Tag Archives: Dougie Nisbet

Chevy Chase, Wooler, Saturday, July 1, 2017

BL / 32.2km / 1219m (20 miles, 2 hills and a smattering of bog)

Joan Hanson …

The thing about entering an event months in advance is you can have that hazy positive belief that in x months time you will be bounding effortlessly over the afore mentioned 20 mile course, laughing in the face of some decidedly sucky and squelchy stuff underfoot and hardly noticing the however many thousands of feet of ascent and descent the said 2 hills (Cheviot and Hedgehope) will entail. And you will have the most enjoyable, relaxing day of running possible…. As I said a hazy and possibly rose tinted vision.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks before the event and the realization that you aren’t quite as fit as you had envisaged being and that this year they have removed the walkers option so you have 6 hours to complete it in. Hmmm.

And then the horror on the morning of the event when your companion for the journey (Dougie who has done this before) casually mentions the phrase ‘cut –offs’ for each checkpoint and that they seem a little on the tight side for the first half of the race.
I have felt in more positive frames of mind.

photo courtesy and © Gary Dunlop

But at least it has stopped raining and the summits are cloud free so navigation involving maps and compass will not be needed- and you can see exactly how far away those hills you are aiming for are away. Everyone is very friendly, kit checks are passed and before long we were off, Susan disappearing off into the horizon not to be seen again until the finish. Dougie and I leapfrogging for a fair part of the race, he faster on the steeper downhilly bits, me making up time going up. Both agreeing that the second half which on paper should have been the easy bit was anything but, I needed to dig really deep at several points to maintain forward momentum, at one point wondering why they put Wooler so far away.

We all made it back well within the cut offs- interestingly none of us exclaiming what an easy and enjoyable run we have just had but able to reflect on a real sense of achievement (and in my case relief) that it was done.

The Chevy Chase is a great and brilliantly organized event. The route takes in some beautiful and wild terrain, this year we enjoyed expansive views when we could lift our eyes from where we were putting our feet.

I’m glad I did it, the Cheviot’s are a beautiful part of the world and not that far away- definitely worthy of closer exploration –but possibly at a slightly more relaxed pace.

… Dougie Nisbet …

I’d done that bloke sulky pouty thing when Roberta had insisted on me packing some sunscreen. But as I nudged up with Susan and Joan outside race HQ and passed the sunscreen round (on the left hand side) there were lots of Dad comments about getting it behind straps, knees, ears and neck. Still, past-its-sell-by factor 30 wasn’t really going to cut it on Cheviot and Hedgehope in July and I was a bit crisp when I finished later in the day.

I could’ve pretty much written the script for the first half of the race. Joan’s shrewd choice of carrying walking poles had attracted the occasional derisory comment but they’d pretty much dried up as she climbed strongly to Cheviot with me using her as a useful point of purple to focus on as she receded ever further into the vanishing point.

After Cheviot and a revelation. You need to hang left, immediately. When I last did this in 2013 I carried on (zoned out following a walker to Scotland) and turned left too late and missed the trod that took a neat line towards Hedgehope on the other side of the valley. I caught Joan on the descent, pausing to shout “is that you falling on your arse again Hanson!”, before passing her and showing her how to do it properly.

photo courtesy and © Gary Dunlop

Everyone was now pretty much a walking washing powder commercial in the making and as we climbed towards Hedgehope I was unsurprised to have Joan back on my shoulder again. And so it continued for the next few checkpoints until CP6 – Brands Corner – we both paused for a drink and check in. The climbing was mostly over and there was a lot of running left now to the finish. I was looking forward to making up some ground in these last few miles.

“Sling your hook Joan, I’ll catch you up”, I said, when it was clear Joan wanted to press on. And so she did. And, I did catch her up, so to speak, after I’d crossed the finish line and she’d brought me over a cup of tea. I had a tough last few miles on what should be a lovely part of the course – the stretch up North West from Carey Burn Bridge is gorgeous, but I was far too busy feeling sorry for myself to pay much attention to the sunny scenery. Susan had a good decisively sub-5 finish, with Joan in around 5:16, then me in around 10 minutes later.

