Thursday, 20 October 2011

Time Trial Recce - 19/10/2011

I popped down to Bridges off my way back from a meeting in Shrewsbury yesterday evening for a quick recce of a section of the time trial and a bit of a recovery run...

It was nippy, even at six when I started, so it's back to running in tights, two layers on top, hat and gloves! I headed up through the wood to the road junction where the Stretton road starts the climb up the Mynd, then down into Ratlinghope past the farm and campsite, before turning left to follow a lane across the valley and up the first little hill. The lane's obvious and steep but runnable. It comes down at a steady grade to a gate and the Pulverbatch to BC road, where I turned left then almost immediately right, heading for Gatten.

Through the farm and straight on up the lane (again steepish but very runnable), the top is quickly reached. A stile leads right, skirting the head of a small valley, to reach another farm lane... I came down here, but without a map worried I was off the right of way when I saw a tractor working in the next field. I headed back up hill briefly to check for another way off, looking for the PROW signs on gates. In the end I realised I was probably right to start with and headed down the track.

It was starting to get dark and the farmer was just leaving the field as I reached the road - I held the gate for him and apologised for aimlessly wandering around on his land - he seemed nice enough about it.

The next leg is up to Hollies Farm, where a large black dog surprised me and I think tried to nibble my arm, but no damage done. I kept on up, quickly to start with, to reach Shepherd's Rock. I reckon this way is easier if you climb well than the Bridges route...

I ran along the Stiperstones ridge, glad (in a masochistic way) of the practise running on rough rocky paths, and then down to the car park. It was getting quite dark as I headed down the road, and I eventually got the torch out on the last drop down towards Bridges.

7.6 miles, 1,250', and around 1:30 running time.

Obviously I couldn't go straight home so I had a excellent pint of 1642 and an equally good half portion of spinach and sun dried tomato pizza in the pub before heading off.

Tuesday Night Run - 18/10/2011

Next week is Terry's race, so tonight we ran a reccie, partly to make sure as many as possible know where they're going, and partly so Terry could decide where to put his glow stick markers out.

We were joined by Tim and Roland, fresh from the relays. Neither of them have been out on a Tuesday for a good while - so it was good to see both.

We set off up Rectory Field to the gate (I think I might climb the field gate rather than wait for the kissing gate), then past the Hotel entrance to the Hundred Steps. At the top the route goes right and then left (no cutting the corner) onto the green path for the slog up the flank of Ashlet. From the col it's straight up to the top of Yearlet (I was too low and left yet again tonight). The top's about 1.15 miles and 830' of climbing from the start.

We regrouped at the top just as the last of the light went, then ran back to the col to find the descent. I think we'll have a marshall here to separate the slow uppies from the fast downies...

The descent is steep but straight forward - there's a bowl which gathers lower down into a gully. I need to watch out for the stream in the bottom: it's one of those nasty slot streams you could easily hurt yourself in. Soon enough you're crossing the bigger stream onto the path in Townbrook Hollow.

Here the race will turn right for a fast run out down the valley path and into Rectory Woods, then out via the bottom path into the finishing field, but we turned left and climbed up the valley. I was up front and set a steady pace up to the head of the valley, where we regrouped again. Jon went down with a tweaked knee - hope it's ok matey.

We ran on up to meet at the rock at the top of Cow Ridge, although a few at the front didn't listen to where we were going so Sandy was whisked off on a high speed deviation with some of the quick guys. I back marked down the ridge with some of our novices, giving some hints on descending technique (not that I know much!)

A good steady run up the ramp passed quickly nattering with Noel, and we were soon back in the car park. It was colder tonight than we've had to date - winter's coming!

5.4 miles, 1,700' of climbing and 1hr 25mins including grouping stops.

UKA Fell Running Relays - 15/10/2011

Mercia Fellrunners do the 2011 Relays
Time for an account of my (and Mercia's) exploits at the fellrunning relays. I hadn't been before, but the event's certainly had the big build up within the club after a very successful trip to Scotland last year.

This year we'd booked the Youth Hostel in Kettlewell for the Friday night, and Mick Boulton drove most of us up in one of his coaches. After beer on the coach (B team only) and a good meal at the Youth Hostel, we headed to the Blue Bell for a bit more B team carbo loading before bed (I'm sure the competitive teams were carefully nursing soft drinks).

