All posts by Jonathan Hamill

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!

Hardmoors Princess Challenge Ultramarathon, Ravenscar, Yorkshire, Saturday, September 2, 2017

31 miles / 50km

Jonathan Hamill

The Hardmoors Princess Challenge provides a choice of distance, with each option providing a challenge in their own right.  The Short n Sweet (8.5 miles), the One in the Middle (17.5 miles) and the Ultra (31 miles).  These races are not just for princesses, although wearing tiaras, tutus and pink garb is encouraged.  I had a tiara set out but my daughter sat on it, although I did pack a pink Trail Outlaws buff as an alternative!

 

Photo L-R: Jonathan Hamill, Kathryn Sygrove, Andy Greener, Kath Dodd

The Ultra was billed as a circular route, starting at Ravenscar, dropping South to Hayburn Wyke along the Cleveland Way, then along the Cinder Track (disused railway lines) via Ravenscar, continuing North to Whitby.  Taking in the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey, the route returns along the Cleveland Way to Robin Hoods Bay, and finally back to Ravenscar.  It’s a toughie in terms of elevation!

 

 

I’m no mountain goat 🐐 but recently I’ve been falling more for trail than road.  I can’t put an exact finger on the cause but it is connected to my endless pursuit of ‘fast’ times.  I enjoy the sensation of running quickly and trying to beat my times.  I had a great year in 2016, breaking all my targets (e.g. 5k, 10k, HM).  Earlier this year my focus was on completing the Paris Marathon (oops, I’ve just remembered that I haven’t yet written a race report!). I started to wonder what happens if I go sub 4 hours? Do I then aim for sub 3:30, and do I keep going, or is there something else out there?

I’d never considered myself to be capable of running ultramarathons – maybe that doubt alone provided sufficient motivation. In any case, the prospect of the Hardmoors Princess 👸 Challenge captivated me. At 50km, it seemed a logical step up, and mindful of the added challenge of terrain, I entered the event with Andy (who had conquered the race last year).

 

In terms of prep, this differed substantially from my rigid and detailed 12 week Paris Marathon plan.  I run a fair bit usually and had done a 30km run (probably too fast) before going on holiday to France.  Fortunately, I managed to keep the legs turning a fair bit during my holiday (probably too fast) but in the few days between my holiday and the race, I had a feeling of being a little underprepared.

 

After a shopping trip on Friday afternoon to equip us with various snacks for the day, we agreed to set off at 0600hrs on Saturday morning.  Andy was in charge of pacing, and my responsibility was to ensure we navigated adequately.  Having bought an OS map, and armed with the route description, I set about marking up the map late Friday evening.  I think I had just over 5 hours sleep (a little less than usual – the excitement aplenty) and then the alarm went off – fortunately, I managed to silence it, and cancel the reserve, and the 2nd reserve alarms prior to tiptoeing around getting my stuff together.

 

And we were off – and in a little over an hour and a half, we were the second car into the parking field near to Ravenscar village hall.  We had a few moments, so we examined Andy’s extensive shoe collection in his boot, and he opted for a trusty pair of well broken in Brooks road shoes, and a length of gaffer tape (just in case).  A short walk to the village hall next, and we subjected ourselves to the mandatory kit check, prior to collecting our race numbers.  You do have to take mandatory kit lists seriously given the terrain, and environment but I did think that if we really needed a head torch, we’d be in a bad place.

 

Compared to road races, there was no limbering up, no strides, but there was a coffee van parked outside for those who required a shot of pre-race caffeine.  Having packed and adjusted my vest, we were summoned to the race briefing outside.  We then lined up on the road, had a quick photo taken, and we were off! 

 

I remembered all the advice from accomplished ultramarathoners of not setting off too fast, yet our initial downhill kilometre was 5:47/km.  We slowed as we joined the Cleveland Way and headed South.  The weather was fine and by the time we hit CP1 at Hayburn Wyke, the sun was out.  I had two 500ml soft flasks and had only drunk half of one (note to self, drink more early on), so the option for some Dandelion & Burdock drink and a handful of jelly babies seemed in order.

 

We joined the Cinder Track and returned to Ravenscar, with Kath who was suffering from jet-lag having just returned from the other side of the world, and Kathryn who was suffering from a bout of giddiness, so much so that we banned her from any more cola at the next checkpoints.  Undeterred, Kathryn sang her heart out to provide some musical accompaniment, the ‘bam-ba-lam’ of her tune keeping our cadence alive.  We approached CP2 at Ravenscar village hall and paused briefly for some water and refreshments.

 

And on we pressed, where my first navigation test presented itself – left or right.  Intuitively (as the map was well tucked away), I called left, and we joined the Cinder Track to Robin Hoods Bay and CP3, located conveniently beside some Public Toilets.  Prawn Cocktail crisps were gladly received at this point.  We then had some more Cinder Track miles which felt hard on the legs, and we were pleased (understatement) eventually to reach Whitby, where having amused some good tourist folk as we dashed through the town, we had the 199 steps to climb to Whitby Abbey.  The race instructions said we had to run them, and foolishly I did initially but with the wind taken out of my sails, I settled for a more sedate pace (walk) to the top.  Battling the urge in passing the ice-cream van, we pressed on along the cliff path, and we gladly reached CP4 just past the Saltwick Bay mini-market.  The marshalls at CP4 were delighted to see us, and we replenished our stocks of water, prior to continuing along the cliff top path.

 

The next stretch seemed to go on forever, and we ran past cows, up hills, up more hills, and eventually reached CP5 (which was the earlier CP3).  It was at this point that I thought the CP team were doing a weird dance, waving their arms – in fact, they were trying to describe the horror of the ups and downs that lay ahead.  Then the downhill stretch into Robin Hoods Bay – torture on the legs because although part of me wanted to cover the ground faster, my sensible side told me that a gallop downhill at this point would end in disaster.  What goes down must go back up, and we ascended countless steps up onto the Cleveland Way, heading to the delightful Boggle Hole – a lovely Youth Hostel apparently but a tortuous descent and ascent to escape towards Stoupe Beck.  Our route description said simply, ‘Ascend the steps’ but there was nothing simple about this.

Our pace had suffered on this stretch – the challenge of multiple descents and ascents taking their toll.  At one point, I became delirious that we had passed the marathon distance, and promptly took an unplanned dive for the deck.  Pride dented, we pressed on, and Ravenscar was in our sights but still some distance away.  There were some fairly brutal climbs, the worst perhaps being past the Cleveland Way Alum Works but we emerged past the National Trust centre at Ravenscar to familiar territory and the short climb up to the village hall.  We managed a graceful trot to reach the welcome sight of Ravenscar village hall and the finish (in 7:23:58)!  Those present (including Kathryn who had fled from us in the final section) gave us a clap and a cheer, and with medals in hand, we enjoyed a fantastic chip butty with salt, clapping and cheering for Kath and Claire (who had joined us earlier in the race) stormed through the door.  We bid our farewells and headed for the hills!