I’ve often said, to anyone who’ll listen, that the Chevy Chase at 20 miles, is twice as hard as the Durham Dales Challenge, at 32 miles. This was the first year the race has dropped the walking race and the cut-offs might need tweaking in the years ahead, but whatever the cutoffs it’s always going to be a tough 20 miles.

 

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.

Mad Dog 10K – Live and Let Drool, Southport, Sunday, February 5, 2017

Dougie Nisbet

I did the first ever Mad Dog and it was great. The thought of being a Mad Dog Ever Present appealed and for a few years it was all good, but holidays and diary clashes intervened, so now I have to settle for being a Nearly Ever Present. Still, it’s been great watching this fledgling event grow from nothing to one of the UK’s most popular 10Ks in just seven years.

My training lately has been lots of long and slow as trying to do the short and fast thing doesn’t really agree with me. It’s too much like hard work. So as I stood in the Dalmatian pen (not as fast as a Greyhound, but faster than a Husky) I knew running 10km wasn’t going to be a big problem. It was running it fast that would be the hard bit.

Elvis at the Southport Mad Dog 10KAway we went into the fine morning. Conditions were good. Congestion was as expected and not too bad, and it thinned out pretty quickly anyway. I was in no rush and settled down into a comfortable groove. This is a good race for spectators with opportunities to catch the race in more than one place if you do your homework. I spied Roberta standing on the pier where she, along with many other spectators, were spellbound by the entertainer high-fiving runners as they past underneath. It was Elvis. Possibly the same Elvis you see at the bus-shelter towards the end of the GNR. Or a close relation. And my word, what a talent! A performance never to be forgotten. Music was a big theme this year. It always is for the Mad Dog but this year the performances were exceptional. You get to see the fantastic steel band twice, once on the way out, and again in the last few kms.

At the half-way point I was feeling pretty comfy and stepped up the pace a little. The route now meandered around to pass back under the pier at a different point where the Merseyside Rock Choir brought some real class to the party. I was feeling pretty good and bounded on although I was tempted to stop, look and listen.

With about 3km to go I kept nudging the needle careful not to blow it and throttling back gently when I felt I was overdoing it. Passing runners steadily to the line I gave a well-judged push in the last few hundred metres, slightly alarmed that the Finish banner said Start, and hoping that the Finish wasn’t round the corner back at the school. It wasn’t and I was pretty pleased with running a text-book negative split. The last time I did this race I was pretty dismayed to be well over 50 minutes, and not having run a sub-25 parkrun for as long as I can remember I wasn’t expecting miracles today. So when the text came though of a chip-time of 48:35 I was a very happy dalmatian.

Merseyside Rock Choir

Shaftoe Crags, Sunday, January 29, 2017

Brown Course: 9.7km (12.6km actual) / 21 controls

Dougie Nisbet

I would’ve been a rubbish pilot. It’s worth reading about the phenomenon of Spatial Disorientation as I believe it might apply as much to Orienteering as it does to flying.

       

There I was, at control 7, and control 8 looked like a straightforward compass bearing and a run across the open fell. Off I went with an eye on the needle of my (not cheap) compass. The needle was saying one way, but it didn’t feel right. Surely I should be heading more to the left, towards that bit over there? I drifted more and more to the left, just to be on the safe side, until I came across a dry ditch, which was where the control should be.

The ditch wasn’t particularly dry, in fact it was very wet. Full of water. It happens. A ‘dry ditch’ can be a ‘wet ditch’ if it’s been raining. No control though. I jogged on a bit, and found another dry ditch, that was also full of water. It wasn’t there either. And it wasn’t in the next ditch (wet) or the one after that. And there should be some green blobs too.

