Monday, 30 March 2009
Ridge and furrow to the side of two lines of limes as we make our way from the road to the medieval tithe barn at the Postlip community. I was following two knarly-looking guys up ahead who turned out the be Mike and a Polish guy called Marcos who I used to occasionally meet up with for a run on Cleeve Hill.
Getting changed on the flags beneath cobwebbed oak beams, there's friendly chat with faces that are getting more familiar these days. Mike comes over. He's wearing a T shirt over his Almosts vest so as not to attract attention from the race organisers Cheltenham Harriers who he used to be a member of. He's been told that he should still technically be running for the Harriers and we wonder if it's maybe like the Hells Angels - once you join you'll never leave! I whack down a couple of brufen for my 'nappy changer's back' and see an old boy watching with suspicion - have I just done a Dwain Chambers without thinking about it?
There's good natured chattering at the start and lots of Almosts vests amongst the hundred or so runners. Off down the slope, joking with Mike that it looks different around here in the daylight and without a headtorch beam. Around the corner, don't follow the rest and go splashing across the dam at the sheep wash. Engaging low gear up the steep incline that follows - I know from experience that this race throws plenty more hills in yet.
On the top the sky is a clear blue expanse, sunlight makes the tussocks shine the colour of cotswold limestone. Past golfers, walkers, people out with their dogs. We all follow the wrong route and go too low at the Rising Sun before climbing back up to the trig point on Cleeve Cloud - never mind.
I'm running with a guy from Pewsey who's inclined to chat, but I'm trying to keep up with a stocky, fit bloke called Dave from Dursley who I remember disappearing away from me last year.
Off the common and bez downhill - I've lost the runners both ahead and behind me. It's like being out for a run on your own. A short section of climb and a level bit through the edge of a beech wood that reminds me somehow of the Cardington Cracker. Into the butterfly reserve, and then make the uphill slog towards the masts. Andy's marshalling up at the road ("Same place again!" "I'd get lost if they put me anywhere else!"). Push on up to the drinks station, grab a cup, get half a mouthful and put the rest down my front to the amusement of onlookers gathered with the aim of seeing this.
We run along to the trig point at the highest part of the common. Along the gallops, where the skylarks burble merrily away above (I notice later that the race T shirt takes a skylark as its symbol).
A kissing gate and a marshall taking pics. Field edges and, as the mile markers come and go, I'm feeling surprised that I'm maintaining the pace. Opening up on the downhills but not losing control. Making up places - but Dursely Dave is still fifty metres out in front...
Down to the lowest point of the course - somewhere up to my right is a recently visited Roman mosaic - the crushed limestone of the made-up track is bright in the sun, like a cover of When I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.
I'm up to Dursley Dave. Say, "C'mon. Keep it going." We chat for a bit and then I'm setting the pace. Past the farm where the children hand out jelly babies every year and begin the long, long incline up to Belas Knap burial mound. There are groups of hiking school groups who cheer on the runners. Up to the road where a marshall has two bottles of Newcastle Brown on the ground beside him. Get the arms going along the road section to work up a bit of momentum.
"C'mon Almosts!", they're shouting up ahead. "By God it hurts!" I say, which isn't true, but makes them laugh.
The climb up to Belas Knap is, by this stage of the race, a killer. I run nearly all of it, striding the steeper sections. On the top, caught sheeps wool backlit by the sun, hangs in the blackthorn suckers.
A welsh runner overtakes me and I go with him past another up front who has begun to fade. We leave a short section of road and run down a soily gully full of dead wood. The guy in front slows me up here - but he's only on a training run. Later I move ahead again running down a poached field that Mike and I had climbed up and through in the past. I'm ahead for a bit, but he overtakes me again on the next climb to a stile.
By this stage I'm astonished. There's no pain, I'm a bit knackered but it's nothing profound. Up ahead beyond the welsh guy I see a lady runner moving up the hill,
"Bloody hell, that's laura kent." I always have said that if I can keep apace of her I will be going well. She is usually the first lady in most local races.
The hill is hard, hard, hard - but if you keep going it's logical that you'll reach the top. So I just do that.
Another descent, which I hammer down. Laura and the Welsh guy take the bridge, but I just go through the stream and I've caught them easily.