 

I’d urge anyone with ultramarathon curiosity to have a go at the next Princess Challenge. Sure, it’s a tough race with over 1100m of climbs but what makes it easier is the camaraderie of the organisers and marshalls who do a fantastic job – most are accomplished ultramarathoners in their own right.  The cola, dandelion and burdock, food and friendly cheer served up at the various checkpoints would galvanise the weariest of souls.

 

I really enjoyed the feeling of isolation, particularly on the cliff paths, with the odd reminder of us being in Yorkshire, as friendly hikers passed in the other direction with the odd, “Eyup”.  I learned that next time, I need to drink more early on.  I also might experiment with my choice of Cliff bars – I had two during the event but found the dry consistency challenging.  Yes, it was tough and hurt in a different way to a road race but on 2nd September, I became an ultramarathoner.  I’m grateful for the support of Lesley, Andy, this club, and Kelly and her team, including Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team who make the event happen.

 

The Princess Challenge is a fundraising event for the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team.  If you can support their vital work via a donation, please do so here.

You can also relive the route via this link.

Northumberland Coastal Run, Beadnell to Alnmouth, Sunday, July 23, 2017

Grand Prix Race.Endurance Champion Race.  ~14 miles

Jonathan Hamill and Tamsin Imber

Jonathan …

2nd time lucky?  Last year, I settled for a rather splendid long sleeved top in lieu of my entry, and heard the tales of a splendid and scenic coastal run in the sun.  This year, the race sold out in a matter of six hours but fortunately I secured an entry again, and had my sun tan lotion at the ready.

Saturday evening saw me consider various weather forecasts, and contemplate my shoe and clothing choice.  Having packed my hydration vest, at the eleventh hour, I abandoned it and decided for the minimalistic approach of club vest (fear not, I had shorts too) and trail shoes given the inclement weather anticipated.

A Sunday morning reveille at 0600hrs (what else would any sane person do on their wedding anniversary?) saw me tiptoe around the house, and jog up to meet the Strider bus.  As I had stayed up quite late, reading old race reports of the Coastal Run and contemplating what lay ahead, I quite fancied a snooze on the bus but this notion rapidly faded, as the bus filled full of other chatty but half asleep Striders.

Team Purple
Photo courtesy of Catherine Smith

We made good progress, and parked up in Beadnell, donning waterproofs to saunter down the road to the Boat House for registration.  I always find it a challenge with my OCD to attach a bib number perfectly straight – to do this in the rain, with a fresh breeze on the upturned hull of a small boat compounded the challenge.  Event clips and bib attached, I processed along the beach toward the start area at Beadnell Bay.  There were portaloos aplenty, and a fairly short queue leaving time to join fellow Striders to shelter and stay warm(ish), stowing bags on the baggage bus at the last moment, for the obligatory team photo on the beach.

Lined up on the start, and raring to go, I listened intently to the official at the front – I relayed his information to other runners because I thought it was wise to heed the advice, which I summarised that runners should stay between the first set of marshalls to avoid perishing on the slippy rocks.  Then we were off, across golden sands, the warmth of the sun on our backs, the breeze in our hair, amidst children building sandcastles, and enjoying ice-cream [error, that was a figment of my imagination]. Then we were off, across a sandy base of rivulets fed by the Long Nanny River, which set the scene of what would be a challenging race.  I had struck out at a pace just sub 5 min/km, which softened as I met the first constriction point of soft sand and rocks up to High Newton by the Sea.  I was amazed at this point to see a runner relieve himself against the dunes in full view of other competitors – how could he have missed the vast provision of portaloos, and council facilities adjacent to the start?

‘Enjoying the downhill’ Photo courtesy of Camilla Lauren-Maatta

Having climbed this initial hill, I enjoyed the short fast downhill section to Low Newton and the sands at Embleton Bay.  We then negotiated the inland side of Dunstanburgh Castle, on mud, grass and rock paths, with a few slips and falls.  I halted to check one poor soul who had taken an impressive tumble, landing hard but he was fine to continue.  I passed a few runners, at this point lamenting their choice of road shoes, and wondered if Matt Archer had his racing flats on.

Next up was Craster Village, at which point we were looking a little more bedraggled, our muddy battle paint splattered up our legs, and higher!  Support was evident here, and water was provided.  The encouraging sight and sound of Michael Mason galvanised my resolve as I climbed up past the harbour past The Heughs, where there was a cheeky kink taking us along the headland to Cullernose Point.

Then a treat of a section of road past Howick, and on to Sugar Sands where the majority of runners took the bridge across Howick Burn but some hardier souls opted for the water crossing.  A short but punishing climb ensued, up a rocky path, which I decided to run passing a couple who were walking, clearly conserving their energy to pass me on the flat on the top!

Into Boulmer for the final water stop, which I needed, where supporters braved the conditions to cheer us on.  Leaving Boulmer, just prior to dropping down to Foxton Beach, a cheery chap stood beside a sign which advised ‘about 2 miles to go’.  He shouted encouragingly, that it we were nearly upon the beach and only 10 minutes to go.  I looked at my watch briefly, trying to calculate what this meant but gave up as ‘nearly 2 miles’ was too imprecise a measure for me, a detailed metric man.

Photo courtesy of Phil Owen

This beach seemed never-ending, and I remember thinking about the meaning of this approximate 2-mile sign.  I tried in places to pick up my pace, mainly because I thought if I did the race would be over quicker but there were slippy rocks, and dilapidated fences (really!) to cross.  On one particular fence, my ability to hurdle non-existent, my right hamstring cramped as I ungraciously ‘hopped’ over it.  I recovered to catch the magnificent sight of a blue inflatable finish arch.

The arch got closer, and I tried to pick up pace, hastened by Jon Ayres who was doing a sterling job as a bare-chested Mr Motivator having already finished.  Attempting to follow Jon’s advice of lengthening my stride, I managed to briefly return to that sub 5 min/km pace again, prior to what felt like sinking to my knees in the softer sand near the finishing arch.  Through the finish, I immediately felt that sense of accomplishment which makes it all seem worthwhile; and a quick check of my watch confirmed a pleasing sub 2-hour time (subsequently 1:55:31 chip time).

I grabbed some water, and headed over to provide some encouragement to my fellow Striders.  Jon congratulated me, and I quipped that that last beach was like a club committee meeting in length!  Then via the baggage bus, to the Strider bus, which now resembled something of an impromptu changing room.  I was grateful at this point for Lesley’s advice to take a change of footwear, and in equal measure for her encouragement to attend this race.  Prize giving was in the nearby Alnmouth Links Golf Club, which provided an opportunity to dry out, and celebrate the team achievement.  It was great to see Stephen Jackson pick up a prize for 5th place, a valiant effort indeed after his Durham City Run win of only a few night’s previous, and to see other age category winners; Tamsin Imber for 1st FVET40, Christine Farnsworth for 2nd FVET65 and Margaret Thompson for 3rd FVET65.

The organisation of this race by Alnwick Harriers is first rate.  Marshals and locals alike are friendly, and supportive.  The coastline and scenic aspect is fantastic, and where else can you run ~14 miles through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on a mixture of sand, road and trail?  In summary, I’d encourage anyone to have a go at this race – I’d certainly like to do it again, but hopefully next time on a drier, more summery day!