On the morning of the event we had a good cooked breakfast and then a team meeting was held at which I was not present. The legs were switched round, so I'd been expecting to run leg 3, the nav leg, with Em, but Paul (rightly as it turned out) reckoned it would be better to go with faster runners on that leg due to the length of it, so Em ended up on the lead out leg (cooked breakfast and all), and I got the anchor leg job for the B team. God, why do I always seem to get the responsibility!

Frosty event field waiting for some action
Anyway we all headed up to the event field via the bus to set up "Chez Pauline", the Mercia nerve centre and feeding station. After a false start near to the loos we successfully relocated to an upmarket area marked "sponsors" on the plan. I guess Pauline's immense charm may have had something to do with this!

MFR Team HQ in prime position
There was frost on the ground and mist above the river as we got set up, and the leg one runners got ready for the mass start, then we were off down to watch leg 1 go off from the middle of the village. We had Tim Davies (A team), Mark Bollom (V40s), Dale Colclough (V50s), Mel Price (ladies) and Em Millington (B team) on the first leg. Suddenly they were off, sprinting down to New Bridge and then out past the car park onto the lower slopes of Birks Fell for the 4.5 mile, 1,100' first leg. Andy Davies (the V40 one) and I watched for a bit and then headed back to the field.

There was a bit of a lull before runners were sighted coming down, and the tannoy announced Tim in second place and Mel as first lady to the top... Tim held his second and brought the A team to the first change over in 33:52, only 7 seconds behind Dark Peak, where Andy Davies (not the V40 one) and Steve Cale took over for the 9.5 mile second leg...

Tim in trademark embroidered faded MFR vest
Mark Bollom was next in, 45th overall (39:35) after a great effort, handing over to Andy Davies (the V40 one) and Mark Agnew.

Mark coming in after a great leg
Next was Mel, a super impressive 54th= in 40:22 and easily first lady home, powering round the field to tag Jacqui Davies and Ruth Stafford.

Then came Dale, 89th in 43:57, sending Matt Clewes and Glenn Davies out on their way.

Dale, battling all the way in
Em was our last runner in, taking a very creditable 48:54 to come in 137th of 182 runners and tag Roland Stafford and Tom Roo out onto leg 2.

Em working hard right through to the handover
The second leg was a hard run with two steady ascents separated by a steep descent into Starbotton, and a long final descent. It seemed to be mostly on tracks but must have had some really boggy bits somewhere up on top, and it really looked to have taken a toll on virtually all the runners as they started to come back in.

Dark Peak were first back in, but only increased their lead over our A team by a few seconds. Andy and Steve had an excellent run and were quickest over one of the sections. They seemed pretty well matched although Steve looked like he'd had a bit of a work out as they came charging back into the field to complete their leg in 01:08:38, only a couple of hundred yards behind DPFR to set Pete Vale and Paul Jones on their way on the nav leg.

The vet 40s were in next, with Mark Agnew clearly having given absolutely everything he had and staying with Andy to record a leg time of 01:28:28. They tagged Stewart Bellamy and Julian Bredbury out onto the nav leg.

Four minutes later the V50s arrived, Glenn and Matt having run a stormer and only taken 22 seconds longer for the leg than Andy and Mark. They passed on to Bob Dredge and Chris Taylor.

Only three and a half minutes after the V50s , Roland and Tom came into the field to complete a storming second leg in 01:27:13. Tom particularly had obviously put a massive effort in to try not to slow Roland down, and the boys put the B team right into the mix. Next to go out were Paul Cadman and Matt Sheehan on the nav leg.

The ladies were last in with a leg time of 1:45:39, the difficult leg having very obviously taken its toll particularly on Ruth who looked shattered. Jacqui and Ruth handed over to Polly Gibb and Kim Braznell.

The changeovers were now coming thick and fast with only 25 minutes between the ladies starting their nav leg and the elite boys coming back in. But oh, how long it seemed between the return of first Dark Peak, then Shettlestone, then Borrowdale, then Pudsey and Bramley and Calder Valley almost together before the yellow vests of Mercia appeared above the wall and came down into the arena. Pete was so disappointed afterwards: they'd made no real nav errors, but I think he's just struggling for fitness and not quite there at the moment. He only ran the leg because Graham Gristwood wasn't available and none of the other elite guys can read a map! Top marks for effort for a top bloke... Paul did his bit too but it was gone - no one's going to take 9 minutes off Lloyd Taggart on a 5.5 mile course... Simon Bailey set off on the anchor leg determined nonetheless to try to salvage something with P&B and CVFR both around a minute and a half ahead, but Borrowdale and Shett looking safe at three and a half and five minutes ahead respectively.

