Lakes in a Day, Saturday, October 7, 2017

50 mile ultra run from Caldbeck to Cartmel

Penny Browell

Four years ago exactly I ran my first marathon at Kielder. It didn’t end well – yes I got the sub 4 I wanted but due to poor clothing and fueling I ended up needing medical attention as soon as I crossed the finishing line. When I finally came round I swore to myself never to attempt such a stupid distance again…

So this weekend I find myself embarking on Lakes in a Day, a 50 mile race from the North to South of the Lake District wondering how I got here. I’m not an ultra runner. Indeed I still haven’t learnt how to pace a marathon properly. But I do love the Lake District and as soon as I saw this race advertised I knew I had to give it a shot.

The week of the race arrived and the forecast was terrible. Rain, gales, more rain, no visibility… the optimist in me was sure the met office would change their mind. They did – by Friday they were saying bits of rain, maybe some wind on the peaks but not as bad as it could have been. Saturday morning at 430am my alarm woke me and I was happy not to hear rain outside the window of my quirky airbnb in Cartmel. Maybe we were going to be ok….

The race started at 8 from Oddfellows Pub in Caldbeck. Everything about this race is impeccably organised – the pub staff were amazing providing teas, coffees and bacon sandwiches and we all chatted excitedly before James Thurlow, the fabulous race organizer sent us on our way. As we set off to the first climb we discussed how lucky we were with the weather in comparison with the forecasts earlier in the week… we would live to regret these comments!

It is very much a race of two halves. The first half tough fell racing – a lot of it open fell and on difficult terrain, the second half less mountainous and more on tracks or moorland. This was its fourth year and on every previous occasion it has been dry and clear – within a mile or two of leaving Caldbeck it became obvious this year wouldn’t be the same. The waterproofs were coming out as we entered the cloud and began the climb up High Pike. Visibility was getting worse, winds were increasing and the rain was coming at us horizontally. This was to be the theme throughout all of the fell section. No views, no grip on either slippy rocks or slippy grass/mud and for me no feeling in my fingers so no access to drink, food or maps! In spite of this I loved it. The route takes you up Blencathra at which point there is a decision between Halls Fell Ridge (hard in any conditions) and Blease Fell (easier but 2 miles longer). Coming up Mungrisdale Common was so bad with winds apparently up to 50 mph, I decided I should probably put my kids first and try to avoid death but when I saw others taking Halls Fell I couldn’t resist. This was the only place on the route with event support. They advised us to take it easy – I’m not sure anyone could go anything other than easy on this. It was terrifying but brilliant. From race reports     I’ve read I now know quite a few people got stuck and needed help. And quite a few were more sensible and took Blease Fell… Somehow I got through it and by 11am was back down in Threlkeld at the first of three truly amazing feed stations. The crew were incredible – couldn’t do enough to help us and the food was definitely chosen by fell runners. Anything you could possibly want was there. As I was only 3 hours in I stuck to tea, coke, fruit and a few crisps.

The next section was without doubt going to be the hardest and longest as it took us from Threlkeld to Ambleside via amazing peaks such as Helvellyn and Fairfield. I’ve run most of this section at least a couple of times so I knew how hard it was even on a good day but also felt fairly confident of knowing the route. Unfortunately the mountains don’t look the same in cloud and rain so I did have a few mishaps route-wise firstly after Helvellyn where a few of us started heading off down to Thirlmere but fortunately realized our mistake fairly quickly. The descent to Grisedale tarn was tough – the rock path was way too slippy to contemplate so most of us took the grass option which although better in some ways did mean more concentrating to avoid accidents on hidden rocks or losing a foot into bog. On the positive side it was a bit clearer and calmer down at the tarn but I knew the worst bit was coming. I don’t like climbing Fairfield. It’s a long drag and after 23 miles and nearly 7 hours it was never going to be fun. The battering rain didn’t help and I was really getting quite cold and hungry but with numb fingers and no wish to stop there was no way I was going to get anything out of my bag to eat. So up I plodded…. And plodded…

When I eventually reached the top I was so happy I broke into a little run and immediately fell flat on my face. I was slightly winded and lost my companions and headed off following someone without really thinking about where I should be going. Climbing down some tough rocks I fell again, slid down on my bum and ended up sitting at the bottom of a rock quite nicely sheltered. I decided it was time to give my body a break, grabbed a bag of crisps out of the side of my bag and quite happily chomped on them waiting for the next runner to come by so I could pair up with them. Sadly the next runner didn’t come.. and didn’t come.. and it became obvious I wasn’t actually on the race route. No worries, I had a GPS tracker safely tucked away in my bag so I could use that to get me back on course. Out of the plastic bag, click it on and it happily told me I was still in Caldbeck. No matter what I did or said to it, it just didn’t believe that I had left the start… [You can get a tracker replay on the Opentracking website. ^DN]

I was just starting to get a tad worried when a runner appeared. Possibly not a bright runner (he’d gone wrong too) but someone to tag onto. He was convinced we were on the right route but I managed to persuade him we probably needed to head up and left to meet up with the other racers. Eventually we were back on track. The run down into Ambleside (over several peaks on the way) was very boggy and much slower than when I’d recce’d it but seeing the town gradually get closer spurred us all on.

So feed station two and I was about 9.5 hours in. The longest I’d ever been out running and the furthest I’d ever run in the Lakes (and not far off my distance PB of 50k prior to today).Before the start I’d told myself I could stop here but there was no way that was happening. The sun was finally creeping through and I’d been fed pasta and flat coke and was ready to face the world. This was the also the point where we were allowed to change shoes so my sodden x-talons came off and were replaced with nice dry trail shoes. I felt ready to set off on the second half…

So off we went on the next leg. This section is mainly along the coast of Windermere but with a few climbs including Claife Heights and Rawlinson Nab. Leaving Ambleside the horrors of the first half seemed like a bad dream. The sun was breaking through and the views were lovely as we followed the road down to the lakeside. So this half was actually definitely going to be fine… Once we were off-road it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be quite as simple as I’d hoped. Knee deep mud and puddles the size of a swimming pool faced us to ensure there was no rhythm to be gained. But it was fun – the views along the lakeside were stunning and although there were climbs there was nothing too difficult and the route was now easy to follow with arrows provided for the entire second half. As we went through the village of Sowry I realized the sun was about to disappear and there was still a way to go before the last feed station. I stopped to get my headtorch out only to discover the batteries had died. Thankfully Alex, a much more organized and experienced runner, was with me and kindly lent me his spare torch. Being a spare it was pretty weak so visbility was going to be poor for the next section. I stuck with Alex and his much more powerful torch to Finsthwaite. As the sun went down an enormous moon emerged and in spite of the mud, roots and other hazards I really enjoyed this section.

