Category Archives: Ultra Marathon

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

Comrades Marathon, Durban to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Sunday, June 4, 2017

86.73 kms

Dougie Nisbet

During the final loop of the CTS Northumberland Ultra I started chatting to a runner who had a pair of trekking poles in his rucksack. They’d stayed there the entire race and I asked him why he was carrying them. Kit rehearsal for the Marathon des Sables was his reply. Race rehearsal. I was impressed, and said so, before adding, “Would you like a potato?”

Comrades is as much about the logistical preparation as the physical. Never before have I done so much groundwork in planning a race. I’d listened to webinars, read blogs and watched countless YouTube videos to establish what I should wear, when and how to eat and drink, how I should pace myself, and, most importantly, what happened if you needed to go to the toilet.

The eating and drinking was pretty much sorted. At Comrades the food offering is bananas and small salted potatoes and in my training leading up to the event I tried both on my long runs and Ultras. Neither caused any problems and the potatoes certainly beat gels hands down.

Anyone who has done the GNR would have found the start of Comrades a breeze. Apart from being dark, the procedure was the same. Long chaotic queues for the toilets, lots of crowds, music and queues to get into the pens. In I went, tried a few selfies but my 5AM ghostly countenance looked so ghastly I quickly deleted them, sat down in a corner, and waited. There was a bit of space and many others had the same idea and it was weirdly calming sitting on the tarmac in the dark with the occasional drone flying overhead and the frequent bursts of music. As we approached 0530 the pen started moving in little jolts as the pens were gradually merged for the cock’s crow that would indicate it was time to go.

Comrades is unusual. The timing is Gun to Mat. That’s to say, although you’re chip timed, your race time begins when the gun goes off (or when the cock crows, to be precise), not when you cross the start line. When you’re out on the road you, and your fellow runners, are all on the same time. With 12 hours to complete the race and various cut-offs along the way this does mean if you are in one of the slower pens you have a bit of catching up to do. Planning and self-discipline are important.

Much of what I’d read about Comrades discussed with a sort of weary inevitability running the race as a positive split. I’m quite a disciplined runner and I didn’t like the sound of that. Apart from the obvious disadvantage of not running to your best, it sounded horrendous. Many runners work on the assumption that they’re going to blow-up anyway so they might as well go off quick and see how far they get. Crazy. I’d been following the training programmes, blogs and webinars of the official Comrades coach Lindsey Parry and I liked the grounded and pragmatic nature of his advice. I planned to walk the hills, and run the flats and downs. This meant walking early, as a strategy rather than a necessity.

Sure enough, as I’d expected, at the first hills I was marching up while others were streaming past. At first I felt quite isolated but looking around I could see I wasn’t alone. Others were also going for strategic walking to conserve energy that would be invaluable when many hours later we were into the endgame. I was spooked, however, at the first checkpoint to realise I only had 10 minutes in the bag. 10 minutes from being timed out! And one of the 12 hour buses had just gone past.

I was rattled. Comrades is famous for its unforgiving cut-offs. Strictly enforced, there’s no mercy. My Garmin showed two pieces of information: Elapsed Time and Average Pace. I was on plan, but nonetheless I had to give myself a talking to to calm my nerves and resist the temptation to put on speed and burn away valuable energy reserves.

And there was the matter of loo stops. I’d never run a race that started when it was dark and, quite possibly, finished when it was dark too. I was paranoid about needing the loo, and at every portable toilet I passed I noticed queues. This didn’t help. It’s all in the mind of course; nothing is more likely to make you feel you need to go, and go NOW, than an engaged toilet. 25Km and 3.5 hours in we passed through Kloof and I spotted a toilet door swinging ajar. No queue! Now was my chance! I jumped in and shut the door and soon realised why it was empty. Before me was a loo so astoundingly putrid I almost gave it a round of applause. I fished out the sweaty Kleenex from my shorts and realised that this was pretty much a lost cause, and with someone knocking at the door I decided to abandon this little adventure before someone started ringing the bell. Muttering “I’d give it the half-life of Uranium if I were you” under my breath, I dashed out into the fresh air and rejoined the race after this inconclusive diversion.

Post-race analysis of this stop, and the many others shows how easy it is to bleed away time. Lindsey Parry says whatever you are doing, keep moving. The only time you should stop is for a ‘pit stop’. My paranoia of not staying hydrated meant I was walking at every table (feed stations), and with tables ever 2 or 3 kms, I really should have been skipping them occasionally. All those seconds of browsing the tables mounts up to minutes over the 88 kms of the race.

Despite having done my research, one of the areas where I became a little unstuck was with race food. Unlike most races, the tables at Comrades aren’t consistent. Food doesn’t appear until a few hours into the race (depending on how fast you are) and the bananas and potatoes that I’d been expecting were late to appear. So I chewed steadily through the supply of Shotblocks I’d carried although I’d really brought them as insurance for the latter stages of the race rather than a possibly counter-productive sugar rush early on.

Food and drink doesn’t always come from the tables. A few hours in, and with the sun now overhead, I was getting a bit tired of Coke. The crowd really knew how to party and when I reached out as I passed one braai the spectator ran after me and pressed a bottle of Carlsberg into my hand. It made a lovely refreshing change from the Coke but I knew that cold beer wouldn’t be enough to get me to the finish and I vowed to make that impulse a one-off.

It was hot now and I always knew heat would be the problem. I’d ran my qualifying marathons in Lanzarote and Palma de Mallorca and had learned my lessons well about how I cope with the heat. I kept the pace down, knowing from experience if I got over-confident I would blow it. Drinks in Comrades are given in convenient sachets and once you’ve developed the knack of biting a corner of to get to the contents they work pretty well. As someone who has never coped well with emptying bottles of water over my head I was finding the sachets were excellent for keeping cool. You took one for drinking, and one to drizzle gently over your cap as if you were dressing a salad. The water seeps through the cloth and drips gently over your face for the next km or so. It’s a great system. It’s lovely.

Through the half way point, into the parkrun (Comrades is two marathons with a parkrun in the middle), and everything was still on plan. I had gone through the last couple of checkpoints with better safety margins and I was feeling more settled, and even had time to laugh as I found myself thinking, only a marathon to go!

On the race route coach tour two days’ earlier we’d stopped at Ethembeni School. This school caters for children with disabilities and over the years has built up a strong bond with the race and particularly international runners. They’d put on a fantastic concert for us and we were all given a tiny bracelet, each one made by the children. Each bead on the bracelet represented a km of the route, and each colour band represented one of the sections. It was a great idea and I was wearing mine today.

 

 

 

The race is the highlight of the year and the children line up on the roadside outside the school in the hope of high-fiving the runners. They absolutely love this and seeing the delight on their faces fills your heart with joy. I high-fived them all and no doubt lost a bit more time but it was time well wasted. Moving on I realised that I’d missed my bus and I had to put in a bit of a burst to get back on.

Buses. The Comrades Bus is a phenomenon. These pace groups can be huge and the pacer, the bus driver, will be wearing a flag with his or her name and target time on it. These are not the pace groups you might be familiar with in a British race, but more a sort of micro community in which the driver will have his or her own style and strategy. It may be precise adherence to a particular pace, or, more likely, a walk run strategy that has been worked out in advance.

I was riding my 2nd 11:30 bus of the day and I was loving it. There was perhaps a hundred or so of us on this bus and we’d all gathered in a protective cocoon around our driver. The crowd would sometimes shout out poignant encouragement to the driver, such as “Get them home safely Driver”, and the driver would occasionally shout out instructions to his passengers, such as a countdown to the next running stretch, or a marching rhythm on the hills. Sometimes the driver would raise their arms in a breathing exercise and we’d all instinctively mimic the move.

And then there was the singing. International runners make up a relatively low percentage of competitors with most runners being South African. So when the driver leads of, with a surprisingly gentle and mellow introduction to the Shosholoza, only to be answered with the beautiful voices of the bus passengers, you could forget you were in a running race such was the comfort that came from the choir.

I stuck with this 11:30 bus for a while before deciding to lift the pace a little. The day was getting on, the shadows were lengthening, and I knew I was going to finish within 12 hours. My training plan had put me on about a 11hr to 1115 Comrades and I knew I had to be careful about succumbing to the temptation of trying to get under 11 hours (and a Bronze medal) if I didn’t have the ability. Aspirational rather than tactical pacing would almost certainly backfire as I’d learned painfully from the Lanzarote Marathon. It was getting tough now, and I was remembering another good piece of Lindsey Parry advice: It will get tough, so don’t try and fight it. Don’t go into denial. Accept that it will get tough and you just need to deal with it. Endure it.

With about 20km to go I caught another bus. It was another 11:30 and I was grateful to hop on in the closing stages of the race. It was a great help as we hit and marched up the last of the big 5 hills, Polly Shortts. I zoned out and concentrated on the pacing being called out by our driver, probably getting up Pollys more quickly and efficiently than if I’d been marching solo.

Through the final checkpoint and I knew I had the race in the bag. The bus slowed at the table and I decided to push on. There was less than 10km to go and much of it was downhill. No point in saving anything now.

It would have been so easy to stop running. I was comfortably within the cut-off and could walk the whole of the remaining distance if I wanted to. But I figured I’d travelled half-way round the world for this race and I might as well go home with the best time I was capable of. There’s always the accusation when you run a good negative split that you could have gone faster. That you were holding back. Tosh.

My legs were screaming. But my breathing was good and I was still running with rhythm. The remaining kilometres counted down with painful slowness and the racecourse never seemed to get any closer. Then a few twists and turns, a tunnel, cameras, and suddenly we’re running on grass.

I looked around for my support crew. Roberta, without whose support this wouldn’t have been possible, and who’d been up at 2AM making sure I was caked in Factor 50 and had put up with and supported my countless 5AM starts over the last 10 months as I’d headed off for my pre-work long runs. I heard my name and glanced around. Then I heard it again. Then I realised everyone was shouting everyone’s name! The place was packed. Given that this was an 88km race the finish was surprisingly busy and I crossed the line with burning legs and quiet satisfaction more than any sense of life-changing euphoria. Immediately there were steps, really steep ones, to get back over the racecourse to the international tent (bumping into Rob Wishart) and to find Roberta and nowhere to sit. It was 30 minutes to the final cutoff and we settled down to watch the final countdown on the big screens.

Comrades will always be ‘gun to mat’. So much of this iconic event leads to this final, cruel, 12 hour cut-off. There’s no compromise, no leeway, no concessions. As 12 hours approaches the runners continue streaming into the stadium and make their final dash for the line. Huge numbers of runners finish in the last hour, and a massive amount of those finish in the last 10 minutes.

At 1730 precisely, an official stands on the finishing line with his back to the race so he cannot be influenced by what he sees, and at 1730 precisely, he fires the gun, and the race is over. If you’re 1 second over, sorry, it simply didn’t happen. I adore this brutal honesty. For the next 10 minutes wave after wave of runners walked desolately into the stadium accompanied by sympathetic applause from the crowd while the Last Post is played over the PA.

Our hotel was practically on the racecourse, in a casino, so once I’d gone through the surreal experience of passing through an airport-type security metal detector to get to the room, I caught up with my email and news. Although I’d never made a huge secret of my plans to do Comrades I hadn’t shouted it from the rooftops either and so not a lot of people I knew I was running. This made it all the more touching when I read the lovely comments on Facebook and realised that many in my club had been tracking my progress. Kerry’s “look at those lovely splits” comment gave me particular delight!