The next news was from the summit of Great Whernside where Lloyd had predictably turned around in the lead. It wasn't long before he was back down, storming into the finish to bring DPFR home in 3:23:50. It gives some idea of the speed of running involved that the total distance was 26 miles and there was 6,700' of climbing in all... Parts of leg 2, almost all of the nav leg and half of leg 4 were over pretty rough trackless ground too...

Things were happening thick and fast at the finish, although I was trying to stay calm for my anchor leg and didn't notice much as I chatted with Ed Davies and Amanda Wright-Smith in the mix area and listened to some music...

The V40s were next into the arena from the nav leg. Stewart and Julian had done a great job, getting round in 01:17:13, 49th fastest for the leg. They handed over to Andy Yapp for the anchor leg.

Three minutes later Morgan Donnelly brought Borrowdale home in second, having run a storming leg (but not quite the fastest) to pull back Shettlestone's one and a half minute lead. Shett were in twenty seconds later, and then, finally, four minutes after that we saw the familiar yellow vest and trademark red shorts as Simon brought home the A team in fourth place, having run 39:16 (the 3rd fastest time of the day) for the anchor leg, and overtaken both Pudsey and Bramley and Calder Valley along the way.

Less than a minute later P&B were home, followed almost immediately by the Mercia V50 nav leg boys, Bob and Chris. They'd done 01:21:40 and were 71st on the leg. They handed over to Ed Davies.

CVFR were in very soon after that handover, and then I caught sight of our B team navigators, Paul and Matt, flying along the wall above the event field - I was up! I passed my fleece to Amanda and jogged over to the start line just in time for Paul and Matt to dib and tag me. They were 81st on the leg in 01:22:28.

You build up quite a bit of adrenalin spending three and a half hours watching other people busting their guts while you're waiting to run and I was off at the sprint, down a couple of lanes and through someone's back yard out onto the road. My leg was a straightforward, mostly runnable, climb of Great Whernside using the road and farm land to Hagg farm (halfway up) and then the tourist path. Running up the track was hard though, with a lady from Dark Peak gradually catching and then passing me (I could do nothing about this - I was working as hard as I could and just wasn't fast enough to hold her off). She helped me keep moving though, as did the thought of all the guys in our teams who'd totally run their guts out.

I kept running hard, past the SportSunday photographer to Hagg Farm where Andy Davies (V40) was waiting with a few words of encouragement.

Coming up to Hagg Farm
I was blowing really hard, and was pleased when the ground roughened and steepened as I moved onto true fell terrain above the farm. Half a minute of hard walking ascent gave me enough of a breather to be able to push on across the gently rising "boggy" half mile at the top of the steep section, and I managed to keep moving well and working hard across here with only a couple of yards of peaty floundering.

There was another short rocky rise at the end of the bog which I part ran part walked, then a couple of hundred yards more rising ground past two marshals to reach the summit. Here a third marshall reminded me to dib and pointed out the way off, running south along the ridge for 150 yards and then following the flags down.

The first mile of descent was over glorious rough moorland, with tussocks, bog holes, and rocks to trap the unwary foot. I went as fast as I dared, but not probably quite as fast as most who ended up with similar times (I was quicker on the way up): my achilles and the remains of the Sedbergh ankle sprain are still not right and were really the limiting factor. Anyway I went down pretty quickly and after a stumble which hurt my ankle and an almost instant dunking for the same foot which seemed to soothe it, I was back through the gate at Hagg Farm and onto the second section of the descent.

Again the route was flagged initially but became clear within a minute or so as a generally gentle downhill on beautifully smooth, runnable, short cropped grass. Three wicket gates rather interrupted my rhythm, but towards the bottom I started to see runners ahead and catch them, going past a couple of straggling nab leg pairs and then an individual runner on sections which steepened for 50 yards just when I needed the advantage that gave me. Keith and Polly were low down on the hill, cheering me on.

The route now passed the finishing point of the Great Whernside race (which goes straight up and down the relays descent route and is about a mile and a half shorter than the relay route), and turned left down a lane before a sharp right in a ford. A marshall saw me overtaking two ladies and shouted me up a timely warning before I tried to change direction in the ford - it was pretty slippery! A hundred yards of fast running down the lane and then I had to turn up a steep bank to climb back above the intake wall for the final run into the finish.

