Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sandstone Trail

The Sandstone Trail is a long-distance footpath starting in Whitchurch and meandering north through some of Cheshire's finest countryside before finishing in Frodsham. Last year Helsby Running Club revived the Sandstone Trail Challenge, a long distance walking event that also supports runners.
My friend Jane and I completed the Challenge last year and enjoyed it so much that we took part again last Saturday (the 12th of May). Officially the trail is 34 miles long but Helsby Running Club measure it at just under 33 miles. Not a great deal of difference when you're covering that distance. Also the total elevation is about 3700 feet, that's higher than Snowdon! The field of entrants is split evenly between runners and walkers and there is a cut-off time of around 12 hours.
We fully enter into the spirit of the event and its non-competitive nature; so much so that we view it as a 33 mile long picnic.
The weather was kind to us again this year with no rain and a few sunny spells but it was unseasonably cool. As per last year we kept a record of all the birds seen and heard along the way. Highlight for me was a stunning male Wheatear near Delamere, while Jane saw her first Goldcrest of the year along the canal near Whitchurch. We recorded a total of 41 species which was one up on last year and included a few recently arrived migrants such as Lesser Whitethroat as well as residents such as Raven.
True to our competitive nature we stopped for a welcome coffee in a pleasant little cafe near Delamere. This was in addition to the cake and biscuit checkpoints along the route. It took us just over 10 hours to complete the course through a combination of steady walking and occasional downhill running. Its amazing how quickly the time goes on such adventures and a great day was enjoyed by all the runners and walkers. Many thanks must go to the organisers for a superb event; roll on next year.

At the start in Whitchurch.
Somewhere in deepest Cheshire following
the yellow markers.

Approaching Beeston Castle, halfway-ish.

Overlooking the River Mersey, not far to go.

The following day I lined up with 5000 other runners on Chester racecourse for the start of the Chester Half Marathon. I had a few doubts about my sanity in entering this event straight after the Sandstone Trail, but you live once so why not? The route was a total change from the previous few years' races and was a bit more "undulating". I didn't feel too bad for the first 5 miles and kept at an average 6.30 min/mile pace, but at around the 7 miles mark the previous day's exertions began to take their toll and my legs started to feel heavy. I pushed on buoyed by the public support in the villages that we ran through. Mile 12 was downhill so I upped the pace a little to 6.25 min/mile, but this was before the final hill up into Chester where I slowed considerably. Turning into Northgate Street the finish was in sight and the cheers from all the supporters crammed onto the pavements urged me on to a sprint finish (well it felt fast!). My finish time was 1 hour 25 mins which was a great result considering.

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