Comrades is 20 miles further than I’ve ever run but I had a training plan and I had a race plan, and I followed them both. I kept my side of the deal and this gave me the confidence to know that on the day I would get to the line on time in the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon.

Calderdale Hike, Sowerby Bridge, Saturday, April 1, 2017

37 Miles (approx 30 completed) (26 mile option available)

Dougie Nisbet

To say I was unprepared for this race would be an understatement.

Lately I’ve been rolling up for races, such as the CTS Northumberland Ultra, with a pretty good idea in my head of the route, maps and GPS ready, only to discover the entire race liberally sprinkled with bright yellow arrows. The Wooler Trail Marathon wasn’t much better. Despite its remoteness there was usually a bold arrow stapled to a fencepost pointing you on your way.

Trawling back through the race reports I was surprised to see that no one was owning up to having done the Calderdale Hike before, not even Dave Robson. Still, how hard could it be? The organisers had uploaded a ‘suggested’ GPX trail and I dutifully transferred it to my Garmin. This gave me a belt and braces Breadcrumb Trail. Just to be on the safe side, I uploaded it to my iPhone, overlayed it onto some proper OS maps (I like maps), and had a pixel perfect plan of the journey ahead. I also had a battery pack so the phone would easily last me all day. I also had a map and compass, because that was in the kit list, and you
had to carry that. Yawn.

For the last 5 years I’ve been the IT technician at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. I finished there on Friday the 31st of March. Some people mark these things with a night in the pub, or a big party. I decided to do an Ultra. So I asked if it was OK to leave early on my last day as I was off to do an Ultra (my Manager is also a runner, he understood), and so Friday evening found Roberta and me sitting in the New Hobbit Inn in Sowerby Bridge. We could’ve have chosen the Premier Inn, but, like wines, this place had a more interesting label. I was still a little preoccupied by leaving my job so I wasn’t giving this race the attention it deserved. I thought I was prepared though.

The next morning I was at the Start with bags of time to spare, but, sadly, not sufficient bags to go back to the hotel and collect my water bottles that were sitting next to the telly. Luckily Roberta found a bottle of 500ml bottle of water next to the spare wheel in the car, and, deciding not to think about it too much, I shoved it in my bum bag. Mildly unnerved, I wondered what else I might have forgotten or taken for granted.

The Calderdale HikIt was probably around here I lost my battery packe is a 37 mile trail ultra that covers a gorgeous variety of town, village and fell. I had very little idea of where I was going but had the trail programmed into my Garmin, my phone, and if the worst came to the worse, I even had a map and a list of the checkpoint grid references. I planned to follow the gadgies in front for a while and then just follow the pixels.

Away we went and then a mere 100 yards from the start something quite unexpected happened, the bunch of runners split into two. This, I had not expected, and, thinking quickly, tagged onto the the slightly bigger of the two bunches. Sticking with the slightly bigger herd I tootled along, getting dropped a bit earlier than I expected but no worries. I fished out my phone and followed myself on the map. This was fine. I’m not fast, but fast enough to be ahead of the cut-offs, so for the next couple of miles I took a few photos and admired the view. I wasn’t in a rush. 37 miles is a long way. I was feeling mellow.

The route was fascinating. Following the waterways and reservoirs with meanderings along roads and paths. It’s not a part of the country I’m familiar with and I was enjoying the scenery a lot. I noticed that with all the photos I was taking the charge on my phone was dropping rapidly, so I decided to fish out my battery pack to give it a boost. The battery pack, sadly, had fished itself out of its own accord at some place unknown when I’d left my bumbag unzipped, and with a pang of anxiety I realised that I would have to re-evaluate the reliance on the phone for the maps.

I switched it off to conserve power and gave my attention to the breadcrumb trail on my Garmin. It’s not perfect but at least you know if you’re going wildly of course. This served me fine for a good few miles and the only times I knew there was a checkpoint was when a tent appeared ahead. Checkpoint 5 was just south of the M62 and I followed a few intrepid runners who had decided to forego the fells in favour of the (still legal) jog up a major ‘A’ road as the weather had got a bit manky at this point. Back north over the motorway, and up over the moors, where things were beginning to feel a bit more grown up. Checkpoint 6 was about 13 miles at which point a divine cup of tea was available. It was like being at Swaledale.

Checkpoint 7 was at Sladen Fold, after which there was some great canal-side running before my breadcrumb trail brought me onto the moors. I was keeping a trio of runners in my sights but it was clear that we were all doing a bit of dead-reckoning to get across the soft tussocky moorland and it was tough going. After a while I found myself on a firm trod, and it teased me away to the left. I was fine with that. I can go left, or straight on. But I decided to ease left for a bit to enjoy the better surface, with a view to bearing right again when things firmed up.

The weather was undecided between, mist, sleet or sun, and I kept my eyes on the trod, and jogged steadily on a pleasantly downward slope. It didn’t feel right. I was veering too far to the left surely, but my Garmin breadcrumb trail was rock steady, and I decided to keep the faith.

But something wasn’t right. I was on my own. The runners ahead had disappeared. I looked again at my Garmin. It hadn’t changed. At all. Some Striders might remember the famous scene in the China Syndrome, where Jack Lemmon taps the dodgy gauge and it silently glides down the scale. This wasn’t a nuclear meltdown, although it felt like it. I realised my Garmin had frozen. It hadn’t moved for the last hour. I’d been following an illusion. In Orienteering terms, it was a classic ‘180 degree’ error. I was running in exactly the opposite direction to what I should have been.

I found myself at the bottom of a valley on a track with no idea where I was. The last clear waypoint where I’d been paying any real attention was when I crossed the M62. And that was well over an hour ago. I’d been following my Garmin in SatNav mentality with no real overall idea of where I was. Visibility was poor and the wind was getting up again. Shit, as they say, had just got real. Anxiety was bubbling up inside me. I got my map and compass out of my rucksack and started talking to myself. Ok, I said, which way is North …

It took me a good 15 minutes to work out where I was and then there was the small matter of locating the next checkpoint. I examined a rapidly  disintegrating piece of paper and identified the general direction that I needed to go. Unfortunately I’d bled off a lot of height in my careless following of the nice trod, and that height had to be regained. I stood up and headed North West. Up.

Some time later, slightly calmer aOne more rain shower and this is historynd a lot humbler, I got to Checkpoint 8 at Coolam. I was still disoriented and paranoid, even more so when the way out from CP8 was the same as the way in. Another long, long look at the map, something that I should’ve done at home days before the race, another examination of what was left of the  checkpoints sheet, and onwards and upwards to Checkpoint 9.

Gradually I regained confidence. My Garmin was working after I’d switched if off and on again (I did say I was an IT tech), the weather had improved, and, despite being slow, I was comfortable and content. I plodded on through checkpoint 10 and turned east on the home run to Sowerby Bridge. By the time I got to Checkppoint 11 at Cross Stones I was quite perky again. The sun was out, I was  feeling fine, and I was settling down for the last 10 miles or whatever (I had no idea) to the finish.

They were very kind at checkpoint 11, when they told me I was being timed out. I was feeling fine, so asked if it was ok to continue unassisted, in the full knowledge that I was no longer part of the race. I could tell the marshall wasn’t wild about the idea (“there’s a nice bus”), but he could also see I wasn’t at the end of my tether. I asked him how far it was to go, what the paths were like, if there were many hills, and, even as I heard myself asking these questions, I thought, I don’t deserve to finish this race. This was all avoidable. I lost well over 30 minutes by going wrong on the tops. Not a huge amount perhaps, but I’m not a fast runner. I have the stamina, but I don’t have the speed. I can’t afford to make mistakes like that. If I hadn’t gone wrong, I would’ve have been timed out.

So I settled down to sit on a Somewhere nice to sit and admire the view while waiting for the BoSvery nice bench and admired the view while waiting for the Bus of Shame. It was a jolly journey back to base and when I later looked at the finish times of the last walkers I realised I would’ve actually caught them up if I had kept going. Provided, of course, I knew where I was going.

 

Next year is the 40th anniversary of the Calderdale Hike. It’s on Sat 14th of April 2018. It’s a fantastic race. I’ll be there. And I’ll be ready this time.

 

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CTS Northumberland, Alnwick - Bamburgh, Sunday, February 26, 2017

57km

Dougie Nisbet

I’ve always found the arrows on weather maps confusing. The arrows, which way do they point? Are they coming or going? And when the BBC weather website says a wind is a 40mph North-Easterly, does it mean where the wind’s going, or where it’s been? Reading the forecast on Friday night, again, for the forthcoming Ultra, I puzzled over this. I don’t know why I find it so confusing. In the end I came to the conclusion that the wind would be coming from the North East. Quite fast. Which meant that for most of the race it would be in my face. Mild though.

I packed a lot of gear as I didn’t fancy running along the beach into a 40mph wind, however mild. I took a head-torch too, just in case the tide was out.

When the alarm went off at 4AM on Saturday morning I thought, as I have so many times before, of hitting it with a blunt instrument and going back to sleep. No one need ever know. But instead I hauled myself out of bed, ate some stuff, and before long found myself sitting behind Dave Robson’s car at a level crossing a few miles outside Bamburgh. I had allowed a fair bit of time but the gates were down and there was no train. Where was it? Five minutes later a pathetic two-coach train ambled by in no hurry, and the gates went up.

I parked beside Dave and knowing his Ultra experience started interrogating him about the race. However, this race was new to him too, and he’d already decided to forego the Ultra bit, as it looked like an added loop, and ‘a lot of it would be on roads’.

There was a queue for registration but it moved pretty quickly (despite marathon runners in the Ultra queue!) although it was still a bit of rush as we had to get our briefing then on to the coaches for the trip to the start at Alnwick Castle.

There were two coach-loads dropped off at the Start. The weather was a bit manky but I had expected it to be a lot worse. I looked around at the familiar surroundings thinking that I’d be back here in exactly a week’s time for the final XC of the season, on another coach, only not at 0840AM. At least, I hope not.

The Start was uneventful and away we jogged into a grey morning. I think I’ve got my trail/fell running kit sorted now and I usually go for a bum-bag / backpack double, both lightly packed and the bum bag, sorry, Waist Pouch, being for the stuff you need to get at during the race, and the back pack for all the stuff you hope you’ll not need to.  As always with these events, it took me about an hour to get settled. I’d remembered to rub Vaseline into the obvious bits, and, from experience, the not so obvious bits, so the shoulder and waist straps sat snugly.

10km found us at Alnmouth, turning left to head north up the coast. It was around here toasting nicely in my gear that I realised that the wind was coming from the SW, not the NE. This was a pleasant surprise, even if it meant that the extra layers I was carrying as a precaution were just dead-weight in my backpack.

The area now was familiar to me from many years of running the Coastal and I expected the next 14 miles to be pretty much the coastal run in reverse. However I was to have my second pleasant surprise of the day. The race took us along paths and trails that I never knew existed. Just when the route became a bit samey, there’d be a turn, a gate, a change of scene, and a new stretch of mystery to grab the attention. The tide was in and the beach runs involved finding the firm sand along the waterline and occasionally getting nabbed by an incoming wave. This was good stuff.

There were some truly wonderful bits of the course. The water crossing was no big deal but all the more fun for being unexpected. But for me the rocky scramble along the beach and a short stretch of smooth boulders right next to the water’s edge were the highlight. Although it was only a few hundred meters of smooth slab this was real genius in course design and I loved it. I’ve never raced on such an interesting terrain before. I was sorry to scramble back up onto the headland after such interesting crinkleness.

