The Main Event

The Sod­bury Slog is a great event if you want to get down and very dirty, as John Car­roll found out

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

The Sod­bury Slog

Ihave a piece of advice for any­one plan­ning to run Glouces­ter­shire’s Sod­bury Slog: don’t be first. At no point in the race should you be the leader. Why? Be­cause keep­ing a very close watch on the run­ner ahead is the only way of avoid­ing the worst this race can of­fer. I shall now of­fer a caveat to my sage advice: no mat­ter where you find your­self, you are go­ing to be very wet and very dirty.

Race day was gloomy but dry and the air was still. Per­haps, I thought, the course will be dry, too. I looked around the race start, in Chip­ping Sod­bury School, to see what kind of pre­cau­tions other run­ners were tak­ing. I saw some­one dressed as a nun, a Bat­man car­ry­ing a Robin (which says all that needs to said about that re­la­tion­ship) and a man in a tiger out­fit that was just the wrong side of bur­lesque­club-snug. No scuba gear, no wet-weather cloth­ing, no in­di­ca­tion, in fact, that there was any­thing to be con­cerned about in the nine miles to come. I was soon to learn this was more to do with res­ig­na­tion and/ or ec­cen­tric­ity than prepa­ra­tion.

The first two miles took us along roads out of the town; then there was a sud­den turn and we were run­ning through churned-up, re­cently lu­bri­cated mud. As we skirted the edge of a farmer’s field I watched to see when the run­ners ahead found them­selves up to their an­kles in mud, and made small ad­just­ments to suit. Waste of time. No mat­ter where I placed my feet the mud pulled and sucked at my shoes, as if a bored Satan had risen from the un­der­world to amuse him­self by grab­bing at ran­dom feet. We slurped and slid and stum­bled our way along – and this was the easy bit.

The next sec­tion took us through a field that had been sewn with dozens of cow­pat land­mines seem­ingly min­utes be­fore by a herd of cows now stand­ing in one corner, whistling and look­ing all in­no­cent. ‘Cow­pat!’ warned some­one. ‘Too late!’ called some­one else. But, soft, ripe and tangy as the cow­pats were, this was not the worst part. Not by a long shit.

Up ahead I could see a crowd of ea­ger mar­shals and sup­port­ers, and could hear ac­tual screams. This was the first wa­ter

fea­ture – a 20m-long trough of brown, seething liq­uid, at the bot­tom of which were things too foul to think about, the sort of evil that only chil­dren know is real. In we went and were im­me­di­ately up to our knees in brown, cold, swirling…stuff. With arms out to our sides we slopped along the trough, cheered on by the spec­ta­tors lin­ing the edge, and when we dragged our­selves out the mud did not slide off: it clung and it dried. And stank.

Twigs and leaves and stones and dank, un­speak­able things took up res­i­dence in the grooves of my shoes, which be­came as heavy as div­ing boots. By mile four it was al­most a re­lief to ac­cept that my feet were soaked and cold, and would stay that way for the rest of the race (pos­si­bly for­ever), so there was now no longer any point in at­tempt­ing to avoid such tri­fles as pud­dles. But even this wasn’t the worst.

We ap­proached the next trough to more cheers. Down a steep, slick slope and in we went. Weeds and stalks poked from the sides of the trough, and we grabbed at them in an at­tempt to steady our­selves, as we were un­able to see where our feet landed and sank. Up on the bank two women were point­ing and yelling: ‘It’s a bitch!’

Af­ter I had opened my mouth to tell them I al­ready knew this, but (and this is cru­cial) be­fore I had worked out they were ac­tu­ally shout­ing ‘There’s a ditch!’, I had taken my next step. I plunged up to my waist into soft, cold, sucky, hell-spawned filth that splashed onto my face and into my gap­ing maw. That was the worst. I splut­tered and spat and gagged, but there could be no stop­ping to retch or howl in dis­gust, not with a line of run­ners be­hind me. I waded on. At the end of the trough some­one reached back to help me out and I did the same for the un­for­tu­nate soul be­hind me, and so it went. We re­ally were all in it to­gether. Up to our necks.

The course could do no more to me. A long hill was next and I took it at a rea­son­able clip, feel­ing oddly lib­er­ated to be run­ning on solid ground. I was wet from face to foot, my legs were caked in mud and I could no longer tell what colour my shoes were, or even if they were still present. But I felt fine. Happy, even.

Two more nar­row gul­lies of mal­odor­ous sludge were to come but there was noth­ing to do but get on with it. And so we did; in fact, ev­ery­one seemed to be hav­ing a great time wal­low­ing in the mire.

I fin­ished in 1:39:50, half­way down the pack, and when I crossed the line, back at Chip­ping Sod­bury School, I didn’t feel tired. Dirtier than I have ever been, but not tired. I was, in­stead, oddly proud of how very filthy I had be­come. As I trudged back to my ho­tel, nod­ding now and then at fel­low muck mer­chants, I licked dried spit from the corner of my mouth. Then I re­mem­bered where I’d been and de­cided I would shower for the rest of the day.

I splut­tered and spat and gagged, but there could be no stop­ping

MUD IS THICKER THAN WA­TER And con­sid­er­ably smellier, too

DRY, CLEAN Not for long UNSOILED? BUT HOW? The luck­i­est man in town

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