Three posts in ten days, it won't last, but it does seem to go easier the more you do.
Anyway, the Cheshire Sandstone Trail is a waymarked footpath running from Frodsham on the Mersey estuary in the north of the county to Whitchurch just over the Shropshire border in the south. It follows the line of an intermittent sandstone ridge with interesting running and great views a lot of the way; there are agricultural sections linking up the hill and forest trails and during the winter months these have their fair share of the sort of ankle-deep pungent slop that makes you unpopular if you bring it home with you, so over the years I've found ways around the worst bits to give a route of 34 miles in total. It wanders up and down between sea level and around 750ft; my Garmin makes the total ascent nearly 4000 feet but I think there's a fair bit of cumulative error on the flatter bits here and there, so I guess it's probably nearer 3000, still hilly enough to make you work at times. It's a good local "one way" outing for me, with a train to the start and a bus back from the finish - much more appealing than a long out-and-back trip - and I get it done a couple of times a year at least, but usually not before the middle of February.
But there's a 50 miler coming up in a couple of weeks and I need to see if I can get the trip, so I'm out at Frodsham at 8 o'clock last Friday morning. There are no natural water sources along the route and the two cafe/tea huts are not open midweek in the winter, so I waddle off from the station with a bag full of drink, Mars bars, waterproofs, and a dry shirt for the bus trip back. We've lost the clear, crisp weather of the past few weeks, it's grey and drizzles on and off but not bad for running. I take the uphills slowly at first to save some energy, conscious that this is the first time over twenty miles for several months, but get more confidence by halfway, and by the time I reach the final 3 or 4 miles along the canal towpath to the finish I'm still going quite strongly. 6 hours 42 minutes, about 10 minutes slower than February last year but the conditions are never the same twice, good enough. I'm a bit stiff getting off the bus but a shower seems to put that right and we've old college friends arriving for the weekend soon after I get home so an easy time with plenty of calorie replacement opportunities on Saturday is assured. Sunday I get out for 5 cruisy miles to complete the experience and feel pretty good about it. Maybe this year's starting OK after all.
But then I decide to catch up with the West Highland Way Forum and its various blogs, which I do every 2 or 3 days or so. I'm staggered by the amount of activity going on, which brings me sharply back to reality. JK and friends have done the same distance as me but along the tougher WHW, after a week's mileage which I would already find more than enough at this time of year. The Subversive Runner, after explaining for some weeks on his blog that he doesn't actually do any running to speak of at present, seems to have clocked off from his shift at work and already completed half of a 40 miler. And best of all, George (Loon Dod, blog on right) has just run the whole length of the WHW from Fort William to Milngavie in 27 hours, in snow, ice, and a lot of darkness. Too good guys, too good, looks like you have a great year ahead!