I looked at the map. Properly this time. There shouldn’t be any wet ditches here. There should only be a single dry ditch. There was a bit over there on the map, that had loads of wet ditches. But that wasn’t where I was. Or was it?

If I’d trusted the compass I’d have gone straight to the control. But I trusted my intuition instead, which rarely works out. Still, mistakes are made, lessons learned.

Falkor the luck dragon keeping an eye on control 12

I learned that lesson for about another three controls, before making exactly the same error on control 12. Veering gradually but decidedly off to the left, I ended up in a familiar state of bewilderment. Even more bewildered when I realised I was back at control 8 but it looked nothing like control 12 which should be at the foot of something between two thick black lines. With control 8 resolutely refusing to metamorphose into control 12 there was nothing for it but to run in the direction of control 12, which was exactly where it should be.

Roberta had chosen the Orange course and I bumped into her from time to time taking photos of cute sheep and carefully navigating wonky styles. We seemed to share a lot of controls, which in turn shared the same control description: “Crag Foot”. I like a good Crag’s Foot as much as the next man but by the end of 21 controls I think I’d had my fill.

Orienteering events are like any other running event, you have favourites. I like Shaftoe Crags. It’s mostly open and runnable with just enough crinkly rocky bits and steep woody bits to make it interesting. There are lots of long straightforward runnable bits across the fell which is fine if you remember to keep concentrating and trust the compass. A good location for the runner who fancies dabbling with making their running a bit more cunning.

Lanzarote Marathon, Saturday, December 10, 2016

Dougie Nisbet

We’d booked a week at Club Lasanta at low season, when you can get a lot of sun for your money. And on impulse, I typed Lanzarote Marathon into Google. Two words that I knew must go together, but hadn’t expected them to be an item while we were there. But there it was, a proper hot marathon while we were there on the other side of the island. These things are sent to taunt us, and it couldn’t not be done.

So instead of being at Aykley Heads on the 10th December we found ourselves driving South towards Costa Teguise, to check it was OK for Gareth and Catherine who would be visiting there in a few days time. I’d been nervous about parking but my fears proved to be groundless. Although this was a typical combo weekend, with 10K, Half and Full, we were all starting at different times and from different places. So for the early starting marathon runners, things were nice and quiet.

It wasn’t so long after Palma and I’d rested and trained and thought and thought, and on the whole I was feeling fine. The number of marathon runners was a lot less than I expected and there was no need for seeding pens, self-regulated or otherwise. I wandered around the starting area content in my own little world thinking I was a Stranger in a Strange land, until out of the corner of my eye I spotted George Routledge! Last time I saw him was when I heard him shouting me on in Palma. We had to stop meeting like this.

The gun went and about 40 seconds later I crossed the Start Line. That was the
busy bit over with. Then we headed along the coastal paths on the straight out
and back Marathon route. I was feeling pretty comfortable but had the discipline not to push things and settled in with the 4:15 pacer somewhere on the horizon. That suited me. I let him go and he drifted in and out of view from time to time. No worries. Past the airport where bemused passengers looked down on us from the windows of the taxiing planes, then the turnaround where the half-marathoners would be starting soon.

The psychological half-way point done, I considered my strategy on the home run. I was feeling fine and the 4:15 pacer was within easy reach should I wish to step on the gas. Closer and closer I edged until at 18 miles I was sitting comfortably in a little 4:15 bus. 7 miles to go, and it was time to leave the pacer behind.

After …
Before …

It was, as Seven of Nine might have put it, to be my undoing. Looking at my HR graph I can pretty much see the exact point in which over-confidence kicked in (at 18.65 miles), the pace went up, as did the HR, and then, a mile or two later, the radiator boiled over. I knew I’d blown it. I walked a bit, put on the hazards, pulled over and took an enormous interest in some roadside palm trees which were, quite literally, very supportive. I suppose it was in these last few miles that the pacer must have passed again, along with perhaps fellow Strider Stuart Barker (doing the half) who I never saw but I see finished well within 2 hours.