At the final feed station we were met with soup, rice pudding and more coke and tea. Looking back on the day I suspect I was high on caffeine for a lot of it! We watched a big screen which showed the trackers and we were impressed to see that several runners had already finished. But even more impressed to see that some were still going on Fairfield. It was now 930pm and they were doing that impossible open fell section in pitch dark. Many of them went on to finish in the early hours of Sunday. Massive respect to them.

After 15 minutes or so and with my headtorch now fixed it became apparent the last 8 miles were not going to run themselves so I left the warmth of the hall and set off, commenting to my fellow runners that this was likely to be quite a long 8 miles. It certainly was. The route for this section was across boggy fields and up and down woodland paths. Although it was hard I was actually enjoying myself – it was a lovely night and I now knew I was going to succeed.

The race finishes with a couple of miles of road. By the time this finally appeared I had passed a few people since Finsthwaite and running up and down the road to Cartmel I somehow found a bit of pace and managed to overtake a few more. Looking back I have no idea what was going on. I was finishing this race fresher and less tired than most marathons or half marathons!

Cartmel Priory School finally appeared and I crossed the line in 15 hours and 7 minutes. 53 miles done, over 4000 metres of climbing, 9th lady and a day I would never forget. I grabbed the race director and gushed about what a great race it was. He thought I was mad – the conditions had been awful how had I enjoyed it?! I don’t know but all I can say was that as I sat eating a baked potato with cheese and beans and talked to other fellow ultra runners I felt absolutely on top of the world. After a year with more than its fair share of lows this race meant so much to me for so many reasons. I will definitely be back. But next year I’m ordering better weather…

There are many videos and much better report on Facebook group runitinaday.

Kielder Run Bike Run, Thursday, September 7, 2017

Marathon (11km run, 25km bike, 6km run)

Dougie Nisbet

Earlier in the year a work colleague asked me if I was doing the Kielder duathlon. I knew nothing about it but the more I read the more I liked. A marathon distance duathlon with split transitions and an entirely off-road bike section. I signed up, told Sara that I’d beat her even on my old mountain bike, and forgot all about it.

Fast forward several months and I no longer work at BALTIC so it was a bit a re-union when we met up again and I discovered my manager Dave Coxon had signed up too. Although we had no plan to rendezvous at the event we found ourselves parking our bikes in the transition area at Kielder Village before finding the coach to take us the few miles to the Start at Leaplish. We found 3 seats and were jostled on our short journey like excited kids on a school trip.

I knew the Run Bike Run event started at the same place and time as the 10K. What I didn’t know was how the organisers planned to do that. In the end it transpired that the RBR competitors had to shove their way through the 10K competitors to get to the start line. I saw several Strider vests on my travels but I was wearing a cycling top that I hoped would be versatile enough to get me through the run and bike stages. I guessed it might be too hot for running, too cool for the bike.

The logistics had puzzled me. I’ve done very few duathlons, and none that had split transitions. We were allocated something called a bike box, and this would be waiting with our bike at T1. In here we had to put anything we thought we would need for the bike section. For many of us this was cycling shoes but many chose to ride in their running shoes. It turned out not to be nearly as complicated as I’d made it and the bike box would be magically transported to T2 at Bull Crag for the beginning of the second run leg.

A slightly delayed start due to waiting for late competitors to be bussed from Kielder village and away we went, doubling back on ourselves for the 11km run to T1. I had to remind myself that this was quite a long event and that I needed to pace the 11k carefully. Into transition and straight to the bike. I realised the grass was soaking so I executed an undignified ballet while I tried to change shoes – hopping on one foot so that I wouldn’t get my feet wet and grateful for my decision to use elastic laces in both sets of shoes. It wasn’t a lightning fast transition but it wasn’t too shabby either, and soon I was wheeling my bike out for the 25km ride to Bull Crag.

I was looking forward to the bike section. I’d ridden a couple of hilly sportives already this year and although not particularly fit or fast I was expecting to be comfortable and do well on this bit. I was in for a surprise. An 85 mile hilly sportive on a road bike is an entirely different beast to a 25km bike ride on a mountain bike. I’d forgotten how up and downy the Kielder lakeside path is.

After attacking the first hill and storming down the other side I was soon reviewing the situation. I realised that this was going to be hard. It was impossible to get into any rhythm and I was spending a surprising amount of time in my smallest granny gears before hurtling down the descent trying to catch my breath. The dam gave some respite but it was hard to pick up too much speed on the thick mountain bike tyres. As we turned away from the dam to head for Bull Crag I discovered, to my surprise, that I was quite looking forward to the end of the bike section and to running again.

Transition 2 at Bull Crag was quite elegant. A long horseshoe where we entered at one end and were ejected at the other. Of course, none of the competitors had seen Transition 2 before so we didn’t know where our bike box would be. But this wasn’t a problem as the marshalls had read our numbers as we approached and were directing us as we tumbled into transition. I always have to remind myself that the clock is still ticking in transition – it’s still real time although it feels like it isn’t. So I was back in my running shoes as quickly
as possible then jogging round the horseshoe before out of transition for the last 6km or so.

They were a long 6km, twisty and hilly, and my legs felt like they’d done a marathon even if 25km of it had been sitting down. I settled down to a steady jog and had no illusions of trying to hit the finish at speed. There was good crowd support in these last few kms and a buzzy finish that I remember from having done the Kielder Marathon. Across the line and No I didn’t want a banana, I just wanted to sit down.

