Mapledurham BYU 2024 – A Crew’s Eye View

Going to Mapledurham was a bit of a last-minute plan, but we’re glad we did! After the Cow Shed Backyard Ultra was cancelled due to short notice, Julie had a bit of a gap in her schedule before her next race in June and was still looking to find a few extra yards to secure her place on the UK team after having posted 38 at Rasselbock BYU in March. Held on the May bank holiday and looking like a not too difficult course, Mapledurham was the obvious choice. Handily, they offered a discount to runners transferring from the cancelled Cow Shed race too, which was nice! This would be the first edition of the race (in fact the first ever event run by CG Trails) so besides the race info pack which was emailed out we didn’t know exactly what to expect.

We packed up the new van with all of our camping gear, Julie’s running gear and enough food to feed a crew of four (Iain plus three kids) and a hungry runner for 48 hours! It was nice not to need either a roof-box or trailer, and still have more room inside than our old car. After picking up the kids from school, we set of on the long road trip down to Reading. Mapledurham is just a little to the North of Reading itself, on the other side of the Thames. The journey took about 8 hours, so we eventually arrived and checked in to the local Travelodge at around 1am. After a short but decent night’s sleep (plus Julie had a bit of a sleep in the car on the journey too), we set off again early in the morning to arrive at Mapledurham at 7am when the site opened.

The venue is in the grounds of Mapledurham House, with the corral on the lawn directly in front of the house. We were able to pitch our tent in a great spot just a few metres from the start line and the runners’ aid tent (with hot water supply). Motivated by the prospect of breakfast, we had the tent up in no time and by 8am had bacon frying on the stove. For the rest of the morning Julie was able to rest and get ready for the start, while we had lots of time to chat to other runners as they arrived and set up camp. We also got to meet Chris and Georgia (the C and G of CG Trails), who were really friendly and helpful. If they were feeling the pressure of their first even race day, they didn’t show it! In total there were 40 runners on the start line, including our friends the Parkins, Eleanor Gallon and Vic Owens. Eric and Jonathan from Rasselbock Running were also there to provide a live stream of the event (as well as running the first few yards) so it was nice to catch up with all of them.

Just before 11am the runners gathered in the corral and after the customary 3,2 and 1 minute whistles they were off on the first yard! And time for the first hour of waiting for the runners to return for those of us crewing on the camp site. Iain was quickly in to the hourly routine of tidying up our tent, hanging around for half an hour, then preparing whatever food and drink Julie was likely to want, before watching the runners come in from about quarter to the hour. The last half mile or so of the course is visible from the finish line, so we had a good view of the runners approaching from the distance.

As is customary for events when Julie is running, the weather was excellent throughout and Iain even had his shorts on for the first time this year! Throughout the day runners gradually dropped out, but many of them were first time BYU runners so it was great to see most people matching or exceeding their goals – even Eric, who completed one yard and was the first runner to DNF when he returned during the second. Getting to speak to almost all the runners at some point is one of the best parts of a BYU as a crew member. Generally the runners might have a few chats here and there with each other, or even team up for a few yards, but often after someone has DNF’ed they may well have packed up and gone home by the end of the next yard, never to be seen again by the other runners!

The first day went by uneventfully for us. Julie had a couple of toe blisters that needed taping (fairly common for her), and wasn’t enjoying the heat, but nothing much too worry about and was consistently lapping around 52 minutes, coming in with a smile on her face.

As we got in to the night, the clear skies meant that the temperature dropped sharply, from around 24C in the afternoon heat down to 3 or 4C by the early hours of the morning. Rhona is a capable crew deputy in her own right, so once it got dark she did the 9pm-1am shift, and Iain got several hours of solid sleep. It was definitely cold by the time he took over at 2am, and it got worse through the night as a cold, thick fog settled and the grass got damp with dew. Fortunately, the first light of dawn appeared well before 5am and within a few hours the fog had burned off leaving another bright morning. As usual, the night thinned the field out significantly, with only 12 runners continuing beyond midnight, and only 6 making it all the way through to midday and the 24 hour, 100 mile mark! Surprisingly, George Parkin had dropped at 1am (13 yards, well short of his PB of 30) but the other ‘favourites’ Eleanor, Allan and Vic were still in, along with Benjamin and Peter who were both running their first Backyard. Julie had enjoyed the night as she always does, especially compared to the heat of the day. She slowed down a little bit just so she could go a bit more carefully on some of the trickier trail sections in the dark, but was still moving well although had quite sore lower legs for no apparent reason. Application of the magic “freeze spray” became a regular part of our between-yards routine.

