This is in the series of my A races this year and is my favourite of the three. Just under 20miles following trails, bridleways and bog! It starts in a field next to the River Swale in Muker following the river along past Keld before it really starts to climb through Stonesdale Moor (where the bog really wobbles) up to the Tan Hill. From here it drops back down to Keld along the Pennine way before it climbs again to the second summit just above Swinners Gill (aka Runners Hell). From here there is a fast runnable section down to the hay fields of Muker before you go through the gates of hell (about ten of them) which are absolute torture after the long descent, you only build up enough speed until you have to stop to open another gate and if you’re being chased the bang of the gates sounds like a death knell!
I travelled down with Jon and a car full (no really) a car full of soup…enough to feed the three hundred runners. We were both in poor spirits and it took a while before we started our usual joking. We register in the barn, chat to marshals and runners (many of whom have done previous series.) From here there is about a mile walk to the start. I’ve given up slightly, poor prep…I’d spent the last week recovering from supporting on Scotts BGR and struggling with tiredness. I recognise some speedy ladies and realise I’m well off the prizes today. But then there is always the second lady in Grand Slam who is giving me daggers!
For the first three miles said 2nd GS lady sits right on my shoulder until I give up and let her past. My heart sinks while I watch her disappear into the distance but it’s not long until I realise I’m gaining ground again and when we hit the climb up to the Tan Hill I pull up and away from her. By now I’m running again with Jon. Glad of the company and the funny chat. Also glad to have someone to give me a bit of a nudge…which I really needed. When we hit the road (only 400m worth) we can both barely be bothered to run. I remember saying come on its flat, it’s tarmac and we up the pace. I know this should be where we can gain some places on the descent down to Keld but the wind is right against us and visibility is poor and underfoot is splodgy.
We eventually pick up speed down a lovely sheltered track and hit the turn up to Swinners Gill. I feel a bit queasy by now, it really was a bad race day! Anyway I’m looking forward to Swinners Gill. The climb isn’t too long and it’s a bit technical which I’ve come to like. It’s not long before we reach the last gravel trail and a fastish descent back to the meadows of Muker. I’ve tricked myself to believe there are 12 gates to pass through, so when the countdown is still going and we reach the final little hill before the finish we are both over the moon.
I’m 3 minutes slower than last year and 4th lady but all things considered it wasn’t too bad a run…I do know I’m capable of much better with better prep so I’ve a feeling I will return to this. We wander back to race HQ to collect our t-shirts and go separate ways. The lovely campsite showers await and I spend a while scrubbing off mud and enjoying the clean warm water. Then it’s back to the barns to enjoy the soup, cakes and tea and welcome in other runners.
I wasn’t sure whether to log a race report, it certainly wasn’t my best race but it remains one of my favourite trail races. I had a great time despite feeling a bit rotten and it goes to show what a difference good company can make…and of course running somewhere you love. I have also retained my number one spot in the Grand Slam and have gained quite a lead on the second lady. I now look forward to the final of the three. There is work to be done and certainly good tapering but I’m determined to do it right!
I had somehow fallen into running this race. Michael couldn’t run, he suggested I have his number, a few texts and emails later and it seemed I was in the running.
I had a few reservations. It was THE strider race of the year…the pressure would be on. It wasn’t in my plan, there were events on the horizon that I wanted to concentrate on. My last few races had been reasonable but had left me disappointed. My race head was at an all time low. I was recovering from an injury and didn’t want to aggravate it again. Oh, the list, how it goes on!
Anyway, I arrived at registration slightly later than planned…it didn’t matter, I had resolved to use it as a good training run, nothing more. If I started after the gun, all the better. Hopeful faces greeted me and I dismissed their optimism with, I’m not racing, I cant be bothered!
At the start I met a very bouncy excitable Rachelle, she attempted to lift my glum mood…and failed.
We all assembled on the lush grass before the start line, after a race briefing and a minute silence to remember Alan Purvis, we were off across the race track which was laid out in front of us. I was running at an easy pace, I watched gleefully as the fast group fought to gain good ground and disappeared into the woods. Now I could relax, I was just going to enjoy this. However, it wasn’t long before I got stuck behind a woman who decided to walk and then block my path through the woods, feeling frustrated, I picked up pace and started picking off people. This was fun, the pressure had all gone…disappeared into the distance. As I speeded up, I started to target runners to catch up, it became a bit of a game. I’m not entirely sure when the game became a race, probably when I caught sight of those that I’d thought had long gone. Susan’s encouragement of “at the moment, your 4th” really got me, it’s what I needed. The little shove to move up the ranks.
As one of Geoff’s guinea pigs during his Fell Coaching Training, I knew every hill possible on this course, and had suffered on EVERY hill, whether that be running hard up or down. This race then felt familiar and even the big hill up to the willow miner…was now doable. By then Penny was in my sights, then 2nd lady. I clung on to her, waiting for my move. I thought it would come on one of the hills in the woods, unfortunately it was much later. We ended up hurtling onto the grass track to the finish neck and neck. Every time I tried to increase speed, she would match it. Many thoughts whizzed through my mind, the overriding was how much I wanted to reach that finish line before her. With time running out and the line fast approaching, I gave one more push and finally pulled in front, one stride ahead and there it was, the white line. It was exhilarating and totally unexpected. Second lady, first strider lady for the third year.
So about the race…Its a beautiful route, showcasing 5.3miles of our amazing training ground. It is tough, with many undulations, fast downhill sections and long drags back up. It is extremely well marked (even tree routes are highlighted green), marshalled and supported by our wonderful club. For £11 you can ‘enjoy’ this brute, quench your thirst on water and coffee sachets at the end. Then drink some more, fill your belly and share trauma stories with fellow club mates at The Court Inn. What better way to celebrate Elvet Striders?
