Today’s race was a little bit special for me. The Hit The Trail 5 race, organised by Belle Vue Racers was my very first attempt at a trail race, back in 2015.
And whilst that is only 4 years ago, so many major life events have happened in that time. Oddly, despite being on my doorstep, this is old the second time I’d run the race.
Back in 2015 I’d decided that I wanted to try running off-road. From where I am now as a trail coach, it seems quite a surprise that this is so recent. I remember having absolutely no idea about how to approach it. Everything I’d done before had been on tarmac, save for a section of the North Wales Half Marathon which was off-road, and somehow took me by complete surprise. I remember getting a relatively inexpensive pair of trail shoes from a high-street store, only a few days before the race. They were Karrimor shoes and they were terrible. Basically in 2015 I winged this race and thankfully didn’t die in the process.
Hit The Trail 5 (Reddish Vale)
Hit The Trail takes place in Reddish Vale Country Park, to the north of Stockport centre. It consists of a small amount of stone paths and a large amount of trail/mud tracks running throughout the park. It undulates, but on the whole it’s not hilly. One of my fellow Marple Runners commented today that the course wasn’t unlike a cross-country course, and I think that sums it up pretty well.
It’s a single lap route with a bit of doubling back and looks something like this:
As a route it has a good amount of variety whilst being beginner-friendly. Nothing technical going on the course and all the climbs and descents are relatively short. The race itself is about 7k long, a little shorter than the 5 miles suggested in the title. The route can get very muddy however today there really wasn’t that much mud. I was wearing my X-Talons but a less aggressive shoe would have been fine today. That said, I’m happy with my choice!
It has a sting in the tail with the last few hundred metres being a climb. If this hill was early on in the race, it probably wouldn’t get a mention. If however you have thrown everything at the race for the first 4 and a bit miles, the finish will definitely hurt!
Going into the race, I was confident that I should be able to run quicker than last time. Simply because last time I didn’t know what I was doing, nor did I know what the course was like. I’m fitter in 2019 than I was this time 4 years ago and I’ve done a lot of off-road racing since. As I also coach on this type of terrain, my understanding of the approach to the race is massively increased compared to the novice I was last time.
The beginning is very narrow and it’s a popular race. It’s a difficult one to work out where to start; too far up front and there’s a risk of going out too quick and blowing up somewhere on the course; too far back and getting into my own stride will take too long and I’ll lose time. I reckon I was about 1/3 of the way back today, although in hindsight going a bit further forward may have been beneficial. The first bit of the race is on the flat, but narrow, so getting into any sort of pace here was difficult. Then there’s the first incline and suddenly you can be boxed in by a lot of people struggling up the hill. There was a bit of dodging about but at least by the 0.5 mile mark I was up to the pace I wanted.
There was no time goal today and whilst my watch was recording all the stats, I was running on feel as I progressed through a stream of runners who were by this stage thinning out nicely. I had some decent space during the first loopback and in fact the only point after this where it wasn’t the case was on the section of steps. Most of the runners in front were running up the edge of the steps, but doing it slowly. I got stuck briefly behind this as a couple of others passed me on the steps. After this I went onto the steps and passed the group.
The steady flat/slight descent which we’d run up on our way out was now very spacious and made for easy running before we turned and dropped down to cross the river. The bridge ends were narrowed to prevent motorcycles getting on the bridge and I’m always a bit wary of these narrow gaps as they represent a decent opportunity for me to collide with! I’m a bit on the clumsy side when it comes to avoiding obstacles!
This second loop section was very undulating and I was beginning to feel tired. I kept going and looking at the running data, I didn’t slow down until climbing back away from the river. I’d remembered that there was a short and quite steep climb immediately before the finish, but not that the climb itself starts from a way back from this. I know I felt like I was flagging! I could see about 10 other runners up ahead of me and whilst there was little chance of me catching them, I didn’t want to see them speed away either. Each marshal kept on with fabulous encouragement, but whilst they kept insisting the finish was ‘up the hill’ there seemed to be a series of turns before the finish funnel came into view.
I crossed the line in 31:10, some 3.5 minutes faster than my previous effort, so that was pleasing.
Value / extra bits
The race cost £7.30 to enter, made up of a fee of £6 plus various booking charges. At the finish there was a bottle of water, a flapjack and a bottle of beer. Sadly this time no slate drinks coaster which, as a non-drinker, I’d have much preferred. I’m sure many others though would value the beer more.
There were several photographers on the course. I can see that APN SPorts Photography have started to upload photos and these are £1.50 per digital download. If I become aware of anyone else I’ll add links accordingly.
Hit The Trail 5 is a nice little local trail race. It’s extremely popular and usually sells out before the day. It’s well marshalled. The organisation of the race itself is very good, although I know a few people felt that the registration and collection of race numbers wasn’t so organised (I got there ridiculously early as I’d come straight from work and as such had no issues). It’s a good route for the beginner and those new to trail running. So there’s a lot to like about this race.