Posted by: stokiecat | April 9, 2016

Cloud 9 Hill Race (or excuses, excuses, escuses)

You might be aware of the meme that goes along the lines of “how can you tell if someone has run a marathon? Don’t worry they’ll tell you about it…” Well in 2015 I ran two marathons, one on a trail very slowly and one on the road a bit quicker. However I didn’t blog about it for reasons so this blog is about a fell race in Cheshire, the county not-very-famous for its hills.

After running my two hilly marathons in June and July I hit a plateau.  For the rest of 2015 I only managed three other races, all rather lackluster cross country outings for the club, the last of which was a personal 5k worst. I had learned that I found training for a marathon a bit boring and after the initial euphoria of completing the thing itself I was a bit suck for motivation. I will never be a quick runner because I have discovered I just can’t be bothered with speed training and ultras were out because I just can’t commit to the long, loooong runs so I had no target and my training became sporadic and sort of drifted into meh.

In order to kick start my enjoyment of running I decided 2016 would be the year I dropped road racing entirely and go exclusively trails. I can’t avoid training on the road but my races are going to be in pretty local locations where I can push myself just enough and it won’t have a negative effect on either my enthusiasm for running or my other social commitments. I signed up for my first official fell race, the Cloud 9 organised by the Congleton Harriers. On a side note, I’m still not sure what is the difference between a fell race and a hill race as Cloud 9 is referred to as both.

January started positively.  I had enough time to start to build up my distance and get some hill practice in. I even joined in some of the speed sessions at the club and saw a definite improvement in my pace and stamina. However three weeks before the race disaster struck as I came down with both an old injury (shin splints) and a heavy cold (I totally blame my work colleagues). The positive moves forward I had taken over the previous six weeks disappeared and my training once again slumped. Up until the day before I was contemplating not running at all but in the end I made what turned out to be the right decision and ran the race but let’s just say it was a bit of a learning curve.

Firstly, I’m a natural worrier and was incredibly nervous having not run this sort of race before. To overcome this I have a tendency to over-prepare for most things in life I’m not one for spontaneity. I had plotted the race route, had two back up maps but was still worried about getting lost. I was reassured by veterans and organisers that there was no way this could happen and of course they were absolutely correct. The race was fully marshalled signed and not that complicated a route so I didn’t look at my map once. A further illustration of my over preparation was that full body cover was a race requirement for all entrants but what you didn’t need was whistle, map, compass, first aid kit, torch, safety blanket, and a (my) personal emergency kit which includes things like Swiss army knife, firelighters etc., possibly a bit too much for a 9 mile race in Cheshire.  This lot plus my snacks and drinks meant that my backpack was somewhat heavy. In addition, when we left home it was snowing quite heavily. Secretly I was hoping that this would mean the race would be cancelled but I knew from reading about the majority of fell races that mere snow wouldn’t stop them. However when we arrived at Congleton it was only raining and I was certain that this wouldn’t stop any race and I would have to run it.

And so to the race itself, the start is a little way from Congleton Leisure Centre race HQ so the brisk 10 minute walk to the start line served as my warm up. I started at the back and had the usual chit chat with other runners, which made me revise my time to “even longer”.  We started off up the Biddulph Way, a fairly easy stretch of tarmacked ex-railway line. Then turned off into a leg-strength-sucking muddy field, at which point you can see Bosley Cloud (owned by the National Trust) in the distance, the Cloud of Cloud 9 (the 9 being nine miles, geddit?). At this point it doesn’t look that bad but once you cross the road and get onto the ascent track proper you realise how steep the climb is. I was planning on a walk run up the main bit but I had overestimated my fitness so it turned into a walk-shuffle. The route goes around the Cloud through a mostly wooded section, so about half-way up you pass the point where you come back down the hill. The fast runners were already on their way down, that was a bit depressing especially as even the people in front of me were already pulling away. I knew I was pretty much at the back if not the last person. I was contemplating my misery as I ran up through the woods but then as I came out along the edge and the view took my breath away. The hill falls away steeply to your left and the view out across the (very flat) Cheshire Plains is amazing.

top of the cloud

To top it off the rain had blown over early on and the sun was coming out.  By the time I got to the summit I cared so little about my position in the race that I stopped to take photos. It’s definitely somewhere I will re-visit on a more leisurely occasion. (Seriously, just look at that view!)

The best thing about hills is that what goes up must come down, well mostly.  Having reviewed the profile before the race I was aware that after the descent of the Cloud there would be another ascent up to the Bridestones, a Neolithic cairn.  I actually missed the hill because it was nowhere near the ascent I was expecting and when I actually reached the stones they were a complete surprise. Once past the stones there is a stretch of road but with a great view of Jodrell Bank. I thought about stopping to take a photo here but decided to keep going as it was a downhill and momentum was with me.Once the hill was out of the way  it was back to leg-strength-sucking flat fields and the Biddulph Way to finish which unfortunately also sucked some of the joy out of the remainder of the race. It was very much a coming back down to earth metaphor in reality, especially as when I got back to race HQ the queue for the soup was massive and all the chocolate cake was gone. I should use my desire to get to the chocolate cake before anyone else as motivation to train to run faster.  On the bright side I did actually finish 10 minutes faster than I was expecting but it also gave me a heads up that it took six months to lose my pre-marathon fitness so it might also take me a while to get it back again.

summit b

Snow on the ground at the summit of Cloud 9, poor posture due to heaviest backpack in the race and additional weight due to the January – Easter creme egg bonanza in full effect. Photo – many thanks to Bryan Dale and his team.

So in summary how many excuses do I have for my mediocre finish:

  • My workmates for passing on their germs
  • Carrying ridiculous kit in expectation of the apocalypse
  • Over consumption of creme eggs
  • Distracting views up that big bloody hill

Do I care? No, it was still a great race, great views and I still enjoy running so onto the Spring Treble 🙂

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