I’m sure that most of us must have looked at the ridgeline of The Lawley and Caer Caradoc to the east of the A49 at Church Stretton and thought that it would make an awesome walk or run?
The good news is that every year on the first Sunday in December the Cardington Cracker Race traverses this stunning ridge. Sadly this year the date clashed with the Queenswood cross country and only 2 Croft runners joined over 250 competitors on the start line for the 32nd running of the event. Whilst this was my third time at this event I’m sure that Gary Gunner will have completed it many more times.
The conditions were definitely on the muddy side this year as we launched into one of the fastest starts in the winter season, sprinting for 300 metres across a flat field to claim our place in the queue for the first narrow gateway. Once through another short sprint leads to the first climb, I’m usually unsure whether this follows a path or a stream but this year it was most definitely a stream. After a steady climb across more fields a short section of road leads to the first steep slippery descent through a pine wood where the bold take to the bracken and bushes to gain a few places. Emerging from the trees and crossing some boggy ground we encountered the first steep climb up the east side of The Lawley following the fall line directly to the summit before turning south for some glorious running along and then down the south end of the ridge. Here we observe a lovely steady climb up the north ridge of Caer Caradoc but that would be far too easy and the route traverses along the western base of the ridge before taking a much steeper climb through the bracken to the summit. You can always be sure to find a few supportive hecklers here as you struggle to breathe whilst returning their taunts. Enjoying some more fast running down the ridge to the south a pattern starts to emerge as those with more confidence on the descents gain places only to be passed by fitter and sometimes younger legs on the next climb. A steady climb on a through the trees on the east side of Helmeth Hill delivers us to the sting in the tail, a long and unrelenting climb following the ridge from Gaer Stone to Willstone Hill that really tests your flagging energy levels. From the final summit a steep bracken covered descent leads to a 3.5km dash across hilly farmland passing through many cow-patched muddy gateways to the finish.
This finishing stretch provided some of the most enjoyable and closest racing of the year for me. Having set out hoping for a PB and with the split times that I needed scrawled on the back of my hand I had been steadily losing time throughout the race and was over 2 minutes behind target on the final summit. However, with at least half a dozen runners hard on my heels and the incentive of plenty to chase in front I enjoyed some really fun racing and to my surprise managed to complete the final 3.5km 7 minutes faster than in previous years to claim a PB by just over 5 minutes.
Tim J – 141st in 1:58:33
Gary G – 203rd & 1st MV70 in 2:16:12