… Kay Cairns …
You’ve heard from the 1st Strider Lady now how about the last?…
I had toyed with the idea of entering the Clamber for the last couple of years, always deciding against it at the last minute. I was tempted again this year with the re-vamped Willow Miner Trail Race, I’d heard it was a toughie and got the impression it was only for ‘serious runners’ but when I looked into it I was assured there were no cut off times and everyone was welcome to take part… I decided it was probably for the best if I gave it a miss, it was the night before my son’s Birthday and I’m usually pretty busy blowing up balloons and wrapping presents! Then about 2 weeks before the race a notification popped up on the Striders Facebook page – Mike Parker couldn’t do the race due to injury – and against my better judgement I said I’d take it… I had already agreed to buy the T-shirt after all!
Leading up to the big night I had been hit with a head cold and my training was abandoned, I managed a couple of miles here and there but I felt utterly defeated. I was only 2 weeks in to my GNR training and I had already hit a brick wall! I was starting to feel a little better the week of the WMTR, I went out for 3 miles on Monday and I wasn’t too bad. I knew I was going to take part on the night but I wasn’t feeling fit, the night before I had a nightmare about the race (I can’t remember specifics but I think I forgot my watch, my number, went to the wrong race… you get the gist) and I was nervous all day thinking about it.
In reality I arrived in good time and collected my number “ah 22, that’s my Birthday” maybe it was meant to be! When I arrived on the field with all the other runners from so many different clubs it really did feel special; but I was alone, my usual running buddies were all marshalling (how sensible) so I was forced to do a real warm up! Usually we would start to warm up and get distracted with talk of cake…
When the race started I stayed at the back, I knew I would be the unofficial tail-runner and I’d come to terms with that fact. Before we’d even left the field I saw another woman turn back, telling her friends she was ok but she wouldn’t be running. Just 1 mile in I could see I was falling back even further than I had expected, but I kept going… up the steep steps at Houghall Woods then I was keeping a steady pace on the flat but I couldn’t see a soul in front.
Almost 2 miles in, I was already fighting my own demons and trying to keep my breathing in check (after still being in recovery mode from my head cold) then out of nowhere a guy walking in the opposite direction said to me “you want to go faster than that, you’re last” – and just like that I felt everything. The pain, the fear, the doubt, the anger, the defeat …I couldn’t breathe, I was fighting back tears. I tried to tell myself it didn’t matter, of course I was last, who cares! I was never in it for the win – if I was I wouldn’t bother getting out of bed! I’m not built for winning, for speed! Then I could see the next marshal point, Kate and Katharine, so friendly and encouraging – just as much for me as they were for the 1st runners along the route – and I broke down and hugged Katharine, not sure if I could even carry on.
I’m not sure how long I was there, I don’t think I fully explained myself at the time but it was clear I might not continue. Then I thought about my club, and the T-shirt I was wearing, it had been modified to not only show the club logo but also to promote my role as Mental Health Ambassador and #runandtalk was emblazoned on the back. This role means a lot to me. It isn’t just about letting people know it’s ok to talk and that running can improve your mental wellbeing – it’s about setting goals for yourself that push you out of your comfort zone, it’s about running and talking (to yourself sometimes) and being that positive voice inside that pushes you further than you ever thought possible.
If I was going to continue to be that voice for others then I had to step up and be that voice for myself. I was going to finish this race.
All I remember about the rest of the race is, well, the marshals! Yes there were hills, there was pain, and there was a Willow Miner along the way I believe. But the marshals were all amazing – smiling, beaming faces, supportive cheers, many bending the truth about how many hills were left, but all so genuinely happy to be there supporting every single runner.
Thank you Striders for having me, for supporting me, and for letting me be last.
… Tamsin Imber
‘Just f*****g go nail the b**ch!’
were some of the quotes I had in my head as I whizzed down to Maiden Castle on my bike. The latter quote from a hilarious book I am currently reading about a lady who is trying triathlons! Actually I was really excited about this race and looking forward to it as I’d enjoyed it a lot last year. It had been a great, local, low-key event with a cross country vibe! I was just feeling a little anxious as it was to be my first race in club vest since London. So the quotes were to give me confidence. Even so, my legs seemed to spin extra fast on my bike on the way down! On arrival at Maiden Castle it was nice to see lots of friendly faces. Lesley Charman at registration gave me number 74. Stephen had number 73 so this could only mean good things! Following a quick one lap round the track before it is ‘out of order’ I made progress to the start area. I bumped into Stephen Winship, a family friend, who has been in the Striders a while and is getting back to running now. Lovely to see him! Great to chat to lots of Striders at the start! Nice to see new members and also some much older members of the club! Yay, Elaine and Penny were here! I looked forward to attempting to race them!
The course start/finish area was looking highly professional with its taping and flags! The water station table was all up and organised. Although it had been raining for days, it had stopped for this evening. The course could potentially be quite wet and muddy! I went on a small warm up along the course and found that after the grassy field the route headed up a near vertical mud bank! Excellent! Humm, also a potential bottleneck. Earlier this year I remembered having to stand and wait behind a bottleneck just after the start of the Hedgehope half where a road turned into a single file path. Also at the Grasmere Gallop where I became jammed in behind Nordic race walkers on a wall lined bridge. So I planned to start near the front and peg it to the bank. I now joined a group of Birtley runners also going for a warm up, we just ran a little way along the foot of the Bluebell woods and then back to the start. The evening air was damp and still, and the mud was squelchy underfoot, with areas of slippery tree roots for extra pazazz. Geoff may have ordered these in specially.
