Ok so only a two year gap between blogs………
Quick round up on me. I like running long distances. I don’t really like training. My right knee decided in early 2020 it didn’t like running or even walking much, but calmed down a bit as I rested it through the first lockdown (you know the one that would’ve been really nice to run in). Oh and then developed DVT in the same leg. Autumn 2020 and I managed a few longer runs 20 mile, 35 miles etc and the knee was relatively ok about it. Got a diagnosis that it is cartilage damage so not going to get better, but no issue day to day with it (so far). Bought a static bike and used it 2 times per week instead of running, but haven’t used it for about 3 months.
Bought some running poles 2 months ago (Gerry helped me out on what to get) and suddenly hills became much more enjoyable, whilst protecting the knee really well. Jim & I did Escape from Meriden (40 miles) in June which was testing but got done well enough. Cotswold Relay in early July saw Hawkesbury Runners band up once more in orange. I had leg 2 and really enjoyed it even though I was slow. Then Jim and I and our friend Rich tackled the 52 mile Wysis Way over 2 days. Very hilly, hugely overgrown in places, but great to be out and about and good training for what was to come… the Shropshire Hills 80k
I had taken the Friday off so had a leisurely start, plenty of time to pack and repack gear. I’d recently bought a vest pack as my backpack had rubbed me badly on the Wysis, so was trying to cram everything in. I had thankfully found a good way to store the poles on the pack and be able to grab them without needing to take the pack off.
Then the 2hr drive to Craven Arms and check in to my B&B, costly, but 50m from the start / finish so worth it. Then a rare thing in the last 15 months, meeting a buzzer, as I went to help Max and then Liz set up their tents. Absolutely fab to catch up after so long. Slightly worrying when the tractor started grass gathering in the field, but Max negotiated safe passage for the tents.
Then we were off to Maison de Bolty, a 30 min drive through some of the lush countryside we were going to be running around the next day. I’d been before, but forgotten how high the hills were as well as how beautiful it was. More hugs as we were warmly greeted and relaxed outside soaking up some sun (and drizzle). The fact we were all drinking fizzy water made me realise we were taking this one seriously (albeit for Liz, enforced due to illness). A wonderful meal from Mandy of Japanese crispy chicken burgers and baked potatoes ensured the carb loading was satisfied and then topped off with Gooseberry crumble – lush.
Marking up of the route on Liz’s map and lots of chat about Bolty’s spine race as well as the task ahead made time fly and soon we had to head off for a good nights’ sleep or rather the intention of such with the reality somewhat lacking.
The usual pre-race prep involving copious quantities of body glide to avoid chaffing and concerns of the lack of central line movement and then out and over to registration. After a short queue it was great to see Ian Yates from GB Ultras who I’d first met when he did the 401 marathon in Hawkesbury and subsequently in Llanberis. He was running the tracking service so was a bit busy.
Then a bacon butty and coffee with Gerry and then off to the toilet where I met Mandy and Will followed by a lovely but all to brief catch up with Rob Barber. I did my first trail race with Rob and he showed me how to run down hills safely at speed. Both he and Gerry inspired me to trail running and it’s always an immense pleasure to be in their company.
Grant the Race Director gave the briefing and then a few photos, hugs and best wishes and those on the ultra were off at 8am. Gerry had mentioned to get up front at the start to avoid getting stuck behind walkers so the first couple of miles I ran with him at about 10min mile pace. I recognised I was going to blow up if I kept that pace up. When we approached the first climb Gerry carried on running, I drew out my poles and started walking and we split up.
The first climb felt very much like a Cotswold Way one, up a scarp edge (the Wenlock edge) and then, unlike the Cotswold Way, nice and flat for 2 miles on the top. This was a self nav course and following the route on the watch was pretty straightforward for the most part, which was important given the lack of signage in the early section. A few checks of the map and spotting where others had run before me made sure I didn’t stray far off course. There were self clip points around the course to ensure no one cut corners so spotting these were important.
Ahead Ragleth Hill started to loom. I knew Kathy hated it. Now I know why! It felt vertical, reality probably a 45 degree slope, straight up, no zig zag. I saw Gerry as he was on his way down. However the view at the top made it all worthwhile. I’m used to having a great view in a direction from the top of the Cotswold scarp, but this had a view in every direction. Truly stunning. I loitered a bit at the summit to take it all in, before descending and heading into the first checkpoint in Little Stretton.
The event is run by the Grow Cook Learn charity and they wanted to show off local produce along the route. First up was a selection of local cheeses and sausage (alongside watermelon, jelly beans etc), it was blooming lush. Water refilled (as the cloudy day turned out to be sunnier, warmer and more humid than expected so I was drinking like a fish) and then out and up a long steady uphill. I got into a good rhythm with the poles and felt strong (but I was only 10 miles in). The heather was out in bloom as was some gorse which made for very pretty sites as Pole Bank summit hove into view.
