Cleeve Cloud is the name given to the golf course that adorns the Common, on Cleeve hill. I believe (though do correct me if I am mistaken) it is also the term used to refer to the viewpoint where you can see across to the Malverns and Wales (on a clear day, at least). Presumably our friends at the Harriers, who host this event, added Cuckoo to describe what I’d argue that non-runners (though, with the increasing popularity of running, this ‘species’ is rather more rare!) would use to describe the state of mind of entrants.
The race is just shy of five miles (a little shorter than the 5½ advertised, due to it having been shortened in the last couple of years), so is very much like a summer-venue club run, from the golf club. There are just two minor differences. One: your club run may be taken at a rather more tepid pace, in comparison to this, and will involve a few stops to gather everyone up. Two: your group leader may appreciate that you cannot avoid doing some climbing, as Cleeve hill – by definition! – is not exactly flat, but at least that leader will not actively seek out the more demanding inclines for one’s amusement.
Comparisons aside, it is a popular event with the club and part of the off-road race series. This ensured a good turnout of Almosts on the evening. Cue greetings, banter, pre-race excuses, gathering for the obligatory group picture – all ahead of the five-minute warning and race briefing. We gathered at the start, opposite the clubhouse, and were pointed in the direction of the hill.
We set off, along the track that would lead us to the escarpment (what I generally refer to as The Edge – not as in the group U2… though, coincidentally, I refer to the sole tree with the memorial wall circling it as the Joshua tree) on the Cheltenham side of the Common. The first half-mile consisted of a very gentle incline, with the odd flat section. We traversed the Cross Dyke and started the first of the climbs towards the Edge. Having set off at a steady pace (necessary, due to a recovering tendon) I was able to pick off a few runners before we levelled off on the far side of the golf course and made our way towards the old Hill Fort.
Negotiating that, with a great view of Cheltenham racecourse to our right, we passed a pair of beech trees, known as The Twins, and made a left turn to point ourselves in the direction of Winchcombe and climbed again. Cresting that climb we would continue, on a descent and cross the main track to / from the clubhouse (which we would be following back later, on a figure-of-eight course).
This was an opportunity to stretch one’s legs, knowing full well that a steep drop, followed shortly after by an equally steep climb was to follow. I picked up my pace, in relative terms, being conscious that I was still nursing a leg, so to speak (recovering from an Achilles strain). I was also (still!) picking off some runners; whilst this was almost certainly due to a slow start on my part, it was still a bit of a massage to the ego.
We hit the steep drop, something more suited to fell runners. I found this more easily negotiated by a rudimentary form of skipping. It seems to be easier for me to pick where to place my feet and makes for a more stable descent – yes, it may look a bit camp but at least I’m not waving my arms about and singing old disco numbers to myself.
At the bottom we made a right turn and headed for the Washpool. We climbed to the left of this (by the way, that’s the steep side) with several of us – myself included – choosing to break out into a walk. Even walking that section leaves you panting, any conversation reduced to a series of grunts. Once past the Washpool, we continued to climb, with one or two brief respites, and made our way in the general direction of the Masts.
The course almost levelled off for a little under half-a-mile, and I passed Jason (who had just completed the Forces March, essentially the equivalent of five marathon distances over five days on pretty undulating terrain – perhaps this was his warm-down event?) before a short sharp incline brought us into sight of the main track where we’d turn right and head back towards the clubhouse. I’d caught up with Helen at this point and I was probably gong no further in terms of progress.
We followed the track, crossing the centre of the figure-of-eight again, and dropped to one of the golf course greens where we would be ‘invited’ to take on the final (steep again) ascent, up to the viewpoint. I’m well aware that the Common is an area of natural beauty and managed by a conservation group, but would the odd escalator here of there really spoil things that badly..?
On the plus side, once we were up there we were greeted both by encouragement from Greg and Debs and the knowledge that it was all descent to the finish. We rounded the viewpoint itself and upped the pace for the final half-mile or so. As we descended, we were met by Gemma and Josh who had both finished and were warming down by running up the bank (probably at the same pace as we were, going down it).
We re-joined the track for the final dash to the finish, ensuring that we kept ourselves upright (quite a few loose stones on a rather uneven track, ready to trip you up if you’re not careful!) and managing a brief wave to other supporters in the form of Sarah, David, Mark and Graham. I followed Helen across the finish line to some more support from fellow finishers and some sense of relief!
It was a rather successful evening for the club with the ladies taking almost a clean sweep of the prizes and the men taking third-place in the team category. A bit of a purple-wash, one might say. For me, a sense of satisfaction of another race completed without aggravating anything on what was becoming a rather congested period in my race calendar.
That is one of the more enjoyable races I have taken part in. Next time I’m on the Common, however, I fully intend to run at a much more sedate pace.