Grandsen Muddy Fun Run - Mystery Marathon 2020
I've organised a village fundraising race for the past couple of years, taking up the well-oiled mantle from some other parents, to help support the local school. We have various distances catering for 300+ runners, including a 3km family fun run, and a 10k and half-marathon options. All routes are predominantly off-road, and typically very muddy. The race is popular with local club runners given the scenic countryside and challenging January conditions. Putting the race on is a real community effort. The plentiful soup, hot drinks, and free cake at the finish send our runners and spectators home happy.
For 2020, I wanted to do something different, so on 26th January at 7am we opened the registration hall - three hours ahead of the main event. A small band of runners traipsed in and began to claim their numbers and fettle kit. These twelve individuals were to be the inaugural entrants to the Gransden Mystery Marathon. They had no idea where they would be running.
We are lucky in the UK, with a wide variety of city marathons throughout the season. There are plenty of options for trail running and ultras, and even challenge races. I wanted to put all of these elements together and capitalise on the infrastructure already in place for our local charity race. The aim was to host the sort of race I'd like to enter - a race where the clock doesn't really matter (especially when PB days are well and truely behind me!). A race where there is still some jeopardy - can I finish? I had visions of creating Cambridgeshireshire's own Berkley Marathons race. Runners were invited to apply for their place - given the time of year and heavy terrain, it was not the sort of course I felt would be appropriate for a first time marathoner (although we did have one of those!). I soon had a list of enthusiastic entrants, and an active WhatsApp group through which they could meet their fellow participants and share preparations.
Over the previous few weeks I'd pored over various maps, and online route planning tools trying to create the perfect loop. I was keen to visit some of the most scenic local off-road spots, whilst minimising the chances of permanently losing unassisted runners in the Bedfordshire / Cambridgeshire countryside. I also had half an eye on making sure it would be reasonably easy to set out the checkpoints on race day eve. Naturally I committed to running the route on the weekend before - it just didn't seem right to send my entrants out on an untested course :)
Soon it was time to set runners off. I recorded each start time (to load into the main event chip timing system), and handed each person a lanyard and route card; the first of six route cards they would collect out on the course, as they navigated between five separate check-points. Each check point was a plastic container, loaded with supplies (gels, bars, water etc), and the all important route cards to support navigation to the next location. Each card featured a map and some text based instructions, and interesting information about the current section. We used the 'what three words' app as an emergency support system - defining the location of the next checkpoint should anyone get themself completely lost. I had collected these, and an all important (hidden for now) Strava route trace on my test run (after an aborted start where I accidentally paused my Garmin, resulting in me retracing my steps to start again, for a 30+ mile pre-breakfast run!). Serendipitously the 'what three words' reference for our race start / finish, turned out to be the very apt home.inclines.energetic!
Once my marathoners were away, I turned my attentions back to the regular races.
03:51:59 later, amongst our half and 10k finishers, the first pair (Mark & Andy from Histon & Impington Runners) crossed the line to claim their place as joint male winners of the event. Shortly after, Hannah secured the women's title in 03:58:50. The course had been a success - the maps and checkpoints had worked. One by one the other runners came home, and they had all loved the format - the challenge of navigating the beautiful local countryside was a hit. Our first time marathoner, Emily, a very accomplished endurance cyclist, crossed the line just in time to be whisked away for god-parent duties at a christening that very afternoon.
Our last finisher, Gyorgy, had sought to maximise his value-for-money by adding a few extra miles after a misturn around the midway point.
With the dust settling on the Gransden Muddy Fun Run operation for another year, and more than £3,000 in much needed funds raised for our primary school, I'm already thinking ahead to 2021. We'll have another new mystery route, and hopefully more enthusiastic runners ready to do battle with my laminated route cards and the local trails. To enter this unique challenge, please contact us via
Thanks for reading!