It was time for the start! Following our President’s briefing with a rather impressively large megaphone!, and Barry’s speech, the whistle was blown and we all surged forwards! Out of the taped funnel, across the wet trainer-drenching grass of the field..To The Bank! I was there! Bank attack! Arms and legs whirled up the mud bank, and onto the level, then zoom along the undulating muddy path. The pain was slightly brutal! I realised I was exceeding a ‘not setting out too fast’ pace. However, unfortunately pre-race nerves had the better of me and it was nice to expel them in this fashion! Plus it was exhilarating hurling myself recklessly down the hills along with everyone nearby! Down another steep, dicey bank and at the bottom were two marshals, my glasses/eyesight were impaired by exertion but I think one was Lesley Charman. Very loud urgent shouts of ‘Left’ ‘Left’ ‘Left!’ I flung my arms to the left hoping the rest of me would follow in a bid to wing a sharp left. As we wendled [‘wendled’? No, wendled is fine. Works for me. ^DN] round the winding path, yet more encouraging marshals were found. And then up onto the long grass meadow. Penny was a bit ahead, I could still see her at this point. Though not for many other points! The ongoing up was hard! I really appreciated all the marshals as this area is riddled with footpaths. Up to the Willow Miner was a whole group of encouraging Striders! So nice! I felt my pace drop from my setting off too fast pace, but tried to keep going best as I could.
Bit of a downhill now past Sarah Davies. One of the Birtley runners I had met earlier happened to going at the same pace as me, but now seemed stronger. He kindly encouraged me and said he would be third lady if I didn’t tag on, ha ha! Penny was way ahead now and without looking I could feel the presence of Elaine behind! And right I was!
After Jack Lee, up the small flight of steps, Elaine passed! I charged on as fast as possible trying to up the pace, and I think I did so was pleased! Past yet more friendly shouts from great Strider marshals, back past the Wicker man and I was caught up by a Sunderland Stroller that I had met last week at the Lambton 10k. I was pushing hard as I knew it was only a few miles now. We were similar pace and ran together. My head felt like it would explode! We charged down the very steep hill to the slimy bridge over the stream. I saw Carla cheering at the bottom and wind-milled my arms in a kinda Strider to Strider greeting! Then up up up, up…up! Steeply down! Mud! Steps! Mud! Then careering back through the Blue bell woods! Nearly there! Yippee! I pushed on and so did Sunderland Stroller. Phew! There was Allan, marking The Bank. Horray! Kind cheers! We plunged down The Bank, back onto the field and the finishing funnel approached! I tried to give a bit more as the line was in sight! And over the finish! Yay! …..And woah!… I so so soooo needed to sit down! !!
That was brutally fantastic! A superbly organised and very enjoyable race with great Strider Support! Bring it on next year!
So I’d stupidly made a deal with myself, if I didn’t run as I hoped at Windermere marathon and could walk down the stairs the next day, I would enter this race. I didn’t run the race I hoped, my ankle had been causing bother, I could walk. I spent the week icing my swollen ankle and rolling my calf…all fun and games to convince my husband this idea was perfectly reasonable!
I packed my bag with full compulsory fell kit and had had a wonderful sleep. This race doesn’t start until 12, I could almost lie in (we have three kids) and still have breakfast and drive the two hours to the race headquarters at Threlkeld cricket club. I knew what was in store having recced this with Geoff and Susan the previous summer. Susan had then suggested that I try the race at which time I’d thought her quite mad, especially as I’d spent a considerable time attempting to come down Clough Head, how a year changes you!
Having registered I returned to hide in my car and stare up at Clough head, then covered in cloud. My second deal was simple, if visibility was poor I’d not run the race but do a training run in the lakes. I rechecked the mountain weather forecast which declared with utmost certainty that all tops would be clear by early afternoon affording spectacular views. Not convinced and chilled by the wind I put on my long sleeved top and returned to the cricket ground to have a few laps warm up.
With ten minutes to spare we all sidled to the start, all kits were checked and a race briefing was held. The only thing I remember as panic rises in my chest “visibility is poor, up to 50m at most, keep maps and compasses to hand. Remember if you come off Clough head too early you’ll come a cropper”.
And so there is Tarmac, about a mile,my ankle no longer likes Tarmac, I could feel the limp coming until open fell and up to Clough Head. It’s steep, there are little foot holds like rungs on a ladder. It’s important to get in the right group early on, I find myself going off piste to cut round slower people. At the top wisps of cloud drift down until it’s full on clag. First checkpoint (there are seven…four out three back, Clough Head, Great Dodd, Raise, Helvellyn) in the bag then I try my best to hang onto the men who were all in fell runner club vests. At times they disappearear and I blindly search for those lithe people rather than starting to follow the walkers heavily laden with kit and clothes. There’s a short section everyone skips around Stybarrow Dodd on a sheer grass drop. It’s grass, there’s a bit of a trod. But yikes I’m far too slow and again they leave me for dust. By Raise, the sky has cleared and I’m sweltering, slowing I take off my long sleeved top then set off again.
This out leg I try to keep pace with those around me,the ups seem almost too comfortable but I want to ensure I have enough left in the tank to get back, especially with last week’s marathon still lingering in my legs. It is a breathtaking place to be, the views are incredible.
The sun blisters down and beats on our backs. It is busy coming up Helvellyn Lower Man, trying to pass the many walkers out and keeping out of the way of the fast runners on their way home..that is a thing of beauty to behold lots of extremely fit runners skipping seemingly effortlessly across the rocks.
Helvellyn in the bag I decide to work harder now, I start to really enjoy myself, my ankle on this soft ground isn’t causing as much bother as I’d thought. By then I’ve fallen in with two men, we chat on the ups and I seem to pull them up, they in turn force me to run faster on the descents.
Now back to Clough head, the descent is grassy but extremely steep. By halfway I’ve really got frustrated with myself, I manage to catch one person but a fair few fly past me, I curse myself for my slowness. Then finally the slope lessens and I am able to stretch out my legs it feels glorious and onto the the final downhill stretch on tarmac. I reach the end elated, I’ve done it. Something last year I don’t think I would have dreamed of going near. I’ve finished 7th lass (as all marshals and runners refer to me) 61st overall. My time 3:09 is reasonable. My ankle isn’t complaining too much. The princely fee of £7 does not afford a race Tshirt or medal but it does give a sense of pride, the most spectacular day out and includes in the cost a fabulous picnic buffet…for runners 2 sandwiches, tomato, 1 cake and a tea or coffee. I fill my napkin and enjoy my picnic on the grassy field looking up to Clough Head deeply satisfied.
