Blood and Mud on the Annual Alsager `Pilgrimage`

Blood and Mud on the Annual Alsager `Pilgrimage`

It was a brave set of hardy fools warriors who rocked up at the club house before sunrise on a recent cold winter’s Sunday morning.

Some were old veterans who knew what was in store, others were clueless ‘virgins’.

Our fearless band’s names? Amy Gamble, Phil Cape, Mick Downes, Mike Keeling, Mark Neeld, Tom Wilson and Yours Truly.

Our glorious leader? Mark ‘Copper’ Churton.

Our challenge? The annual “Alsager Pilgrimage”. Just 20 miles to complete in a few hours to cheer on fellow SMM-ers in the 5-mile race there.

We started well with some dull but comfortable road flat along a near-deserted A34, as the rest of the world was sensibly having a lie-in to stay out of the frosty wind.

Then up through Trentham Park Golf Club and a climb into Hanchurch village which started to separate the ‘men from the boys’ – though courteous mustering was strictly adhered to on order of The Copper. By mile 7, humiliation hit one of our number. Best not to embarrass him any more, but put it this way, he was offered some peanut butter by Phil to smear on it and ease the pain, and Amy even compassionately suggested lending him her sports bra to cover the embarrassing and enlarging red circle on his right, ahem, ‘chest’. Mark was less kind: ‘I’ve found a nipple on the floor, I think it’s yours, Andy?’ (Oh bollocks, I’ve given the identity away!)

Onward went your intrepid team, scaling up to Keele along a muddy track, the ‘virgins’ thinking the worst was over, until … A scary, steep, woody climb emerged ahead of us. Even more ominously, another group of runners appeared at the bottom like ghosts, filthy dirty and smirking at what they knew was coming for us. Mud, glorious mud. Group dynamics quickly collapsed, it was every man (and Amy) for himself “Lord Of The Flies”-style. Some sank, some fell, some cursed. It was Law Of The Jungle: the strongest got ahead, while the weakest were left behind, sinking. Eventually, all emerged, legs and arses caked in thick, grey, cement-like mud.

Then began a tour of curious little windswept hilltop villages that few roads lead to and are the butt of Christmas panto jokes: Scot Hay, Alsager’s Bank, Miles Green. Marvellous views down to the Potteries on one side and up to Cheshire on the other. Steep, terraced streets like the old Hovis ad, with yuppie houses gradually encroaching. The rest of the run was straightforward and silent as the distance took its inevitable tool and Alsager, our lovely finishing line, approached. Mick and Phil hopped on a train back to civilization in Stone, the rest of us changed – and spattered mud all over the spotless wooden floor of an auditorium while getting changed – then grabbed a coffee to watch our heroes come by.

We were not to be disappointed. As we sipped and sighed, cheered and chatted, SMM-ers flew by in deep concentration, just a faint smile on their faces as they saw a motley, mud-spattered group shouting their name. PBs were had and great times recorded (see below).
Now who wants to go one better next year? 20 miles there – then you compete. Who’s up for that? Not a chance me – I’m not risking my poor nipple again!