A long line of runners were strung out above me dragging themselves up the grassy ridge of Lingmell in ungainly, clambering motions. Running was impossible due to the sheer steepness! This was the start of the Scafell Pike fell race! I was excited to finally be here! I was now enjoying the challenge of trail shoes on wet slippery grass incline versus gravity. The very start of the race had been one lap of the Wasdale campsite field, before heading up. This was to ‘thin people out’ they said, as the path up was narrow.
At the start-line I had looked around mystified, as so many people were not carrying anything. I had the equivalent of a fridge-freezer on my back! Full waterproofs, leggings, spare top, hat, gloves, 1.5 litres of water, full OS map, compass, phone, money, GPS device, etc. etc. It was very heavy. I could have done with less, but it made me feel secure as this was my first fell race. I would probably survive a nuclear holocaust. They also had very different footwear to me! Shoes with inch deep grippers! I admit this made me feel a bit disadvantaged in terms of competing! In fact, at the start I just let them go, and off they went powering round the field! Including Fiona. Fiona is a runner from Pendle. I had arrived with an hour to spare, and bumped into her. This race is a series of three; Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike, and she was doing them all. I find whenever I befriend someone before the start of a race, I then have a strong urge to beat them! Especially as she looked similar age as me! However, the fridge-freezer combo was not helpful in this! I pressed on, climbing up the lower slope of Lingmell. I had studied the map super hard during many evenings so had the map in my head plus a small selotape laminated one-page copy in my pocket! Finding myself now with the back of the pack there were group of people chatting, laughing, crawling up on all fours, trying to walk up backwards and I joined them for a bit! One guy kept stopping, and then powering up past a load of people shouting ‘I’m not racing today!’!
I had forgotten the weight on my back now and was into my stride and I wanted to race. So I dug in and started to power-walk past people. It was going well, I was feeling determined! I fired my legs up and passed a few more. Runners were spread out now. Below Goat Crags, the path became less steep. This was across the boggy, grassy catchment area of the Lingmell Gill. I took advantage of this and started running. I passed quite a few more, and then. Yes! Fiona was ahead, and I found I could pass her! We exchanged breathless ‘Well dones’ and I went on ahead. Behind her smile the expression on her face told me she was secretly totally racing me! 🙂
Next was a tall skinny guy (in fact 80% of participants were tall skinny guys) with a green top on. He kept up a good pace and it was hard to overtake him. Especially as we were now crossing the many braids of the stream and his long legs were advantageous. The tributaries of the steam lay in those unsuspecting deep cuttings in the bog, hidden in the bog grass. a nice deep wet surprise! After the bog, the big rock buttress of Scafell Pike towered above us. I was still feeling good. I estimated I had done the equivalent of three Roseberry Toppings now. (The Lake District being so far away, and the ‘chaos of life’ meant I hadn’t been able to get across to do any training. So I had used the nearest steep hill I could think of to do hill reps on. 4.1 Roseberry Toppings = 1 Scafell pike). So, one Roseberry Topping to go! The way up to the buttress was a mossy bank of slippery slime in a shady hollow with sharp rocks. Very precarious. But I was right behind the green-topped guy now, and managed to pass. Then it was up, up, up the rocky, baron crag to the summit!
I pressed on! I was now above the col and could see down the other side! I looked up from my feet for a fleeting moment to see down the other side, to a green, rocky landscape shrouded in low lying mist. Beautiful! But I had to look at my feet! Then, the first man came bounding down the rock scree towards me! Flying from one rock to another! He definitely spent more time airborne than in ground contact! And then, the next guy and the next, all bouncing down! I pushed on, using my arms to propel my weight forwards and upwards, feet in steady rhythm. From one most secure looking rock/foot hold to the next. Sighting the next one, and the next. I was now following a rocky zig-zag path. Up the next zig there was a rounded stoney cairn on the corner. A group of walkers plodded round it with their happy lively dog skitting about, his paws sliding on flat rock surfaces. They heard me coming and kindly got themselves to the side. At the same time, more runners came bounding downhill towards me, including two ladies. I urged myself on past…and the summit could be seen nearby! A hug flat-rocked cairn at the top and four summit marshals stood facing me in bright yellow jackets. ‘What’s your number?’ one shouted to me as I reached them. (My number was half covered by my top tied round my waist). “45” I replied, handing him my plastic token. Wayhay! Half way and I was in 3rd lady position! I really wanted to look at the views… but I didn’t want to lose my place!
