It’s sooooo good to be back!! After a year of restrictions and uncertainty across the entire outdoor industry, it was wonderful to be able to dust down the cameras and head out in search of the ever illusive Ultra Trail Runner once again. And what a great way to ease back in to the world of trail racing, with the exceptionally professional and superbly well organised guys from Freedom Racing.
With Lockdown rules having only been eased to allow for travel and overnight stays just 5 days before race day, Freedom Racing really did take a giant leap into the unknown as they finally had the opportunity to host their 3 times postponed Hurtwood 50 race through the beautiful Surrey Hills.
The pressure to host a mass participation COVID secure race just days after government restrictions had been eased must have been incredibly daunting but, as always, we knew we’d all be in safe hands; runners, volunteers and photographers alike.
And we were. A wealth of information had been sent out in advance of race day providing extensive details of COVID safe procedures for participants and volunteers. And when race day arrived the Freedom Racing team were on site at the crack of dawn putting their safety and hygiene procedures in place before the first runners arrived on site for registration.
The new race HQ venue of Denbies Vineyard on the edge of Dorking was most definitely a blessing. With masses of outdoor space and a huge area set aside for race parking and registration, having the space in which to socially distance really wasn’t a problem at all. A huge marquee had been erected the day before, and a great deal of time and effort had gone in to putting up barriers and marking out areas to safely queue for, and move through the race registration process. There was hand sanitising stations a plenty, clear signage with regards to when and where to put on face masks, and with patience and grace runners moved through the registration process safely. The Freedom Racing team were on hand to ensure social distancing and face mask wearing was implemented but ‘policing’ wasn’t necessary at all as everyone seemed to willingly embraced the ‘new normal’.
As an all-inclusive race company, Freedom Racing pride themselves in hosting events that are open to all levels of participant, from the gazelle like GB runner to those more attuned to a hearty stomp in the English countryside. This all-inclusive approach to racing meant there was a 10 hour window for participants to complete the 50km route and, with no mass starts, tough organisational decisions had been made in advance of race day to allocate starting time slots for runners of differing speeds. Whilst being new to us all, this staggered registration and start process worked with great efficiency and, as runners lined up (2 meters apart!) and patiently waited for their turn to dib-in and pass over the starting line, moods were high and everyone seemed perfectly at ease with the new COVID secure arrangements.
Starting on the edge of Dorking the Hurtwood 50 race route follows the Greensand Way into the beautiful forested Surry Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. An out and back race that takes in 4350 ft of ascent as runners climb the local landmarks of Leith Hill, Holmbury Hill and Pitch Hill, twice! Usually a winter race, the move to mid April this year made for longer daylight hours and extremely dry runnable conditions underfoot as runners made their way along easy to follow trails through the woodlands, ridge lines and valleys of The Hurtwood.
Once out on the course the same level of COVID safe organisation and efficiency was applied to aid stations along the route. Clear signage, ample hand sanitisation, and plenty of helpful Freedom Racing crew were on hand to ensure runners moved through aid stations with ease and speed, whilst ensuring hand hygiene, mask wearing, and social distancing took place. The staggered start helped to limit any waiting time at aid stations and enabled runners to spread out across the entire length of the course without bunching up and creating bottlenecks. And, whilst behind the scenes an awful lot of preparation had taken place, all these extra safety procedures really didn’t seem to impact at all on the overall enjoyment of the race for all taking part.
As seasoned trail runners ourselves, we were a little apprehensive as to what the ‘new normal’ would look and feel like for runners. Would it dampen the race atmosphere? Would it take away the joy of taking part in an event with other people? After all, we all know the trail running community are a friendly bunch and camaraderie among fellow runners is one of the main reasons we all take part in such events! Despite the social distancing, hand sanitising, and mask wearing at aid stations and race HQ, a great day was most definitely had, and all within the governments current guidelines of “Hands, Face, Space, Fresh Air”!
Well done Freedom Racing!