Monday, 16 August 2010

Standish Woodland Chase

It sounds as if someone is setting off a roman candle away down in the valley. This puzzles my fried mind until I separate out the sound from a background of gasping breaths and slapping footfalls and realise that it's actually the mewling cries of buzzards up above the closed leafy canopy above. I'm on the second lap, and it's not going well.

The legs are dulled, my spit (yes, I know it's disgusting) has become adhesively difficult to get rid of and there's a dehydrated throb of a headache beginning to couple-up my temples. I'm losing places and there is not a lot I can do about it.

It had started ok. Any race that runs out from a farm where you queue for registration in a barn with a distinctive backdrop combination of smells - dusty hay, spilled oil and cow shit has go to be ok. Echoey cow sounds from the big metal barn on the other side of the car park and hens scratching around, doing what they do. A hundred and fifty or so runners and a measured approach create a happy atmosphere for this modest race that is run every year in aid of a small school in Gambia.

The course itself begins with a mile or so uphill on the road. It's quite steep and effectively thins out the runners before the main part of the race, which consists of two undulating loops on the trails around Standish Woods. About 9.5 miles in all.

Mike stays apace on the way up the hill, but drops back as the gradient steepens. At the top, on the tracks across the fields to the woody section, I'm mildly concerned to realsie that there's another club member on my shoulder, pacing off me. Toby, it later turns out, is 25 and a fit as you'd expect for someone who's into rowing in a big way.

There are four of us: a scrawny muscley guy with a beard who takes a lot of short quick steps, a Vet from the Forest of Dean AC who looks like he's consistently put in hard fast times for the last three decades, the aforementioned fit youth and a balding father of twins (who had considerately woken up their dad at 5.30 that morning). We set a hard pace: 6.30min miles to start off with according to the garmin.

We pace off each other, taking turns to lead the group. We overtake the Bitton Roadrunner ahead, but only because he's stopped to throw up. Then I take a wide line on a corner and slingshot my way into a downhill, taking the Vet with me. The other two seem to fall back as we force onwards. But it's way too fast for me. I know I can't sustain it.

The key point comes after a downhill that I've pushed as hard as I can. In the dip at the bottom and going into the next climb, a Stroud runner comes through and the Vet goes with him. They power away up the hill. There's no way I'm going too.

I run the second lap of the wood with a bloke of rugby player's build. Together we begin to reel in the guy ahead, before I begin to drop away again. The garmin says 7.30 min miles now - and there is most definitely not a spring in my step.

As they clap us up the last climb out of the woods, I know that I must have lost half a dozen places.

Out of the woods the humidity hits and I'm concentrating hard as I push it down the rough stoney track to the road. ("C'mon, you did four miles of this on the Snowdon...")

Then the slappy descent down the tarmac. A Gloucester AC lady comes past, running (as they say) like hot snot. I watch her catch up and then battle it out with the rugby player up ahead.

"Yay, first Almost," shouts Chris's wife Joss and then I gurn the final few hundred yards to the finish to be met by the beaming Vet (Steve) with a cup of water. Toby's in a minute later, Chris a few seconds behind. Ed and Mike about a minute behind again.

Due to poor turn outs by proper running clubs, we won the first team prize! I am dead chuffed because I haven't won anything in a race since I cheated in the egg and spoon, Kirkbride, Cumbria circa '78 (apologies, Mr Aitchison).


  1. Great account and a great effort by the sounds of it!

  2. Thanks Simon - might have over egged it!