This was the longest race I’ve done so I was being cautious with my pace. I knew the tough bit would be passing Bamburgh Castle then carrying on for the extra loop that made up the distance for the Ultra. Sure enough, the One Mile to Go sign was a struggle, knowing that it was one mile for the marathoners, and the Ultra runners had another 9 or 10 to go.

Dave was right to forego the extra Ultra loop. After the psychological struggle of pushing on past the castle, there was a nice stretch north for a mile or two, then a few fields, then an unseemly few miles of tarmac. I was running in a well worn pair of trustee Sportiva’s, but even so I began to feel ever worn-out stud through the thin soles and was grateful when we were ejected into a field. But still they messed with our heads. The castle was always there, in plain sight, but the route zig-zagged and dog-legged, before sending us back down to the beach, to rejoin the marathon route for the last mile or two to the castle.

This time it was ok to follow the signs for the Finish, and after a mischievous climb up to the Castle and an enthusiastic and truly welcoming crowd it was lovely to step over the line.

57km is the longest race I’ve run and I was pleased to finish in one piece. Jules and Helen were also running and already home and checking out the tea and cake. Dave had started with the marathon runners so I didn’t see him again.

Overall I thought it was a good well organised race. Good touches, such as having a PA for the briefing (the number of times I’ve zoned out during a race briefing because I couldn’t hear a thing). Clear route marking and lots of varied terrain. I did the Ultra as I wanted to see how I coped with a distance I’d not run before. But if I was doing it again I’d probably skip the final bolted on Ultra loop.

Tour de Helvellyn, Helvellyn, Saturday, December 17, 2016

38 miles

Aaron Gourley

I’d had my eye on the TdH for a while having been inspired by Geoff and Tom’s race reports over previous years but never thought I’d be capable of running.

This race, a self supporting, self navigation 38 mile race around Helvellyn, is held on the weekend closest to the shortest day of the year and is a bit of a beast to say the least and as their website suggests – it’s not one for novices!

So with that in the back of my mind I’d stayed away from it until this year when I threw caution to the wind and decided to enter, on the basis that there were a good number of other Striders taking it on. But alas, I was too late, the entry limit had been reached. I placed my name on the waiting list but didn’t expect to get in, in fact, I was quite relieved in one sense as I still wasn’t sure if I was capable of running it.

But then I got an email inviting me to take a place and I was in.

Race day was Saturday 17th December, but I’d chosen to stay over the night before at Askham community centre, the race HQ. £5 for a place on the floor with around 100 other runners – not for the faint hearted either it seems.  I’d even forgone my works xmas night out in Newcastle, I must be mad.

In Askham I met up with Mandy, Juliet and Scott Watson who were also running, in the pub for a really nice meal. If anybody thinks Scott is not eating enough then you would have been surprised to see him tackle the most amazing array of desserts that were on offer.

Scott and I were both staying at the hall, Mandy and Juliet had opted for the comfort of a hotel, although not the one they’d thought. I slept ok but it was punctuated by snoring and someone having nightmares and shouting out in his sleep.

At 5am, we were pretty much all woken by the race organisers (Nav4) getting ready to open the registration and cook breakfast.

I got ready as more and more people arrived and the hall got fuller, busier and louder. Striders for the day were Geoff Davies, David Gibson, Mike Hughes, Mandy, Juliet, and Scott.

This race is more of a time trial and runners can start anytime between 7am and 9am. I’d decided to set off around 7:30am but so had most of the other runners so getting through the thorough kit check took a while.

I was going to run with Mike and David for a long as possible and thought they’d already gone through check so I dashed out and caught up with Geoff who’d left just ahead of me, but turned out Mike and David were still not out of the hall so I stopped and waited for them.

The morning light was just breaking and a bright moon shone as we set off over Askham Moor, the conditions were cold but as good as you could wish for.

Mike and David set the pace, I followed on behind trying to maintain a good pace but not get left too far behind.

The first few miles breezed by across the moor as I kept check on my map to ensure I had an idea of where I was going on the return leg later in the evening.

The race allows you to make your own route choices so long as they’re legal, and you get to the next checkpoint within the timeframes. Our first decision was to take a low route through Howtown to the first self clip checkpoint at Martindale Church. It seemed to work as people who were ahead were now behind. From here it was a long slog up Boardale Hause before a steep but thrilling decent down into Patterdale and the next checkpoint at Side Farm.

We stopped here for a quick refuel and refill of water bottles before setting off for the run to Glenridding. Just as we were heading out on to the road side, Scott caught us up, looking very cheery. He’d left Askham some time after us but had made good progress in the first 10 miles and looked strong as he took off into the distance.

This section marks the start of the long climb up to Sticks Pass just under Helvellyn. There’s a long zig-zag path up to the old mines, some chose to follow it, we decided to cut straight up.

Before long, we were at the quarry and had caught Mandy and Juliet who had set off around 30 mins ahead of us. We ran with them up to Sticks Pass when we were joined by Geoff who we must have passed at some point on the way up. We all ran down the steep valley side to the next checkpoint 4 near Stannah Beck. I particularly liked this decent as it had long, grassy sweeps that were good for running on.

At the bottom we made our way to the next checkpoint at Swirls Car Park where we could top up water bottles and get some food. We didn’t hang around long as we set off on the long meandering path towards Dumnail Raise. The run along the valley was brilliant and the conditions made for a stunning cloud  inversion in the distance.

As we reached the foot of Dumnail Raise, we turned and made our way up the steep sides of the beck that was flowing. I started to suffer a bit here and was powerless to keep up as Geoff, David and Mike pulled away. I decided there was no point in trying to keep their pace as cramp took hold making it difficult for me to run across the mix of bog and rocky ground as we skirted Grizedale Tarn to make the long decent back to Patterdale.

With Mike and co, now out of sight, I resigned myself to finishing the race on my own, but still hoped to get back before dark. I reached Side Farm for the to find them still there so quickly grabbed a cup of tea and a light snack before following them out for the tough ascent back up Boardale Hause. But I should really have stayed longer at the checkpoint and recovered a bit more as I found the climb difficult and just couldn’t keep up with them.

Out of sight again, I pressed on at my own pace which was a mix of walking and shuffling. I wasn’t too worried as I was still moving at a good pace but was conscious it was soon to get dark. My main worry about this race had been getting lost in the dark going back over Askham Moor.

I pressed on reversing the route I’d ran earlier that day. Dusk was falling as I reached the stone circle known as the Cockpit. This was significant as it’s here that many runners often go astray. With still enough day light I was able to pick the right line just as Mandy and Juliet came running past. They were looking strong and focused, so much so that they didn’t even notice me.

I maintained my own pace and my own line. Soon it was dark and I had no choice but to put on my head torch for the final mile and a half. across the rough ground I’d chosen.

Before long the lights of Askham appeared and after what seemed an eternity I made it back to the warmth of the Community Centre for the finish.

There was a lively buzz in the room as I walked in. I was exhausted but elated to have finished such a fantastic race. I’ll definitely be back next year but hopefully finish feeling stronger although I doubt conditions will be as favourable.

Aaron Gourley

Results 

Nav4 Website

Wooler Trail Marathon, Sunday, November 20, 2016

28 Miles

Aaron Gourley

 

Dressed for the weather.I’d battled with myself as to whether to enter this race for a while then late on Friday afternoon, race organiser Garry Scott posted a video on the Trail Outlaws Facebook page from a very snowy Cheviot summit. By the time the video had finished my mind was made up, I was in and luckily just in time as entries would close very shortly after.

So forward to Sunday and I left the warmth of my bed and headed up to Wooler for the Wooler Trail Marathon organised by Tim Bateson and Garry Scott of Trail Outlaws. I first met Tim a few years ago on a recce of the Hardmoors 55 and kept in touch ever since as he’s grown Trail Outlaws. I ran their first ever race the Pieces of 8 half marathon, but since then the races have grown to include several ultras and marathons across the north east and Northumberland. Tim’s a great guy and his passion for running and in particular, the Chevy Chase fell race held each summer in Wooler, being the inspiration for this particular race.

Registration was in Wooler YHA and was quick and efficient although I did get there rather early just to be sure. As more runners arrived I spotted Dougie Nisbet who was also running the marathon and had a quick chat before making my way out into the cold for the race safety briefing before we were led over to the start line just over the hill for the race start.

Taking in much of the first part of the Chevy Chase, the Wooler Trail Marathon snakes its way through the valley to the base of the Cheviot before a long climb to the summit. Race day was cold but could have been a lot worse, and thankfully the low temperatures meant that the ground was pretty much frozen solid which made for good running.

Onwards and upwards towards the summit the field of 140+ runners was well stretched now. I’d started from mid-pack and took it easy, running at a pace that felt very comfortable across the undulating trails knowing that if I set off too fast, I’d suffer badly at the end.

Somewhere on top of Cheviot As I trudged up the long frozen path to the summit of the Cheviot I passed a few other competitors but was conscious to maintain my pace so that I never felt like I was working too hard as gradient rose above the low cloud line and the perma-frost turned to snow and ice on the ground. Near the summit a hardy marshal was stood to make sure runners were ok and guide us up over the ladder stile and on to the slab path heading to the summit. The summit of Cheviot is big and flat and the low cloud and snow covered floor blurred together to hide any visual cues that helped you identity you were approaching the top. Then after a few minutes of running the large summit cairn came into view. I touched and then was off, following the treacherous slab path of the Pennine Way off the summit and down towards the check point being manned by Phil Owen.

Clear route signage all the way roundI gained quite a few places on the long downhill as others cautiously made their way down the frozen trail paths. I found it much quicker, and safer, to find a line in the overgrowth, let loose and put faith in my Walshes and balance. It worked and I made good progress and the race now followed the trails of the Pennine Way before heading across the border into Scotland.

A sharp turn brought us off the Pennine Way and back across the border into England onto the St Cuthbert’s Way long distance path. Back on lower ground below the cloud line the scenery was jaw dropping as I took time to savour where I was running.

As the route snaked its way back towards Wooler there were still plenty of twists, turns, climbs and surprises on offer, the trail through a dense wood at around 18 miles being rather inspiring. I was still running well and feeling really good but know these races too well to get carried away – there’s always a sting in the tail on something like this. Because of my very late entry, I’d not noticed that this race was actually 28 miles so on approaching the final climb of the day I had in my mind there were only a few more miles left to go. I made the decision to push on a little as I could see a couple of runners ahead of me that seemed to be slowing so thought I’d try catching them. I made good ground and could feel my heart and lungs really starting to work hard as I picked up the pace and eventually with Wooler in sight, I realised I might have further to go than I thought. The runners I was tracking were soon out of sight as I hit the road for the final mile back to the YHA feeling tired but strong and with a massive smile on my face at the quality of the course I’d just completed.

The finish was inside the hostel, I was given my time – 5hrs40mins finishing in 32nd place. The t-shirt and medal were well earned and the kitchen was stocked with loads of hot soup and bread to help warm up.

This was a fantastic first race with lots of potential to become a real winter classic. I take my hat off to Tim and Scott for devising such a good route.

Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra Marathon, Saturday, October 29, 2016

38M / 3000ft

David Brown

The Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra starts in the shadow of the 12th century abbey, and winds along forest tracks, hillsides, country lanes, and various bridges new and old. The route hugs the River Tweed, passing through St Boswells, Melrose, and passing Rhymer’s Stone. Runners are then faced with three extinct volcanoes known as the Eildon Hills which offer panoramic views of the Scottish Borders. A brief passing through the villages of Bowden and Newton St Boswells, before following the Tweed back to the start / finish.

