Sunday 9th July 2017 – Wyre Forest Half Marathon
When race director Craig Lewis of Amazing Feet advised that the first two miles were predominantly downhill he wasn’t lying, what he failed to mention, or what we probably failed to hear in the excitement of a two mile downhill start was that there would be a two mile up hill finish. I suppose one would cancel out the other but the worrying part was the nine miles in the middle, but that was far into the future, a little too far for some people.
The Wyre Forest Half Marathon takes advantage of an area that could have been designed with the sole intention to run around….or ride around on mountain bike or horse….trails, tracks, fire roads, twists and turns through forests and along wide gravel paths. An absolute joy at a leisurely pace with no pressure, but the triple hit of pace, gradient and temperature made this a particularly difficult test. Pin a number to a vest and whatever the intention to go steady soon evaporates in the heat of battle and a two mile downhill start only makes it evaporate more quickly. All the good intentions of going off steady vaporises in the frenzy of that initial charge. Two miles in and you are pointed left along a track that would have been muddy if it hadn’t been for the baking hot conditions in the preceding fortnight. Now baked hard and rutted you try to avoid the grooves and get into a groove and find a decent rhythm, what follows are some biting gradients, some brutal climbs, the joy of that first downhill couple of miles soon forgotten as the miles tick slowly away and the path turn from the enjoyable pine needle covered trails to what now feel like dusty scars across the landscape. As the race progresses you start to notice the heat, the temperature appears to rise dramatically, the trees almost sucking the oxygen out of the air leaving what’s left as a thick soup that leaves you gasping, although that could have been the pace and the hills that just made it feel like this.
As the miles tick slowly by you reach a long almost paved stretch and pass a 9 mile marker, only 4 to go, and you realise that the finish isn’t too far away. Then the realisation kicks in, of that four remaining miles the last couple must be uphill if the first two were mostly down, well here goes. The gradual climb from that point seems to go on for ever, two miles uphill seems more like four miles as the gradual incline from this point gets increasingly steeper, each step taking you closer to the finish passing walkers who appear to be going only a little slower than you. You round a bend and find a short, sharp downhill which sweeps left and then starts to climb, head down you hear the rattle of the Go Ape ropes to the side of the path, can’t be far now, a slight kink in the path keeps the finish just out of sight, as you round that final turn you summon enough energy to get over the line and then you can collapse and some did. The finish resembling a mobile field hospital as many sat slumped on the grass, crouching in the dirt, leaning against tress, too tired to move, the blank eyed stare testament to the effort they had expended. Continuous cups of water, keep your cup and get a refill, and flapjacks gradually bring people back to life, for some it’s a much longer process than others.
Andrew Salt made light work of both course and conditions, the Croft Ambrey RC athlete taking first place crossing the line in 1.24.38, Ben Carrington of Tipton Harriers claimed the runners up spot in 1.25.01 and Richard Smith brought a Worcester AC team of three home in third spot to claim the team prize in 1.25.31. In the ladies race it was a win for Sarah Conway of Birchfield Harriers who ran a well paced race and looked strong at the finish crossing the line in 1.36.11, Sian Powell of Kidderminster & Stourport AC was second in 1.42.02 and Dudley Kingswinford’s Helen Tromans was 3rd in 1.43.43.
There was a small group of hoops in attendance claiming additional Grand Prix points with Dave Norman finishing in 17th place in 1.36.29, Mark Homer taking 20th place and 1st MV55 in 1.39.26, Andy Sprague finishing in 1.39.48 taking 22nd spot, Richard Jones wheezed over the line in 49th place in 1.47.39, Andrew Weaver claimed 107th place in 2.02.18 and Lisa Kendrick finished in 2.12.24 in 152nd place.
As humanity returned to many broken bodies there were many who were looking to return but probably an equal number who were looking for an excuse not too. There’s nothing wrong with the Wyre Forest Half, call in the Heart of England Half Marathon, charge a fortune and it would rival many of the more publicised and corporate savvy events that have cropped up in recent years, the only thing against it on Sunday was that it felt so difficult. Change a couple of letters in the title of the race and you wouldn’t be far from the truth, the Wyre Forest HaLF Marathon should be renamed the Wyre Forest HaRD Marathon.