Secret Mission 10K

Review by Jo Toscano.

I’ve been getting back into running again and wanted to do an event which wasn’t too serious to motivate me to up my miles again. I love murder mysteries and I love running so the Secret Mission 10K sounded like the perfect event for me!

Secret London Runs have been organising fun and informative running tours since 2015, which are based around London’s landmarks and history. This race was a 10k set around the streets of Greenwich during which you collect the clues to solve a historical murder. The team ramp up the mystery by sending you the secret start location and course map just 24 hours prior to the event, in an email, on this occasion signed off by 17th century diarist, administrator – and murder suspect – Samuel Pepys. Participants get to choose their start time based on whether they intend to walk, run at a pace of more than 11min/mile or under 11min/mile.

My two team-mates, Catherine, Anneliese (team name: Run Out of Ideas) and I entered the fastest category and arrived at the location in Deptford just before midday to find a group of friendly, chatty organisers and a mixed bag of teams – couples, friends, mother and sons and a terrifyingly fit-looking crew of bowler-hat-wearing amateur sleuths. If you want a bit of fun but you also thrive on a bit of competition, this event gives you double the chance to win – you have to get the fastest time but you also have to use your ‘little grey cells’ to guess the murderer correctly.

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Teams were issued with maps and booklet which contained the story of the grisly murder of a Russian – Dmitry, and his maid who survived the attack – following a raucous party in the stately home of Sayes Court and then got a chance to interview the police detective leading the case one team at a time before the stopwatch started and runners set off in search of their first suspect.

As well as the map, organisers had provided helpful arrows on the pavement to point runners in the right direction and we made our way along the banks of the Thames to find John Evelyn, owner of the stately home, holding forth to a group of four young women who had set off ahead of us. This is where it took a bit of patience – you wanted to barge in and fire questions before speeding off to the next witness but we eavesdropped a little and waited our turn before scribbling down some clues – he raced to the scene arriving at 7.15am after his pal, Grinling Gibbons gave him the news the Russians destroyed his garden. We grabbed the clue he produced from a Russian doll perched on the Peter the Great monument behind him. It was written in Russian and we were going to have to find someone to translate it!

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After a quick selfie with Evelyn, we headed off again. This part of the route was pretty straightforward and we arrived in the residential streets beyond the Cutty Sark to a weeping Russian maid prone on a bench with bloody head bandage – the other victim who survived the vicious attack. She answered all our questions and strongly recommended we read her ‘medical notes’ before we went on our way. Some teams were more thorough than others with their questioning and quick a backlog of teams had formed but the atmosphere was friendly and fun and noone seemed to mind.

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Next it was into Greenwich Park, battling up the hill to the observatory to find our next suspect. We found a few other teams running around, maps in hand, trying to work out where the ‘real’ Peter the Great was waiting. We suddenly saw a couple of runners point and head off towards a bench and found ‘Peter’ in regal dress, vodka at his side, holding forth about the great party he’d attended at the stately home. Apart from confirming he was a big lad, topping 6ft, he didn’t reveal much to help us so we weaved our way through the tourists back down the hill and headed back past the Cutty Sark, out of Greenwich on Creek Road and back towards Rotherhithe. There was a long stretch without any clues but that gave us a chance to chat through our theories and get in our stride.

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After a couple of miles, we turned off, back towards the river bank and here we got a bit lost. If I had one criticism, the map was a bit small and didn’t have all the road names so we had to work out where we needed to go. We rounded a corner and found another team coming from a different direction so we think a few people might have fallen foul of the paper map. With the help of Googlemaps, we worked our way round to the Greenland Dock which looked lovely in the afternoon sunshine. Here we found a bread-seller who was pals with another suspect, carver Grinling Gibbons, and translated that note that Evelyn handed us – this raised a few more questions!

There wasn’t much time to deliberate as the next suspect Samuel Pepys was just a few hundred yards away. This notorious ladies man was very pleased to see us. But he seemed to have an alibi and assured us the rumours he and victim Dmitry were locked in a love triangle with his mistress Mrs Barwell was rot. That was the last clue so we set off back to the start line to deliver our verdict.

