Cardington Cracker 2005
Caer Caradoc over the Horizon from near the start
My second Shropshire fell race of the Autumn covered a few of the same hills as the first (Stretton Skyline) but from a different angle. It was a gorgeous day - Turner-esque skys and rainbows hung over rain-washed fields as I drove up the A49 from Cardiff - a beautiful drive never mind the views you get during the race. Cardington is a small chocolate-box type village (if you know what I mean), very picturesque with a new upgraded village hall that serves as race HQ. The hall was packed out with skinny blokes in helly hansens when I entered also looking skinny and also wearing a helly hansen. Felt right at home, though I was a little less weatherbeaten and much less bearded than most. Running Bear were selling all the usual stuff and I nosed through their bucket of windproof trousers for a while then took refuge in the car for my pre-race meditation which has always been part of my race-day routine. The other parts include packing most of my possessions into the car and spending lots of time greasing my feet and repeatedly packing my bum bag in the vain hope that it will be lighter if I pack it all in smaller. This time the bum bag included a secret weapon, a honey energy gel, one of which had given me a glorious half-hour of rocket fuelled running on the Black Mountains a few days earlier (followed by a sudden running-out-of-petrol experience) so I was intending to save it for the end of the race.
It was soon evident that his was a big race - over 200 massed in the start field from where we could see Caer Caradoc, with Lawley (first climb) hidden over the horizon.
The start - runners warming up over the fields around Cardington
After a dash through fields and splatty trackways we climbed a low ridge and belted down one side of it onto a disintegrating muddy bank which opened out onto fields sloping up to the side of The Lawley, a long, steep-sided spine of a hill with the leaders already visible at the summit. It was a gruelling first ascent, only a few hundred feet up a ladder of grass and heather but it seemed to last forever. A marshall checked us off at the top and we took a sharp left to descent along the ridge, a stretch I remembered from the Skyline race though I was trying a somewhat faster pace this time. Caer Caradoc was similar - everyone walking, digging in and hauling themselves up the near-vertical.
A photographer was waiting on the descent from the Lawley - I (in vest over red helly on left) look decidedly odd in this picture - I hope my running style isn't really that bad! Click on the pic to see the original on the Telford Running site.
The hills that came later in the race were not so high nor so steep, but I was pretty spent so I had to walk quite a bit more in short bursts before the end. The honey gel worked pretty well, though trying to consume an energy gel with cold hands on a hilly course is not straightforward! Got me going again though. The Hope Bowdler ridge is beautiful in its own right with interesting rocks (Gaerstones etc) and also awesome views of Caradoc and the other Stretton Hills. At the end I was in a small group battling it out which made the finish uncomfortable but more satisfying as I was pushing on at maximum effort right to the line. I came in 59th out of 225, which is not so impressive but having given all I'd got, I felt quite a glow as I attempted to warm down (attempt failed - only managed a walk, couldn't even jog).
Photos are from my mini camera and hence of less than reasonable quality but hopefully should give an impression of the area. This is a wonderfully testing course with gruelling but reasonably short climbs and stunning views over those small-but-perfectly-formed hills around Church Stretton. I'm very grateful to the Shropshire fell running types for putting on these superb races for next to nothing (three quid on the day).
Results on Dawsy's web site: http://www.dawsy.freeserve.co.uk/results2005/Cardington05.htm