Eildons

A 04:00 alarm saw me up and ready for 05:00 drive up to Jedburgh, with the tune of Highland Cathedral blasting through my car stereo as I crossed the border, in tribute to my late Grandad Angus. Still dark, I arrived at registration with plenty time to faff around in the car boot and use each of the toilets. It was mild, so I opted for short sleeve, before huddling inside the hall in anticipation for the set off. A quick briefing which suggested runners, “remove headphones when asked, and don’t be a dick”.

07:45 and we were ushered over to a grassy mound, where the enthusiastic RD’s and a squirrel warmed us up with a YMCA dance routine, runners shuffled their feet feigning any sort of dance, before a countdown, and we were off.

As usual with any long race I was aware of everyone flying off, I was aware not to be hasty, knowing I had up to 8 hours ahead, but still away they sped. Mild concern dragged me with them, but sense prevailed and I knew I’d be seeing a lot of them later.

I was running alone and settled into a gentle pace, it was a beautiful morning, crisp and clear, with fantastic autumnal colours. We were quite packed as we left the road and started onto the single tracks. We passed a newly built bridge after a couple of miles, and I made a note that the next time I crossed the bridge I’d be nearly home.

Running up that Hill.

On we went, open fields allowing the packs to disperse, yet stiles and gates still causing bottlenecks. It wasn’t long before we caught sight of the three peaks of the Eildons, and it was here that the journey there and back again truly started.

I was easing along nicely until Maxton and the cp at 10 miles; this race allows for three drop bags, somewhat excessive maybe for an ultra of this distance, but I thought I’d make use of them nonetheless. I grabbed some peanuts and a snack bar, and topped up with Tailwind, stuffed them in my pack and went on my way.

Before I had chance to eat anything the nausea started, mild panic came over me, I was now only 11 miles in and started to feel sick. I had eaten well all week, my breakfast was as standard to all race days – sweet tea / porridge – so this unsettling feeling came as shock so early on.

Thankfully I had a multipack of Polo’s in my vest pocket, and so popped two into my mouth and let them do their minty thing. Immediate result as the nausea and panic left as quickly as they came.

Onwards, and after 17 miles we arrived at cp2 Rhymer’s Stone.

“The Rhymer’s Stone marks the spot on which the fabled Eildon Tree once grew. It was under this tree that Thomas the Rhymer took a fateful nap while hunting on the estate of Melrose Abbey. He was awakened by the Queen of Elfland, who he kissed. He then spent seven years with her in the Land of the Elves before returning to his home in Earlston for seven years, then disappearing for good: presumably back to the Land of the Elves.”

We were now in the shadow of the Eildons. I was warm, but had kept my short sleeve tee on in case the true Scottish weather presented itself, it did not, and just before the first climb I stopped and removed my shirt, just down to a vest.

Eildon Top

As the first Eildon towered over us, runners, became walkers, bent double; hands on knees, knees on scree. Occasionally pausing in awe at the conical mountain ahead. The track was sloppy, with prints from the lugs of runners sliding in the mud, loose rocks trickled down, and ramblers cheered us on behind the safety of their thermos.

At the first peak we were offered a superb panoramic view of the Scottish borders, and one could not help but smile at the beauty before a technical descent onto the saddle between the first and second Eildon. One or two runners already limping, casualties of the peaks.

The second peak was much the same, Border Search and Rescue Unit sat patiently with their stout dogs; collies that clearly new better than us fools, just waiting to do their jobs. The seriousness of their work apparent as the land rover sat waiting some way up the peaks, of which an unsuspecting number of runners would be treated to a ride in.

Reaching the final peak I realised we were halfway through the adventure; all that was left to do was leave the Eildons unscathed, and begin our journey back again. This filled me with delight, and I was able to play with numbers in my head. I also realised at this point that my target of 8 hours was going to be met as long as I kept moving forward, at reasonable(ish) pace for a further 19 miles.

Where once the field was packed, we were now spread out. As I scrambled down the final descent I began to overtake runners that had flew past me in the first miles. And as much as my pace never quickened, this was to be for the remainder of the race.

I was safely down from the peaks, and started my journey back. I always knew even before the start that once I got to this point I just had a trail race to go, pressure was relieved and I started my solitary venture back. However I was now tired, the Eildons had sapped my legs, and as much as they were still turning, my head wanted a rest, just to lie down in the shadow of the trees amongst the leaves.

I needed a focus, as usual and in times of trouble I don’t always find comfort in the scenery, I needed facts to settle and focus my mind. I decided if I ran to 25 miles, that would give me 13 miles to go, and so from this point I would be able to fathom my ETA.

I’ll point out here (as I can’t recall what happened around this section) that the marshals for this race were the most enthusiastic, friendly, welcoming folk I have ever met, race or otherwise. Every cp I passed through I was made to feel like a Brownlee, the drop bags were handed professionally, and words of encouragement, comfort, and praise were delivered with gusto.

Jed ParkThis race does not come without a sense of humour, as we passed through Bowden around 22 miles in, the markers took us up and over a play park, climbing the frame, over a bridge and down a slide, grown men whooping as they slid on their backsides!

Drop bag collected at the final cp, which was Maxton again at 27 miles, I refilled the Tailwind and took a jam piece from my drop bag, a handful of peanuts and a swig of coke. The cp was filled with supporters, applauding as runners fumbled with their overly packed bags. I was aware of half a dozen runners bent double, either through nausea or cramp. Not me though, ten miles to go and I wanted to go home.

This is where it started to go awry, and the enthusiasm started to be replaced with doubt, not that I wouldn’t finish, but the voices in my head just wanted me to stop. They didn’t understand, they tried in vain to make sense of the numbers but nothing they worked out was reassuring. Ten miles? At this pace we may be talking about another 2 hours on the trails. In future this is where I need to improve.

I was aware of cramping up in previous races, so began a routine of peanuts and Polos. This was a strict procedure that got me through the next 8 miles. I would grab a handful of peanuts from my pack, munch them, swill them, swallow them, then take a Polo. Each pattern got me through one mile.

Six miles to go and I hadn’t seen anyone for 4 miles, I saw a runner up ahead who was cramping as he attempted to haul himself over a stile, a brief greeting and vague words of encouragement were shared before he stepped aside and I past stealthily.

Jed River

Fields, rivers, bridges, forests. All of that happened and it was beautiful, I’m sure it was beautiful as I’d seen it on the way out, it looked different now though. The winding steps, the tree roots, the sound of the river, all started to seem unreal. I started to shout out loud, words not to be repeated.

I past another two runners in the forest, cramp again being the victor as they leaned against trees in attempt to stretch out their demons, an attempt at uttering came out my mouth but we just glanced at each other like forest animals going about their way. No acknowledgement that we were in the same race. Was I even in a race?

Woodland

As we left the forest I encountered life by way of marshals guiding us across the road. Such a welcome sight, and again the enthusiasm wasn’t wearing thin, these Scots must have a brilliant marshal academy somewhere. I was led to a table with refreshments, water, coke, and sweeties. Such a delight as I wasn’t aware of it being here. I was advised two and a half miles to go, and those words were like Christmas morning.

As I left that small humble table on the side of the road, I began my way up the road. I could see two runners as the road stretched, not running now but mimicking extras from The Walking Dead. I caught up with the runners one at a time, both of them glancing over their shoulders as I crept up behind them, at first attempting to run before admitting defeat and letting me past before turning back onto the trails.

Finally the bridge, the very bridge I had seen at the beginning, still there, still standing, what a sight it was. Less than 2 miles to go, and I picked up my pace. I’m not aware of how it happened but suddenly the trail was wide and ran adjacent to the road, I was a solo runner approaching Jedburgh, and the finish. I glanced behind me just in case I was being hunted, once happy I was alone I began my final mile.

As I approached Jedburgh signs and cars built up, folk milled in and out their houses, I caught view of two figures gazing confusingly into my path. My mother and wife, I had estimated to them I would be finished in 8 hours, but the clock was ticking just after 7 hours so they had wandered from the finish to applaud runners, not expecting to see me just yet.

How fantastic to see them, inside I was jumping and throwing my arms around them, but I knew I still had to finish the thing, so I powered on.

The Abbey came into distance, as did the mound on which we started, cow bells and rattles and applause echoed down the road as I ran up the mound, my name was called out to whoops and whistles, up the mound, across the line, medal, goody bag, done. Finished in 7hrs 15, and position 63rd / 193 from 230 starters.

I stumbled around the place, fiddled with my Garmin, found my supporters, and felt overwhelmed at what had happened.

We crossed the road and into the rugby club, I inspected toe nails (two down), and showered, downed the free beer, and slurped the soup. There was a buzz in the hall as runners staggered about the place, some looking fresher than others, wearing their new race tees and hoodies, or slumped still in their race gear, unable to figure out what to do next.

I said it during the race, after the race, and still say it now; this was the greatest race I have ever ran, indeed the weather helped, but everything from the pre-race information, the atmosphere that built on the Facebook page, the route, the goody bag, to the friendliness and enthusiasm of the marshals and runners, it would take a very dreich day to wash away such a positive atmosphere. I cannot praise this race enough, if you’re looking for a braw day on the trails, then I’ll see you in Jedburgh next year!

Mike’s Bob Graham Round, Friday, June 17, 2016

72M / 27,000'

Mike Hughes

The “Bob Graham Round”, or simply “the BGR” or even just “BG” – there is plenty written about it so no point going into details here, suffice to say is not a race, you are the only entrant, you go when you like, you start and finish at Moot hall in Keswick. To be successful you have returned there after visiting the 42 named peaks of the BGR in under 24 hours.

My report ended up being quite long, the short version; I trained lots, tried hard, had loads of people to help and did it with just minutes to spare.

My full BG story….

I’ve been going to the lakes regularly since I was a young lad and even now every time I visit the sheer beauty and grandeur of the place impresses me. I’ve got to know the hills fairly well over these last 30 years or so, and sometimes learnt the hard way when the weather “comes in” that it’s not always a friendly place and you need to respect the hills and be properly kitted out. I started running fairly recently, about 3-4 years ago, at first trying all sorts of different races both on and off road, in the end settling on more of the off road sort of running. I was hesitant about fell running, thinking it was quite mad. In Feb 2013 I did my tentative first fell race, Commondale Clart. Trying to run through the heather scrub and falling flat on my face in a bog (in front of the only two ramblers out on the fell) and then an exhilarating charge down a grassy hill I was hooked, and it is mad, it’s great.

So, when I heard about the BGR for the first time a few years ago I thought great, that’s interesting, I bet some of those routes will make some nice days out walking in the lakes, might even think about doing the whole route one day, you know, take a back pack and do one leg one day, stay in a youth hostel or something then do some more, might be able to do it in 3 days?

Then you start doing bits, and you start looking at how long it should take you to do that on a full BG attempt…. hmmm, it’s pretty quick going, it’s not always running, you walk the hills after all. Then someone asks you if you fancy a go at it one day, you scoff, no…, no…, it’s mad…but you are lured in, hooked, the question is there, could you do a BG?

So, you have a choice, you are approaching 50, by no means too old, Geoff did a BG then at 50 did another for good measure, adding a further 8 tops in to make it 50 at 50, and did it quicker than his first shorter attempt! . Are you going to have a go one day? Have a go? Yes, that’s it, you are not setting out to be as bold as to complete it, but you, like many others, brave an attempt, it’s bound to be a good day out and see how far you can get, you never know, you might do it?

