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...


  1. Jim, Nice pics there. Can't wait for your write up. I had to unfortunately miss the hike this year as a friend of mine was getting married but in the end he didn't so I could have done it anyway. But by then it was full up!

    It sure looks a different race with all that sunshine compared to the usual grot and mist when I did it. crackin' time too. well done

  2. Thanks Simon, the full write up is here now... Grot and mist would have been very welcome instead of that heat from a runner's point of view...

  3. Fantastic achievement Jim, in really difficult conditions.

    To actually start running hard after 40 miles is one hell of an achievement.

    After not finishing last year I did toy with the idea of another go this year, but I'm glad I didn't in that heat.

    Great write up as well.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Rob. I'm sure you can make it round if we did, just get some miles in your legs beforehand... I had two big 50 mile plus weeks but very gentle sessions from 10 days before. And keep those long runs very slow!