Sandstone trail challenge – marshall’s pre-run

Chris Baynham-Hughes writes:

Date: Wednesday 4th May.

For some of us the decision to run the trail goes back further than this, but for Ed the decision was made on the 4th. The evening started so innocently with Ed driving us to the Dinas Bran fell race, but during a discussion about the impending end to end trail attempt resulted in a slip of the tongue from Ed stating that he’d like to do it one day. Well, no time like the present, so by the time we got to the race we were telling everybody else that he was running it with us. By the time we were driving home the post race buzz has left Ed agreeing to run it with us. Result!

Date: Saturday 14th May.

Not content with the planned 33/34 mile run from Whitchurch to Frodsham, I decided that a run to the meeting point was in order… ok, I was late to the rendezvous, but good spirits were maintained. Ed, Steve Riley and myself were all set and Adair had a car packed with our food, his magazines, music and a tub of Vaseline – the mind boggles!

We picked up Andy Robinson and headed out to the start, checking a few final elements in advance of the challenge event on Saturday. The toilets were indeed open and the route to the start simple to follow so all was set. A brief photo call for the intrepid four followed by a minor delay to find satellite signal for my watch and we were off.

The weather was reasonable good for running, no sun to speak off, but it was easily warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt (although Ed did provide us with a strip tease along the way and a number of outfit combinations), rain threatened, but never really got in the way, but the wind did provide a degree of challenge in places.

The opening three miles are thoroughly pleasant and easy to navigate (although I managed to go wrong within 300 yards of the start), but it is deceptive as it is easy to get drawn into going out too quickly down the tow paths… which I did banging out sub 7 minute miles not really in the plan, but they felt slow. Even at this early stage any thoughts of running together have gone out of the window and our competitive edges have come out.

Within a few hundred metres of leaving the path I made my first “inefficient route choice”, back on track I cracked on to the first check point. Adair had agreed to crew for us so with five check points to man he had his work cut out – often supporting can be more difficult than running it; but we’ll get into that later.

Shoe issues fixed and muffin on board I made my next interesting navigational choice and which trying to correct it I spotted Ed behind me. Back on track I waited for Ed to run together and Andy appeared with Steve not far behind so we’d bunched well. I pushed on only to take my most impressive inefficient route choice just past Michael Owen’s race course, but Ed did too so a quick check of the map and a few minutes lost we cracked on.

Adair met us with our food and water and I made the mistake of downing a full sports drink which was to play on my stomach for a good few miles. I managed to leave as Andy came in and cracked on for what turned out to be a bit of a long haul!

It turned out I wasn’t the only one to experience navigational difficulties. I’d built up a head of steam and came into Beeston expecting to see Adair. Nothing. I figured he must be a bit further on due to the parking charges at Beeston, but every possible point I found there was no sight of him. I was really struggling with stomach cramps and didn’t fancy taking anything else on. By the hill just before rock farm I was starting to bonk and seemingly out of nowhere Ed and Andy appeared behind me. Even the stunning view over the Cheshire plains didn’t help as I pushed on.

It was not long before experience trumped youth and Andy took the lead. For those that know the trail it was on the climb over the sandstone which you wonder whether to run it or not. I was walking! A ridiculously apologetic Adair greeted us at Gresty’s waste. I was just behind Andy, but he was off quickly whereas I spent just over 8 minutes refuelling during which time Ed came in. Throughout the entire 8 minutes Adair made excuses for not being at check point 3 or 4… he laid it on so thick and we were so exhausted that we even started to feel sorry for him!

For me, the highlight of the run came just as I was about to leave Delemere forest near Manley common. A lone figure appeared with a dog which as I got closer turned out to be Mario, “you’re going well lad, do you want some water? I’ve got a Milky way in my bag if you want it!” A superb boost just as I was really starting to feel human again. He also informed me that Andy had put almost 8 minutes on me since Gresty’s which put him out of sight. I now had a new goal; maintaining sub 10 minute miles to beat my previous best of 5:29:30. I had my work cut out.

I pushed hard, played all the mind games with myself that I could. The Baker’s dozen was cruel and I didn’t have the time to enjoy the fantastically clear views from the war memorial. A hard final push lead me to arrive at the finish in 5:26:42 just over two minutes behind Andy who made it in 5:24:31. Both my arms were tingling as if I they were about to go into pins and needles. Andy came to the rescue with some magic Kendal mint cake which had me right within a couple of minutes. It seemed refusing the kind offer of a milky way would have been a mistake if it had been any further!

A well deserved pint was ordered for the pair of us whilst we waited for Ed and Steve to arrive. Ed came in next with a superb time of 5:42:55 and Helsby uber supporter Joe arrived just in time to cheer Steve in with an excellent 6:06:50 much to the extreme delight and hero worship of his wife and daughters. A truly fitting end to an excellent morning run!

Sandstone trail challenge 2011

We’re relaunching the much loved Sandstone Trail Challenge for 2011. A formidable challenge for runners and walkers alike, this event has a long history of involvement from Helsby RC and we’re relaunching it as an LDWA event for the current year.

Not just for runners! We’re a running club, but this an event for walkers and runners. Indeed half the places will be reserved for walkers, so there’s no danger of them being outnumbered. There’s an interesting round-up from Andy Robinson here.

Find out more on the Helsby website. Any questions, ask at the club  or email andy@crewood.net. See you on May 21! Be warned, it’s likely to sell out, we’re already half full, primarily from word of mouth.

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 http://forum.fellrunner.org.uk/showthread.php?12341-Sandstone-Trail-Record (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!

Steve

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.

Chris