I thought about it for at least a year, it’s not so much the attempt itself, but I knew you would need time to get the training in, get “the hills” in your legs, be “fell fit”.

After much faffing about I finally decided to have a go, so soon after Christmas I drew up a list of people who I thought might be interested in helping out, I wanted to keep it low key – the less that knew about it the less the pressure. I clicked the send button and felt sick. Email replies came back, it was on, June 17th, 7am at Moot hall.

There was never a day after that that it was not on my mind.

Right, what to do then? I went and joined a gym, I thought if I was to do justice to the commitment of all the support from everyone for this I had to give the training my 100% best. I’d also decided that I was only going to have one attempt, one chance. I started spending ages browsing over all the supplementary health pills in the supermarket too and bought a large tub boasting 28 different vitamin and minerals. I think I took about 4 pills eventually, I just never got in the habit of taking them, they are still on the windowsill in the kitchen. After a few visits to the gym soon realised it wasn’t for me, I think I went 3 times. What I did do though was run, most days, and some days twice. I never used my garmin, I’ve no idea where it is, not used if for years, partly because I can’t see it without my specs. I’d run to work no matter what the weather, roughly an hour off road, it was fantastic to see the sunrise come earlier and earlier as spring arrived and I could finally ditch my head torch. I would run when I probably should have rested, but I wanted to try and run when my legs were still tired from the previous day and “not willing”. The BG was on my mind as soon as I woke up, it was hard to think that as I’d run to work the day before I’d just be finishing now. Finishing, could I finish? – It was very difficult to think positively about finishing for sure, so I didn’t, I just convinced myself I was doing all I could to have a good go. The only time I would rest would be for an imminent race. I would also get some “cross training” in. This consisted of dismantling sheds, building fences, breaking up concrete paths, digging and other general heavy work, for most of the day. I did plenty of X/C too, that’s great training, and some great races too, “the Carnethy” and the “the Allendale challenge” both “character building”. On my run in I started adding hills towards the end of the run, some real leg burners, at first I struggled to get up some, but started to feel my legs get stronger, not quicker, but stronger. I used the occasional park run after the X/C season to see how my fitness was doing, a pb for the first time in about a year was reassuring close to my attempt, especially as I’d run 5 miles off road before it. The real training though was the trips to the lakes, and I tried to get over most weekends, as well as some mid week days off work too. I had lots of company for many of these recces, including Mandy and Nigel who unfortunately who couldn’t be there for the attempt. Geoff and Susan of course were absolutely key. I’d joined them often last year on some of Susan’s training days for her Joss, although after seeing what it took out of Susan at the end of her Joss after 15 and a half hours left doubts in my mind if I could go for longer than that, in training she was going very well and one day heading up Steel fell I just didn’t have it in me to stay with her, so on she went with those that had just joined her, she was certainly “going well”. The recces in the lakes were brilliant, at first often cold, nothing like running in wet slush or wading through snow drifts with your laces picking up great balls of snow on them as it froze. Cold numb feet and hours away from the warmth of the car ride home. Poor Mandy who discovered a buried stream in a snow gully and fell into it, sat stuck up to her waist as cold icy water washed over her. This was my fault; these shivering cold people were here because of me. This BG thing is a bit selfish in a sense; you ask a lot of people for a lot of help all for your own personal goal. But it’s not really, it’s just a shared comradery and passion for such a special place and to be part of it and help someone through the journey is what it’s all about.

Sometimes I’d go to the lakes on my own. I once went over and there had been a lot of snow, and when I finally got to the top of Seat Sandal the sky went very dark to the west and it looked like a bad storm was coming over. I quickly got on my extra kit, balaclava and thicker gloves and got ready to brace the storm. I thought if it got really bad I could dig into one of the drifts and shelter in there till it passed. My mind soon went off the looming storm though as on my decent I came to a large drop which I couldn’t get down, and when I tried to get back up the snow was too loose to get up, I’d pretty much slid down. It got serious for a moment, I was stuck. I carefully traversed the top of the crag, making sure each time each hold was good, if I went wrong here I’d be in a mess, I had my whistle but hadn’t seen a soul and with the wind I don’t think anyone would have heard it anyway. I was in a world of my own. I was soon onto safer slopes and truly relieved. I went straight up Fairfield, normally a loose zig zag rocky ascent, this time pretty much in a straight line due to all the snow. The decent was great, charging down the deep snow and occasionally falling into deep pockets, it was like being child again, almost wanted to go back up and do it again, but there was more to do. Dollywagon was tough, I just couldn’t see the top. It had brightened up by now, the wind dropped and it was silent. In fact the sky was exactly the same colour as the snow, they merged as one, and below me all I could see was my track of footprints disappearing steeply into the mist below, all around was white, it felt like I was in a cloud. It’s one of those moments that will always be with me. The top eventually came and as it flattened out there was a good view left/west over to great gable, on the attempt I would have been over that mid-morning, the bit I was on now would be done late night in darkness. I stopped and swore out loud, great gable was a hell of a long way away, this was crazy. I reached Helvellyn and met the only person I saw that day, a cheery fellow with ice axe and crampons. I sat next to him at the shelter (a wall) in my mudclaws, scoffed my pork pie while we both took in the view around us and how fortunate we were to be there. I was soon on my way again as I was starting to feel cold. I came down off Clough Head to Threlkeld where I met my brother-in-law Andy. He was in his camper van so made a mug of tea, I had 3, I didn’t realise how dehydrated I had become, a lesson learned, can’t afford to get dehydrated, don’t rely on feeling thirsty, or hungry, keep the steam engine stoked up and keep it rolling. Eating on a BG is done on the move as well as at changeovers.

The trips to the lakes continued, the routes becoming more familiar now and trying to run the legs to schedule – hitting the peaks at the denoted times, or before, for a 23.5 hour attempt. It was time for longer days too, aiming at some “double leg” days. When I did the Helvellyn leg followed by the last leg, (Blencathra, Great Calva and Skiddaw) I got into Keswick and sat on some steps in the market place drinking a litre of milk, my legs felt like they had been run over by a bus. After the drive home I had to grab my roof bars to prize myself out of the car and slowly hobbled into the house, “silly bugger, do you want your tea before your shower?”- Heather, my wife, who I would never have met if it was not for the lakes and youth hostelling, was so tolerant of all the time my BG was taking up – another big ask when often there is so much to do at home. Anyway, I was feeling comfortable with the hills, some long days, 12 hours once, half a BG but slower than pace. I met Nicky Spinks one day, she was out doing her double attempt at a BG, she was casually making her way up Yewbarrow chatting to her navigator about how the wall had been washed out after all the floods in the winter. She was in no rush, no panic, just getting on with the hill, she seemed so calm, another lesson learned there, just get on with it calmly and efficiently. She passed me later in the afternoon on her way back over to Scafell Pike, I was coming off and she was going up, I continued, expecting to be passed soon, but she never came – I glanced over and she was a long way ahead, skipping over the rocky landscape towards Broad Crag on some invisible path well away from the 100s of walkers out that day. “Good lines” are another thing you need to learn about, or hope your navigator knows them anyway !

I was learning to get the food right too, pork pies and tubes of cream cheese, chia bars, chocolate bars, peanuts, cheesy wotsits all washing down well with Lucozade Sport and plain water. The team I had lined up was excellent, I couldn’t ask for more there. I was feeling well and the long days out had got me lean, I normally weigh in around 72kg and I was now staying under 70kg – too skinny said Heather, despite the copious amounts of good food she cooked for me. I got several pairs of mudclaws well run in too, I’d decided these suited me best, not the best on rocks maybe, but better on rocks when they were worn down a bit like mine were now, but I liked the grip they gave on grassy descents.

So I was as ready as I could be, food right, kits well tested out, team right, me right – trained as best I could and could not have done more, it was time to ease off a bit and think about the organisational side of things and “Eat for England” . My test against those hills I loved so much and had so many memories of was a week or so away.

Lists and schedules became key. Firstly the schedule, that’s easy, you type in your planned time to get round on the schedule calculator on the Bob Wightman website and you are away. On advice from Geoff I’d chosen an anti-clockwise round, starting at 7am. This starts you off at a normal day and means that you then run the fairly easy going of the Helvellyn dodds in the dark, easy under foot that is but difficult to navigate as the paths and trods are not often clear. Then you have to think about who would be good to have on each leg with you, the idea is you obviously run the whole thing, but you have a team for each of the 5 legs. The team is a navigator and then a couple of more people to carry your clothing and food/drink, and one of those people also needs to write the time down that you touch each summit cairn. Then you need to think about how these people will get to the start of the leg, and how they will get back, and what kit they might want to have ready for them at the end of their leg. So the road crew is vital, and Heather did a fantastic job, quite stressed about it initially but once she had the detailed plan pulled it off in true girl guide fashion as well as turning out bacon butties, cheese macaroni and cakes. I was to run 66 miles on the attempt, she drove 175 miles !

So the day arrived, everyone had their legs allocated, the forcast was good, not too hot, not too windy, dry (wet rocks slow the job up) – it was on.

The start at Moot Hall. After a reasonably good nights sleep I made my way to Moot hall for the 7am “off”. Quite a few had come to see me off, eagerly looking at my watch and 7am prompt we set off to cheers and clapping. I was running this leg with Susan, Jules, Graeme and Elaine. Susan led us through the market traders setting up and we were soon on the quiet back roads heading down to Newlands. The start this way round does mean you have quite a bit of road so I’d run in my road trainers on for this bit, quickly changing into my fell shoes at Newlands church where Graham Daglish had driven Geoff to join us for the rest of that leg, Geoff saving himself for later in the day when he would nav leg 4 for me. After a steep grassy climb and a bit of straightforward clambering up rocks we were on the first top of the round, Robinson, 08:35, I was 7 minutes up on schedule, 7 minutes in the bag that I might need later. The next 2 tops come much quicker, and we were soon on the long run down (passing Katy who had come up the hill to see us on route) to Honister by 09:18 for the changeover and start of leg 2, still 7 minutes up. Porridge with honey and some warm tea and I was keen to get going, 09:23 we were off again, I scheduled a 10 minute break but didn’t need any longer. Tom (who did his BG in 2010), Penny and Jon joined me for this leg, it’s a steady climb form there at first, not as bad as it looks from the car park, and we chatted and joked, Jon seemed to be enjoying it !. Grey knots for 09:45, excellent, now 15 minutes up. The pace pics up from here it’s fairly runnable and the next tops come fairly quickly, Joan met us as we went onto Green Gable. The climb onto Great Gable from windy gap is lovely, you have to give it a bit of thought as to which way you want to find a way up through the rocks, but it’s straight forward and safe, it’s much easier going up these things than down. We arrived on the top at 10:36, 18 minutes up. The decent from there is difficult, it’s steep, slippy in parts, awkward and loose under foot. There are good ways down and not so good, route choice can make a big difference here, I think I’d recced this leg about 7 times, once got it totally wrong and came off in another valley! We lost Jon at this point, but had to press on. Tom sent me and Penny ahead and tried to find Jon, but we didn’t see him again until Wasdale, he was fine and had just followed the path at the bottom of the valley. I was feeling good still at this point, and the tops were soon being ticked off. Coming off Pillar I heard a thump behind me, Penny had stumbled and gone down hard, but was ok and carried on. I arrived at the lovely little peak of Steeple bang on midday, 30 minutes up. Coming off I was met by a large group of fell runners, it looked like a race, turns out it was a group of 5 folks doing a BG together, they must have left Moot hall at about 4pm on Friday I think, they were going clockwise. I had my first “starting to feel it a bit” as we cut across to Yewbarrow, the decent off there is painful and I was glad when we hit the road, guided in by “Big Scott”, a grand lad form NFR who was to be my nav on leg 3. [I’d tagged along to his BG last year but I couldn’t keep up and lost sight of him at the end of my leg, he did a cracking time of 19 hours and something. How Billy Bland did it on pretty much the same mid-June weekend in June in 1982 in 13:53 or Joss Naylor who did a BG round and added a further 30 tops back in 1975 and still had 40 minutes left, well I just don’t know how they did it. Billy’s record has yet to be broken. ] I was led through the busy carpark where Heather had set up my chair and everything I needed. Susan and Elaine had come over the pass on foot, Heather had driven round bringing my leg 3 folks and to take Tom, Penny and Jon back. A change to tops, fresh socks, some talc on my feet and some risotto and I was feeling fine. Then my legs went into spasm as I tried to lean forward in the chair to do up my laces. I sat back and it subsided, tried again and back it came, agony. It was soon time for the off again, this was a big leg and some of it I had only been over once, and one part which I was dreading was to come – the climb down a rocky slab to Broad Stand. To get there you first climb up Scafell, so off we went, Big Scott, Paul, Jack and James. It’s an awful slog up the grassy fields and fell from the car park, steep and monotonous. I had to pause now and then, but couldn’t stand on the steep slope without my legs giving way, it was easier to keep moving, I was in pain. We got to the rocky path up to Scafell and my legs eased, the ground demanded concentration now and was much more interesting. We hadn’t lost any time surprisingly and did it on scheduled time, taking us an hour to come a mere 2 miles. After a bit of careful exploring we found the top of Broad Stand. Kevin and Linda had offered to climb there and meet me, can you believe that, climb a mountain for me, carry up a rope and harness and look after me.