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A short trot back to Sayes Court Park, we arrived to find the detective giving some final clues to a group ahead of us but she assured us as soon as we shouted our guess, she’d record our finish time. We decided on the killer but were deliberating our motive which added a minute or two to our time. We shouldn’t have tried to be too clever – they just wanted a name. So we guessed and the clock stopped at 1hr 54mins. We had to wait until the next evening for the leaderboard to be emailed through – our sleuthing was right and we came a respectable 5th. As well as the solution, we got some historical information about which of the characters were real and what they were doing around Greenwich in their day, which was a nice touch.

This event was brilliant, it was great to do something different on a Saturday afternoon and all the organisers and actors were friendly and hammed it up brilliantly. They made it an event to remember and I’m already looking forward to taking in the Christmas lights at their Yule 10k.

 

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The Great British Beerathon 2017

I know I’m not the only one to occasionally be quite overzealous in my views of an event in the immediate aftermath. We often get a little carried away when we are still riding the crest of a wave and this is why I often let the dust settle for a short period before writing my race reviews. I feel this cooling down time allows my opinions to be more measured. In some cases it reduces my enthusiasm but even though I have left this review a lot longer than I normally do, in the case of The Great British Beerathon my enthusiasm hasn’t gone anywhere.

A month on, every time I think back to that Saturday afternoon in Farringdon, London a big smile appears across my face. It’s one of those events that you wish you could go back and do all over again every weekend yet viewing the aftermath it’s probably a good thing for people’s health and for the pavements surrounding Fleet Street that it’s only an annual event.

The Beerathon is a five mile run centred around the Hoop and Grapes pub. After each one mile lap you must partake in the drinking of a great British pint and the eating of a piece of great British food. Fancy dress is a must. It’s limited to 200 participants and always sells out but organisers Bear Belly Running normally squeeze a few more in if they can as all entry fees go straight to Street Child and at just £35 as well as supporting a very worthwhile charity it’s also great value when you consider London drinks prices as well as the food and a medal for your efforts.

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As soon as I walked into the pub along with my sister Elise who would be my running/ drinking partner for the next few hours I knew it was going to be a good day. Tables were full of pre poured pints and piles of cling filmed pastry products. There were excited faces dressed in all manor of outfits everywhere. People had made a real effort and although I had four pints to come it just felt right to order a pre race cider to get things under way.

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After a bit of mingling in the rear garden and a humorous briefing from event organiser Mr David Hellard it was time to set off. It was easy to forget that there was actually some running involved but it didn’t take long to realise that was going to be almost as entertaining as the drinking/ eating parts as we ran past some bemused workmen before entering the busy street full of shoppers and tourists wondering what an earth was going on as a couple of hundred boozed up fancy dress clad runners came plodding past.

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As we arrived back at the public house we were sent upstairs for lager & a pasty to begin with. It was now mid afternoon and I was rather hungry. I wasn’t expecting a culinary delight but I was presently surprised and both food and drink went down a treat and we were off on lap two.

More comical looks from the general public followed with many stopping to take photos, well I suppose it’s not everyday you see the Power rangers, a giant lobster, a gorilla and a bunch of monks running down the road towards you with a belly full of beer!

We then went straight through the bar picking up a cider & a large pork pie on route which again was delicious. Several minutes later (we certainly weren’t being competitive here) we set off on lap three. Although the stomach was getting heavier the running time was flying by and before I knew it I was back round and heading upstairs to the balcony where a pint of bitter & a mini scotch egg awaited.

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We took these nice and steady chilling on the top of the steps looking down on a courtyard full of happy faces. There was a real feel good atmosphere going on and I was having an amazing time.

Going out on the forth lap it was clear that the booze and fodder weren’t staying down too well for many as puddles of vomit were all too apparent. Predictably things had got messy!

