Getting down and very dirty at the Maverick Inov-8 Original Hampshire 24k.
The New Forest is a fantastic place to run, I know I’ve covered a lot of miles of this vast protected woodland. Mountains aside, it has everything for every type of runner no matter what your favourite flavour of miles. There’s mud and sludge, compacted gravel paths, huge open swathes of grassland, horse-hoof rutted off-road bogs and as many hills as your quad’s can eat. I usually run here solo but when I heard the Maverick Race Original Series powered by inov-8 was heading to town, I had to get involved.
The Maverick Series is a selection of trail events all over the UK and came highly recommended to me by fellow run crazies Lunges & Lycra. The Hampshire run, set in the glorious New Forest, was my first taste of this particular running tribe. The mileage on offer varies from race to race but one of the hallmarks of Maverick is that they offer different distances on the same day. At Hampshire there were 7km, 14km and 24km routes and it’s a great way to bring the excitement of trail running to people of all abilities.
I got a sense of that excitement from the moment we pulled into the car park. It may have been because it was a bright, dry, mainly blue skies kind of morning but there was a good atmosphere. I’d prefer to put it down to the fact that Maverick represents well-organised race with a very calm friendly, welcoming face. Race numbers bearing your timing chip are collected on the day and I got mine in 5 minutes flat without fuss. While I was queueing I saw the organising staff offer to store bags and solve all those race morning minor problems with a smile. They were about as helpful as I’ve seen at any race and that makes for a stress-free pre-race.
When you cross the finish line and you’re handed a beer and medal with a built-in bottle opener.
After the race, Justin Bufton, one of the founders of the Maverick Series, explained to my how that’s possible. Entry numbers are for Maverick races managed very carefully, there could only have been 150-250 runners on the Hampshire start line and there’s no desire to push that into the thousands. Justin wants to ensure his team maintain this friendly, accessible vibe. And it’s feeling that permeates the event. The small but perfectly equipped start village, in this case with it’s real toilets, had a really sociable buzz to it, the friendly chat carried to the start line where the informality of the pre-race briefing made you feel like you were part of a running club, that all finally spilled into a brilliant camaraderie out on the course. All of it adds up to an event that feels like it cares about its runners.
Nowhere is this more apparent that when you cross the finish line and you’re handed a beer and medal with a built-in bottle opener. It’s the little things.
But while there are lighter touches like a free post-race beer, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a novelty trail run, the 24km course still offered a decent test. I spoke to plenty of people who, like me, were using this as a training run for the Brighton Marathon or a longer ultra and I can guarantee that this will have made them stronger physically and mentally.
Maverick inov-8 Original Hampshire: Run the Forest, Run
Torrential rain the night before ensured the first few miles were a sloppy, slippy mud fest. The kind of conditions that can send even seasoned trailers face first and had plenty of the newcomers howling with shock and delight. After the initial mud, we were sent galloping over the brilliant mix of terrain that you get in the New Forest. My running watch logged a healthy 240 feet of ups and 239 feet of down as stretches of run-able flats were interspersed with short but sharp climbs. As goos as this course was for the legs, so there’s was also plenty to feed the soul with New Forest views that ranged from wide open plains, dotted with grazing cattle and ponies, to fairly thick forest paths. All of this changing with just the right cadence so that you never get tired of what you’re looking at.
The real highlight came about 7 miles into our 15.5 miles when we were sent through a thigh deep ‘river’ crossing that reminded me a little of Tough Mudder’s arctic enema dunking, only this was the real deal out in the wild. Wading though the icy water cleaned the clumping mud from our shoes and soothed some already tired calf muscles and gave quite a few people their first taste of just how much fun running trails can be.
Along the well marked and marshalled course, there were regular well-stocked aid stations with water, energy drinks, bananas and even water melon and cola bottles, a welcome pep in the second half of the race.
One thing you won’t get here is a lot of supporters lining the course. The only people you run into are those out walking there dogs, riding bikes or the occasional horse rider. But then this isn’t that kind of run. This is the kind of trail running that’s about self motivation and feeling like you’ve escaped to a place far from all the other ‘normal’ humans.
If you’re a regular road runner who’s yet to get out into the wilds, then Maverick seems like a brilliant starting place. And if you’re a seasoned trailer there’s still plenty here to test you, whether you’re training to do the Marathon des Sables or something like the South Downs Way, Race to the Stones of the Thames Path 100.
Prices: From £17.50
Official Site: Maverick-race.com