A quick glimpse up and I had an awareness of more rock, mountains and ribbons of mist! I turned round and staggered! My legs seemed to need a few moments to get into ‘downhill mode’! I willed them on and began a dicey descent! Parachute would have been easier!
The “path” was a screeish mixture of loose rocks, pebbles and gravel! And the rocks were angular and sharp sided, as my shins found out! I leapt from rock to rock feeling my life expectancy decrease to 5 minutes! But I was not going as fast as the more experienced people behind me. A few men passed me..and then two ladies. Oh no! and then Fiona past me with a surprised and determined look on her face! I made a decision then and there. I could attempt to keep up with them and risk injury, or I could keep a careful pace for me. All the lovely races I have signed up for this year went through my head, and I decided to slow down and be careful. After scrambling down the slippery grassy bank with spikes of stone, I ran across the bog enjoying the beautiful views of Wastwater below. More people passed me. The big crags of Illgill fell overlooked the lake, with tremendous grey screes falling into the water. Visibility was good and I could see the Irish Sea on the horizon and the faint grey outline of the Isle of Man. I leapt on down, past sheep, rocks, a few walkers and soon the campsite came into view below. It was a further knee wrenching, thigh aching descent down to the head of the valley, to the finish.
A group of finished runners were munching on flapjack as I arrived and I was happy to join them! Then I climbed back up a short way to meet my family who had been doing a little walk during the race. The kids were enjoying sliding downhill on their bums! Later, there was a short presentation when everyone had finished by Joss Naylor! A kind and humble man. He thanked everyone for coming and then conducted the prize giving. It was lovely to see a race with such a big age range, from 20’s to over 70’s! and nice that there were therefore age group prizes reflecting this. I was pleased to see Fiona get the first F40 prize, and also to win first F40 for the series! Well deserved. She kindly complimented me on my uphill running and said she had given herself a kick up the bum when I passed her! She said she had found it the most technical of the three mountains. I congratulated her. I had enjoyed it. And it had been an interesting and enlightening experience!
The mountains surround me, all shades of green
The sun shines upon them, as beauty moves, I’ve seen
— Shadows dancing on the hillside —
— Holding so many places to hide —
There is solitude there, away from the busy streets
Where traffic is flurried, or backed up where it meets
The mountain scenes, bring peaceful pleasure to view
Every season, from greens, multi-colors, white, to blue
Team ‘Ladies That Tri’ were all set for their next adventure! The Team today was Sam Askey, Gayle Forster, Megan Bell and I. Helen Rodgers unfortunately had to pull out at the last minute due to a shoulder injury, but very kindly came along to support us and marshal, as did her daughter Emily.
We set off early from Durham, which turned out to be good as during the drive up the A1 the bikes slipped sideways on the bike rack!.. three times! On the third time Helen had the cunning plan to put one of the bikes inside the car and have only two on the rack. We pulled over, and Sam immediately jumped out and expertly got into action, confidently asking ‘Shall I take the front wheel off?’ Get in! Once all was secure Emily sat next to the bike in the very back of the car with the many bags and the cakes may have been squished by my bike! Emily chatted away happily. We talked about the diving boards at the Stanhope Outdoor pool. I applaud her no-fear attitude. I think I’ll be sticking to the small slide in the baby pool.
And so we arrived bikes intact! Megan met us there and after registering, we all took our cycles and stuff round to transition on the grass outside the pool. I was number 17, straight after Anita Dunseith’s husband. Anita was also there supporting him! Anita wanted to see my bike, ‘Is it that one?’ she said pointing to a rather impressive looking blue machine…ha ha! ‘ No, its this one I said’ ‘Oh! She said, looking at my bike, ‘But where is your water bottle?’ and I pointed out my extra large water bottle standing next to the bike and the box of squished cakes that I had sneaked into transition!