Disappointingly for my ego, Laura says she's having a terrible day. She's holding a stitch in her side. We all stagger up the last field and then we're on the track to the finish. Through the farm, little lambs on the left and penned cattle on the right. The Welsh guy says we'll go in together, I say we've got 7 1/2 minutes to beat the two hours, Laura says we can do that. So we move on together apace.
As the finish appears at the front of the Postlip Community Hall I can't help sprinting. The calves are beginning to cramp and I hear them clapping us in.
Water. Handshakes. Big smiles all round. Surprise at the good result. Really, really buzzing.
Chat and watch people come in. There's Nick who's uber fit. There's the guy we helped carry towards the end of the Long Mynd Valleys. Marcos and I wander back down to the barn. I eat two very big slices of cake and have a tea.
By gum, what a run!
I came in 24th overall and was 12th senior male in a time of 1:55:31 (def beat the other two despite the official results), this was an improvement on the previous year's 42nd overall and 2:08:02.
Very pleased with the result - but it was still 5 1/2 mins slower than Laura's time last year :-)
Wednesday, 4 March 2009
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
Friday night after work, I ran with mike from Greenway Lane, over Crickley Hill and Birdlip (with its sinister gathering of doggers) and then along the Cotswold Way to Coopers Hill, venue of the world famous Cheese Rolling event:
We went up the main slope, touched the pole at the top and then made a descent around the side - you would certainly need to have a screw or two loose to want to run down that slope. The views from the top were great, I could see out over the orange lights of Cheltenham and Gloucester as I watched Mike's headtorch as he made his way up.
It was quite a pacy run and I finished with a bit of a burst through the final section of woodland. It felt like about 16 miles, but MIke's Garmin spoke otherwise - just under 12.
Felt quite stiff about the legs afterwards.
I looked after the boys the next morning whilst Rachel had a lie in and sorted out wedding stuff. Then we took a family walk up to the Bath Road to buy a birthday present for dad but also to just spend some time together. The Bath Road is great because corporateness hasn't yet made significant inroads into the place. Small businesses, shops, pubs all seem to thrive and there is a sense of community encompassing locals and students that gives a sense of character that is often lacking in other parts of the town. We made a circuitous approach along cycleways and through The Park, which is where the university campus is. Nice to take the time to take a step back and enjoy the place.
After lunch and a bit of a snooze, I did some housework whilst Rachel went to buy some beer. I don't know what her father must have been like but when England are playing rugby it seems that i have carte blanche to lounge on the sofa a shout at the television. I must learn the rules of the game so that I can appreciate its finer points.
My bottles of black sheep and I enjoyed the game despite a poor England performance - but then mayber ireland were just better?
A nice evening with a meal and a DVD. I know it's my age, but every time a DVD finishes, I still automatically think that I need to press rewind!
Sunday, I dragged my protesting limbs out for a run. Mike was marshalling at some ultra event in the Forest of Dean so I was on my own and decided to try a new route.
Headed out of the town of Winchcombe to the north east of Cheltenham, past Sudley Castle, across fields...
...and up to Spoonley Wood to have a look at the mosaic.
Bill Bryson describes this place touchingly in 'Notes from a Small Island' and it truly is profound that here is something so old, that has been so permanent through Dark Ages, Civil Wars, World Wars, that just sits here beneath some plastic sheeting and a wriggly tin roof. Quietly visited, uncovered and contemplated, by ramblers over and over again. It has survived so far, protected only by the respect of those who know about it.
The run went on through a lovely clear morning. The kind of morning the deceives you into believing that it is warmer than it is.
I made my way across high wold landscape to Guiting Wood. I had been execting something ancient semi-natural but got a plantation (possibly on a ancient site) that had recently been subject to substantial extraction works. The footpath into the wood was unmanaged and giving way to blackthorn, and the route through the wood was 12" deep in tractor-quagmired clay. I would not recommend visiting this woodland although there is a nicer footpath along the northern boundary.
I followed the Wardens Way back down into Winch. A run of about 8 miles through lovely scenery for the main part. Legs felt achey - I wonder if i might be doing too much trying to keep up with Mike who as a background of ultra-marathoning.
After I got back, we went to check out a local hotel where we're going to have a meal after our wedding. The place got full marks - affordable, oak pannelled room and nice grounds for picture taking. And it's got a bar.