Dave had been in for about 15 minutes and Sara arrived not long after me. The results showed Sara had belted round the bike section a fair bit faster than me and if it hadn’t been for her slower transitions and runs our overall finishing positions could easily have been reversed.

This was a good race and I enjoyed it. I thought as we hit a brief squall on the bike section that if the weather had been unkind the bike section could easily be a serious trial. The split transitions, lakeside route and marathon distance bring an elegance to the course that I liked a lot. I definitely underestimated how hard the bike section would be, but it was great fun hurtling down the fast descents and negotiating the twists and turns.

CTS North York Moors ultra marathon, Saturday, September 30, 2017

33.6 miles / 4227 feet

Emma Backhouse

So a summer of training, two weeks of tapering and a week of self-doubt had come to this… my first entry into the mad world of ultrarunning at the endurance life CTS North York Moors ultra marathon. Surrounded by professional-looking lithe runners, I nervously made my way across a freezing (literally, a balmy 10 degrees in Durham had fallen to 3 in Ravenscar) field to collect my number, receive my timing tag and be given my t-shirt. Should I just leg it and tell everyone there was no medal and the t-shirt was the prize? Three loo trips later and suddenly briefing was upon us and it became apparent that numerous runners had come from London to do this thing…. I was feeling more and more out of my depth, and I was beginning to doubt not only my ability to finish but even my ability to run at all. The high place finish at the recent Clennell marathon must have been a fluke. Complex instructions (do not follow the 10k signs! Do not follow the half signs!) were issued and for the first time I saw doubt on my fellow runners’ faces. We had numerous loops to navigate, not least a final one, past the finish with the last 7 miles following the 10k route. Thankfully we were offered one final loo trip before a super quick countdown and then we were off!

As expected, being a snail, I was overtaken by nearly everyone, immediately. Race plan screaming in my head “stay calm, stay slow, you are a metronome” I tried not to let it upset me, but on a single track, covered in mud, hearing people tut and puff behind you and with few places to stop and let them pass it did become demoralising. However, within a few miles, we were spread out, alone, left to our own devices, facing the distance in our own ways. At 11 miles, the marathon leaders (who set off around an hour behind us) started to overtake us. They were fast, but friendly, glad to hear of their position. By this point I was beginning to believe that as long as I could hear the miles tick by the challenge would be completed.

I came through the finish for the first time at around 14 miles, heading towards boggle hole and Robin Hood’s Bay. It was here that we met the half marathoners on a different route. The terrain became more challenging with steeper hills and seeming more like the trail marathon I had done in the summer. I slowed to a walk…. knowing walking was necessary if the distance was to be done.

Miles ticked on, passing and passed by marathoners and halfers, although there were few ultras to be seen. A long moorland hill ended in a big muddy puddle miscalculation and one trainer would be significantly heavier for the remainder of the run. The “one mile to go sign” came into view and I could sense the anticipation from those around me. As we approached the finish, I was directed away from the funnel, heartbreakingly and had to stop. At this point, a distance pb was starting to result in nutritional issues. Needing something, I looked around for my support crew (chowing down on ice cream in the local cafe I later found out!) hoping they could get me the coke that was in the car. The cp only had water and with too much being drunk and no food being taken on, my stomach had started to complain. Loudly. Another ultrarunner was also waiting, desperately and eventually we both gave up, smiled at the poor marshal directing us away from the finish and headed on the lonesome 10k route. 2 miles in, the wheels, axle, doors and roof fell off and I limped into CP 5 an unknown distance later. Smiley faces and “less than a parkrun to go!!!” They sent me off and with a walk/run strategy along the railway line I came into the finish for the third and final time as fourth lady.

7 hours and twenty odd minutes. 35 miles by my garmin. Still getting over it but signing up for the Northumberland one at the end of February.

Harrier League, Sunday, October 8, 2017

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. Mud King/Mud Queen Race - click flag for more information.

results

women

posbibnamecatpackrace timeactual time
1644Emma HoltFsenF27:5524:35
50462Susan DavisFV55S31:2631:26
63452Rachelle MasonFV35S31:5131:51
85458Sarah DaviesFV50S32:1932:19
94451Rachael BullockFsenS32:4032:40
119436Katy WaltonFV35S33:3433:34
142422Jean BradleyFV60S34:0434:04
150461Stef BarlowFV40S34:2634:26
151449Nina MasonFV40S34:2834:28
178459Sarah FawcettFV55S35:2235:22
184396Anna SeeleyFV35S35:3635:36
209394Anita WrightFV55S36:3136:31
214402Catherine SmithFV40S36:4336:43
226466Victoria JacksonFV35S37:2037:20
234427Joanne PorterFV45S37:3537:35
253420Jan YoungFV65S38:0738:07
288393Anita ClementsonFV45S40:1340:13
3271192George Nicholsonn/cS43:1643:16
men


posbibnamecatpackrace timeactual time
11200Luke Adams (South Shields Harriers)MsenS34:3034:30
23543Stephen JacksonMsenF39:0534:05
41506Jack LeeMsenS40:0040:00
62509Jason Hardingn/cM40:3837:38
82519Matt ClaydonMV40S41:0141:01
114529Paul EvansMV35S41:3441:34
132521Michael AndersonMsenS41:5141:51
144524Michael MasonMV40F42:0337:03
226503Geoff DavisMV60S43:3343:33
229532Phil RayMV35M43:3540:35
230538Scott WatsonMV55M43:3640:36
270496David GibsonMV50S44:3344:33
330548Timothy SkeltonMV35S45:5745:57
368525Mike BarlowMV40S46:5346:53
369534Richard HockinMV65S46:5446:54
379536Robert AllfreeMV40S47:1247:12
404514Malcolm SygroveMV50S48:1048:10
4241621John MetsonMV60S48:5148:51
427547Tim MatthewsMV50S48:5748:57
428481Andrew DaviesMV40S48:5948:59
451513Lindsay RodgersMV45S49:5449:54
481526Mike BennettMV60S51:4151:41
489501Emil MaataMsenS52:0252:02
5211620David TothMV45S55:2555:25

Loch Ness Marathon, Sunday, September 24, 2017

Nina Mason

At the start of 2017 my resolution was to try and regain my running ‘bug’ – the last few years had seen this fade (not to mention my fitness). I needed a challenge to help me stick to any sort of training plan, so I entered the Swaledale Marathon – giving me six months to prep with the aim of getting round.

