What: Stainland Trail
When: 25 September 2016
Where: The hills above Halifax
Terrain: Killer hills and trails
Johnny Meynell recounts the events of the Stainland Trail.
Last Sunday (25 September) the Stainland Lions hosted their own Stainland Trail, an event designed to push each and every runner to the limit. Personally, I hadn’t given this much thought, but when Luke Cranfield was asking on social media if anybody else from Northowram Pumas was up for doing this with him (he was also after a lift!) I stuck my neck out and agreed to give it a go. Expecting a flood of other willing participants, they sadly were not forthcoming. Yes, it was just the two of us. Many fellow Pumas had already pledged the long run on the canal in preparation for the Manchester Half Marathon, whilst others either simply didn’t fancy the Stainland Trail, or perhaps they’d done it before and decided better of it this time around!
Yes, it’s a toughie, but the clue’s in its name: trail. What would you expect? When Ian Marshall’s using descriptive words such as “killer”, then the warning was clear enough.
The morning of the race
Nevertheless, I’d committed myself to it, duly picked up Luke at Stump Cross and headed up to Stainland Recreation Ground. I must quickly interject at this point to say that at any given time, I could have had second thoughts; after all, by 9.30 (an hour before the start time) I hadn’t even registered. That soon changed, however, and in the comfortable settings of the 1885 bar (formerly the Red Lion) and amid the wafting scent of freshly ground coffee and bacon butties I filled in my application, handed over a wad of cash, then took twenty minutes trying to fix my race number to my running shirt – where’s Tracey when you need her?
Outside, I bumped into someone I knew from junior school (that’s over forty years); Wayne Ogden. He wasn’t running, nor there as an interested spectator. He was, in fact, part of the Calder Valley Mountain Rescue Team, which I can assure you, was very reassuring to know, if not a little foreboding.
The racing conditions were near perfect; slightly overcast but dry, and in time, the runners were called to order at the top of the park above the cricket field. The field was 128 strong, made up of the elite, the hopeful, the nervous, the hardy and the foolhardy, and after we’d all been briefed, it was time to go. No turning back now.
And they’re off…
The best runners were off in a flash, and as we headed down past the cricket field, I noticed Luke was already up there with them.
Actually, he’d told me that he had a score to settle with a certain runner who’d beaten him in the Helen Windsor 10k, and I did wonder throughout how he was getting on. For my own part, it was a case of settling down and facing whatever the course threw at me. The early stages seemed easy enough, down through the fields then into the woods. Often we had to run single-file, but once we’d spread out, the major obstacle to negotiate wasn’t so much the steep inclines, more the MUD. Loads of it, big thick mud, and none of it glorious. Trying to run at speed whilst staying on your feet isn’t easy in those conditions, but just as I thought I’d managed it, I stepped onto a stone as we passed through a broken wall, lost my footing, and fell. A faller at the first fence, you could say, but for those of you who run regularly with me, the sight of myself landing on my backside isn’t necessarily an unusual one. Still, I picked myself and carried on. We’d gone less than a mile.
The race application form suggests a 10k multi-terrain “through the stunning Yorkshire countryside”. This may be true, but believe me, when you’ve another five miles to go and the course proving as daunting as it was, you’ve no time to enjoy it. And not being familiar with these parts of Calderdale, I’ve no real idea exactly where I was at any given time. I guess the first wood was Fall Spring Wood; next we had to negotiate, Milner Wood, which I think was a tough climb. At some point we came back down onto land and my favourite bit of the course; flat tarmac.
There was also a watering station and the Mountain Rescue team. Soon, we were back climbing up the woods before a long stretch of open road, though this was still testing as it was a gradual incline. There were times when I’d look ahead, see a marshal and willed them to signal left down the hill rather than right up it. And it’s always nice to see a friendly face, in this case Tim Neville, a runner with Stainland Lions of similar age to myself but of rather more ability. Here he was acting as a marshal about to direct me up the steps into the next woodland, a particularly hilly section. Hey, I surpassed myself. I actually overtook someone, though, I hasten to add, it was at his bequest. “You know you want to,” he said, invitingly. (Needless to say, he later overtook me and I never saw him again).
We must have run some sort of loop, because eventually in time, we were back at the same watering station, and the Mountain Rescue team was directing us back up the woods. I was on familiar territory, but this was the hardest part of the course. Limbs were aching and the thought of climbing and climbing must have tested even the most resolute, let alone myself. Many of us took to walking. I wasn’t on my own. We climbed to the top of the woods and into a field. There was one kilometre to go and my legs were just about moving. As we approached Stainland Recreation Ground, I could hear the crowds cheering runners in, a heartening sound, but as we still had to run up the side of the wall to the top of the rec, there was still a quarter of a mile to go. Behind me, there were two girls, chatting and giggling, clearly enjoying the run far too much. Nobody in those spirits was going to beat me. As I entered the top side of the rec, I managed to speed up, down beyond the bottom side of the cricket pitch, then up the other side to the finish. There was a cluster of runners in front of me and I made up some ground but not enough to worry them. As I entered the finishing funnel, Luke was there with his camera to capture the moment for prosperity, and then my race was over, just as near exhaustion overtook me.
Luke, to his credit, had finished a commendable fourth, and had vied for third place around halfway before losing ground. His time was an impressive 48:52, some two minutes faster than his previous year’s effort. And hard on his first sub nineteen-minutes Parkrun at Brighouse the day before, it made for a satisfying weekend for him. As for me, I finished 75th in a time of 66:42. Good or bad, I’m not sure. But I gave it a go and that was the most satisfying part.
I must end by congratulating Stainland Lions on organising the event. Superbly marshalled, there was little hope of anyone getting lost, even if they’d wanted to in favour of an easier way back home. Who knows, perhaps I’ll see you all next year. I can still hear it now: You know you want to.