Happily I recovered from flu in time to line up for the start of the Wrington Woodland run. 100 or so of us queued on the footpath just outside Cleeve listening to a well rehearsed pre-race briefing: this is going to take 5 minutes so don’t stare at me, I won’t go any faster, a special announcement, Jim and Alfredo are running 10km a day every day this year so like them on Facebook and when you shower check yourself for ticks, you’re unlikely to have any and they’re unlikely to be carrying Lyme disease, which can usually be treated, but if you do and they are and you aren’t … conditions downhill are fine but uphill watch out for tree roots, loose stones etc. Honk! We were off!
The path climbed steadily up Cleeve Hill. Matt hung behind the leaders then eased away hitting a pace I couldn’t follow. Andy passed me when the path levelled off. A tall runner from Weston AC bounded downhill on elastic legs. Hey, maybe I was still the first veteran runner on the course? If I was, I wasn’t for long. I felt weary on the climb up Wrington Hill; Andrew Malloy (V40) and Adrian Noble (V50) overtook. At last the track levelled and zigzagged downhill back to Cleeve. I clattered over a narrow wooden bridge and cleared a stile and ran on wobbly legs across one last field to the finish.
Well done Matt for winning! Jim and Alfredo ran on through the finish, the route being a few metres short of 10k. Prize-giving was held in the Lord Nelson skittle alley. How we cheered!
The second race, the Burrington Blaster, found me in better form, which is just as well: the route took us from the Burrington Inn right up to the top of the Mendips in one long climb. The view at the summit was spectacular and although the urge to stop and admire it was strong I pushed on through gusting winds and boggy footing. 4th place was mine if I could negotiate the treacherous descent. I couldn’t, falling a short way from the finish when my feet slid on loose stones. Nothing damaged, but physical and mental momentum destroyed. A couple of red and white vests — Bristol and West — passed. I held on for 6th.
I fancied my chances in the third race, the Purdown Pursuit, my former training ground. When I lived in Cobourg Road, on Sunday mornings I’d head out along Boiling Wells Lane and past the telecoms tower, attacking a selection of Purdown’s short sharp hills before passing the UWE campus to head under the M32 and back through Frenchay and Snuff Mills. How could they fit 10k into Purdown, I wondered? The answer turned out to be a double loop; the first short circuit had me wondering how I’d hang on for the second longer loop, this one covering the full length of the down, Stoke Lane to Muller Road and back again. Hold on I did, passing a pony-tailed Nailsea runner who took a wrong turn through the woods, and losing a place to Andrew Malloy (again!) on the final downhill swoop. I collapsed at the line.
Something different! Race four, closing the series, the Dundry Thunder run, started at the top of the hill. A prolonged spell of hot weather had broken into storms during the week and I wondered if the thunder would be more literal than alliterative, but the evening turned out just fine, clear, not too hot, as we gathered on the downs at foot of the radio masts. You could see all of Bristol, city and suburbs, the Clifton bridge, and beyond to the Severn estuary spanned by another suspension bridge and the angular second crossing. I warmed up, running the wrong way along the finishing straight, skipping over thistles and cowpats. The start was delayed whilst a local resident trimmed his hedge, destroying some route markings in the process.
The race was a double loop: starting with a jostling descent down Littleton Lane towards Winford. Determined to hold something back for the second loop, I watched the leaders stride away from me. Behind a hedge, the sound of gunshots. We turned off the lane and looped back through fields up the hill to Dundry, negotiating uneven ground, gates and stiles. Skittish cattle stampeded across the course. I pulled back a couple of places on the climb and sped up when we reached the level section along Crabtree Lane, vaulting a gate at the same time as a Weston AC runner tried to open it. We waded through a field of oilseed rape, the heavy pods slapping our legs, then past another radio mast. The second extended downhill cut a diagonal through a barley field. More gates, stiles, streams. Now we were back on Littleton Lane for a final drag uphill to the finish. I was tired but the runners around me were too, maybe more so. The tall runner from Weston AC was walking. I went past. Further on, I passed Matt. Briefly I nosed ahead of Andrew Malloy but that spurred him to up his pace and pull away again. One last momentum-sapping stop-start through a gate and I could see the line. Was Matt on my heels or 50m away? Now would not be a good time to look back. I blundered through thistles and cowpats and crossed the line exhausted but in control. The 5th place I thought I’d got turned out to be 4th. Result!
Summary: in the WW, BB, PP and DT races I came 9th 6th 5th 4th with times of 39:45, 37:11, 42:52 and 42:32.
Many thanks to the TACH team for organising such a great series of races with good humour and efficiency. I’m looking forward to next year already. Four pubs did well to serve drinks to all those thirsty runners but I guess they did well out of it too. Thanks to Matt for transporting the Swansea Harriers team. Thanks also to Rachel Foyle and Emma Postlethwaite for allowing me to use their fine photos here.