It was all going reasonably well during the spring, and I started thinking about what came after June….I needed something to keep my momentum going. We were planning a week in Scotland in September, and I spotted the Loch Ness Marathon. The only other road marathon I had done was London in 1998, and I thought it would be ‘interesting’ to give one a go. Race reports were favourable – perfect. Race entered.

Swaledale came and went and I felt like I was enjoying running again. I had this foolish idea that if I could do 23 up and down in the rain and the mud, 26 on the road couldn’t be that bad…..could it?

September arrived and found me in the Highlands. The start was beautiful, up on the hills (no sign of the Loch until about 6 miles); the first few miles downhill overall but with some ‘pulls’ (reminded me a little of Dent); the support was superb, every house and village we ran through people were out cheering, handing out sweets; and the event organisation brilliant. And yes, stunning scenery.

As for my race – torturous. A fast-ish first 6 miles (I tried unsuccessfully to slow it down); a decent half-Marathon split, then an utter slog for the next 13 miles. I don’t feel that I would have got round more quickly/easily with better pacing – more training perhaps! Do I mention I finished behind someone dressed as Nessie? But I got round (and had a fab week away).

As we all invariably do, I look back to try and benefit from any insights I may have gleaned from the whole experience:

  • if road marathons are your ‘thing’ then I heartily recommend the Loch Ness Marathon, it’s a superb event.
  • I have ultimate respect for anyone that runs this distance, in whatever time; it’s a LONG way, and a long time to ignore that little devil in your head telling you ‘just stop and the pain will end’
  • the huge blow-up Nessie, chip-timing, and a finish with crowds and a ‘proper’ clock almost won me over…..almost. But I prefer those events where despite being nowhere near the ‘sharp end’ I still have the chance of winning a bottle of wine just because of who turned up on the day!
  • long roads….not my thing. Give me so much mud it sucks at your shoes, lung-bursting, thigh-burning uphills, trying to get my breath as I fumble with a gate latch, eye-watering ‘don’t fall! don’t fall! don’t fall!’ tumbling downhill over heather, roots, bog, stone…..

So – an experience, and reaffirmed what I enjoy about running. For now, Swaledale remains my favourite race, and I may try to get some fell races in (and for now, focus on XC!). For what it’s worth, I got a new marathon PB (beat my ‘98 London time by 25 min) but I won’t be planning to better that anytime soon….not for another 19 years anyway…..

Harrier League, Wrekenton, Saturday, September 30, 2017

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. Mud King/Mud Queen Race - click flag for more information.

results

women
posbibnamecatpackrace timeactual time
1644Emma Holt (Morpeth Harriers & AC)FsenF26:0823:08
5412Emma ThompsonFV35S26:2926:29
39413Fiona JonesFV40S28:4428:44
42410Elaine BissonFV35M28:4827:18
50417Helen TonesFV40S29:0629:06
61450Penny BrowellFV45F29:2626:26
80462Susan DavisFV55S29:5129:51
137436Katy WaltonFV35S31:2031:20
164464Tasmin ImberFV40F32:0529:05
179442Lesley HamillFV40S32:2932:29
199434Kathryn RogersFsenS32:5032:50
206422Jean BradleyFV60S33:0033:00
210461Stef BarlowFV40S33:0933:09
232459Sarah FawcettFV55S33:4133:41
272420Jan YoungFV65S34:4034:40
297426Joanne PattersonFV35S35:2635:26
302457Sam AskeyFV40S35:3735:37
303402Catherine SmithFV40S35:3835:38
319427Joanne PorterFV45S36:0936:09
331467Wendy LittlewoodFV35S36:3636:36
363453Rebecca DoddFsenS38:1638:16
387400Carla ClarkeFV40S39:1539:15
423418Helen WilkesFV35S41:4241:42
433437Kerry BarnettFV45S42:4842:48
455428Joanne RichardsonFV40S48:4848:48
men
posbibnamecatpackrace timeactual time
171Kurt Heron (Ashington Hirst)MsenS31:4831:48
15485Chris CallanMV35S34:5834:58
27523Michael LittlewoodMV40S35:3535:35
46543Stephen JacksonMsenF36:3931:59
90506Jack LeeMsenS37:5737:57
112519Matt ClaydonMV40S38:2038:20
125521Michael AndersonMsenS38:4038:40
127508James LeeMV40S38:4138:41
158529Paul EvansMV35S39:1339:13
169524Michael MasonMV40F39:2434:44
236496David GibsonMV50S40:3640:36
238503Geoff DavisMV60S40:3740:37
243545Stuart OrdMsenS40:4240:42
246538Scott WatsonMV55M40:4638:26
258507James GarlandMV40M40:5838:38
267532Phil RayMV35M41:0738:47
339490Daniel MitchelMV40S43:0843:08
351492Dave HalliganMV55S43:2743:27
357477Aaron GourleyMV35S43:3743:37
366536Robert AllfreeMV40S44:0044:00
369535Richard PodmoreMV35S44:0544:05
389525Mike BarlowMV40S44:3744:37
420534Richard HockinMV65S45:2745:27
423514Malcolm SygroveMV50S45:3145:31
442526Mike BennettMV60S46:0046:00
445547Tim MatthewsMV50S46:0546:05
469501Emil MaataMsenS46:5346:53
492513Lindsay RodgersMV45S48:1248:12
558542Stephen EllisMV60S54:1454:14

Northern Athletics 6 stage Road Relay Championships, Sport City, Manchester, Saturday, September 16, 2017

6.5k legs

3 years ago I struggled to get a team together for this relay, 4 lonely excited Striders competed that day and I’ve been struggling ever since to get us back. This time it was different.  With a 50/50 split between old and new Striders in the team, we headed down to Manchester and into the unknown for all but myself.

The excitement was in the air as we walked over the bridge Towards the Etihad Stadium and sport city complex.  Some incredible fast youngsters flew past us on the way to registration as they raced round on their relay leg. This set the tone of a truly top end competition and a sense of home coming for myself.

