My third running of the Apocalypse 50. As the name suggests this is a pretty brutal 50 mile race. Plenty of short sharp hills both up and down with almost 10,000 ft of elevation in total. The route consists of four different loops all starting and finishing in Church Stretton. This was also the location of the 12 Labours of Hercules for a few years (now moved back to the Peak District) so I was fairly familiar with the area.
Race director Richard Weremiuk (Beyond Marathon) is known for putting on great value fun races, often with a twist. Check out his site and enter an event, you can thank me later.
I decided to tackle the loops in the same order, in the same direction as last year. My strategy this year was to try a new plan. Instead of going out easy and finishing strong, I would go out a bit harder and keep pushing to the end or blow up trying. With the SDW100 in 3 weeks that might not have been a great plan.
My training had gone well ahead of the race. The only niggle was whilst stretching out in bed a few days before I managed to strain or do something to my intercostal muscles on my right side. It initially hurt so bad I considered if I had cracked a rib, no I was just being a wimp. It hurt to breathe and bend over in certain ways. So naturally I ran each day a little to see how that went. Two days before and the run was OK apart from when I pushed harder and had to breath more, but it was really just a dull ache. Saturday morning as I got up before the race it was almost 100%, still a bit nervous to start a day of running with sore ribs though.
We arrived nearby in Little Stretton the evening before at Small Batch campsite. Walking to one of two local pubs, The Green Dragon, for a lovely meal and of course a couple of pints.
The next morning, we realised that Steve, a familiar face from the Offas Dyke which we had helped at, had camped next to us. He was helping today and we gave him a lift to the venue around the corner where Sally was also helping. A quick registration and briefing and we were off just after 8am.
It was a bit like a Benny Hill sketch with runners going in different directions. You could do the 4 loops in any order and in any direction, it was hard to know how you were doing compared to everyone else.
I’d normally load the GPX files onto my Suunto Ambit 3 Peak watch, my laptop was out of action in the days before so I didn’t bother. I knew the route and the area.
I went out hard and straight up the first hill, Ragleth Hill. I could see Chris with his two dogs Sam and Jess just ahead and followed them up and over the hill and caught them up at a stile. We chatted and ran together for a few miles before Chris stopped to give his dogs some water and I headed off on my own, down a muddy track into the woods. Soon after streams of runners came towards me having taken the loop the other way around.
I made it back to the school about 15 mins quicker than last year.
The ground underfoot was a mixture of grass, some muddy sections in woods, some wet rocky paths and some tarmac roads. I have worn Inov8 Roclite 290’s for years as a good mix for when there are road sections as well as hard ground. My previous pairs had all seen too many ultra’s and so I got a new pair that arrived a couple of days before the race. The first time I wore them was on race day. I think someone once suggested you shouldn’t do something like this, but it wasn’t the first time I wore a new pair of shoes for an ultra so that made it alright, surely?
Up and over the awesome iron age fort of Caer Caradoc and a few of us came together on the top to run a little way together. One chap and I chatted and ran the rest of the loop in sync, I felt great heading back about 35 minutes ahead of last year.
Sally and I headed out for the 3rd loop, War! Up Carding Mill Valley to the Long Mynd. By now I was regretting the joke I made the night before about Sally not being able to keep up with me. As I was going so slowly up the hills, walking and having to stop a few times on the way up. Once I got to the top I managed to talk my legs into moving and we managed some good running apart from up the hills. Ending the loop about 30 mins ahead of last year.
It had been tough going and I was clearly fading, I had already had a great day out and hadn’t anything to prove or gain by continuing and stopping now wouldn’t be a DNF.
So of course, I went out for the last loop, aptly named DEATH!
I had saved the best for last, a short sharp climb out the valley and it was mostly flat and downhill (OK there was another short hill half way round, but that would be a nice walk break).
I had gone up this hill a few times before. As I neared the top I followed the path that contoured around the hill. The path narrowed and I thought by now I will be able to see the road I would join up to near Pole Bank. Something seemed off. I stopped to check the map just as the heavens opened, so good time to get the waterproof on too.
The path I had taken turned out to be one for the sheep, the one I wanted was straight above me. I decided to keep going on this track, a decision I kept debating every few hundred meters when there was a tricky section and I thought I’d end up falling down the hill. I finally saw the path for the first time and climbed up to it. Relived I carried on knowing it would soon hit the road. Only, it didn’t. This path is cursed. It was torrential rain now. I looked and couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind. I thought someone must have passed or caught me up as I stumbled along the sheep path. I could see the road but it was getting further away not closer. I backtracked to where some sheep had had a meeting and realised their meeting was on the path spur I should have taken. I was happy to finally know where I was, be on tarmac, heading to the highest point Pole Bank. The rain stopped, I looked back to see a massive rainbow. I pushed on to find some reception to let Sally know I was OK, worried she was watching the tracker, seeing me go off course twice and not move very far.
Turns out she hadn’t even noticed my difficulties.
I made reasonable time after that drama, apart from the last decent which I had to be walk down due to trashed quads. As I ran into Church Stretton I was starving, earlier I had suggested fish and chips would be nice to Sally. As I neared the Fish and Chip shop I checked the opening times, until 2am. I would return later!
I finished in a time of 13:13 unlucky for some I guess! I was fine apart from that my quads felt trashed from all that steep downhill. I was also starving. After getting a brilliant medal Sally pulled out some (still hot!) fish and chips! I pretty much scoffed most of them there and then in the hall before shuffling off to get sorted.