You can relive the Northumberland Coastal Run here

Full results available here

… Tamsin

This HAS to be one of the best races in the north-east! The fact that it sells out in a few hours supports this.

Beautiful rock-pooled, sandy beaches , Dunstanburgh castle, the pretty village of Craster and convivial cliff top coastal footpath make this one magnificent run! And when raining and grey this coast looks beautiful in a wild, wind-bashed way. I make no apologies for the amount of gush in this report!

Today, early morning in Beadnell, the sky was thick with cloud and it was raining. I was cowering in the warm baggage bus along with others, discussing if a rain coat would be a good idea. One lady posed the question, had you ever needed a raincoat during a race in the summer? The problem was that my answer to this question was yes. However, today the temperature was 19 degrees. Also I am usually freezing cold before all races whatever the time of day or year, and it seems to bare no relation at all to my temperature when running. That the hidey holes of trees in my local nature reserve are often housing old jumpers of mine to collect after a run is attest to this. So, I decided to wear, a swimming costume, my Striders vest top and a thick cove of factor 50+. (The latter to protect me from any direct sunlight that in a freak event may appear. I was on antibiotics following tick bite in Dalby forest, the type of which the nurse stressed to me makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight so I must stay in the shade she said with emphasis).

Detaching myself from the bus, and shivering in the cold wind which greeted me I jogged up over the small dunes green with thick tussocky maram grass and down onto the beach. At the top of the beach were little fishing boats pulled up high above the tide line resting on their sides on the sand. The sea looked grey and ominous, reflecting the sky.
A large crowd of runners was rapidly gathering at the Beadnell end of the beach in the distance. With still twenty minutes to go I decided to get the legs moving and jogged in the opposite direction for a bit. Matt Archer and two others ran towards me doing the same. Then it was time to go to the start. I met Rachelle in the crowd. I felt anxious though as I did not know which way we were heading, there was just a sea of heads around me. So I whizzed out of the crowd and approached it head-on. The crowd was fronted by a line of elites! Like, no joke, they totally looked like them Ha ha! Thin, muscley men, shoulder to shoulder, silent and focused looking….and Gareth was one of them…phew! He looked a bit surprised to see me, perhaps as I was about to get run over in two minutes? He helpfully advised me we were all headed between the two bright orange marshals half way down the beach. I quickly made my way past the elites for about 3 metres deep into the crowd until I got to some ladies and stood with them.

One minute later with a loud parrrrrrp on the horn, we were off! Careering across Beadnell Bay! People were running all round me. There were large pools of water, where the sand was hard but rippled and uneven underfoot. Big splash as your foot suddenly went down into a pool, and up the other side. I kept getting side splash from other runners, and it started to rain again now, so also getting wet from above. More splash from below as a river crossed the sand. Despite this I was now totally baking hot! My swimming costume seemed really heat insulating. It was annoying, so I took my striders vest off and wrapped it round my arm, Ah, that. Running in a swimming costume! Well, we were on a beach.
After a short cliff top stretch we onto Newton Haven beach, and then the grand beach of Embleton Bay. The mystical stone ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle rose out of the misty haze on the distant headland that cups the bay. I headed towards the sea, to run on the wet firmer sand. Half way across I could see there was a choice of path, either stick to the coastal path or clamber over rocks up to the path. I opted for the latter. It would not save me much distance but it would avoid the runner congestion on the coastal path. I changed my track to head straight for the rocks. As I did so, who should speed past me but Jon Ayres! Lovely to see him! He asked me when my next triathlon was (a reference to the swimming costume?). I said it was today if I got tired of running.. We kept pace together and reached the rocks which were very slippery and seaweed covered. We bounded up as fast as we could, and met the path, which was unexpectedly muddy and slippery. This continued on the narrow path round the castle, slip-slide running. Trying not to elbow other runners. Once past this bit, the path widened and was back on low cliff tops. One of the Kenyans I’d seen at the start was sat on the side as he had injured his foot and was clearly in pain. There were two marshals helping him so I carried on. Jon had gone on ahead at this point.

We were fast approaching Craster. I was well surprised! Half way already? This half seemed so much easier than Dalby Forest half, but then this one is flat and easier underfoot, and there is no flat in Dalby. Craster is a pretty little village and running through it I could smell the smoke of the Craster fish smokery. A small crowd of local residents cheered us on.
After Craster there was a long stretch of muddy slippery coastal foot top. I kept my pace, comfortable but a bit hard. I was enjoying this! We ran down onto the next beach to be immediately greeted by a bridge over a stream. A girl overtook me at this point but I was determined to follow her as there probably was only 4 miles left now I estimated, from my study of the OS map beforehand. Also, at this point I sensed an up-shift in vibe in the runners around me from ‘maintaining pace’ to ‘getting serious’. I upped my pace to match hers and kept a secret 10 metres behind her. I followed her steadily along the path.
Off Boulmer beach, onto another hedge-lined minor road parallel with the sea. This one was looong, but I knew it lead to the final headland then onto the final beach. It was not far now, the guys around me were now more upping it, as was the girl I was following. At the headland, marshals cheered us on and said 2 miles to go! Yes! Down a flight of steep steps and we were onto the last beach! Great! Nice to be back on sand, another beautiful bay, this beach had a few areas of slippery grey rocks and rock pools of uneven depth to negotiate! Rounding the corner and there were the groynes to hurdle over ha ha! Made difficult by the fact we were all trying to go hard now, and that the level of the beach on one side of the groyne was different from the level on the other side! ..and once round the corner the blue inflatable finish arch could be seen..so near… but ….so ….far! A teasing sight! On and on and on….and it did not get an nearer! This was really hard now! I gritted my teeth and ran past the girl I had been keeping up with, but could not stop another girl flying past me! The arch was still far away! Finally, we were up with the first supporters! Katy and Graeme with their new baby were there and Lesley cheering us on! A few more yards and booff!, deep deep deep soft sand! Not the greatest when trying to vaguely approximate a sprint! I think swimming through it may have been faster. The deceptive blue arch was proving to be a battle to reach! A staggering inelegant plod and at last, I was under the arch!

Bring it on next year!