There were two more ladies in front of me (Settle Harriers I think), and I overtook them on the final, gravelly bit of climb up to the intake. Two hundred yards of rough single track and I'm turning into the finishing descent, down a steeply sloping field and into a funnel formed of two stone walls. I can see the finish. I run absolutely as hard as I can into the field and tightly round the bunting.

Coming into the field

I see Al taking pictures, but can't say anything or even gesture. Pauline tells me afterwards that the whole team are giving me a great shout up but I can't hear anything, I'm just focussed on making it to the line.

Really hurting now...
I come round the bend in the bunting and there's a marshall in front of me. I almost fall over as I dib to end the leg and our race.

I stagger forwards 10 yards to the dibber download tent where I do fall over, collapsing onto the marshall removing the dibbers. I get the impression this isn't the first time that's happened to him today. I pick myself up and someone pushes a timing slip into my hand. I leave the tent and fall over again. Sit for a moment, then feel a wave of emotion as I look at my time. It's pride mostly, and relief...

53:21, a lot faster than I'd dared hope. Based on the Breiddens I'd calculated 57:30 as the target time, but there was much more rough ground on this route... I stagger back round the field to the Mercia team tent. Someone clears a chair and makes me sit down. Mark Agnew makes me a cup of tea. Eventually I can breathe enough to drink it. Team photos, still breathing heavily, then another sit down.

Mercia B: Tom, me, Paul, Em, Matt and Roland
Amanda comes in (more cheering) to finish the ladies team's day... More photos: the ladies, then everyone.

Team Mercia
Then we start to pack up. Everything is put away, carried down to the car park, and put on the coach. I find a lager on the coach and it's pretty much gone straight away. My chest is still fluttering even though I finished running an hour ago. Eventually we go to the pub. Two more beers and I start to feel ok!

Coming down off the adrenalin high!
The following day, my legs are ok. Ankles not so, but the big problem is my upper body. I feel like I've been subject to a barrage of body blows in the boxing ring. I guess this is partly stabilising myself on the descent but mostly from how hard I was breathing to keep the speed high on the climb. It carries on into Monday. It's Tuesday afternoon before I even want to run again, but the impulse isn't strong - good job it's the club night and I pretty much have to turn out because I have the register and spare torches.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Newport Wednesday - 12/10/2011

Ran with Newport & District's 6.45pm group tonight, mostly on road. John and Lisa chivvied me on and I did a few quicker efforts, mostly chasing John at the front of the group.

7.5 miles and an astounding 320' of ascent in 1hr 12mins.

Had a coupla beers and chip buttes with the guys afterwards. Nice.

Tuesday Night Run - 11/10/2011

Another good Tuesday night run, up via Hazler Hill to the cairn on the Hope Bowdler Hill ridge, then over to Caer Caradoc. Descent via the Caradoc Classic descent route back to Stretton...

5.7 miles; 1,300'; 1hr 20min

Took it steady today in advance of the relays, but feeling quite strong...

Breidden Hills Race - 09/10/2011

Stuck in a queue going down the cliff - should have jumped!
Despite packing a lot of running in this year the winter series seems to have come around pretty quickly. I needed a decent start because I won't be doing the Wrecker and probably not the Cracker or the Wrekin Fell Race (clashes with the coaching course, Tanky's and Edale respectively).

I started hard up the first rise on the forest track, keeping up with some of the better midfielders, and then took it steady on the run across the fields to save a bit of sting for the climb up Middletown Hill. I remembered the first steep bit, but not the second, and found this bit of the race a struggle.

I went down the hill, gaining places, and then was pleased to see Andy Davies marshalling for us at the gate onto Moel y Golfa. Gave him a shout up and then climbed hard (mostly it's walking but you can make places by running the short easier bits). This seemed easier than last year and we were soon at the top of the steep section and running through the woods at the summit.

We dropped down to the cliff and I learnt a bit of tactics, losing 15 seconds or so waiting for more tentative descenders in front. One of the locals has a secret better way: now I know I'll try it next year.

At least I managed to overtake one of them!
Homage to the Hike!
The drop off the ridge was better marshalled this year and I made a decent fist of the descent, picking up places. I go well on these really steep descents where you constantly think you're going to fall over - doing them fast seems to reduce the chances of a mishap if not the consequences.

