Thursday, February 21, 2019

One of running’s great joys, whether you’re new to the sport or an experienced pavement-pounder, is exploring new places. In your day-to-day training that generally means the area around you, but at the weekend, there’s an endless array of events all over the UK just a short drive away.

Well, some of them might be more than a short drive away, especially if you head to Scotland’s outer reaches, but the beauty of the UK is you can plan a weekend away anywhere in the country and drive there and back easily. To prove it’s not only possible, but thoroughly enjoyable, to explore the UK through running events, I signed up for one every weekend for three months. You’ll want a comfortable ride though, especially on the way back when your limbs might be aching from the race. Fortunately I’m driving a SEAT Arona, which is going to ferry me to each race and back in fine style.

The Events

Cancer Research UK London Winter Run (4th February)

There’s no better time to drive into London than early on a Sunday morning, and going by car rather than public transport to get to the centre of the capital made for a pleasant change. The Cancer Research UK London Winter 10K started and finished in Trafalgar Square and visited most of London’s top sights in between.

I’ll be spending many hours driving to far flung parts of the UK, but the first race on the list was also just about the closest – a short drive to central London from the commuter belt for the Winter Run 10K.

Driving to the start of the race in Trafalgar Square, with many roads around it closed for the event could have been tricky, but the advanced colour touchscreen sat nav in the Arona gave a few different route options, so I picked one that avoided any closures easily, and parked within just a few minutes’ walk of the start.

The race itself was brilliant, with people dressed as polar bears and penguins dotted around the route to cheer you on, and a snow cannon blasting you off at the start. There was also no shortage of attractions to keep you entertained while running, with St Paul’s Cathedral a personal favourite, partly because it marked the point where you stopped twisting around London streets and started heading for the finish. There’s a slight downhill just before that finish on Whitehall, which allowed me to fly down the home straight feeling like Sir Mo Farah.

A 10K won’t be the toughest race I tackle during the next few months touring the UK, but I was still glad to get back into the comfort of my car and drive home afterwards, rather than traipsing around public transport in the cold – it’s not called the Winter Run for nothing!

Now that I’ve managed to get started, here are thirteen more runs I’ve signed up for to take me to through to May.

Leicestershire Half Marathon (11th February)

The inaugural Leicestershire Half Marathon, held in the beautiful grounds of Prestwold Hall just outside Loughborough – an easy spot to find using the car’s sat nav. After 10K around London’s city centre last week, this countryside half marathon will be a nice change of pace and scenery.

Llanelli Half Marathon (18th February)

I know nothing about Llanelli except that it’s hard to pronounce, so this race is the perfect chance to explore somewhere new and, if I leave enough time for a diversion, drive through the Brecon Beacons National Park on the way there. The half marathon starts and finishes at the Llanelli Scarlets rugby team’s stadium and runs along the coast in between.

The Gunpowder Run (25th February)

Time to head off-road with an 8km two-lap cross-country race around Battle Abbey in East Sussex. William the Conqueror built the Abbey on the site of his victory in 1066 – a slice of history to think about as I slog around in the mud. The winding lanes of Sussex can be tricky to navigate, so I’ll be glad to be driving in comfort here.

Bath Half Marathon (4th March)

One of the UK’s most historic cities, which means it’s criminal that I’ve never been to Bath. I plan to redress that by driving down to Bath and seeing every part of the city during this flat half marathon, which is a favourite for PB-hunters.

Wrexham Running Festival (11th March)

There’s a full marathon and a 20-mile event available at this running extravaganza, but I’m going to stick with the half marathon, which will show me plenty of a town I’ve never been to before. With a whole weekend in North Wales to look forward to, I’ll be sure to drive out to nearby Snowdonia too.

Run Northumberland Half Marathon (18th March)

My longest drive yet, up to Kirkley Hall in Ponteland, just north of Newcastle, where this half marathon starts and finishes. In between runners head out into the local countryside around an undulating figure-of-8 course.

Yeovil Half (25th March)

Northumberland one weekend, Somerset the next, and by driving to each event, I hope to see plenty more of the UK on the way to both. The route of this half leaves Yeovil to visit Montacute House, an Elizabethan Mansion that acts as a glamorous signal to turn around and head back to the city centre for the finish.

Easter Eggstravaganza (31st March)

Something a little different for Easter weekend, I’ll hopefully be loading up the car with chocolate eggs after running this 5K/easter egg hunt in Sheffield. There are also 10K, 10 mile and half marathon races available, which will have more opportunities to find eggs, but I’d rather save my energy to explore the Steel City after the run.

The Glenlivet 10K (8th April)

My first trip up to Scotland and I’m heading straight for the heart of the Cairngorms National Park for this 10K in the Glenlivet Crown Estate. The scenery should be superb, during the race itself and on the drive through the stunning National Park.

Maverick inov-8 Somerset (14th April)

Set in the Quantock Hills this trio of trail races – I’ll be doing the 8km, rather than the 17km or 22km – offer stupendous views of the surrounding countryside, including the Bristol Channel and Exmoor. I’ll be basing myself in a cabin right in the heart of the Quantocks, a stern challenge for the Arona’s sat nav, and one I’m sure it will pass with flying colours.

Jurassic Trail (22nd April)

While the world and his wife heads to the capital for the London Marathon, I’m going to load up the car and drive south and tackle this 10K run along the Jurassic Coast. There are also 5K and 21km runs available, but 10K is the sweet spot for seeing as much of this World Heritage Site as I can while avoiding getting so tired I can’t enjoy the view.

Stirling Scottish Half Marathon (29th April)

I want to see Stirling, but its enviable position close to many Scottish highlights means that I’ll also be using this race as an excuse for a long weekend exploring the area. Stirling is less than an hour away from Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh, so there’s plenty to see after I’ve completed the half marathon around the local countryside.

Great Birmingham 10K (6th May)

I’m closing out my three months of running as I started – with a city centre 10K – but this time it’s around Birmingham rather than London. There’ll be a party atmosphere at this event, with the most popular music for the last five decades being pumped around the course to keep runner’s motivated. After a cracking three months on the road, I’ll definitely be in the mood to party.

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