Linda roping me up for Broad Stand.

It was great to see them there, ropes laid out ready and harness waiting, I was down in a few minutes, the rest of my team just used the rope, I was glad I had the harness! I’d see Kevin later on, about 2am, he was my nav for the last leg. At this point I wasn’t thinking any further about what was to come, the terrain demands your full attention, its slow going and to get any pace at all you really have to concentrate on where you put your feet. We passed a rambler who had stumbled, she was laid on the rocks with blood oozing from her temples, fortunately she was with an organised group so help was at hand. It was nice to get onto some rocky climbs too, my back was starting to ache and it was good to be on all fours and stretched out a bit. I even took a couple of pain killers that James had, Heather will tell you that’s just not like me. Coming off Great End, 45 minutes up, we met up with Jack’s mam and friend, they gave us water and Kendal mint cake. All was going well, I was feeling ok and legs were going again. We descended to Rossett Pike by a lovely route which Scott took us on, his nav on this leg was spot on. We met Andy there, he’d come up from the Lansdale valley to meet us, again with offers of food and water. It was 5 o’clock by then, and the hills were getting quieter, we didn’t see many people at all after this, I was 49 minutes up and feeling good. The Langdale pikes came and went and we were soon running along the grassy top to High Raise and then on to Sergeant man. I was feeling a bit tired by then, a bit slower, but we were going ok and by the time we reached the top of steel fell and looked down the steep descent to Dunmail I was still 36 minutes up.

Dunmail Changeover.

The “pit stop” was busy, Geoff thought it might be stressing me, but I was in the zone, tried to shovel some pasta in, Gibbo and Sally sorted my feet, a fresh top and time for leggings as I knew it would be cold during the night and we were off again. The sun was casing long shadows as we headed up Seat Sandal. Geoff was nav, Gibbo and Scott my new pacers. I struggled up here, feeling sick after the food and legs feeling like jelly. By the top we were doing ok though, still 28 minutes up. It was getting colder, I put gloves on after Fairfield. I was also starting to feel a bit weird, had trouble focusing on the ground but the sickness had passed. Scott was a great pacer, he had the schedule, he has a lot of experience at helping out at BG’s and he kept me tight on time, we were losing a bit but he encouraged me on, without pressure, but he let me know I needed to keep pace. Darkness came, our head torches came on, as did a little red light on Geoff’s back pack. We followed his silhouette in the moon light as we traversed the Helvellyn range. One hill below us was draped in a thin curtain of mist, other than that visibility was good and we made good progress, losing just a few more minutes. We saw lights in the distance, another BG attempt coming the other way, one of the support was a mate of Scotts who he’d not seen for a good while, so they had a quick chat but we were all on a mission and soon back on our rounds. Midnight we were on Watsons Dodd, it’s now father’s day and Sally would be waiting for me down at Threlkeld. I wasn’t looking forward to the next climbs, they are long and boring, but the crack was good and in the dark you can’t see the “never getting any closer” top and it was fine. I love the drop down off Clough Head, it’s steep, but the ground is soft and you can get a rhythm going and we were soon down to the fence where we crossed over, though a bit of over grown marsh, past the old railway wagon and we were on the steady gradual descent to Threlkeld.

It was all action stations from there, I was expecting the car park to be fairly empty and quiet, but it seemed busy and full, it was 1:45am and I was 13 minutes up, it was possible. Scott gave me an excellent leg massage with some stuff he had, it really helped ease the cramp. Danny, Sally and Kevin were there all ready for me, and Kevin got his mate Nick to join us too, really good to have an extra person in case anyone needed help to get off the hill. Of we set, I was feeling ok and in good spirits, but as soon as I hit the steep climb up to Blencathra I knew I was getting weak. I tried not to think about what lay ahead and what was still to do. I’d come a long way in the last day and I tried to draw strength, mentally, from that, just a bit more to do, keep going, keep going. I just didn’t have the strength in me though to get the momentum to get up the next rocky steps, sometime I had managed to get up but had not got enough to give me some forward momentum to get to the next step, I’d lean back and if Sally didn’t give me a push in the back occasionally I’d stumble to the ground, I was finding it easier to be on all fours. It’s interesting doing Blencathra in the dark, in daylight you feel quite exposed, in the dark it felt more like we were exploring a rocky cave.

Early hours of Sunday morning going up Blencathra.

Danny kept me accurately informed of how many meters we had yet to go, that was really helpful Danny, really good to know I had a hell of a long way to go! We got to the top, I was a minute down, I was into my 30 buffer as I was on a 23:30 schedule. I was in a bit of a daze after that, I felt ill and needed the toilet, so my pacers chatted amongst themselves, I think I lost about 10 minutes, but there was no choice. We seemed to be going slowly, I asked Sally how we were doing and it was not good, we were losing time and final 2 tops are tough. We headed across Mungrisdale common, though a bog full of cotton grass almost glowing in the moon light and found the stream crossing to take us to the base of Great Calva. This is another bad climb, a calf splitter, and I used everything I had to get up there, even trying to pull on the rusty wire fence at times to try and pull myself up. I was slow, in fact even before going up I had doubts I was going to finish in under 24 hours, the time at the top confirmed it, we were 23 minutes down, that meant if I was going well it could be done, but the long climb to the fence just below the summit of Skiddaw was going to eat well into that 7 minutes. Oh well, I’ve had a go, I knew I could finish, not under 24 hours, but that’s not so bad, I’d have nearly done it in 24. People offered me food and drink but I wasn’t interested.

Sally knew I really wanted to do it though, “come on dad” is a big kick up the back side, so I sent all the rubbish in my head about not finishing in time way and started to think about what I needed to do to get to Moot in time. I had no idea how long the climb up to Skiddaw would take, I knew from recces that it was tough and long, so I just got on with it. If I could make Skiddaw by 5.45am I knew I might make it, on recces I could get down from there into Keswick in 1:10. I dug in deep, Danny would go ahead and look back at me, into my eyes, he was in Dr mode and looking at a victim in A+E seeing if I was ok, he insisted I drank and ate a bit, so I drank a bit to shut him up but I wasn’t tempted by his offers of food much. Kevin was nibbling on a bar, he broke a small bit off and offered it to me, I was “tricked”, I took it, but would have said no if it had simply been a question if I wanted any. We got to Skiddaw, it was daylight, time felt it was really running out now. It was a cold wind so I pulled my buff over my head and was helped on with my windproof.

Skiddaw, the last top, and an hour to get to Keswick seen below...


Sally and Mike The time, 5:45 am, it was on, there was a chance. I ran as best as I could on the tops and down the rocky slopes to Latrigg, it was hurting but I was in not going to give in now. I had to really concentrate, the ground is uneven and my legs were shot. We hit the houses on the out skirts of Keswick, Kevin went ahead and then came running back, the route he was going to use was closed, oh no, time was really tight, a quick discussion as to options and we were off and soon running through Fitz park. I had to walk, 10 steps then run again for a while, then 10 steps, come on, 6:49am, nearly there. I hit the shopping street and could see moot hall, everyone was there waiting but looking the other way, I ran down and gave a quick shout, I made it, 8 minutes left. It was all a bit much for Sally and it got quite emotional.

I sat at the seat opposite moot hall and looked at the steps there that I’d stood on 24 hours before, I just couldn’t take in what I’d done. After about 5 minutes I thought I’d pop to the loo, I could hardly stand, my legs were gone, I needed help down the kerb from Geoff. He and Heather came round to the toilets with me to make sure I was ok, I came out of the toilets and then straight back in, puked up a few times and returned to the gathering at moot hall. Time for bed. We were staying at a friend’s house in Borrowdale so didn’t have far to go. When we got to the car my voice went all weird and my lips swelled up, don’t know what was going on there and it only lasted a short time.

The Finish

I had great difficulty getting from the car the 20 feet of so to the house and couldn’t lift my feet to go upstairs, so I sat for a while on the bottom step and then tried to lift my back side up to the next step and go up backwards, I had no strength in my arms to take my body weight. I realised that if I laid on the stairs on my back I could slide up that way. I didn’t have a shower, I couldn’t lift my leg over the bath, I just slithered into bed and tried to sleep. I was feeling cold so Heather made me a cup of tea, I drank some and was promptly sick again so just went to sleep. Sally took me home later in the day. The following day I was feeling ok but weak, even my voice was sounding weak. I weighed myself, 62 kg, I’d lost at least 5kg.

Would I do it again? – No

Have I sickened myself of the hills of the lakes ? – No, couldn’t wait to get back.

What next ? Looking forward to helping out one someone else’s BG, who’s next….?

All these folks who were part of it, either on the day and/or the recces. Thank you all whole heartedly for your support, good wishes and efforts in the hills.

Heather Hughes, Sally Hughes, Geoff and Susan Davis, Jules-Juliet Percival, Graeme and Katy Walton, Elaine Bisson, Graham Daglish, Tom Reeves, Penny Browell, Jon Ayres, Joan Hanson, Big Scott-Scott Gibson, Jack Lee, James Garland, Paul Evans, Kevin and Linda Bray, Andy Wilson, Gibbo-David Gibson, Scott Watson, Danny Lim, Nick Spencer, Mandy Dawson, Nigel Hepple, Steph Scott.

A special thank you to Heather for generally putting up with me and all the trainers I possess. Kevin and Linda too, the precious time saved at Broad Stand proved vital.

