It doesn’t seem like a year since I first ran in this fell race. 2018 has definitely been a speedy year. Or maybe it’s the sign that I’m knocking on the door of the next veteran category in my races. Either way, I’m back for seconds of the Gravy Pud.
Indeed, whilst there is a cake competition combined with this fell race, there isn’t any gravy. I understand that the name of the race is taken from the nickname of Lees Hill, over which the route clambers.
I had been doubtful as to whether I would be racing at all today, even to the point of leaving the house to drive the 13 miles to the start. An over-exuberant session on the track last Tuesday resulted in my calf muscles going into complete lock-down making my walking look as if I’d been on a horse for the past 4 days. Foam rollers and WellBriX didn’t seem to have any sway in persuading said muscles that this wasn’t very helpful. I decided against competing in the Cross-Country match yesterday as walking was still a problem. However, a very slow jog around my original 5 mile road loop (back from when I started running in 2006) did seem to ease things off and allowed me to consider a race today.
I figured that as I’m not the fastest when I’m going up steep hills, and that the descents on this route weren’t too severe that the calves should be safe. I’ve long accepted that I don’t have a gear during a race which involves ‘just jogging around’. No, whilst I’m far from being uber-competitive, if I’m in a race, I’ll give it everything I’ve got on the day.
So let’s dive into things:
Gravy Pud – the event
The Gravy Pud makes up one-third of the Longdendale Trail Races, along with ‘Round the Resers‘ and ‘Hadfield Dash’. I’ve run Resers about 4 times, but yet to do Hadfield as they cancelled it this summer due to some football match going on….. Both the trail races get a lot of advertising and fill quickly. However as with many fell races, Gravy Pud is far more understated. It often clashes with the nearby road race Stockport 10 so that keeps the numbers down to a few hundred, which is all that can really fit onto the course without undue carnage. This year, the Stockport 10 is a week later, although the presence of the XC yesterday may have tempered the enthusiasm of some who might have otherwise come along to claim the 50ish on-the-day places.
As with more than a few fell races, Gravy Pud starts and ends at a pub. Registration was a matter of going into the correct side of the pub depending on whether you’d pre-registered or not. And as the cloud was currently sat on Tintwistle, the pub was very full of people waiting to start.
Kit requirements were minimal, with a request to take a jacket. I’d thought about taking full kit in my small rucksack, but decided instead to wear my jacket. Except I figured I’d get too hot so ultimately ran the race with it tied around my waist…..
Anyway 11am came and we were off:
Gravy Pud – the route
During the briefing there was a note that the route was slightly different to last year due to a bridge being out and that the course would be slightly longer. I did a comparison to last year and whilst there is a small difference as we crossed the river the first time (using a bridge!), actually the route was slightly shorter (0.1 mile).
On the up
With the complaining calves issue, all ideas of a super-quick race were pushed out of my head. I know I’m fitter than I was 12 months ago, and have run a lot more fell races in the intervening period, but at the same time I’m not prepared to break myself for the sake of it (been there done that). As it happens the course was quite a bit wetter than last year, so that helped settle those notions. That said and as mentioned above, once I get into race mode, I will push myself as hard as I can. On the start line we had a Marple Runners team selfie and I bumped into another friend Sean, who off the back of the Brathay 10in10 challenge has tackled a wide range of marathons in 2018, with a fair few hilly bits too. However this was his first experience of a fell race!
Race briefing over and we were off up the gentle incline of Arnfield Lane.After a short descent it was a right-turn and the start of the first climb along a farm track. It was from this descent that the route change was made. Instead of following the track down the descent, it was straight down the side of the hill, something I could have done a bit better judging by the places I lost. However, I got them all back as we took on the first part of Lees Hill. We started the final steepest section with a long line of people scrambling up the hill, hands and feet all involved.
And back down
A steady grassy descent was the reward before we joined a stony track which took us down into Swallow Wood. I made up a decent number of places during this section, although there were a number of runners close behind me. I found myself slipping about a little more than I would have liked as we approached the river crossing. One runner behind me commenting that this feature was somewhat over-sold and that he had more water in his garden! At least climbing up the other side I didn’t fall into the bracken like I did last year! As we came out of the dip a marshal shouted ‘2nd Marple Runner’; I’d already assumed that Martin would be ahead of me, but I hadn’t seen him at all since the Marple Runners photo at the start.
What surprised me at this point was that I’d expected this group behind me to fight their way past. Instead I seemed to be overtaking other runners and leaving them behind. Perhaps they went out too hard on the hill climbs and were paying for it now. The trails at this point undulated quite a lot, a feature that isn’t that obvious on the GPS trace above. So it’s quite understandable that if they were clinging on that this section may have been the final straw.
Swallow Wood is at a lower elevation than Tintwistle village which inevitably meant there were climbs to come. From leaving the woods, there was a short grassy path before another smaller wooded section alongside the reservoir. It is a very pretty route, although I was more focused on trying not to fall over anyone or anything! But every now and again I’d manage to look up and see the beauty before going back into running mode. The path crossed a bridge, turned back on itself (on the other side of the bridge) before joining a firm path. As I was approaching the bridge I saw Martin on the other side and for a change in a fell race I wasn’t a long way behind him.
A final push
Although the climbs at the end are small compared to those as the start, they’re tough as they’re at the end of the race. I kept pushing on though and passed a steady stream of runners as we rejoined Arnfield Lane. Which is one of those roads that seems to be uphill no matter which direction you are travelling in! Unlike last year, I worked out where I was on the route and realised that the climb I was facing had to be the last one and it must be downhill all the way after it (the race starts on an uphill). This was important as I realised Martin had slowed down more than me on this hill and I was close to catching him, at least if I could keep going myself!
Over the brow of the hill and Martin took off and I tried to follow. I heard two other runners behind me shouting something like ‘come on dig deep’ and the pair of them flew past me and Martin. I got caught up in the moment and followed them, passed Martin who instantly switched up a gear and passed them again! Nothing like being in a competitive finish. The end of the race appeared in view and I gave everything I had, passing Martin and I think one of the other two guys (maybe both, it was a bit of a blur). I had to slam my brakes on to prevent a collision with a marshal as we were somewhat wider than the finish funnel but all was well. Lots of handshakes, hugs and congratulations all round. At least once we’d all got our breath back!
Official time was 47m4s and position 48 out of 198. So all in all, very happy with that as I wasn’t quite in the condition I’d have wanted to be, yet still faster than the 48m22s from 2017. We waited around for a few of the others to finish. Sean survived his first fell race and seemed to enjoy it! But then I realised that standing around in a singlet and shorts, in the rain, in December was a really cold thing to do and had to get back to the car for warmth!
Gravy Pud conclusion
It’s difficult to find fault with a race that starts and ends in the pub and has a cake competition involved! At £5 for entry (£6 OTD) it’s the ‘standard’ fell race cost in the area. It’s a great route, tough enough to make you work but was well marshalled and flagged so there was no issue with regard to navigation. I enjoyed it greatly last year and I did again in 2018. Somebody did jump out in the woods with a camera so there may be photographic evidence out there somewhere; from memory the photos last year were provided for a small donation to the charity for which the race was collecting for so I presume it’ll be similar this year. Which is fine by me!