I didn’t recover from my ill-judged effort and walk/jogged to the finish clutching an empty bottle of water like a comfort blankie all the way to the line. I was 12 minutes faster than Palma but didn’t feel particularly clever about it. I reckon I would’ve been faster if I’d just stuck with the pacer and not made a dash for glory. If you can’t stand the heat, don’t push your luck.

Captain Cook’s Fell Race, Great Ayton, Sunday, January 1, 2017

Grand Prix Race. King/Queen of the Mountain Race. BS / 8km / 318m

Dougie Nisbet

I’ve never seen Star Wars …
Dougie Nisbet in Captain Cooks Fell Race. Photo by Dave Aspin.
Photo Courtesy and
© Dave Aspin

Well I have actually. But I’ve never done Captain Cooks, which is almost as bad as never having tried Harrier League, or Brussels sprouts. You can’t claim not to like something unless you’ve tried it. Despite having a great fondness for the Esk Valley fell races this particular fixture had never really appealed to me for some reason. I usually prefer Nine Standards or the (newly returned) Hillforts and Headaches.

I’d heard it was a busy race so I arrived about an hour early, which by my standards is an eternity. After finding somewhere to park an indecently long way from registration I turned up at the Royal Oak to see lots of happy smiling Striders. They were smiling, I think, because they turned up 2 hours early and had already registered. After a while I found the end of the queue and wondered if I’d get to the front before the race started.

I hadn’t been sure about Kit requirements. Although it’s a pretty short race I noticed from Steph’s 2015 report that she considered carrying, amongst other things, a knife (type unspecified, a Rambo one I assumed), so I thought I’d better at least take the basics. It could be rough out there.

I registered with only about 10 minutes to spare and I still didn’t know what shoes I was going to wear! I wandered up to a few random and not-so-random strangers and barked: “Trail or Walshes?!”. One brief straw-poll later and it was pretty clear that Walshes were the clear choice. I ran back to the car, had a quick costume change, then back to the Start with a few seconds to spare.

And then we had the race, which was ok. You went up a hill, not going round the monument (which I thought was a bit ungracious – I was tempted to run round it anyway), then back down again. On the climb I was glad for the Walshes as they dug in nicely and I could see lots of runners, an amazing number of runners, who were in road shoes and wasting a lot of energy sliding about and going twice the distance. They’d also managed to fit their entire kit requirements into a matchbox sized pocket in the back of their pants which was pretty impressive.

Despite there being loads of Striders at registration I saw none around me. I kept thinking I saw Camilla ahead and hoped I might catch her by the finish. I was somewhat bewildered to find her at the level crossing cheering me on and I paused to work out what was going on. Then another marshall told me to stop chatting and keep moving. I glanced back and noticed Jan hunting me down and I wasn’t having that, so moving I kept.

As we approached Great Ayton I was a bit bemused to discover I’d crossed the finish line in the middle of a field. What devil’s work was this? A fell race? That didn’t finish outside the pub it started at? Surely there’s some law against that? Then the hailstorm started and the kit that I was carrying that had been of no value at the monument suddenly became quite handy for the walk back to the car.

So what do I think? I enjoyed it. It’s a good race. But I think I enjoy Nine Standards more. It’s got snow at the top and everything. And by my calculations, the 20 minutes extra that it takes to drive to Kirkby Stephen is easily saved by not having to stand in a long queue or park 10 minutes away. So next year I’ll probably head back to Nine Standards. But then there’s Hillforts and Headaches… Hmmm… That’s the good thing about fell races. EOD. Decide in the morning when you wake up.