Sport city was developed for the 2002 commonwealth games, the facilities are incredible. Registration was inside the main building leading to the outdoor track, job done and I was face to face with something completely new to me. A 200m indoor running track, looking round at the excited Strider faces next to me we all had the same thought, wow this is amazing.

The 200m indoor track is the warm-up area and a truly odd experience to run round. The curves are banked inwards and you are chucked round the bends as you tick off the laps. Must be an awesome experience racing on one of these and something I dream of experiencing one day. Made me chuckle as we all gave it a go, some loved it and other soon drifted to the flat route round the bottom as they felt sick due to the camber. (Chris Callan looked sea sick 😜)

We found our base station round the track and planted our purple flag with pride. This required quick thinking as no grass, thankfully Mark Warner had a spare pair of shoes and laces to do the job 😄. pictures and Facebook post done, the team soaked in the atmosphere.

100+ teams from the north are represented consisting of their very best best runners. All hoping to qualify for the national road championships. Top 25 is the standard and the dream, but I knew it was a massive achievement for Striders just to field a competitive team. The positive chats and feedback have been amazing from many of our local clubs. They were all pleased and quite shocked to see us, the feeling of pride was really overwhelming.

Onto the running, each man gave their best which is all I ever ask. Each had their battles and all had that massive grin on their faces as they walked back to the strider area.

Chris Callan was the first leg, the excitement of starting on the track next to 150 amazing runners did nothing to distract this dedicated runner. Set off at a solid pace and consistent splits showed what a rising star he will be for the club. A solid start and strong run.

James Lee shot off on the second leg, the hand overs are just like the Durham cathedral relays and well organised. A good leg from James with his distinctive style sprint finish and 100% effort. James was A last minute stand in for the relay and I’m massively great full for him stepping up.

Mark Griffiths was next, another new strider and showing massive potential with a fast run only 3 seconds behind the flying Chris. I have no doubt Mark will continue to get ever quicker and had some amazing flying feet pictures on the day.

Mark Warner running 4th,  was massively exciting to watch as we were clearly mixing it up in the middle of this incredible field of runners. Mark ran with dedication and a impressive continued return to form.

Michael Littlewood was up next, running on heavy marathon training legs but doing what he always does, pushing through and fighting hard. Rewarded with the 2nd fastest strider leg on the day and again first strider to the beer tent 😄

I decided to run the last leg, I hunted down a few people and loved the excited cheers from the team as I charged down the home straight. The course takes you looping round the outside of the stadium, round the sport city complex then finish back on the track. The heavens opened during my leg but happy to even pace and play my part.

The strider team officially placed 55th of the day out of 103 complete teams. Some teams being disqualified and some were incomplete. We all enjoyed a nice cold beer on the way home and reflected on what we had just experienced.

So what did we think? Wow is all we could say.  For the first time Striders had fielded a complete team and we didn’t just show up, we were competitive with the very best the north had to offer. I felt proud as we chatted about the day and the possibility of doing it all again. A truly amazing experience and something I can highly recommend to everyone in the future.

So next stop will be 25th march 2018 when I will try once again to get a 12 man team together. An even greater challenge, but definitely worth a go. Would be even better if we could field a ladies team too.

Can it be done? After today I think we have a chance.

Results:- 55th place 103 finished teams

Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon, Causeway Coast & Glens, Northern Ireland, Saturday, September 23, 2017

64km, 2666m elevation

Jonathan Hamill

Finn McCool had a bit of a problem with the Scottish giant, Benandonner.  Finn didn’t take kindly to Benandonner’s assertion that he wasn’t a good fighter.  Enraged, Finn tore pieces off the cliffs and threw them into the sea, creating a causeway to Scotland.  Once across, Finn realised the error of his ways, as Benandonner was bigger, uglier and nastier.  A capable runner, Finn beat a hasty retreat back home.  Benandonner came 2nd in that race but Finn’s Wife Oonagh had hatched a cunning plan.  Oonagh placed Finn in his baby Son’s cot, and introduced Benandonner to ‘Oisin’.  A worried Benandonner legged it back to Scotland, fearful of how big Finn must be compared to his baby Son, and he tore up the Causeway as he went.

 

Growing up around the Causeway Coast and Glens, this tale and many others like it captivated me as a boy.  I’d hiked the route many times as a boy (not all in one go!) and returning to tackle it in this setting was a source of much excitement and trepidation.  It isn’t every day you get the chance to run over the eighth wonder of the world, and so the Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon had been on my list of ‘must do’ runs.

It follows an ‘out and back’ route, over trails, beaches and the coastline of the Causeway Coast Way. Starting on Portstewart Strand, the route passes Portrush, Dunluce Castle, Portballintrae, the Giant’s Causeway, Dunseverick Castle, Portbradden Harbour, White Park Bay, Ballintoy Harbour, turning at Larrybane Quarry (just prior to Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge), to return and finish at Portballintrae.

To say the scenery is spectacular would be a massive understatement.  The Causeway Coast and Glens are recognised the world over as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the Giant’s Causeway is a World Heritage Site.

Our tale follows.  Andy and I arrived at Belfast International Airport on Friday afternoon, and having squeezed into our petite hire car, we ventured North to touch down briefly at the lovely house we had rented, which overlooked the route, between Portstewart and Portrush.  After a quick trip to the local supermarket for essentials (e.g. bread, peanut butter and gin), we headed over to Race HQ at Portballintrae Village Hall to collect our numbers.  A fairly typical Northern Irish relaxed approach was evident with regard to the route – the advice being to keep the sea on our left on the way out and on the right on the way back!

We paused at the Harbour Bar in Portmagic (Portrush) to say hello to old friend Willie, who over a Guinness, wished us luck for the challenge ahead.  Next,  some final carb-loading, at the handily located pizzeria opposite our house overlooking the golf course. A final bit of race strategy discussion in our house over a log-fire, a sea view and a steadying gin, and we retired for some rest.

