Great Owl Grand Prix

Those who love to race are finding creative ways to represent their club & push themselves, despite COVID restrictions. One such example is CVFR’s Mark O’Connor, who has been taking part of the Great Owl Running GPX Grand Prix.

Set up specifically for 2020 & technically non-competitive (although serious racers will tell you there are no such thing!), the grand prix offers runners a real mixture of 12 unique races – variations of existing courses & new ones that were in the pipeline pre-COVID (the fun is guessing exactly what & where before the race opens!). The 12 races cover a variety of lengths (short, medium & long) – mostly on trails & local to Leeds.

When each virtual race opens, runners get the GPX file & full course description; subsequently they can attempt the race on their own, whenever they choose, & even run it as many times as they wish, until they get a time they are happy with. After finishing an attempt, a racer has 48h to submit it via their chosen running app & they are subsequently awarded a number of points, with their top five scores count towards their final grand prix score.  

Two months ago, O’Connor started his grand prix attempt with the Roundhay Rumble – a fast & furious 5K route on woodland trail. He did go out & ‘recce’ (practice) the route before racing it, but only after dark – which proved pointless, as he took a wrong turn in the complicated mass of woodland paths. However, he only lost about 20 seconds in the end.

For his second race, he took on the Iconic “We need to talk about Chevin” in Otley – an 11km route, including a lung-busting 500m of ascent. O’Connor ran a recce before ‘racing’ the route – & was happy with this time, despite having only just recovering himself from the dreaded Covid19.   

He was hoping to excel on the third counter – being back on the fells, with one of the longer routes, taking in Baildon & up to Ilkley Moor trig point. However, without a recce & being on unfamiliar territory, he chose some bad lines across the moors & found himself in foot-deep water & slush – slipping over rocky muddy paths – not ideal for a ‘race’. However, he still pushed himself & got a respectable time. 

With time getting tight for a fifth race, O’Connor dashed to take on the Holly Hustle an 11km trail with 200m of ascent. He set of quickly, but it was difficult to follow the GPX on his watch at high speed over technical terrain, in a maze of woodland trails with so many options. He found himself on the wrong side of the river & to get back on route, had to take a hilly half-mile detour. However, he pushed himself hard, & enjoyed the challenge of a day out racing.  

With one more race to go & eight possible further races to choose from, O’Connor opted for a 28-mile trail race! For a seasoned runner, he made the rooky move of doing this with limited training on longer runs, little planning, but an abundance of enthusiasm. He found a good starting point which meant he could leave his car at the 15-mile point & so could stock up on water (meaning carrying less), which was fortunate, as he didn’t check the weather & his ‘race day’ had clear blue skies & glorious sunshine. Having booked the day off work, O’Connor was in his element, enjoying the route planned by organiser Adama Nodwell, which saw him slipping through deep mud & traipsing across water-logged fields – despite being on trails, he wished he’d taken his Inov8 Mudclaw fell running shoes!

Reflecting back on the day, O’Connor reports how 20 mile was a big land mark mentally, & he “really started to feel it” on the final stretch, but “dug deep” for the last three miles, & was glad his chosen start point saw him finish with a downhill run through the “stunning” Harewood estate. Reflecting back over the race, he was delighted with his achievement, the day itself, & having completed the race in only 4hrs 23mins.

With just a few more results to come in, O’Connor thinks he’ll finish about 10th overall in the series. If he has time before the end of the year, he may even attempt one or two more of the races …

– CALDER VALLEY NEWS REPORTER: CATHERINE JONES