Thursday, July 26, 2018

Gloucester Groundhog - 22nd July 2018

What happens when two runners watch the Barkley Marathons documentary on Netflix? 

The Gloucester Groundhog is what happens.

Inspired by the documentary The Barkley Marathons: The race that eats its young the Gloucester Groundhog is a 5-loop challenge on a route of around 9 miles, each with 1,300ft of elevation set in and around Cranham Woods. It’s a really challenging route with variety of terrain and some good hills. The premise is pretty simple and just like it’s Barkley big brother. The challenge is 5 laps within cut-off or there’s a 3 loop fun run option. The cut-off is a very demanding 9 hrs. To make it even more interesting you have to navigate and at each mile (more or less) find a book and rip out a page with your corresponding bib number.

So far so Barkley.

Sunday 22nd July a few, 10 runners, gathered in a parking spot on the edge of Cranham Woods with the start to be given at 0900hrs. A race briefing at 0845hrs and that was it we were off. Straight up the hill from the start to the first book. It was then a turnaround back to the start to then head up on the road parallel with the woods. Across Painswick Road and onto the second book.

Groups quickly formed with one of the runners racing off at the front, I was in a pair just behind with then a larger group just behind. There was another pair that, i think, were predominantly walking the course.

Running with a mate is always good but when you spend more time talking than paying attention you can go wrong very easily and then not really understand that you have. Jez and I ran straight past the location of book 2 not seeing it at all. Book locations were indicated with pink rope. Some were easier to spot than others. This one eluded us and we ran past, probably a good half a mile past it. Only realising our mistake when the larger group of runners came through. We headed back and eventually found it. Acknowledging the time loss we figured we could make up the ground.

If we had been paying attention maybe we could have.

After the second book we set-off running again finding the third book with not too much issue. It was, though, here that we should have been concentrating on the map. We missed the turning down the hill for Watery Lane instead ending up on the main road down to Upton St. Leonard's. We were quite far down the road before realising our mistake. We turned around and orientated the map to then see that we were parallel with where we needed to be but some distance away. Between us were houses fields and barbed wire fences. We found a route across a field, hopped over a barbed wire fence, over a couple of stiles and onto Watery Lane where we located the book.

It was then back on road into Upton St. Leonard's. We made another mistake here. You’re not surprised at all are you! There was no visible rope although we could see from the ma where we were and that there should be something around. We met with the two walkers at this stage who were hunting too. It took us quite a while here to find the book. Later we heard that someone had taken the pink rope! To give an idea of how wrong we had gone at this point the walkers had done around 6.5 miles and Jez and I had covered closer to 11.

Back on course and running again we found our way to Nut Hill and located the book (a cheeky little up and back) it was then across Painswick Road and up towards Coopers Hill. You might not know Coopers Hill by name but if I said Cheese Rolling you might know where I mean. This is the site of the annual May Day Gloucester Cheese Rolling festival which can only be described as bonkers.

The views across Gloucestershire as you head up Coopers Hill are just amazing. You can see right across Gloucestershire as far as the Black Mountain in Wales, then moving your gaze to the right, The Mayhill with it's clump of trees perched on top a little further and it's The Malvern Hills with then everything in between. 

Uphill still the road gave way to trail and a steady if relatively short climb to the top. In the woods at Coopers Hill there are old walls and pathways. The book was located on a wall that has become part of the pathway. There was now one book remaining. The pathway leads towards a farm where it was through the gate and down onto a road that bisects the wood. There’s a footpath on the other side of the road that you pick up after which it is a nice down-hill towards the last book. The last book was difficult to find and another cheeky out and back. The footpath then deposits you by the Scout Hut in Cranham. It was a short up hill on the road towards the start/finish.

We had covered around 15 miles and taken 3hrs 45 minutes or so!! Any hopes of completing 5 laps had evaporated.

There was time to replenish supplies and head out again although this time in reverse. The advantage here was that we now knew the course and more importantly where the books were located. The second loop was without event as evidenced by the improvement in time where we ran around 1:45 for the loop. Quite slow for 9 miles but we had an additional 6 miles in the legs and also quite a lot of mental tiredness from searching for books and getting lost. It all takes a toll.

The third loop was where things changed dramatically. By now it was a long day and with this amazing weather we have been having it was a very hot and very long day. Lap two finished with the up and back that we did on lap 1 as lap 3 was a repeat of lap 1 it started with the up and back. All part of the Barkley plan to mess with your head and break you.

We started running and ran most of the loop down to Upton. Here with tiredness and heat catching up we started to walk the up hill section. It was around here, just at the top of Nut Hill that I started to have difficulties. I was suddenly overcome with tiredness and fatigue. Not just over come but over whelmed. I was doing massive yawns and putting one on front of the other was a huge effort. I was panting despite moving at a snails pace. I was craving water and only had 0.5ltr of Tailwind with me the thought of which made me feel sick.  As I struggled up the hill Jez got me to check my blood sugar, which was absolutely fine, and encouraged me to sit for a bit. I did but was worried about doing so as I felt like I could just fall asleep and knew that this was probably not a good thing.

I managed to take some Tailwind on board, gagging as I did so, and did start to improve. It was short lived and I was all over the trails. I was also between two road so getting support would have been far from simple. I was resolved in my mind to getting help at the road crossing by the farm which was probably less than half a mile. Making it there and feeling improved I knew I could finish. It was a slow walk down the hill towards the final book. The RD had come up the trail to find us noting that we had been on the third loop for quite some time.   We explained, or maybe Jez explained, that I had been having some difficulties and needed water but that I would finish. He headed back to the finish while we set about locating the final page from the final book.

Down to and through the scout centre it was then a short uphill to the finish, Jez helpfully pushed me up here, then the fence post to have completed three laps and the fun run.

Once done the RD handed me a bottle of water, I sat down and made my way through it. Also eating watermelon that was still available. I immediately felt better and set about chatting about what had happened and how it had been. I talk a lot but even I felt myself talking too much! Buffs were handed out (these are great by the way the Gloucester Groundhog branding is great). It was then into the car and home (I should point out that I wasn’t driving).

I got home and had some food and more to drink then a little nap in the garden. It was probably an hour and a half after finishing the event that i went to the bathroom to shower and hopped onto the scales. I was down 5.5lbs on what i weighed the day before. and that was after taking on around 2.5 of fluid post event and having eaten. Dehydration is the only answer for that kind of weight loss and explains why i felt so bad. I was probably down closer to 7lbs when i finished the event and i only weigh 148lbs anyway! 

The issue was i think on the lead up to the event and not during the event itself. Like a lot of people i have been busy in work so probably not drinking enough and i was in the car all day Saturday with family stuff so just not hydrated enough on the start.

Pretty serious though and a lesson learned for sure.

Looking at the Strava file post event Jez and I covered 33.5 miles. The fun run should have been closer to 27 miles. On running a loop last night (3 days after the GG) it actually measured as 8.6 miles with 1,306ft. An efficient fun run would barely be a marathon!

As the first holding of this event it was really great, the RDs did a fantastic job of organising, hosting and looking after everyone on the day. Their energy throughout was incredible. The runners were all in the spirit of it and no-one was able to complete the challenge, the best on the day being an excellent 4 laps. Look out for this event next year – it’s demanding, challenging and far from easy. 

That Netflix documentary has a lot to answer for – see you next year!