The Christmas Tree Race is an annual 5-ish miles race organised by the Forest of Dean Athletic Club (FODAC) in the village of Ellwood in the far south west of Forest of Dean.
Two Races in Two Days?
No problem! Well, as it turns out it it went better than I thought, particularly as when I started warming up my leg muscles were feeling tight. A little stretching and a jog soon got rid of any pre-race niggles and watching the junior runners finishing their race meant there was no waiting at the start line and headed straight off at the siren.
Other than a cursory glance at the course profile, of which I remembered practically nothing about, I was heading out blind. Some may say this is the best way of doing it and in a way it was. The route was incredibly scenic and paired with the technical nature you were always alert wondering what was around the corner.
Down, Up. Down, Up
At the siren the runners headed out along a stretch of tarmac before switching to off road for the very fast descent through ‘Ellwood Eves’. The track through the forest was wide and generally free of obstacles and the tree cover reduced the amount of mud the further you ventured inside. If you were comfortable letting yourself this was the perfect place to establish a good position in the field; I wasn’t as confident as some. At the base you almost double back on yourself to make the climb back up through the wood and then back down the edge of the and then back up. See the pattern?
At two miles it a long gradual descent was a welcome reward and for the next 2 miles it was largely all downhill. At this point the field had established itself and I was running within sight of one other person but other than that I had no idea who was behind me. Running just behind the person in front allowed me to maintain a good pace. He was about the same ability as me so rather than trying to pass him I used him as a pacemaker until the final hill.
The hill on the course profile hadn’t looked too bad but it was relentless. It rose from around 280ft to 620ft and was a mile long and it just kept on giving! I passed the person I had been following at the start of the ascent and maintained a steady pace for the entirety of the climb even tough my legs were tiring nearing the top. Looking back at the results I had managed to gain 45 seconds over the person I had passed and he slipped back 5 or 6 places. Goes to show the importance of good hill training.
After crossing the finish line the fun continued watching fellow team members and other runners crossing the line. So many people had made a lot of effort to dress up for the race including some that had made it around it an admirable time.
Apart from an initial tarmac section at the start, this race was entirely off road with the majority of time spent in woodland. There were some extremely muddy sections but none that were too deep that you had to slow down. There were a few technical sections thrown in such as tree roots, stones and a little tricky muddy bridge. Technical sections always make a course so much more fun.
Ascents were tough, in particular the last, long drag but I didn’t have to walk at any point although I do believe many runners further down the field had to walk sections of the final beast of a hill and that was completely understandable.
Fog had been lingering for days across large parts of the country which added a certain eeriness to the course. In the sections where you skirted around the edges of the woodland the fog gave the appearance of large drops to the side.
FODAC ticked all the right boxes in organising the race. Signs guided you to the village and parking and registration was easy. Good facilities were available and plenty of toilets were available.
Out on the course there were plenty of marshals at key locations to help guide and offer support, and in sections without marshals, coloured tape helped mark out the route through the myriad woodland paths and chevron tape prevented you from taking a wrong turn.
One unfortunate section of the course involves crossing a small road and I timed it so that I hit the road just as a car was passing so had to stop to let it pass. The cars have right of way so it’s out of control of the organisers and it didn’t alter my time or position.
Race Route and Profile