See you on 9 May 2015!
Entries now open for the 2014 event, slightly later this year 7 June. Read more on the website: http://www.helsbyrunningclub.org.uk/sandstone-intro.htm
Great event, ideal first ultra, well supported, plenty of food stops. Equal numbers of runner’s and walker’s entries.
Quick report: another brilliant day, another great event. Thanks go to everyone taking part whether running, walking, marshalling, feeding, punching cards or any of the numerous things that somehow magically happen behind the scenes. Three cheers to Andy Robinson for being catalyst and ringleader.
Hills were climbed, records broken, mud and wind conquered, feet battered, pies eaten. Results over on the main website: www.helsbyrunningclub.org.uk
www.flickr.com/photos/78556448@N05/sets/72157629731259662 (Larkton Hill) www.flickr.com/photos/78556448@N05/sets/72157629731259662 (Delamere).
Thanks to everyone for sharing their great pics! If you want copies, contact the photographers directly.
The comments we get back after the event make it clear that the marshalling and organisition are one of the reasons that make the event so special.
There’s still time to put your hat in the ring if you can spare even a few hours on the day (nothing compared to the 12h+ some people will be putting in!). Contact Andy Robinson.
See you on Saturday!
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!
Well the planning is in its final stages, the water jugs ready and the coach is warming up. 127 runners and walkers are thinking about which t-shirt to wear, whether and where to vaseline, which shoes to use and how many packets of jelly babies they need to buy.
After a lot of hard graft from a few people we’re pretty much ready to relaunch this fondly-remembered event. Several members of Helsby RC have had a bit of a thing for this route, both recently and further back. Indeed we’ve had quite a few completions in respectable times (records here) over the last weeks and months. It’ll be great to get the event back on.
See you on Saturday!
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
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
We need volunteers to help us on the day of the Sandstone Trail Challenge event that we’re organising in May.
We need around 20 people, the majority to man the checkpoints between Whitchurch and Frodsham, but also we’ll need help in other areas, such as ferrying retired participants back to Frodsham Community Centre, and help at the Community Centre.
The event will be low-key compared to the 4 Villages, but will go on all day. I expect to be at the Community Centre at about 5am and not to get home until 11 at night, but apart from the core team we’ll schedule everyone else who helps for reasonable shifts.
Please let me know if you can help out – we need you to make the event a success.
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…
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.
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!
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.