Results
Bibno.Participant Finish time CategorySpeedPace
630Stephen Jackson01:17:41MSEN10.81 mph5:32 min/mile
936Gareth Pritchard01:20:19MSEN10.46 mph5:44 min/mile
121Matthew Archer01:31:36MSEN9.17 mph6:32 min/mile
949Phil Ray01:31:54MSEN9.14 mph6:33 min/mile
595Andrew Hopkins01:33:33MV408.98 mph6:40 min/mile
618Tamsin Imber01:42:29FV408.20 mph7:19 min/mile
185Elaine Bisson01:45:23FV357.97 mph7:31 min/mile
1110Malcolm Sygrove01:51:57MV507.50 mph7:59 min/mile
526Jonathan Hamill01:55:31MV407.27 mph8:15 min/mile
872Dougie Nisbet02:03:08MV506.82 mph8:47 min/mile
661Fiona Jones02:03:21FV406.81 mph8:48 min/mile
898Helen Parker02:03:55FV406.78 mph8:51 min/mile
204Jean Bradley02:04:00FV606.77 mph8:51 min/mile
777Rachelle Mason02:04:55FV356.72 mph8:55 min/mile
462Sue Gardham02:05:35FV406.69 mph8:58 min/mile
1024Chris Shearsmith02:06:35MV406.64 mph9:02 min/mile
1109Kathryn Sygrove02:06:47FV506.63 mph9:03 min/mile
605Melanie Hudson02:07:18FV356.60 mph9:05 min/mile
984Dave Robson02:07:19MV656.60 mph9:05 min/mile
744Emil Maatta02:07:32MSEN6.59 mph9:06 min/mile
247Karen Byng02:07:54FV456.57 mph9:08 min/mile
1016Anna Seeley02:08:14FSEN6.55 mph9:09 min/mile
223David Browbank02:08:39MSEN6.53 mph9:11 min/mile
1047Catherine Smith02:12:17FV406.35 mph9:26 min/mile
429Sarah Fawcett02:14:00FV556.27 mph9:34 min/mile
283Jonathan Clark02:18:44MV406.05 mph9:54 min/mile
576Alison Heslop02:21:36FV455.93 mph10:06 min/mile
394Katherine Dodd02:24:12FV455.83 mph10:18 min/mile
1127Helen Thomas02:24:32FV405.81 mph10:19 min/mile
825Karen Metters02:24:32FV405.81 mph10:19 min/mile
1255Jill Young02:25:59FSEN5.75 mph10:25 min/mile
407Jane Dowsett02:26:00FV455.75 mph10:25 min/mile
933Katherine Preston02:26:00FV455.75 mph10:25 min/mile
929Alison Pragnell02:26:11FV355.75 mph10:26 min/mile
1044Alan Smith02:26:14MV705.74 mph10:26 min/mile
341Beth Cullen02:26:24FV355.74 mph10:27 min/mile
902Joanne Patterson02:34:07FSEN5.45 mph11:00 min/mile
1011Aileen Campbell Scott02:34:12FV455.45 mph11:00 min/mile
1232Karen Wilson02:37:11FV455.34 mph11:13 min/mile
427Christine Farnsworth02:40:12FV655.24 mph11:26 min/mile
144Kerry Barnett02:43:07FV455.15 mph11:39 min/mile
434Kirsten Fenwick02:46:43FSEN5.04 mph11:54 min/mile
1067Diane Soulsby02:46:45FV505.04 mph11:54 min/mile
473Rebecca Gilmore02:47:47FSEN5.01 mph11:59 min/mile
1136Margaret Thompson02:59:17FV654.69 mph12:48 min/mile
468Laura Gibson03:11:14FV404.39 mph13:39 min/mile

Hexham 5k Fun Run, Hexham, Northumberland, Sunday, July 16, 2017

Celeste Veitch

 

I’d enjoyed last year’s Hexham 5k fun run so I felt compelled to support the organisers in their quest to secure enough attendance to route the run through Hexham’s town centre. The council agreed the request and with full road closures for the run, the 5k started 5 minutes before the half marathon from in front of the Queen’s Hall Art Centre. With pleasant weather and a fine view of the Abbey we set off, the HM runners and spectators cheered us from the start line.

Fifty runners followed the path down Hallgate bank and onto Wentworth Place, past the visitor and leisure centres onto the main road to the A69. If you don’t know Hexham this start was entirely downhill and the momentum along with the supporters propelled us along nicely. At this point the course goes over the bridge and drops down along Ferry Road. The course continues along the road where it crosses over the A69 and turns around just before Corchester Lane returning on the same route until a left turn onto Sandhoe takes you to the finish line and a handsome medal of the Abbey.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m not the Strider’s fastest runner but with the support, the downhill momentum and aid of Anna Seeley’s HM training sessions I’d managed to knock 3.05 minutes off my PB. The first place 5k runner came in at 20.42. I’m looking forward to Hexham 2018.

Results available here

Dales Trail Series DT30km, Muker, Upper Swaledale, Saturday, July 15, 2017

30km

Elaine Bisson

Photo courtesy of Foxglove photography

This is in the series of my A races this year and is my favourite of the three. Just under 20miles following trails, bridleways and bog! It starts in a field next to the River Swale in Muker following the river along past Keld before it really starts to climb through Stonesdale Moor (where the bog really wobbles) up to the Tan Hill. From here it drops back down to Keld along the Pennine way before it climbs again to the second summit just above Swinners Gill (aka Runners Hell). From here there is a fast runnable section down to the hay fields of Muker before you go through the gates of hell (about ten of them) which are absolute torture after the long descent, you only build up enough speed until you have to stop to open another gate and if you’re being chased the bang of the gates sounds like a death knell!

I travelled down with Jon and a car full (no really) a car full of soup…enough to feed the three hundred runners. We were both in poor spirits and it took a while before we started our usual joking. We register in the barn, chat to marshals and runners (many of whom have done previous series.) From here there is about a mile walk to the start. I’ve given up slightly, poor prep…I’d spent the last week recovering from supporting on Scotts BGR and struggling with tiredness. I recognise some speedy ladies and realise I’m well off the prizes today. But then there is always the second lady in Grand Slam who is giving me daggers!
Photo courtesy of Foxglove photography

For the first three miles said 2nd GS lady sits right on my shoulder until I give up and let her past. My heart sinks while I watch her disappear into the distance but it’s not long until I realise I’m gaining ground again and when we hit the climb up to the Tan Hill I pull up and away from her.  By now I’m running again with Jon. Glad of the company and the funny chat. Also glad to have someone to give me a bit of a nudge…which I really needed. When we hit the road (only 400m worth) we can both barely be bothered to run. I remember saying come on its flat, it’s tarmac and we up the pace. I know this should be where we can gain some places on the descent down to Keld but the wind is right against us and visibility is poor and underfoot is splodgy.

Photo courtesy of Foxglove photography

We eventually pick up speed down a lovely sheltered track and hit the turn up to Swinners Gill. I feel a bit queasy by now, it really was a bad race day! Anyway I’m looking forward to Swinners Gill. The climb isn’t too long and it’s a bit technical which I’ve come to like. It’s not long before we reach the last gravel trail and a fastish descent back to the meadows of Muker. I’ve tricked myself to believe there are 12 gates to pass through, so when the countdown is still going and we reach the final little hill before the finish we are both over the moon.

I’m 3 minutes slower than last year and 4th lady but all things considered it wasn’t too bad a run…I do know I’m  capable of much better with better prep so I’ve a feeling I will return to this. We wander back to race HQ to collect our t-shirts and go separate ways. The lovely campsite showers await and I spend a while scrubbing off mud and enjoying the clean warm water. Then it’s back to the barns to enjoy the soup, cakes and tea and welcome in other runners.

