Looking for a winter challenge but don’t want to go too far from London? The G3 Series in Guildford might be just the ticket!
This past winter I ran all three of the 10km races in the series. I placed 2nd, 1st, and 1st, earning some pretty sweet credit to spend at Fitstuff along the way. Thanks for the new shoes!
The series is organized by AAT Events, a company based in Guildford, who says “we organize fun events for fun people”. The organizers are also fun people and can be found milling about chatting so you’ll almost certainly get the chance to meet the friendly faces behind the motto.
In terms of participant field size these events hits a personal sweet spot for me. Not too big, not to small. A couple hundreds of participants (max.) always means a really friendly event atmosphere without too much fuss or an overcrowded course. Perfect.
Start & Finish Area
The start and finish is the car park at Newlands Corner which makes access and logistics super convenient. You won’t have to spend much time standing around in the winter cold because you can stay in your warm car until right before the race starts. When you finish, you can grab a famously delicious flapjack or brownie, and then quickly retreat to your car again.
On your way to the start your GPS will almost certainly steer you totally correctly…. until the very last moment. Without fail. Really. It happened to us every time. Keep that in mind and be sure to actually look at a map. A good landmark to look for is The Plucky Pheasant. The car park you want is directly across the road.
The Plucky Pheasant is also great place to grab breakfast after the race. They’ll even give you a free coffee with your meal if you show your medal.
Conditions & Terrain
The races may be short but do not underestimate the challenge from terrain or from the weather.
Varying routes through the local area clock in around 800-1000 ft total elevation gain apiece. That amounts to some decent ups and downs with over only 10km (or 15!) of ground to cover. I quickly learned (between gritted teeth) that The Church of St Martha-on-the-Hill is the highest point on all of the courses and the most challenging hill to deal with. To add to the fun, each race takes a different route up and down, ranging from “Wow I can totally do this!” to “Is this actually vertical?”.
The terrain under foot varies from muddy fields to light woodland to sandy tracks and an inconveniently deep sand pit or two. You will definitely want trail shoes with decent treads. If you’re feeling adventurous or particularly competitive you might try cross country spikes (get out the monster spikes though…). A handful of short sections on dirt or paved roads give an occasional reprieve from the squishy footing. Most of the courses are plenty wide enough to pass on safely, with a few single-track sections. There are also a couple out-and-back sections to watch out for where you will encounter oncoming runners, but I found these relatively safe/easy to deal with given reasonably the wide paths.
The conditions speak for themselves. It’s winter. It’s January/February in England. It could be a couple degrees below freezing. It could be raining, sleeting, or snowing. Dress accordingly. Thankfully if you do screw this up you probably won’t freeze to death - the races are not that long or remote - but it certainly could be quite unpleasant.
We lucked out in 2019. Generally speaking it was a dry-ish winter so trail conditions were good. One race was rescheduled due to a few centimeters of snowfall (which is kind of funny to a Chicagoan, but I digress..). Several mornings were quite foggy or misty, which hardly affects running but does mean we missed out on some of the scenery.
Course Markings & Marshalling
These races are hands down the best marked trail races I’ve run. You won’t get lost *. The way is very clearly marked with bright plastic arrows tacked to the trees, as opposed to the more common ribbons, which makes them highly visible and highly unambiguous. A few kilometer markers had been comically repurposed as way markers by turning them upside down, which I found easy enough to figure out. Who really needs accurate km markers on the course with modern GPS watches on every wrist anyway?
Marshalling was also good. People were located at any even vaguely tricky bit. A special shout out to the little girl who warned every passing runner not to step in rabbit holes in the farmer’s field.
* As with all trail races, never, ever, follow the person in front of you.
Some miscellaneous commentary on each of the courses. Generally speaking the courses get harder throughout the series, so you can expect the first to be the easiest, sort of.
This race is also available in a 5km distance.
A lovely morning to race. Surprisingly warm out and the course was in good condition. I was able to run with a good small pack toward the front, which is always good for finish times. I had started to tune my training to shorter distances only a couple weeks before. A pretty big change-up after many years of focusing exclusively on half marathons or marathons.
This version has 3 “peaks” to get up in terms of hills. At about 3miles, 5.5 miles, and the finish at 6.2 miles. The 200+ ft down-and-up in the last mile of the race is an unpleasant little challenge but makes the finish quite satisfying when you get there.
This race is also available in a 15km distance.
I had chosen to do “10km across the board” for this series thinking I wanted a consistent distance to shoot for when returning to shorter distances after a long hiatus. It turns out the 15km seemed to be a bit more popular among faster runners, which was an unexpected edge for me to place well. No complaints, but it was a funny feeling getting out of the start area, a little ways into the race, and realizing everyone you’re running with in the lead pack is not running the same race as you.
The day was a bit colder than the previous one and very foggy, but generally good conditions again. This time there had been a bit of moisture in the area so a few areas of the course had gotten quite muddy.
Hills-wise, this course is ever so slightly easier than the first race, with only two “peaks” to climb. One is into the finish again, which despite being in a different location to climb in to the finish in the first race, presents a similar challenge. It’s always easier to mentally grapple with something familiar. Otherwise, this course visits the church once instead of twice, which is the most noticeable change in difficulty.
On finishing, I almost broke my teeth on a frozen flapjack. Lesson learned. Patience is a virtue.
This race is also available in a 15km distance.
This one is the toughie out of the bunch, with four “peaks” to deal with. The crowd was light due to this event being rescheduled. The original date a few weeks prior had seen some snowfall which caused the organizers to deem the course unsafe late on the night before the race. A good decision, although I would have liked to take on the challenge!
I found myself in a lead pack of 15km runners again. Until the split in the course they provided a welcome boost, particularly when tackling the monster hill leading up to the church. The first couple hills come and go easily. Lovely forested trails with good footing for the most part. But at the 3.75 mile mark there is a 400 meter section of this course with a grade exceeding 30%. It was a relief to walk it (quickly) along with the rest of the lead pack - at least it wasn’t just me. To add insult to injury the steep section ends in a deep sand pit to negotiate at the top!
Rewarded with a long downhill section after that, the rest of the course is a familiar 250ft climb back up to the ridge line where the start/finish area is. I got a bit lonely, I must admit, and even a bit disoriented alone in the foggy conditions, but in the end had no trouble finding the now familiar road into the finish chute. The timers said they’d expected me sooner. Thanks, guys :P
The G3 is a great little series of trail races! I’ll be out there again next winter!