BBC Radio Newcastle presenter Simon Pryde is a busy man, presenting the Total Sport programme 5 evenings a week, he also runs for Tyne Bridge Harriers. In February, Simon took part in one of the Brooks Hellrunner series of races; Hell In The Middle. Here is his report from that ‘hellish’ day.
Hell in the Middle, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire 11/2/12
The queue for the Portaloos wasn’t long, and, though shivering, I was quite happy sitting, doing what I had to do, contemplating the task ahead. “There’s 4 inches of ice on the Bog of Doom”, roared a diabolic voice from outside, and as I left the cubicle I glimpsed the flicking tail of the Devil on stilts (or, “an idiot in a costume”, as he’d have been if my mood was darker).
This race is one of a series of three in the Brooks Hellrunner series (Hell Up North is actually in Cheshire, Hell Down South is, er, somewhere down south), and the organisers like to liven things up with Satanic gimmicks.
It was a 15 minute walk from the car park to the start area, which was a little congested and the start was delayed by a few minutes. People on the whole were pretty laid back, though, as perhaps you would be at the Gates of Hell. Who knows? Myself and Dave Antill were the TBH representatives in a field of around 1200. The temperature had dipped to -12 overnight. The Cannock Chase landscape had a bluish hue to it, and there were runny noses aplenty.
The course (“between 10 and 12 miles” is all we were told) consisted of various trails, from large tracks to narrow paths through forested areas. An icy stretch at the foot of one steep descent provided one or two casualties, the communal spirit an equal measure of helping hands. On the whole, the terrain was far from dangerous (we were denied one plunge into a frozen marsh, because the ice was too thick), but nonetheless challenging. There were hills aplenty, including a strength-sapping Big Dipper series of seemingly endless undulations.
The scenery was interesting, with views over the Chase to enjoy for those allowing themselves the luxury of sightseeing – most eyes were fixed in deep concentration on the route ahead. Some of the forest sections were eerily quiet – thankfully the route was pretty well marked. There were 3 or 4 drinks stations, and the marshalling was fine, though some of the orange-coated assistants had frozen solid, and you could tip them over like sleeping cows.
Towards the route’s conclusion we encountered the much-anticipated Bog of Doom. It had frozen over. The Devil was right about his four inches (so to speak), but the organisers had thoughtfully smashed the ice along the 100 yard stretch of waist-high water, so it was navigable. I nearly slipped under, Leonardo di Caprio style, on more than one occasion but ploughed on, punching polar bears in the face and yelling ancient Inuit battle cries as I went. Most people suffered cuts from the ice – but I didn’t see anyone complaining(in fact it made us look far more impressive and brave than we actually were).
Another little climb and a descent through the forest later and there was the finishing line. Around ten miles, I’d say. I recorded 1:19:24 (the winner clocked an astounding 1:03:34) which placed me 38th. Dave came home in 1:27:40. Decent goodie bag, and a speeding fine on the way home (over-zealous Staffordshire policing) and all in all great fun, and definitely suitable for inexperienced and seasoned trail runners alike.