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