(Thanks to Simon Cope for this report)
Having taken part in the Rugged Radnage [new tab] in 2012 and 2015, and not enjoyed either run, I approached this event with some trepidation.
The course is, as the name suggests, mainly off-road, down and up some fairly precipitous inclines (or ‘gently undulating’, as we say in the Chilterns) which at this time of year and after the recent spate of heavy rain and leaf-fall are usually pretty treacherous. Driving to the start with my windscreen wipers on full pelt, and parking in a field as the farmer was laying down straw to try and prevent it becoming too boggy did nothing to allay my concerns.
I unexpectedly met up with a work colleague and a fellow Hash House Harrier before the off, then we all shuffled out of the steaming warmth of Radnage Village Hall and across the rainswept common to the start.
The first 500m was inevitably fairly slow going, as we were funnelled down a narrow road with speedbumps, after which we turned left past the excellent local hostelry, The Crown, [new tab] before swinging right for the first major off-road stretch down through Pophley’s Wood on a deeply-rutted, flint-strewn bridlepath.
Coming out of the wood and across a field, we turned left onto the partly-tarmaced Collier’s Lane track, and into the teeth of the wind and rain sheeting down the valley, which we endured for over 1km before gaining the relative shelter of the path that runs between Lott Wood on the left, and High Wood on the right.
Alas! High Wood is named thus for a reason, and we were soon to turn right for a stiff ascent to the top of the ridge of Crowell Hill. Having tackled this course twice before, and not wanting to end the race at a trudge, I chose to take this hill at a brisk walk; my tactic paid off, as no-one came past me and I was able to get going again once the trail levelled out.
The next section was characterized by quite a bit of slippery, gloopy mud, but at least we were now going downhill, and the rain had eased off a touch, so I actually began to enjoy myself. A short stop to take on water at 6km, then back onto the metalled Grange Farm Road, through Bennett End and onto Bottom Road, before a short, sharp uphill just after the 8km mark.
This, however, is just the prelude to the sting in the tail of this course; having just crested the hill, we immediately turned right, dropping down into the valley once more before a gruelling 800m grind uphill alongside a ploughed field.
Happily, my prior knowledge meant I had conserved enough energy to enable me to run (well, jog at least) for about two-thirds of this, before deciding that my walking pace would then outstrip my ‘9km shuffle’, and bowing to the inevitable.
Finally emerging onto the road at the top, a 200m left-right-right took us back onto the common, and there was the welcome sight of the finish line. A final sprint took me across at 1:01:09, over two minutes faster than last year, and finally I could say I had enjoyed the Rugged Radnage!