I wasn’t sure whether to log a race report, it certainly wasn’t my best race but it remains one of my favourite trail races. I had a great time despite feeling a bit rotten and it goes to show what a difference good company can make…and of course running somewhere you love. I have also retained my number one spot in the Grand Slam and have gained quite a lead on the second lady. I now look forward to the final of the three. There is work to be done and certainly good tapering but I’m determined to do it right!

Endure 24 and Emma’s debut as a Strider, Bramham Park, Wetherby, Saturday, July 1, 2017

Emma Thompson

After reading about Anna’s epic achievements at Endure, my effort seems a bit feeble but hopefully my account of running this as part of a team is of interest to those who would never dream of being able to run this solo!

Back in January my sister rang me to ask what I thought about a 24hr team relay event – was this a silly idea? I’m not sure what response she was hoping for, but I thought it sounded amazing and so we both signed up, along with other members of her club, Jesmond Joggers, for Endure 24 at Bramham Park, near Leeds.

The event can be run solo, in pairs or teams – grouped into small (3-5 people) or large (6-8). The route is a 5 mile loop through Bramham Park. This would be more miles than I had ever run and it was difficult to envisage how the stop-start nature of running in a relay would play out over the 24 hours. I had grand plans for training, with longer distances and shorter recoveries between runs. But nearly 2 months of injury finished those plans off.  By June I had given up all hope of participating at Endure. But after seeing an amazing physio 3 days before Blaydon, I was back running. I completed Blaydon and with a few more gentle runs under my belt, and an understanding team, I was off to Bramham park for Endure on 1st July.

A clash with my 6yr old daughter’s dance show meant a quick drive back to County Durham after registration, so I missed the start and my first lap. I slotted back in on everyone else’s second lap (which notably was my first run in a striders vest on my first official day as a Strider!).

The route profile had looked hillier than we expected, but actually turned out to be quite a fast course. Over 90% paths, very little grass, a few hills but nothing too challenging. As the laps ticked by it became clear we would all be running further than expected, as we were running much faster than anticipated.

I was in a team of 6. With missing the first lap, I completed 5 laps in total – 25 miles, much further than the maximum 13.1 miles I had completed before. Between the 6 of us we completed 35 laps, 175 miles, finishing 5th in the mixed large teams, out of 31! My sister’s team of 5 completed 37, an amazing effort, finishing 2nd in their category of mixed small teams. Having all gone purely to participate, with no experience of this kind of event, to finish so high up the field was amazing.

The rests made a huge difference. My legs on the last lap felt tired and heavy, noticing the hills much more, but still maintained a consistent lap time.  After finishing, I actually felt less tired than after a half marathon (and the dreaded post race stiffness never set in!)

Running through the woods with a head torch at 2am in the morning, through an avenue of trees with fairy lights and back into the race village to change over, was a fantastic running experience. The team work was amazing – we didn’t miss one changeover, even through the night. Being woken after an hours nap, to get up shivering and go for a run in the dark, was a bizarre experience to say the least – with just a fleeting  “I’m not sure I really want to go for a run/what am I doing?”!! The cameradie from all the different runners was great.

Totally inspiring to watch the efforts of the solo runners. Huge congratulations to Anna and Kerry whose individual achievements were incredible. I can’t believe how fresh they looked the next morning, about to go back out for further laps.

I will definitely be back – but will stick with a team! Hopefully that can be with fellow striders next year. It very much is an event for everyone. With the different team sizes, it allows for all runners. Anyone in???

Photos credited to Catherine Smith.

Red Kite Trail Race, Dipton, Stanley, Sunday, July 9, 2017

8 miles

Joanne Patterson

July would be the month I would take part in 5 races – clearly I was very keen at the start of the year, and signed up for most things that I missed last year due to getting into running just that bit too late forthe popular races.

4th of July saw me take part in my first Bridges of the Tyne – I was really looking forward to this race – it was only 5 miles, mostly flat, I had been running quite well I thought – this could be my race. But apparently, attempting to race on a school dinner and a packet of hula hoops isn’t advisable. I struggled from the first mile, both physically and mentally. I finished the race feeling disappointed in myself and completely disillusioned with running.

This is when being part of a close-knit club comes in very useful. I had some great advice and caring words from my fellow clubmates (namely, Mark, Vics, Matt , Tim & Catherine).

  • You put too much pressure on yourself
  • Pick one of your races that you want to do well in, and focus on that. Use other races as training runs
  • You need to make running fun again, and not about PBs and beating yourself
  • Mix it up – try not to focus on times for a bit

I took this all on board when I decided I would still take part in the Red Kite Trail run on 9th July. This was 8 miles of trail – basically four miles downhill and then four back up. I was never going to be very good at this race, but before Tuesday, a silly part of me would beat myself up massively, regardless of the result. Taking all this advice on board, I decided I would run my own race – not worry about competing with anybody, not caring if I was last Strider home. Taking it back to how it used to be, and trying to enjoy running instead of turning it into something negative.

I arrived at the Community Centre in Dipton (practically next door to my daughter’s nursery school) and immediately found some Strider friends, who all seemed to be in the same frame of mind. We had the usual photo opportunities, then out to the front for the start.

Running on Tarmac in Trail shoes is a bizarre feeling on your feet, but before I knew it we were off road. Down some glorious grassy hills into the middle of the countryside. The sun was shining, I had a pretty awesome playlist on my phone and things felt good. Up until mile 3, I had to stop like a million times to climb over stiles (possibly exaggerated), this would normally have frustrated me as it would ruin my splits – but today, i was thankful for the stop, trying to take it all in. Chatting with fellow runners and thanking marshalls. There were a few ropey ankle situations, which reminded me of cross country, and I saw an injured Mr Bisson hobbling back to the start (it doesn’t matter how many times he reminds me of his name, I always want to call him Mr Bisson – i guess that’s what happens when you are married to a club celeb like First Lady Bisson). Throw in a refreshing stream crossing (i can confirm going straight through is more advisable than trying to cross the rocks – is that right Anna??) and before I knew it, I was at the halfway point.

I had seen the elevation profile prior to the race, so I knew what I had ahead of me. I stopped at the water station (something I would never normally do), drank some water and inspected the massive blister forming on my big toe. This running thing is so glam. Off i went again, expecting the next 4 miles to literally be a sheer vertical climb. Happily it wasn’t quite as bad as that – some running through fields, into the woods and straight into a massive muddy bog. At some points in this run, there was nobody behind me, and nobody in front of me – it was almost like somebody had just marked out a nice Sunday route for me. I tried to catch up with a runner in front, as I felt more comfortable with somebody in front, so that I could follow them and not end up lost!

So the elevation profile was true to its word – the hills made cross country hills seem like nothing. I was comforted to see everyone walking the hills – this had been my plan. I got talking to some lovely ladies from Morpeth Harriers, and we encouraged each other to run the flats and downhills, then catch each other on the next uphill. Up to the top of the last hill, and i saw the place i get my nails done, so i knew where i was. I blasted the last little bit to the finish line, mouthing “Jesus Christ” to Catherine and Anna who were waiting at the finish line for me. Hugs from the Morpeth ladies reminded me what a great sporting community I am part of.

