Posted by: stokiecat | April 18, 2017

Race Report: Spring Treble Race 1: Hanchurch Hilly

I love Spring; bluebells and snowdrops, bunnies and lambs, light nights and warmer weather.  I was even lucky enough to see a pair of hares on my commute into work a few weeks ago, that’s the advantage of a cycling commute through the English countryside at the crack of dawn. There’s also the increased off-road running due to longer daylight hours in early morning and later evenings.

The other thing Spring brings is my favourite race series, the Spring Treble, organised by the Stone Master Marathoners running club.  This is three off-road races held in Mid-Staffordshire on Thursday evenings through April. It combines my enjoyment of trail running without the drawback of long distances, which seems to be something that other trail runners are inclined to do.

The first thing to say about this race series is it is exceedingly well organised. The venues are good, the pre-registration and registration on the day are both well done, the marshals are plentiful, friendly and competent. Every year I crack the same joke, now I’ve got the t-shirt I don’t have to run the races, but this year’s swag was a sports bag and water bottle. That was mildly disappointing as I do like to wear the Spring Treble tech tee on my training runs, mainly just to say “look what I did” when I meet other runners, it’s a thing all runners do so don’t deny it. However I am stressing the word mildly, race swag is always useful and anyway I’d run these if no swag was available. I should add the series fee is also a bargain.

And so to the race. I’m not in race running mode at the moment and my training is going very slowly, my aim was to get around in under an hour. This was a new start position for this race but it was a similar route one on the course and I run around the area quite often so I knew the area. I was hoping that it would be a straight forward race with an up to start and a down to finish, which is sort of what it was but then there was the middle and oh dear, no wonder the marshal at the start was laughing at my pre-race assessment. The location is Hanchurch Hills, a large managed forest on the outskirts of Stoke on Trent and as it’s name suggests it’s, um, hilly. It’s an area popular with walkers, mountain bikers, and of course, runners. (Darwin’s Dyke also runs through there if there are any geologists reading this…)

1/4 mile in. All of the people in this picture finished before I did.

The start was as expected, a quick run along about 500m of flat before the climb up through the woods happens. It levels out at the top and then undulates for a while. This is all fairly easy going and I was trundling along at a satisfactory pace. It was perfect running weather, evening sunshine, not too cold, and a picturesque location with well marked, non-muddy paths. I wasn’t even checking the watch for time, distance or pace. As we rounded the top of the course (close to the starting point of previous races) we headed down and I was pretty certain we were halfway. I was confident and happy and I was completely and utterly wrong.

At the end of the downhill we reached the outskirts of the woods with open fields to the left. The marshal described this route as “technical”, so I guess that meant boring undulating bit of muddy paths and trip-hazard tree roots, which went on forever. I kept thinking to myself at least it’s mainly flat this bit and not that far from the end. Except then I checked my watch it was 2.88 miles. WHAT? I was only just over halfway. My brain also at that point realised exactly where I was an I knew what was coming, at least a mile and a half of climbing back to the top of the hills. I was dead. I stopped to talk to a marshal, in all seriousness I asked if there was a shortcut. He laughed and told me no and to keep pushing on. I started to whine about injuries, he gave me a look so I shut up and thought it best to carry on as part of the intended race. There was another runner close behind me and he and I managed to drag each up those hills until, typically, he overtook me on the downhill. There were a couple of false dawns but, with about a mile to go you turn back onto the main sandy/gravel path and know that the route is all downhill from there.

Check out the strava link here

In the end I did manage this course in under the hour and really it was my own incompetence that meant it felt like one of the worst races I have ever run. Even so I would HIGHLY recommend these races, and if you are free on the next two Thursdays there’s two more to go, you can say hi to me. I’ll be the one at the back, whinging. 🙂

Race route, gear, swag and post race nutrition, because I’m an athlete obvs.


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