2014 Longmynd Hike
The Long Mynd Hike is a 50-mile fell running/hiking event in Shropshire which sees competitor’s summit several peaks with a total climb of over 8,000 feet. The event is held in the first week of October each year where there are an equal number of daylight/dark hours within the 24-hour cut off and the event is in its 47th year. About 500 competitors take part and it’s worth noting the event is hugely popular with the online entries selling out in a record few hours this year (…and you thought the London Marathon ballot is tough) I have completed the event three times as a “hiker” in the past (2009, 2010 & 2011) meaning I got to “enjoy” the full night and finish the next morning. I had always indicated my intention to return as a “runner” one year although this was designed as a last long training effort before my upcoming Winter 100 run in a couple of weeks, so once again it was planned as a 90% effort. The hike has a number of features of note. Firstly, it’s a self-navigating event with competitors required to pass through each Checkpoint. There is no exact “route” as such but generally there is a common circuit with a few options to take footpaths/bridleways or play it safe on a few points by following a road at some points. Secondly is the compulsory kit list, which is checked (down to the level of carrying the right bandage in your first aid kit). Finally, when it gets dark all competitors are required to be grouped together when it gets dark and are required to stay together for the duration of the event until you either finish or the morning when it gets light and groups may then be split. If you are held at a Checkpoint until you are grouped then I believe a time credit is given for this waiting time. Essentially, it means at some point during the event then you have to join a group and travel at the groups pace (I’m not sure what happens to the race leaders though and I assume it’s a race to point where people are grouped?). The plan had been for a few friends of mine to tackle the event together but ultimately after a couple of drop-outs there were just two of us on the day, Frank and myself. Frank had attempted to complete the event twice before and was hoping this was third time lucky. As we were working on different pacing strategies (me a bit of jogging and walking) then we agreed to go our separate ways and the plan was for me to hopefully finish during the night, get some sleep at a local Premier Inn and then collect Frank in the morning. We set off from home around 6.30am in the morning and arrived at Church Stretton three hours later. I was gutted that the Little Chef in Woolerton had closed down as I was looking forward to a pancake breakfast but we stopped at a café outside Church Stretton for a cooked breakfast. We completed the mandatory kit check having carried all our kit in a clear plastic box and then packed our gear afterwards. I managed to get everything into my Inov8 Race Vest although I did have a collapsible mug to save space which I wasn’t planning on using and was careful with the amount of food I took (I ended up with 2 cereal bars at the end which was my emergency food so judged this about right). We made our way from Race HQ to the start and lined up with around 450 other competitors before starting at 1pm.
Ready to go at the start
Competitors at the start of the event
There was an immediate surge forward as about 100 people started running to get ahead of the crowd and I followed suit before we hit the first hint of elevation before half the group immediately stopped and walked which seemed pretty pointless effort with 50 miles to go. There was a hardcore group of runners (the proper Fell running types) who continued ahead as the first hill (Caer Caradoc) got steeper showing their true ability.
View looking down from the first summit
I had decided to take it steady for the first hour and hiked up the first summit, got to the checkpoint at a some ruins had my tally clipped (which was your evidence of having made each checkpoint) and passed down the summit towards the second imposing summit. It was easy to spot the more experienced fell runners who flew down the hills with reckless abandon whilst I gingerly took small tiptoe paces down the summit trashing my quads as I braked with every step. My downhill running on steep hills can be rated as “poor” at best! I picked up a jog on the flat and then hit the second summit 2 miles into the race and made my way up the Lawleys, had my tally clipped and then returned down the same way and on towards the third checkpoint at 7 miles. I managed to land awkwardly after climbing a style around here which aggravated a slight Achilles niggle which was bad enough to make me wince with pain but thankfully it settled down on the flatter section. I made it to the next checkpoint filled up my water bottle and ran up a gently rising section of pathway crossing some heathland area to Checkpoint 4 at Pole Bank.
View looking up the second Summit (Lawleys)
From Pole Bank I followed a pathway downhill to Bridges (12 miles) and clocked a couple of quicker miles. I recall being grouped at this point one year when it was starting to get dark but this year had a few hours of daylight and passed through here on a road section up to the dreaded Stiperstones. The Stiperstones (as pictured below) is an ankle twisting rocky section which I took pretty cautiously and several people drifted past me dancing their way through this area as I tip-toed, shuffled and stumbled my way through this section.
The ankle twisting Stiperstones section
I ran along with Fell running veteran Terry (68 years young) for a little while as we made our way up Earls Hill and back down again where I stopped briefly to refill my bottle at a water tap in a pub where a crowd of supporters (well drinkers who may or may not have been actually supporting) were gathering.