Finally Geoff and Susan of course, they were the inspiration for me to do this and so supportive, I’d simply never have been able to do this without them, it would not have happened. Geoff’s company and guidance the best there is for this BG malarkey, the “Davis training plan” will get you there.

Hardmoors 110, Saturday, April 30, 2016

110 miles

Sue Jennings

Finisher's Medal I first started to run Hardmoors marathons in 2013 – I think Osmotherly was my first one. At the time, it nearly killed me – 29 miles and 5000 feet of climb taking me about 8 hours. I didn’t think that I would do another one but you soon forget the pain and get carried away with everyone else and before I knew it, I had entered a few more. In 2014 I first attempted the Hardmoors 60 which I didn’t manage to finish and I attempted it again in 2015 again not finishing. So you are probably thinking why would I then decide to enter the 110 miles?

Well it started when I was running around a muddy field on a dark, Monday night last November with Denise doing Tom’s grass session. Just very much in passing she told me that she was going to enter the Hardmoors Grand Slam in 2016 (the 30, 55, 60 and 110). I had never really aspired to the 110 or the Grand Slam even though I had seen others who I had met through Hardmoors achieving this and watched their immense satisfaction at what they had done. However I also knew that it would be much easier to do something like this if I had someone to train with so the next week, I entered the Grand Slam myself.

Denise and I decided that the best way to train for something as challenging as this was to follow a training plan and Denise found a 100 mile race training plan on the internet. She adapted it to fit the races that we were planning, starting with the Hardmoors Roseberry Topping marathon in the middle of December.

In addition to the training plan, I also did an hour of personal training every week which included calf raises, squats, lunges and lots of leg strengthening work.Unfortunately, Denise had an accident and broke her foot soon after we started and although we hoped that she would recover in time to train for the 110, this wasn’t to be the case.

I found the training plan really hard at times and had to take out training on a Monday night (grass session) as I literally didn’t have the energy left after long runs at the weekend to do it and to be quite honest it was getting me down (even though I really enjoy the grass sessions). Once I made the decision to take the Monday session out, I found the training a lot easier although I use the word “easier” very loosely!

Incorporating as many races as possible within the training plan was a blessing as I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, if I have committed and paid for a race I am far more likely to do it and this helped significantly with my motivation. During the period of training from mid November 2015 to the 30 th April 2016, I entered and completed the following races:

  • Hardmoors Roseberry Topping marathon – December 2015
  • Hardmoors 30 Miles – New Years Day 2016
  • Disney 10k – January 2016
  • Disney half marathon – January 2016
  • Disney full marathon – January 2016
  • NEMC Winter wonderland marathon – January 2016
  • Hardmoors Saltburn marathon – February 2016
  • NEMC South Shields marathon – February 2016
  • Hardmoors 55 miles – March 2016
  • Woldsman 50 miles – April 2016

My endurance improved significantly over the training period and when I completed the Hardmoors 55 well within the cut off I knew that I had a chance of completing the 110. My final race before the 110 was the Woldsman 50M and then I started a 3 week taper going down to just 15 miles a week which was really hard after peaking at 50 miles a week earlier on in the year. I didn’t know what to do with my time! During the 3 weeks of taper leading up to the 110 I drew up a plan of how I would complete the race and at what point I needed my support crew to help me (you are not allowed to enter the 110 without a support crew if you haven’t previously completed a 100 mile race). It is also compulsory for support crews to check in to checkpoints on the day and if they didn’t, you can be disqualified! I met with the support crew to agree who would do what on the day/s and I drew up a written plan so that everyone had a copy. I prepared a couple of bags of clothes/running shoes/gels etc and handed these out to support crew who would be at different points of the course.

The week before the race the weather was pretty nasty with hail, snow and gale force winds. This made me rethink what I would wear and I ordered some additional thermal running clothes very last minute.

The day before, Kerry and I travelled down to Scarborough with a car full of kit to try to meet every eventuality. The weather forecast had changed and Saturday was going to hopefully be a nice day, although Sunday was still forecast to be very cold with heavy rain. We spent the later part of the Friday eating as much as possible (carb loading) and we also had a couple of glasses of wine to aid sleep!

When the alarm went off at 6.15am I was feeling pretty anxious and even a little sick. We quickly got ready and headed off to registration at Filey Brigg. At registration I was fitted with a tracker which I had paid an extra £20 for so that my friends, family and support crew could see my progress. We were told that we had to carry full kit at all times which included waterproof jacket and trousers, head torch, a litre of fluids, emergency food and first aid, hat, gloves, mobile phone and I decided to carry a spare pair of gloves, an additional base layer and a buff. I had tailwind added to my water which was going to help with my nutrition and I also had a pork pie!

The race was late starting and we didn’t get off until 8.20am. I hadn’t managed to eat much of my breakfast as I was too nervous as a race of 110 miles was a complete unknown to me having only every completed 55 miles in one go previously. I did know though that I was probably as prepared as I was ever going to be and I had completed my training plan so if it didn’t happen this time, it never would!

I had times on my plan as to when I would get to the checkpoints and my plan was to count down the checkpoints (of which there were 19) rather than the miles. I hit the first checkpoint (5.5 miles in) with about 10 minutes to spare according to my plan and at the second checkpoint just before going in to Scarborough (7.5 miles in) Kerry was waiting for me to see if I needed anything. I changed out of my long sleeved thermal top and put a t-shirt on as the sun had come out and it was turning in to a glorious day and set off eating half of my pork pie (which I didn’t enjoy at all – in fact it might have put me off pork pies for life).

I then ran along the sea front at Scarborough running in and out of all the holiday makers of which there were many and then headed back on to the Cleveland Way to checkpoint 3 at 13 miles where I drank some water and took a few jelly babies. There were quite a few climbs up and down stairs along this section of the coast including Haeburn Wyke. I continued until I eventually arrived in Ravenscar (22 miles) where again I met Kerry and the plan was to change socks and refuel. I didn’t actually change my socks but just added some talcum powder (a tip from Craig my personal trainer) which made my feet feel really good. I had managed to get to Ravenscar 40 minutes ahead of plan and left with a skip in my step as I was feeling really positive about the day/s ahead.

I knew the next section to Robin Hoods Bay well and helped a couple of other runners along the correct route. It has a lovely long descent down and then a few cheeky steps at Boggle Hole and then down to Robin Hoods Bay. At Robin Hoods Bay I started the long climb up to the checkpoint and I bumped in to George and Ann who had come along to support me. What a fantastic surprise this was for me as I didn’t know they would be there. We checked in to checkpoint 5 (26 miles in) and then George ran a short section with me towards Whitby. George turned back but said that he and Ann would see me again at the next checkpoint, Sandsend (36 miles in). I carried on along the coast to Whitby and at the caravan park a mile or so before you go in to Whitby I bumped in to Emily Beaumont who was waiting for a runner that she was supporting and gave me a very welcome drink of cold water – it had turned in to a really lovely, warm day.

I carried on and then bumped in to Joanne Abbott who was heading back to support Brenda Wilkin who was attempting the Hardmoors 160 miles and had been running since Friday night – I had passed Brenda a couple of miles previously. When I reached the top of the Abbey steps in Whitby I treated myself to a 99 ice cream with raspberry sauce and it was absolutely gorgeous! I climbed down the abbey steps as I was eating it and then through the town which was packed with people and over the bridge following the Hardmoors sign to head onwards to Sandsend. I stopped and bought a packet of chips which I tried to eat as I was walking along and then my mobile phone started ringing. It was Catherine who was worried that I had gone off course as the tracker was saying that I had gone inland. I was pretty confident that I was on course at that point and that I was also only a couple of miles from the next checkpoint at Sandsend (turns out that tracker isn’t always 100% accurate and that I was right thankfully).

Sandsend'ish

I carried on moving still trying to eat my chips which tasted like cardboard. I forced a few down as I knew that I needed as much fuel as possible to get me through the rest of the day and Sunday and then I binned the rest. I carried down towards Sandsend and Kerry, George and Ann were waiting for me. I checked in to the “checkpoint” (number 6 – 36 miles in) and then Kerry had to dress a burn that had started on my back underneath my bra. I also added some more talc to my socks and decided to continue in the same shoes. I probably spent about 10 minutes at the checkpoint.

On leaving Sandsend it was a steady climb for a couple of miles and then undulating along the cliff tops of the Cleveland Way. Then there was a steep descent down to Runswick Bay and a short run across the sand before a steep ascent up to the next checkpoint (41 miles in) where Kerry was again waiting for me. I somehow managed to go in to this checkpoint from the wrong angle and ended up having to climb over a barbed wire fence which was fun!

I spent about 15 minutes at this checkpoint as I needed to go to the toilet, refuel, fill my water bottles up and change my top to a long sleeved top. Kerry left her car here and then ran with me through to the next checkpoint. We met up with an American lady who was attempting the 160 and she tagged along with us for a few miles. This section saw us go through Staithes and Skinningrove and we eventually reached Saltburn (checkpoint 9) and 53 miles in at about 10.15pm. Here, Kerry and I were met by Angela who would run the next 57 miles with me and Teresa who took Kerry back to Runswick Bay for her car. I had a full change of clothes here in to thermals as it was getting really cold.

Angela and I left this checkpoint and now had to carry the route description because I was unsure of the route for the next 10 miles as I hadn’t had chance to reccee it. It turned out that we didn’t need to worry because I actually recognised a lot of the section as part of the Saltburn marathon and we headed up towards High Cliff nab through Guisborough woods. This however is where we became a bit unstuck. The route description said we needed to turn right and I knew that if we turned right we would end up going right down in to the woods and I didn’t think that this was right. However, instead of listening to my gut instincts, we followed the route description and ended up completely lost in the middle of Guisborough woods! I was cursing as I knew this could end the race and mean that we wouldn’t achieve the Kildale cut off of 5am. I also knew though that if we carried on we would eventually find a climb out of the woods that I know from other Hardmoors marathons so we decided to carry on rather than going back.

Luckily for us Anna was sat at home watching the tracker and realised we were off course. She phoned me (it was 1am by this point) and she guided us back out of the woods and back on course – we had lost about 50 minutes of time and it was going to be hard to now meet the cut off times. I was gutted as having got this far I would have been disappointed to not meet the cut offs and be timed out. Poor Angela had to put up with me cursing away for several miles!

We finally reached the top of Roseberry Topping at about 2am (66 miles in and an hour behind schedule) and again I was cursing because of the impending cut offs (Roseberry Topping was checkpoint number 10). There were still other runners behind us though so we decided to continue forward as fast as we could and I am glad that we did.

Sunrise

We left Roseberry Topping and headed off up to Captain Cooks monument. From here we descended down towards Kildale and at the bottom of the very long hill down Phil was waiting for us – it was fantastic to see him. He drove off up the hill to meet the runners behind us and we continued in to the checkpoint at Kildale (it was 4.30am so we were fine for time – 70 miles in). Dave Toth and Denise were at this checkpoint and they filled us with warm tea and pizza which was yummy. We only stayed at this checkpoint for about 10 minutes because of time constraints and we left without seeing Phil again and off to do the very long, steep climb out of Kildale. It was just starting to get light at this point so we took off our head torches.

I can’t remember that much of the next section over to Bloworth Crossing apart from that it was cold but beautiful seeing the sunrise come up.

At Bloworth Crossing there was a self clip and then we turned off to the right to head over to Claybank and checkpoint number 11 (79 miles in). As we reached the top of the sharp descent down in to Claybank it was fantastic to see Phil again and also Danny Lim who had come out especially to see us.

Danny took this next photo of us at the top before the climb down.