After a thorough and helpful race briefing by Sue Heppell, the race organiser, numbers 1 to 10 lined up ready to get into the pool! Helen kindly sat in the viewing area to take photos! The rest of us waited around the poolside. Megan, Sam and Gayle all had high numbers-in the 40’s, so I bid my good lucks and lined up myself as it was getting near to my turn! Anita’s husband was off, and then it was a shout of ‘10 seconds to go’ from the marshal, and then a ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Go!’for me! My plan was to swim the first length slowly, then to increase pace and swim the last length hard. This plan was because you aren’t able to warm up in the pool before the race, and last time I had set off fast and then felt like I could not breath after two metres! So my swim went much better this time, and being more familiar with the pool this time I felt more confident as I knew what the bottom looked like. I got out of the pool, waved to the others and pattered into the transition area!
T1 Attack! Had been the plan. I had planned to start counting -the idea being that I had to be out of transition by 30! But this did not happen as I found I couldn’t count and concentrate at the same time! Instead I just focussed on the task in hand and just went as quick as I could. Got the helmet on the wrong way round at first, ha ha, but other than that all was good!, and I grabbed the bike and ran out!
On mounting my bike the first problem was that my bum slid around on my bike saddle like a penguin on ice! Last time I had worn a swimming costume and the skin-saddle friction had kept my bum in place. But this time I had opted for a swimming costume with short legs, meaning there was only swimming costume in contact with the saddle ! I charged up the hill cranking up the gears whilst sliding about! Getting the speed up was good and it was lovely to be out on a warm summers evening riding along the post rush hour roads of Ponteland. The sun was still up casting long shadows. I was really enjoying it and had to remind myself it was a race, and to keep on it! I caught up two cyclists and over took! Then saw three more in the near distance and was gaining on them! I caught them up, overtook, but then as I changed down gears to go round a roundabout the chain came off my bike! Oh no! I yanked my bike to the side of the road, turned it upside down and in a flash got the chain back on..but not fast enough for the 5 people I had just passed to now pass me! I felt so relived that this mishap had been within my only area of bike expertise! The bike I had before this one was a £50 hunk of iron purchased for it’s ‘strong and stable’ quality. It weighed 50 tonnes. It was so ‘strong and stable’ that it didn’t go up hills, and didn’t go very well down them either as downhill meant chain fall-off. Every trip resulted in oily hands!
I peddled on furiously and was pleased to pass those riders again. Up to the top of the road, left turn and more uphill! I pushed on breathing heavily. I was afraid to change gear on the left side in-case the chain came off again, so stuck to using the gears on the right side and hoped for the best! I was going as fast as I could but one after another four cyclists overtook me! Oh no! I doubted I’d see them again as soon the route would be all downhill, and downhill cycling was not my forte! I saw it as a pure ‘face the fear’ challenge! Soon I was onto that said downhill road, with its areas of lumpy tarmac (filled in potholes). A few turns, waits at roundabouts, onwards and the leisure centre was insight! Yes!
T2 I am extremely proud of ( if I do say myself !) I whizzed in, put down bike, helmet off, top off and ran ! One nano second! Way hay! (OK slight exaggeration but it was sooo much better than last time!) I even forgot about the cakes! I pegged it out and onto the run route.
Great to be running! It seemed so much simpler and easier than swimming or cycling! I ran down the footpath, past quite a few dog walkers this time , and kept going. Then much to my surprise, as I reached the top of the path I saw ahead two of the cyclists that had passed me! Could I possibly be gaining on them? I was! Even better, as I turned the corner on to the road I saw all of the 4 riders who had overtaken me on the bike in a line ahead! No way! Yes way! This gave me a boost and I worked hard and ran past each one! No one ahead in sight now, oh dear, this meant navigation, but actually it was fine as I remembered the route, and I also knew it was not far, so I kept the pace up. As I ran down the hill I spotted Megan, closely followed by Sam, running towards me at the start of their run! Waves and cheers as we passed each other! There was the leisure centre, past the marshals, (bikes and runners everywhere!), round the corner and sprint finish up the finishing funnel! …And collapse and sit down!
