Over to Andy Wadsworth for a mammoth race report from 2022 covering not one but twelve races!
In July 2018 I entered a race on Cannock Chase called the Staffs Knot 5 organised by Stafford AC, and ran a route I was partially familiar with from the parkrun there. What I noticed that day was a significant number of runners with a letter pinned to the BACK of their running tops, in addition to the standard number on the front. Interest piqued I found out about the North Staffordshire Road Race League (website here NSRRA which explains all about it)
One point that was clear to me was to be competitive in the league system scoring system covering your best twelve races, anything less than twelve events (of the twenty in the season) was not an option, so my Staffordshire race adventure commenced. Actually everyone participates in two leagues, one for their allocated letter, the other based upon their age. I was placed in league E which seemed to be where ‘new entrants’ are placed.
My twelve races of choice were as follows, (Covid infection and full time work at the Commonwealth Games dictated against the other events).
Rugeley 10 - Sunday 20th February
Uttoxeter half - Sunday 1st May
Westbridge 5 mile - Sunday 5th June
Stone St. Michaels 10k - Sunday 26th June
Cheadle 4 mile - Sunday 10th July
South Cheshire 20 mile - Sunday 4th September
Congleton half - Sunday 2nd October
Werrington 10k - Sunday 9th October
Ipstones 5ish mile - Sunday 23rd October
Flying Fox 10 mile - Sunday 6th November
Meerbrook 15k - Saturday 19th November
Cheddleton 10k - Saturday 26th November
As a twelve races report would be potentially very long, I will keep my comments as concise as possible, but of course happy to answer any questions.
Twice cancelled due to Covid, however to avoid wastage the T shirts presented were carefully adjusted.
A scenic race skirting the north-eastern edge of Cannock Chase with a number of significant hills (this may become a theme) however a final fast downhill mile to the finish.
Uttoxeter half marathon
Part of their festival of running based at the racecourse. Rural race, plenty of steady climbs and some sharp descents, and the first event of the season with awards for each group letter winner, a Moorland pottery mug, sadly I was never quick enough to claim one of these very desirable prizes throughout the year.
A virtually flat race in Stone, initially an offroad loop of a meadow, onto the Trent and Mersey canal towpath for about a mile and a half, a similar distance on roads around the historic village of Aston, back onto the canal towpath to repeat the previous section in the opposite direction clearly and to the finish. Elementary error on my part cost me league points when my laces came undone after the first mile or so, always double knot! Bottle of beer with a label reflecting the race name as a momento.
Stone St Micheal 10k
Second visit to Stone in a month, indeed the same car parking arrangements, however a much larger race with the reputation of being a fast course. Two laps, and again as per the previous event flat. After having heels clipped twice in the first mile, necessitating grabbing a fence to avoid a tumble once, I recorded my slowest 10k for some time, is this Old Father Time creeping up on me, or just as lack of training and injuries who knows. One definitely to repeat and try to significantly improve.
Cheadle 4 mile
For those of you unfamiliar with the town Cheadle is a lovely and historic market town in the Staffordshire Moorlands.
The race itself starts and finishes at playing fields and is a simple course, leaving town heading up a hill which gets gradually steeper then back down the other side to the finish. The hill itself was one and a half miles to climb 104 metres, thankfully some in shade. The downhill is somewhat steeper and you regain the climbed metres in under a mile. I was fortunate to win a cash prize for my category here, which probably paid for my entry.
September reached, my work at the Games had come to an end, however only five of my planned twelve races completed, seven more needed and only seven on the scheduled program for the rest of the season, I would need to do each one!
South Cheshire 20
Yes this is 20 miles. What advice would I give anyone preparing for a 20 mile road race?
Well of course it would be plenty of mileage and build up the distance gradually. Sadly no time for this, a training run of around twelve miles ten days before then head north to the edge of Crewe to take on the challenge, this was going to hurt and be a serious challenge! I survived thankfully without injury, although was around 25 minutes slower than my last 20 mile race. The course itself was a single lap which is unusual for this length of event, which meant of course you never knew what was around the next corner!
To Congleton for a half marathon, which bar a significant up & down in the first mile, and a return in the last mile (where it seemed much steeper) was only mildly undulating and once more a lovely rural run. Legs felt good on this one, got my pacing correct and starting to see a half marathon time approaching those I used to do pre Covid.
One more silly mistake, new shoes which somehow due to their unique design managed to rub off a perfect circle of skin on my ankle bone – ouch. Touch of good coaching advice though to work through the discomfort until crossing the line before hobbling, plus of course not to wear new shoes for a half marathon!