Angela and Suetea break

Down at the checkpoint we met Kerry and Catherine and were given hot tea which was really refreshing.We were quite behind schedule at this point so couldn’t hang around too long. I decided not to change clothes or shoes but to continue with what I was wearing. The next section of 11 miles was going to be really tough as it was over the infamous 3 sisters. Kerry and Catherine then joined Angela and I and we set off up the really tough climb up the first of the sisters to the top of Wainstones. I was actually still feeling quite sprightly at this point!

The four of us carried on up to the top of Wainstones and at the top you have to climb over large rocks as you start to descend down the other side before you hit the tough climb up the second sister.

Then eventually climbing up and over Lordstones – the views were breathtaking! On leaving Lord Stones we had the unenviable task of climbing the fourth huge hill in a row (I’d only told the others that there were 3) and even after this climb we weren’t completely finished as there were the long steep steps before we climbed down in to Osmotherly.

The weather took a turn for the worse at this point and it started to rain and hail heavily, along with strong winds on the tops this made going forward pretty difficult. As we came in to Osmotherly, Phil was waiting for us and said that we had enough time to get to Osmotherley Square Corner (another 2 miles further on) before the final cut off. I wasn’t convinced and had a bit of a melt down at this point as I thought that I was going to end up being timed out at 90 miles and after getting this far, I didn’t want to give up.

up down

We dug deep and started the steep climb up to Square Corner. When we arrived at Square Corner the marshals said I had just made it and that it was ok to carry on and I was elated with this news.

And then there were four ...We actually realised at this point that we had just done a 13.5 mile section which according to the instructions should have been 11 miles and that it meant that instead of 20 miles to go we only had 18! What a bonus. I also wondered why the pain killers I had taken earlier hadn’t been working for the pain I was experiencing in my foot and realised at that point that I had taken anti-diarrhea tablets rather than pain killers – everyone was in hysterics.

Kerry and Catherine stopped here and Angela carried on with me, Denise and Rachael. A mile or so along here we were passed by a couple of runners who were in the very latter stages of the Hardmoors 160 miles and then the tail runners caught us up (Dave Robson being one of them). We then became a group of 6 trudging through the mud towards the last checkpoint just after White Horse. The mud was pretty awful in places and with really tired legs it made this section very hard. Also, I don’t know at what point my back started to go, but I found that I had developed a stoop and I just couldn’t stand upright. I was also starting to suffer at this point from sleep deprivation and struggled massively to keep my eyes open. Square Corner

We reached the last checkpoint (103 miles in) and the marshals there were fantastic. Chris had also come out to support and gave me a big hug telling his kids that I was the mad lady that he had told them about! From this checkpoint to the end, Denise and Rachael helped me by supporting me either side because I couldn’t stand up properly. It was a very slow and arduous section and at times I thought we would never reach the end. If it wasn’t for Denise and Rachael I am not sure I would have! At about 4 miles to go I had to stop to vomit which was pretty awful but I picked myself back up and carried on because I couldn’t give up now. Another mile further on and we met Dave Toth who had run out to meet us and it was amazing to see him. He told a porky pie and said that the end was just round the corner and it wasn’t and it wasn’t around the next half a dozen corners either but that was his job to try and keep me going.

Onward Finally we did get to the end of the woods where we could see Helmsley and my mum was waiting for us. She was in a bit of a state and told me that I was never doing anything like this again as she was so worried about me. I told her that I was definitely never doing anything like this again but she didn’t believe me. We carried on literally just putting one foot in front of the other in to Helmsley and eventually I reached the finish – I had completed the Hardmoors 110 miles in 36 hours and 48 minutes. 99 people had set off and 66 had finished. Only 22 ladies had finished!

Jon and SueHere’s a picture of Jon Steele, the Hardmoors Race Director who gave me my medal. I was handed a cup of tea which I drank and then promptly vomited up. I managed to get to my mum’s car and she drove me home. She had to help me out of the car and out of my very dirty smelly clothes and I managed to get in to the bath before finally getting in to bed after being up about 42 hours without any sleep. I didn’t even have the energy to drink a large Bacardi and coke that my mum had poured!

Support Crew

I couldn’t have completed this race without my support crew who were totally amazing and also a few other friends who came out and supported me. Thank you to:

Support Crew

  • Kerry Barnett who drove me down the day before, crewed all day on the Saturday meeting me at all of the compulsory checkpoints, running Runswick Bay to Saltburn and then from Claybank to Osmotherly Square Corner and finally being at the end.
  • Angela Greathead for running with me from Saltburn to the end about 57 miles (plus the bit where we were lost).
  • Catherine Smith for running with me from Claybank to Osmotherly Square Corner.
  • Denise Benvin for running with me from Osmotherly Square Corner to the end.
  • Rachael Liddle for running with me from Osmotherly Square Corner to the end.
  • Teresa Archer who came down in the middle of the night from Durham to pick Kerry up and take her to pick her car up.
  • Phil Owen for popping up all over the place and giving us endless encouragement.
  • Anna Seeley for being awake at 1am and guiding us through Guisborough Woods.
  • Dave Toth who ran out from the end to help bring me in to the finish.
  • George and Ann Nicholson for meeting me at Robin Hoods Bay and Sandsend.
  • Danny Lim for turning out early Sunday morning to meet us at Claybank.
  • Chris Lyons for the big hug at the last checkpoint.
  • Mum for worrying about me and getting me home when I felt like I was half dead lol.
  • And every other volunteer/marshal who helped out over the weekend. You were all amazing.
  • Jon and Shirley Steele for putting such amazing events on.

Support Crew

Would I do it again, probably as it was a fantastic experience (sorry mum) but next year I am supporting a friend (Denise Benvin it’s your turn) and then after that I intend to marshal/support for years to come.

I should also mention that I am raising money for Acorns Childrens Hospice and to date have raised £615. Hoping to raise more though over the next few months. My just giving link is: https://www.justgiving.com/Sue-Jennings10.

Thanks for reading!

Tracker

Dark Skies Run, Kielder, Saturday, March 26, 2016

26.5M

Catherine Smith

My First Marathon…. Or ultra depending on your stance on the ‘anything over 26.2 miles….’

all in it together.

So having ran a few half marathons I, like many, thought that the next natural progression would be to go for the full marathon distance, but not just any old marathon, no no, I decided that it would be a good idea to do half of it at night & I chose Kielder, renowned for being flat! Not!

I was very impressed by Trail Outlaws when I marshalled for them at my local Washington trail race so I asked if I could have a place in their Dark Skies run in return & they confirmed there were spaces – just like that I was in! Eeeek! I then learnt it wasn’t just a marathon – it was at least 26.5 miles! Double Eeek!

I invested in some ‘long run’ kit & started upping the mileage – usually incorporating a coffee shop refuel half way!

As part of my pre race prep it seemed I managed to ‘encourage’ other purplies to either run it (some of them marathon Virgins like me) or marshal it so we could make an adventure out of the whole experience. One of them being Gareth, a fast lad who had never been on his feet longer than 3hrs! Not sure who had the biggest challenge ahead – what I do know is I would never have entered or completed this race without becoming part of the purple family!

Tell Katie to shut the door! Finally the big day arrived as did storm Katie! The forecast was for rain, rain and more rain, plus some wind! Great! Not only would we be unlikely to see any Dark Skies or Northern lights we were also probably going to be rained on heavily for most of the race! I felt bad for all those people I had roped into the crazy plan in one guise or another!

We arrived at the scout hut/HQ and got our numbers, passing the kit check easily, mine weighed 6lbs! I can assure you I had what we needed and then some!

We saw our purple support crew in action and welcomed the other purple posse runners as they arrived, the weather wasn’t too bad at this point and we were all hopeful it might not be as predicted, until about 4.30pm, 30 mins before the start of the race when the heavens opened and pretty much didn’t stop until about 10.30pm!

At around 5ish we were off! Wishing everyone good luck Gareth & I settled into our pace and the miles were ticking off nicely, despite the awful conditions I was enjoying the views & seeing the marshals and other runners along the way. Soon enough we were at the first checkpoint and it was lovely to see our purple support crew, they seemed a little surprised to see me / us so early, I took that as a compliment and with a spring in my step off we went again!

Keeping Dry.

Soon it was dark enough to need our head torches – it was fab seeing all the lights moving through the trees and up and down the MANY hills!

We kept hydrated & filled up on the various (some soggy) treats at each of the checkpoints and all things considered we were doing great, on pace, running all the way (even up THOSE hills) and we even got to see some stars!! Wahooo!

I had only ever ran 20 miles max before however so it wasn’t surprising that at about 22 miles I hit the wall, I was tired, my light was dimming and Gareth had said ‘just a park run left’ by accident – we were nearly one strider fast lad down at this point as I could have killed him when I realised it wasn’t right! He was trying to distract me with chatter about Teresa Archer’s lush chocolate cakes waiting for us with all our purple crew at the last checkpoint and I just wanted him to shut up! The thought of cake made me feel sick! I knew I needed to rally and regroup so I slammed the brakes on and explained I wanted to change my batteries (well the torch ones not mine! If only!!) I also had a gel and some trail mix and a little word with myself. We set off again with me and the light much brighter…

It wasn’t long until it really was only a parkrun left and I knew in half that distance I would get my hugs from Kerry & co & Gareth would get his cake hit from Teresa! (These cakes are delicious and got us through Hardmoors half and Dark skies & should be available after every XC race! Might even help Gareth get round in the fast pack next season!!)

I practically fell into Kerry and Denise when we saw them, Flip was on a rescue mission and didn’t even recognise us as we passed him! Kerry said ‘you are doing great, only 2.5 miles to go’ I think I practically screamed back at her ‘1.5, surely?!?! Please!’ We were on 25+ miles by then – I showed her on my watch! She said ‘oooops! Yes 1.5 then I’ve been telling everyone 2.5!’ I was so relieved after my early distance confusion I couldn’t face another!

After hugs all round and being pointed in the right direction for ‘home’ by ET Archer (aka Matthew) we set off on the last 1.5 miles, I felt emotional by this point, I knew then I was going to finish a tough first marathon in horrid conditions & I was suddenly a bit overwhelmed.

There were fairy lights guiding us back to race HQ where we fell through the door way and collected our fab medals – official times 5.10.05 for me – first and only time I’ll beat Gareth at 5.10.06 – my watch gave the distance of 26.82 miles – Gareth’s had 27+ from his toilet detours (race bag / bladder pressure situation going on there!)

I had done it! I was over the moon! 22nd lady and 14th in my age category! I was also so so proud of Mr P who helped me round and had achieved the longest time on his feet ever!!!!

Anita Clementson was in ahead of us with a new marathon PB and soon after us was Jane Ives.

Well deserved medals.We had a hot drink & freshened up & then waited for the rest of the gang to get back. Dave Toth & then Helen Allen were next, then Kathleen & her partner, followed by Sophie, Lyndsey, Julie and Emma who like me had never done a marathon before, they were followed by Sue (a week after her 55!!) and Rachel Toth – another marathon virgin – it was really emotional – I was so proud of us all completing a really challenging race. The marshals were back not long after so we all headed to the scout hut to celebrate and refuel / hydrate (on party tea and alcohol obvs!)

Jury is still out as to whether I will run another marathon or more distance wise but I would like to thank all those involved in making it an awesome first marathon (ultra) experience and I would highly recommend Trail Outlaws races to anyone fancying a new / different challenge – either to Marshal or Race or both!