Category Archives: Ultra Marathon

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

31 miles / 50km

Jonathan Hamill

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

You can also relive the route via this link.

Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge (JNLC), Saturday, September 2, 2017

around 48 miles involving 17,000’ of ascent across 30 Lakeland peaks

Geoff Davis

The JNLC was set up by the veteran fell runner himself in 1990. It is a self organised mountain challenge for veteran runners over 50. So there are no race organisers, no entry fees, no way markers, mile markers or fellow competitors. The time allowed increases with age and runners must be accompanied over the route. At age 60 I had 18 hours. The course crosses the Lake District from Pooley Bridge, on Ullswater, to Joss’ home at Greendale in Wasdale – a distance of around 48 miles involving 17,000’ of ascent across 30 Lakeland peaks including High Street, Fairfield, Bow Fell, Great End, Great Gable, Pillar and Steeple.

I chose to repeat the JNLC to mark my 60th birthday (I had completed the challenge 5 years earlier to celebrate my 55th birthday). An Achilles injury prevented the intended June crossing necessitating a postponement until September. A promising forecast heralded the intended day and a starry sky for the 5am start boded well. My support team on the first leg consisted of Paul Hainsworth, Katherine Davis, David Gibson, Mike Hughes and Aaron Gourley. They were there ready and waiting for me on the dark bridge at Pooley. Head torches were discarded before we reached the first top and dawn arrived as we traversed the grassy tops of Loadpot and Wether Hill. A beautiful blue sky was lit by a huge orange sun as it crept above Cross Fell. Small herds of deer scattered as we danced across the tussocks and stones towards High Street. It was great to be alive and to share this experience with attentive friends.

The sun was well up by the time we reached Kirkstone and its brightness was allowing the late summer fells to appear at their best. Mark Davinson and Mike Bennett joined me for the second leg and their friendly chat made time pass quickly over the screes and on towards Fairfield where an abandoned tent was the only blemish on what was developing into a perfect morning. I descended carefully down the rocky, eroded path towards the base of Seat Sandal as I didn’t want to take a fall this early in the day. The temperature rose making it even more important to drink little and often and my old familiar kit was starting to get very sweaty!

At a bright and sunny Dunmail Raise my road support team was waiting, headed by my wife Susan (another JNLC completer and to whom my most sincere gratitude goes), and including Graham Daglish, Heather Hughes and Jenny Wren. I was pleased to be over half an hour ahead of my sub 16 hour schedule here at the end of leg 2. A change of top and a little too much food consumed and it was off up the forbidding steepness of Steel Fell with my new support team of Scott Gibson, Paul Evans, Penny Browell & Rob Eaton. Scott, as navigator, ensured the best line was taken across one of my least favourite sections to High Raise. Clouds started to develop from here and so the heat was no longer a problem. However, the tops stayed clear and not a drop of rain fell all day. The food and drink consumed at Dumail was lying heavily in my stomach and it was sometime before I could manage anything else. This was disappointing as I like to ‘graze’ and so didn’t feel 100%. We continued to make up minutes here and there on the schedule as we traversed the rockier ground after Rossett Pike. The fells were packed today with holiday makers and charity walkers on the last weekend before the end of the school holidays. Nonetheless there were few people on the descent to Sty Head from Great End and we arrived there 42 minutes ahead of schedule.

There were lots of my supporters here and it was nice to see old fell friends and other friends not known for their ‘fellgoing’ including Stan White, Aileen Scott, Alan Scott, Louise Billcliffe and Wendy Hughes. I was confident now that I would come in well under 18 hours but could I manage a sub 15 hour round? Time would tell. A steady climb up Great Gable was eased by my pacers’ conversations (John Duff, Elaine Bisson, Jack Lee plus Rob and Penny continuing for a second leg). A good line off the rocky top of Gable and fantastic views from Kirk Fell made everything a joy (well almost!). The cloud started to disperse and a welcome warmth returned making the usual slog across Pillar less of a trial. Steeple was fantastic with its lofty views and its heralding of the approaching finish. Some compass work off Haycock helped me find the scree shoot – a rocky escalator to the bottom! No time to empty stones from shoes as that sub 15 hour crossing started to beckon. Only the steepness of Seatallan stood in my way and all those rocky miles already traversed were starting to take their toll. I had to stop a couple of times on the ascent but still got to the top within the scheduled time with the help of encouragement from my excellent pacers and nourishment from Kendal Mint Cake. Perhaps it was on? I still hadn’t fallen all day and managed to maintain this on the steep grassy descent of Seatallan. On reaching the final top of Middle Fell John told me “you’ve 27 minutes to get to the bridge if you want to get under 15 hours – easily doable for a man of your calibre!” And so it proved, as 19 minutes later I was shaking Joss Naylor’s hand on Greendale Bridge and enjoying the plaudits of my friends.