I’d done it, perhaps not done it justice, but done it all the same. I knew that the me of last year would be incredibly proud if not slightly gobsmacked. I’ll definitely return to this and give it all I’ve got, it’s a beautiful brute of a race, there’s quite a bit of technical work I need to crack before then though…more days in the lakes then!!!
A toss up between a long road run round durham on my tod or a race on the fells…well I think you know what wins. Slightly spur of the moment, we were visiting John’s family on Monday so my brownie points were in the bag! I bought a map of the area and tried my best to get my head round what this race was…from Langleeford, straight up a huge hill (Cheviot), straight back down, then straight back up another slightly less huge hill (Hedgehope) and straight back down. The map contours looked grim, hey ho nothing to lose.
I spent the evening faffing with my bag, big bag, little bag, how many layers, water, emergency food, minimum or maximum fell kit? My favourite leggings were stuck in our broken washing machine, I hand washed them and spent a good while hair drying them dry. Oh Lordy, I was a bit nervous.
I arrived at Geoff and Susan’s house bright and early ready for a lovely drive. It was a beautiful spring morning, the sky was blue, the gorse was in full bloom. Chatting along the way took my mind off the task ahead until we turned a bend in the road and there it was, the Cheviot, head slightly covered by cloud. This was a whole different race.
Registration was on the day for the bargain price of £5. As the wind picked up, numbers were scattered in the grass and I started to wonder what on earth I was doing here. The fellow competitors were nothing like I’d seen before. All ages, all extremely lean and fit. I felt out of my depth.
After the weirdest race briefing held along to very loud music (Geoff assured me this was not commonplace) we were off. A tiny stretch of flat Tarmac until the path bends off to the right then up, up, up, up, up, up, up to the very top of the Cheviot. I felt pretty sluggish, my calves and shins were screaming, I now realised the need for a proper warm up. I ran bits, walked (fast) most. A lady came along side me and “complimented”me on my amazing walk…as I laughed she replied “no you’re amazing at walking”, then that was her gone tootling off up the hill. Not for long though, as actually, I am pretty good at walking up hills and by the top I was first lady. We did a funny run round the cairn then it was a downhill dash. As I climbed over the stile I was glad to be holding on tightly as I was at risk of being blown right off the top, I was also pleased to see Susan (at least they’d know where I might have been blown to!)
I tried to convince myself the wind was blowing me in the right direction and tried my best to get down. Not long after the stile two women sped past me, I worked hard to keep them within 100metres. As I hit the bottom bridge before the second of the climbs up Hedgehope, I realised my shoe lace was undone, by then I’d half given up. I wasn’t good at descending and whatever effort I put in to getting up would be inconsequential when these two overtook me on the down. Anyway shoelace triple knotted, I got up and got on. However, over the first stile, there they were, 40m ahead, a quick run past them and they were gone. By then my legs felt like my own good running legs again and I thought if I keep this up, I could just about break enough distance so there’s no chance they can catch me.
Geoff had long since disappeared off Cheviot but If I squinted hard, I could just about spot a tiny purple and green NFR vest with his recognisable effortless skip. I fixed on that minuscule dot and tried my best to make it as big as I could get before the descent…Geoff leaves me for dust on descents. This hill was a lot steeper than the first. After not too long that tiny purple and green dot became a very large Geoff. I passed him and laughed, “there’s no way I can run down this”.
I reached the top, touched the wooden post (which seemed to be the thing to do) then put all my effort into running downhill…not as easy as it sounds. My brain hasn’t hurt so much in a race, always thinking where to place your next foot, how far to reach out or not, is that going to sink if I step on it, how do I miss that rock… I did expect Geoff to whizz past and was over the moon when I looked and saw that he hadn’t gained that much and that the two women were now tiny dots. My watch kept flashing brief paces reaching 5.30 min/mile, it was so much fun I can’t tell you. Finally I reached that little stile then back over the wooden bridge and the tiny finish with the organiser shouting, “well done first lady, amazing time.” I was giddy with excitement.
Geoff arrived soon afterwards, effortlessly gliding into the finish, he’d knocked 40minutes off last year’s time (very grim conditions) and I believe it was a personal best by 5 minutes. Not long and Susan came in too looking very strong and winning her age group and a spot prize.
We picked up our complimentary chocolate bars/jelly beans and water, then it was time for the presentations.
It was cheap. Everyone was incredibly encouraging as we passed each other on the ups and downs. It was the toughest 11miles I’ve ever tried to race. It had beautiful views and I will have to return so I can appreciate them. I loved every minute.
I do recommend this with caution. They are two bloody big hills to climb (3550ft) Apart from the wind, conditions today were perfect, not too cold, lovely bouncy, springy, dry peat. If wet underfoot this could be my idea of bog hell and I can appreciate how the weather could be horrendous.
Credit for photos to Vicki Deritis of Northumberland Fell Runners.
I hugged Sarah last year’s rival (this year on timing duty) she looked me straight in the eyes and said “Go on, you’re going to win this.” I wasn’t so sure, I think I could match last year’s time…
It was a beautiful spring morning, I’d kept myself to myself, calmed down, enjoyed a good 2 mile warm up along the river. I was ready as I’d ever be. I’d started to train differently. My miles had risen dramatically but most of those were fun off road long distances. I’d actually recced this a fair few times, it was pretty and challenging. I’d been to the track to monitor progress and my speed was back but who knows. My husband had told me to enjoy it, that there was always someone who would turn up and be faster than me…that had irked me no end. How bloody rude and what if today was the day I turned up??
