MF takes on the Green Belter Thames Challenge

MF takes on the Green Belter Thames Challenge
(Image credit: Unknown)

Race HQ of the Green Belter Thames Challenge, in the Hambleden Estate near Henley-on-Thames, is in a picturesque meadow with wooded hills rising into the distance. It all looks very charming and rustic as competitors mill around registering and getting ready, but those hills will soon be dishing up some severe pain.
The race starts at 12.30pm and 180 racers, a mixture of solo entrants and two-person teams, stride off across the meadow for the initial 3km running loop. After only about 400m we hit the first hill and it’s an ominous sign of things to come.
The route climbs and falls through the woods before flattening out. It’s at this point that we encounter the first ‘challenge’ section of the race: a series of horse fences including a water jump to splash through. Fortunately the May Bank Holiday weather has been kind otherwise this would be unpleasantly cold, especially so early in the race.
At the end of the first running leg I’m delighted to be in second place, but I’m fully expecting to be overtaken on the 19km mountain bike stage that’s coming next. In fact, this happens sooner than I expected when I take a wrong turn early on and lose a few minutes, rejoining in the middle of the pack and cursing my lack of vigilance in missing the arrows and banners that mark the course pretty clearly.

The bike route is relentlessly demanding, with gruelling uphills followed by fast and nerve-jangling descents on gravelly paths and woodland tracks. There’s barely a moment to drink from the water bottle, but I’m managing to pick off a steady stream of riders and still hoping that a decent finish is possible, despite my mistake.
The second run loop is 7.5km long which means even more hills. On a steep climb I can’t help but slow to a walk, which feels like some sort of failure, but at the next marshal point I ask how many have already gone through. ‘You’re third!’ comes the unexpected reply. On the next hill I can see the leaders. The prospect of a win is like downing 20 energy drinks and I catch them as we head for the last leg.
This last stage is the 1km kayak section, but it also involves 2.5km of running before and after we hit the water. As we run to the start on the Thames I’m in the lead –  amazed and approaching exhaustion, but determined to hang on. The racer in second place closes in on the water, but I’ve got enough of a gap to hold him off. After two and a quarter hours I take a win that I totally didn’t expect at the start – and especially after I went wrong on the bike.
The Green Belter is a great even: well run, with a clearly marked course (if you keep your eyes open) so there’s no need to navigate, and challenges that are tough but manageable. I’d definitely do another one, and fortunately there are plenty more races in the series.

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