A heavy squall line had moved through during the afternoon to leave the ground even wetter and muddier than it already was, but at least the evening sun was now struggling to shine and it was mild and calm. As I stood chatting to Barnaby Crawshaw once again, this time beside the Navigation Inn at the Bugsworth canal basin, I noticed my heart rate monitor showing only 66bpm instead of the 80-odd it's been showing for the past few months. The antibiotics must have been doing their job and the heart rate was back down to where it should be. I felt a PB coming on, only possible because this was the first short sharp fell race I'd be running for a second time.
We made our way around to the playing field to await the start by the Goyt Valley Striders organisers (they do put on a good crop of races throughout the year). After an adrenaline-charged wait and more nervous conversation, we were set off to run across the field, round and up to the left to the lane before descending again left around the pub. Having done an elongated 360 degree loop we veered off right up to the footbridge across the Whaley Bridge bypass, up across more playing fields to the lane, right then left up the rough track that soon became a narrow path. This is where it got serious. The steep uphill gradient warranted a walk on any other day but this was just a short fell race and we could afford to push beyond normal limits without too many consequences; it would all be over before a serious blow-up could occur. The result of this reckless abandon is burning lungs. This is the only time I do this and it must do me good, mustn't it? No gain without pain.
We were soon into the fields and climbing the out-and-back route towards Eccles Pike with a small anti-clockwise loop to the summit and back. The leaders were already way off in the distance, running across the hills. On the way up there was a bit of downhill to a big bog patch and stile crossing before the climb continued. Our legs were soon mud-plastered as if it were a mid-winter race.
As we ascended towards the right turn and steep loop to the summit I watched out for the first of the return runners. Jack Ross came steaming back towards us noticeably closer to the far point of the course than I recall last year. Either he's slower or I'm quicker, or both? I'd soon find out.
The final climb to the summit really is a walk (for me at least), but as it begins to level out I'm off running again on the left turn to the friendly marshal guiding the way to the steep descent on jelly legs. Now I know I should be running faster but I can't (more accurately I dare not).
The bottom of the steep climb signifies the end of the loop and left turn down the path back the way we came. A young lad had raced on ahead on the outward leg but he seemed to have slowed and I was slowly catching him again. I finally overtook him at the bog, he on relatively solid ground while I went in deep. The climb away from there was not nice but had to be survived somehow; at least it helped take my mind off the bog encounter.
The descending gradient steepened down the rough track until the right turn onto the lane. I slowed on the gentler descent and began to get overtaken. I felt as though I was running slowly but I was at my limit; not even a horse whip could have made me go any faster. We turned left down the playing field, across the bridge and left to the pub. Then came the big right-hand loop back around the pub, cruelly uphill at shuffle pace but at least I wasn't getting overtaken anymore, then finally right downhill and sharp right onto the field and the finishing funnel at the other end, puffing and panting for air. Barrels of water and plastic cups were on hand to quench parched throats, while an assortment of sweeties rekindled our childhood. A Swizzels lolly went down a treat (but I never particularly enjoy the soggy lumps of paper that always come off the stick).
Jack Ross won in 22:43, which was 11 seconds slower than he did in 2011. Where the same runners ran both years, times were generally slower this year, most probably due to the muddier conditions.
My time of 32:16 was 30 seconds faster than in 2011. Not only that, my heart rate this year (last year's in brackets) was 170 (179) ave and 184 (191) max. I call that a RESULT.
Barny finished just 49 seconds after me. Well done Barny.
Goyt Valley Striders.
For the following two weekends I ran my local Woodbank Parkrun and ran to work in the intervening weeks to keep me on the boil for one of the main highlights of the year - the Bullock Smithy Hike.