Sandstone trail: end to end

People — with no apologies for length — we have reports of not one but two remarkable achievements. Andy Robinson, our tame distance expert this weekend completed the length of the Sandstone to post a benchmark best time. Showing no regard for vanity, Andy then set himself the task of researching other completion times. Read on to find out if he still holds the record…
Andy writes:

A couple of weeks ago someone posted a question on the FRA forum:

“What’s the record for running the full Sandstone Trail?” Nobody seemed to know. There are plenty of records for the Deeside Orienteering Club Sandstone Trail A & B races (11 and 17 miles), but when I tried to find out how fast people have run the full 33-mile Trail, I pretty much drew a blank. I know there used to be an event organised by someone from the fire service, and some of you will have run in that, but I would think that will have been before the Trail was extended into Whitchurch.

“Surely Helsby RC should have a name or two in the frame” I thought.

Anyway, my mountain marathon partner Chris was coming up for the weekend, and we needed a challenge, so Saturday morning saw us driving the short distance to Acton Bridge station, then taking the train to Whitchurch (changing at Crewe). We walked across town to the sandstone arch that marks that end of the Trail, stripped down to our running things & set off across the road and down the alleyway opposite just after 10am. We picked a good day for it actually: cool, with almost no rain. We were carrying about 2 litres of water each, plus a supply of Thornton’s Fruit Jellies (to be eaten at the rate of 4 each per 45 mins).

It’s a good run. Five minutes in and you’re running on the canal towpath in pleasant surroundings, giving an easy warm-up. There were plenty of boaters to wish good morning, and some of them even replied.

You follow the canal past the original end of the Trail at Grindley Brook and on to leave it at Willeymoor Lock. Here starts my least favourite part of the Trail, across farmland for a few miles to Larkton Hill. It’s not bad though, quiet paths in the main. At Larkton Hill you reach the start of the A Race route and the glorious switchbacks over the hills to Beeston – great running, and it didn’t seem nearly as intimidating as it does in the race. This year I’m going to walk up that first hill in the race and see what difference that makes…

Psychologically, the hardest bit of the run for me was keeping going past the end of the race route, knowing there were still miles to go.

My head was saying “but this is where you stop – what are you doing?”

We were both getting pretty tired by this time, and running up Manley Road felt hard. By the time we joined the Wednesday night route at Commonside we had both about had it, and I then had to break the news to Chris that we still had to climb that hill in front of us. He wasn’t impressed. We staggered on, Chris had a cramp attack climbing the Baker’s Dozen steps, then we hobbled down to the Bear’s Paw to lie down on the cobbles. It was about 10 minutes before we could sit up again, but eventually we made it to the bar for a pint, and I phoned Nicola to pick us up.

A great day out, and I’ll do it again some time. Did we set a record?

No. Chris Baynham-Hughes may have done though. He ran it last month in a much faster time, and I’ve not yet found anyone who’s done it faster.

Here are the completion times I know about:

John Rowlands – 7:00 approx – S Cheshire Harriers (06/06/2010)

Chris Baynham-Hughes – 5:29 – Helsby RC (24/07/2010)

Andy Robinson – 6:12 – Helsby RC (14/08/2010)

Chris Vardy – 6:12 – Norfolk OC (14/08/2010)

I’ll try to maintain a log of completions, so if anyone else has done it, please let me have your time and the date you ran it. Incidentally I’ve also asked Tattenhall whether any of their members have run it, but no-one’s owned up to it yet.

Andy Robinson

The thread on the FRA forum Andy mentions is at (you don’t need to be a member or register to look).

I know the club has a long history of involvement with the Sandstone in it’s different guises. There are stories I know of from Mario, Joe, Vanessa and Mike S, at the very least. It would be great if we could get the details down here on the blog, before we all get too confused to remember!


PS Chris Baynham-Hughes adds:

Whilst we wait for Tattenhall to post times, I am basking in what I am sure will be short lived glory on the FRA forum. My experience was very similar to Andy’s and I’d recommend it for anybody looking for a really long training run or challenge. I had been talking about doing it for a long time and following a chat with Andy about his long distance shenanigans and the training he did for these runs I figured I just needed to go and try it. My theory was that I should at least get to Delamere and given that I know the way home from there I thought I’d be stubborn enough not to give up (but if I had to then my wife wouldn’t be too cross as she wouldn’t have to drive for hours to pick me up). As a result, when I reached the end of the superb Sandstone trail race I felt good as I knew I could make it from there; naturally I immediately took a wrong turn and ended up having to go off piste to get back onto the correct path, but hey, these things happen after 25 miles.