I’d been reading lots too, inspirational books for the love of running…seriously just loving running (but usually the author was extremely talented!) I’d filled my head with mantras and quotes to use when it started to hurt. I determined to push hard all the way, no let up, to run like I’d never run before, as if it were my last.
I looked around, lots of eager runners, I marked out two women, standing alone in their own thoughts, like me, sh** I thought, and there they are, They’ve turned up.
After a short race briefing we were counted down and off. Straight across a field, through a rather deep muddy and stinky puddle then up the other side. I pushed hard until my legs started to burn, a bit further and then I could walk hooray! There is a long first climb up to Fremington Edge. I kept my head down and worked hard, whenever feeling came back in my legs I’d run a bit until they started to burn, then walk, then run. Eventually we reached the top gate, runners from previous years were marshalling, I knew them, they gave me (and everyone else) a huge cheer and shake of bells “well done first lady, looking strong”, wow, I wonder how long that will last.
I knew it had taken me a while to break into a good pace last year but I determined to reach that pace faster, whether my legs liked it or not. I started to overtake quite a lot of men. I felt strong. Then I heard the welcome friendly Yorkshire voice “hey up, I’m back!” My running buddy who is well known to be an extremely good pacer and motivator, Jon Ayres, was back.
Through lots of practise I’d got far better at descending, switching off my brain, as soon as we hit grass I was gone and Jon was trailing behind. A few sub 6s thrown in, it was exhilarating, this was fun. Then we hit the bridge and everything started to sway, a few seconds of panic that I was going to collapse then I realised the bridge was actually swaying not my head, phew…time to push on.
Jon looked around, “are you ok, you’re running like you’re possessed” Thats the point I thought, run like it’s your last! And so we kept pushing on and on, if my legs were screaming I’d walk, have a sip, a gel, as soon as they weren’t I’d run again. The welcome checking of Jon ‘are you alright’ every now and again and confirmation, yes actually I am, let’s move this up a gear.
Up to Calver, it’s a cheeky one with a false summit, even when I told myself it’s not the top, I still was tricked. Then Jon started looking anxious, kept checking over his shoulder, kept saying come on let’s go for this. Only coming off Calver did I realise why, a girl was coming and her friends were timing me to tell her the distance between us. The clap of thunder overhead marked the start of the storm, 1.5miles to go, a good downhill…no f***ing way is this going to happen. We flew off Calver, one of the marshals shouted “f***ing brilliant, you’ve got this”, 1.5miles left and the adrenaline had kicked in, flight or fight? I was going to do both. We caught quite a few on the descent then I knew there was a short reprieve when we could walk, then it was sprinting ALL the way. As we cornered a bend a flash came…I thought a camera lens, nope lightning then immediately afterwards thunder…best run faster then! It was awesome. Never have I run like fury, I looked at the last few fields, about half mile now, we picked up our pace more to storm through the last field, they’re not allowed to catch me now!
I saw the clock and was shocked at the time, I saw Sarah’s face beaming, I’d bloody well done it, First lady from the start, first lady at the end, 5minutes quicker than last year and I still had an itching for more. One massive hug from Jon who had sneakily got me by a second. I’m not sure either of us has ever raced like that. I raced like it was my last and it was amazing! If only I could bottle up that feeling…I’ll just have to do it again!
We cheered in a few friends, picked up our Tshirts, complimentary tea and cake then I had to head home before presentations to pick up my boy. Jon, who had joked ALL the way round that he was First Lady kindly picked up my prize.
Not much I can say about these. I’ve made some amazing friends from previous years, the same smiling faces turn up time and again. It’s brilliantly organised. They’re in Yorkshire, but somehow found a way into my heart, I absolutely love them. Tough but well worth it.
This is the third year I have run this race, it is a particular favourite of mine. It has it all, it’s low key, (race limit is 600, with only 350 racing on the day,) it is a circular route on mixed terrain, it has nearly 1000ft of climb, a few stiles/gates to open, in beautiful surroundings, with great support. It is not a half marathon PB course. It starts on Edges Green, a field close to Hadrian’s Wall, near Once Brewed. It is best to allow plenty of time (to account for getting lost en route) and to park where you are less likely to get stuck! Race headquarters is a tent, always buffeted by strong winds, there are a few portable toilets and one food outlet selling good food at a premium. The views to all sides are spectacular.
The race starts at 10am, there is a fast and furious downhill as we follow the race organiser in his car. After the first mile the road climbs and climbs and when you’ve just about had enough, it climbs again. By mile 4 we take a left down a track and from now until the last mile it’s all off road, with a mixture of good trails, rutted farm fields, a beautiful field covered in buttercups, onto moorland…always boggy, (along part of the Penine Way), then again up and up and up for a big climb at mile 7 onto the trails of Wark Forest. I always think this will be a welcome relief but the camber is quite painful and the rocks prevent me from picking up to top speed. It continues to undulate with a few nasty hills to come.
We pass the huge radio mast then the path generally drops until I hit tarmac. I finally shift up a gear knowing that I can finish strong after my slow start. I pick up the pace and mark out two men I’ve been trailing for much of the race. ‘Drumstick’ man is passed on the first hill. The second needs a good catch, he’s about 400m away but slowing and there is still a good mile left. The last half mile is downhill with short sharp hill at the end…this always fills me delight (I know I’ll get him on that hill). He slows at a cattle grid, as do I but I pick up my pace. My daughter is now running alongside, with a little “get him mummy” I manage to speed up again, my legs are burning as I reach the top but the finish is in sight and I’ve left him behind. A last push and I’m there.
Previous weekends of racing (Swaledale) and supporting a BGR with a long walk in the lakes have scuppered my plans to feel race ready for this event. However I scrape a 50second course PB, am fourth lady and 24/349 and I win a prize for my age category. I promise myself I will attack those hills better next year….
