Monday, 3 October 2011

Sandstone Trail A Race

After spending Saturday sheltering from the 27 deg heat (the hottest October day on record) I was very relieved to wake on Sunday to grey skies and light drizzle. It was still warm but wasn’t going to be a killer.

Following a stomach-churning rally down the back lanes of Cheshire we soon made it to the start and met up with the six Spartan A racers, Ewan and Chris. The start was a bit crazy, with 170 runners lining up in one big wide line, just a few people deep. The klaxon sounded and we all had to bolt for the centre line before the path narrowed…great fun!

I went into this race with a firm pacing strategy. I had recced the route twice in the last month, with the last time being run at a pretty good pace. On that day we got to the B race start at Beeston (the 7 miles point) in 1:07. This made up my mind that I would not be able to run 1min/mile faster in the race so I was resigned to the fact that I would hit Beeston behind the B Racers and have to queue at the many stiles in that section. With that in mind I had decided to take it easy to Beeston, let the B racers spread out a little, then finish strongly in the second half. This all went to pot though as soon as we started and I was swept along on a tide of sprinting Spartans. In an instant I decided to run all out to Beeston, get there inside the hour then just hold on!

The pace was terrific through the first few hundred meters and I snuck around Alan and James and tucked in behind Andy. Up the first climb (I seemed to be the only one walking but I was keeping pace with everyone) and onto the undulating single track on legs tired from the climb. On the first short but steep descent I passed Andy and dropped in behind Ewan for a tow.

I was stunned at the pace but was loving the fast running on technical trails. I was worried that I could still see Nick not too far ahead and I really shouldn’t be this close to him! Into Peckforton Hills and we were passed by a raving fit looking bare-chested Knight of the Realm: Sir Ranulph Fiennes running the opposite direction. Hope he wasn’t out for a quiet jog!

I lost Ewan somewhere in Peckforton Hills and pulled in behind a Chester Tri runner. I could pass him on the descents but couldn’t hold the pace when I took turns at the front on the flats so he was forced to do most of the work while I got a free ride. We eventually exchanged a few words and realised that we knew each other from kids party in the summer. Thanks for the tow, Kev J.

I had been ignoring the clock but as we approached the B race start I looked at my watch and was stunned to see 50 mins. I was a full 15 minutes faster than on the recce run. It was hard to believe and I had to wait until I crossed the stile and could see the B start all milling around before I really believed that I had beaten the cut off but such a comfortable margin. My euphoria at running the first section so quickly was lifted further by the Spartan Army cheering and shouting as I approached. It gave me such a boost. I wondered how long it would be before they started passing me further down the trail.

So, past Beeston Castle and over the queue-free stiles. I started to feel tired and was slowly loosing places but I didn’t worry about it. When I decided to switch to a faster start I knew that would mean I would slow later in the race, I just hoped that overall it would result in a good time. So the feedback I was getting by slowing down actually told me that the plan was working and made me feel positive!

It was quite a while before the B runners started passing. They looked so fresh. Andrew passed quite soon, obviously doing well, then there was a big gap before Paul came by, jogging with me for a short while as we exchanged a few words, which was very welcome.

I quite enjoyed the long uphill plod after Rock Farm then we were past Summertrees Tea Room and into Primrose Wood. I was tired but feeling good…the end was getting close now. The detour to Kelsall and up over the bridge was tough…that hill is a killer, even when you are walking. I got a boost as I entered the forest and hit home turf but there was no energy to push hard and pick people off. I was giving it everything but could only just hold on to the B racers ahead.

With less that a mile to go I was suffering. Then from behind came a massive bellow “GO ON STEVE!”. It was a genuinely scary sound, more like a banshee howl than warm encouragement and I managed to pick up the pace a little. The inhuman shouting continued and got closer despite my best efforts to stay ahead and Tim soon pulled onto my shoulder. “Come on, let’s finish this together” he said, before leaving me in his dust. He looked so fresh and went on to secure 5th place in the B for our club. Great running…an outstanding result!

I was snarling so much in the final straight that Alex didn’t recognise me! I managed to stay ahead of the guy on my shoulder in our sprint finish but once I dibbed my body gave in. Dave came over to congratulate me and I had to grab him in order to avoid falling down. Several Spartans were all around, talking to me but I didn’t have the energy to speak. Someone shepherded me to the drinks station and put a cup of orange into my hand. It took a few minutes and four cups of orange before I felt human again. I came in third counter for the Spartans, two minutes behind Nick and a long way behind Dave, to make us 12th. Not bad considering the quality of the field in this race.

So, this was my first race as part of a club team and it was amazing! The event was so much better for having team-mates around and the cheering support at Beeston was the race highlight for me. BBQ and beers back at Dave & Steph’s afterwards rounded off a perfect day.

This was the first time in many years that I have tried the “run hard from the start” strategy. It was interesting. I think I got a better time overall than if I’d have taken it easier in the first 7miles, especially in this race, where a slower start can mean lost time due to queuing. I may well be trying this approach again!

Go Spartans!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve,

    I am sorry I am leaving a comment, I can't find your email. I am writing you in the hopes that you want to participate in an e-book we are writing about ultra runners.

    We want to tap into the collective craziness (we mean that as a compliment:-)) of this community to challenge and inspire other non-runners to make their own life an ever-greater creative expression of their own goals and dreams… without limits.

    Progress so far: We have currently contacted more than 450 ultra runners and received more than 70 answers.

    We would ask you to answer a question about your experience with ultra running. Please note that these questions are related to your mental state and require that you are able to explain quite specifically what is going on mentally when running.

    If you'd like to participate please shoot me an email at


    All the best,