February Review

Cornwall – famous for golden beaches, cream teas, pasties and Poldark. After Saturday I’m now thinking that hills should be added to that list, because they were certainly memorable, although maybe not in a good way.

Rewind a few months to a Saturday morning last Spring when I was at Maidstone Parkrun and I spied a runner wearing a Looe 10 miles t-shirt. It caught my eye as I know Looe well, with my Dad living just a few miles along the coast, so it was somewhere I’d visited numerous times. I hadn’t realised there was a race there, so having found out the date of the 2019 race I arranged a visit to my Dad to catch up with him and run in it.

Somewhat unusually the race is a Saturday afternoon affair, which meant I could also do a Parkrun in the morning, and in particular the Mount Edgcumbe one which was just 10 minutes drive away from where my Dad lives. This one is known for two things. Firstly it is one of the few (maybe the only one) that you can travel to by ferry, across the mouth of the River Tamar if you’re coming from Plymouth, and secondly it’s in the top five toughest courses in the UK in terms of elevation.

Looking across to Plymouth from Mount Edgcumbe

Like Looe I knew Mount Edgcumbe well as prior to moving to Cornwall my Dad had lived very close to the ferry departure point in Plymouth, and I’d made the 5 minute trip across the river several times for a walk around and visit to the pub as well. Mount Edgcumbe is actually a big manor house with a large surrounding estate and the Parkrun takes place in the grounds.

Looking back up to the manor house from the start

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, with only a slight chill in the air, and it certainly didn’t feel like February. It turned out to be the smallest Parkrun I’ve done, with just 47 finishers, but such is the nature of Parkrun it had the same feel as an event 10 times the size, with a very friendly and welcoming set of volunteers. The course itself is one lap and mainly off-road, and after a flat start you then have a long climb to the highest point which starts gently, gets very steep for a bit and then gently evens out. Of course that means that there is then a long downhill stretch towards the finish, although with a small sting in the tail as the last 200m is a small climb to the finish in front of the manor house. With the 10 miler to come in the afternoon I didn’t push it and ended up with 26:48.

A couple of hours later we were headed in the opposite direction towards Looe. We were there quite early to make sure we could park OK, and having picked up my race number we had a walk around the town before heading back to the start/finish area to get ready for the race. Having seen the course profile I knew that apart from the first and last 500m or so we would either be going up or down so I was ready for the first long climb up and out of town.

Looe – we ran along the right bank and then straight up!

After a couple more undulating miles we started to go downhill, past the 7 mile marker so I knew we were coming back up this one. Not long after that the descent got very steep, so steep there was even a warning sign! I definitely wasn’t looking forward to coming back up this one, but shortly after we got in some early practice as having found ourselves at a small bay at the bottom of the climb we soon started to a very steep climb back up on a narrow footpath. I started running up it slowly but in the end I accepted it would be easier to walk (as did virtually everyone else) rather than expend too much energy.

They weren’t joking! (see the bottom of the post for a short video as well)

Another undulating section followed at the top, then we had a lovely long gentle descent back down to the same bay we’d passed earlier, but that meant it was time for another big climb! I guess the steepest section was around 500m or so in length and I probably walked around 2/3rds of it with a little bit of running mixed in.

The good news was that was the last of the big climbs as we retraced the route back into Looe, and of course the last mile or so was downhill and flat so I started to claw back some time and in the end I was very happy with 1:27:50 on what was a very challenging course. Despite the hills I loved the race, the course is fabulously scenic, I always enjoy visiting Looe and I’ll definitely be back for another crack at those climbs! We finished the afternoon with a stop at a lovely pub just outside town and I very much enjoyed a couple of pints of refreshing Cornish ale.

Course profile – lumpy!

As for the rest of the month these were the main highlights…..

A fabulous long off road run in the sunshine with a bunch of friends from the Harriers out to Leeds Castle and back.

A couple of days in Bath, which is a lovely place to visit and of course included a run along a stretch of the Kennet & Avon Canal first thing on the Friday morning.

I’d like to have taken in the local Parkrun but we had to be away early on the Saturday morning to get to Birmingham for the indoor athletics, which was a very enjoyable afternoon watching Laura Muir break the British indoor mile record and Samuel Tefera break the World indoor 1500m record, both incredible performances.

Laura Muir lining up at the start

To cap off a busy weekend I’d made the late decision to enter the Headcorn half-marathon, a local race just 5 miles down the road, although one I’d never run before. It proved to be a good move as not only was the course virtually flat but conditions were almost perfect, clear blue skies, no wind and cool. I decided to push it from early on and was rewarded with a 1:39:48 which was a real confidence builder.

And that was February. March is looking like being a busy one too as marathon season creeps ever closer so I’ll be back with an update shortly. Hope everyone’s training is going well despite the recent challenging weather!

The steep hill!