The Elstead “marathon” is hosted every year in the village of Elstead, just a few miles from Farnham in Surrey. The marathon has been running since 1912, making it a truly historic event. The local Scout troop have very close ties to the event, with all proceeds from the day helping to support fantastic opportunities for the local youth.
The event consists of a 5.4 mile off road race and a 3 mile junior race, both starting on the village green, with cake stalls and a barbeque and local pubs around the green for refreshments. The longer run takes place across the local commons to the south and west of the village, with some varied terrain and ending in a refreshing crossing of the river Wey! The races are traditionally followed by a friendly tug of war between local teams, although I have always been in the pub enjoying a post-race recovery beer when this has been happening.
I came into this race having had a busy week at work with no chance of running in the week following my long run with SJ folks at the Lookout the previous Sunday. I had been having calf issues and spent more time foam rolling than running and I had some doubts about whether the planned long racing weekend I had in store was a wise move – Elstead marathon, parkrun, Runnymede Relay, then another 5k race on Sunday. So, kill or cure, as they say!
The Elstead event is usually the first Friday in July (except for this year), but is never that well advertised, which is why most people round Sandhurst way have never heard of it. However, about 400 people run it each year and this year they all seemed to have turned up before me, so I had a 5 minute walk back to the village green from where I parked. There is no registration on line before the event, you just sign up on the day, but the queues were very short and I had my number in plenty of time to try and find any familiar faces. I didn’t know any other SJ runners here (either they were at track or saving themselves for Runnymede the next day) but I did find some Cove, Windle and Frimley parkrunners that I knew among the hordes of Farnham and Blackwater Valley runners.
At 7pm we gathered at a narrow lane by the Woolpack pub (Hogsback ales and nice for dinner) to see off the junior’s 3mile race and as soon as they were gone we lined up and were off at 7:15. The first 50m were very narrow but we then turned onto a wider street to run through the village on flat roads with loads of locals out to cheer us on. After less than a mile we turned off road on to a steady climb on cool wooded trails, before coming out on open ground at Ockley Common, then heading into some more gently sloping woodland trail and some loose sandy paths before the last main climb beside Yagden Hill where we were rewarded with nice views across open heathland. More sandy paths alongside the heather before the steady drop back down to the village, where things really start to get interesting.
After coming out of the woodland there is a steady downhill on tarmac before the last half mile where the terrain gets really wacky. This usually starts with climbing over a 5 bar gate, but this year someone had opened that for us (boo!) then crosses a really hummocky field perfect for twisting an ankle on, wading through a little stream, across a tiny bridge, a couple of hundred metres of cobbled road round the back of The Mill pub (quality gastro-pub with Fullers Ales), then a little well-trimmed lawn before jumping into the River Wey, hauling yourself (or being hauled) up the muddy bank and then a final steep little dash back past the Golden Fleece (Thai food and guest ales) to the finish on the village green.
This is a glorious cross country run with a quite silly ending. I tried hard to keep up with the friends I was running with and this pushed me on to a PB for this 5.4 mile run by 70secs in 43:50. Early finishers can grab a pint at the Golden Fleece and salute the later runners as they scramble out of the river. Extra cheers can be had for impressive diving skills!
Elstead – the lighter side of “marathon” running.