There are many good events close to Grantham at this time of year. The Spires and Steeples event has been on my list for a while but it clashes with one of my favourites, the Dave Lewis Challenge. This year I felt fairly fit, had rested well during a recent holiday overseas and so I thought I would try and "double up" by doing both events on consecutive days.
|Arrgg new route where's the map!|
The Dave Lewis Challenge is a low key event organised by chimney sweep, Robert Ellis. The event involves 27 miles of trail, field, road, track and river bank from Kelham near Newark on Trent. The event is affiliated to Newark athletics club. The untimely passing of a fell runner in a race the previous week caused widespread grief particularly amongst the fell running community. As I stood among friends on the the start line, I reflected how lucky we are to be able to take part in these events and that the Dave Lewis challenge was a good example of how the memory of a late athlete can live on and inspire others. I understand that Dave Lewis was a dedicated Newark athlete and coach who also had an untimely death, each year the total proceeds from the event go to a charity approved by his widow who turns out each year to start the event. This year, £750 had already been raised for the fight against breast cancer by the time I finished the event.
I arrived at the start in the car park at the Kelham Fox twenty or so minutes before the start. After handing over my entry I fee I sought confirmation that the route was the same as the previous two years, a route I knew fairly well. "No it's very different" was organiser, Ellis' response. Thereafter ensued a fraught quarter of an hour locating my map and a highlighter and perching over the organiser's car, fighting between other race participants to try and highlight the route and checkpoints. The organiser had given out an extensive route description but I had difficulty following route descriptions in previous years and I hoped my impromtu map plotting would be reliable.
At 8.30am perhaps thirty or so participants set off North to Bathley-Norwell-Ossington-Caunton-Knapthorpe-Upton-Rolleston-River Trent-Averham and back to a most appropriate finish at the Kelham Fox public house. The start was easily navigable for perhaps a mile along a tarmac road. I ran out strong and found myself at the front of the runners field. Walkers had left an hour earlier and I wondered when we would catch up with them. Its not often that I am the front of an event but the experience taught me that front runner has a responsibilty to navigate well in the interests of thise behind! As I paused to read the route description another runner ran passed and then he paused and so I ran passed him, that processes continued cat and mouse fot the first few miles. Eventually without spoken agreement we started to help each other. I read the route description aloud and he confirmed the description by features on the ground.
On the way to Beck Bridge I was frustrated to be caught by some runners behind. These events aren''t really about winning but I was frustrated that our navigation had perhaps been followed by a fairly large group behind. In fact the line of the chasing group as we ran towards the checkpoint was different. We had run a dogs leg and the chasing group had cut a diagonal across the dogs leg probably on the correct route and nearly caught us up.
|Gathering ahead os the start|
At Beck Bridge I decided to bag the route description and follow my hastily prepared map. Following straight highlighted lines for distance was easier than slowing to a shuffle every couple of minutes to read the route description. The map worked I saw a straight road for a couple of miles and stretched out a lead leaving my compatriot and the chasing group behind. The sun was shining through distant high clouds. Despite the flat profile of the agricultural farm land to the North West of Newark, the landscape has its own charm. Horseriders rode by, country dogs were being walked by gents wearing tweed jackets and carrying staffs and the last of the early morning fog simmered above the dewey fields in the distance. It is post harvest in these parts and the fields that we ran across were often barren with just the cut off stalks of the harvested crops left in the ground to challenge the skin above our ankles. On the way to Caunton in a heavily ploughed field I noticed something slither rapidly into a small hole between the clods of soil. It moved so fast and seemed to slither but I wasn't able to catch a proper sight, it was black and fast, perhaps a mole? At some point a little further on a Deer leaped out of a bush in front of me, it was inspiring to see it clambber off at speed.
