When I was hunting for races to run in September and found the ADP Highclere 10K, I couldn’t resist. I mean a race around the grounds of Downton Abbey? Come on! Even the race reviews that described “murderous hills” weren’t enough to scare me away.
So on Sunday morning I drove the 30 miles down the road for a morning out at Highclere. My approach to this race was much different from the others I’ve run to date as it was the first I’ve run while nursing a minor injury, a strained hamstring. I had rested it, taking the the majority of the past two weeks off from running. And on the morning, it felt fine so I decided to do the race.
But because of the hamstring and the murderous multi-terrain course, I knew it would be a super slow race for me. My only goal was to get around the course and enjoy the scenery, giving myself permission to stop and walk if needed. I wanted to run but also didn’t want to make things worse. Plus, I knew I’d stop to take pictures.
The main grounds of Highclere and the castle itself were closed to the public, the race start / finish, tents, and port-a-loos all setup in a field just a short distance away from the castle. Spectators were required to stay in the confines of this field for the duration of the race. The start reminded me of that at Lacock Abbey, just sign stuck to a tree. No fanfare here and lots of club runners. The Earl of Carnarvon himself started the race.
Right from the start, I was struggling to run with any pace at all, running the first kilometer over fields littered with deer droppings, uneven footing, and then uphill. When we reached the first stretch of tarmac at the 1K mark I was grateful. I am not a trail runner.
The course quickly led us toward the castle and we ran directly across Highclere’s front drive and past its front entrance. The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, owners of Highclere, were graciously on hand to cheer us on as we passed their notorious home. It was certainly the closest I’ve ever been to the aristocracy. I made sure to smile and wave.
After passing the castle, we began a journey through the deep woods of the estate. The nice smooth tarmac then turned and headed deep into the woods where muddy, rocky paths awaited. And, those murderous hills. I decided to stop and walk at least twice, my lungs up to the task but my legs, certainly my injured leg, unwilling to keep pace. Then, after a sharp right turn, the woods opened up to an amazing expanse of country side, the view stretching miles into the distance.
We then worked our way back toward the castle where we ran up what I felt was the most treacherous hill yet, its craggy face forcing me to walk again. Thankfully, the final stretch toward the finish was an easy run on tarmac. I did pick up the pace a bit at the end but didn’t risk a sprint to the finish. I’m competitive but not stupid. They were already handing out awards to the top finishers just as I crossed the finish line.
Despite the terrain and my poor performance, I enjoyed the race. Because I’d given myself permission to take it easy, I did just that. I smiled and waved at the race photographer instead of wearing my usual “serious runner” face. I did stop and take pictures. I turned my running app off and let my body be my guide instead of some predetermined pace I was trying to achieve. And, I thought about what running has given me, an appreciation for my surroundings and the experience of the outdoors.
My only disappointment was that everyone who participated didn’t get medals. I’ve got quite a collection of race medals developing and it was a shame not to add to it.
Finally, because Downton Abbey Season Four started in the UK last week and because I love you all, I’ve included a few more shots of the Grantham’s modest home from my visit there earlier in the Summer.