Combe Gibbet

The Combe Gibbet is one of those races that’s been around since we were all but a twinkle in our parents eyes.  It’s a 16 mile cross country which starts from the hangman’s cross at Combe Gibbet on the North Wessex Downs and finishes in Overton.  Most of the run is on mud, trail, unmade farm tracks, with around 2km on tarmac

It was erected in 1676 for the purpose of gibbeting the bodies of George Broomham and Dorothy Newman, left in place as a deterrence to others

Although the race is net downhill, starting at 260m and finishing at 90 metres that doesn’t really tell the story – there is around 300m of elevation and immediately after the start it heads up Walbury Hill – SE England’s highest natural point.  There is a 3km section just after half way in which you gain 100m of elevation and only really start to really lose elevation permanently in the final 4 miles.

If you are thinking this sounds ideal for Mark Stileman, you’d be right, he was on the start line, joined by Emily Hatch, Keith Spiers and Matt Pillinger.

Apparently it was quite warm in Southampton, whereas at the start it was windy and freezing, as evidenced by Keith’s hair!

Picture courtesy of Sue Stileman, who set a half marathon PB on the somewhat more forgiving Devizes half marathon that morning

With a relatively small field (250 places) although the start is busy, you quickly get into a rhythm and tend to be running with the same people throughout – the smaller, unforgiving nature of the race also creates a camaraderie between runners – at one point the runner in front of me opened a gate and let me go first – obviously I took full advantage of this and left him for dead!

About a mile and half in, Matt took a tumble, but in getting up grabbed an electric fence, cue body jolt, expletives and once they realised I was ok, some minor chuckling from the runners around me.

Given his talent and that this race is basically his idea of perfection, Mark finished 4th overall (1st M50) in an amazing 1:44:37 (6:32 p/m).  Sometime behind him was Matt (30th, 1:59:54, 7:29 p/m), who was pleased to break his 2 hour target – that required quite a bit of effort in the last 4 miles though, then came Keith (54th, 2:08:44, 8:02 p/m) and Emily smashing her pre race 2:40 prediction (100th, 2:21:17, 8:48 p/m).

At the end Overton Harriers had a great cake bake, which was an opportunity to replace the calories used in the last 2 hours

If you want a fun, challenging, cheap local event with great cakes then you could look a long way to find a better event than the Combe Gibbet.  the 2020 event has been confirmed at 29th March