Again another great vista and then a long drop down to the village of Bridges. I was mostly alone in these sections but would pass the odd person who’d then pass me a little later on, such was the ebb and flow.
Stiperstones now came into view looking like a stegosaurus with its jutting rocks. Before I got to the base of it I was suddenly surrounded by a flock c100 of ducks who were crossing the road on foot. I’ve never seen so many ducks, it was slightly surreal. Just as I began the climb I was caught up by two gents and they really helped pace myself up to the summit and the clip point. The path was really rocky, no chance of running and a relatively slow descent began. It was hard to pick out a route but the two gents were in the lead so I could see how they were fairing. Down we dropped and after a wiggle on an overgrown path I dropped down into The Bog, the second picnic location for the day. Fidget pie was offered, a pork, potato and apple pie and jolly good it was, although it did slow progress on the hills for a good hour or so.
The signage now was much better following the Shropshire Hill Buzzard signs was pretty straightforward in the main and the hills whilst constant were rolling so allowed for a good “Barber” or two on the downhills. Into Bishops Castle for drinks top up and I stayed on to sort a hot spot on the foot and apply some sudocreme to some tender points. Trails by streams, trails in heather, trails up wooded slopes, it really had it all with lovely views all around.
Reith Top Farm was the next food stop, a very eager pup excited at the sweaty smells and chance to snaffle your beef stew if you looked away, danced around my feet. After 5 minutes sat in the barn enjoying the stew I had a sense of someone watching me and suddenly noticed two horses looming to the side. I wonder what they thought of all these smelly hot runners invading their calm abode for the day.
I was about 30 miles in, about 8 hrs had elapsed. A couple of minor nav errors in the next section were annoying but inevitable as concentration waned at times. However they were nothing compared to Kim’s error. I had just clipped where the Shropshire Way meets and follows Offa’s Dyke. There was a really nasty climb, not as steep as Ragleth, but not far off. As I was a third of the way up, she came running downhill past me. She’d missed the clip point and climbed all the way up before realising her mistake. She was a strong walker though and had caught me up by the time I hit the top.
Now I had company and we chatted away as we walked and trotted along at about 17 min mile pace. She’d done a lot of walking as well as running events including 100 milers so was pretty chipper and not showing any signs of fatigue. We had a nasty encounter as we passed a sheep lying down with its rear haunch stripped of wool and bleeding. I took the GPS location with a view to letting the next CP know so they could alert the farmer, but promptly forgot.
Just before we got to the final food stop, Gerry was leaving it. He was in no rush so came back to the CP with me as I scoffed Bara Brith and drank a good litre of coke. Then the three of us headed off for the final 12 miles. It was about 6.30pm and I had set my target to be back in time for last orders at the bar of my B&B – it was going to be tight!
2 big climbs remained. The first was Bury Ditches, a heavily wooded hill, a slow grind up but we were chatting away (well Gerry & Kim were, I was putting my energy into keeping up). Lovely panorama again, the last of the day as the sun set behind us a nice run down to the bottom and we clipped and a bit later got out the head torches (and applied more sudocreme in my case).
Onwards we went and just before the climb to Hopesay Hill, Gerry started suffering a bit, but didn’t want to slow us down so we pushed on, pleasingly I could see his light bobbing along behind us so I knew he was making progress. As Kim and I got to the final clip point at the top we met a couple of gents who had left the CP a bit ahead of us. They were struggling a little with navigation a neither had decent torches, so couldn’t spot the exits from fields easily. I was rather grateful to the weighty lump on my head which has a pretty powerful beam.
The final few miles ticked down and at 22:26, 14:26 elapsed, we finished with Gerry a couple of minutes behind us. Liz was unfortunately there to greet me, amazing she’d managed 32 miles with her illness. A quick call to the B&B secured my post run drinks, so I had time to settle down and enjoy the all day breakfast that they had on offer, before saying my farewells to Liz, Ian and Grant.
A pint of lime and soda and two pints of lager were ordered, I chatted to a local who was asking what I’d been doing (or probably why are you stinking up my bar) and the usual look of amazement and bewilderment ensued. He didn’t have a clue what a fidget pie was so not sure how local he was.
Max was still out on the course so a message sent then shower, beers and sleep followed. As Sunday morning dawned I checked the tracker and Max was almost done and I was able to get down to the finish line to greet her. A blooming awesome achievement ploughing on through the night.
I drove her back to her tent, saw Liz as well and said my farewells. Packed up at the B&B and headed home. I was really pleased to have completed the race without any body parts complaining, but what will stick with me was just the sheer beauty of the course throughout. That and the wonderful checkpoint food and volunteers. I’ll definitely be going back.
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