miler and a 20 miler.

Conditions weren’t too bad on the Saturday, with only a light smattering of snow to contend with and, although the temperature had dropped rather dramatically, the three races were able to go ahead as planned without too many problems.

The snow began to fall a bit more heavily on Saturday afternoon and it continued throughout the evening and into the night. By the time Sunday morning arrived, it was full blanket coverage.

Despite that, the race organisers were determined to proceed with the races as planned and in the morning they announced that each race would be delayed by an hour to give people extra time to make their way to the Red Shoot Camping Park where the races started off.

There was also the small matter of having to ferry the participants over from the parking spot at Headlands Business Park to the start area, which they did via a series of shuttle buses. To their credit, the race organisers did a fantastic job to ensure everyone could get to where they needed to be before each race was due to set off.

The first race of the day was the 10k, which featured Bournemouth AC member László Tóth. László had met up with a couple of friends of his from the Sweatshop running group, Cristina Lujan and Rose Bygrave.

Lazslo Toth and friends in the New Forest Running Festival 10k

László Tóth took part in the 10k race on Sunday morning and was accompanied by Rose Bygrave and Cristina Lujan

Before the race began, Cristina and Rose asked László if he would like to run with them. Although László is a very fast runner in his own right, he also very much enjoys the social element to running as well, so naturally he said yes. As a result, he was able to coast along at a very comfortable pace and just enjoy the experience and take in the uniquely enchanting, snow capped surroundings.

The trio stayed together throughout the race, with Cristina completing the course in a time of 1:06:12 putting her in 34th place. Following shortly after, Rose crossed the line in 35th place in 1:06:24 and László crossed the line a second later in 36th.

It wasn’t about time and placings for László though. It was purely about catching up with some friends and enjoying the run and he succeeded on both counts.

Lazslo Toth and friends after New Forest Running Festival 10k

Cristina, László and Rose completed the race in around 1 hour 6 minutes and were glad to receive their medals on an extremely cold morning

The next race to start was the half marathon distance, and that was then followed by the 10 mile and 20 mile races, both of which started off together. The 10 miler was a one lap route, with the 20 miler consisting of two laps of that same route.

In the 20 mile race, Trevor Elkins and Richard Brawn were taking on a 20 mile race for the first time ever. They had only ever done up to a half marathon before in an actual race, so this was going to be an intriguing experiment.

It was also going to be an interesting test for Gemma Bragg, who was racing a 20 miler for the first time since the birth of her son Milo 6 months ago. After that she took some time out from running to concentrate on mothering duties but she has been gradually building her fitness back up since the turn of the year.

Her first race back was the Blackmore Vale Half Marathon in February, where she finished as 3rd lady in a time of 1:35:57. Since then she’s done a couple of 20 mile runs in preparation for the New Forest race so she knew was in shape to be able to complete it but she had no real idea what time she’d be capable of.

Gemma Bragg in New Forest Running Festival 20 Miler

It was only Gemma Bragg’s second race since the birth of her son and it was bound to be a testing one for her

As for Rich, he’d been gradually building up his portfolio of long distance runs since the turn of the year, having completed a 16 mile run, a couple of 17 mile runs, an 18 mile run and one 20 mile run, which included 8 miles of off-road.

Trevor had also upped his mileage since the turn of the year and had been clocking some pretty high weekly totals. He’d only gone up to 16 miles in training though so this would be his longest ever run to date.

After running his 18 mile training run at 7:30m/m pace and completing his 20 mile training run in 2 hours 34 minutes, Rich was full of confidence going to the New Forest Running Festival Race. He believed that if conditions were good, he could get in in under 2 hours 30 minutes. He’d concurred with Trevor and they’d both agreed that would be a good target to aim for. It would mean averaging 7:30m/m which seemed achievable.

Trevor Elkins & Richard Brawn in New Forest Running Festival 20 Miler

Trev and Rich were excited about the prospect of doing their first 20 mile race and were keen so see how they would handle the endurance

Once they were out there on the course though, it was a different ball game altogether. The constant undulation made it very tough to keep to set pace and the ground was very soggy due to all the melting snow.

Rich had his brother Dave there supporting him, along Dave’s partner Gabrielle. Dave, who runs for the Portsmouth Joggers, had taken part in the 10k race earlier that day, finishing in 6th place. Gabrielle had completed the 50k ultra race that was on the previous day.