What a fantastic day and what an honour to meet Joss Naylor once again. He was his usual gracious and humble self and happy to talk to anyone in our group. We chatted for some time not just about fell running, for which he retains a deeply felt appreciation, but about midges, house martins, swallows and his dog – which had ‘stolen’ a piece of Susan’s pie much to Joss’ consternation!

These fell challenges make for wonderful weekends but only happen after months of hard training over the fells and much meticulous preparation in terms of gathering a support team, preparing food and drink and devising a logistical time table. This can have its stresses but it also has its benefits in terms of long delightful days over the mountains with like-minded friends including those named above and others who were unable to be there on the day. I am very grateful to you all and hope you enjoyed it as much as you all seemed to do.

Lakeland 50, Saturday, July 29, 2017

Kerry Barnett

So I’m not sure how I got roped into it, what I do know is the entry to Lakeland 50 was a birthday present from a former boyfriend…… thanks for that!

So the Lakeland 50 is dubbed as one of the toughest ultras in the Uk, self navigated, unsupported over some of the most beautiful scenery ….. sounds good so far doesn’t it? Bearing in mind 30 miles was the farthest I’d gone (managed to squeeze in a 55 miler as a 24 hour event 3 weeks before the big one) I can’t navigate to save my life and I’m terrible at following training plans I guess to no wonder I was a bit nervous about this one.

The 29th July loomed large and I made my final preparations, making sure I had my essential kit neatly in a box ready for kit check, road books for Kathryn Sygrove and me printed and laminated (the provided one isn’t waterproof), food organised (being vegan I wasn’t sure if there would be adequate food I could eat at the checkpoints), tent packed and off we went down to Coniston.

Arriving around 7pm Rob put our tent up while I went to register and get my kit checked, it had been raining already…. a sign of things to come it seemed. Kit check went well was even complemented on how neatly my stuff was presented, picked up my ‘dibber’, got weighed (apparently if you look unwell at the end they’ll weigh you again as an indicator of kidney failure or dehydration). Then we bumped into Kathryn, waited for her to be registered and kit checked then headed off to the pub for more pre race prep ….. food and drink.

The night passed with a fitful sleep with the obligatory pre ultramaranoia nightmare, landings of rain through the night, the baaaa of sheep ALL NIGHT, but knowing that all my prep was done and all that was to be done now was to toe the start line with 700 ish other runners was some consolation.

7 o’clock alarm, coffee, instant porridge, ablutions as best you can in a tent, use of the chemical toilets (nice!) and it was all of a sudden 830am and time for the entertaining race brief by Uncle Terry and ‘the other one’ (you had to be there). Now after another toilet stop, it was onto the buses for the tedious journey to Dalemain, the starting point. More snacking on the bus, banana, peanut butter and jam sandwich for me, cheese sandwich for Kathryn.

Of course, it started to rain as soon as we got to Dalemain, waterproofs on while we waited for the loo again. Couple of pics/selfies, ‘fibbed’ onto the course and a Facebook live video as we crossed the start line We were off!

The first 4 miles were through the Dalemain estate, nothing special but not flat, some little undulations made it a bit interesting. The rain stopped after around 2 miles so waterproof off. At this stage you kind of thin into the groups of people you’ll see time and again. Pooley Bridge next, a nice run through a pretty town… lots of cheers and claps from passers by the the first real uphill, think it was about a mile long with a photographer saying ‘no running no photo’ so of course I had to have a little run, but just for the photo.

Managed to catch up with Joanne Abbott, a runner I was familiar with from the Hardmoors races and held onto her and her hubby through the checkpoint at Howtown, renamed Howdy Town with a western theme, quick cup of tea and some flapjack and we were off again.

Here was the toughest part of the whole route for me, and only 12 miles in….. The monstrous Fusedale climb, it went on for at least a mile and a half with over 1200 ft of climb. I was down to counting steps to push myself on, sometimes 50 steps, sometimes 100 occasionally 30, I must have used a whole packet of shotbloks and a few glucose tablets to get me up there but my strategy worked and I eventually made it to the top. It was here I met Cathy, she was rewarding herself with a kit Kat, which had melted. Cathy and I stuck together for the remainder of the race, she was a godsend and made the rest of the race a less horrific experience.

From the top of Fusedale it was a bog hoppers dream, we had been reminded to stay high to get from High Kop (highest point of the course at around 2200 feet) and to look for the wooden stake to start down to Low Kop and run around Haweswater until we reached the next checkpoint at Mardake Head. Time for more refuelling, soup, sandwiches, coke, tea all served by lovely marshals who couldn’t do enough for us, filling our water bottles for us etc. There were a couple of 100ers sitting wrapped up, waiting to be taken back to Coniston. I can’t even imagine doing the 100 so fair play to them for getting this far. Soon we were off, with a packet of crisps tucked away for later.