0455hrs reveille!  Ouch!  Having completed our final preparations in the kitchen – boiled new potatoes with salt to tuck into our vests (which turned out to be an excellent alternative to a certain brand of energy bars, which I find too hard to eat on the move), and drop-bag ready, we slipped into the darkness to drive over to Portballintrae Village Hall.  Compliant with the instructions, “Don’t miss your bus transfer to the start”, we arrived in good time for the billed 0630hrs bus, which arrived just after 0700hrs (the advertised race start time).  There isn’t much to do for a pair of lycra-clad runners at that time of the morning in Portballintrae but eventually, we were off, in a Translink double-decker bus resplendent in ‘Game of Thrones’ livery.

Portstewart Golf Club was our drop-off point, and we walked down with some apprehension to the beach where we could hear music emanating from the 26 Extreme start van/disco.  A short speech followed from the race organiser, as the drone flew overhead, and the morning brightened.  And we were off!  Towards the Bar Mouth (opposite direction) initially, and a turn around the Race Director’s pick-up which chased us up the beach after the start. A little too keen in pacing terms but glad to be moving against the cold, we pressed on, ascending the steps at the end of the beach and onto the coastal path.  Along the promenade, past Portstewart Harbour, over the headland, past the Herring Pond, we continued through the Golf Course, passing our house (could have dropped in for a cup of tea..) we continued on to Portrush.  Over the footbridge and past the Harbour Bar, quiet at this early hour.

Then up Ramore Head, and around to the East Strand at which point we became delusional – surely Michael Littlewood was not warming up for Portrush parkrun?  The distinctive yellow beanie like a beacon on the beach but alas, an imposter!

A quick shout out to Mervyn (Run Director of Portrush parkrun) as we ran along the beach ahead of parkrun starting (DFYB, even on an Ultra!), and around to the White Rocks, our legs heavy from the sand where we climbed up to the road, passing Dunluce Castle before reaching half marathon distance as we dropped into Portballintrae.  The marathon had left as we passed the village hall (their start), and we continued around Runkerry House, and a quick hello to some old family friends who were out walking, the view of the Giant’s Causeway opened before us.

Wow.  We dropped down the road to the Causeway, pausing for another obligatory photo opportunity, prior to joining the path and (many) Shepherd’s steps up to the cliff path.  The wind was formidable on the top, the gusts making running quite challenging.  The cliff paths were narrow, and slippery given the usual wet weather which preceded the event.

We passed Dunseverick Castle and negotiated a stretch of very slippery rocks and seaweed prior to a lengthy stretch of White Park Bay beach.  I was delighted to see Ultra, Marathon and Half Marathoners coming towards us, and old school friends Sean and Faye running the half. Another section of slippery rocks led onto Ballintoy harbour which was in full swing with tourists. We climbed the twisting road past sword-wielding Game of Thrones re-enactment enthusiasts, and eventually reached Larrybane Quarry comfortably ahead of the 26-mile cut-off time.  At the checkpoint, it was explained that given our delayed start, the cut-offs wouldn’t be rigidly enforced anyway.  Cake for me, and some isotonic drink, and we were off back along the same route.

On the way back, the wind which had been in our faces for most of the time on the way out had strengthened and switched direction to compound our challenge.  The cliff top paths that had been slippery on the way out were now in places treacherous, the cumulative result of over a thousand pairs of feet.  On the tops, the wind was strong enough to blow you off your feet, and care was required on the very exposed sections.  At this point, talking was futile as we couldn’t hear each other – had Kathryn been with us, she’d have had to sing up!  We pressed on, and ran for a while with Emma who we’d met earlier – tackling her first Ultra Marathon!

I remember hitting the 50km mark between Portbradden and Dunseverick, and yelling to Andy that we only had 3 parkruns or so to go (seemed like an appropriate measure at the time).  The wind continued to pick up, and we then saw a Coastguard helicopter overhead.  My initial thought was that it was nice of them to support our event.  After a short time, however, we were stopped by the Coastguard.  We joined other runners to watch the rescue operation underway, to recover a lady who had fallen on the cliff path ahead of us.  The Coleraine and Ballycastle Coastguard Rescue Teams had been mobilised, supported by a Coastguard helicopter from Prestwick – these guys do an amazing job often against the odds, and in all weathers.

After the helicopter had taken off, we continued and I was pleased that the route didn’t take us down the (many) Shepherd’s Steps to the Giant’s Causeway, and instead we followed the cliff path.  We continued on the coastal path around Runkerry House, at which point running was futile, the wind so strong that inching forward was a massive challenge.  We got some shelter as we picked up the path beside the tramline adjacent to Bushfoot beach, and we reached the welcome boardwalk to the bridge over the Bush River.  Then the final climb up the path to the finish, and the crowd hastened us as we crossed the line, picking up our medals – the Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon complete!

We retreated (gradually) to Portballintrae Boat Club for a soothing Guinness, before returning to our house, where we were extremely grateful that our kind host had left some Epsom bath salts.  Warmed, we returned to the Harbour Bar again, where Willie rang the bell, silenced the bar, and summarised our adventure, with a loud ensuing cheer.  The Harbour Bar is a regular haunt of many a Northern Irish celebrity, and it was great to see James Nesbitt, famous actor, and fellow Coleraine man join in the cheer!

What an amazing experience!  I’d recommend the Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon without reservation.  It is a challenging but beautiful route, and the tagline of the organiser 26 Extreme provides a cautionary note #wedontdoeasy

Check out a bird’s eye view!

 

Nottingham ‘Robin Hood’ Marathon, Nottingham, Sunday, September 24, 2017

26.2 miles

Catherine Smith

So once again I found myself questioning what on earth I had gotten myself into as I was preparing to pack for Nottingham Marathon. I was worried Windermere was a fluke, I was nervous about the pressure of going for a time when recently my races hadn’t quite gone to plan, all the what ifs were running through my head, Pardon the pun, I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself and instead of inspiring, motivating & encouraging I was psyching myself out! I mentioned this to Coach Anna and Gareth who both chatted to me about taking the pressure off, having a realistic goal and not being too hard on myself, that helped & between us we came up with a plan I was happy with, I instantly felt relief and back in control, then came the motivation, I realised that I was running the marathon on a friends birthday, I knew the date rang a bell, sadly he passed away the day after his birthday 3 years ago, I also knew that a number of people would give anything to be able to swap places with me, I now had a plan & the drive to get round.

