Cheddar runners conquer challenge on home turf

Marathon master Jez Newsome

Marathon master Jez Newsome

With limbs still aching despite a gentle recovery run under the orders of coach Shane Roach, Jez Newsome writes this excellent report from a very successful day out at the Cheddar Challenge. He writes:

“The Cheddar Gorge Marathon holds a special significance for me being my local marathon as well as my first ever marathon back in 2014 and so 2017 was my fourth attempt. This year it was incorporated into The South West Outdoor Festival with various adventure activities including rock climbing in Cheddar Gorge, water sports on Cheddar Reservoir and of course great trail running. The festival provided weekend camping, live music, stalls, guest speakers, hot food and a bar! The organisation and facilities including  the parking, refreshments and toilets were all excellent throughout. Relish Running Races offered events during the festival to suit everyone with a great range of distances including junior runs at 1km & 3km, canicross and sunset runs at 6km & 10km as well as the half and full marathon trails.

 Living in Cheddar it was nice to be able to leave home at nine for a 10:00am start and chat with fellow runners preparing for the various distances. Unfortunately the weather was not great and as a chilly wind blew the morning mist and drizzle around the site most of us were left pondering the correct attire (ranging from vest and shorts to full waterproofs). After a short safety briefing from race director Tom we were released over the start line to begin our multi-hour assault over the Mendips.

 There had been some heavy downpours over the preceding days with several races churning up parts of the course into a mudslide but with a little care it was possible to stay upright down to Black Rock. The course then descended along a shale track before turning right up to the infamous hell steps where we were rewarded at the top by spectacular views through Cheddar Gorge. A technical rocky track then followed alongside The Gorge clifftop leading us to the old start/finish plateau where we were again presented with stunning views over Cheddar and the Somerset Levels before reaching our first feed station (mile 2/15). A track through open fields wove through cows and sheep taking us to a short forest section along which the festival site could be clearly seen in the distance before we tackled a slippery stone descent down to feed station two (mile 4/17). A long uphill section then led us up to a world war two bunker before we negotiated a rather saturated and muddy bog and a final climb up to the highest point in The Mendips at Beacon Batch. We then became exposed to the wind and rain but also a very welcome flat section along the top before a fast long downhill along the old Roman road to feed station three (mile 8/21). There are normally spectacular views here over toward Bristol and Wales across the Severn Estuary but unfortunately on the day there was poor visibility. The course continued along The Limestone Link traversing two stream crossings before taking a sharp climb back up to the Beacon Batch trig point and out to feed station four at the radio transmitters (mile 11/24). From this point the tarmac road felt strangely solid underfoot taking us down to the footpath behind the Charterhouse Outdoor Centre and descending through Velvet Bottom Nature Reserve.  A sharp left turn over a stile presented a harsh leg testing climb back up to festival elevation before skirting the festival site past groups of cheering spectators to feed station five sited at the start finish line (mile 13/26). Then there was realisation that this was only half way round with a gruelling repeat of the whole 13.1 mile route still ahead of us complete with a second 460m dose of elevation to tackle!

 I’d been training hard for the Birmingham Marathon next month I so started out to complete this one in a fair time rather than go flat out. The first lap felt really good possibly as I did not feel under pressure to hit a certain time but simply running to what felt comfortable and I was pleased to complete in about 2:09:26. Then at food stop six I was told I was sixth place! I was amazed and inspired to keep pushing for that result. I think I progressed into fifth place around the Beacon Batch climb and spent the rest of my race looking over my shoulder expecting several runners to pick it up toward the end and come flying past me. By the final climb out of Velvet Bottom my legs were empty and I struggled to even walk up the final hill but I just held in there to push to the finish. I was very happy to complete the distance in a personal best time of 4:23:23 coming in 5th overall and 1st in my age category (Male 40-49) also bagging a free future marathon place by way of a prize! [ED: surely that’s a punishment not a prize, Jez?!]

 Cheddar Running Club members also did well in the Cheddar Gorge Half Marathon (single lap as above) with Jes Dickin finishing in 2:10:09 (4th in category) followed by Joanna Rich in 2:37:03 while Michelle Sankey completed the Cheddar Gorge 10km run in 1:06:56 (5th lady).

 The Cheddar Gorge Challenge races are fantastic events in any weather and I’d recommend Relish Running Races events to all trail runners!”

Very well done everyone! Jenny

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