Holly Hustle – Event Review

Ewan Mitchell

Just when you think there couldn’t be any more races in Leeds another one comes along.  Some of them have been around for ages, but as I’ve only been running for a few years I’m only just scratching the surface of the Leeds race scene, but today I lined up alongside 200 other runners for the first run organised by a brand new Race company. Great Owl Running’s Holly Hustle promised “A fast fun packed forest trail run with some challenging uphill and rewarding downhills!” and, following the last weeks snow and rain, it was certain that Leeds’ latest trail race was going to be a muddy one too.  All of this made the Holly Hustle sound right up my street.


With a very civil start time I was able to cheer my son around his first junior parkrun before getting changed and crossing Leeds from Beeston to Meanwood and the Myrtle Tavern, which was acting as race HQ for the day.  With two races (11k and 22k) being staged on the same day picking up the race numbers could have been messy, but the efficiency of the volunteers was very slick and before long I had the magic 108 pinned to my Run Leeds shirt and I was ready for the start of my 11k run.


Following the well observed 2 minute silence for Remembrance Sunday the 22k race got under way and the remaining 11kers set off shortly afterwards.  I’m far from being “race fit” so I started towards the back of the pack but we hit the trails as soon as we left the carpark of the Tavern so I was getting bogged down in human traffic.  I quickly rediscovered my trail feet and skipped past my fellow tail runners.  Entering Meanwood Park I found some space and my pace levelled out, but almost as soon as we had some room the Hollies beckoned and we were back to some hard work, this time in the shape of a couple of flights of stairs.


Between the two flights I found myself blindly following the runner in front of me, he took a wrong turn and I followed suit.  However, we both quickly realised and re-joined the route.  Our error was not noticing the tape hanging from the trees to our left, however in our defence, the flouro green tape was hard to spot in the leafy Hollies with the low Autumnal light glinting of everything from moss to mud.  Still I was on the right track and I could press on.  It wasn’t long before the first batch of faster runners came hurtling past us going in the other direction…I was a little confused but pressed on regardless.


I knew that there were two races on the same day and that there were a couple sections which were to be run in each direction but I swear that I wasn’t on one of those segments.  Also, didn’t they have the same coloured bib on as me?  There was no way that the leaders of the 11k were so fast (or that I was so slow) that they were entering the home straight while I was only part way through the 2nd k.  The second batch of fast runners came towards us but it transpired that it was them who had lost the trail and decided to double back on themselves to find the right path.


With everyone seemingly going in the right direction again we pressed on under the Ring Road towards one of my favourite Leeds landmarks, The Seven Sisters Bridge.  The trails got more technical. More mud, rocks, roots, climbs, and descents.  I was loving running.  It was perfect.  Still, bright, messy and not too cold.  No, I was not up the front challenging for the prizes but even at full fitness I never will be, this was my kind of run.  I got caught behind somebody walking around the turn point rock between 6 and 7km so too the opportunity for a breather, took on water at the drink station and started running south back towards the finish.


Shortly after this my race unravelled.  Having skipped over logs and vaulted boulders I caught my toe on a cobble on a farm track and went down like a sack of potatoes cutting both knees and my elbow in the process.  The cuts were fine but I had landed, with all of my weight, on a rock, right knee first.  It hurt.  It hurt like a one of those grazed knees you used to get in the playground at school.  Of course had I been out running on my own I would have hobbled back home with my tail between my legs, but I was out racing.  A phalanx of runners passed, each one of them asking if I was ok.  I was fine, a little bruised and bloody, but fine.  But going flying in company, and the accompanying bruise to my ego, hurt more than the fall.


I hobbled back to running, only a little off my previous pace, and zeroed in on the finish.  The final hill though was a hill too far for me in my battered condition, so rather than finding that final ounce of push to get me to the summit, I walked, and then ran the final couple of hundred meters to the finish line once the road had levelled off.  This was not my finest moment, but it had been a great run until its abrupt halt. I’ve been lucky that, in a season of off road running, I haven’t lost my footing once.  Going down on the final race of the year is better than getting injured on the first one. 


In my opinion Great Owl have come up with a brilliant trail run right on my doorstep and, with a hand full of direction arrows, and one or two more marshalls, it will be close to perfect if you are after a no frills autumn trail race.  I’m sure that I’ll be back to race it again next year, however I think I’ll go for the 22k race next year, just so that I can run past the scene of my fall twice without going over.



Photo credit – Matt Blakeley 


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