I had a glorious day to run, but made a few rookie mistakes. Firstly I wore a new pair of shoes (I’d run 1x10k in them a couple of days before). Running through Andy’s favourite fields my feet got soaked with dew and I soon felt a hot spot appear, so I stopped to tape my foot up. 5 minutes later I was back on the trail, slightly disappointed to leave the magnificent view I had whilst stopped. The run itself really is quite spectacular in places and for those that think running the whole thing end to end is nuts then I really recommend running it in stages. I also took a few wrong turns and didn’t take enough fluids with me – leaving me to beg a terrifically miserable café owner for some water (she showed me a level of distain I have never experienced before).

As the longest run I had ever attempted by a good 8 miles I learned a lot about the psychology of running such a distance. Being determined to finish meant that I went into survival mode very early on and shuffled my way around and beat myself up mentally for doing so. Now I know I can complete the distance I think it would be easier to break the race down into sections and run rather than shuffle. I’d certainly be able to enjoy it more if I ran it again as I know I can do it; I’d certainly do more prep and I’ve no doubt that I will do it again at some point. Of course at the end of the run you are also conveniently placed to load up on carbs; my preference is for the Guinness flavoured ones.


12 thoughts on “Sandstone trail: end to end

  1. Mike Searle adds:
    Mario is THE KING of the Sandstone Trail ‘back in the day’ when he & I used to race it in May. He would bound over stiles & gates and was invincible.

    There’s no official records of times – you’d have to check with Mario for that but I know he was 4 hours and something (and it was a pretty small something I think). Obviously he won!

    Vanessa has also run the entire length in 2005, with a great performance, picking up either 1st or 2nd or 3rd lady prize (I think 1st).

    I have very fond memories of setting off from the start, always about 0745 with minimal clothing and kit and 34 miles to complete. One time, when there were toilets at Barnesbridge Gates (about 27 miles in), I nipped in en route for a Jimmy and there was a guy out for a walk standing next to me. He gruffly asked me ‘Come far have you?’ Without turning to him, I replied ‘Whitchurch’ and said nothing else. I then glanced across at him and the look of incredulity on his face was priceless!! Then again it could have been pity! I added nothing to our ‘conversation’, turned, ran out and carried on!

    I’ve raced the entire length myself 11 times, from 1994 to 2005 (no race in 2001 due to foot and mouth), various times, best performance 4:37:13 in 1998.

    Hope that helps.

    Best wishes, Mike

  2. The original Sandstone trail was from Grindley Brook to Beacon Hill.
    The Cheshire Fire Brigade organised an event which started at Grindley Brook and finished at the fire station in ship street.
    On route we had various check points the last being Beacon Hill before the finish.
    So therefore we did an extended version of the original trail.
    Myself and Joe reckon this event was about one and a half miles shorter than the new distance of the trail.
    In 1994 I posted a time of 4hrs 7mins and Joe at the ripe old age of 63 posted a magnificent time of 6hrs 46mins.
    Mike S has won the event 3 times I think, all under 5hrs and Vanessa as also won the ladies title in a tme of 5hrs 15mins

  3. LOL – I knew mine wouldn’t be the record. Mario’s time looks pretty unbeatable to me if it was only 1.5 miles shorter than the current trail. One for Danny maybe?

    Outstanding times Mario & Mike!

  4. Mario writes:
    There seems to be plenty of speculation of what my time of 4hrs 7mins for the Fire Service event may equate to for the lengthened Sandstone Trail.
    Obviously the trail is 2 miles longer at the Whitchurch end.As regarding the Frodsham end the Fire Service event went from Frodsham hill over the golf course to Simons Lane to Beacon Hill.(end of old trail timed at 3hrs 54mins, is this a record?).Then all the way down Bellmonte Road to the church. At church turn right and at T junction turn left. At traffic lights turn right, then turn left in to Ship Street and Fire Station.
    The new trail route bypasses the golf course and Beacon Hill and ends at The Bears Paw.
    I estimate that The Fire Service event was approximately half a mile further at the Frodsham end than the new trail route.
    Therefore a difference of approximately one and a half miles shorter than the current length of the trail.
    I estimate 4hrs 7mins equates to about 4hrs 20 mins these days.
    So what does all this mean?
    It means all this should R I P.
    Congratulation Chris on your new course record.

  5. Extremely gracious response from Mario above. I’m hoping everyone is taking this in a spirit of good natured banter. Clearly Mario was running superbly at the time and his efforts command huge respect. We’re trying to compare Apples with Pears here (no Chris, I’m not calling you a pear!). Let’s not forget that Mario earned himself an England vest on the fells …they don’t give them away easily!

  6. Duncan Harris completed the trail in 2012 in a time of 4h10mins and was the winner of the Sandstone Trail Challenge.

  7. I did the trail today on my own. I was hoping to be in the low 4hr something but I got lost about 5 times. Finished in 4hrs40mins. Now that I know the course I hope to have another go at beating the best time soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s