 

The day of the marathon came and we set off to the start line, it was somewhat sunnier than predicted/anticipated which was a little worrying but equally made for pleasant pottering before the start.  In the marathon ‘village’ we banged into familiar faces which was lovely, the Toth’s and a couple of Hunwick Harriers (one an ex-strider) selfies, hugs and good luck wishes done we headed to our pens.  Gareth was up at the front, first class obvs, we were all in ‘cattle class’ it was very busy there & it was great to see the Toth’s again as I worked my way towards the 4.45 pacer.  I chatted to a lady for a while who explained because of the ‘waves’ we wouldn’t be set off for another 20mins! Hilarious to think Gareth and co would be into their second 5K before we were even allowed to go anywhere! Again grateful of the pleasant autumn sunshine & warmth at this point I tried to move as much as I could in the jam-packed space, we eventually made our way to the official start and then had to wait again until our wave was officially set off, bang, the gun went, the band played, I filled up, eeek I was doing it, my second ‘solo’ marathon, my 4th official marathon, a person whose only sport used to be extreme shopping at the metro centre! Allan’s words resonated in my head ‘don’t set off too fast’ x3 – particularly challenging here as the half marathoners were in the same pen and they shot off!

 

I dodged round a few people and then settled into my ‘average pace’ only I was ahead of my planned time and it felt ok! Early days Smith, reign it in – 26 miles to go I told myself as I passed 4.45 pacer guy comfortably.  Whoever said Nottingham Mara is flat is a liar, granted it’s no Windermere or Swaledale but it’s certainly not flat! Thankfully the lady I was chatting to had warned me about the early climbs to the park so I was prepared and this also helped me slow the pace naturally, still ahead of 4.45 guy though as I saw him on the first out and back early on.

 

Soon I reached the first water station, part of plan had been to ensure that I walked, fuelled and hydrated at every station, but this one was on a downhill, I couldn’t waste a downhill?!?! So I grabbed a ‘DRINQ’ packet? Thanked the marshals and continued running down the hill, I felt myself getting ‘sprayed’ at times which whilst welcome in the heat was a little surprising (not like the GNR spraying you expect!!) I found out later as I tried to take a drink that the clever water thingy was the reason behind random, forceful spraying, it was hard work to manage it whilst running and folks were definitely struggling to aim the water, I also found out that a chia flapjack bar and an unexpected jet of water can be potentially lethal – Q choking fit!

 

On the second out and back I saw some of the fast lads making their way towards us, I spotted the Elvet purple and green and gave Gareth a shout out, he looked happy, that helped me push on (a little too fast for a while) again I saw 4.45 man not far behind but enough that allowed me to feel cautiously optimistic.

 

The support on the course was great, GNR esq at times which is a fab motivator, many of the Nottingham clubs seem to be purple and/or green so that helped too, seeing hoards of similar colours and getting shout-outs (even if they weren’t really meant for me!) The Notts Women Runners had some awesome coordinated kit and loved my Strider nails!

 

I was still ahead of pace and feeling good at the halfway point however this wasn’t quite the positive experience that ticking off ‘half way’ usually is because we all run the same route until a break point where the marathon runners go left and the half folks dash to the finish, being cheered was great but having folks sprint past and hearing lots of ‘nearly there, not long nows’ on repeat does not sit well when you have to do another 13.2 miles!!!!

 

Additionally, the route takes you out to a quiet housing estate and then a rather deserted main road so whilst the silence was welcome in some ways it was also a bit of a shock to the system, an ‘all or nothing’ experience that messed with the head a bit! It was along here that I first noticed Elvis, he nipped into the bushes for a wee and the lads in front said ‘Elvis has left the building, hu hu hu’ it made me chuckle and was the lift I needed.  I ticked off a few more miles making sure I was drinking when I could make the contraption work and fuelling well, I was still ahead of pace and feeling ok.  After the quiet ugly road the route takes you into a park which reminded me of Bushy, it was beautiful but also a bit strange as you cover grass, trails and a little mud for while in your ‘road marathon’. This route really does have a bit of everything!

 

In the car park I heard someone shout ‘come on Elvis, well done Elvis’ then ‘hey you can’t be beaten by Elvis Catherine’ – I realised it was Dave Toth, a welcome friendly face, from that point Elvis and Elvet had a battle going on! We would keep catching and overtaking each other but whether in front or behind I couldn’t help but smile at all his cheers and shout outs which really did sound like ‘come on Elvet / well done Elvet’

 

I saw Rachel Toth heading to the park where hubby was waiting for her in the woods (oh er missus) we passed on the long and ugly road bit and guessed she might have been struggling with the same halfway challenges I had, I wished her well. High 5’d and off we went, I willed her on as I chased Elvis!!

 

I was passing people along the way who looked a little broken, I offered them fluid, paracetamol and ‘ket’ (from my haribo/Skittles and jelly beans selection) without thinking that that has a different meaning to people who are not from the North! The gentleman did look a little shocked! Oops!

 

I was still ahead of ‘average pace’ but definitely feeling it now, the water walk was getting longer, I set myself challenges, just get to the next mile marker, just catch Elvis again etc to distract myself, just a parkrun to go! I reminded myself that I wanted to make myself and others proud and how lucky I was to be out there when others couldn’t be, I dug deep!

 

At the 22 mile marker I heard a shout out and saw Gareth on the bridge, He looked happy which helped, I guessed his run had gone well, I yelled get a photo of Elvis! (For the race report is been writing in my head to distract myself) he probably thought I was crazy! He shouted back he’d see me again at mile 25, half good half bad, I’d have to keep running! This part is also a bit of a section to mess with your mind because you can see and hear the finish but you are going in the opposite direction, I rewarded myself with skittles and Haribo as I ticked off the miles, I realised my Elvis/Elvet support shout outs had gone, I must have lost him at the last water station.  I could see mile 25 marker ahead, I wanted to walk but I could see Gareth leaning on the lamppost so I didn’t let myself (till after he went!) he told me he’d got a PB I was over the moon for him, I kept checking my watch, I definitely knew I would achieve sub 4.45 but my head couldn’t do the maths to predict what I might come in at and I always find the last 800 thingys sap all your time and energy and feel never ending! Ahead I spotted the ‘half / full’ turn in point I had crossed at the start and halfway, I had done it, my second solo marathon, I only had half a mile to go, I saw a set of supporters who had popped up all over the course, consisting of a hotdog, 2 dinosaurs and a princess! I was very glad this wasn’t my first time seeing them otherwise I might have thought I was on some extreme skittles sugar high! They cheered me down the last road section before I turned right onto the grass finish, which seemed to go on for ever!!!!! Finally, I turned the last corner and there was the finish line with giant circus characters on stilts cheering me in – again a rather surreal moment!