Earls Hill (I think)
The next section was a short road section to Bank Farm before a longer primarily road based section to uphill to Shelve. It was about 6.30pm at this point and groupings were starting to take place. By this time I had been chatting to 40 year old marathon runner and teacher Pete, and the duo of Libby (59 years young) and Norman (early fifties) who were running together and all experienced runners (Peter mentioned they were all 3 – 3.15 marathon runners!). As we had all been jogging and hiking at the same sort of pace for a few miles we agreed to group up although Libby then recounted a bad experience when they were grouped up with someone they didn’t seem to get along with in a previous year. Libby and Norman had excellent local knowledge of the route which meant my self navigation plan of: A – Memory from previous hikes, B – Garmin route, C – Following other people and (as a last resort) D – Actually looking at my map was largely redundant. In fact Libby and Normans knowledge was so precise they were able to pick out certain bushes, trees and rocks, which marked the route. I think I could have got around ok but certainly not as quickly as people with good local knowledge of the route. The grouping system is there for people’s safety, especially as the area can be quite remote and people can be exposed to the weather on the summits and peaks. Generally, by the time you are grouped then you should be running with people who are the same sort of pace/ability. However, once you are grouped then you are not permitted to leave a person behind and essentially you are then travelling at the pace of the slowest person. Interestingly, whilst the individual competitive element diminishes a group competitive element becomes more pronounced with groups then competing against each other (in an unspoken manner) with friendly banter as groups pass each other.
Lovely views.. shame you didn’t have time to appreciate it all
It got dark quite quickly and we paused before Corndon Hill to put on an extra layer and get our head torches out. Unfortunately Norman wasn’t feeling great and had a bit of a dodgy spell before eating and recovering later on. It was dark by the time we descended Corndon Hill and we crossed paths with another group on the descent where we lost Norman briefly as I thought he was immediately behind me but it was someone from another group and Norman was descending a little more slowly. From that point, I decided to bring up the rear as Libby was doing a great job setting the pace ahead and navigating and so it easy for me to bring up the rear and tag along ensuring no-one got left behind.
A group behind us descending Corndon Hill
We had a good team dynamic, as Libby set into a rhythm of running the flats and downs, and striding the ups taking care at any points where the terrain was more difficult (bracken, root covered paths or areas with holes and depressions) and we all settled into this pattern without complaint as such we kept going at a decent pace throughout the event. After Corndon Hill, we passed the next Checkpoint at Woodgate Farm and then had a couple in interim Checkpoints around Black Rhadley Hill to ensure people followed a prescribed route and didn’t take a short cut and trespass onto private land. After Rhadley Hill was we returned back to the bottom of Stiperstones with the checkpoint there marking 13 miles to go. The next section was a long downhill road section to Pole Cottage which we covered quite quickly passing another group at this point. We paused a little too long at Pole Cottage as I started to get quite cold whilst the others grabbed a hot drink but soon warmed up as we picked up the pace on the section towards Minton. Each group carried a group card showing the numbers of each person in your group which you were required to hand in and collect on your way out from each Checkpoint. After we had left the Checkpoint I asked Norman if he had collected the group card (which I had been carrying for the race) to which there was a brief moment of panic that we had left it behind before I cracked a smile and they realised I was joking.
Night running over “lumpy” ground
We were now crossing an unmarked section through bracken and trying to pick put the correct path. By this time everyone except for me had fallen over but my turn was to come a little later on. The Minton checkpoint is self-clip station before crossing the road at Little Stretton and then the final beast of hill which was Ragleth Hill. This was for me the toughest and steepest hill and I broke it down into a series of steps, pause for a few seconds and repeat many many times until we got over the summit to the final checkpoint. At this point there was less than 2 miles to go so the job was pretty much done as we followed the ridge along Ragleth Hill before descending into Church Stretton. I managed to step into a depression or rabbit hole along this section and turned my ankle (but not too badly) then my head torch ran-out completely necessitating a battery change before we headed into Church Stretton and I slipped on a step aggravating my Achilles. It was an incident packed last couple of miles for me but I gritted my teeth and ran along with the group knowing we only had a few more minutes running towards the end. We arrived at the finish at 12.31 am having completed the course in 11hrs 31mins and joint 26th position out of about 450 starters. The time was about 10 hours quicker then the last time I had started it, so a job well done by everyone!
Top team! (Peter, Libby, Norman and myself pictured)
I thanked the guys and we posed for a photo before we headed our separate ways. I drove to my hotel in the centre of Shrewsbury witnessing the usual Saturday nighters out at night (i.e. lots of shouting, running around, stepping in front of cars etc.) before crashing out for the night around 2am. I returned to Church Stretton the next day (after a cooked breakfast) to collect Frank who had successfully completed the hike in just under 20 hours before we travelled back to Reading. It was an enjoyable (if tiring) weekend, the event is challenging with some steep climbs and summits on the 50-mile route but is very well organised and offers some fantastic country sights and scenic views. It’s a shame the event is so popular and sells out so quickly.
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