It all went a bit rubbish after this for a bit though, with three detours. I was just not thinking about the route, and following guys in front, and the taped markings had been tampered with. Anyway I guess I lost a minute, minute and a half, but I was soon on the climb up through the woods. Crossing to the final bit of Rodney's Pillar I looked back and saw people I thought I'd outrun some time ago. Not good, so I put in a big hard effort to the top, then rather cruised down until I was nearly at the forest track when some elite guys who must have been badly lost passed me.

Anyway having protected myself for the Relays on the steep descent I picked it up and ran a very fast last three quarter mile on the forestry track to finish in a respectable 1:15:59 (70th of 149 finishers, and . The %age score was a bit disappointing at only 78%, but this was a Welsh Champs race I suppose, I did go off route and I wasn't 100% full on all the way round...

Compared with last year though I can be pretty pleased with the progress. I blogged that I'd had a good one last year, but I ran 1:27:30 then, so I can't complain going over 11 minutes faster! I'm starting to worry about where I'm going to hit the performance plateau, but I don't think I'm there yet - this wasn't as good an effort as Ragleth Inn, but I still improved on last year. There's more there, I'm sure of it!

Training - 02 to 04/10/2011

John, Pauline, Em and me at Bridges, celebrating.
Sunday 02/10/2011: just a jog on the Long Mynd on the way back from post hike celebrations at Bridges. Did just under 3 miles in a very steady 35 minutes, enough to get the stiffness out of my legs!

Tuesday 04/10/2011: ran up Townbrook Hollow with the Tuesday night group, then on to Pole Bank. We descended via Haddon Hill and the gully to the right (west) of Black Ridge (the Long Mynd Valleys ascent). 7 miles in 1:28 including stops...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Longmynd Hike (Full Write Up) - 01/10/2011

Flying on the Lawley descent
Great picture courtesy of Al Tye (
Well here it is, the big one for the year! Completing the Longmynd Hike was my main objective for the year. I'd done the recce runs and at least some of the training I wanted (but not by any means all due to the last effects of the Achilles injury and the ankle sprain from Sedbergh). Anyway, come the day I was as ready as I was likely to get... The plan was once again to run with Em: having a running partner on these longer runs really helps if one or other has a bad spell (a bit of banter does wonders), we're fairly evenly matched for pace, and two brains sometimes have more useful thoughts than one.

We checked in at 10:30 and went through the kit check, then to get some breakfast (cooked variety, we didn't plan on running hard in the first hour or so!).

At 12:30 we walked over to the starting field and collected our tallies.

Strangely appropriate, seen on the way to the start...
It seemed an age before the start, although it was pleasant enough chatting to many friends as we waited. We saw Andy, Mel, Nigel, and Noel who I guess one would say are the elite athletes from the Tuesday night group, and also many others, Andy, Sandy, JT, Prue, Pauline, Gareth, Will, Rob, Laure etc... It's always nice to know you're running among friends on the longer races... It was noticeable that almost everyone was standing under the shade of the big trees on the edge of the field - I reckon it was probably about 25 degrees, and pretty windless in the valleys.

When the starting horn sounded Giz hared off like a scalded cat (apparently he wanted to be in the lead in the Hike, just once), but most of the rest of us adopted a very steady jog. We started walking just past the ford, and alternated with a gentle jog on the way up to the gate at the bottom of the fell. The Caradoc ascent was the usual trudge, but Em was already wisely urging me to hold back a bit more: she had a plan not to get out of breath for the first couple of hours, and it was definitely a good one on such a hot day.

Em climbing Caradoc with huge line of hikers behind
Almost equally long line of hikers in front: an awful
lot went off way too fast in the heat
We crested the steep section of the climb and walked a little faster up to the summit, where a large gang of marshalls were waiting to clip our tallies at this first checkpoint. Away from that, we took a steady descent, protecting knees and quads on the steep initial drops from the summit.

