Cheltenham Challenge (½ marathon)
18th June 2017
Having completed a half marathon the evening before I had planned on a nice reviving soak for my legs and a good night’s sleep for, well, all of me. I had not planned for a late return from the run to remember that I needed to wash my kit and put it out to dry, and that I had not put the water heater on.
Despite the less-then-ideal preparation / recovery I was not feeling too bad, or stiff, when I woke up. A short walk to the shop eased out the legs and with that I made my way to the racecourse where Race HQ, and the start / finish was located.
The Cheltenham Challenge has replaced the Circular Challenge, what was a run / walk event around outside the town on footpaths and bridleways, making up a marathon distance. The new event snakes its way up onto Cleeve Hill and back, for what was a marathon and ultra (now discontinued) distances, and the half marathon. Also included are 10k and 5k distances (less demanding in terms of elevation!). Something for all.
Again there was a good turnout of Almost Athletes (again, this is in the club race series), several of who had also completed the Bourton half the evening before. Others had raced elsewhere – the Maverick run at Sudeley had taken place the previous morning. A good number of gluttons for punishment!
It was another very warm and sunny day. The organisers had sent emails in the week warning us of conditions and advising us on hydration, UV protection and not pushing too hard. Don’t expect a PB in these conditions. Personally I would not be expecting a half marathon PB on a course which involved climbing onto Cleeve Hill, regardless of conditions.
At the start area there was a pre-race warm-up being choreographed to upbeat music. In these temperatures the response to this was somewhat ambivalent. My own warm-up consisted of alternating between sun and shade. There were also free carrying bottles available (the sort that are easy to carry on the hand); a very useful addition on a day like this.
We were shepherded to the start, and briefed again on conditions and use of water, before we set off. As before, I had chosen to start closer to the rear and take it easy for the first portion – my plan was to ensure that I reached the top of Cleeve Hill without being exhausted. We snaked our way around the outer part of the racecourse and towards the exit that would take us to Shaw Green Lane.
We ran the length of that road, which took us to the main Cheltenham-Winchcombe road and we turned right, towards Prestbury. We made our way through the village and into Bouncers Lane before a left turn by Prestbury Junior School took us onto a footpath that would lead us onto the more interesting section of the run! This is where we would begin the ascent that would ultimately take us onto Cleeve Common.
We followed the footpath past the cemetery, crossed a small playing field and eased right to commence a long if undemanding incline towards the Hewletts reservoir and Aggs Hill. I topped up at the third water station (yes, plenty of available water!), just prior to the ascent becoming serious, and started what would be a bit of a long walk. Last year I did manage to run up Aggs Hill; this year I was not even going to attempt to.
Halfway up, we switched from field to road. The marshal there had some suntan lotion available and I chose to take advantage of her generosity. We continued up the road to bear slightly left towards the butterfly reserve and, as the incline became more gradual, I broke back into a gentle trot.
So far, so good. This feeling continued all the way through the reserve and up to the entrance to the Common by the radio masts – the highest point of the route. Another water station was there and I bumped into Andy. Together we made our way across the Common towards the golf course clubhouse, me quite optimistic about the remainder of the run.
However, once we doubled back at the clubhouse, that optimism vanished. It was as if yesterday’s efforts had suddenly caught up with me, grabbed hold and clung on against my efforts to continue making progress. There was just one more climb to take on and, far from looking forward to attacking this one, I was suddenly dreading it.
Perseverance was now the order of the day. Once that climb was crested, we’d simply have a long drop back off the Common, via Queens wood, and the remainder would be largely flat. Somehow I survived that climb and started the descent towards, and through, the wood. The going was quite uneven and included many exposed roots. We caught up with a small train of runners, gingerly picking their way down, line astern, at anything but running pace. That suited me!
We completed the descent at Southam, crossed the main road into the village before a left turn took us back in the direction of Prestbury. Just a couple of miles, or so, to go – but the finish may as well have been on another planet, such was my lack of energy. Andy, to his credit, stuck with me throughout the trek across the fields, into Mill Lane and back to the path around the edge of the racecourse.
I had one more walk – up the pathetically shallow inline that leads us adjacent to the Park and Ride. Once that was crested, I know that I could simply jog the last less-than-half-a-mile to the finish. However, my poor legs were not quite done. As we made the descent towards the finish area I failed to notice a road hump, caught my leading foot on it and turned turtle onto the tarmac – to an appreciating crowd!
Ego more grazed than my knees, I completed the run, thankful to have made it to the finish and equally thankful to Andy for seeing me through those tough last few miles. In hindsight that was a more enjoyable run than the previous evening, despite me running out of steam. I won’t be in a great hurry to try another double-header like that, though.