Very Long painful Mynd cramp Valleys race report
by Ben Barker
Dear diary, that was a disaster.
My first ever champs race and I blew up, hobbling home with a sulk and a wheelbarrow of humble pie. I felt a bit like one of those cheeky Chinese spy balloons, so close to achieving my target only to be popped at the last minute.
For those who haven’t raced throughout winter(me) this inevitably felt a bit like being woken up in the middle of the night by your neighbours fire alarm, quite a shock to the system, very unwelcome but ultimately necessary in preventing further disappointment.
The lead up to this race (my first ever champs race!) wasn’t ideal. Off the back of a good summer , my last training block hadn’t gone to plan and I knew I wasn’t in an ideal place fitness wise. I’d either had a very persistent, non-symptomatic cold of sorts or I’d edged into overtraining and I strongly felt it was the latter. I don’t need psyche to get out of the door, I like bad connies, bad routes, you name it, if it’s off road I’ll be happy running it…. But I had a week or two where everything was different, I had zero psyche, my HRV was off, my resting HR was up and I just couldn’t seem to recover energy properly.
I made a decision to hard rest from running, pretty much up until this race, and I stuck to it. It wasn’t ideal but I rationalised that if everything went right I might bag a good day out with an acceptable finish, if not, well… I didn’t want to truly consider what that would look like.
My plan was to stay over Thursday and Friday night meaning I’d have time to recce, relax and with no driving on the day have my best crack at racing Saturday.
Recce day 1 (Thursday) – After a busier than expected week I started my first recce Thursday evening; I decided to swap my recce’s around doing the quicker one today to prioritise sleep, an easy circular run around the first half (6mi/1,500ft). Some fast and runnable ground including a good 2 miles on compact grass/gravel track with a touch of downhill road. I felt good! One cracking pub meal later and I was ready for an early night but despite these best intentions I barely slept a wink.
Recce day 2 (Friday) – A new day, I started later than planned due to lack of sleep but I saw it as a positive: “I’ll sleep really well tonight!”. Today was the longer recce (8.5mi/3000ft) so I opted to walk it. I ended up jogging the downs and flats, gave far too much on the hills and was conscious of not finishing too late, as I had less than 24hr to the race. It dawned on me this recce plan was a big mistake, lesson learnt, do recce’s well in advance.
Runnable trods crossing moorland, following streams and approaching tracks really are a theme for this whole route. It’s rare that you’ll find yourself far from the obvious way forward which paved the way for the CR to be smashed by the top 6 men and first lady.
I could have gotten away with zero recce’s but at least I knew the route like the back of my hand. There are a few, small route choices which I’d say are worth around a few minutes over the whole race and certainly if the clag comes in possibly much more. This made the extra effort feel worth it and I found a lot of love for the process in doing this prep.
I finished the day with the Keswick crew, back at the bunkhouse. Deep down knowing I’d possibly emptied the tank too much and needing a perfect night of recovery to stand a chance.
With people arriving at different times I opted for an early night. Nic Jackson and Billy Cartwright kindly made room for me at their feast for the 5000, cooking up an incredible spag bol with Harry B. Food coma in full flow, earplugs in, we were in bed for 10. Again, to my utter despair I didn’t sleep a wink.
Race day (Saturday)
Despite my recent miles and lack of sleep, I got up feeling ok, energy levels good, route knowledge A*, let’s go!
Starting in the Cardingmill Valley car park the few hundred metres of steady incline road running serves its purpose of separating the competitor field a little before the first slog up The Pike. Continuing over the plateau between Haddon and Bodbury Hill you then contour around before preparing to descend towards Jonathan’s Hollow.
Nipping through a gap in the dry bracken here is the first “ah sh*t” moment, a steep and speedy chute off the side provides a barely controllable but fun and relatively soft way down. It reminded me of the big kid slides at Walby Farm Park, only covered in fluffy pete and bracken. This went down far smoother than in my recce, clearly down to the superior grip of my VJ irocks I opted for on race day, boy do they grip well! Myself and Harry B had briefly considered a less aggressive shoe to help with the faster running on the hard pack trails but my recce sealed the deal, it was wet enough that I nearly went arse over heel down this in my Spark’s, it wasn’t worth the risk.
Hopping over a few streams and climbing back up to the moorland you’re then on the track where it’s pretty uneventful for a few miles.
In these few miles, I think I experienced a mid-life crisis; my race fell apart.
I’d managed to keep pace comfortably with the front field up the first climb but the second climb nearly crushed my soul, I had nothing, my legs wouldn’t run the hills, even the gentle ones, they just wouldn’t and I couldn’t fathom it. It slowly sank in that this would be the case for the whole race and that felt sickening. I’d not entered to bimble around the course, I came to give my best and it just wasn’t available. My hard rest and lack of hill running in the preceding weeks + tired legs, surprisingly, wouldn’t deliver the goods.
I’ve never come so close to quitting a race before and I’d not even tagged CP1 yet. I saw no point in continuing, but It turns out I did. Maybe I was hoping for a revival or a miracle. Maybe I just felt I needed to learn some lessons.
The remainder is 3000ft in the form of 5 relatively sharp ups and downs. I quickly bagged my first overtake via route choice leaving CP3, climbing earlier above a fallen tree avoiding the crawl queue I predicted occurring, a small but savoured victory. A few ups and downs later came the highlight of the day.
Descending Packetstone Hill I’d recce’d a few different lines and was sure the most popular route would be the fastest. But come race day, everyone around me took the alternate line! I quickly broke off on my own, flying down the side, buzzing with excitement to see where I’d pop out in the field. I emerged on the tail of two runners who passed me a while back gaining around 1 minute and 5-10 places. I was bloody ecstatic. Yes I couldn’t run the hills, yes I felt like Jaba the Hut entering an IronMan but at least my route choice was spot on.
Shortly after this mini win, descending CP7 to CP8 my hamstrings went into shutdown cramp, then my abductors. That was the end of all hope of running it in. The next 35 minutes were ‘stretch, hobble, walk’ – repeat, except the final hilarious climb up Yertlet where I genuinely crawled, hands to the ground, 800ft to the top.
Waddling into the finish I had a lot to think about, but for now, thankfully the pain was over.
Nic Jackson bagging a hard earnt 2nd female! 6 Keswick men in the top 25.
And that was Long Mynd for me. A very powerful stimulus to learn from.
Overall, a great experience and I’m looking forward to more champs races throughout 2023.
Bring on Ireland!
Full results here https://merciafellrunners.org.uk/results/long-mynd-valleys-2023/