Considering I am from the area, these were trails I never knew existed. The sights and smells and a renewed view of what running means to me made this a great run. Thank you so much to my ever suffering team mates for helping to get me here. I’m not saying that I can treat every race like this, but, for now you have helped me more than you realise.

Endure 24, Bramham Park, Wetherby, Saturday, July 1, 2017

Anna Seeley

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go. If you think about quitting think about why you started. Look in the mirror, that’s your competition. Ask yourself can you give more, the answer is usually yes. A few of the motivational quotes from the K markers placed round the 5 mile course which would be my home for the next 24 hours. People ask why and I think these quotes help summarise it. Having raced every standard distance going I got fed of PB chasing and wanted to see what my body was really capable of.

My body may have had other ideas though and having fought off multiple injuries and still carrying a few niggles I then went down with a stinking cold the week before race day. A few of you shook your heads as there was no talk of a DNS despite by Wednesday still coughing up a lung and having virtually no voice. The whole year had been building up to this weekend and I wasn’t ready to give up all the hard work but I was sensible enough to readjust the goals. My 100 mile in 24 hrs target scrapped I settled for a C target of 6 laps (30 miles), another ultra ticked off, a B target of 10 laps (50 miles) and an A target of 15 laps (75 miles) which would be a distance PB.

Friday and feeling better but far from 100% I set up camp with the help of Catherine and Gareth. After registering and getting my number it all became a bit more real and we set off to recce the course but due to a lack of markers got a bit lost. Saw enough to know it was going to a be a road shoe job though then had a mild panic as I realised I’d only brought old knackered road shoes with me, for use in an emergency, along with my decent trail shoes. Never mind, what would be would be. A meal out on table 24, fate, and it was back to camp to enjoy the festival atmosphere, drink some beer (medicinal of course) and catch up with other solo nutters who I’d managed to pitch near. Very little sleep was had that night, maybe not best prep for staying awake for 24 hours but I was still fairly relaxed as I was joined in camp by Kerry (running) and Rob (support). Photos with Kerry and fellow strider Emma who was running as part of a team and it was time to get ready to go.

Saturday 12 o’clock on the dot and we were counted down, 3, 2, 1 and a hooter went to go. The relay runners went flying off but the majority of us solo runners went for the more relaxed approach although on fresh legs that still involved a sub 30 min first 5K, I’m blaming the rested fresh legs. Once out of the race village we were onto hard packed gravelly trail which made up 95% of the loop and would result in the trashing of many a foot. A downhill to the 1K marker was followed by a gradual 1K ascent nicely named Temple Drag. Downhill past the camper van pumping out tunes at Temptation Corner came the second climb up to the 3K marker and start of the woods, which quickly became my second least favourite part of the course, we’ll get onto my least favourite part later, due to the random stones sticking out which could easily trip without concentrating and became an even bigger nightmare in the dark. Get out of the woods and you could see the main checkpoint with endless supplies of magical pink electrolyte drink and shot blocks, I don’t even like shot blocks but the sugar was greatly appreciated. Down a gravelly path to the only tiny steep hill, it grew longer the more laps we did, on the course then over a short grass section before hitting my least favourite section. A K long v slight incline which unfortunately was being blasted by an evil headwind rendering it much harder to run up than it should have been. The next downhill section was lovely, sweeping and not too steep and then there was the little molehill named Bramhall Climb and you could see the race village. Still 800m away but an achievable target even on knackered legs as it was predominantly downhill apart from a little kick at the end of the lap. I didn’t see the point in the K markers on the first lap but later in the race they were absolutely fab, even when knackered it didn’t take long to get to the next. You had 7 distinct points to work towards on each lap and each marker had a quote on to motivate you.

Having run the whole of the first lap I had already decided on where the walking was going to commence from the second lap on. I could have run a good few more laps but energy preservation is key, it’s all very well running strongly for a few hours but in the grand scheme of things you will go further if you are sensible from early on. Coming down the hill at the 5K mark on the second lap I felt the horrible right quad twinge that I’d first noticed at Windermere marathon earlier in the year. Surely I couldn’t have managed to flare old injuries 8 miles into a 24 hr race, well yes I could and had. By the end of the lap the quad was joined by my hip flexor and groin in a competition as to which could shout loudest at me. Just as well I wasn’t in the mood to listen as this would have been a rather short race report.

Somewhere between 25-30 miles I first became aware that my left ankle was jealous of my right thigh and wanted to join the pain party. I’d been having trouble with this ankle for weeks but had hoped that I’d done enough to settle it, obviously not. Slowing down I had my first wobble of the run, I was only just into ultra territory and my legs didn’t want to play ball. Luckily I knew from past experience that if you refuse to quit and keep moving your head will eventually back down and let the legs do their job and soon I was moving well again. My stomach however was having none of it and other than a slice of pizza when back at camp later I don’t think I ate anymore solid food after the end of lap 6. Luckily I had pre-empted this and packed plenty of high calorie fluids so the rest of the race was fuelled on smoothie, milkshake and of course coke. Not a fuelling strategy I would recommend for anyone but needs must.

At 8 o’clock we all had to have headtorches on so after 40 miles I headed back to the tent to search it out, change into something long sleeved and decided to change my shoes to super cushioned ones which I’d never run more than 5 miles in, what could possibly go wrong? The hard surface was playing havoc with my legs and the B target of 50 miles was looking unlikely. I was slowing down and everything was hurting. At last minute I decided to chuck my race pack on with front bottles so that I didn’t need to worry about water. What a mistake that was. I’ve never run without the pack loaded up with the kit on the back and hadn’t thought about how much the bottles would move without the counterbalance. Result was that miles 40-45 were mainly walked as the swinging bottles were going to cause yet another injury. Ditching the bottles at the end of the lap some running could start again but while my legs were starting to understand the game my head rapidly giving up. So what do you do when the wheels are coming off, you message our ever cheerful enthusiastic captain who will provide you enough memes to brighten the darkest of moments, thank you Catherine and Gareth for chipping in too, I must have sounded properly miserable! 50 miles done in 10:38, somehow a 50 mile PB. At some point Dave Toth appeared as well, super encouraging and a much needed friendly face who having experienced the ultra pain knew what we were going through, thank you.

Lap 11 was the first one in complete darkness and I remembered why I only run with a headtorch when I absolutely have to. The swinging light makes me feel sick and I hate the loss of your peripheral vision. I was convinced that one of the super quick relay runners was going to come crashing into me as they seemed to come concerningly close before swerving. Unnerved I headed back to the tent at the end of the lap to retrieve my spare headtorch, maybe the spare would be brighter, and bumped into Kerry. Out we went, lap 12 for me and the magic 10th lap for her to take her to 50 miles. The woes of the previous lap forgotten we chatted and weaved, neither of us seemed capable of going in a straight line, ticking off the Ks until finally we were done. Massive distance PB for her, she went to find food while I decided rather unwisely to get another lap done before resting for a couple of hours. In hindsight I’d have been better stopping then and restarting at daybreak but wanted as many miles ticked off as possible.

