Saturday, March 08, 2014

Congleton Harriers Cloud 9 Race Report

An ironically cloudy day with the threat of hail but the race started dry. Thank goodness because the organisers took the time to do some random kit checks before the start to comply with the new FRA regulations.

I can see why entries were in advance for this one.  The 450-strong start group on the narrow disused railway line was lengthy and a few seconds passed before I started my watch crossing the start line.

Despite the opportunity for the gradual incline to thin out the pack, there were a few queues at kissing gates and styals before the open running got under way with a muddy field, just to make sure that no-one was being too precious about wet feet.

Me, keeping up with the pack for once
We turned on to the first serious climb of the day and the place-changing got underway,  everyone pushing themselves to their limits in between rests.  I took the approach of a harsh,  yet determined push on the lower slopes to be replaced by an intense long striding walk on the steep climb which was just as fast as some runners.

Around the top of Bosley Cloud was a view to Jodrell Bank.  Not quite clear enough to see beyond to the Welsh hills but good enough since the forecast had been for rain.

Trying to enjoy the view
The descent from the Cloud was one of the best experiences I've ever had on 2 feet. It was the runners' equivalent of the perfect tree ski run or a mountain bikers' burmed downhill,  all gnarly tree roots and banking but no really bad boulders or drop-offs, just fast and light.

Then out of the trees onto a much flatter field which suddenly felt uphill by comparison.

We raced over to a gate and along a concrete road which went on for an eternity, probably because it was into a headwind. At just the right moment I was passed by a 6ft tall man and I just managed to summons the energy to draft him to the top of the climb then it was back to the down hill and I struggled to comprehend how we were only half way through.

We were back on the level with the muddy fields now but thankfully,  gradually descending over longer distances. We were clocking up miles without too much effort.  Where did the girl in front go?

Oh. There's a 15ft deep ditch between me and the lady in front of her.  That is a sting in the tail.

After 5 minutes of squelching through cow piss, we finally reach a road and I am tired enough to enjoy the rest. I check my watch and I have 30 minutes to run 2 miles and get a 1:50h time that I would be chuffed with.  However,  the next 2 miles has a few surprises of its own with a glut of steep drop-offs and run-ups throwing everything at our legs. Even as we reach the familiar railway track we started on a programme of dropping off onto the adjacent road then scrabbling back up again. The "400m to go" sign passed me by.

After about 150m I was convinced I'd done 200m and started to put in a special effort to catch the 70 year old target I set myself just ahead.  He wasn't giving in so easily though and on the hill-climbs he passed me back. With around 50m to go I set it all down on that line,  only to discover that the finish line was 25m beyond the start line.  I could still feel my "more mature" friend breathing down my neck so I sprinted for the line then spent the next 5 minutes leaning against the railway yard fencing trying to find some air to breathe in.

One of the nicest things about Congleton Cloud 9 is its location.  Incepted as a "town to trig" race, there's showers and cake on offer at Congleton leisure centre afterwards. A rare treat for a fell race. For those concerned about safety or navigation skills in fell racing,  this course is well marshalled (although they do lie about this being the "last hill").  There also seemed to be a sweeper running around with the last runner (yes,  I was close enough to see).

In summary,  a really nice race for short to middle distance runners with plenty of support and things to keep the mind occupied.  A good beginners fell race.  Not sure I'd do it again next year because of the queues but maybe one day.

Final result 387 of 435 in 1:44:27.

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