It was round about here we picked up our 3rd musketeer Donna, who had done the route last year and was glad of some company. The next bit from Mardale to Kentmere was quite enjoyable, still in daylight, the company was good, we were well fed, and the terrain wasn’t horrible, still some elevation though but after Fusedale anything was preferable. By now we had renamed it ‘F^*#%$ Fusedale’ which amused us for the rest of the race.

3 Harry Potter/Stardust esque slate styles later we arrived at my favourite checkpoint so far Kentmere. It was inside, there was suitable for vegan pasta, hot tea, coke, hobnobs. And Jen Scotney was there (wife of world class ultramarathoner Marcus Scotney, and I later found out she gad SFV cake which I missed out on). Starting to get dark now, so long sleeve top on, head torch on, second watch on (I knewmy Tomtom wouldn’t last the whole time). Cathy changed her socks and blister plasters. I made the decision not to take my shoes off until the end. Once again, ushered out of the hall, we were off.

Ambleside next stop, the weather was still holding off, temperature just right no rain. We kept on keeping on, over Garburn Pass, very rocky and technical underfoot but my Altra Superiors were performing well and there was little slippage. I was starting to feel a bit nauseous and couldn’t eat anything, taking sips of tailwind every now and again. I was so looking forward to Ambleside as it was another a checkpoint crossed off.

Eventually we approached the checkpoint and had a lovely surprise that Angela and John Greathead had stayed up to support me (it was around 130am by now), the Vegan Runners had put together a box of vegan goodies and with my queasy tummy I was overjoyed to see Ginger Snaps, just what i needed something ginger to settle my nausea, worked a treat in combination with Kendal mint cake.

Cathy had been having trouble with her shoes slipping of her heels so I bent down to replace her shoes in the ‘heel locking’ style which really improved her comfort. And with a big hug from Angela and John we were off again.

And now the heavens opened. Back on with the waterproof jacket and keep on going. This was again quite a pleasant part of the course, only 5.6 miles to the next checkpoint and mainly on paths, jog a bit walk a bit jog a bit walk a bit. Past Skelwith, Elterwater, the campsite (sshhh quiet!) not much to see in the pitch dark and lashing rain. But then the bright glow of the checkpoint tent at Chapel Stile beckoned in the near distance. Now hot food, veg stew, coffee, water bottles topped up again. Donna sat down. I did not. Beware the chair! Hustling the girls, I just wanted to keep going and get it over with now, it was around 330am now, pitch dark and still raining.

Now the boggiest, wettest, difficult to navigate in the dark terrain. There were loads of sheep, well at first glance they were just reflective eyes in the darkness, I wonder what they were thinking! As we came out of the fields, into the bracken across Bleamoss it started to get light and the rain stopped. There was no actual sunrise to be seen but it must have happened as it was suddenly full daylight and even the sun started to come out. One 100 lady runner went past us a bit like the white rabbit in Alice in a Wonderland, she thought it was much later than it was and she thought she was going to miss her cut off. Reassuring her it was only 530 ish not 830 ish she breathed a sigh of relief but still pushed on. On reaching the self dib at Wrynose there was an old fella with his 2 dogs, I later found out he is there from the beginning to the end providing moral support (the only acceptable support on the Lakeland 50/100). Only an hour to Tilberthwaite he told us, so off we went again. Jog walk jog walk jog walk down the hill, through Fell Foot Farm and onto Tilberthwaite checkpoint.

I was greeted into Tilberthwaite by Kat who I ran at Windermere marathon with, more tears and hugs, more coffee, couple more ginger snaps. ‘Do you want a seat?’ (beware the chair) ‘no thanks’ ‘only 3.5 miles to go, just over a parkrun’ . Let’s get going!

First up out of the checkpoint. Big old stone stairs hurrah! Then a bit more of an incline (still nothing like F#^*^#} Fusedale though. Even the short scramble up the rocks was a welcome distraction, I’d recce’d this part and knew it wasn’t far to go. Just over the top and then ‘we are starting our final descent into Coniston, please fasten your seatbelt, doors to manual and cross check’ Cathy, Donna and I started laughing now, after a grim miserable few hours, this felt good. My knees were hurting from all the downs, my ankles we complaining from the tricky techinical rockiness. But we were nearly done.

Cathy’s running club mates (around 10 of them) had turned out to see her finish, so proud of her, as was I. Cathy had only started running 8 months ago specifically to complete this in memory of her brother who had died after a short illness. She had done it! I had done it! Rob appeared to cheer me in, giving me a big hug.

When we hit the tarmac in Coniston we all started running, I don’t know how we did, but we did. We handed our poles to passers by and held each other’s hands as we ran and turned the corner and through the Finish line, we did our final dib together so we all finished at exactly the same time. 20 hours 57 minutes.

At the time, I said I’d never even consider doing the Lakeland 50 again, I said I’d hated every step, every moment, but do you know what? I didn’t hate it, it was tough, very tough and F%*^# Fusedale nearly did for me but it was an amazing experience, I am so proud of what I have achieved and what my body and mind are capable of.

 

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 [UP run]

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!