End of the lap and I managed to find my tent, not difficult but my brain was a bit mashed, and settled down for a couple of hours of shivering, getting into a sleeping bag after 65 miles isn’t the easiest task in the world so I gave up and just threw it over me, and attempting to snooze. 5 o’clock and I was back up having forced some more fluids in, I’d given up eating hours earlier. I persuaded my legs that they did want to move and dodging guy ropes I managed to make myself back through the camp site back to the course. Bumping into my friend and 3rd lady at the start point of the lap I had company from 65-70 miles and that helped massively. She was falling asleep on her feet but had 100 miles fixed in her head, had worked out precisely what she needed to do each lap in to achieve her goal and went on to nail it.

Maybe stupid but as I started each lap I mentally ticked off the next 5 miles as I knew I wouldn’t quit mid lap so as I set off on lap 15 I knew I’d have achieved my A goal for the weekend of a distance PB. My legs by now were majorly protesting, I couldn’t move my ankle and my entire right upper leg was throbbing but nothing was going to stop me unless I was pulled off the course by the marshals and fixing a smile on my face was going to prevent that. Each K seemed to be getting longer but eventually the 7K mark appeared and once at the top of the hill the sight of the race village and finish line spurred me on. Finishing the lap on a high and having posed for another photo, smiling of course, for Dave I insanely decided to push the distance PB a little further, how hard would another lap be when you’ve already done 15?

Very very hard and immensely painful would be the answer. The first K was okish but then it rapidly went downhill. Simply putting one foot in front of the other on anything other than the flat, which as I’ve already mentioned there wasn’t much of, was absolute agony. Any sane person would have quit but I’m far too stubborn for that. After everything I had overcome to get to the startline and get that far one more lap wasn’t going to do that much harm so I again recruited the aid of our captain to keep me amused from a distance by messenger. I’m sure every K marker was moved further apart, every hill had grown but finally 1:55 later I dragged myself over the finish line.

80 miles, distance PB, further than I’d ever dreamed I’d get at the start of the weekend and a total that from early on when injuries decided to rear their ugly heads seemed impossible. Even my lack of ability to walk wasn’t going to wipe the smile off my face, already entered for next year, anyone else joining me?

West Highland Way Race, Milngavie, Glasgow, Monday, July 24, 2017

95 miles

Aaron Gourley

 

95 miles, 14,000ft – One Incredible Experience

“I’m never running another ultra again,” I muttered to myself as I lay on the floor in the finish hall in Filey at the end of the Hardmoors 60 last September. Feeling totally exhausted and dejected after the wheels of my race fell off in spectacular fashion at Scalby, I’d decided that was enough and I wanted no further part in the activity.

But time is a great healer and before I knew it, I was entering the ballot for the West Highland Way race 2017 after being inspired by the BBC Adventure Show’s coverage of the 2016 race. I also managed to tempt my running partner in crime, Jen O’Neill into entering. With a place secured for both of us, all my focus was on this race alone and I knew I had to seriously improve my training if I was to complete and ultimately, enjoy this race.

But the West Highland Way is a race that comes with many conditions, one being the need for a support crew which is a massive commitment for anyone. I luckily was able to secure the services of Phil Owen whose experience of this race, both as a runner and support crew, would prove invaluable and a good friend who I going hiking with, Brian Shepherd.

As the race approached doubts about my ability started to creep in, a two day Lakeland 100 recce with Gary Thwaites at the beginning of June had me seriously doubting my ability and almost forced me to withdraw, but I stuck by and on Friday 23rd June I set off for the long journey to Scotland.

Arriving at Milngavie station car park was the first moment of real nervousness. I’d tried to sleep in the car on the way up but couldn’t.  The car park was full and there was a real buzz around the place. I went to register, got my timing chip and the first of four weigh-ins and headed back to the car to change, eat and rest until the start of the race at 1am on the Saturday morning. This rest was disturbed when a slightly drunk women drove into the car park and hit mine and another car as she tried to park. Not a great way to relax for a big race like this.

As 1am approached I made my way to the start line at the underpass next to the station for the race brief and met up with Jen who was looking nervous and not confident given the huge problems she’s been having with her knee lately. Soon it was 1am and we were off, through the underpass, up a few stairs and along the High Street before turning off into the darkness of the trails.

The miles from Milngavie ticked by uneventfully, it was dark and the light from head torches stretched into the distance. I kept a steady pace, trying not to get too carried away and running too fast on the fairly flat trail.  Before long we were at the first significant point on the route, Drymen where Phil and Brian were to meet. I didn’t hang around and made off again into the darkness.

Next few miles ticked over until day light broke as we approached Conic Hill, the first significant climb on the route, and provided us with expansive views of Loch Lomond below. The weather had been windy but mild, in fact almost perfect for running in, but the clouds hung low in the distance and looked ominous with the forecast for rain throughout the day. The big plus though was the dreaded Scottish midgies were kept at bay.

All too soon, after a steep drop off Conic Hill, Jen and I reached the first check point of Balmaha at 19 miles. Here we both had a quick refuel and toilet stop before setting off for the next section along the banks of Loch Lomond. The run out was good and the views were spectacular as the sun rose, but all too soon the trail got trickier and more technical to run. We made it to Rowardennan check point together for the first of two drop bag points. I had a square of sandwich and a Boost chocolate bar and we set off once more.

However, I could see my heart rate starting to creep up and was working hard to keep the pace so took the decision to drop back from Jen who was running strong. I really didn’t want to break my race at this point.

As Jen headed out of sight I made my way carefully along the banks of the loch to Inversnaid. This section was really tough and I was feeling tired having been up since 7am the previous morning. I took a moment to refill my water bottles before setting off for the next checkpoint where I would see Phil and Brian again, Beinglas Farm.

I made it in and learned Jen had put 15 minutes on me (she went on to have a storming race and finished in 23hrs51mins – 44th place). I was tired but feeling ok. After a quick sit down and being forced to eat a few fork fulls of Pot Noodle, I was off. From here to the next checkpoint was a bit of a blur but before long I was at Auchtertyre where I was weighed at the checkpoint, I’d lost nearly 3kgs but still within the safe limit. I then found Phil and sat in the car for a bite to eat and a nice cup of coffee and a rice pudding. All was good, I’d gone through a bit of a rough patch getting there but was feeling ok, then as I stood up to head off, I felt an awful sensation run over my body, then before I knew it I was on my hands and knees being sick. The coffee and rice making an unwelcome return.

I was devastated by this then I noticed the marshal from the checkpoint coming over and I feared my race was over. But she kindly offered me a wet wipe to freshen my face with, a cup of water from someone who was supporting another runner and a few words of encouragement from Phil and I was back on my way, I had 3 miles before I would see them again at Tyndrum.

At Tyndrum I met my support and they forced me to eat some pasta and soup but I was scared it might make me sick again. I had a little bit, but bizarrely, I really craved an ice-lolly so Brian went off to the shop and returned with a Calippo. I trudged out of the Tyndrum with my Calippo. I must have looked mental to the walkers coming past the other way as the weather had turned again and the wind and driving rain battered from the west. I didn’t really care as I ate it along with a few Shot Bloks and before long I was feeling ok again as the track stretched out ahead of me towards Bridge of Orchy.

