On Sunday 22 May 2011, I ran the Stoke Row 10k for the first time. It's a relatively close race to home, but the thing that sold it for me was free music festival in the pub gardens afterwards. I thought this would be a great opportunity for my wife to have something to do whilst I run around the 'burbs and it would also make the run a bit of a "grand day out", which it proved to be, but we'll get onto the day's entertainment in a moment. First the race.

First, the race description...

The 10k route will start and finish at The Cherry Tree Inn, Stoke Row, taking you through some beautiful undulating Oxfordshire Countryside. Starting at 10.30 am, you will be chip timed, have water stops, plenty of clear route signage and marshalls.

This is pertinent as "undulating" is probably a little tame, but "hilly" is a bit too severe. This is quite a tough run as the elevation graph from my Garmin shows...

Profile of Stoke Row 10k
The greenline is the elevation - I've scaled the image a bit to give you an idea of how it felt to me.

As you can see, there's quite a bit of climbing involved. It is also mostly offroad which the race description doesn't mention. It would have been good to know this in advance as I would have liked to have tackled it in my Merrells.

The race starts on the grass outside the pub and funnels everyone across the finish line (probably so the computer can register the chip starting the race). At the moment it's still a small race so there's plenty of space for the runners, but I think this race may increase in popularity which means they'll probably have to rethink the funnel start - possibly extend the funneling a bit.

The grassy start is only about 50m before you break out onto the road and start heading downhill, and quite quickly too. Before you know it, you're diverted off the road onto a wooded trail and you drop about 35m in altitude to reach the lowest point in the race just after 1km. And then you start climbing... for about 3.5km. There's a little table top as you cross a farmers field and then a slight dip, but nothing worth getting too excited about as you're soon climbing again.

Thankfully, things ease off a bit from about 5km, where the one and only water station is. After you've freshened up, you've got a good little downhill to get your legs going again and then it's moderately flat with a slight downhill feel for the next 2 and a bit kilometers. This is mostly along a shaded twin trail path alongside farmland with some lovely views. This twin trail can be a bit challenging as you'll definitely be thinking "I'm sure the other path is smoother than this one?". You'll switch and then start thinking the same thing about the path you've just come from.

After this, you wind you way along some tarred road for a bit before dipping back into the cover of the woods for a nice fast short downhill stint. This is a very cunning ploy as it gets you all excited before making you climb the steepest and toughest of all the hills in the race. And to make matters worse, this steep hill is all off road on a very uneven path. Once you pop out at the top of the hill, you need to muster all your energy to keep you going up the final tarred incline to the finish. Unfortunately, it was at the point of popping out of the woods that we could have done with a marshal as your natural tendency was to turn right, which several people did, including the first lady. I nearly did, but noticed another marshal further up the hill to the left so headed that way, and called back the guy who'd turned right ahead of me.

Being a good sport I also let him pass me again back to the finish as he would have finished ahead of me had he not gone wrong.

The finish is then back on the grass outside the pub where you started. Once crossing the line, you're handed a goody back, which this year included a coffee mug and a homemade flapjack which was very tasty, though no where near big enough for my tastes 😉 .

Several people have commented that the course was too long. My Garmin recorded the distance at 10.4km and whilst I agree it may have been slightly over 10k, I don't think it was too much. I can't trust my Garmin too much given the amount of time spent running under quite dense wood.

The official results for the race put me in 15th place out of 272 finishers with a race and chip time of 43:43.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much in the way of entertainment during the race, so my wife and her parents had to keep themselves busy eating bacon sarnies and drinking tea and coffee, but from midday things started to get more entertaining. The pub set up a limited bar outside and ran the usual bar inside. Unfortunately, they're limited by the single till inside so the two queues for the main pub bar were out the door all day. Normal pub food was on offer from the main bar and burgers and other BBQ stuff from the outside bar. We went prepared with a picnic so only needed drinks.

As we were there from the race, we managed to nab ourselves one of the double deck chairs (what a brilliant idea) that had been set out, laid down our picnic blanket in front of it and made ourselves comfortable for the entertainment, which included, to quote the website...

Carol Decker, The Lynne Butler Band, The Joint is Jumping, Kith and Kin, Bleak Angel, The International Ukulele Club of Sonning Common, The Cotton Dons, The McRobbies, Better Than Life.

We didn't see everyone as we only stayed for the most famous person, Carol Decker, who happens to be the wife of the pub landlord, who came on late in the afternoon. Once she'd done her bit, we headed off home.

All in all a very enjoyable, scenic and challenging race with great post-race entertainment making this a good day out. The only downside for the whole day was the cold wind that kept punctuating the afternoon whilst we were enjoying the music and the long queues to get drinks from the inside bar.