Not all runs go to plan.
The Waseley Hills, at 150 acres is situated in South-West Birmingham and is a popular range of hills which form part of the North Worcestershire Path.
Off the back of completing a marathon around the Lickey Hills a couple of weeks ago, I’d set myself a challenge of running 26.2 miles around three of my local hills ranges; the Lickey Hills, the Waseley Hills and the Clent Hills. They’re all favourite routes of mine so in my wisdom, running marathons around them seemed like a good challenge. With the Lickey’s in the bag, Waseley was next…
Covering an area the size of approximately 75 football pitches – 150 acres – it became apparent that to run 26.2 miles then I’d need to embrace laps – not something I’m normally a fan of. The rabbit trail is a popular 3 mile route circumnavigating the hills, taking in open rolling hills, pastures and small pockets of woodland with panoramic views over Worcestershire. The terrain is predominantly grassy trails and forestry tracks with it’s fair share of elevation.
Route planned – 9 laps it was to be!
Likewise with the Lickey Hills, I’d managed to persuade Jasper and Maria to join me on the trails. Given that Birmingham had just been put into tier 4 restrictions, this meant that we could only run in pairs so I’d agreed to run 4 laps (12 miles) with Jasper then meet Maria and run the final 5 laps (15 miles).
We’d had snow in the build up to ‘race day’ with further snow forecast for later in the afternoon. I’d agreed an early start with Jasper – 5am – which meant we could avoid the afternoon snow but resulted in us running the first 3 laps under the guidance of a head torch. Normally something I’m fond of – but given the conditions maybe not the best idea this time round.
Driving to the Waseley Hills at 4.45am, it became apparent that the conditions were going to play a part. With snow and ice on the ground and temperatures below minus, the roads were frozen which didn’t bode well for what was to come.
We cautiously made our way up the first hill. It was like an ice rink. Luckily both Jasper and I were wearing brand new trail shoes (Inov-8 Parkclaw 275’s for Jasper, Mudclaw 300’s for myself) with maximum grip but it was still a challenge to stay upright. Once on the top, we could avoid the natural ice path that had developed and run off the beaten track, getting some traction from the snow – but progress was slow. Navigation proved difficult as we were guided only by the lights from our head torch so avoiding the black ice was near on impossible.
A couple of miles in you head down some steps through a short section of wood. The steps were fairly steep and it was icy underfoot. We cautiously made our way down before it levelled off and the trails became easier to navigate. The run through the woods is a nice section, undulating but sheltered from the elements. Before long, you’re out of the woods and climbing up another grass bank to get back up on the ridgeline. Again, the snow had frozen and it was hard to get any traction underfoot. Both myself and Jasper nearly went over on numerous occasions as the terrain played it’s part.
Despite the conditions, it was still enjoyable. The pace may have been slow, the conditions far from ideal but we were in the hills, navigating our way under the moonlight – there’s something quite magical about that.
The last mile takes in another popular walking route as you head back towards the café – and our starting point to end lap 1. This was the most difficult section in terms of black ice with very little traction underfoot. Pace had once again slowed to a crawl as we tentatively made our way across the ice before reaching the end of lap 1.
Lap 1 complete. 2.8 miles – it also became apparent that the advertised ‘3 mile Rabbit Trail’ was in fact only 2.8 miles.
9 laps had just turned into 10 laps. Great!
We headed straight out for lap 2.
The second lap was similar to the first in terms of conditions. We were able to navigate our way over the ice on relatively fresh legs – albeit slowly. Conversation was flowing on the sections which didn’t require as much concentration and the discussions turned to a) how awful the conditions were and b) how well our trail shoes were coping in said conditions. I’m under no doubt that if I’d been wearing any of my older Mudclaws – with slightly worn down lugs – then I would have ended up on my backside on numerous occasions!
We’d decided to phone Maria after the end of lap 3 to give her a more accurate start time (for lap 5) and to pre-warn her of the conditions underfoot. The last thing we wanted was for her to turn up unaware of the conditions. The pace was slower than we had originally planned so we’d be out in the elements for much longer than advertised.
Lap 2 complete: 5.6 miles
By the start of the 3rd lap, visibility had improved as the morning light was setting in. The pace had increased slightly as we had more confidence underfoot and knew the areas to avoid. I was starting to feel it in my legs though as the technical, icy terrain was draining and difficult to navigate.
The small woodland sections were beginning to thaw out and the wet, muddy conditions underfoot were a refreshing change to run on as we were able to run more sections of the course.
Lap 3: 8.4 miles complete although I found that lap physically exhausting. We’d run 8.4 miles. It felt like 18.4 miles. The snow and ice had taken it’s toll.
Before heading out for lap 4 – and Jasper’s final lap, I’d got my phone out to send Maria an update – only to find she’d already messaged me. Sadly, she’d been feeling unwell and had taken the correct decision to abort the run. No problem. If I’m being honest, the icy conditions weren’t great and were an accident waiting to happen. They’ll be plenty of other occasions to share the trails – preferably in safer conditions. On the flip side, I now had the prospect of running 6 laps solo.
As we started lap 4 we were greeted to a spectacular sunrise over the hills. It’s true what they say, the first glimpse of daylight when you’ve been running under the night sky lifts the spirits. It also came at the right time. Lap 3 had taken it’s toll and I was questioning how much I wanted to run another 6 laps – in all honesty, I’d have been happy to finish there and then.
With daylight now upon us, we could see the true nature of the conditions which we had been running in. The sun had began to thaw the snow and ice underfoot and although some sections were now runnable, progress was still frustratingly slow. I was also battling with my mind. On the runnable sections I was telling myself that another 6 laps was doable but when progress slowed almost to a stop whilst tiptoeing over large sections of ice, then I’d talk myself out of it. I was still enjoying the run, I was just questioning whether I had it in me, or if I even wanted to finish the 26.2.
Lap 4: 11.2 miles complete. On returning to the café Jasper decided he’d do another lap to make it a Half Marathon distance. Perfect – I was appreciating the company and this meant only 5 laps to do solo.
Lap 5 was probably the most enjoyable lap. I think we were both suffering from the technical start/stop terrain but as more sections were now runnable, it felt slightly easier – albeit we were now running on tired legs.
I’d decided that from lap 6 I’d grab my poles from the boot of my car. Given the conditions and how tired my legs were, they’d give me some stability and confidence on the ice, especially in the latter stages. That was my downfall.
Lap 5: 13.9 miles complete
Upon finishing lap 5 we jogged back to the car which was parked off route. Although I was physically tired, I still felt I had it in me to carry on – and that was my intention – until I reached the car. Knowing that Jasper was done for the day I started questioning why I was heading back out. What’s the point? The conditions weren’t runnable so it would be a slow, long hike as opposed to a run…and with Waseley on my doorstep, I could attempt the 26.2 another time, in more suitable conditions.
And like that, I’d undone my laces and threw my trail shoes into the boot.
Attempt over – a DNF of sorts.
Driving back, I was happy with the decision. I’d enjoyed a few hours out on the trail with Jasper and we’d covered just shy of 14 miles – not bad for a mornings work. I’ll live to fight another day, the hills aren’t going anywhere…
…and maybe I’ll have another crack at it next week.