Having found my rhythm again I was able to start running as the track was fairly flat and great for running on. Before long I was making great progress and came into Bridge of Orchy full of beans. Here I had a quick turn around and Phil sent me off up Jelly Baby Hill with a handful of Pringles and a sandwich.

Jelly Baby Hill gets its name from the Murdo who makes camp at the top of the hill and greets runners with good cheer and the offer of a Jelly Baby. The wind at the top was fierce and Murdo was camped firmly in his tent, only appearing when runners reached him before disappearing back to shelter. On my approach he came out, greeted by with a firm handshake and sent me off with lovely green Jelly Baby.

The path down the other side of the hill was very runnable but the wind was fierce and biting cold. Phil had opted to meet me on the road side at the bottom and I took the chance to have some food and make a full change of clothes including long leggings, a new top and OMM waterproof ready for the next section over Rannoch Moor as I knew it would be exposed and cold on this stretch. As I left I had a few more snacks and felt good to still be running, I’d passed 60 miles now, the furthest I’ve ran up to now so I was going into the unknown, but I felt good.

There was a long climb up onto the moor and the wind was really getting up but was manageable, but then as I approach the plateau, the wind really picked up and brought with it driving rain. It became really difficult to see as the rain swept across the open moor and the temperature plummeted. I made an effort to keep running as it was really getting cold and the wind was driving the rain hard. It seemed to take a long time to get across the moor but before long I was at Glencoe Ski Centre checkpoint.

I checked in and spotted my support car so made my way over looking to get full change and a hot drink as I was freezing and soaked through. But when I got to the car I realised they weren’t there, so I headed up to the ski centre where I found them about to settle into nice warm drinks. They were both surprised when I walked in as they thought it would have taken me longer to get there but as I explained to them the conditions and the fact that I’d pressed on they both sprang into action to fetch a change of clothes and Brian kindly gave me his cup of hot tea which went down a treat.

I spent the next hour here getting changed, warming through and having a small bite to eat as Phil changed having decided he would join me for the next section to Kinlochleven. All too soon we were back out in the cold and wet as we headed down the long path and up the valley to the foot of the Devil’s Staircase. This was a drag and I’d lost my momentum, the conditions I’d encountered up on Rannoch Moor had really demoralised me. We pressed on and started the relatively short but steep ascent of the Devil, I was really struggling now and more competitors started catching me on this climb.

Each step felt heavy but then I spotted a sign saying ‘Shop 500 metres’. Was I hallucinating? was this some kind of sick joke? We pressed on and eventually another sign read ‘Shop 100 metres’ and then another at 50 metres. I was really struggling with reality then all of a sudden at the top of the staircase were two bright yellow tents stacked with goodies and cans of pop along with an honesty box. This was a tremendous gesture by someone and I’d have loved a can of Iron-Bru that was on offer but neither me or Phil had any cash on us so we pressed on.

The path down to Kinlochleven was long, gnarly and steep making it difficult to get any kind of momentum. In the foot of the valley we could see our destination but it seemed to take a long time to reach it as we passed through the forested hillside and across various streams and by a dam which was in full flow. It was now around 10:30pm but still light enough to see as he reached the village and made our way to the checkpoint which was a welcome relief.

At the checkpoint I was weighed once again and Brian was there with hot drinks and the bag full of food and treats. I have to admit I was seriously flagging now, shear tiredness was really taking its toll. Once more after what felt only a few moments it was time to head off for the last 15 miles to the finish. I knew I’d cracked it but still had a long way to go over what was probably the roughest part of the race, and it was now pitch black.

Phil continued with me for this last section as we made our way up the long climb out of Kinlochleven. On this climb we passed a guy sitting dejected, with his crew partner, he’d decided to call it a day. He simply had nothing left to give, such shame to see so close to the end but it made me more determined to finish than ever. We pressed on into the darkness. The next hour or so was a steady climb until we reached Lundavra where a marshal team were out and their Saltire flags being stretched in the howling wind. They had a table laid with various fizzy drinks. A cup of Iron-Bru was so welcoming as I sat for a few moments to gather myself.

Pressing on, the track for the next few miles began to resemble a river, it got pointless trying to find a dry line as there was so much water. The darkness was disorientating but I followed Phil’s lines. Soon we hit the forest, or at least what used to be forest but work to clear this had torn he paths up making it awful to cross. It was at this point that Phil took a tumble, (in my sleep deprived state, this is how I remember it, Phil believes I’m over playing it!) heading head first off the side of the path down the steep side of the valley.  It was terrifying to see he fall but he managed to save himself and clamber back onto the path. Then as he brushed himself down, I couldn’t help but laugh, childish I know, but I couldn’t help it.

Anyway, with Phil back up and running we pressed on. It was starting to get light again as we made the final little climb out of the forest and onto the fire road for the final 3 miles. The path was steep and we briefly broke out into a trot but I had a stitch so settled for a fast paced walk. Since Kinlochleven, we’d been trading places with various people along the way, up ahead were two runners that had passed when we had a short stop at the final checkpoint. We caught and passed them once again, then a group of around four runners passed us.

As the gradient shallowed I looked at my watch for the first time in a long time, It was after 4am, I was still moving well and though that I had a chance to get back in under 28hrs. This was the only point in the whole race where time became important and I made the decision to try and press on and get to the finish as quickly as possible.

Just as I dropped onto the road heading into Fort William, Phil took a toilet stop, I pressed on thinking he would catch up. As I ran along the roadside I realised I was gaining quickly on two people up ahead and soon I was alongside them as we ran into Fort William.

The group of four were now just ahead and I laid down the challenge to the runners I was with to catch them, so we upped the pace and soon were alongside them. Now, the leisure centre and the finish line came into view and I’m not sure who began it, but all of a sudden we were racing to the finish line.

It felt fantastic to be racing for this final 200 metres, four competitors battling for position at the end of nearly 28hrs on our feet in dire conditions.  I finished in a very respectable 102nd place in 27hrs41mins.

After a few hours sleep we headed over to the Nevis Centre for 12pm and what is a truly unique prize giving. Nearly every competitor turns up and is individually presented with their crystal goblet in order of their finish position. I must admit I felt on top of the world going out to collect mine, it was  a very proud moment. Even more special is the tradition that the person who came first presents the final finisher with their goblet. This went to a lady who showed true spirit and finished a mere 20 mins before the final cut-off and presentation to rapturous applause.

On reflection I learnt a lot from the experience. Yes, I could have trained better, yes I could have spent less time at checkpoints, I most definitely need to learn how to eat better on big runs but none of those things matter if, especially in this race, you don’t have a good support crew. I’ve never really appreciated how important a support crew is. Phil’s experience really helped and Brian’s commitment to the full weekend ensured I made the start line. Both waited on me hand and foot, made me eat when I didn’t want to and encouraged me to keep going during low points and I will be eternally grateful to them both. At the time I said I’d never do the race again, but writing this report has me thinking that I may have unfinished business, 2018 might be a possibility!

Results are available here