Thursday 26 March 2015

Brutally Tantalizing Trail Racing: The Cleevewold 14

Once upon a time, when I only owned one pair of running shoes, I started to leave the roads behind.  I bought some trail shoes, mostly because I found the wide outsoles of the road shoes had my feet rocking on the hoof-scared paths in the area.  I even raced a couple of trail events, which were really just runs through the woods on really nice tracks with the occasional bit of mud.  Then, in March 2009, I ran the Cleevewold 14.  Snaking its way up, down, and around Cleeve Cloud and the Sudeley Estate, and many points in between, the race has been a local favourite for more than 20 years.  It has 2000+ feet of ascent on rough trails through quarries, paths through grassy fields, an optional stream crossing, and a few seemingly smooth tracks of crushed limestone (which is great, until you find out it's really just a lot of rocks that aren't so crushed or so smooth).  After that 2009 race, I was hooked on trail running.  Unfortunately, the race also seems to coincide with a load of other events and activities that have kept me away from it ever since.  Until this weekend, when I made sure to set aside the time to revisit the race and find out if it really is as breathtakingly exciting as I remember it.

The joy of a 14 mile race is that it's simply a case of hitting that effort level right below where you feel like your lungs and legs want to explode and then holding on to it.  The difficulty lays in not over-reaching and blowing up.  Add in a gut-wrenching series of short, sharp hills early on, and you have the makings of a great challenge.  Since I have zero goal races planned for the rest of the year, and I haven't done much speed work since September, I decided to race from the gun and see what would happen.
EVRC chilling out before the fun begins.
The race starts with a deceptively gentle descent, to help get the legs moving.  But after that opening half mile, it turns into a 200ft climb over the next quarter mile (~1:8 gradient).  The next four miles continue in a similar vein.  Up, down, run past golfers, repeat.

Just a little hill...

Early on, I tracked my EVRC clubmate Richard Slater and Nick Spice, of Almost Athletes, who were heading out a bit faster than me.  I know from experience that if we're all running well, the three of us will be fairly close together through most of a hilly race.  This time, though, I was having to work a bit harder than I'd have liked to keep them in sight.  After 5 miles, Nick had started to reel in Richard, and I decided that if I wanted to have any chance of keeping in touch, I also had to close the gap.

I chased for the best part of 2 miles before finally catching back up to Nick.  We encouraged each other to keep running strong and steadily left Richard feeling the effects of a tough running week at around 8 miles as we raced our way down to the lowest point on the route at Waterhatch.  By this stage, we were among the top female runners - always a sign that the race is going well.

From 9 miles, the course climbs 600ft over 2 miles, in a relentlessly runnable (nearly) climb up to Belas Knapp.  By the time I reached the top, I had lost a good 30 seconds on Nick and Amazing Feet's Sarah Armstrong (3rd Lady).  The losses continued across the top of the hill (the only flat part of the route), and down through the wooded gully on the other side.  I had plenty of strength left, but my leg speed was clearly elsewhere.  The final two short hills finished me off and left me having to sprint the final 50m to avoid losing my position.  So, although I didn't overtake anyone in the final 5 miles, and the gap to those in front just seemed to grow, I did manage to hold off those behind me,

I finished 7 minutes better than that 2009 time (2:07:43), absolutely exhausted, and overjoyed to find that the race really was as much fun as I'd remembered.  It hurts almost the entire way around and tests your speed, strength, and resilience to the limit.  With great views and a good friendly field, I can't really ask for anything more in a short race.

The finish line - Postlip Hall

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