Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Stretton Skyline race

It had fired the imagination as an achievement that might one day be attainable ever since the first drive up to the Shropshire hills with Guy Sabey a few years ago. It was spoken of as a classic. This was good - i like classics...

The 'Stretton Skyline' is also a benign name for a challenging route that if underestimated might render you into an undignified state.

The route leaves the Cardingmill Valley and follows incised valleys up onto the top of the Long Mynd from where it descends to the valley floor at Little Stretton. A well-marshalled crossing of the A46 followed by a steep climb up Ragleth Hill and some lovely running along the top before another descent into Church Stretton. Leaving the town, the course then heads up and over Caer Caradoc and then up to the top of the Lawley, retracing steps back down. A waymarked section across fields and another well-marshalled main road crossing give way to a long uphill section back up onto the tops of the Long Mynd. A final couple of downhill miles back through the popular Cardingmill Valley leads to the finish on the town playing fields.

It was hot and I went off too fast, following a friendly vet lady called Joan whose legs looked like - and I mean this as a compliment - knotted gristle. Leaving the road at Pole Cottage the slight breeze was welcome in the gathering heat of the day. We ran a strong pace over the cross dyke and around the side of Callow and down to the valley floor.

Ascending Ragleth, the dry turf felt like a crust underfoot. Trading places with a woman in a yellow Mercia vest.

Coming into Church Stretton other runners, benefiting from their local knowledge, appear out of side streets. Steady up Caer Caradoc and through the ancient summit earthworks, remembering colder conditions during the Cardington Cracker. Lose time and places by following another first timer instead of reading the map at the foot of Little Caradoc. Make places back climbing up the Lawley and enjoy running back down strongly.

View from Lawley summit, Caer Caradoc beyond

But then...

Cramp began to set in across the fields although I'd been drinking my nuun solution. I was beginning to feel 'out of it' at the second A46 road crossing. A gel helped a little at Dudgeley Farm and a chat with Craig from Amazing Feet through Gogbatch pulled me out of myself temporarily. The climb up to the top of the Long Mynd from here was hard and relentless and I was fast running out of fuel. I walked and chatted to the guy I'd taken the long cut with off of Caradoc. There were cramps down the outsides of both legs as I forced myself to shuffle into some kind of a run as the ground levelled out before the final check point.

"At last", I was thinking. "All downhill from here. Just get back to the start and then sit in the stream for half an hour. Ice baths. Mmm... Lovley ice baths."

Clearly delerious (i'm far too nesh for that) I forced my way on. I was going to do it. I was going to get there. "Mmm... lovely ice baths", my brain kept saying. "Just keep going..."

And then, there was the start. There was the promised stream. There was... no-one.

"Shit, I've just remembered the finish is down in the town", said my mind. So, I forced my way on until I just had to stop. My head went down, my hands went up to hold my head. My sudden stop sent a Calder Valley runner I hadn't known was there into a fall. The woman in the Mercia vest materialised also, and then the two of them were off, racing for the finish. I shuffled on, round a corner and followed them over the line.

An excellently organised race. The food in the goody bag at the end was so welcome. Spreadeagled on the grass watching the white cotton wool clouds morph their ways through the blue I realised that from now on I would know to treat BL races with the respect they demand.

I was 33rd overall in a time of 3:25. Photos.

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