The day before I travelled to London I was informed, via Facebook, that my 2015 PB from the Greater Manchester Marathon was no longer recognised by England Athletics as an official marathon time. Suddenly, the trip to the Capital had a little more pressure attached to it.
Fastforward three days, and I’m inside a portable toilet in the Blackwall tunnel, about fourteen miles into the Virgin Money London Marathon, again cursing my luck as my dreamof emulating that time from Manchester isslipping away before my very eyes.
There is undoubtedly a metaphor I could shoehorn into this report (hopes and dreams down the toilet related), but I won’t. Safe to say my race plan did not involve a portaloo stop (*other portable toilets are available).
However, I emerged from that tunnel with a new focus, running a sub 02:45 marathon – slightly slower than my ‘dream’ time for London – but enough to earn a Championship place for the following year and a symbolic two fingered salute to the organisers of the Greater Manchester Marathon.
Just after the toilet stop I passed Alyson Dixon, leading the charge for the GB women, going in the opposite direction; this lifted my spirits as I was able to manage a “go on Aly” as she flew by me. Not long after that I saw my lovely wife Vics, our two girls and my Mam and Dad who’d made the trip to London to again meet the newest member of our family, my Nephew Seb.
Before long I was again hitting on or around 03:53 per km (06:15 minute miles) and things were, sort of, back on course. I felt better at 16 miles than I did at 6, I felt like I was back in control. 19 – 23 miles were, as expected, a struggle. My pace dropped off slightly and I really needed to dig deep to keep the dream alive. That said, I was passing people, I wasn’t thriving but I was struggling less than those around me. At 24 miles, I started to work towards the finish line. I had a wrong to right from Manchester, I wanted my Championship place back.
The last two miles were everything I hoped they would be, I didn’t really give a monkeys about the iconic landscape, I was more interested in the fact I was finishing strongly. I did the maths in my head with 1km to go and new it was in my grasp, only just.
02:44:06 – 54 seconds to spare; maybe I didn’t need to rush that toilet stop after all. I have unfinished business at this distance; I can and will go faster, no doubt about it. But the feeling as I crossed the finish line was as satisfying as I’ve had in my short running career.
I’d barely paused for breath and I saw Michael Littlewood heading towards me – a HUGE PB for him on the day, taking 12 minutes off in 12 months – impressive to say the least. I only mention Michael by name as we’ve travelled the length and breadth of the UK together over the last 9 weeks, united in a common goal under the stewardship of coach Allan Seheult. We were in this together and I got just as much pleasure out of Michael’s time as I did my own.
All the Elvet Striders in London did the club and the North East proud.
Now, I have a taste for the Marathon majors; what to do next?
… Elaine Bisson
Driven by the excitement surrounding last years VMLM, I gained a place with a GFA entry. The hotel and train tickets were booked months in advance. I travelled down on friday, staying in Lewisham (ideal 20min walk from the start line at Blackheath). Registration was at Custom Excel VMLM Expo, here there was a buzz of excitement from fellow marathoners and stewards.
I spent the remainder of the Saturday being very lazy and finishing off my carb loading. That night was the first in a long time when I slept until the buzz of my alarm clock heralded the start of race day. Fuelled up with porridge heavily soaked with maple syrup, I made my way through the magnificent surroundings of Lewisham to locate the green blip in the sky, marking the start for the GFA and celebs! By the Hare and Billet Road there was no doubt in my mind that I had found the right place, it was absolutely teaming with runners as they too made their way to the start.
A highlight for me was running into some fellow striders and being sneaked into the Virgin tent, with its warmth, bean bags, chairs, pre race fuelling, and most importantly pristine toilets with no queue (thank you!)
Baggage buses were loaded by 9:25, we headed to the start pens with 10 minutes to spare. 10am and we were off. Our route collides with the blue and then the red masses and the paths get busier and busier. So busy I narrowly escaped being tripped many, many times over as runners pushed to get past, or to stick strictly to the thin blue line marking the shortest route, or to dash in front to grab water. It felt like mayhem. I did not like it. I cursed a lot.
Honestly, I don’t remember much. If you asked me about Kielder or of Windermere, I could tell you so much about the surroundings, the rise and fall of the road, this was very different. It was an assault on all of my senses.
The noise from the spectators was incredible, throughout the entire 26.2 miles, and as the day wore on the voices seemed to get louder and louder. There were numerous bands along the route, pubs playing music, an insane 100m stretch filled with people in blue frantically ringing bells.
The smells were pungent from takeaways preparing food, beer, smoke… The sights of thousands of people shouting, the Cutty Sark, miles upon miles of roads that could be anywhere in the UK, the dark grotty tunnel, the shard, no. 10, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the most amazing finish line ever. We experienced all seasons, from a cold chilly start, hot sun, hailstones, rain, wind.
With 5miles to go, I had had enough. The buildings were encroaching on the sky, the spectators were becoming more raucous as the pubs were drunk dry. My ears were ringing and my heart no longer singing. The wheels were quickly falling off, I tried to imagine running along the quiet road to the finish line at windermere, I summoned all my strength to get this thing over. I clung to two women and forced my legs to keep in time with theirs, finally the mall was in sight and my heart began to leap, 1000m to go, 800, 600, I round the bend and see the finish line, with its 3 entrance ways and large clocks tick, tick, ticking. It was quite spectacular, I should have enjoyed it more. Expertly herded through to receive the biggest, heaviest gold medal (sorry, no, i hadn’t won), to get a picture taken (and try to smile and stand upright while my legs start to cramp), along to pick up my bags and then out of the barriers and into even more mayhem.
I tackle my way as quickly as I can through the masses swarming St James Park, up and then down a footbridge to find Victoria Station…then the long journey back to my hotel to pick up my bags, back to Kings Cross to fill a waitrose bag with utter rubbish and then on the train home. My phone turned on and there is pandemonium as it beeps and buzzes signalling facebook conversations, messages and voice mail from friends and family who have excitably followed my small red running figure on a computer screen and watched trying to spot my purple vest on TV…I wonder if they have had more fun than me.
