2nd May 2015 Malvern Hills Ultra 52 Mile Race
The Malvern Hills Ultra 52 mile race is a single day, single stage race across the Malvern Hills area of natural beauty (AONB), including 8086ft of climbs and descents.
The clichéd answer to why I signed up for this is, of course, alcohol! Two school friends (Euan and Ryan) and I were having a pint during our 10 year school reunion, and the topic of ‘charitable events’ came up… Fast forward 2 weeks and we’ve all signed up, with SSAFA as our chosen charity; fast forward a further 3 months and Ryan has (un)fortunately had to pull out with a knee injury – just the 2 of us then!
I think the thought of, and preparation for, the event was more daunting and dangerous than the event itself. The months leading up to it were not without disasters; popped knees which stopped all running for a month, twisted ankles in the final week, falling down stairs, strained backs and tripping over boulders on training runs to name but a few! Eventually the day of the race arrives; obligatory pre-race photos are taken (both with and without an embarrassingly big ‘Go Euey and Adam’ sign), and we’re late for the race brief! I then have to leave the tent throughout for about 5 nervous toilet breaks…
We crossed a field and a stile and all the nerves have now gone, so the chatting begins. We’re about to spend the best part of a day together sharing highs and lows, so might as well get chatting nice and early; it also helps to regulate the pace as it’s very easy to go off too fast. 6:00min/km was our planned pace to start; this would allow us to warm up our legs for 13km to the first Checkpoint (CP1).
After CP1 the route started becoming more cross country; apple and pear orchards, farmers’ fields, kissing gates, footpaths and bridleways – beautiful. One such beauty is definitely NOT Anderkine Hill; maybe it is when you plan to go round it, but when your route takes you down into a ravine just prior to scaling this mound (which sticks out from its surrounds like Kilimanjaro), beautiful is not a word I’d use to describe its presence! Bluebells and wild garlic cover the forest floor as you trudge your way up the footpath, reminding you that spring has sprung and summer is not far off; but as they say “what goes up, must come down”, so there is some relief for us. However, the thought in the back of our minds is it’s an out-andback course, so not the last time we’ll see Anderkine Hill!
Soon we ended-up joining the Worcestershire Way, which made navigation a doddle as the entire route is signposted all the way to the turn-point at 42.2km (the less I thought about this the better!). The hills start becoming more prominent, and our technique for running the flats and downs, whilst walking the ups was paying dividends, both on the legs and mental spirit.
Ahead of us loomed the sight that gives this race its name, the Malvern Hills; 1395ft high, and we had to punch in at the top! Surprisingly, we made height very quickly and the climbing didn’t hurt our legs too much. We took advantage of the slow progress and continued to eat, which helped energy levels. When we levelled off for the first time to contour around the northern hill, I began suffering some cramping in my legs, albeit this wasn’t too debilitating. One last push and we made it to the trig point, Worcestershire Beacon, in good time. A long descent followed, which was a relief after all the climbing, but the knees, soles of feet and toes were beginning to feel the impact now, so great care was being taken as we still had far to go.
After 5hrs 30mins and 42.2km we reached CP3, the halfway point – the Malvern Hills Hotel. Following an 18min stop we headed off with a spring in our step, knowing we were now on our way back! It took barely any time to make it back up to the Worcestershire Beacon, which meant we knew it was all downhill (on average) from here – something we moments later saw in a whole new light. Cramping sore legs do not enjoy downhills!
At CP4 (54km, 7hrs 30mins) my wife and 2 boys cheer us in, but setting off is becoming all the harder now, as muscles are stiff. Nevertheless spirits have been lifted and motivation remains. CP5 (71km) is the the Crown Pub; we don’t stop for long as we’re now getting very tired, and the last 13km is predominantly on paved roads. There’s also a chance we could finish in under 12hrs!
We set off steadily up the road and immediately take a wrong turn. Backtracking, we resort to our GPS watches, both of which we discover are failing to work! I retrieve my laminated map from my bag and use this to navigate the remainder of the route back. It is amazing how little of the surroundings we took in at the start of the race, when we were merely following those ahead. From some way off we catch sight of the white gazebo that signifies the finish-line, upping our pace to get there as quickly as possible; we stop just short of the final corner and strip down to our SSAFA vests. My two boys meet us 75m from the finish line, clambering their way onto our shoulders and joining us as we cross the line! The Malvern Hills Ultra 52 mile race 2015 is complete; 84.4km in 12hrs 7mins (10hrs 29mins ‘moving time’)! I experience a feeling of achievement like no other; the opportunity to spend a day with my best friend from school doing something I love, whilst being shown so much support from my nearest and dearest (and those I haven’t seen for years). We also raised £1277 for SSAFA in the process, a charity close to our service hearts, which helped make it a day to remember. Bring on the next one!