 

A number of first aid folks asked if I was ok, thankfully I was, just elated and emotional that I had managed to exceed my own expectations, PB by over 4 minutes and I actually enjoyed it – I was absolutely delighted and a bit overwhelmed! I collected my bling, teeshirt, goodies and a hug from Gareth then waited to cheer Elvis in – and get a selfie of course! He was running for a great cause, breast cancer now, I donated on the way home, he had such a positive impact on my race.

 

We pottered about in the marathon village hoping to catch folks coming in, we saw Matthew (ex-strider) finish and cheered Rachel down the home straight.

 

Team Smitchard then left the city, uh huh huh Thank you very much!

Dales Trail Series – DT40, Semer Water, last of Dales Trails races, Wednesday, September 27, 2017

26.2miles, 3333ft gain

Elaine Bisson

The DT30 was my first trail race in 2015. I’d entered thinking I’d run round with Jon…a back injury prevented him running on the day. To say I was apprehensive would have been an understatement. I’d only ever run on roads and had never needed a map.

I’d loved it so much I entered the grand slam in 2016 never even imagining I’d come anywhere near the podium finish. I’d had a good battle and was surprisingly close to the winner of the grand slam until an unfortunate incident in a Lakeland bog…not toilet but muddy bog gave me a second degree hamstring tear which I tried my best to ignore and ended up limping and crying and hating every step of the DT40…I’d finished second and so I decided to try my luck again…

So the pressure was on since April 1st 2017 when I actually won the first race of the series the DT20.

To dare to dream…could I really win the series??

Then an ankle injury, tendonitis, niggles on and on so the DT30 was an incredible disappointment. August running was at an all time low with kids off school and an attempt to rest to sort my ankle.. 100 miles I logged, which for anyone who doesn’t know me is quite pitiful. You can imagine my frustration at the lack of running and lack of preparation for this race.

September came, my ankle was again its normal size and no longer painful. My first focus was supporting Geoff on his JNC, then it was upping my miles. So I log my runs, I try to repeat what I’ve done before a good race. My target was to log a 60m week, a fortnight before the DT40. For some reason this has time and again produced good race results. By hook or by crook it was done. My longest run in time was 5 hours in the lakes (12miles but very hilly!), in Durham it was 17m split into a double run day as I just couldn’t face the boredom of running round Durham. Certainly not my ideal long run distance.

And so I find myself yet again on the start line of the DT40 another year older, another year wiser and another year more eager.

The sun appeared and warmed my skin. I’d taken myself off to calm my nerves and run along the river. I’d had a sneaky wee behind a bush and somehow got grass stuck in my knickers. I was injury free, I’d stocked up on 2 months worth of iron…I was pink!! And I was ready. I was going to be sensible. As my husband said, it was mine to lose….not to win. Strong and steady all the way…

The race starts on the shores of Semer water and climbs for a good…well on my watch 40mins until there is a lovely descent until it climbs again for another 6miles. Having run alongside people at Swaledale marathon who had run steadily up Fremington and all other hills….and gone on to beat me by 10 or so minutes while I ran until my legs burned then walked….then ran, I’d decided to try this instead…would it be efficient and less tiring. I took the climbs steadily, calmed my breathing and slowed every time my breathing seemed too heavy. This year I didn’t walk! I kept going, my miles were faster than last years and I felt good. Then the weather turned to my favourite fine drizzle, oh heaven!.

I’m not sure if I mentioned how I hated last year’s race; the disappointment of not even being able to put up a bit of fight for the trophy. I had lost before I’d even started. I’d remembered tarmac…because that’s what hurt most, miles upon miles of the stuff. This race was entirely different. Miles upon miles upon miles of muddy stuff. Beautiful muddy stiff, gorgeous views, clean air and peace and quiet.

When I could, I raised my head and looked at the views. The fields, the lovely river paths, the hills, splashing across streams, through puddles, navigating boggy paths, tiny forests, my favourite tiny trails that roll through the fields, I enjoyed every step. I remembered at mile 11 last year when I’d looked at Jon broken, every step hurt and I was close to tears…this year I could run, well and comfortably. It was a true joy. Marshalls knew me from previous races and spurred me on, “you have to smash it this year!”, fellow runners encouraged and laughed at slips and slides.

I was scared I’d hit the wall, my miles had been meagre. There was no wall. With 5 miles to go, Robbie, who had navigated me through Punchard on my first Swaledale marathon was marshalling, he told me how well I was running, top 15 Elaine, very well done. That meant the second placed lady would have to get minus 10 to beat me…that trophy was coming home with me. The absolute glee I can’t tell you, the puddles I sought to splash in…the mud that caked my legs, childish glee! Even the ginormous bull who glared at me whilst I pranced through his field couldn’t frighten me. And when I hit the final 250m of road, I was grinning from ear to ear and close to tears, then I saw the finish and Sarah (previous winner, major rival but above all fab friend) raised her hands and cheered and started to cry…and then her husband too ( race organiser) and of course me. Well , I said after the DT20 I wanted to bottle up the feeling and do it again. .. and that’s what I did, running my heart out to bring that trophy home…my most hard earned and prized of all.

Afterwards I dunk in Semer water, clean off my legs, change and settle down with fellow runners while we tuck into soup, tea and cakes. We swop stories, giggle and cheer home the other runners.

This series is what first took me onto trails, to realise how much I love off road running and hills. I’ve made friends and memories that I will never forget.