Running in Cheddar Gorge
The Relish Running Cheddar Gorge events, in particular the half and full marathons, are billed as some of the toughest of their kind in the UK, and are hosted in the spectacular setting of the huge gorge and National Trust land.
Well, I can tell you for certain that the Cheddar Gorge half marathon I completed in June was a lot tougher than Tough Mudder, and there was a point, mid-way through, where I NEARLY dropped out. I’m happy confirm that I didn’t, though, and was really pleased to have eventually completed the course.
The organisers, Relish Running, helpfully provide a good amount of information in advance of the race, including parking directions, course profiles and route maps overlaid on an Ordnance Survey map. The race started from the top of the gorge, and involved a pretty hairy drive up some narrow tracks to reach the designated parking area.
The parking and race were both very well marshalled and signposted, and the amenities were good – several well-stocked water and sweet stations, and portaloos by the registration desk. The start and finish area was also a nice area for spectators, with good views and the runners passing through when starting/finishing each lap.
It was a very hot day and the race did not start until 11.15am (scheduled for 11am). Although a later start is helpful if runners are travelling a long way to be there, it would have been better if the race had started earlier at 10am or 9.30am to avoid running in the heat of the day, especially for the half marathon as there were several of us still running at 2pm!
About the Cheddar Gorge Half Marathon Route
There were 158 finishers for the half marathon and nearly 200 running the 10k race. The half marathon route is essentially two laps of the 10k loop, with a brutal 1.2k extra loop in between, to make it up to 21.2k.
The half marathon started first with the 10k starting a while (15-30 minutes) later. As the half marathon route is the same as the 10k, I started to get lapped by the faster 10k runners. This was generally not a problem, however the course is relatively narrow in parts, including on some of the out-and-back section, where potentially there are half marathon and 10k runners going both ways, plus other trail users (ie walkers). I didn’t have any issues though as the other runners were all sensibly sticking to the advice to keep left to let others past.
I won’t repeat the details of the course route, as this is explained in detail on Relish’s website. The 10k loop is, of course, hilly, with steep step climbing at 8-9km. The segment which nearly finished me off, however, was the 1.2k extra loop, which was essentially c.500 metres down the side of the gorge, and then back up again. I clearly need to work on my hill-climbing, the only thing I can liken this to is the Inca Trail – I felt just as out of breath as I did going over the highest point at altitude (c.4000 metres) but without the excuse of thin air making breathing more difficult!
Several people passed me and I was seriously contemplating stopping when I reached the top (the start/finish area), when I mentioned this to another runner who then suggested we finish the rest of the race together. If I hadn’t met her then I would have definitely sneaked out of the race, so I’m really grateful for her company and support for the second hot 10k lap – thanks Pippa!
For the £22 entry fee I thought this event was great value for money, in particular as it included the nicest race medal I have won so far – not just because at one point I thought I wouldn’t get one(!) but because… well, just look at the beauty!
To top it all off, my bib number was picked for one of the spot prizes at the finish, and I won a £20 voucher for o2 Creation’s e-shop.
I’m glad I enjoyed the race as I’ve already signed up for two more of Relish’s events, the Roman 10k in mid-July, and the Bath running festival marathon at the end of July. I’m in two minds as to whether I’ll run the full or half marathon at this stage, although I am reassured to see that the full marathon has (only) the same metres of ascent as the Cheddar half did – but over twice the distance!