Trevor was suffering a bit from a cold and had actually considered pulling out of the race, as he knew the freezing conditions weren’t going to help with that. But he decided to give it a go anyway and dosed up on some meds in a bid to relieve his suffering as much as possible.

To start off with, the runners were taken right to the top of the first hill as the race organisers had decided the course would be too long if they started in the same place as the 10k and the half marathon.

Sunday's 20 miler gets underway

Off they go! The 20 miles of torment (I mean pleasantries!) begin

Once they got going, they almost immediately turned off road and onto a muddy trail the lead up the hill and into the woods. This was a sure sign of what was to come. It wasn’t going to be an easy ride.

Rich soon realised that his watch was set to kilometres, as opposed to miles, which was going to make it very difficult for him to pace the run as he doesn’t often work in kilometres. He thought about stopping his watch and switching it to miles and then starting it again but ultimately decided to just leave it as it was.

In fact, it did cross his mind that it might be a blessing in disguise that he couldn’t really monitor the pace he was running at. The intention was for Rich and Trevor to run the entire race together anyway, so if they were doing that, it didn’t matter too much anyway. Trevor could always keep an eye on the minutes per mile pace.

For the first few miles, they were probably going a bit too fast and Rich began to worry that it would be unsustainable. They settled down a bit though in the 4th mile which had some tough inclines and then began to just take it as it comes and start chalking those miles off, or kilometres in Rich’s case.

It seemed as if the first 7 miles had been mostly uphill, so they glad when they began the downward curve that would take them almost to the end of the first lap. After a much more manageable 3 miles they were nearing the half way point.

They reached the 10 mile point in 1 hour 13 minutes, which meant that in theory they were on course to hit their target time if they could replicate that in the second half of the race. The problem was though that they hadn’t got back to the Red Shoot Inn yet, which was where the finish was, so they knew it was going to be quite a lot further than 20 miles by the time they actually reached the finish line.

Trev Elkins & Rich Brawn in New Forest Running Festival 20 Miler

Trevor and Rich were going well at the half way point, reaching the 10 mile mark in around 1 hour 13 minutes

Rich was trying to do the maths in his head but as far as he could gather, it was still feasible they could complete the 20 miles in under 2 hours 30 minutes, although perhaps not the race itself if it was going to end up being quite a bit further.

As they set off on their second lap, it became apparent that perhaps it wasn’t going to be quite so quick this time round and that they would have to dig in a bit to keep the pace up.

Throughout much of the race, they had noticed there was a woman behind them. She was often coming in and out of view but it was a good incentive for them to keep going, knowing if they slacked off she would catch up with them.

It was on the 14th mile that the game changing moment happened for Rich and Trevor. Rich looked over his shoulder and noticed that the woman was sneaking up closer and closer. He suggested to Trevor that they might have to put in a little spurt to get away from her. He asked Trevor if he had enough energy to do that and Trevor didn’t feel he had and told Rich to go on ahead.

Rich was feeling fairly strong at this point, so he began to up the pace and Trevor dropped back. Rich was really digging in in an attempt to put some distance between himself and the first lady. After all, he was desperate not to get ‘chicked’.

Richard Brawn in New Forest Running Festival 20 Miler

When the leading lady began to loom ever closer on the horizon, which was forced to go it alone in an attempt not to get ‘chicked’

After a while, Rich had managed to build up a bit of distance between himself and the woman, who had now overtaken Trevor. Rich kept going, full steam ahead and soon there was no one in sight. He still knew though, if he slackened off, she would catch him up.

Then with 7k to go, she came back into view and he knew he was going to be in for a rough ride in the latter stages of the race. The woman was going at a serious pace and as they got into the final 3 miles, Rich knew it was mostly downhill the rest of the way so he could really afford to hit the gas and give it all he’s got.

The lady behind was still going at an almighty speed though and, although Rich had upped his pace significantly, it became apparent that she was going to get past him.

Sure enough, at around about the 30km mark, she overtook him and Rich had nothing left to fight with. The woman soon left him for dust. He then realised he recognised the woman. It was in fact, Valeria Sesto, whom he had had a battle with on a previous occasion, which was at Lymington parkrun. On that occasion as well, Valeria had come from behind to overtake Rich and finish ahead of him.