I have the most hilarious trip home, filling my tummy full of goodies, and sharing prosecco and daft stories with an actress who is off to dress as a cyborg for her next movie. I fall out of the station with legs unwilling to move and perhaps having had a little too much bubbles. The taxis are all taken. As I stumble towards the hill that I will have to climb to get home, the wonderful Simon saves me and gives me a lift (another highlight of my day!)
So, what did I think? I wonder if I’ve missed something. I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it, if at all. There were parts that made me grin, but when I thought the cheers would spur me on, I longed for the solitude, for countryside, for air that I wanted to inhale, for the sound of my breathing and of my own trainers tapping the floor.
However, I also know I have unfinished business. With every marathon under my belt, I learn more about how my mind and body work, Ill come back stronger and smash that PB next time…
I entered the Liverpool Half Marathon shortly after the Brass Monkey, finishing 99 seconds away from the “dream time” (sub 90) I had cajoled myself into thinking that I could do it. I sold it to my husband as a fun trip back to Liverpool (we met there nearly 20 years ago), oh and there just happens to be a race that weekend too!
I set myself a plan and a few runs at target pace had me believing I could actually do it. As the race starts at 9am Sunday we travelled down on Saturday and had a good wander round all our old haunts, by 7pm I was ready for bed and wondering if the day on my feet would scupper my plans.
Race day, we arrive for 8am, park within a few minutes walk of the start. The race starts and finishes on Canada Boulevard in front of the Port of Liverpool Building. Race HQ were just near this area, there was a stall serving drinks and masses of portable toilets.
The hazy sun was gradually burning through the clouds promising a glorious day ahead, there was not even a hint of a breeze, perfect conditions for a PB. As my nerves started getting the better of me, my husband told me straight “today you will do this, now make it happen” (easy for him to say). There are 7000 runners, split between the HM and 10m race, all starting at the same time, the 10m route misses off the loops of Sefton Park. Having read reviews, I knew I needed to get into the start pen early, I “gracefully” jumped over the barrier and plonked myself right next to the 1.30 pacers…4 very fit men. Sophie, my loudest cheerleader, leant over the barrier and commented “mummy I don’t think you’ll keep up with these men”… nice to have good support!!
Finally the 10 seconds were counted down and we were off. The course is generally flat. Passing Albert Dock there is a gradual incline and then a sharp incline of 400m at Upper Parliament Street. Other than that, it undulates around and through Sefton Park. By this stage I had caught up some of the 10 milers which threw me…initially I thought a woman in her 70s had perhaps just gone off too fast?!
There are some slight and much welcome downhills along Devonshire Road and Aigburth Drive. There is a tight bend as you run down through the underpass and then come out the other side. By this point, around mile 8, I was still firmly stuck in the 1:30 pacer pack, they were slightly ahead of target pace. We then move immediately into more covered parkland through Otterspool Park, there is a final climb up to the promenade and the pacer tells us to “keep it steady up the hill then we’ll pick up pace”….really?! The final four miles are flat following the Otterspool promenade along the waterfront to the finish line. I think this will be a welcome sight but it feels relentless, the 1.30 pacers having picked up pace, are gradually pulling away from me. I keep putting in efforts and keep their orange tops in sight but I feel like the dream is slipping out of reach. By mile 11 a quick calculation gives me a boost…I could still do this. I start to pass a lot of flagging runners. The docksides are lined now, I realise how close I am. I pass the Liverpool museum, the drum band and masses of spectators spur me on, the finish is in sight, the clock is in sight, 100m to go, the clock is ticking 1:29:42, 1:29:43…realisation dawns that I could do this now or within seconds mess it up entirely. With all my might I will my legs to move faster, the man calls out my name and I cross the line… I stop my watch and the glorious numbers pause on the screen 1:29:46….John and my three kids rush to meet me unsure that I pulled it off (the pacers being ahead of me was not a good sign) but from the manic grin on my face and my inability to not jump up and down, they know I’ve done it.
A gym 5 minutes walk away offered free access with prior login for runners, we head straight over and I dive into the lovely warm showers. We then drive over to Southport for tea, fish and chips, and to continue our reminiscing and celebrations!
A well organised, pretty run with good PB potential…highly recommended
Just over an hours drive from Durham lies the quaint little village of Ripley, North Yorkshire. We three striders cladded in purple find ourselves here one foggy Sunday morning. From the allocated field for parking, we make our way to the village hall, today known as Race HQ. It’s buzzing with excited club runners topping up on caffeine, stopping off at toilets and pinning numbers to vests.
As we near 10:30, we start to assemble outside Ripley Castle, pushing near to the start line…this race is not chip timed, every second counts! After a quick race briefing, the nominated Guy Fawkes fires the gun and we are off. There is a brief and frenzied downhill dash until the road turns and climbs up and up. I know this is a challenging course, I reckon it’s similar to the Tynedale Jelly Tea Race. My race plan, run as hard up the hills as I can, run as fast down the downhills as I can…oh and remember to enjoy the surroundings while coming down. As soon as we start the fog clears, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view…only the hills.
I set off with tired legs, feeling a bit heady from dehydration, the first major climb, the ‘Birstwith Brute’ takes its toll, but as I reach the crest my legs start to loosen and I actually start to enjoy myself. 5 miles in and the worst is over and the views are beautiful. I remember how I quite enjoy the challenge of hitting a hill as hard as I can, to feel my legs burn and then to enjoy the relief on the glorious downhills.
There are two other big climbs, ‘Swincliff Swine’ and ‘For Fawkes Sake’. A few smaller ones are mixed in for good measure, not big enough to warrant nicknames. I’d caught glimpses of purple along the way but on the final hill I could actually read the words ‘Penny’ emblazoned on the vest, this really spurred me on in those final miles. I started to overtake quite a few runners. The last mile, mostly downhill, was a crazed race to the finish, picking off as many women as I could until I hit the final climb and up through the gateway to the finish line. I actually managed in this race, a good negative split. I will ignore the fact my mile splits are hilarious and revel in my achievement.