The eastern rural edge of Stoke on Trent was looking its finest in the autumnal sunshine for this race. Once again not flat, but mildly undulating would be my description, although a long gradual climb around the four mile mark. Managed to achieve my best time building pace steadily from the start, and then pacing alongside fellow runners who were just doing enough to stretch me. Stuck with them until the last mile, after which teeth gritting determination got me to the finish. Another outing for my newest trainers, this time no skin injuries, plus the added consolation of a cash age group winners prize.
Ipstones 5 ish mile.
This race was twice postponed, moving initially from late June when hopefully the weather would have been kinder.
This date in October had torrential rain, being only a small village, car parking was arranged in a field through the gate & down the hill, thankfully I decided against that or my car may still be there. When I had found an alternative and walked with an umbrella to race HQ, I was drenched.
For once at a race warming up did not seem like a great option everyone huddled together at HQ to stay dry. Eventually the race organiser called for silence for an announcement, which commenced with, ‘I am afraid I have some bad news’ . Everyone was looking at fellow runners dreading or perhaps more likely hoping the race was to be postponed, however the next line was ‘ we have all now to go outside’.
They had however moved the start from the playing field onto the road and soon with thankfully little palaver we were running and straight into the first hill, picturesque Ipstones after all is on the hillside. Once the top was reach, a reasonable flat section followed by a descent on a stony ‘LandRover’ track which was puddled and very slippery, I think my uphill pace was quicker, but I did not want to risk a tumble.
Eventually proper road returned and the opportunity to run freely again before a zig-zag ascent of a steep hill that made me wonder why on earth I was there. Finally having summited that, a short flat section, prior to turning into the playing field and trying in the saturated and now muddy conditions to run uphill to the finish line. For those never having had such an experience, my Sparkhill vest seemed to at least quadruple in weight, and adhered closely to my skin, not a pleasant experience. Two minutes after crossing the finish line the rain stopped & I left quickly to grab the towel from my car, dry clothes & some food in nearby Cheadle.
Flying Fox 10
Thankfully a dry day for a ten miler at Standon near Eccleshall, much more to my liking than the torrents of Ipstones. I studied the course details carefully, so much information out there on the net, having found the detailed route went onto Google Maps to familiarise myself with the roads themselves.
Sadly due to flooding the course was modified three years ago, my research pre-dated that so was pretty much useless. The race however was still two loops, as expected. a small one, followed by a larger one, (containing a long hill). My tactics which I stuck to despite the route alterations, were to keep a steady controlled pace until the long hill, then to push harder upwards and the following three or so miles to the finish. For once I managed to deliver on this, felt good and was pleased with my time, race preparation does sometime pay off!
So to the race I had described to me as like Marmite, you love it or hate it. In the Roaches north of Leek, near Tittesworth reservoir, and is essentially an up and down of Gun Hill followed by some undulations, some short and sharp, followed then by the reverse route up and down Gun Hill again. For those unfamiliar with the area here is the course elevation profile as recorded by my Garmin.
At the steepest the gradient runs at about 10% for about 0.3 mile, (all within the first couple of miles) which probably explains why at the end of the graph I descend far quicker than I initially climbed on the same road.
Yes it is a brute of a course, however in compensation the views over the Cheshire plane were described to me as majestic. Sadly on this November day visibility was minimal, runners disappearing in and out of sight.
I will confess walking superseded running more than once on this route (I will not reveal how many times) however I also achieved a PB (according to my Garmin) on the course over both one km & one mile, both I assure you on steep downhill sections, and was awarded a bobble hat as a prize for winning my age category. Next year I will return, the goal being to run the full course, resisting the urge to walk!
Finally to the last race, in many ways a memorable end to the series. With the feel of a village festival, this three lap circuit allowed those watching a chance to see how the race developed.
A piper with his bagpipes greeted the runs at the top of the first hill, and each subsequent lap, and plenty of runners donned seasonal fancy dress. I have never seen so many prizes on offer, the first twelve being rewarded with bottles, home baked cakes were also available in copious quantities, and in keeping with the festive feel each finisher was awarded a family sized Christmas pudding. The course had some sharp hills and personally I could have run it better, however I still got under forty five minutes.
Once the statistics had been crunched I finished in fourth place in my league E, with all those beating me significantly younger! For the age category despite my best efforts I was second by one point, unfortunately dropped points at Westbridge, caused by the shoelace incident cost me dearly.
A really enjoyable series, affordable races, with good competition and one I would recommend highly. I will probably return in 2023, so if anyone wants to join me please let me know, plenty of space in the car!