Sunday, 24 November 2013

Run to the hills

My more avid and/or attentive readers may recall that at the end of each August me and The Lad spend a boys' weekend walking in the Shropshire hills around the towns of Church Stretton and Craven Arms. While we have the same nominal route each year, there's always a minor variation of some variety. When I was thinking about next year's variation, I mused about the possibility of running the route, not as part of one of our weekends, but separately.

It seemed like quite a tough challenge; this year's route was 32 miles with 5000 feet of climbing. The idea to run it took hold properly early in October, when I thought that with a couple of months or so of decent running, I'd have a shot of doing it by maybe the middle of February. But then last weekend two things happened. First, I realised that Mrs M wouldn't be around in mid-February to come and bail me out if anything went wrong. And second, the weather forecast for this weekend looked pretty kind. So I decided to go for it...

...which is why I set my alarm for 5am yesterday, so I could leave by 6, and be down to and parked in Church Stretton by 7.30am, and running by 8. I had no idea how long the run was going to take, and wanted to give myself as many daylight hours as possible. I needn't have worried as it turned out.

I did, however, need to worry about the cold. It was -5c when I left home, and hadn't warmed up at all by the time I started running. Which meant that the ford that's crossed after the first mile wasn't the dribble of tepid water that it is in August, but a gushing cascade of ice cold numbing-ness. Having cold, wet feet that soon into a long run wasn't the best start, but hey ho. A few hundred yards after the ford comes the first of many climbs, but the only one you can't run up - it's a scramble up damp, slippery rocks. The reward, however, was getting to the top of the Long Mynd valley. By the time I got up there the sun was up, everything was still frosty white, there was a pack of wild horses just across the gorse, and the views were sensational - to the right, the Welsh Marches, to the left the Wenlock Hills. And me, just me, no one else. Even the early starters at the Long Mynd Gliding Club hadn't arrived.

Anyway, the run itself was reasonably straightforward. There were some hazards naturally; frozen back roads where staying upright was a challenge; not jumping out of my skin when one of the many shoots that were out yesterday fired a little close for comfort; and the deep squelchy mud on some of the uphill tracks. But I was back in Church Stretton 4 hours 50 mins after leaving, of which I'd spent 4 hrs 18 mins actually running - the Faff Factor was quite high on the run itself, what with needing to eat, photograph and add and remove layers fairly regularly. The vital stats - 28 miles (I removed a couple of this year's walk variations), 4500 feet of ascent, 1 knackered but happy man. The only disappointment was not being able to find a hot pasty, the thought of which kept me going for the last few miles.

Apart from the glory of the route itself, the best thing has been the physical aftereffects - none, apart from a tiny bit of stiffness in my hips. Well I say none - I obviously ate something that didn't agree with me yesterday. I won't add any more detail, other than to say I'm yet to make it back on to solid food.

That, however, hasn't detracted from yesterday - it's the fourth time I've run a marathon distance or more, I did it without a training programme leading up to it, and I'm not crippled today. The star of the show though was the countryside of Shropshire; it was tough, challenging, but beautiful.

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