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The Sandstone Ultra🏃‍♂️

About 6 weeks ago Nico asked me whether I would be interested in running the Sandstone trail with him.

I had run sections of the route in the past. But never the whole route. It seemed a good challenge!

So at 9am last Sunday. Myself, Nico and two of his ultra-running friends Helen and Vikki lined up at Jubilee Park in Whitchurch, Shropshire to commence the 34 mile run to the finish at Frodsham.

Luckily the weather was ideal for long distance running. Sunny with light winds and not too warm.

Mike, Cat and Kate were to be our support crew. Meeting us at various locations on route to supply us with nutrition.

The first section of the route is easy running along the Shropshire Union Canal, before the route veers off across farmland and crosses the border into Cheshire.

Parts of this section were very muddy and flooded in places so it was slow going wading through knee deep water.

What makes the route interesting is the constantly changing terrain. Grassy fields, rural tracks, woodland, steep sections onto the sandstone ridge, running through 9ft high fields of corn. Some sections of the route we could run for several miles without seeing anyone. Then you get to the popular bits around Bickerton, Beeston and Delamere Forest where there are people everywhere.

Great encouragement from the support crew who would park at various locations on the route to keep us supplied with high energy food and drinks.

There are spectacular views across the Cheshire Plain from the highest points of the trail on Bickerton Hill and Frodsham Hill.

Eventually after 33 miles you reach the monument at the top of Frodsham Hill, then begin the mile long descent to the finish adjacent to the aptly named ‘Bears Paw’ pub & restaurant in the centre of Frodsham.

So what advice can I give anyone contemplating running this or other long distance routes or ultras?

1. Make sure you are physically prepared to cope with the distance. 34 miles on the road would be tough enough. 34 miles across boggy fields with over 100 gates to open and close, lots of steps, both up and down, trip hazards of tree roots and rocks to negotiate is very energy-sapping. You need to have conditioned your body to cope with such distances and terrain by completing lots of long runs in training.

2. Running shoes. These need to be well ‘worn-in’ to minimise the risk of getting blisters. If you are likely to be running on muddy trails you need fell or trail shoes that give good grip. I was wearing Inov8 Mudclaw which give excellent grip.

3. Socks. The right pair of socks can also help protect your feet from blisters. Whilst for shorter faster races I’ve worn thinner socks (or no socks at all, when I was younger and wearing lightweight racing shoes). Wearing thicker socks will help prevent blisters when covering long distances over rough terrain. I favour the ‘Running Bear’ own brand socks that are also very popular amongst the fell running community.

4. Shorts. You need to be sure the shorts you wear aren’t going to cause chaffing. I favour the twin skin shorts, such as the Heaton Shorts from The Running Bear Collection, if I know I’m going to be running for several hours.

5. Running Vest, T Shirt, Base Layer – Depending on the weather you will be wearing one or a combination of these. Again make sure they are comfortable and not likely to cause chaffing around the neck or armpits.

6. Waterproof Jackets. If you are likely to be running across exposed terrain for many hours you definitely need to invest in a good lightweight waterproof with taped seams. Indeed it is mandatory to carry these in nearly all long distance fell races. I find OMM jackets are amongst the best for being lightweight, yet incredibly waterproof.

7. Hydration vest or similar – To carry water, nutrition and anything else you might need on the run. I like the Arch Max Hydration vests and find OTE gels, energy bars etc. are the best nutrition products.

Nick’s added some top tips:

Like Malc said, a great pair of trail shoes makes all the difference. I ran in Saucony Peregrine 10s – fab grip and cushioning.

I always wear gloves for the first half hour or so in autumn winter and spring to take the edge off the temperature.

Also I have some form of nipple protection, because mine can become very sensitive and ultimately bleed.

I take loads of stuff to eat like chocolate and OTE bars along with their gels. I have carb powder in my drink bottles as well.

I think it’s important to have set of comfy clothes and change of socks and footwear ready for you at the finish if you can organise that!

Finally, whether you prefer short or long distance running. Enjoy the challenge and Have Fun!

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