The UK really does offer some of the most beautiful places to run. Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire is certainly no exception. The beautifully landscaped gardens often play host to weddings and parties, and even a weekend music festival. But each March it’s taken over by trail runners, towing the start line for one of five races in the hope of earning a bespoke medal and a free lunch.
The Larmer Tree Races by White Star Running have a special place in the race calendar. They offer up just the right blend of challenging course and inclusivity. I have run a few of the races over the years, including the marathon and the 10-miler (both in one weekend a couple of years ago).
This year, I decided to tackle the half-marathon route, which by White Star standard’s came in pretty much on the money distance wise. I clocked 13.44 miles – way below my usual mental trick of assuming it will go about 10% over the advertised distance! With a total elevation of over 1,500ft, it’s not a fast course, but it does offer some stunning views across the Wiltshire countryside.
Starting the half
The half-marathon takes place on the Saturday, the same day as the 10-mile event (which is also part of a series with two other local 10-mile races with different race organisers). There is also a ‘dark’ event in the evening, and the marathon and 20-miler are on the Sunday.
For 2019, the medals have had a revamp. Typically this race is peacock themed, owing to the colourful birds that frequent Larmer Tree Gardens. This year, it goes one further and takes on a complete Indian theme. Each medal features a different native creature. The ribbon, however, maintains its distinct peacocky-ness.
We arrived at the event and were parked in an organised fashion, and in such a way as to avoid the potential of getting stuck in the mud as per previous years. The whole pre-event setup was straightforward and it wasn’t long before we were on the start line ready to go.
Hills, hills, hills
It’s impossible to avoid pretty monster hills in the countryside. The first two miles of the slightly new half-marathon course was pleasantly downhill and flat. It’s was good to get the legs moving and settle into the run. A gentle hum of chattering flowed along the course. White Star Running events, as with many trail running events, are built on a solid community of like-minded individuals. It’s great to catch up with familiar and new faces alike.
Just as you get into your rhythm, the first hill hits and the chatter ebbs off. Mainly due to an inability to breathe and talk at the same time, while thighs are burning and the summit continues to recede further away with every step.
That’s the theme for this race, and the other distances. In between the hills, there is talking, laughing and general merriment – these races have the best atmosphere. You can run as hard as you like or take your time, and every single runner is given the same consideration and friendly welcome. The aid stations were spaced out perfectly on the half, with the White Star Running’s bespoke ‘Lovestation’ (think super aid station) positioned right when you need it for a little boost.
The final long hill is never that enjoyable, but when you crest the top, you can see the finish line in the distance. It’s still a little run to get there, but you can hear the support and see the dedicated finish line team, giving you the motivation you need to get through. As you cross the line, you are presented with your stunning medal and a big hug.
Finish line thrills
At the Larmer Tree races there are no goody bags, but instead you get a voucher for food. This is prepared by the catering team at Larmer Tree Gardens itself and is a much-appreciated gesture. Proper cheesy pasta and garlic bread never tasted so good. Plus it encourages runners to sit and chat, dissect their race and bond, building on those important community ties.
This race sums up everything that is great about trail running. The venue is superb and you always feel well looked-after. Of course now the medal designs have changed, I feel completely obliged to work on getting the set over every distance!
The 2020 events will be announced soon, but you can see all the other White Star Running races here: https://whitestarrunning.co.uk