It's sometimes hard to put your finger on what makes a great race, but the Cardington Cracker definitely has whatever it takes.
Two hundred or so runners made the journey from near and often much further away to this little Shropshire village to compete (or maybe just take part) over the nine mile or so course that goes up and down the steep-sided turfy hills of The Lawley, Caradoc and Willstone Hill. Some of them doubtless made the trip as a one off because it is an understated classic of the fell running calender. Others I met keep coming back year on year.
Running recollections as follows:
This year's my fourth running of the race and there's snow on the ground with everything pretty much frozen solid.
A whistle blows and we're away through the field, brightly coloured running vests in contrast to the surrounding monochrome. The pre-race chatter is gone as breathing tries to find a rhythm . I get off far too fast and quickly realise as the stronger guys keep regularly passing me that i've set the tone for my race this year and committed myself to being overtaken - a lot.
After a settling-in half mile through fields, we drop down through a larch plantation carpeted with shed orange needles and out into the fields beyond where we get our first sight of The Lawley.
It's a whaleback of a hill: long and steep-sided. We go up in crocodile...
At the top of the climb the landscape suddenly stretches out in all directions. It's uplifting. Patchy snow gathered in hollows and low drifts brings the surroundings into new relief as we set off along the ridge.
As we pick up speed on the descent I realise the studs on the soles of my running shoes are useless because they can't grip into the frozen ground. Feet are sliding all over the place and the guy that I'm alongside goes flying. Follow others off the path and into the tussocks where there's some traction.
Skite through the gateway, down a path and over the cattle grid and onto a short road section. There's a good account of this section of the race on Jim's blog
I lose another place or two going through the fields that link the Lawley and Caradoc. More places go by the by on the track to the sheepfolds before the start of the big climb. Yet more places are conceded when I stop to take some snapshots just before the top.
Al Tye is on the top taking photographs:
Somehow it feels as if the battery has gone a bit flat. I keep getting overtaken by people who it feels like i should be able to keep up with. There's no spring today.
People out sledging stand to one side as we slip slide off the lower slopes of the hill, through the stream and off up the killer track that leads eventually to the Gaer Stones.
Then a series of smaller undulating high points before we drop down steeply off Willstone Hill through dead bracken and badger sets. I manage to run the long incline up to The Wilderness and even overtake someone - temporarily.
As Henry, a veteran of the event, says to me when I'm over the line and got my breath back: it's the kind of race where you've got to go as fast as you can when you can and just concentrate on keeping going the rest of the time.
Hopefully, I'll be trying to put his theory into practice next year - and for years to come yet.
It's a great race. Very well organised and marshalled. It's a varied and challenging route with plenty of fine views to take in when you haven't got to look where you're putting your feet. The cup of soup in the village hall during the prizegiving tastes great and there's the 'Running Bear' shop for any spare bits of kit you might need. Low key and friendly, I can't recommend this race enough.