Stretton Six Summits Race Report by Tim Campbell
Fell running folklore abounds with tales of extreme feats of endurance. There’s Peter Livesey who broke both ankles during a race, but still completed it. There’s Chris Gravinawho ran three-quarters of a mountain race with a broken leg. There’s the legendary Joss Naylor who completed all the Wainwrights in one go (15 marathons in length) and became so dehydrated that his tongue and mouth swelled so that he could not eat or talk and his ankles were rubbed clean to his ligaments by ill-fitting shoes. You can now add a new heroic story of pain and suffering to that pantheon, the story of Tim Campbell who ran the last 4 miles of a 6 mile race with a really big blister on his heel, but more of this later.
It was a 1 ½ hour drive to a beautiful little village in Shropshire called Church Stretton, nestled in a valley between gigantic ugly hills that rippled like enormous spiked dragon tails. The village itself was later described by the race director as ‘Toryville’, no house was smaller than a 2 storeyGin Pit clubhouse - you get the picture. I parked up in the field being used as a car park and prayed that it didn’t rain whilst I left it, or I’d never get it out again in the mud and took the ‘short’ walk to the start, by which point I felt like I needed to take my first gel.
Part of the Dragon’s tail
I was especially looking forward to giving my new Mudclawsa proper try-out, having only used them on Penny Flash parkrun so far. The race started soon enough and began with about 400 yards Up a hill before turning off Up the first climb. ‘Up’soon became the theme of the day, at least it very quickly started to feel like I was pulling a house behind me, as the hills on this run were absolutely horrendous – long and very steep. Still, I was holding my own on the first climb and generally over-taking people, plus in my own head I was thinking that what goes Up must come Down, and I like to think that downhills are my speciality!
Me running Up the first hill
I eventually reached the top of the first summit and this led to a ‘technical’ bit, i.e. a narrow path designed more for sheep with a sheer drop to the side. This was a welcome respite in some ways as I was under no illusions that trying to overtake someone would mean a very sticky end to my race and so I just tucked in behind the guy in front, who wasn’t going at any great pace and used the time to get my breath back.
Then came the first downhill and boy, was this Down with a capital D! It was a proper cheese-roller and was as long going Down as the previous hill had been to go Up. However, I seemed to manage better than others on this stretch and overtook about 20 people going down. Things were going well, being in a decent position in the race and overtaking.
However partway Down I’d started to feel a slight pain in my left heel and by the time I got to the bottom of the hill I could hardly stand on it. Must be a stone I thought and being sensible for once I stopped and checked my shoe, whilst frustratingly all the people I’d just overtaken went past me again. No stone, but I couldn’t put weight onto my heel. Dammit, the Mudclaws have let me down! “No matter,” I thought, “I’ll get through the pain,” and gritted my teeth with the immediate thought of getting past the people who’d just gone past me. There was another significant Up, followed by a Down, at which point I knew that there was a first aid point and I hobbled my way there. “Do you have any Vaseline” I yelled at the checkpoint bloke. He looked pretty startled to be asked that question for some reason, but pulled out a tightly packed rucksack which led to 2 or 3 minutes of fumbling around the contents before finding several pots of Vas, one of which I used liberally to coat my heel. It made absolutely no difference and in the time that it took to find it I’d been passed by loads of people. I was struggling to run and was a long way back in the race now, so I decided to just enjoy the scenery and use it as a training run. However, even going at jogging pace this race was brutal, so ‘enjoyment’ was at a premium - the Ups were very Up, but the Downs now were what I dreaded as it was very difficult to stay off my heel and I had to do them at walking pace. In true fell-running style I did get asked by several people if I was alright, to which I had to answer rather sheepishly “New shoes, blisters. D’oh!”. I did though spend the time to look around at what is some stunning landscape, which was a bonus in a way, as I’d normally be looking at my feet and trying not to fall over.
Eventually I made it to the end, finishing in 198th place with a time of 1:29:24 and immediately ripped the instruments of torture from my feet. There was no medal or even a cream egg for finishing, but I didn’t feel like I’d really deserved anything for this race. So I feel like I have some unfinished business in Church Stretton and I expect to be back next year to make amends.
And just one final word . . . there’s a pair of size 8 Mudclawsup for sale, like new, any offers gratefully received.