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!

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Sandstone trail – 9th April

Sandstone challenge – 9th April

The day dawned sunny and clear, not a cloud in sight. The hottest day of the year so far.  A good day for heading to the beach or alternatively to Whitchurch for a 34 mile trail run.

Just time for a picture for the charity, then off we go

Nice easy running for the first 3.5 miles following the Llangollen canal. Plenty of Good Mornings to the friendly folk on the canal boats as they passed through the locks at Grindley Brook. This part is definitely the quickest the GPS told me that I had broken 7 minutes for the only time on the run.

Willey Moor Lock Tavern is looking very inviting, the tables and chairs being set out for the customers to enjoy a leisurely pint whilst watching the barges pass. Before temptation becomes too much the trail takes a sharp left over the fields.

The next section of the trail is probably the most dangerous. I survive the first hazard by remembering to take the short diversion round the paddock containing the man eating llama. Then I sneak through the farm where rumour has it the occupant is not always friendly to people crossing his land. Luckily no sign of farmer or his dogs.

First and only Swallow of the day was perched on the telephone wires just after the Cheshire Wildlife head quarters at Bickley Hall farm which seemed an appropriate place for it.

Running going well on the very firm ground. Only muddy part of the whole trail was caused by a leaking pipe near a cattle trough. I keep going subsisting on my gourmet trail runners diet of new potatoes, High 5 Gels and copious amounts of water.

Next landmark is Michael Owens racehorse stables at Manor House Farm. No sign of the great man, suspect he may be at Aintree. Plenty of racehorses about though.

Not long after this it’s on to the hills at Bickerton, skirting round the wood then heading upwards to Maiden Castle. First of many cracking views across the Cheshire plain out towards the Welsh border.

On familiar territory now having done the longish Sandstone trail race several times. Really enjoying the running with the hills providing a welcoming breeze preventing overheating.

Drop down from Bickerton only to head straight back up to Rawhead, the highest point on the trail, don’t stop to take in the superb views but keep on running. Then it’s down from Rawhead across the fields and up over Bulkeley hill. Several big parties of walkers out enjoying the excellent day. Queuing behind one party there is mention of the Pheasant at Burwardsley. This excellent hostelry is only a short distance down the road, but like the last pub the trail turns off before temptation becomes too great.

Heading down the track towards Beeston Castle I make a quick call to ensure the support team are in place with supplies. They make a welcome site when I arrive there 10 minutes later.

Waving to the support crew at Beeston Castle.

Lunch consists of a banana, some Jaffa Cakes, a lot of water and a very welcome 5 minute rest to eat them.

Things going well so far. The half way point has been reached in a shade over 2 hours 30 Minutes and I’m still feeling good. Remind myself this is the easy part, just a long Sunday morning run really and the hard bit is yet to come.

And it’s off again

Steady progress is made across the fields North of Beeston despite getting a bit of stitch for the first few miles.  Now I’m back down to the Cheshire plains the temperature is warming up. Luckily I have that most useful of items a 30th Anniversary Four Villages Buff to prevent sunburn.

Things are getting tougher as I hit the hills again heading up towards Rock Farm and the pace is definitely slowing. Meet a group of lads on the Cheshire hike resting at the top of the first hill and they are well impressed by the fact that I ran up the hill. Even more impressed when I mention that I started the run in Whitchurch. Encouraged by their support I head on up the hill beyond Rock Farm. A steady plod for the next few miles sees me approaching Delamere Forest. Another quick call to the support crew to check they have made it to Barnes Bridge Gate Car Park. Unfortunately due to a slight miscalculation on time they aren’t there yet, but luckily they are not far away and make it just in time. More water is taken on board but don’t feel like food this time.

By coincidence this point is pretty much equivalent to a full marathon in distance. Happy to have got to this point in 4 Hours 10 Minutes. Legs starting to seize up now so after a very short rest head off before they do.

Now things start to get tough, pace drops to a very steady plod but keep running. Next rendezvous with support crew at Manley School.

Keep on trucking

Grab some more water and keep going.

Down the road at Simmonds hill then back to the fields. Pace dropping further and already looking forward to the next rendezvous at the Ridgeway. It’s only at this point that you realise how valuable support from a friendly face or two keeps you going.

Suddenly I am surprised and exceptionally pleased to spot a very familiar figure with a Baseball cap running towards me. Adair after completing the Llantysilio fell race only an hour or two earlier has come out to find me on the trail. He then proves invaluable running with me and giving me lots of words of encouragement.

Support just when it was most needed

Then follows what was for me to be the hardest section of the run, the trail up Woodhouse Hill. It feels like someone has added an extra couple of miles to this bit. Will the top never arrive? Eventually it does and start to follow the ridge towards Frodsham. Get asked how far I’ve come by a couple of walkers as I stagger up the steps at Jacob’s ladder and when I tell them they give me some words of encouragement. Every little bit helps at this stage.

Heading onwards being careful to look out for tree roots as I’m getting very tired now.  Looking ahead I spot the last climb before Frodsham memorial and what a bonus I get here. The Club’s number one supporter is waiting to meet me. I shouldn’t be surprised that Joe has turned up to make sure I get to the finish.

As I crest the hill and start the descent into Frodsham I realise that someone is starting to catch me up and on turning the corner at the first zig zag I realise that Joe is running down the hill. This inspires me to keep the pace up so I don’t get passed by a “super vet”.

Hit the road section in Frodsham and although tired I know I’m nearly there. Somehow this knowledge helps my pace increase slightly. As I drop down past the Church. The high Street is looming ahead and when I reach it Adair leaves me to head back up the hill to Joe.

Only a few yards to go now. The town seems quiet; perhaps they are all watching the Grand National. Across the main Road, dodging the shoppers. Narrowly avoid a car turning into Morrison’s and there in front of me is the Bears Paw.

Lights are in my favour so straight across and touch the Sandstone Pillar in 5 Hours 37 Minutes. Tired but Happy

Phew!!!!!!!


The following day

Still tired but recovering well, legs not too stiff yet, maybe tomorrow.

Very pleased to have done it in under 6 hours, not quite as fast as Chris or Adair but not far off. But I am in awe of the time Mario did on the old fire station race route, 4 hours 20 minutes.

Looking forward to marshalling the race on 21st May, I will certainly have respect for all those competing.

Many Thanks for their excellent support to the Support Crew; Deb, Emily, Beth, Sam, Ben, Adair and Joe

Ian L