Things moved rather quickly on the Sunday afternoon! Benjamin opted not to continue after reaching 24 yards, and Eleanor timed out on the 25th yard due to a combination of issues. Vic pulled out after completing the 26th yard with what looked like excruciating IT band issues, leaving Allan, Peter and Julie left as the final three! They all completed several more laps, but Peter was looking distinctly wobbly at times, and Allan was struggling with severe stomach issues. After completing 30 laps (a great effort for his first Backyard), Peter decided to stop leaving Allan and Julie out on yard 31. It was 4pm and Julie had wanted some proper food at the end of the yard, so Iain had just gone back in to the tent and started cooking pasta when Allan was spotted returning to the corral (via the portaloo, sadly)! Julie had been ahead of them but she had no idea that she was now the last one standing. Everyone gathered round the finish line at about 4.45pm and soon we could see her in the distance (and on the zoom lens of the live stream camera we could see she was still looking behind her to see where Allan was). With about half a mile to go, a passer-by who was following the event broke the news that he had DNF’ed, and all she had to do was complete the yard and take the win! If it hadn’t been for that I think she might have been a bit confused about all the shouting and whooping from us at the finish 🤣

Although we said this blog was a “crew’s eye view” here’s a few notes from Julie about the course itself:

This is a lovely route and although I was disappointed to not get a few more yards on my PB the route itself is great and as always I was able to have some nice chats with friends old and new. The course is ideal for a backyard as nearly all the climbing is in the first miles which makes pacing much easier. The only downside was a “kissing gate” at the bottom of the hill which caused a bit of a bottleneck and then it was hard to get past people on the hill. This meant there were a lot of early laps where I just had to accept I would be going at the pace of everyone around me rather than choosing my own pace – I tend to walk uphill faster than a lot of people! Midway up the hill was a short runnable section before the rest of the climb. The climb is through a lovely woods and as you near the top there was a beautiful patch of bluebells to enjoy on the right of the path. You then leave the trees behind to cross a field to the second kissing gate on the route which opens up on a farm road and the end of the first mile. Because of the big climb I found this mile came in at a 14-15mins which is slower than I would usually aim for on a backyard but with the other 3 miles downhill or flat it was easy to make up the time to average out at just over 12min/mile. The next 2 miles are mainly single undulating track with the odd section of farm road. With a mix of views it is a route that has plenty to keep you interested. A few low hanging branches meant I had to pay attention at night and nettles close to the edge of the path woke you up if you veered to close! There is one short section of steeper down hill in mile 3 before a long flat run back to Mapledurham house. This flat section starts in trees and had the only really muddy section of the course. The final mile is on farm road and did begin to drag as the yards passed by. It also runs past a farmers yard and barns where it was fun to say hello to the dairy cows but they really did stink! The roads are unusual as they are all slab concrete which several people were finding tough on the legs. All in all a lovely little route with plenty of interest, I would recommend it to backyarders old and new.

One of the strangest things if you make it to the end of a Backyard is the everyone else has usually gone home! Once Julie had finished the final yard, received her memento, posed for a few photos and eaten some food it was time to pack up and go. Chris, Georgia and team were packing up the race HQ, Eric and Jonathan were packing up the live stream kit and we got our stuff packed up pretty darn quick too. In the end I think only George and Allan were left on the campsite on Sunday night.

Despite a pretty decent amount of sleep, driving all the way home (leaving at 7pm, arriving home about 3am) wasn’t a good plan so we stopped off for a welcome sleep in a real bed plus an all-you-can-eat breakfast at the Birmingham airport Travelodge before eventually making it home early afternoon on Monday!

All in all a great weekend. Although she was very happy to come away with the win, no-one else was able to go far enough for Julie to extend her current PB of 38 yards. The Portland Pig BYU was taking place the same weekend (starting on the Friday), and the top two runners there reached 38 and 39 yards respectively, meaning that Julie was now (at least until Suffolk BYU) occupying the final spot on the UK national team list and Iain was off the bottom! Hopefully we’ll get a chance to change that before the end of the qualifying period in August 😬

Thanks again to Chris and Georgia for putting on a fantastic event at Mapledurham – we’d definitely recommend it to anyone, if you’re run a Backyard or not. It sounds like they are aiming to grow the event a bit more for next year, but we hope it doesn’t lose the relaxed and personal charm along the way.

One final takeaway from this year’s event (for Iain) is not to let the kids charge their phones off the car battery! And special thanks to Peter Johnston’s family for lending a pair of jump leads to get us out of that particular spot of difficulty 🤣

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