The Ox Races by White Star Running are a series of events that take place in May each year on the beautiful trails of the Rushmore Estate in Wiltshire. Race reviewer Amy Robson took part in three of the available distances over this year’s packed weekend, and has written her in-depth report.
A packed weekend
The Rushmore Estate must have the prints of runners embedded in to its very soil by now.
For six years, this beautiful establishment has welcomed those crazy enough to come and brave its trails. To venture fourth into woodlands, fields and hills; to experience life from a different point of view.
This year I was one such runner, alongside many others. Some came for a single race, some fancied a Frolic (a time-based, lapped outing), and some who did the full ‘Epic’ (two 10K races, a half-marathon and a 50-miler over three days).
Not quite so daring as to dive in to the Epic, I loosened my legs with the Dark Ox 10K, the Frolic (to complete marathon distance) and the half-marathon this year, and this is what I took away from my time on the course.
The Dark Ox 10K (ish)
The Dark Ox is the first of the races that take part over the Ox weekend. Starting at 9pm on a Friday, you’d expect nightfall to be in full effect from the get-go, but weather was generous this year and so we started in the beautiful half-glow of dusk.
Head torches were a must and were fully enforced from the very start of the race. A sensible choice, as no one wants to be faffing about with a torch mid-race.
The course at night was beautiful and varied. The benefit of a pre-Frolic/50-mile night race is that you get to fully acquaint yourself with the route, while also seeing it in an entirely different light… quite literally.
A whole sea of headlights, fairy lights and other glowing objects lit the way along the woodlands where we first ventured out from.
From there, we branched out into a golf course before being met with beer at a lovely wooden farm shack, much-needed considering a semi-large hill awaited us soon after. This hill is what you might consider to be a taster for some of the others that the full Epic and half-marathon crew would be sampling, and it’s a nice opportunity for a rest before experiencing further woodlands and the beloved Lovestation.
Being a night race, it was hard to see most of the course, but what really stood out was the sea of wild garlic scattered along the course in various places. Its aroma was unmistakeable and the beautiful little white petals of the garlic glowed in the darkness. Bats flew overhead and birds and moths made themselves known, bemused by the whole affair.
Thankfully, there weren’t many puddles and the course overall was an enjoyable adventure through dark and stony paths. One that you definitely don’t want to miss!
The Ox Frolic/50
While I did not do the Ox 50-mile race, the route was practically identical to the Frolic, bar an earlier start time and a shorter first lap, so consider this report an appraisal of both.
The Frolic route for the Ox is (as of 2019) identical to the Dark and Light Ox meaning if you do the Dark the night before you have that familiarity with it, while also getting to reminisce about its details and how different they feel in the light of day.
The race started with cold and bracing weather and a fog was visible over the hills of the campsite. This wasn’t to be the case for most of the race, however, as the sun shone beautifully for most of the day, leading to a hot and trialling course.
The thing about the Ox Frolic route is that it’s beautiful and brutal in equal measure. There are wonderful details, such as the tall and scattered trees, the emerald fields of a golf course, and the stony divots and rooted ground of hills and slopes, but all of these features also serve as obstacles to overcome with every lap.
‘Lap’ is the cherished word here, however. The 10.5K (ish) route is enough of a distance that each time you feel like you’ve done a substantial chunk, while also giving you the bravery to go out again (should you wish to). Many first-time marathons, ultras, halfs, etc, were achieved on the day and it’s very easy to segment the route up in your mind to know how to strategically manage every lap.
This is especially useful for those doing 50 miles (8 laps) or those, such as myself, doing a marathon (4 laps).
The gradual climbs decorated on either side of the path with garlic were exceptionally stunning during the day and the smell was so gorgeous that I was tempted to harvest some with every lap. I didn’t though – turns out garlic is pretty tough to get out of the ground, but its leaves can be used for impromptu loo breaks and it acts as an antibiotic, so that’s always a good thing.
The Ox Frolic route has a few deceptive inclines and a few pounding declines, so you certainly feel it in the legs with every lap. Some of the inclines are also long and gradual, meaning you don’t realise just how much they’re taking out of you until you meet them again on the third, fourth (or further) loop.
The stunning nature of this course is enough to tempt anyone out for another lap, though, and no matter how tough things felt, I was always grateful of the views when I took a moment to compose myself and actually see the course.
My marathon was a tough one, but was tempered with good company and good conversation. That’s another wonderful thing about Frolics; runners are going at all different paces and no one really has any idea about how deep someone is in to their personal struggle, so if you want you can meet someone on course, slow down for a while, and just take it all in. Helping each other is an action that is fundamentally ingrained in the Frolic format and I love them for it. Read more about the appeal of lapped races.
Come the end of everyone’s own personal race, they would freshen up before returning to the finish/lap point to cheer others on. As the night went on and the 50-milers started to venture out on their final lap or finish, almost every person who had done the day was waiting to cheer in those still soldering on with extreme enthusiasm (and the occasional worried conversation).
When the final runners came in, the cheers were just as strong as for those who had first crossed that line. It may have been dark by then, but I have never seen a brighter atmosphere for a race finish, and the 50 and Epic people were truly inspiring.
The Ox Half
The Ox Half mixed things up, by taking people through a few ‘hillier’ sections before coming back in to the familiar Ox loop for the final 10.5K.
This race was tough.
It was almost as if White Star Running was treating us like a new pair of leather boots or race shoes. We were well and truly broken in to the run first before things got a bit more familiar and easy in the second half.
The first part of the race went through Larmer Tree Race territory, which meant hills, hills, and more hills. Some of them were so steep and trialling that all you had to stop part way through to regain your breath and remind yourself that, yes, this does still count as ‘running’; it’s just ‘trail running’, which is a completely different beast to the roads.
The White Star crew were exceptional throughout this race, as the day got hotter than expected which meant additional water stops were swiftly put on course. No matter what the challenge, you can always expect WSR to take care of you. Runner safety is undoubtedly their priority.
It was nice to get a break from the Ox route for the first part of this race, and the addition of the hills felt like a formidable and immense achievement. If you haven’t climbed a WSR hill before I encourage you to stop at the top, look down at what you’ve done, and then remind yourself that you’re a badass before venturing onward. I can assure you, the half-marathon distance will feel wholly achievable afterwards.
Running through the campsite halfway through the race was hard though, I must admit. You can literally see the finish (and your tent), but you know you have to go on. What it does allow, however, is the use of the toilets should you choose, and that is brilliant.
The familiarity of the Frolic route is also welcome for this race. It means that, if you’ve done any of the other races, you know what you need to do next, making it all feel so much more achievable. It’s just one more lap – just one more jaunt through beautiful territory – and I know I’d rather spend my Sunday running through Ox territory rather than doing housework or something else mundane.
Come the finish, again, people were all cheering in the sunny weather, even for the back of the pack, and the Epic people were scattered about with hobbling bodies but immeasurably strong spirits, their challenge having come to an end.
After such a brilliant weekend it takes a few days to process the immensity of it all – such is the nature of White Star Running events – but that’s all part of what makes them so exceptional.
I can only thank the entire crew for making this weekend such a profound one and I highly recommend these races for anyone who wants to show themselves just what their body is capable of.
The Ox Races will return on 9th and 10th May 2020. Keep on eye on the White Star Running website for details of when entries open: https://whitestarrunning.co.uk/