Malvern Hills Ultra
The internet is a wonderful thing.. It can connect people and organisations across the globe, enable businesses to reach new markets, provide a platform for raising valuable money for worthy causes and, as I discovered, you can find a good chippy on the outskirts of Worcester. Hence, at around 7pm last Friday I found myself outside the Ambleside Fish Bar, which had good reviews on google. I ordered cod and chips (no gravy available!) and was given enough food to feed three hungry adults. Once checked into the nearby Premier Inn, I got stuck in, and even though I was hungry, I could barely manage half of it. Oh and I had to use a teaspoon to cut the fish up. Classy.
I arrived at the lovely Holt Castle not too long after 6 the next morning, registered, readied myself and said hello to Noel and Denzil. It was raining a little and a bit chilly but the forecast was for sun and warmth later on. 7am and off we all went. Everyone went off pretty quickly and I found myself being dragged along at a faster pace than I really ought to be, but after stopping to take my waterproof jacket off after coming out of the woods at around 4 miles, I slowed up a little. The section to CP1 (7.5 miles) was reasonably flat and incident free and I popped into the CP to give my number and grab a few sweets to supplement my gels and energy bars.
After the CP we joined the Worcestershire Way. The route took us through or past lots of apple orchards with Bulmers signs – it was warm and sunny by now so of course that made me think of a nice cold pint of cider! I ran for a while with Raj who had also been at the TORQ Trail Team day at Church Stretton not long ago, although we didn’t realise this until connecting on Facebook after the event. I’d discovered that the route I had on my garmin wasn’t particularly accurate, and I nearly missed turns once or twice. Still, I did have maps in my pack just in case. Once I realised that the route now stuck to the Worcestershire Way for most of the race, navigation was very straightforward – just follow those markers. The section from CP1-2 was the longest distance between checkpoints, about 10 miles or so, and took us over Ankerdine Hill, with a fairly steep descent through a pretty bluebell filled wood. CP2 was at a pub – around 18 miles covered so far in just over 3 hours – so far so good. I filled up my water and grabbed some more sweets and some jam butties and walked on, eating as I went. Not far after the CP, I saw a mobile phone on the ground. I picked it up and gave it a prod – it appeared to be turned off. I put it in my pack with the intention of handing it in at the next CP.
The next section was basically the Malvern Hills, and yes, they’re blummin huge! Despite eating and drinking well, I started to feel a bit out of it as I climbed up North Hill, about 20 miles in. I ate more and drank more but this feeling didn’t pass for ages.. Yes, it was hot, but not massively so. I’d been sweating buckets all day and thought this must be dehydration, despite having drunk plenty and using electrolyte tabs in my water. After North Hill came Summer Hill, and at the highest point was the Worcestershire Beacon. I knew once of the punch points was here and found it. I thought I might have missed one somewhere, but couldn’t remember where it was. On over Jubilee Hill and Black Hill and then down to CP3 at a hotel. Lots of people had missed a punch point, but the one at the beacon – not the one I’d missed, which was apparently on North Hill. I topped up drinks, had some coke and malt loaf and set off again. I was feeling a little better but my quads were complaining already – much more than I would expect at this stage, about 26 miles in.
The 52 mile route then took us back the way we had come, retracing our steps. This time I saw the punch point that I had missed – right there on the path. I must have run right past it whilst feeling less than with it. By the time I got down off the hills, I was feeling awful. Still overheating, and now cramps and major aches all through my legs. I was mostly walking now as even the downhills were too painful. Bad thoughts of dropping out went through my mind. I could do the maths and work out how long it would take to finish at a mostly walking pace and I didn’t feel particularly up to that. At CP4 I stocked up again and set off.
Somewhere along the way Noel caught me – we compared aches and pains but he was soon out of sight up ahead. I was feeling pretty fucking miserable. The section to the next CP took me 3 hours 45, compared to 2 hours on the way out. The climb back over Ankerdine Hill was a killer – I stopped and sat on a picnic bench for a bit at the top. For some reason I had it in my mind that the CP was about 10 miles out from the end – it wasn’t.. it was further than I thought from the previous one, but that made it nearer the end! Before this CP I had started seeing a lot of a chap called Tiago. It was his first ultra and he was terribly concerned about getting lost. He’d even hired a garmin with the route on it from the race organisers. Of course, this just meant he kept getting lost. He’d run ahead and I’d catch up to him where he’d be trying to figure out where to go. To be fair, he saved me from going the wrong way at least once too.
The last CP was great though.. the two ladies running it had been there the first time I went through so it must have been a long day for them, and they were fantastic. I sat down for 5 minutes and called Sally on my phone for a little chat. I’d been in touch with her for a bit because I’d been feeling awful and to be honest I wanted a shoulder to cry on a little. She was great and basically told me she’d kick my ass if I didn’t get on with it. That, the short rest and the knowledge that it was only 7.5 miles to the finish lifted my spirits. I headed off and caught up with Tiago up the road, who was now joined by Tess, another first timer. We covered most of the last section together, mostly walking and swapping our experiences and histories. They were great fun and we had a few laughs along the way. As we went back through the woods, two chaps caught us up – they were shuffling along quite well and Tess, Tiago and I decided to jog to join them. Hmmm. That was awfully painful, particularly behind my right knee. Back to walking for me and I was alone again. Not for long though – as I was marching along a country lane, Tess and Tiago appeared behind me. Yes, they’d taken a wrong turn! Denzil also passed me here and he looked in great spirits.
Nearing the finish I was alone again. I told myself I’d run in the last bit and I did.. 53 miles and I crossed the line after 12 hours and 56 minutes. Steve presented me with a huge medal! I headed inside to find some food – yummy chilli and rice. A bit of chat with Tiago and Tess and I decided to head off – I had a two hour drive to get home and I was knackered!
So, a painful experience but one to take some positives from. I battled it out. Perhaps I needed that – thoughts of pulling out seem to come to mind far too easily in tough races these days. Ultra Running Ltd are a great outfit – so friendly. I’m really looking forward to the Severn Challenge now.