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Elise and I however managed to keep our intake down and completed the penultimate lap before entering the garden for 20 fluid ounces of stout & a huge chocolate muffin. Time seemed to pass us by as we watched a stag party playing some drinking games and it wasn’t until someone lent over us to retrieve their jacket and we caught a glimpse of their medal that we remembered we had another lap to run. We finished off and headed out.

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Spending the last lap chatting about how much fun we were having it was soon over and we too had medals around our necks. All that was left was a bit more drinking (we’d all had enough food by this point) and the amusing pre race presentation from David. Inevitably most awards were decided by a downing competition before everyone continued the party in their own ways.

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The Great Kinder Beer Barrel Challenge 2017

Review by Alan Moore.

The Great Kinder Beer Barrel Challenge is a team event that is very underground, they don’t advertise, they don’t charge you excessive costs, in fact they don’t want hundrends of people there hence they have a strict selection criteria – you have to live within the local vicinity and its invite only.

It may well only be 5km but it’s 5km of heart pumping exhaustion. The obstacles consist of a 75kg beer barrel (hence the race name), a 650m hill called Kinder Scout and your own abilities.

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The aim is to build a carrying device to transport your full beer barrel from the Snake Inn to the Nags Head pubs. This, if you believe local mystical tales, is to commemorate an Edale local who on one dark winter’s eve many years ago donned his Parker, slipped on his wellies and trudged over Kinder to the Snake Inn when the Nags Head had ran out of beer and the roads were closed. But thats only half of the story because he then carried a full beer barrel the return 5k journey through streams, peat bogs and of course over that little 650m hill they call Kinder Scout. But thats enough reminiscing of how it started what is it like today?

It’s now done in 8 man teams who turn up with carrying contraptions made from ladders or in the case of one team a home made stretcher. You attach your barrel to it and the adjudicators come and inspect to make sure you haven’t broken any of the unwritten rules. It must not have wheels, and it must be secure.

My team’s carrying device consisted of a 10ft ladder, 4 poles attached so we could lift and carry and bike inner tubes to put over shoulders to take a little pressure of the arms. The barrel was fastened on tight using a ratchet strap and then shrink wrap, finally we mounted our team mascot- the 6ft tall Babycham bottle, after all this is Team Babycham!

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Our carrier passed inspection and we were given our race number – team number 3. This meant that we set off third of the twelve teams.

The start begins opposite the Snake Inn amongst the woods with teams starting every 3 mins. We cheered off the first 2 teams before we took our place, 3,2,1 and we were off, but after 10m we realised we were all a bit dehydrated so we stopped, cracked open a bottle of babycham and shared it around. Other racers even popped down for a quick sip.

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The first 500m is through the woods with many tracks to take and this time we went right (last year we went left and got lost). Soon we found ourselves crossing the stream at the base of Kinder Scout and its here the fun begins. Looking up the track we could see the other teams pushing on and so did we.

At 1km in the gradient is still steady as we follow the track up the hill. At this stage we are jogging/walking and all in good spirits but we knew this wouldn’t last as we turned the corner. The next kilometre is what determines your over all time. You can make up 20 minutes or lose 20 here. The path disappears and the incline starts to get steeper. You have a choice of taking the steep route thats shorter or traverse the hill climbing gradually that’s longer.

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In 2017 we went steep and it almost resulted in 2 heart attacks so this year we traversed and this seemed to be the done thing as teams followed in our footsteps.

The next kilometre was tough going so we stopped and swopped carrying positions often, the gorse grabbed your ankles, the ground sucked your feet in, and the heart rate rose. Reaching the top we had caught one team and had been overtaken by two others. Already we were in a stronger position than last year where at this stage everyone had overtaken us!

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Now at the long crossing of the summit with no paths, no references or focal points to look for, we just went in the direction the barrel took us. Up and down gullys, through streams and into knee deep bogs until we reached the other side and could finally take a bearing. Time to descend down.

