Westhope 2015

Herefordshire Summer Cross Country Series – Race 3, Westhope

Dan & Amy

Dan Pavitt

Something wasn’t quite right. That last climb didn’t dismantle my brain and rebuild it back to front instructing every sinew in my body to just lie down in the evening sun with a pint of cider. I had a little too much energy in the final downhill scramble (though not enough to catch one of the middle two Gilberts), and most importantly the bottom orchard didn’t wear me down like a caged animal rubbing its head on the bars out of sheer boredom. There is always another turn at Westhope; just one more dusty track or lumpy green corridor through the apple trees, but somehow my old adversary had lost some of its potency.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I have a bit of a thing about this third race on the summer XC calendar. On one oppressive evening in July 2013 I succumbed to the heat for part of the last mile and a half, staggering along, engulfed by the lower half of the field whose will power outweighed my own, and ever since then it’s been personal. I had been on holiday the week before – in Scotland, drinking as much as possible for about twenty three hours a day, mostly in the form of malt whisky – but I still hold Westhope responsible for that walk of shame.

This time though, there wasn’talways another turn – in fact I seemed to be crossing the road to embark on the final clockwise lap almost before I knew it. And my time looked suspiciously quick. Colin’s Thursday evening sessions have done me a power of good this year, but although I hadn’t been able to dig out last year’s results, 35.45 seemed like a bit too much of an improvement. When I got home I knelt at the alter of Strava, the god of GPS, to submitdetails of my run like some sort of virtual sacrifice. Several club mates and fellow racers had already done so using data from their Garmin’s and at this point my worst fears were realised. Tom: 4.6 miles Emily: 4.6 miles Heath,who’d started his watch about 25 seconds after the start,  4.4 miles. The summer races are always shorter than the winter ones, but they’re never less than five miles. Then I looked at the routes that all these clever devices had generated and compared them to the map we were sent in advance. Clearly the course was shorter than usual and I have it from a reliable source – well, somebody told him, and he told me – that the leaders took a bum steer and cut out half a mile from that relentless bottom section. Apparently they blamed it on poor signage, but I suspect there was just something on the telly they wanted to watch.

I felt oddly cheated: I wanted the opportunity to nail that race for the second year in a row (I buried my demons last year), but I’ll just have to wait for 2016 to do it again.

So let’s rewind to about 6.45pm. As a result of three tractors, four sets of roadworks and six Sunday drivers out on a Wednesday evening, I arrived too late to occupy my usual place in the car park nearest to the start, and was short of time to prepare for the race. In the end, my warm up turned out to be ‘car reps’: As the current custodian of Ludlow Runners’ kit, I was required to make three journeys to and from the boot of my Fiesta to dig out club colours for newmembers – from a rapidly dwindling stockpile. Anyone who knows me well will be aware that I’m a bit of a drama queen and by the third effort I was ready to throw a hissy fit. At that point, someone who shall remain nameless, Eilish, advised me that she’d lost her number, and could I make her a new one. Good job she’s quick that girl – otherwise I would have minced off into the sunset throwing my toys out along the way.

In due course we lined up for the off. Unfortunately Craig Collier was away sunning himself and drinking strong continental lager on the Costa del Somethingorother. We were also missing hotshoes like Todd Langley Tanner, Matt Yapp, and Jamie Shingler but thankfully Andy Salt turned up to become our sole representative in the top ten – eventually finishing sixth. Behind him a team of twenty one runners tackled this fairly testing course. By my reckoning we had the second largest turn out there andalthough no less than fifty four pitched up for Wye Valley, they were just showing off.

There are other routesin the series consisting of more than one lap, but none where you ‘enjoy’ those laps in different directions – at the beginning, and end of the race.  Whenever you cover the same ground more than once in an event, the good thing is that you know what’s coming. And the bad thing is that you know what’s coming. Here, for instance, you get to charge downhill within about half a mile of the start knowing full well that same bank will have its wicked way with you in about twenty minutes time.

However, many people seem to be able to put that out of their mind and launch themselves into it like kids at the beach. I am not able to do this. For me racing is a series of three phases – 1)dread, 2) pain, and 3) blessed relief (not exactly selling it to you am I?). Phase one begins at about lunch time on race day and often lasts for a good three quarters of the first lap; it is the lifeguard preventing me from leaping fully clothed into the sea – whilst we’re using that simile. Phase two (the equivalent of immersing yourself in the English Channel rather than the Mediterranean) is usually at its peak roughly where the leaders took their infamous shortcut. Finally, phase three often begins shortly before the end – as I catch up with, and sometimes pass all the people who don’t even understand what phase one is.

Strangely enough, our team seemed to have divided itself into pairs by the end of the race, although Andy was out on his own approximately six minutes ahead of Tom, his nearest Ludlow challenger. I closed in on Eilish the whole way round and ever since I discovered the event was half a mile short I have been trying to convince myself I would have caught her had it been full distance. David Jamieson and John Lyden recorded exactly the same time, but David took the place.  Andrea Ford and Sarah Jamieson were seconds apart, (in Andrea’s first race for the club) as were Sandy Ross and Jamie Green. And so it went on: another newbie, Emma Tipton chased Hannah Crossley home and David Haynes is gradually working his way up the finishing order. He’s an inspiration to us all that guy. Maggie Morris and Jo Sharp egged each other on as they often do, but sadly I wasn’t there to cheer them on at the end. Very occasionally work takes precedence over running, and I had an early journey to Yorkshire the next day. I’m not trying to suggest I would have been waiting all night you understand – rather that I was completely disorganised, with mountains of washing and ironing I couldn’t ask the dog to do.

We now march on towards the last race of the series at Shobdon – another two lap event boasting beautiful and varied terrain.  I might suggest that this time the marshals are equipped with a range of tools to encourage our leaders not to make up their own route: high vis inflatable comedy hands, claxons, and perhaps trip wires ought to do the trick.

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