Posted: 15.09.20 at 10:20 by Tim Lethaby
A new record has been set for running the Mendip Way, a 50-mile route that passes through Shepton Mallet and the surrounding villages.
Earlier this month, Tom Abrahams ran the route in nine hours, 20 minutes and 44 seconds, taking the record for the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for completing the route supported by others.
Tom, who grew up in Hinton Blewett and worked in Shepton Mallet for five years, said that he ran a steady pace for most of the day and always felt under control but he had to dig deep without ever entering the red zone, and walked several of the hillier sections to conserve energy.
He told Shepton Mallet Nub News: "I’d entered two long organised races this year that have had to be postponed until spring 2021, and was inspired by several other runners - namely John Kelly and Damian Hall who both live in the South West - who had taken on other fastest known routes in the UK this summer.
"As other people have said, this year has given us the opportunity to reset, re-calibrate and to tackle big challenges that we may have put off previously.
"In my own circumstances, my family holiday had to be cancelled, I haven’t been racing, and I became aware of the FKT for the route a few weeks back."
The Mendip Way is an 80-kilometre, or 50-mile, long-distance footpath across the Mendip Hills from Weston-super-Mare to Frome.
It is divided into two sections. The West Mendip Way was opened in 1979 and starts at the Bristol Channel at Uphill Cliff.
It climbs the Mendip escarpment affording views over the Somerset Levels. It then crosses the central Mendip plateau leading down to Cheddar Gorge and on to Wells.
Most of the western section is within the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. From there the East Mendip Way continues through Shepton Mallet to Frome.
Tom, who lives in Clevedon and who works as the Bristol depot manager for St Austell Brewery, said he had a fantastic day but had to put in a lot of preparation for the attempt.
He said: "It was a wonderful day with views far across the levels.
"The view from the top of the gorge was stunning. I started to find it tough across Draycott Sleights.
"You reach the end of the West Mendip Way in Wells, and with the crowds there it would be very easy to think that the job was done, but the East Mendip Way is a good challenge in itself.
"When you think of all the landmarks that you pass en route, it’s quite something - Crook Peak, Cheddar Gorge, Wells Cathedral, the Shepton viaduct, Cranmore Tower, not to mention the changes in scenery from woodland to moorland to riverside.
"Part of the achievement for me is in the process that led up to it and having to get to know the Mendip area better.
"I hiked 60 kilometres of the route the previous week in preparation, staying at a campsite in Cheddar and using public transport to get to and from the Mendip Way, which was great.
"I also ran various segments through the summer with my good friend Steve Wood, who accompanied me for 25k on the day. His photographic memory of the route was invaluable late on, as I began to tire.
"Unlike in a race, you have no other runners or race officials to help you find your way. I tried as much as possible just to enjoy running the route, but there was a part of me that was also glad to run the time I did.
"I’m very aware that there is a considerably faster time in the opposite direction down to sea level set in 2016. I’m also sure that someone will come along very soon and break my time.
"That said, there have been attempts at the FKT which weren’t successful in the direction from Uphill Sluice to Frome and I wanted to take on the challenge.
"The great thing about running something like the Mendip Way is that it’s not purely a test of speed, but also your ability to find your way, create a fuel strategy and ensure that you safely navigate what is, at times, quite a tricky route.
"Part of the attraction of the FKT challenge is that you need to document and share your attempt. It’s also a technological challenge as the onus is on you to demonstrate that you’ve done what you’ve said you’ve done."
As a member of Clevedon Athletic Club, Tom said he got some brilliant coaching. The coaches there are always working hard to ensure that members make the most of their potential as runners.
The club now has a couple of socially-distanced sessions a week. Tom says he tends to run for nine to 10 hours a week, which gets him up to between 60 and 70 miles in a normal week.
"During the pandemic it has made sense to seek out new places to run," he said.
"I’ve particularly enjoyed digging out the OS maps and plotting a route – particular old favourites would be the path from Charterhouse to Cheddar and Cadbury Camp near Clevedon."
What challenge is Tom setting his sights on now? And how confident is that his record will stand for a long time to come?
"The next would be to run the Mendip Way in reverse – from Frome to Uphill, or to run the route unsupported," he said.
"There is also an FKT for the Limestone Link which connects the Mendip Way in Shipham to the Cotswold Way, which has been run in a very competitive time.
"I definitely think that with more attention on FKTs someone will go out very soon and beat my time.
"I would like to think that someone will attempt it soon as the competitive element makes it all the more fun.
"With the transport links to and from Weston and Frome, it’s also a very good route to hike, with opportunities to stop off along the way."