The Crafty Fox series of events takes place in September 2019 in Dorset, offering scenic and challenging routes across both half-marathon and marathon distance (ish). Our reviewer Amy Robson reflects on her experience at the 2018 half-marathon, completed with both furry ears and tail intact!
Scenic but challenging
It didn’t take me long to realise that the Crafty Fox route can be broken up into two different segments: ‘Oh my gosh, look at that lovely scenery’ and ‘Holy cow, look where you’re going or you’ll soon be tumbling down the scenery’. Then again, that could be said of many White Star Running events.
This route was no joke, however. There was, by some people’s estimation, over 4,000ft of ascent. Even the front runners of the marathon route (a double lap of the half-marathon lap) took over 4 hours to complete their epic endeavours. Some came in closer to 8 hours.
Still, everyone who traversed the Foxy trails had the same thing to say: they utterly loved it. I was no exception.
Coming back from injury, and thinking better of a full marathon, I did the Crafty Fox Half Marathon accompanied by walking poles. Even with my mighty ‘cheat sticks’, I was apprehensive at the start line. The thing about doing the half-marathon was that, like the halls of a Hollywood highschool, rumours were already flying around about the brutality and beauty of the course.
Beauty I could handle. Brutality? Not so much. Still, Andy Palmer is one of the best race directors in the game and his briefings have the right mix of information and comically deadpan delivery that it alleviate my nerves and those of the many surrounding me on the Sunday start line.
Our start was from base camp (always well-stocked, always worth camping at) and the initial off was up a not-too-steep slope, which I was very grateful for.
For anyone who has never been at a White Star Running start line, allow me to paint a picture of the atmosphere. A chortling roll of runners, establishing not just pace partners but also the general feel of everyone’s personality around you. When you start, you will be casually introducing yourself to others via little dribs and drabs of panting banter (‘panter’ if you will), but by the end you’ll be running in with friends or meeting with roaring cheers at the finish line.
The lovely thing about the Crafty Fox route is that, more than some other White Star events, it facilitates this perfectly. The initial upwards sections are gradual and manageable enough that you’re slowed, but still plodding and have more than enough puff in the lungs to keep conversational. The views are the right side of stunning to open comment and conversation without being quite so perilous that you need to focus more or the ground than the horizon.
This serves the Fox races well because, come the first aid station, things soon start to get more serious.
I say that, the first ‘serious’ part for me was running through a mostly flat but very occupied field full of cows wearing a bright red shirt. Externally I casually sauntered through this bovine inclusion to our route. Internally I was frantically trying to remember if it was just bulls that hated the colour red or not and hoping I didn’t find out the hard way. I think I would have achieved a sprint PB if things had gone udders up. But back to that first hill.
Into the thick of the race
‘Steep’ would be an appropriate word for the first of the foxy fells we were met with. Thankfully it was a sideways climb, which made things a lot more merciful. The paths were very narrow and the fall wasn’t one anyone wanted to sample. Still, manageable… until you got to the descent.
The rising hill had been presented to us from the side, but the downwards pounding on the legs was so sharp of an angle that you’d think the organisers almost wanted a few rolling shots to put up on YouTube. I peered swiftly to either side looking for hidden cameras as I went down, but mostly I was focused on not barraging down at an uncontrollable speed into the step that we then had to go over.
From there, runners were greeted with some road, which was a welcome reprieve for myself. I love the scenery and atmosphere of the trails ,but my background is in road running and my legs always thank me for the familiarity of it. I’d imagine this would have been the same for similar road runners and would likely had allowed any speedy individuals to regain some time on the clock. A really nice mix up.
The road segments were well marshalled, as were all key points, and the signposting on course was very clear. Even when trekking up a steep hill, cows grazing lazily either side of me in the Ansty sunshine, I never felt like I was in the wrong place. Granted, the cows probably wondered why so many two-legged bobbing creatures dressed as foxes had decided to torture themselves in the local terrain, but that’s besides the point.
Hills, fields, and woodland made up the next section of the Crafty Fox half-marathon and crafty it certainly was. Just when you wondered if you had gotten to ‘that one bugger of a hill’ that everyone had spoken of, you suddenly found yourself greeted with another one and questioning if this new challenger might be it instead.
Having said that, the Crafty Fox is challenging but definitely achievable and this is true for most reasonably trained individuals. The cut-off times for both events are generous, the views stunning and the hills naturally beckon runners to pace themselves, slow down, hydrate and generally check their physical and emotional condition.
There were multiple gates around the route and these needed to be strictly opened and shut by every herd of runners. I admit, I am bad at opening gates, so this was probably the weakest part of my personal running experience. Never in my life did I think I’d need to factor in ‘proper farm gate use’ in to my race training, but I am now seriously considering it.
The aid stations were all brilliantly stationed and stocked. Water was all that was needed for most and then then 10-mile mark saw us greeted with a glorious buffet of cakes, flapjacks, crisps, pretzels, gherkins, watermelon, sports drinks and schnapps which, although unnecessary, were an immense morale boost to so many grateful runners. The social spirit of running is embodied in these ‘Lovestations’ and I cannot praise them (and the volunteers on them) enough.
This is especially true as, before the Lovestation, runners of the Fox can expect to meet a very steep woodland section, which is equal measures stunning and staggering. Rocks keep runners on their toes, the distance already covered has segmented runners in to small solitary herds (or solos in some cases), and the whole thing is a serene reminder of just why we hit the trails. There is enchantment is the forests of Dorset.
If this was not stunning enough, the section after Lovestation is a beautiful cascading hillside with views of the woodlands and beautiful green hills rolling in every direction. Jogging high (but with a merciful downwards trajectory), this was one of the sections where you could take it all in and the wind in the air made everyone running gain their own second zest for life.
The finish line
This glorious section is then, mercifully, followed by what seems like the final stretch, where you can see the finish on the horizon, it’s downhill, and it’s a road. Divine.
But what did I say about the craftiness of foxes? Turn around some bushes and suddenly you are met with one last final field of trails to challenge you til the end. Oh, and it’s got a slight upwards slope to it. Crafty little blighter.
Still, the finish line (again, on an incline) was a buzzing field of encouraging finishers and fabulous family members cheering everyone through until the very end. Hugs, medals and pint glasses met the runner’s alongside water and medical crew for anyone who needed it. Some people needed it. The first aid cover was exceptional.
As I claimed my own free drink and joined my fellow finishers in social pairings I was left a smiling, panting mess of adrenaline with only one desire: let me do it all again.
The Crafty Fox Races are some of the best that White Star Running has to offer. It’s not an easy course, but it’s the type of course that affirms everything you love about running and shows you just what your body can do.
I’ll definitely be signing up next year for the marathon and I urge every runner who loves the promise of hills and potential of tumbles to come and join me.
Find out more and sign up at: whitestarrunning.co.uk/crafty-fox-2019/
(Feature image © Rob Hannam)