Starting the first descent, off Caer Caradoc. Lawley next, top centre of pic
Descending Caradoc (courtesy Colin Williamson)
Emily never stopped smiling! (another CW pic)
Once past Little Caradoc, the route drops down through a brackeny field to the road. This was the only place I really felt held up in the daytime, as folk in front walked along the single track path on a very runnable descent. We emerged onto the road, and headed past Comley Farm onto the lower slopes of the Lawley. This is one of four out and back sections of the route - these are nice because you get to meet a lot of the other competitors and see where you are in the field. We were just through the gate onto the fell as the first runners came down past us, Andy D, Austin and Val were in the first group. Andy was putting a brave face on but frankly didn't look too great.
Andy Davies leading the race, coming off the Lawley as we start up it
A bit further up, JT of Newport (ultimate team prize winners) came down past us
As we climbed we passed more runners, including quite a few who I'd not really expected to be so far in front. This was a good sign that we were on a sensible pace... I'd worked out times for the checkpoints as far as Shelve and marker penned them on my legs. We were pretty much spot on at the second checkpoint at the top of the Lawley.

Em low fiving Phil as he descends and we finish climbing the Lawley.
Phil had a rough one later in the heat, we caught him at Stiperstones
summit and he retired somewhere round Habberley in the end. 
As we descended, we saw Al Tye and did our airplane trick, which, unknown to us, was captured not only by Al, but by someone behind us who has posted it on YouTube. Fame at last.

We crossed the fields to Gogbatch easily enough, but the climb to High Park was pretty grim in the heat. The checkpoint was busy, but we managed to fill up with water quickly (we'd already drunk about 1.5 litres each) and added Nuun tablets as we headed on up towards Pole Bank. The heat was merciless pretty much all the way up and we walked almost the entire section. I took on a Go Ahead bar just to keep the energy levels topped up. There was another check point at the top, but no water, so no reason to stop. We reversed our inward route for a few hundred yards, then headed down the trod to pick up the track to Coates Farm and Bridges.

The Bridges checkpoint was right next to the pub - there was a huge supporters' party going on with many we recognised, but we tried to resist the temptation of beer, I just filled up the water bottles while Em had a civilised comfort stop, and we headed out as quickly as we could.

On the way up to Stiperstones we fell in with another couple of Mercians who I didn't recognise. I think they were Rob M and Tom B... We had snippets of chat, running differing bits of the climb, but always seeming to come back together. The final climb to Stiperstones was steady, virtually all walking, and we just caught Phil at the top. He was looking pretty rough from the heat and I understand stopped here and took a rest before continuing later. We got clipped and headed on across the horrible rough path towards Habberley, eating the first of my pappy but palatable crustless ham and tomato sandwiches!

Things improve quite rapidly after Shephard's Rock and we were actually running more than not for the first time in the day. I was starting to feel sick though as we passed Vessons Farm, and Em was struggling with this too. We came to the conclusion that it was too much Nuun, and that we should just have water at Habberley. We jogged across the fields (but not the top one which had recently been ploughed and was too much of a risk to my ankles) and then along the road into the village, where another big running support party was in full swing. Boy was I glad to see Rick, who filled our bottles from the tap while Em went inside for another comfort stop. Rick said we were looking good, which I didn't believe at the time, but I found out later a lot of the elite runners were already dropping out and here seemed to be one of the points where people were cutting.

Even better was the support from the Newport club, including Noel's wife Heather and Lisa M who'd come on the recce the previous week... They had a superbly welcome tub of cut apple and red grapes - these were unbelievably refreshing and really picked me up. We had a further pick up on the lane as we saw JT returning from Earl's Hill. He said he wasn't going too well and planned to refuel at the pub and wait for Prue, who wasn't far behind him. We came across Prue as we left the woods and climbed onto the open fell. 

We'd had a bad spell coming off Stiperstones but water from Rick and fruit
from Lisa and Heather (supporting the Newport guys) picked us up and we
climbed Earl's Hill well, and descended it even better...
At the top of Earl's Hill it was nice to see Adrian, although tinged with sadness as he'd started with us earlier in the day and obviously not been able to continue. We both finally hit a proper rhythm on the descent, almost done at fell running speed. We came up behind Maria, then caught her up on the road to Bank Farm. We arrived at this checkpoint at about 18:25, about ten minutes too late to avoid grouping. Em and I filled bottles and declared ready almost straight away, followed by two strong looking guys, Matt and Jeff, and then Maria.

We set off through Eastridge Wood towards Snailbeach at a good pace, running initially with another group of four which included Chris M. As we got to Snailbeach the group got a bit stretched with Matt and Geoff off up front while Em and I hung back a bit to try to keep Maria with us. I think she must have been having a bad patch but the group really should have stuck with her... Maria ended up taking a different route to us through to Crows Nest Dingle. Eventually we got it all back together and climbed to Stiperstones, where John S had laid on a very welcome table of squash outside the pub.

