It is often said the hardest part of any distance race is getting to the start line. Relish Running Races, the organisers of the Cheddar Gorge 10k have taken this literally. Guest post written by Ian Sperring.
On 22nd May, Relish Running Races hosted one of four organised 10km runs around Cheddar Gorge, I asked Ian Spez Sperring to write you all a review about the race.
The view was spectacular on the starting line at the top of Cheddar Gorge in Somerset but the physical effort of the day started just getting there. Relish Running warned about the 30+ minutes journey from the main car park to the starting area so I was glad for the extra time I’d left. It didn’t help that that the ‘To the start’ arrow was marked in the wrong direction and ‘those people who look like runners and clearly know where they are going’ didn’t actually know where they were going. After the initial blip the other signs to the start line were clearly marked out.
Let’s start from the top
Getting to the start line looked like it would be the hardest part of the day…turns out it was coming back down! As I climbed up to the event, I got a small taste of what was to come with a scramble up the rocky, muddy path. I started to see the wisdom in another piece of pre-event information…trail shoes HIGHLY recommended (more on this to come). Fifteen minutes later: sweaty, breathing hard and looking for a post-climb-pre-run sports massage facility, I was registered and ready to race.
I ran 10km, however, 5km and 300m distances were available on race day, this was the second of the four race days that make up the Cheddar Gorge Challenge. The next race day in June adds a half marathon option with a full marathon available for those who have managed to evade the clutches of the men in white coats until August. The multi race options give you the chance to step up the distances throughout the Summer. I can reassure you that every competitor gets to run the main attraction of the event otherwise known as the ‘Hell Steps’, Relish describe this as ‘a cheeky little flight of steps with a surprise mid way up‘ but those with a better grasp of the English language would describe it as ‘a painstaking and viscous 150ft climb over rough terrain with a steeper section averaging a 20% incline!’.
After Hell Steps, the rest of the course was slightly more forgiving but rarely flat or simple. A variety of open fields, rocky paths, windy trails, stiles, walls and gates all had to be negotiated with some steep ascents and descents thrown in whilst appreciated the amazing views (all described in the helpful pre-event info).
Trail running, hills’n’all
A few days rain before the event had softened up the ground and prepped a few bogs which warranted the question ‘Can we have some sun please?‘ this was met with laughter by Relish and anger by the weather Gods, who swiftly turned the morning’s light drizzle into a major downpour and then hail! Halfway through the race the sun finally came out, however, the rain had provided an additional challenge by causing extra slippage. I have to admit I did hit the deck once, perhaps not embarrassing when you consider the weather and terrain but it happened on a flat and smooth part of the course…pride was damaged but fortunately nothing else.
Weighing in at 16 stone and being of what I would call ‘exceptionally average’ running ability, I’m a big fan of hills, rocks and rain as it goes a long way in bringing everyone else down to my level. I also probably picked up a couple of places on footwear alone, nowhere more obvious than the last kilometre where I managed to overtake a runner who was having to skate in the mud while I could take confident strides. Do heed the warning if you think about entering…trail shoes HIGHLY recommended. I managed a solid 52nd out of the 158 runners in a time of 1:01:16 which I was very pleased with and is better than I had been doing on the road (I was provisionally 50th and then 51st the next day…it’s 52nd at the time of writing but I’m worried to check again in case I’m now further down the field!).
I have found the experience of trail running to be really enjoyable and more rewarding than the roads. Trail running presents a different way of thinking about your running, there isn’t a chance to check your watch every twelve seconds to make sure you’re still hitting the right pace as you’re constantly thinking about where your next footfall is going to be. If you do then three pieces of advice: strength work (stability through ankles, knees, hips and core is vital), hill training and investing in the right kit.
Should you enter in for this race?
If you are looking for something different and are happy to rely on the support of the cows instead of a crowd then I would definitely recommend giving the Cheddar Gorge challenge a go.
Overall this was a really fun and challenging event to take part in and very well organised (despite the PA system failing just before the start). Also seriously impressive was the 4×4 coffee truck that has made it up to the start/finish area and they’d even managed to get some port-a-loos up! The marshals were still smiling despite the rain and offered lots of encouragement. The water stop was also strategically placed at the start of the out and back, only cups of water were available but for a 10k I felt this was enough really, especially as the end of race supplies were fantastic with bananas, flapjacks and sweets on offer. The medals for each day are different and fit together, by taking part in three races you can make a 3D structure with the medals which is a nice touch.
Relish Running Races managed to build an atmosphere that brings together a group of relaxed and friendly people who also like to push themselves at the same time. The whole event also had a real family feel to it and there was great camaraderie between competitors, the vast majority there to take on the course and not each other. The best bit of the day…of 43 people on Strava who took part (including the winner), I managed to be fastest up the steepest segment of the “Hell Steps”!
Ian is a 6ft 4 long distance runner who enjoys hills as they level out the playing field within competiton, Ian took part in the Bristol to Bath marathon last year in aid of Macmillan Cancer, he is also a keen cyclist.