And so me and my fellow purplies, now a bit red and sweaty, meet up to collect water and round the corner to the wondrous sight of our goody bags. Bags, we were told, would be heavily laden with chocolate bars. 15, if we were lucky. We visually weigh them up, trying to guess the best filled. We are like kids with Christmas stockings. Eagerly we open them up, we’ve earned those 15 chocolate bars. Yet low and behold only 4, 4 measly bars are in our bags. Nevertheless, we have our orange T-shirts to prove we conquered those hills.
Will we be back? £12, easy transfers, 10m, 1000ft climb. Good parking, lots of toilets, pretty surroundings, lovely tea shops, chocolate(only 4 bars and for some only 3), and yet it was a good one, not for the PB chaser, but to feel alive, yes, you bet.
Having spent most of my childhood holidays camping and walking in the lakes, Windermere marathon sounded like a great challenge. I’d stuck to the 12 week training plan Allan had given me to the T. I had trailed in Jon Ayres’ dust as he rallied me along on the early morning weekend runs. This was finally it, this was marathon day! I knew what I had to do “just keep running, just keep running” (thanks Katy Walton!), I actually had a marathon race plan…I was going to stick to it. 3:20…was it too ambitious? To coin Allan’s much loved phrase “butterflies flying in formation”, they weren’t, they were out of control.
It’s a pretty low key marathon, registration is open from friday until 15 minutes before the race begins. There are about 700 runners, including those amazing 10in10 runners who run Windermere marathon for 10 consecutive days…their final, our one and only. There’s ample parking in the field, plenty of portaloos portable toilets [You’ll have Dick emailing us again, I kid ye not. – Ed], changing facilities and even an ice plunge pool if you’re brave enough to yelp in public!
At 10:10 all runners are called to assemble on the lawn in front of Brathay Hall and we are taken down to the start line following the drum band. I took my place, inching near the front and looked around at my competitors.
10:30, the gun fires and we are off. I try really hard to reign myself in, after tapering I get a little too excited that I can actually run again and usually set off far too fast. The course climbs steadily for the first 3 miles, it plays around a bit then there is a hill to rival Redhills on the 8th mile. I took my time up it and got to the top with the help of two bag pipers, their music drifting through the trees.
Its quite a pretty run, passing through Hawkshead, along Esthwaite water, and on to Newby Bridge. I was running well and got a lift at Newby bridge where the street was lined with 20/30 spectators clapping and shouting encouragement. For most of the course you get the odd hiker or cyclist..thats it. Oh and trying to avoid the odd bus and car as it hurtles down the country lanes is also a must!
A lovely lady is waiting in a lay-by with a table heavily laden with kendal mint cake, flapjack, cupcakes, jelly babies…I resisted temptation, stopping for a picnic was not on the plan and Jon Ayres had warned me off taking any mint cake from strangers! Then on to the second half back up the side of Windermere. This is where it starts getting tough, just looking up the Lake seems immense! Again no rest for weary legs, undulating as always, a pretty hefty climb again at mile 15, by mile 18 I’d really wished I’d considered a flat course, this was relentless.
On to “icecream mountain”, nicknamed by regular Brathay marathoners, a hill with an icecream van at the top and a few cheering spectators. By this stage it did feel like a mountain and I’m afraid to say I walked up that mountain. However in walking I actually overtook the man in front of me who was still trying to run. Encouraged I set off again, eager to make up my lost seconds. My final gel guzzled down, in the 22nd mile I felt like I was flying, autopilot, strong and buzzing from the sugar rush. Great encouragement from Allan had me waving manically, I felt great, I was nearly there surely…then the dip and I still had 3 miles to go, I could see the finish now and it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. I’d caught up 10 runners, at the next water station I passed 3 women, this urged me on, I felt strong but my watch told me I was slowing…
1 mile to go on from Ambleside, just round the tip of the lake, over a little bridge, through the bottom of the drive. I catch a glimpse of my eldest Lucy waiting at the gateway. Allan shouts on encouragement to get up the hill as fast as I can (I later find he had thought I’d get 3:19:56…oh dear must have been the walk up the hill!). I push on up the hill. Harry and Sophie are waiting, John is at the top. It feels like forever and my legs are really tightening up, I really want to stop, I let out an involuntary ow!ow!ow! , then relief as it levels to the finish. A small runway lined with clapping and cheering spectators, the commentator is saying my name over the loud speaker, I finally get over the line. A lady puts a medal round my neck and I drop at her feet absolutely finished, 3:20:28! Bang on target! Water, banana, jelly babies await. After a quick change, Lucy helping as my legs keep cramping up, I hit the tea stall…lots of tea later and onto the ice lollies, then gin and tonic sorbet…a little elated and maybe a little drunk they announce the prizes are to be awarded. I somehow bagged 3rd lady and first in my f35 age category…a cup, a tin of Grasmere gingerbread and £50 of asics vouchers…but that is not the icing on the cake, the fact that Joss Naylor is the man to present it to me pretty much makes this day “A Great Day!”
My long suffering husband has spent most of the weekend entertaining our 3 kids and puppy as I have been in a world of my own in the pre marathon void. The best thing for him about this race is that I got the time I set out to get…relief for him I might actually be in a good mood until I start contemplating my next target. The next best thing for him is that the kids were in heaven. They feasted from the lovely food stalls…hot dogs, burgers, chips, candyfloss, crepes, waffles, ice cream. They ate them all. They also went on high ropes, low ropes, climbing wall, zip wire and a fun run…and Elsa and Olaf were drifting around throughout the day.
So they say, “mummy, can you do this again next year?”…now that is a question worth considering!