Quite a few Congleton Harriers Club members have taken up ultra-running, testing themselves over much longer distances across harsh terrain.
For the uninitiated, any race over 26 miles is classed as an ultra but many of these events are set at distances far in excess of that; 50 miles, 100 miles and many much in excess of that (writes Nick Budd).
The athletes who participate have to undertake extended and rigorous training to build up their endurance, condition their body and develop the mental fortitude to keep going the longer distances, battling against physical and psychological challenges.
Many club members have started off on local events such as the Gritstone Trail, the 25-mile route that cuts across the top of The Cloud before graduating onto tougher challenges such as the Ring of Fire and the Dragon’s Back.
One of the toughest ultra-events, if not the toughest, in the UK is the Montane Spine Winter Race, which takes place in January. Starting in Edale in the Peak District, the full race follows the Pennine Way for 268 miles up to Scotland to finish on the Cheviots at Kirk Yetholm (there are shorter, slightly less challenging, Spine Sprint and Spine South / Spine North events run concurrently to the main event).
The terrain for the most part is a mixture of peat bog, isolated moor, rocky outcrop set between isolated villages along the route. The athletes have to be self-sufficient, carrying all their food, warm gear and emergency equipment and are on the go continuously all day and night except for short rest periods at the checkpoints along the way, and there are only five of those across the whole route.
Make no mistake, this is a gruelling race with almost half the participants not making it to the end each year.
Not daunted by these stats, buoyed by his 2022 successful completion of the Dragon’s Back and not fazed by the falling temperatures, Graham Cooper from Congleton Harriers set off on his attempt on 14th January.
He set off nice and steady with many of the club back home tracking his progress online from the warmth of their homes, and watching with alarm the worsening weather and the increasing number of dropouts.
His only company was the occasional other competitor, a few sheep and the marshals at the checkpoints (which included Congleton Harrier Suzie Roebuck, who herself had previously successfully completed the Spine Challenger race in June 2022).
Cooper maintained a steady progress despite the cold through checkpoint one (Hebden Bridge) and up to checkpoint two (Hawes). Unfortunately, around checkpoint two he picked up a sprain. He soldiered on for a further 40 miles to checkpoint three at Middleton in Teesdale, but unfortunately the sprain got progressively worse and his adventure came to an end after 140 miles.
This is a race where there are no winners and losers – just getting to the starting line is a success on its own and completing 140 miles in such atrocious conditions represented an epic achievement.
Elsewhere, the start of January meant it was time for the Cheshire Cross Country Championships and there were seven male and three female Harriers in action.
This race was off the back of the conclusion of the North Staffs Cross Country League in which the Harriers had performed well with a strong men’s team finish of fourth in Division One and some fine individual performances (special mention to Bryan Lomas who picked up first place in the MV50 category over the whole series). The race was run at Winsford in some of the muddiest conditions seen for some time.
In the women’s race over 4.8 miles, out of the 92 runners, Emily Nott finished 30th in 40.59, Gill Armstrong was 67th in 48.05 and Georgie Budd was 70th in 48.20.
In the men’s 6.3 mile race, out of the 143 runners, Tom Fellbaum finished 14th in 42.35, Chris Moss was 44th in 48.56, Bryan Lomas was 57th in 50.00, Stuart Rider was 60th in 50.15, Tom Walker was 86th in 54.09, Jack Sargeant was 106th in 57.44 and Nick Budd was 126th in 62.14.
It was a particularly strong run by Chris Moss who picked up second place in the MV50 category.
Mid-January saw seven Harriers tackling the Four Villages Half Marathon (1,134 ran).
Tom Howarth was 32nd in 1.18.23, Stuart Rider was 106th in 1.25.09, Jessica Knowles was 370th in 1.39.50, Danny Jackson was 556th in 1.47.57, Nick Wilkins was 576th in 1.48.45, Kelly Marshall was 659th in 1.52.01 and Stephen Canning was 988th in 2.11.39. Tom Howarth and Stuart Rider both achieved personal bests.
On Sunday, 22nd January there were 10 Harriers at the Alderley Park five-mile Winter Trail race (4.6 miles).
Hannah Harding was 87th in 34.19, Mike Stanley was 117th in 35.19, Lucinda Brown was 119th in 35.24, Georgie Budd was 135th in 36.03, Linda Fairbrother was 180th in 37.50, Gill Armstrong was 183rd in 37.56, Beth Ambler was 235th in 39.35, Christine Gilligan was 312th in 42.22, Jackie Moss was 375th in 44.20 and Andrea Whiteley was 376th in 44.29.
Congratulations went to Hannah Harding who achieved third place in the F35 category.
The start of January also gave the Harriers the opportunity to make some improvements to their running schedule with speed/interval training being moved from Thursdays to Tuesdays, which from early indications is going well.
It also saw the start of another Couch to 5K programme, so good luck to all those who are participating in that.
For anyone interested in joining in, there are club runs on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday with most runs setting off from Congleton Lawn Tennis Club. The club is always keen to see new members whether speedy racers or more social runners.
Anyone thinking of joining can go along to one of the regular/ club runs for a few weeks and try the club out for size; they will be made to feel more than welcome with no obligation to join.
Find full details online at congleton-harriers.co.uk or connect with the club on Facebook where details of club activities are regularly posted.