Richard Brawn poses during New Forest Running Festival 20 Miler

Rich couldn’t quite hold on and Valeria Sesto overtook him with around 3k left

It was now all about time for Rich. The question was, could he make it to the 20 mile point in under 2 hours 30 minutes. He actually did reach the 20 mile mark in around 2 hours 27 minutes so effectively he had hit that target. Sadly though, he knew there was still a way to go to get to the finish.

At around the 20.5 mile mark, he arrived at the approach to the finish and saw his brother Dave up the road cheering him on a taking pictures with his camera. It was a very welcome sight to see the last turning to the finish line come into view. He crossed the line in 7th place in a time of 2:30:43.

Richard Brawn after New Forest Running Festival 20 Miler

Rich was pretty happy with his finishing time of 2 hours 30 minutes and 43 seconds. Not bad for a first 20 mile attempt!

Since Rich had powered on, Trevor had really begun to struggle. The cold and flu had left him completely sapped for energy and his lack of similar distance training runs meant the last quarter of the race became increasingly challenging. In the end he was reduced to virtually a run/walk sort of pace.

To his credit though, he didn’t give up. He kept going and kept grafting all the way to line, arriving in a time of 2:49:11. That put him in 15th position. It turned out he’d actually been overtaken by Gemma at some point during that last 5 miles as well.

Gemma had had a storming run and had finished up as 2nd placed lady in a very impressive time of 2:38:13. That put her in 10th position overall. The was a very impressive outcome for Gemma, especially as she hasn’t really raced a lot over recent times.

The first 10 miles of the race went smoothly for Gemma and she reached the half way point, or what should’ve been the half way point, in just over 1 hour 15 minutes.

Gemma Bragg in New Forest Running Festival 20 Miler

Gemma was going well after the first half of the race, reaching the 10 mile mark in around 1 hour 15 minutes

Things got noticeably tougher on the second lap and on mile 14 she really began to suffer, with some very tough hills forcing her pace to drop slightly. She managed to pull it back though and get back into her rhythm okay.

Her husband Jez Bragg, who is also a very accomplished Bournemouth AC runner, was out on the course to support her and was pushing Milo around in the buggy, as the pair often do when out running.

As it was a two lap route, Gemma got to see Jez twice during the run and it was nice for her to have some support out there to help keep her motivated for the task ahead.

Mile 17 was another tough one for Gemma, as she battled hard on the inclines to maintain her pace knowing that the last three miles were pretty much downhill so would be much easier to negotiate. She showed great character to finish the race strongly and seal her 2nd place in the ladies competition and a top 10 position overall.

Gemma Bragg in New Forest Running Festival 20 Miler

Gemma had an excellent run, finishing as 2nd placed lady in a stellar time of 2:38:13

Sam Laws was also meant to be doing it but something went wrong with her application and it turned out that in fact they hadn’t received it. She still went out and did her own 20 mile training run though instead.

Her friend Julia Marsh, who is a member of Christchurch Runners but sometimes comes to train with BAC on Tuesday nights did run it. Julia and Sam have been doing a lot of their longer marathon training runs together, as Sam is competing in the APB Southampton and Julia is running the London Marathon. Julia completed the 20 miler, or 20.5 miles as it turned out to be, in 3 hours 20 minutes and 20 seconds.

The winner of the race was Tom Lovegrove, who finished in 2 hours 17 minutes and 30 seconds. Vince Fowler was 2nd and took the prize for 1st vet in a time of 2:19:17. The first lady, Valeria Sesto actually crossed the line in a time of 2 hours 30 minutes on the dot.

Reflecting on his run, Trevor acknowledges that perhaps he isn’t quite marathon ready just yet. On another day though and with a clean bill of health, who knows what would’ve happened? He has already said he might consider doing the race again next year and if he does so, he’ll make sure he’s properly trained and primed to go the full distance.

Despite the extreme weather conditions, all four BAC members enjoyed the run and it was certainly a unique and unforgettable experience running through a New Forest covered in a beautiful white layer of snow. In fact you could even say there was something magical about it. And it’s probably not something that’s likely to happen again round here any time soon (famous last words!).

Gemma Bragg & Richard Brawn in New Forest Running Festival 20 Miler

In what could only be described as extremely testing conditions, all four BAC members deserve great plaudits for completing the race and remaining positive in the face of adversity