The Cake Race
Belvoir Challenge 2017

Great South Run The bottom line with a run, for some of us at least, is that no matter how long it is or how undulating it is, it should be actually runable. For others that statement is the last hiding place of wimps.

The solution for the organisers of the 15/26 miler, through the mud of The Vale Belvoir* Leicestershire, is to side step the whole argument by calling it a 'challenge'. Then the fact that it is almost impossible to run through over half of the course becomes immaterial.

The Belvoir Challenge, which has been going for 30 years, is organised by the PTA of Harby School to raise funds. It is mostly off road using footpaths, tacks and open fields, often open ploughed fields, open ploughed fields covered in thick, rich alluvial deposits making the mud particularly muddy. This is a unique and challenging course. And that is one of the things that it is famous for. The off road, claggy, mudiness of it all.

However, especially amongst running wimps it is also famous for two other things. Firstly for being one of the local events to avoid at all costs. But secondly for the cakes.

PTAs have a long tradition of fundraising. This does not usually involve organising off road opportunities for members of the general public to have a go at putting themselves into the waiting room of the local A&E, the nearest of which is a long and bumpy ambulance drive away through the narrow winding roads of South Nottinghamshire. The normal method involves baking cakes to sell at poorly attended summer fates. Clearly this tradition existed at Harby School long before they hit on the idea of torturing unsuspecting fun runners, because the cakes have not only remained a part of the fundraising efforts of the PTA, they have become the reason most people enter the event in the first place. There are probably some who only enter for the cakes and consider the entrance fee well worth it for the opportunity to break the diet with an open ended, eat all you can, homemade cakefest. The only draw back is the fact that the cakes are to be found out on the course at two feeding stations. One about half way round in a field and the other in a village hall at Eaton at the 10 mile mark. Clearly the intention is to discourage the casual cake muncher from filling his/her boots without either breaking a sweat or getting their trail shoes dirty. The only acceptable route to the cakes, which have gained an almost mythical reputation for quality, is to run the course.

Well they reckoned without this cunning running wimp who as a conscientious objector on this run, offered to do the driving and take the photos for Rebel Runners. It would mean nipping around the course to some carefully selected fixed points, that would allow vehicular access and offer a good vista of the pitiful competitors pitting themselves against the elements and of course the course itself. It is a mere coincidence that the only points that offer this combination of factors, just happen to put me within grabbing distance of every delicious sugar filled calorie available.

I leave the house at 7 to pick up the various poor souls whose lot it is to do all the heroics. Offer them my condolences and reassure them that whatever happens their names will be remembered in the Rebel Runner Roll of Honour for generations to come.

Drop everyone off at the start for 8:30 ish. Take some photos. Find a bacon cob to prepare the stomach for what is to come. Then head off to the water station at 3 miles for some more photos and a rendezvous with anyone known left standing. Before high tailing it to the delights of Cake Station No. 1.

Now I am fairly good at reading an OS map. Reading an OS map while driving I am not so good at. The general quick glance then a lot of guessing is the technique I have developed although not perfected, over the years. I know I have to turn left, so I turn left. Sort of randomly.

It is a long straight track. Just like so many other long straight tracks when you turn left anywhere in the Vale of Belvoir.

In the distance there are marshals and there are Belvoir Challenge competitors coming out from a muddy field and onto the track. But very much the back markers caked in heavy claggy mud. Already their faces have developed that 'What am I doing here' look that permeates most First World War photos. I have clearly managed to successfully find the end of the first field.

Time to take a good long look at the map and fix all the important features in my head to save me looking at it again. A sensible idea.

Then back to the road passed the turn off to Stathan, which the race passes through. I know that because I put a cross on the map at Stathan. Follow the road to the left turn off to Plungar then follow the road through to Granby. Sorted. Map casually tossed on the back seat.

Park the car and get out the camera.

The runners are coming up the hill from the water station looking like a retreating army dragging it's collective feet to the distant sound of their vanquishers dancing and jigging to the 1812 Overture. There are smile on the their faces. But they are fixed botox smiles that tell the story so far. They are 3 miles into 15 or 26 miles of purgatory. Only the thought of the first cake stop, another 3 miles of mud away, is keeping them going.

I take some snaps then head off to fill my cake hole before this lots have a chance to devour the bleeding lot!

Now the two most import things in navigation are knowing where you are and knowing where you are going. The best map and the finest map reading in the world will not help you if you can't sort either of those basic things out. Perhaps the best way to get it all wrong is to allow your mind to make assumptions without referring back to your notes. That way, when your mind is telling you that the first feeding station is at Stathan, because ... well last time you glanced at the map you noticed that you had put a cross on, it must be right, right?