We continued on quite strongly to Shelve, still pretty much level with the other group. At Shelve Em and I were ready again very quickly, and we thought we'd recorded a couple of minutes bonus time by being ready before the others, but this seemed to get noted on a notepad and never came back to our times. Maria decided to wait for another group, so the remaining four of us headed off into the wood in failing light.

The sun set as we headed through Easthope Woods, grouped by now, and
after a few problems, this is Matt coming into the checkpoint at Shelve
It finally fell completely dark as we headed strongly down from Shelve to the A488. We managed our first spell of sustained, uninterrupted running down here and through on the road to the start of the Corndon Climb, where we reverted to walking.

We got about half way up before disaster struck as Matt keeled over with debilitating cramp. At this point I was well up the hill chatting to Jeff, and Em convinced Matt several times to get up and try climbing again, but each time he could only manage 20 yards or so. In the end I went down to them and started to talk Matt up. He tried again a few times, but the cramp was getting worse. I tried massaging and stretching his legs but he had it in both quads and hamstrings, so was pretty much immobile. In the end I got my arm round him and under his shoulder and helped to take some of his weight so he could walk up a bit. Towards the top I was getting hot and tired and had to get Geoff to drop down and help. Eventually we made it to the check point on top. I was pretty pissed off that they wouldn't let us leave Matt to recover because they had a 4WD and a tent up there and my view was that he was a casualty and should be safely got off the hill (i.e. not by three of us who'd already done 25+ miles in the heat). As it was the marshall just gave us a five minute bonus and sent us on our way. Fortunately Matt had recovered enough to get down to Woodgate under his own steam, if much slower than we would have run. Still it could have been any of us, and he bloody suffered up there...

At Woodgate the checkpoint was in a barn, with what looked like a French dinner party going on in one corner. We filled up again fairly quickly, and grabbed another cup of tea which we drank on the road to Little Cefn Farm. The next section is pretty tricky navigationally, but the combination of my three recent reccies and Geoff's in depth knowledge from many previous hikes got us through to the A488 without any problems.

We went well up the minor road towards Black Rhadley, alternating walking and running past the first new checkpoint and then walking fairly quickly up the hill to the second one. As we turned through the gate to start the final climb to Black Rhadley we saw torches in front of us, and out of the blinding brightness of the first torch I recognised JT just as he said "F**k me - Jim!!". I should of course have had the presence of mind to reject his advances, but actually just said hi, and set of up the hill bouyed by his evident surprise (whether this was because we were still going, or because we were quite close behind his group, I don't know). Next down was Prue, and we also exchanged hellos. As they went through the gate, I noticed that Em was starting to stretch her legs and run harder. I asked her if she was thinking what I thought she was thinking, and yes, she was getting the bit between the teeth and was on a mission to catch JT and Prue's group.

On the way down from Black Rhadley we had the first bad faff stop as we rifled through Em's rucsac for new supplies of running smarties (buprofen to the unitiated). Jeff wisely kept going and we caught him on the road up to Nipstone rock. We could now sniff the Stiperstones checkpoint, and Em and I finally allowed ourselves to think that we would probably finish the Hike...

At Stiperstones we weren't much in the mood for stopping, but Andy C was waiting for a group, having fainted about half an hour earlier and stopped to recover. We picked him up, but I did let him know we were motoring and on a mission. He said JT and Prue were only about five to ten minutes ahead. The four of us ran hard down to Bridges (or as hard as you can with 40 miles in your legs), where Em went for a final comfort break and I went to the bar! Em downed half a Stella and we three lads shared a half of Solstice. It may not have been great athletic nutrition, but it was damn good for morale.

Em stormed ahead on the climb to Medlicott, opening the gates for us. Andrew found a much better trod up to Pole Cottage than the one I'd reccied, and I got stuck in on the final section. Geoff was starting to worry that he was slowing us down (he probably wasn't). Em and I stopped for a minute on the back corner of the Pole Cottage fence and I took the fuzzy pic below. 

Much, much later in the night this is Em, waiting near
the Pole Cottage checkpoint. Must remember not to
get my finger next to the flash lighty thing on the phone.
I could hear JT's voice in the checkpoint and I knew we'd probably got them now. Jeff and Andy arrived and we went into the checkpoint. We hardly stopped except to bid Jeff thanks and good luck for the last six miles or so as he waited for another group.