On the way to the checkpoint near Caunton farm I realised I had lost the path. I knew it because the path I had been following had gradually dissipated away and I was left floundering across an even more heavily ploughed field. I could only wade across the big clods of soil and was grateful to get to the road at the other side. I could see the checkpoint to the left and to the right were some approaching runners. I was confused. I had run really strong on the previous sections and I knew those behind were some distance away. Perhaps I'd varied from the routes to such a degree that they had caught up? Perhaps the runners I saw approaching weren't in the event? I arrived at the checkpoint to drink water and refuel. I recognised the runners as, Vaughan and Anne Wade, stalwarts from the Peak District ruining scene and obviously doing the same event. I hadn't seen them at the start and my confusion deepened but I didn't havetime to discuss it all, I had an event to contend with. I exchanged a brief pleasentary and ran on.
Much of the route to Upton was on familiar, previous Dave Lewis Challenge ground. In my view the route gets even better from this point. I ran through an orchard towards the checkpoint, negotiating angry dogs snarling through a fence in an adjacent garden. I noticed how the apple crop wasn't as plentiful this year. Banana Poppy seed cake is available at Upton checkpoint. It's good, really good, so good I had to ask if it was ok to keep eating it. I knew the next leg to the River Trent went on for a bit so I wanted to fill my stomach. "No problem, you've earned it!" was the friendly reply.
On the way to the River Trent I happened upon a checkpoint that I wasn't expecting. It's nice when that happens. Mentally I was set for a leg to Averham (which is, I understand pronounced airham by those in the know) I took the opportunity and guzzled more liquid. The route to Rolleston Power Station is picturesque along the banks of the wide River Trent. It was great to be running free, feeling good and inspired by the strong current of the river which raced alongside.
Just before the power station I entered another ploughed field and saw a lone walker in the distance. I assumed he was an event walker and I shouted a greeting as I approached. I should have shouted from further back as he jumped in the air with fright. I was able to atone for my misdemeanour by confirming the route to the power station before I ran on chuckling to myself inwardly. The route alongside the power station follows a narrow path between the might of the concrete building, industrial pipes and chimneys on one side and the similarly powerful River Trent on the other side, before passing through fields to the penultimate checkpoint at Averham. On the way to Averham the path was so rutted it was easier to run through a field of what looked like sweetcorn. I was flanked either side and chuckled inwardly for the second time as I ran happily through a ceremonial guard of sweetcorn that rose at either side of me.
I didn't dwell at Averham, I was getting tired and looked forward to a hot shower at Kelham hall followed by lunch in a warm Kelham Fox pub. The final section passed a reverse of a previous year's route which I struggled to remember. Ikept an eye on the map which I had clutched throughout not wanting to go wrong at such a late stage.
I arrived back at Kelham in approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes to receive a chocolate and a medal from organiser Ellis followed by the promised hot shower and steak and kidney pudding in the pub. I would recommend the Dave Lewis Challenge. there are no prizes and no official times but the checkpoints are well organised by volunteers, the route description isn't that hard to follow and the event is a great excuse for a day out running in great countryside supporting a good charity and through featureful terrain.
Spires and Steeples Challenge
|Lincoln Cathedral adjacent to the start.|
I had a bit of stiffness after the previous day but I knew if I could get out bed and get to Lincoln for the start I would be nine tenths of the way to the finish. I crawled out of bed early for the second day running. We arrived in Lincoln by 8.30am for a 9.30am start.
The Spires and Steeples event runs from Lincoln to Sleaford along a waymarked route that can be done as a challenge at anytime during the year. The organised event is supported by a crew that volunteer at checkpoints and marshall at the parts which are hardest to navigate. There is a debate about whether this event is well organised or not. I had no problems, I thought the organisation was really good. I never really understand the good race bad race debate. For me If you turn up pay an entry fee and run a race through beautiful countryside with a few fuel stops in between, anything else is a bonus. The bonuses at Spires and Steeples were a good quality technical t-shirt, a medal, a certificate and free sports leg massage at the finish.
