Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Three Shires

It is always good to have a proper warm up before a run.  This one started with helping to push a camper van out of the car park, a rather soft patch of grass behind the Heaton and Swythamley village hall.

I watched the walkers set off at 8am, followed intermittently by a few latecomers.  At 9am the runners were summoned for what must be the most reluctant start I have seen.  Well it was raining.  I set off at an easy pace, but comfortably in the lead for the first few minutes.  We were immediately ascending, on our way up Gun Hill.  Two more runners passed me at the trig point at the summit, leaving me in fourth where I think I remained for the rest of the run.  It wasn't obvious because the distance options were 20, 22, 27 or 29 miles.

I had chosen the 'mere' 27 miler, not fancying the out and back loop up Shutlingsloe - I could still remember slogging up there in the Skyrace last year.

Four miles in and I hit a brick wall.  I hadn't appreciated the 100 metre climb across the fields on the way towards The Roaches.  I felt better after crossing the road and heading into the rocky ascent under the trees and then the gully up to The Roaches.  This is a fantastic ridge run, although today I had to lean into the cross wind to avoid getting blown off the path.  The crosswind became a tailwind and I was now flying along and into the first checkpoint for a water refill.  A slippery downhill followed then a lovely singletrack high up in trees, before joining up with the Skyrace route again.  The next section is a bit of a blur, but was a mix of fields and rocky paths, all up and down, before dropping into the rocky Cumberland Brook trail and then a quick blast along a road into checkpoint 2 at Wildboarclough.  Another water refill.  I skipped the food, possibly a mistake as I bonked twice on the next section.  Each time I swallowed a Torq gel then had to walk for a few minutes for it to kick in.

The runners had thinned out on the 7 mile 'Cheshire Loop' and I had passed most of the walkers now, so this section felt remote and peaceful.  All ups and downs along fields and following streams, passing fields of sheep.  It felt like forever but I eventually made it back to the Wildboarclough checkpoint for the second time.  A quick chat with other runners and I was off again, reinvigorated knowing I only had to complete 11km on the final section.

This section started with a climb (of course!) and a big descent into Gradbach, then a gentle ascent past Lud's Church, then into Danebridge for a sign of civilisation.  Well there was a brewery and a lot of people about!  I'd seen a lot of DofE groups around, and adults patiently waiting in cars at the ends of footpaths, but few other people apart from those doing the walk/run.  It wasn't great weather for being out on the hills!

Finally, a flat section alongside the River Dane and then a nice long flight of steps (up!)  A runner appeared behind me with a mile to go, and I was determined not to be overtaken now.  I passed a couple more walkers and said hello as I reached the road for the final half mile to the finish, running all the way again now.

The Three Shires certificate
I seriously underestimated how hard this run would be!  The combination of high winds and hills sapped my strength, but at the same time I felt good all the way apart from when misjudging how much to eat.

Here is the route on Strava - 5:47 for my 77th marathon.