|Pinning on my number... nearly forgot my watch as well!|
The route is glorious, snaking it's way up from the village hall in Meerbrook, up past Rockhall cottage (or, the Don Whillans Memorial hut, if you prefer), up and through the Upper tier of the Roaches before scooting along to the Gradbach, to Shutlingsloe (the top... not the bottom), and then back.
Having not signed on to a race for quite a while it took a bit to get into the swing of things. Of course there was the obligatory kit faff of bumbag or race vest- opting eventually for the race vest on the premise that at 15 miles, I was certainly going to need some food, and it is easier to get food out of a vest than a bumbag, and also, considering the weather there was the chance that hat and gloves and potentially coat were going to be going on and off throughout the race.
It being 100 years since Armistice, there was a 2 minutes silence at the beginning of the race. By this time the persistent rain that had characterised the morning was abating, and the tops of the Roaches could be seen through the lifting cloud. The start was as you would expect. No countdown, just a "go", and we headed off down the road. A kilometre of the black stuff helped separate the field out a bit, with a fair few people going off a bit flipping fast. As we went down the track and up to the farm of "doom" I passed a guy in road shoes. While I admired his optimism, I was unsure as to whether he had quite realised what he was letting himself in for.
The farm of doom - infamous for the farmer filling his yard up with slurry especially for the race for various previous editions was unexpectedly and most pleasently surprisingly empty of slurry. It wasn't the only thing that concerned me about the race, but it was certainly something that had put me off the race in the past. Up we went, up to the Roaches road, and up onto the tops of the Roaches. Last time I was here... oooh, goodness knows. We ran under the Sloth, Black and Tans, Holly tree crack etc, and I busily tried to take my mind off the running by recalling various days out on dry rock here in the past.
Trying not to walk at all, I was slowly taking over a few places along the rock strewn path, and we made our way to the trig, with the slightly concerning tailwind that promised a fair old fight on the way back down the course on tired legs....
From the trig it was a dive down on the paving slabs, watching a couple of runners ahead of me really get into full flight - not a chance of catching them at this point, so I eased into the descent to the top of Sandbach woods where the decent became a delightfully technical nightmare of loam, mud, slippy rocks and tree roots. Bliss.
I motored along and caught up with them, overtaking through the trees and down to the river crossing where another overtake was effected.
A steep climb out of the stream to a gate- where the bottom 2 bars were out, presenting a fun conundrum. Over or through/under. We go over gates ALL the time, so I chose the latter. Onward and up a semi-runnable climb with someone trying to hold onto me, so I weaved around like an idiot. We hit the top and down the road together, then up another long bank which led to, glory of glory's a big slightly uphill field of Turks heads.
|Me, StevieK, Mark Dav, AndyO and Nick Ham|
Having struggled to break free from the 2 directly behind me, I lolloped off through the field taking whichever line I wanted in the general direction of the next gate, and it was not long before the close breathing behind me receded a fair amount. To boot, I also nearly caught up with the next couple of guys as well. Rough ground in the middle of a bit of a trail race? Brilliant, coming back will be fun too!
Left through a gate and down a bridleway, on the descent there was a sneaky little path you could take - and now the closest guys to me were a fair distance ahead - 3 of them... down and over a couple of stiles, through some fields. and a point where I wasn't exactly sure where I was going - but went down a descent that was very remenicent of the fabulous descent at WoodbankXC (with the minor issue that I was going to have to come back up again), down to the water stop and then the ascent to Shutlingsloe. The guys in front ecked out their lead from me on the tarmac hill prior to the turn up onto the hill proper. Voices were getting closer to me from behind, and we could all see the top runners just breaking into the downhill section.
I managed to get to the gate where uphill runners meet downhill just as the leader at that point - Si Harding - went through. I got through and started the ascent of the rest of Shutlingsloe, running as much of it as possible. No overtaking on the way up, and no lost places, but I took one back on the way down. Now it was a back to base along the same route.... but against the tide of all the runners behind us.
Lots of goodwill and mutual shouts of welldone etc as I ploughed down the road. I managed to keep hold of my place as I went up the Woodbank-esque slope, but lost the place as we went back up to the road to the guy I had passed down shutlingsloe.
No bother. I watched him gap me and make his way to the next guy up as we hove up the Bridleway, but then made some progress along to the gate. Then... turksheads.
We came out of the field with me ahead, and I continued to pull away down the slope and up the road, where I sucked down a gel in anticipation of the steep and slippy climb out of Sandbach.
Down the field, through the gate with no bottom - underneath again - of course - smacking my left radius as I did so causing my hand to go numb for the next 15 mins or so. Blasted down to the river, knowing that the guys behind me would be a lot more circumspect. I wanted as much space between me and them when I left the river, so went at it quite well.
Never look back - and off up through Sandbach wood. I ran it all, having being told I was in 10th place, so kept it up all the way up. My left hand was still numb and I tried putting on a mitt - it kind of went on, but the thumb bit didn't go in the right place, so I ran along with what looked like a badly deformed hand for a while til I could it it on right again...
Up to the flagstones to the tops and I couldn't stop now... up to the trig point, and it wasn't far to go - but with quite a lot of treacherous rocks on the floor, I could imagine going flying quite easily, especially in my fatigued state. It took a while to get a gel in, but finally I managed to, and fairly flew down the hill, down back past the Sloth and the rest of the upper tier, back down to the road, past the most enthusiastic marshal I've ever seen, and along the long and really quite tiring fields back to the farm, the road and, ultimately, the finish.
No-one overtook me at all, and I came in 2:16:00. 11th place. (so someone must have miscounted somewhere along the line) - so not quite top 10, but considering the next person up was about 2 mins up on me, that was not a gap I was about to be able to close down.
Thanks so much to all the marshals, the organisers and the good people who made the cakes, soup and tea.
What a great fell race. Old school. Hard on the legs, fair pricing, and good grub. A no nonsense proper race. Do it.
(Thanks to Nick Ham for the photos as well. I swear he'd go faster if he didn't take quite so many photos - but he does take good photos).
Oh, crikey, and I need to say sorry to Ed Gamble for totally confusing him with someone else and commenting about Beams in our house. Sorry about that! (and thanks for pointing out the mistake in the OCT blog of 2017 as well - I meant Grasmere - not Ambleside).
Also - amazing to see Chris Jakeman again after all these years - last time we met I was still in Snow and Rock. Looking forward to see what he does with Raidlight.