Enjoyed running the event on my lonesome. This is my trail of recollection.
There's a strung out line of brightly coloured shirts up the side of the The Lawley. Incredibly steep. Bent double. Children calling 'well done' at the checkpoint on the top. Touch the tall wooden pole then lurch back into a running pace after that thigh-inflating ascent. Along the long backbone of the ridge, remembering the phenomenal winds last time. It's clear frozen blue skies today; still windy, but not mouth-inflating like last year.
Looking around to see the landscape below, the last traces of the morning's mist still lingering over toward the Long Mynd. Trade places as the decline gets steeper, frozen ground makes each slapping footfall a potential slip and it's hard work to hold back until the point it's ok to let go.
Manic legs carry the momentum down through a gate and into the frozen shadow of Caer Caradoc, everything frost encrusted. A stag headed oak - permanent. My feet break the ice in a bog poached by cows' feet and then small steps up centre of a lane, trying to use the gravel there for grip in the black ice. Over the gate and onto the main climb.
A group of us move upwards together taking turns to dog each other's footsteps. The voice in my head saying, "don't overdo it. Don't overdo it." Someone's got a mobile phone in their bum bag which keeps ringing. Someone else says we should dial a pizza, they'd have to get an all-terrain moped.
Onto the old fortress of the summit, through rocks and the race checkpoint, marshalls call out numbers and then descent again over the bright hard ground. I let my strides lengthen where the slope lets me and make a long zig-zag which feels easier than the fast short steps of directness that others are taking. Motoring now, I overtake again then hit a gravel slope and realise I'm going too fast. I grab at the nearest thing that might help to slow me down - it's a gorse bush.
Through another frost pocket. Feet don't feel cold as they splash through a stream. Opening up a bit on the section of tracks down to Gaertones farm before going back into low gear again up past Three Fingers Rock. Over a series of turfy high points, pacing up the hills against the runners ahead, striding, hands on knees when they do. Stretch out on the slopes and make ground again. It's possible to avoid the ice you can see, but it's the stuff you can't see that you've got to watch out for.
Wind-cropped turf. Elongated shadows cast by bleached fenceposts and the low winter sun.
Steep descent off Willstone Hill, through dead bracken that would be fiery orange if it could catch any light. The legs of the runner in front slide from under him. Tell myself to watch that patch then fall on my arse too. There's a crashing and behind and someone comes flying past.
Hardened mud and another field hung with chill. The Wilderness, (great name) where I overtake once, maybe twice, but keep telling myself not to blow it. Stride the last long incline.
A track with sunlight strobing through the hedgerow and then it's a series of fields and stiles that go on for too long. I've caught up the bloke with the mobile phone. Close to the end now, Cardington and the finish out of the corner of my eye. Pick it up a bit and then someone goes belting past at a pace I'll never match. Through the last gate and onto the level. Footsteps behind? Buggered if they're going to overtake so I end up grimacing over the line.
Cups of water, meet a guy called Craig last seen at the Cleevewold race in February. Watch people coming in.
Get carrot and coriander soup from the village hall and wander back to the car park, dunking roll.
Listen to MArmite on the drive home - sheer indulgence.
Results: I was the 37th Senior Male and 76th overall out of 250 with a time of 1.37.43. Last year's time was 1.47.13.
Sorry about the table bit below - can't work out how to delete it.