Results

pos bib name time cat/pos/pts/total
1 1052 Lloyd Biddell (Mercia Fell) 30.40 MO/1/50/50
1 57 Nik Tarrega (York Knavesmire) 38.17 FO/1/50/50
34 1115 Matthew Claydon 36.44 M40/8/41/41
46 1100 Jason Harding 37.42 M45/8/41/41
50 1141 Gareth Pritchard 37.54 MO/27/22/22
54 1038 Phil Ray 38.08 MO/29/20/20
56 1034 Jack Lee 38.14 MO/30/19/19
78 324 Danny Lim 39.27 MO/39/10/42
79 1051 David Gibson 39.29 M45/12/37/37
84 1166 Mark Warner 39.46 MO/41/8/8
135 1136 Dave Forster 42.42 MO/58/1/1
138 1193 Louise Warner 42.52 FO/5/44/44
158 1108 Mike Hughes 44.30 M45/26/23/23
170 1223 Mandy Dawson 45.11 F45/5/44/44
243 1137 Dougie Nisbet 50.13 M50/23/26/26
251 276 Jan Young 50.55 F60/2/48/96
259 1040 David Shipman 52.00 M60/9/40/40
266 1039 Emil Maatta 52.24 MO/77/1/1
272 1086 Tim Matthews 52.40 M50/27/22/22
293 1231 Lesley Charman 54.47 F40/12/37/37
306 153 Anita Clementson 57.02 F45/12/37/82
326 1224 Diane Watson 60.05 F50/7/42/42
331 1209 Victoria Brown 61.35 FO/26/23/23
336 1207 Diane Harold 64.49 F40/18/31/31

345 finishers.

Club La Santa Mini Triathlon, Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dougie Nisbet

I had big plans for the week. I was going to do the triple: Half-Marathon, Duathlon, and Mini-Triathlon. Then I saw the Lanzarote Marathon was on the same week, and entered that too. I clearly hadn’t thought this through.

I picked up a calf-strain in the last few kms of the marathon and hoped to shoogle it out by some gentle jogging on the volcanic trails around La Santa. The half-marathon wasn’t going to happen, but the other two were still possible.  And with more optimism than sense I turned up for the duathlon. 2.5km run, a bit of cycling, then another run. Should be fine.

I take some pride in bailing out of the first run section of the duathlon. I was fine to the turn, a massive 1.25km into the event, then suddenly my calf kicked off. I walked, hopped, skipped and jogged back to transition,  retired before crossing the timing mat, and huffed off to breakfast.

A few days later I was back for the tri. I did this in March and had been indescribably nervous with the leap into the unknown. This is, after all, why we race. This time round I was a bit more relaxed. Roberta got a decent night’s sleep too as I wasn’t up every hour staring aghast out of the window at the massive swimming pool.

For a small field it was acutely diverse – from athletes clearly here on a serious week’s training through to first-timers wanting to give something new a go. For the swim we would self-seed into the appropriate lanes – the “Olympians” in lane 1, through to the “Doggy Paddlers” in lane 8. Lane 8 it was then.

8 lengths of doggy paddling later and out of the pool, where you are positively encouraged to run around the length of the swimming pool across the timing mat and to your bike. I love running beside the swimming pool. It feels so wrong.

I was pretty much at the back of the swimmers but expected to take some positions back on the bike bit. It’s a good bike section – a flat bit along to La Santa, then a steady climb up to the turn at Tinajo. I gained a few places on the outward climb, then a few more on the descent.

Descending is a funny old game. I’d never claim to be the world’s best but it is quite clear, whether it’s cycling or running, that many athletes are not at all comfortable about descending fast. It seems to cut across all abilities. I’ve torn past cyclists and runners who are far faster than I am, but who seem massively uneasy on their going downhill skills. They inevitably storm past me later in a race when they’re back in their comfort zone.

Still, I take what I can get. Even if it’s temporary. Back at transition, then the last bit. A quick out and back running back towards La Santa, round a roundy thing, then home to Club La Santa.

The finish is good. You circle back into the centre then do a quick lap of the track. The ‘Green Team’ are fantastic, cheering you in and making you feel like a proper champion. Even if it is just a little Triathlon to get an appetite before breakfast.

