Fen Gallop 10K Race Report: Lovely Cross-Country Run

A beautiful cross-country race on tarmac and dirt roads, grassy and muddy paths, fields and wooded areas on the edge of the Fens in Cambridgeshire.

Fen Gallop 10K

Fen Gallop 10K is a very nice cross-country 10 kilometers long race. It is my favorite one in Cambridgeshire. This run is halfway between a road race and a trail race and the route varies among these things: tarmac, grass, paths, ruts, dirt roads, mud, puddles, fields and wooded areas.

The race is organized on the first Sunday of July in Willingham, a village in Cambridgeshire about 15 km kilometers from Cambridge.

As this was only the second year when this race was organized it still had a few little problems, but overall it has improved since last year.

I recommend this and similar races to people that want to stay away from crowded road races or long trail races, want to be closer to the nature and want to challenge themselves on the technical paths..

Before the Race

As I live in Cambridge I had to travel to Willingham. For the majority of the people this is a ten minutes drive, but for me it was a bit more complicated. There is no public transport on Sunday morning and a cab would be way to expensive.

In most cases I do not participate at races that are not easily accessible without a car, but this one was an exception. Finally I run from Cambridge to Willingham on the morning before the race. I have covered 13 kilometers and it took me about an hour and a half at an easy pace.

This is a very long “warm-up” and far from ideal.

It was a nice sunny day, much better then a year ago. Last year we had a shower just before the start and this made the grassy route very slippery — I fall twice during that race. To be safe I used my trail running shoes this year, but they felt heavy and an overkill on some parts of the route.

We received our start numbers and timing chips in the Ploughman Hall. The race number is tiny compared to the ones you get at other races, as it is without any advertisement on it. The timing chip is a bit bulky and has to be tied to the ankle, a bit outdated when most races integrate it on the start number.

There were a lot of kids and teenagers among the volunteers — probably because the proceeds support the local primary school.

The Race

There was a short, five minutes long warm-up before the start. Most of the runners participated at it — I did not as I have already run a lot before the race.

When we lined up at the start line nobody wanted to be the first, the one who will lead the rest of us, because nobody really understood where the route goes. We started on a grassy field and we had to run a loop and then leave the route through a gate. We asked the race director several times to explain the first two-three hundred meters until we understood where we should run.

The route was marked by plastic red fences. For me it was hard to see these marks as I am red-green color blind — actually 8-10% of men are color blind, so I am sure I wasn’t the only one who could not see them properly.

Fen Gallop 10K: start
Fen Gallop 10K: start

After the countdown we headed off. It was a typical fast start where your only choice is to sprint or everybody will overtake you. It was great running on grass in the bright sunshine and the trail shoes had very good grip on it. The route was very bumpy, a bit challenging, I had to be careful, but it was fun.

After about 500 meters the route continued on a tarmac road. The road was old and full of potholes, but still we could run much faster than on the grass. Because it was wide overtaking was easy. My trail shoes felt heavy and warm. This part was about 2 kilometers long, so by the time we reached a path on the fields one quarter of the race was done.

We ran about one kilometer on this grassy, winding, narrow path. The sunshine was very strong, I felt very warm, my breathing was heavy and my pulse very high. Of course we slowed down a bit. The small groups of people running together fall apart, almost everybody was running alone. I was able to overtake several runners, while I was followed by a guy dressed in white.

From the fields we entered a little, wooded area. The shadows of the trees felt good, but the grassy, bumpy path was very technical, as it was decorated with roots and there were deep and muddy ruts on both sides of it. This part of the route was very short.

From there we arrived to a dirt road, full of huge holes. The holes were filled with water and mud. Running here was very hard, it was almost impossible to avoid the water, several times we had to run on the grass beside the road. Running here was exhausting, constantly changing directions, up, down, left or right. I stepped into the water a few times and the mud covered both of my legs.

The sun was burning and I had to slow down a bit and let the guy in the white T-shirt overtake me. This part ended after we crossed the halfway mark.

Fen Gallop 10K: route map
Fen Gallop 10K: route map

The following two kilometers were less technical, we had to run on tarmac and dirt roads. I tried to catch the runner in front of me, but I could not speed up as much as I wanted too — I felt that my legs still haven’t recovered from the marathon.

At 7.5 kilometers we left the road and started running on a narrow path. I was tired and slightly slower then the runners behind me. Every time when there was a turn, a bump or a gate I had to slow down to see it properly and avoid running into something. This was a good chance for the runners following me and every time I slowed down for a few seconds one of them overtook me.

We arrived back to the grassy field from where we started for the last 500 hundred meters. We had to run a loop around it and I was happy there were two runners in front of me dressed in bright yellow. I followed them as I had no idea where the route is.

Finally I have crossed the finish line!

After the Race

After returning my chip I got the finishers’ medal, a delicious peach, a bottle of water and a T-shirt from the volunteers — most of them were teenage girls. They were very kind and all of them congratulated the runners.

I sat down on the grass, like the other runners, to rest and to drink my water. We watched the remaining runners as they reached the finish line. The grass was soft, the sunshine was warm and there was a light breeze — perfect summer weather.

If you got hungry you could buy ice-creams, burgers and sweets — I haven’t tried them as they don’t really fit in my diet.

Just before I left I had a chat with Jim, whom I have met a year ago at the Cambridge parkrun. Unfortunately he had a heart attack last summer and he was not allowed to run for several months, but now he was back. And he is fast, he completed this technical 10K in 48 minutes — and he is in his late 60s if I am not mistaken.

For me it took 44:30 minutes to run this race and I finished in the 20th position out of 217 runners. I am satisfied with this result, as I didn’t recover yet from the marathon that I run two weeks before this race and the 13 kilometers long “warm-up” also took away some of my energy.

The data measured by my watch can be found on Strava.

This is a great race, I recommend it to everyone who wants to experience a big variety of terrain packed in a short race.

Author: Előd Császár

Long-distance runner who focuses on a healthy lifestyle.