Today’s run was all about hill strength so I mapped out a 10 mile loop that could be run once or twice, as I intended. Howard “haircut” Stinton was fresh from his recent Beachy Head marathon and Mark “Ironman” Greenfield had accumulated 47 miles in the last week already, so they would be with me and Paul Coates initially, then Paul and I would press on for the full 20 miles and 2,200 feet of elevation.
As we left the Meon Hall, Meonstock, at 7.30am it was a dull overcast morning with the promise of rising temperatures to come. To begin with there was the usual banter between everyone as we all caught up with what we’d been doing recently and the fact that Mark turns 50 soon so he would join me and Paul as “Saga” runners. Our route joined the Old railway line via a flooded road so it was wet shoes after less than a mile and soon we were at the South Downs Way (SDW) sign for Exton, following a narrow path where we encountered our first mud of the day.
Running through sleepy Exton we started out across the fields along a track made by ramblers, runners and mountain bikers which meant climbing a number of styles as well as electric fences. The springy grass soon began to climb and any conversations were ended with oxygen being saved for the hill, something that couldn’t be said for Mark’s “gas” !! The elevation soon ramped up and the long gradual climb meant a short stride as we spotted the “Beacon” in the distance. The Beacon is actually a fairly new addition, made for the millennium celebrations, and there is a further half a mile of SDW track before we reached the trig point. Howard and Mark were making good progress, Paul was consistent and I was saving some for later 🙂 The tough climb was followed by a “steady” descent due to the hills camber, the damp grass and the steep drop. Frankly I was quite relieved to get to the bottom without any “issues” !!
After retracing our run back to the railway line we approached the lower slopes of Old Winchester Hill with its mud that’s been churned up by the rain and MTB riders, so it needed some balanced “4 wheel drive type” running. As we ran around the base of the main hill the steepest climb of the day awaited us. I was thankful to reach the top and all four of us agreed our legs were being tested. A quick selfie later (Paul is the George Clooney look alike) and we were off admiring the countryside views on route to this hills trig point. The descent also had tree roots as an added challenge to go with the mud.
We arrived back at the car park to see “Second Wind Running’s” Phil Hoy in a skeleton outfit and a number of Denmead Striders, who Phil and Teresa were taking on a recce for our upcoming race. Mark and Howard said they’d enjoyed the route, I refuelled and managed to stop Paul talking long enough for us to get back running 🙂
It’s funny how even a relatively short stop can make your legs feel stiffer so we agreed we’d concentrate our efforts on the two remaining hills and take the rest steadier. Beacon Hill was again a challenge with more cows to negotiate and the legs were definitely starting to protest. The track is quite narrow and the clumpy soft grass adds to the climb. Trig point reached that just left one more hill. The weather was starting to clear now and we both marvelled how great it was to be out in the country for most of the morning.
The final climb up Old Winchester hill was a lot harder than the first time but we stuck at it with a mixture of determination and humour. When mile 17 came up it was all downhill and flat from then on so we really could take in the views that stretch for miles, the sun that had come out and the fact that we had largely achieved what we came out for. We directed a young lady that was running to the Shoe pub in Exton and had a chat with a bloke on a “Fat Bike” that had the biggest push bike tyres I’ve ever seen and we were back to the car. Twenty scenic, hard but hugely enjoyable Meon Valley miles for Paul and me. Cheers to Paul, as ever, for lightening the mood, and to Mark and Howard for an entertaining first half of the run as well. Great runners, great lads.