It was billed as the ‘toughest 10km race in Britain’ and having done it, I’m not one to argue. The Knacker Cracker, now in its sixth year is an annual race that takes place at Box Hill in Surrey every New Years day and the participants are encouraged to take part in fancy dress.
When I saw this race advertised it immediately appealed to me as it sounded quite a challenge, pretty fun and there is something slightly subversive about doing a run on a morning that everyone else is at home with a hangover.
The drive to the race was slightly bizarre as I’m sure we only saw about four or five cars in the whole journey. We knew we’d arrived at the right place when we got to the Rykers Cafe and saw lots of people dressed kind of for running but in a wide range of fancy dress.
Milling about at the start we checked out the other costumes and were quite impressed. There was a Mr T, a group of six came as the cast of the Wizard of Oz, there was a couple in towels and showers caps, someone in a loincloth and tribal body paint, pirates, jesters, a coal miner, the pink panther and many more.
I’d considered a few ideas myself, but eventually decided on ‘World War One flying ace’. I’d thought about hiring an outfit, but in the end opted to make one myself. My flying hat was cut from a brown cushion cover and my goggles were just those I use for swimming. I did the old trick of sewing a white pillow case to a coat hanger to make a scarf and I printed out my RAF wings off the interweb and stuck it to some cardboard. To finish things off, Deborah painted on a handlebar moustache with some waterproof mascara. From a distance at least, I looked the part.
It was a bitterly cold morning and hanging around at the start was a little bleak. The race is handicapped so that the fastest runners start last and my slightly optimistic estimate put me in the second to last group. I was a tiny bit worried that I might be last on this one.
The race starts with a lung-bursting run up to the top of Box hill and essentially makes you go up and down at various points about four times. I managed to run all the way up the first hill, half-way up the second and from then on all up-hills were walked completely. I get what I thought was a decent bit of hill training where I live, but this was not nearly good enough preparation for this race. To be fair to myself almost no-one ran up hill three and absolutely no-one ran up the last which was a very steep slope with steps.
Between painful climbs there were muddy, slippy hair-raising downhills and a couple of bits on the level. I got passed quite a bit, but hearteningly I managed to get round a few others myself. I was pretty knackered by about half-way and I was absolutely shattered by the end of the last hill.
One thing that kept my spirits up in the race was getting encouragement from spectators and marshals (who were great) and by giving out ‘hellos’, ‘Tally hos’, ‘Do it for queen and country’ (in my best RAF posh voice) and generally saluting anyone I passed. The last kilometre was at least a nice downhill and I was very glad to throw a nice salute as I went over the finishing line.
I came in a respectable 127 out of 213 finishers with an official time of 01:10:05.
As a rule, I’ve learnt not to get too many expectations about the ‘goodies’ that are given out in races. It’s often a really cruddy medal and a poor quality cotton t-shirt that will never be worn.
With the Knacker Cracker, however, my meagre expectations were well exceeded. The medal is actually really good and deserves hanging up. The race shirt is a decent quality long-sleeve hi-vis running top that has all the participants names on. As a brucey bonus you also get a logo’d mug and even some hot soup and a roll which is very welcome.
On New Years day morning I’d given serious thought to backing out of this race and staying in bed. I’m really glad that I found some gumption and did it as it was good fun, despite the hills and I have sense of having joined a brotherhood of…errr…nutters. This could even be an annual event for me?!
Thanks to Deborah and Rose for giving me some great support, especially on such a cold day!