Round Sheffield Run
Raising funds to Support Hothouse Theatre's work with Keeping it Wild youth group.
Part of the Nottinghamhsire Wildlife Trust.
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The Belvoir Challenge 2017 Slideshow

What I didn't notice is that there were several crosses on the map to show the route, but only 2 with "cake" written in light, almost invisible, pencil next to them. Neither of which was in fact Stathan.

So I end up at the 12 mile mark, well ahead of all the runners and a bloody long way from all the cakes, which are very stubbornly at miles 6 and 10.

There is still time to retrace my steps and get to cake stop No 1 to snaffle up a few remaining crumbs, or even to skip No 1 and make it with plenty of time to make serious inroads into the almost untouched beauties at Cake Stop No. 2. But just as that thought is slowly condensing in the cranial void I like to call my brain, one of the Marshals pulls up and informs me, mistaking me for an actual official photographer, that the leaders will be along in 5 minutes. I nod a "Right Oh," back to him and in that simple gesture have signed a metaphorical contract and feel the pinnacle of cakekind recede from my Saturday morning plans.

At mile 12 of a 15 mile cross country run with 1200 competitors of variable ability everyone will be pretty well strung out under normal circumstances. When they have to deal with more mud than you can wave a stick at and the opportunity to graze on some of the finest cakes baked by a PTA anywhere in the country, then they are naturally strung out even more.

This gives me a lot of time to stand around in the cold imagining just what I am missing. There will be of course the Rice Crispy cake. A standard preserve of the art of fundraising baking. Never normally on offer at an actual cake shop which is a shame because they are actually really rather nice. My mouth waters as my cake tasting memory banks kick in and I allow my imagination to do what it does.

There are the cakes baked especially for the event. An opportunity for the cake fiends of Harby to show off a little for the big day. The competition is as intense as the Belvoir Mud Bath Challenge itself.

Mrs Wilson from 44 Turnpike Avenue, an old hand at the Belvoir Challenge presents her chocolate cake with whipped butter cream. Same as last year but an undoubted favourite amongst the regulars.

Mr Powel from 13 Dickens Terrace trumps that with last year's lemon cake with a new and exciting addition. Marsh mallow frosting!

Then a bit of a curved ball from Shelia Daventry, of 102 Melton Street. A no bake cake! It may be no bake, but it has what it takes to nose into the lead. It is the one and only No Bake Chocolate Truffle Cake! To die for!

Things are heating up now. The competition is becoming furious. The honey and walnut cake from Mrs Thompson falls short of the mark. A little on the dry side and the icing is just a little too stiff.

Carrot cake with brown butter icing. Very nice. But just doesn't have what it takes pip the others to the line.

Gooey butter cake! If it's as good as it sounds then in might just do it. But no. It is after all just a load of sugar mixed with butter and stuck in the oven for half an hour. You will have to do better than that, Charlie Hampson.

And then just as the we think its all over. That the places are settled and everyone can go home, mutter their recriminations and start planning next year's assault on the annual cake baking championship of Belvoir, Susie Smith, a Year 5 from Harby School, comes in with a peanut butter ice cream cake, the recipe for which she found on the internet and the place goes wild!

I wake from my day dream just in time to catch the last of my crew passing through. I take a few more snaps and notice that in the corner of her mouth, next to the running grimace that passes for a smile 12 miles into the hardest and longest run she has ever done, there are a few crumbs of 3 layer pineapple upside down cake held together with a sizable dollop of cream.

I curse my luck and consider, not for the first time the true weight and meaning of the phrase, 'if you can't beat them ...' and ponder ... next year ... just maybe ... this wimp should man up and join the cake race.

* Pronounced Beaver. The reason for that is as obscure as the reasons Leicester City sacked their manager, who was a really nice bloke who had won them the most unlikely League Title in history. Admittedly only to drag them to within a gnats testicle of relegation in 9 months. But we are talking Leicester City here. A confirmed yoyo club if ever there was one. Condemned to footballing eternity getting promoted, getting regulated and getting promoted again, with rarely even a sniff of silverware. OK a couple of League Cup wins, four times runners up in the cup. but the League? Your having a laugh. One day they win build a statue to Claudio Ranieri and Leicesterpudlians will name their children after him. Claudio? Boy or Girl? Ranieri Smith?

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