Edging beyond 26.2
The latest Spartan buzzword seems to be “time on legs”. Apparently it’s the answer to all things from spiritual enlightenment to the prevention of nuclear proliferation. Lately my lifestyle hasn’t really been accommodating of this. I’m low on sleep, energy and training.
This week I decided to tackle the deficit head on and resume ‘normal’ training regardless. With Easter holidays still in motion (really?!) it can mean a physical boost insofar as I’m freed up to ride to work so long as I can fight my inner self out of bed in the mornings.
I sighted two potential days for some half decent bicycle miles and clocked 85 of them over 4 rides - 50 in day one day and the remainder two days later. It’s debatable whether sandwiching a hard, and often stressful, day’s work between two rides is a premium filling or just Tesco’s horse meat. In any case, a sudden increase in my bike miles seems to be what I need to do if I’m to get anywhere near the level of training I need to complete the ‘Outlaw Half’ triathlon I’ve entered. It’s half iron man distance and if I complete it I get to be half the man I’d like to be :-)
I am currently in something of a training dichotomy. I’m also trying my hand or rather feet, at a couple of ultras. This is either a good thing (it’s all endurance training) or a bad thing (triathlon involves wheels and water too). For the moment I’ve decided that the most immediate threat is this year’s Sandstone Challenge in May (33 miles). So this weekend I opted for “time on feet”.
Yes, my legs would be battered from ill prepared riding earlier in the week, but I figured this could be the basis of a real physical and mental test. Therefore, I had to commit to doing this or fail to even get to of bed. Having talked up the loop, Andy Whitt and I would take on a 28 mile challenge together and either emerge victorious or return as Persian lollipop ladies.
An early doors start as always, the two Spartans headed off along tracks unknown that I’d sketched out on a map. I love a voyage of discovery. It was an ace route into Frodsham aided by the first occasion the sunshine had been bothered to shine in years. When we got to the Ring o’ Bells we knew we were on track and tackled the steep ascent to Frodsham War Memorial. 5 miles in and my quads were screaming. The first real doubt kicked in.
Some experimental snacks consumed (dried apricots are great fuel) and we were on our way. The gentle descent to Helsby began and was over too soon. The steep climb to the trig point was no less forgiving and I was flagging. Andy was looking much stronger than me today. We took in the view and floated down to the Sandstone Trail. Lulled by familiarity, we took a wrong turn and were punished by a hard tarmac climb to Kingswood. At this point we began wondering just how many peaks our incarnation of the ‘H3P’ would incorporate*. Would a record attempt for longest variation of the loop be on the cards for today?
Next was the descent into the Northern-most quarter of Delamere, where Forestry Commission heathens plot to assassinate Mother Nature. It seems fairly clear that the FC & Forest Holidays believe hot tubs and gigantic cabins are a foregone conclusion here – we witnessed some, perhaps preparatory, heavy drainage works going on alongside the infamous death-marked trees. No planning application has yet been put in. A moment’s silence please.
Part recce for Tuesday’s run now. We glided by a farmhouse and were buoyed by a friendly old guy who wanted to take our picture. We hope nothing to do with our handsome demeanors and tightly fitting clothing.
Onwards, through Delamere: in spectacular Spartan timing we hit Barnesbridge Gate at the precise moment Paul Chrisp transcends the finish line of a Park Run. He’s feeling chipper - quite rightly having just notched up a 20 minute 5k in preparation for the next day’s 10k (Beeston trail race). Perpetual forward motion and the magnetism of Old Pale took our three Spartans to the highest point of the forest. Paul, who had barely stopped for breath, is a welcome distraction to ongoing pain. We were now 15 miles in, having a great time but I was still not feeling any enlivened.
We part ways with Paul at the summit Stone of Sparta then head down to Gresty’s Waste. We followed the Sandstone Trail to Summertrees café and battered down the door until we were offered cordial. At that point I realised my thermals no longer had a place this season. The briefest of stops and we were back on track.
Next, down to rock farm and along, just so we could climb back to the top of Primrose wood – that’s how Spartans roll. Now nearly 20 miles in, my legs finally began to warm up. The dull aches that had dogged me all day were subsiding. Good job too - we decided that since we’d done pretty much every climb in mid-Cheshire, we’d better take in Eddisbury Hill. A road climb to the top, then down the ‘rollercoaster’ and past some a posh looking cows.
We hit mile 26.2 just as we headed towards the Delamere Entrance to Norley (DEN). Hi-fives and a big adrenaline kick. We were now running ultra. Onwards to Cheese Hill Lane, now a little shy of 28 miles. Glory Sparta. No sense in stopping now so we kicked on through the fields of Cuddington and rounded it up to 30 in style and finishing strong.
Two Spartans emerged tired but elated. As we’d said on the way round, probably many times - confidence is currency and now we had heaps of that and some decent “time on legs”. Bizarrely, I actually felt better in the last 10 miles than I had done for the first 20. A great morning out on the trails and a little more experience in the field of ultra.
* And then I remembered, technically it wasn’t a H3P loop as we didn’t start and finish at the first peak.