During the six months leading up to race day it felt inevitable that the first Eden Valley would be cancelled, so sitting here writing this report (four weeks after a successful event) feels like a minor miracle.
In the end it couldn't have gone much smoother for our field of ninety five runners, most of whom were running their first race of the year and for the most part arrived, ran and left with a beaming smile.
The Eden Valley route is 50km with ~900m elevation around a single loop starting and finishing in Hever, Kent. It's a stunning part of the British countryside with countless well-trimmed villages, opulent manors and rolling hills. On a clear summers day, it really comes to life.
We hosted the event at Wilderness Farm which also holds the annual Neverworld Festival and the place has slight enchantment about it. Our field was half a mile up a rickety farm track tucked away from anyone else and it was nice to have such a secluded spot.
The runners set-off one by one from 9am and the race was on. The first section of the course to Checkpoint One at Marsh Green is just over 14km and a small group of runners set a blistering speed with the front two (Mike Reade and Ben Comery) arriving together in sub four-hour pace (~4:44min/km).
After a relatively flat start the following leg to Checkpoint Two is where elevation is found. The runners head north to Edenbridge and then to the beautiful Chartwell Estate, joining the Greensand Way and across to Ide Hill.
As the runners arrived at Ide Hill Village Hall (29km) some were clearly starting to feel fatigue, partly due to the climbs but also the heat, which peaked into the mid twenties during the afternoon. The front two at this point were still inseparable arriving together in 2h22 - Mike with the advantage having started two minutes after Ben.
In the women's race, Sarah Hendry had now built up a six minutes lead into Checkpoint Two having previously been neck and neck with Ashley Pearson into CP1.
Leaving Ide Hill the runners can enjoy a faster section, with plenty of descent and a series of country lanes and flat sections that really helps with pace and rhythm.
The remaining Checkpoint at Leigh Cricket Club is 9.6km from Ide Hill and both leaders ran these legs fast and strong with Mike creating a six-minute advantage and Sarah extending hers to eleven minutes.
The final stretch of the race returns the runners back home via Penshurst Place, and in isolation this is a lovely undulating section with no major challenges. However at 40km it does not feel like that and to many what had been an enjoyable day in the sun turned into a shuffle towards the finish - From an organisers perspective its fascinating to witness these struggles and see the runners dig deep and get themselves to the finish no matter what.
Having waited patiently at the event base since the start, following the runners primarily through our WhatsApp group it was both exciting and relieving to see the winner burst through the tree line and run through the finish arch.
Congratulations to Mike Reade, our winner in a fantastic time of 04:09:57, a course record that will be hard to beat next year. The male podium was completed by Thomas Allen in second (04:17:09) and Mark Pinder in third (04:25:06) who also took our V40+ crown.
Male podium (left to right) - Mike Reade (1st), Thomas Allen (2nd) and Mark Pinder (3rd)
Sarah Hendry was our female champion finishing in 04:43:30 (8th overall) with Ashley Pearson (V40) finishing a strong second in 05:00:33 and Emma Roper taking 3rd in 05:18:26.
Female podium (left to right) - Sarah Hendry (1st), Ashley Pearson (2nd) and Emma Roper (3rd)
Outside of the podium there was some fantastic performances all round and in total 91 of the 95 runners completed the race, well done to everyone and thank you for your efforts.
The sun kept shining for the rest of the afternoon and it was great that a large majority stayed to enjoy the local beer and pizza on offer whilst cheering the runners home.
Let's hope we get another sunny one next year.
The next Eden Valley will take place on September 11th 2021.
Visit edenvalleyrace.com for more details.