Over the side we go with 2 men at the front pulling the ladder and 2 behind guiding the barrel but it soon became evident that we are no longer in control of said barrel, its come alive and it wants to go as fast as it can so we held on tight and enjoyed the ride. Running as fast as we could holding on tight at the back trying not to lose our footing we managed to reach the bottom and assessed the damage. Two broken carrying handles, two hanging off and a twisted ankle so not a bad descent.

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Picking up our pieces we headed off to the finish line. It’s all steady running now so the heart rates comes back down to earth. Down some steps over a bridge and it was just 100m sprint to the finish.

The day is finished off with a presentation. Each team is clapped as they are asked to collect their rewards of a bottle of beer and a certificate for the days efforts. Another year, another great event.

Check out Alan’s race video here:

Breca Swimrun Gower

The beginnings of something special

Swimruns are growing in popularity but still quite rare in the UK. Breca was founded in 2015 and are now the sport’s leading name and this year have events in Buttermere, Jersey, Coniston and the inaugural race in Gower which is where Quirky Races’ Chris was heading but for reasons outside of his control he nearly didn’t make it to at all as he explains;

Breca Swimrun is a pairs event. I had signed up with a friend who a month before had picked up a shoulder injured which forced him to pull out and left me looking for a new partner. Several avenues were explored but all of which had come to a dead end and with hope lost and the acceptance that this event wasn’t going to happen for me, with just 5 days until race day an email dropped into my inbox from Breca’s race director Ben. He had just been contacted by someone else looking for a partner. A couple of emails, a Facebook friend request and a phone call later and ‘team thrown together’ was formed.

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It’s probably not ideal preparation to only meet the person at race registration who you’re about to take on an event with that involves 40 KM of running over 1,800 meters of elevation and 6.5 KM of swimming in the sea with 16 transitions but that was what we were dealing with.

My new partner Jon had told me he would just be happy to finish and decried himself as a plodder but it didn’t take me long to realise he was playing himself down. As we sat on the coach that took us from Mumbles pier (where the finish was) with all the other competitors on the way to the start line Jon casually dropped into conversation a list of events he’d done including several Ironmans, a 50 mile ultra on the same route we were about to face and a channel swim amongst others. This may have been daunting to many but all it did to me was add more fuel to my already fiercely burning fire of excitement. I knew this was going to be an epic day but the scale of which I hadn’t yet realised.

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The race started on Hill End which although still quite picturesque was nothing compared to what was about to come. As the name suggests it was a vertical run before hitting some treacherous rocky terrain with lead us to the first swim. Although I’ve done plenty of open water swimming it’s all been in lakes so as we made the final scramble to the sea I was feeling quite apprehensive and rightly so. This wasn’t any regular sea swim, this was in waters that were so dangerous due to it currents that a warning had been put out prior to the event advising that anyone caught attempting to train in this would be at a real risk to their life and would be banned from this and all future Breca events. Added to the already significant challenge was that we would be swimming against the tide.

This was the rudest of awakenings for yours truly and I must admit I found it really tough and was questioning if I’d be able to complete this event if I was struggling this much this early on. One thing I will say though is that despite the rather worrying warning about this particular swim and although the waves were seriously choppy I never felt at risk. There were safety personal in canoe boats close by here and on every swim section and having someone close to you at all times is exactly why this event is done in pairs. As an extra safety measure every participant also has to carry a whistle to alert of any dangers.

Once back on dry land Jon put my mind at ease by assuring me the hardest swim was out of the way and once we reached the iconic Worm’s Head which is the most westerly tip of Gower we’d have the wind with us for the remainder of our journey to the finish line.

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It was more hazardous running on rocky ground first though as we made our way over the naturally formed ‘Devil’s Bridge’ along the stunning peninsular before reaching the head and turning back. I may not be the best swimmer by any means but I do consider myself to be a pretty competent runner but this was super technical. Described by the race director as ‘a challenge even for experienced skyrunners’.

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The next swim was a carmer one and then although very hilly the running settled down to more regular trail for what was the longest singular section at 8.2 KM. Just as I was putting my earlier fears behind me another choppy swim segment arose. At ‘only’ 0.7 KM it should have been over fairly quickly but in these waters it seemed to go on for an eternity but the biggest tests were still to come.