I hit the road and put the power down, and soon I could hear and then see JT and Prue's group in front. It was clear that they were being slowed down by others in their group, but we'd had the same issue earlier in the night. Luck of the draw I suppose... Anyway we chatted as we passed them and then got to it down past Minton and Packetstone Hills. I went slightly too far right further down, but Andrew spotted it and got us back on the incline track. Em struggled slightly with the descent as her knees were starting to hurt...

We got onto the road below the self clip at Minton, and it bit me again - starting off my right achilles just as it had on a much shorter recce a fortnight earlier. Em was a powerhouse on the last climb up Ragleth: I just tucked in behind her and tried not to get dropped as she hammered up the little foot holes to the top. On top I was tired enough not to initially recognise Martyn, who works in the same office as me. We agreed to go down the gentlest way in the light of Ems knees, so eased down the ramp and through the woods to drop into Stretton. As we crossed the playing field we realised that the 13 hour time had been and gone, and had to walk again, but mustered one final jog into the school and to the finish checkpoint.

We had our tallies removed and staggered through to the hall, where to my delight Noel and Mel from the lead group were still up and waiting for us to come in. Sandy and several from his group were there too, having finished 22 minutes ahead of us. I could only sit there initially, but finally managed to scran down several plates of fruit cocktail... JT and Prue came in twenty minutes later, and then there was a little drama as Andy fainted again. Fortunately he's recovered fine, but I do worry that we pushed him too hard on the final leg. He seemed happy enough at the time though...

We returned in the morning for the prizegiving, and after a little confusion it was confirmed that Em had indeed won the West Mercia Police Trophy for the best lady novice! What a reward for a fantastic day's running. I think I was as chuffed as she was...
Terry, Em, Pauline and Mel - Mercia prize winners! Val Swingler won
outright so as second lady to finish Mel got the Gill Harris Trophy. Val
struggled after grouping and I think there's some justice, because without
the grouping Mel might well have passed her.
Back at Bridges for the third time in 30 hours! JT with the Newport team
prize, Pauline with the South Shropshire scouters staff, Em with the West
Mercia Police Trophy, and me... Bridges were very good to us, and a special
thank you to the guy who stood Em and I a half each in the middle of the
night when I couldn't lay my hands on my cash! The beer certainly helped
us up the hill to Pole Cottage...

In the end, Em and I got round fairly comfortably in what seems for the very hot conditions to have been a decent time of 13:04. We were joint 40th, joint 5th fastest novices (hike virgins), and Emily was the fastest lady novice and has a lovely shield for her shelf.

Now were looking for more ultras - I think it might be a bit addictive...

Final Hike Prep - 28/09/2011

Andrew watching the sun set from Earl's Hill
I met up with Andrew and Prue on the Wednesday night, three days before the Hike, more for a jog than any serious recce. I parked at Habberley, and while I was waiting for them to arrive I jogged across the fields to the caravan where you finish the descent from Vessons Farm and back.

By the time I got back to the pub, Andrew and Prue were there, so we went off up to just gain the open fellside on Earl's Hill before the sun went down. We didn't go to the top, instead heading back to Habberley. I drove us up to Bank Farm and we did the first section of the Shelve leg, going out through Eastridge Wood by the low route to Snailbeach. Andy confirmed my way through Snailbeach was ok, then we ran up the steep road that heads east out of Snailbeach and picked our way back to Bank Farm on some of the mountain bike tracks through the woods...

About 8.4 miles and 1,300' of climbing tonight...

Wot no Bluebells? - 27/09/2011

The intention tonight was to go through the woods to Little Stretton, then up Ashes Hollow with some going on over Pole Bank and some cutting short up the valley LEFT of Yearlet to pick up the path down Townbrook Hollow.

In the event we got up to the gap between Yearlet and Long Synalds and the short cut group never caught us up. I went back and climbed the ramp to the col between Yearlet and Ashlet, but couldn't see them, so ran down the green path to the car park.

The short cut group came in ten minutes later, having ambled round the head of Townbrook and down the valley path (right way home, wrong route from Ashes to Townbrook). The main group came back a little later. All's well that ends well I suppose...

I only wanted a short one anyway, and that's what I got: 4.6 miles and 950'.

Oh, and the post title: between me and the short route group we covered the route of the Bluebell Run race. I didn't see any bluebells this time...