Monday, 7 March 2011

Long Mynd valleys race


"Don't give it away," said Mike as he overtook me on the grassy descent off the final hill, Yearlet. But I had to let him go: I was kippered.

It had been touch and go whether I would be able to run, but the lure of a British Championship 'Valleys Race' and the prospect of participating alongside (ok, not exactly alongside) some of the best fell runners in the country, was strong enough for me to ignore doctors orders and head up to Shropshire with Mike. It would be my first proper run for three weeks.

Organised by Mercia fellrunners, the Long Mynd Valleys is an event that delivers post race joy directly in proportion to levels of pain experienced whilst doing it. Although eleven and a half miles and four and a half thousand feet of upping and downing (that's a bit more than Ben Nevis kids!) sounds like no pushover, it's the relentlessness of the steep climbs and descents making up the second half of the course which really forge the deserved reputation of this race as a classic.

Mucal distemper meant that my race this year was going to have to be a steady one. I plodded the first climb and enjoyed letting gravity do the work for me as I dug my heels into soft brackeny peat on the descent to Jonathan's Hollow.

On the Port Way the passage of many studded soles made the ground look like it had been thoroughly worked over with a steak tenderising mallet...

... I slurp a sickly gel on the climb to Barristers Plain and then on the very steep descent that follows, watch with detached amusement as a runner ahead goes out of control and tries to slow himself down by taking a series of increasingly wide, high-speed zig zags, shouting breathless warnings to others as he goes. In the end he makes up five or six places...

A few years ago I travelled up to recce the course on my own. But in Callow Hollow I met and got talking to Dave, and we travelled onwards together. Dave used words like, "re-entrant," and clearly knew his stuff. At one point he told me to aim for a clump of trees on the skyline and we heather-hopped our way down the slope to arrive slap bang on top of the location for checkpoint four. Dave looked delighted when I told him he knew the place like the back of his hand. Local knowledge and choosing the most efficient route between checkpoints is a key part of fell running, and he kindly went on to show me a series of subtle lines on the remainder of the run...

"I don't do heather," shouts a Cumbrian accent away to my right as I now follow Dave's advice for real and overtake a dozen places. I take more places later on by following a leftwards rising traverse out of Windy Batch and realise that, as we run down to Sleekstonebank Hollow and with traces of cramp seizing my legs, that I've nearly caught up with Mike.

I enjoy the fine sight of a drawn-out string of brightly coloured running vests climbing up Callow, the hill ahead.

After the steep grind up the side of Callow and a plodding traverse around the side of the next hill, Grindle (I have a theory here that it might be quicker to go straight over the top) I dig my heels in and gallop past the more cautious runners down the steep descent to Ashes Hollow.

The final climb of the final hill, Yearlet, begins as a tactical battle with cramps in both legs and nearly ends three quarters of the way up when my thighs literally lose the power to propell my body weight upwards. I'm grabbing handfuls of bilberry stems and spagnum moss and leadenly forcing a step at a time. 'Don't do heather' Ambleside woman overtakes me. Wendy Dodds (FV60) overtakes me, going like a train. I think I might faint, but I keep going and stagger onto the top to mark my number at the orienteering punch final checkpoint.

I feel really done in all of a sudden, so just jog back down the grassy slope which is set at a much more civilised angle whilst various runners (including Mike) come charging past.

The race is all but over barr one little slope immortalised on the Mercia website as a 'Little Sod' - which I walk up.

Finally manage to spur myself on to the finish back in Cardingmill Valley - down the steep descent, jump over the stream and hop over the line with legs that are locking up. The comlimentary clunky chunky kit kat was the best I'd ever tasted!

Pics below courtesy of Alistair Tye