Palma de Mallorca Marathon, Sunday, October 16, 2016

Dougie Nisbet

The sun has most definitely got his hat on.The weather forecast was for a sunny 25C with no breeze and I was fine with that. Well, more sort of horribly fascinated. I struggle in hot races and ever since London, where I’d been well prepared and trained, I’ve been exasperated by my inability to deal with hot weather. I wasn’t expecting a fast time today but I was hoping to finish feeling in control and not vowing never to run a marathon again.

It was also my first big overseas race. Something I’ve always fancied and I think I chose well. There were 48 nationalities which handily meant that English was the unofficial lingua franca. We started at 9am sharp and headed west along the seafront. I knew it was race to be run with the head, not the heart, and I settled into a steady pace. The breakfast run on Friday morning had been useful in finding out how I dealt with the heat and I realised, somewhat to my disappointment, I would be wise to stick to 6:15min/km and see how it went. (A 4 hour marathon is 5:41min/km). The first 10km are an out and back turning at the naval port and it was a little congested towards the turn, probably because the first lap of the marathon is shared with the half marathon.

I was slower than I wanted to be but in control and comfortable. Back past the cathedral then into the old town. This was just amazing and shows how a city can embrace its marathon (are you listening Edinburgh?). The marathon route unashamedly blasted past the front door of the cathedral, and probably the side door and back door too. Then up and down so many narrow alleyways that I was completely disoriented. But life and business went on as usual. Waiters paused at cafe doors before nimbly stepping through the race to look after customers on the terraces, and if ever there was a choice of going round an obstacle or straight through the middle – the direct route usually won. Any second now I half expected James Bond to burst out of a side alley in the middle of a high speed car chase.

Through the middle of a major shopping centre and suddenly it’s the Tour de France. Policemen blasting on whistles and waving the crowds back who were either surging forward because they were watching the race, or drifting onto the course because they were on their way to lunch. It was fantastic fun. Roberta was trying to track my progress from my smartphone but it was doubtful whether it was helping much. In the end she settled for drinking coffee and walking the few yards to the race route when she thought there was a chance I’d be showing up again.

I’d lifted my pace a bit in the erratically shaded alleys and soon we were back down to the seafront to start the second lap. If I was going to run a negative split, then this was about time to begin splitting my negatives. Along the coast road for the second time and I was feeling pretty good. Always mindful of the heat I was micro-calibrating my speed more on perceived exertion and comfort rather than too much attention to the Garmin. Things were going well until about 22km, and then suddenly they weren’t going quite so well. I had half-expected it but was still disappointed. I’d trained well for this race but racing is always full of surprises and I knew that I might have problems. But I’ve learned a lot from London, and many other hot races, and I knew the trick was to stay in control of the race, not the other way round.

I dropped my pace until I felt comfortable, then simply micro-adjusted my pace until I wasn’t so comfortable, then back down again. We’ve all done it. Eventually the relentless heat of the seafront gave way to the old town again and it was great to get into the shade. I was irritated to be feeling so stuffed as I’d really enjoyed this bit of the race first time round and wanted to enjoy it again! Still, I was still in control of the race and steadily passed walkers and much slower runners as I maintained a reasonable running form but at a maintainable pace. I did some tactical walking at aid stations and on the hills (that I hadn’t noticed on the first lap) and so never really slammed in the wall as I have done in previous marathons.

The last 2km run in to the finish were a gentle downhill straight through the cafes and main shopping street which were all open of course, it’s just the roads that were closed. There were a couple of “C’mon Striders” and “Well done Elvet” that were uncannily reminiscent of the Harrier League, right down to the accents, although “Go UK!” was a new one for me (your national flag is shown on your bib).

I was a bit disappointed to finish in 4:30 but was pretty happy that I’d run the race about right; tactically and responding to the conditions so that I had pace and form to the end. As my first experience of an overseas race I have to say it was an absolute blast. The carefully balanced chaos of running through the old town like a street mob and the carnival atmosphere surround the event were wonderful. There really isn’t anything about the race I didn’t like.

Dougie and Roberta being photobombed by a sodding big cathedral.