The Oxwich point to Oxwich beach swim was the longest of all advertised at 1.1 KM. It was also around cliffs meaning for the first time so far you couldn’t see the red flag you were heading for. Psychologically this made things harder put physically the swells and shifting tide made the going so so tough and increased the distance. This was by far the hardest swim I’ve ever done and although it was a lovely day with the sun beaming down so strongly at certain points that I developed some rather unfetching tan lines, as time went on I could feel myself getting colder and colder to the point that once finally on the sand some 56 minutes (and 1.8 KM!) later I was shivering.

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During this section I was also becoming more uncomfortable by the stroke due it my wetsuit rubbing against my upper arms and back. It meant I was having to pull the suit down to the waist for every run and dreaded putting it back on each time we reached water. The pain got worse as the event went on but all I could do was try to block it out and get on with it. It left me with some nasty friction burns which will teach me never to buy a cheep wetsuit and wear it for the first time on race day.

It was just two and a half kilometres of flat beach running to the next transition which was bad news for me but music to Jon’s ears as he was thriving on the manic conditions that the South Wales ocean’s were throwing up for us and that was a huge blessing as I honestly don’t think I’d of survived the next swim without him.

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As we reached Three Cliffs Bay the marshals informed us to be very carful and swim well out from the huge cliffs we were tasked with getting around. The waves were crashing in on us like a scene from The Perfect Storm movie and I wouldn’t have even considered entering these waters in my wildest of moments had this not been an organised race situation.

Reluctantly, following Jon’s lead and instructions I went for it. We were against the tide to begin with and I didn’t feel as though I was getting anywhere but slowly but surely progress was being made. I was very relieved that another team were also taking on this epic endeavour at the same time as us purely for safety in numbers reasons.

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An extremely nervy 26 minutes and 1 KM later the jeopardy was over and I could enjoy some more breathtaking views and let my heart rate settle back down on an 8 KM run knowing that just three more swims remained and we were most definitely over the worse of it.

Arriving at Caswell Bay it was another rocky scramble down to the sea and this was again a swim that felt like it took so much longer than it actually did. 36 minutes seemed like an age but once on Langland Bay it was just 5 KM of running and only 300 meters of swimming left with four transitions.

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We had set off at 10AM and it was now approaching 6PM so it had been a long and tiring day and it was a great feeling to know the end was approaching. The penultimate swim was short and the water was relatively still, ‘If only they’d all been like that’ I joked to Jon as we clambered up the bank back on to the costal path.

We had kept our running at a good consistent pace throughout and we were still managing to maintain it although we were having to take regular stops by this point for Jon to heave up all the saltwater he’d inadvertently swallowed. He’d spent much or the day waiting for me to complete the swims so I didn’t mind this one bit. After all this is a team event and you take the rough with the smooth. We both had good and bad spells that we helped each other through. You can only be as good as your partner and although I hadn’t picked mine I was more than pleased with who I’d ended up with.

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Back in the water for the final time this was just a token swim to finish on but although the remaining running was also minimal it was by no means easy. It was fitting that this event would end with a crazy descent down a cliff face before a joyful skip across the sand and a climb up some steep steps to bring us back onto Mumbles Pier and 8 hours and 12 minutes after starting this epic journey we’d completed it.

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Nearly 100 teams started, 30% of whom didn’t make it to the finish and Jon and I had arrived home in 34th place. Not bad under the circumstances.

Breca Swimrun Gower put me out of my comfort zone more that any other event I’ve ever done but I’m so glad I did it. It’s proof that taking risks pays off. Fear can be a good thing and you are capable of things beyond your expectations. It’s given me an amazing experience I’ll never forget, confidence in my swimming I never had and perhaps best of all a partner who in the space of 24 hours went from being a stranger to a true friend. We may not see each other often in the future but Jon and I will always have the bond that completing an event this special creates. I would recommend anyone searching for a true challenge to look up what Breca have to offer.

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