Sunday, 6 February 2011
'The May Hill'. In a relatively short space of time it has become a bit of an institution in these parts with a well-deserved reputation as being a tough multi-terrain race. Competitive at the sharp end, it's also very friendly and inclusive in terms of different levels of ability. Located on the edge of the Forest of Dean, it comprises woodland trails, plenty of climbing (and descending) and fair amounts of glutinous, liquified clay at many points in-between. Over the five years that it has existed it has raised over £17k for Cystic Fibrosis Trust - hats well and truly off to Mike who set up and co-ordinated the whole thing, but who has now decided to step down.
There had been plenty of hills and threshold runs in the build up to this year's event and so, fully psyched, trained-up and respecting the motivation behind the event, I was ready for a blast. Mike's girls Thea and Scarlet started us off and we charged away down the short section of road. After all the practicing, I was relieved just to be getting on with it at last.
The first climb lasts about a mile and a half and is mainly on trails with short sections of road. I go for it pretty hard so it's mildly disconcerting when clubmate Dave appears at my shoulder with a cheerful hello and presses on ahead. I keep with him and we pass a number of other guys before I pull ahead again.
Leaving the road and going onto the first of many muddy bits, I know already that I've done it again and gone away too fast. Try to get it together by choosing my line and trying to run efficiently.
Over the top and past the distinctive clump of pine trees that define May Hill, I glimpse fine views across to the mountains of Wales before pulling the concentration back again to the effort of not slowing down. It's overcast and windy with spots of rain - my favourite weather. There's the ever-reassuring sound of wind passing through trees that's interrupted only by the paper-flapping sound of a number pinned to the vest of a runner close behind...
There was just no way I was keeping up with Dave who was having a blinding run so waved him through as we began the first descent and then just did my best to keep him in sight!
The route followed more trails as it descended through the woods. A drinks station came and went followed by the first proper bit of clart as the track passed through the Douglas Fir plantation that must have claimed many a running shoe in its time - I was able to close the gap on the guy in front at this point because he'd committed to going straight through the quag instead of keeping left. Then more trails and a long section of clay slop beside a lake led into the final sharp threshold speed descent down to the bottom of the hill.
Psychologically this always feels like it should be the end of the race so it's really necesaary to dig in as yet another rising sloppy track saps momentum and any remaining leg strength.
...out of the trees and into the open to cross a field of earth to the road beyond. Spectators gather near a big puddle that's just got to be jumped in.
Then backinto the trees for the second big climb to the top of the hill. There's someone on my heels again. It's a long slippery slog and I have run out of steam and foundered here before. Once more, I work at just trying to keep going, focussing on sticking to the edges where there's more traction, trying to keep up with the Vet50 who's just passed me.
We move on beneath towering Coast Redwoods, through close Sweet Chestnut coppice and, with more than a little help from positive thinking, the top comes along soon enough.
The final foot-slappy downhill just never seems to end and keeping on forcing the effort becomes a grim experience. There are yet more footfalls behind and as we leave the trails for the last time to run the 400m of uphill road to the finish my will evaporates and I wave the guy behind past me. He turns out to be a bit of a space invader though and squeezes me into the verge - which rankles - so somewhere inside my sub-conscious I gather myself, have a spit, stick out me elbows and kick out. But it's a desperate effort and every single bit of rational thought is screaming at me to stop.
Mike's bawling at me up ahead to get on with it and this gives me just enough to dig a little bit deeper, pull away from the others and gurn, gurn, gurn my anaerobic way over the line.
I need to have a bit of a sit down afterwards...
Dave has had a storming race and overtook several others after me to finish in seventh overall - I've managed 13th (4th MV40). He's knocked over 8 mins off his last year's time, I've managed a minute and a half. He's fresh and recovered already, I'm taking just a wee bit longer to come around...
But the euphoria of the end is great. Duncan's looking as white as a sheet having run the race jetlagged. Karen's chatting away. Chris and Joss in the bag store are their ever positive and warm-hearted selves. Nick's chirpy. Ed (who hates all off road races) is beaming and even says he enjoyed it. Dave, who I got talking to after the Cardington Cracker, tells me about his plans for an attempt at the South Wales Traverse this summer and I'm keen to help out as a pacer if he needs one.
I make my way back to the car with rapidly stiffening legs and reflect that the May Hill's definitely a race that's well worth experiencing.
Next up is the Long Mynd Valleys race - which is a lot harder than the May Hill. It's a championship event this year apparently so I think I'll hang around the back end of the field do the also ran thing and leave the competitive stuff to the proper runners.