The route leaves the grandeur of Lincoln Castle and heads down the steep cobbles of historic Bailgate before leaving the City heading east along the banks of the River Witham to Washingborough. From there runners head in a Southerly direction following this route to Sleaford.
|First Runners Leave Lincoln Castle|
The field was bigger than the previous day and there appeared to be more quality runners participating in the 26 mile event. Similar to the Dave Lewis Challenge, walkers had left Lincoln, along the same route an hour earlier and there was also a 13 mile event which began at the halfway stage at Mertheringahm. I ran along the River in about fifth position but I was running noticebaly faster than the previous day and I questioned whether I had gone off too fast. It became apparent that I was running a race that many around me were treating like a typical road marathon. At checkpoints, those around me were swiping bottles of water from the hands of volunteers and running on without stopping. I did the same through the first couple of checkpoints but on the way to Metheringham I had a reality check. I'd run 28 miles the previous day, I was now running a faster pace than the previous day and taking on less fuel. I was trying to compete with those around me and I knew from experience that it's dangerous to run someone else's race. At the next checkpoint I took a bottle of water, walked on a few yards, stopped removed the bottle from my ruck sac and transferred the water into the bottle, along with an electrolyte tablet. In addition I ate a jaffa cake bar from my bag. As I did this it was demoralising to watch lots of runners pass by gulping a quick shot of water before discarding their bottles and running on at speed. Although it was frustrating I thought it would be interesting if I kept well fuellled, to see if in the later stages I could pass those that had passed me. Would they be ruing less speed because of their earlier hasty checkpoint strategies?
The route to Sleaford was very runnable mostly on grassy tracks with occasional fields, some of which were ploughed and rutted. There were infrequent roads into picture postcard Lincolnshire villages and church spires stood grandly in the middle of each of them. Participants were given six rubber bands to wear around their wrists. The idea was to drop a rubber band at each checkpoint. I was confused because we had run for miles and I still had four bands left. I knew there were only two checkpoints before the finish which would make three bands in total, what of the other one? I caught up with a runner in front who was similarly perplexed but thankfully he too had four bands left. The best he could think was that the organiser had given us an extra band in case we lost one. I thought that was unlikely but I kept the thought to myself.
I must have been in about fifteenth position by Digby with about 9 miles left to run. Surprisingly given the previous days efforts I had run strong and the blow up that I expected to happen didn't materialise. It was time during the last 9 miles to use those fuel reserves. I pushed on towards the finish. On the way out of Lincoln earlier in the day a repeat offender had warned me about the final stages "it goes on a bit" he said in a typically endurance runner's understated way. I took note, a word to the wise i thought.
The fuel reserves paid dividends and I began to reign people in. With each runner passed I seemed to gain in strength. I was able to extend my legs and I felt great as I ran along the final stages adjacent to the River Slea. Somewhere about 3 miles before the finish and similar to the previous day, I happened upon an unexpected checkpoint. it was the mystery band drop that left one band to drop at the finish. I took the unexpected opportunity to drink some more but I didn't dwell, not wanting to interrupt the good pace that I had mustered. The last two miles did "go on a bit", Sleaford never seemed to become visible in the distance. Eventually the River became flanked by buildings and it was apparent that I had entered the town. Soon after I noticed the welcome sight of a finish funnel on the opposite side of the River. Across the bridge and home to the applause of spectators who milled about on the green and river bank. I was welcomed with a t-shirt and the news that I had arrived back in 8th position in a time of 3 hours and 40ish minutes.
|The best part of a race|
I don't remember doing long events on consecutive days before. The hardest part was getting out of bed. I think the running was easier on the second day and for some reason I am not stiff today (the day after the second event) yet I was stiff on the night after the first. It was great to run from Lincoln to Sleaford. This was a popular event with walkers and runners and is accessible for long distance walkers and runners with a shorter thirteen mile option. I was fortunate to have lift to the start and from the finish but being a linear route people without lifts need to leave theirs cars at Sleaford and catch the bus which is organised to ferry entrants to the start.