After I got my breath back I stood with Emily, handed some squashed cakes, and then Helen came round and we were all there to cheer Megan, Sam and Gayle in! They all had big smiles on their faces! So pleased they had enjoyed it. It had been Sam and Gayles first triathlons! So super well done for them! After celebrations we gathered ourselves and our paraphernalia and retreated to a Costa coffee for recovery!
I really enjoyed this race, just as much as the first time. But this time I felt more confident. It has also made me realise how complicated triathlon can be, so many things can go wrong! One area it highlighted for me is that I would like learn more bike stuff, like taking wheels off and mending punctures, using gears right etc. It could all be very helpful! And I think Sam would be the person to ask!
Eeek! I can see through the window that a big car has pulled up outside my house! With bikes on the back! They’re actually here! Yippee! Quick dash to bathroom to replace toothbrush, dash back to get watch..the kids have already opened the front door and I can hear Helen talking with them. Grabbing many bags of stuff, I rush downstairs to greet Helen and Nina who have come to whisk me away to Ponteland to do my first triathlon!
Let me introduce us! We are team ‘Ladies that Tri’. Comprising Helen and Nina, veterans of the triathlon, and myself, a runner who’s front crawl was recently described by a mystified general public swimming pool user as ‘you look like you are trying to run in the swimming pool.’ I am a recent learner of the front crawl! Having spent years thinking ‘I wish I could do that’ at the start of this year I thought ‘Well why not?’ I joined the Durham Tri club in January and went regularly to the Saturday 5.30pm sessions. I massively thank Bob, Jean, Amanda, Ian and Ellen for their excellent and enjoyable tuition. They are fantastic coaches! I have got much enjoyment from front crawl! I didn’t realise how different to breast stroke it was until now. You only get to see what’s below you for a start! I was now curious to try a triathlon and the Ponteland Go Tri events for beginners seemed a good place to start.
Helen drove up the A1. Our three power machines were attached to the back of the vehicle. I am quite attached to my bike and was pleased to see it travelling in style! I’d like to say our arrival at the Ponteland Leisure Centre was cool and smooth, perhaps even gaining psychological advantage over any fellow competitors arriving at the same time, but it was not as unfortunately I remained locked in the car as Helen and Nina got out and started sorting the bikes as I could not work out how to unlock the door!
Nina and Helen were extremely helpful. It was great going with them! They showed me where everything was (lockers, toilets, registration, transition lines on the ground) and gave me numerous excellent tips such as how to organise my pile of stuff in the transition zone! Before long a crowd of people in active wear were gathered for the briefing before the start. The lady that organises these events was very welcoming. It turned out that quite a few of us were doing our first triathlon! A group photo was taken at the start in celebration which was supportive. My only concern at that moment was that looking around I appeared to be the only person wearing a swimming hat and googles. Hummm. Was anyone else planning to do the swim bit? Ah! It turned out that this was because people get in the pool one at a time in 15 second intervals, so there would still a bit of a wait for most!
There was a call for the first 10 swimmers to line up at the side of the pool! Eeek! That included me! They organise it so the slowest people go into the pool first. When I signed up I had no idea of my time to swim 8 lengths so I had put down 45 minutes to be on the safe side. But this meant that now, I was second person to get into the pool!! Although I was nervous, I was very excited and the pool looked well inviting!
When it was my time to go I got a countdown from 5! By ‘4’ I had changed my mind about a star jump entry. It looked a bit deep. I slid into the pool in a ‘I’m going down a water slide way’ during the ‘3, 2, 1’ and managed to start on the ‘Go!’ And it was great to be swimming again! Also a little scary as to the anticipation of the surge of bodies that would undoubtedly be trying to get past very soon! I kept going as best I could! A little disoriented at times as the bottom of this pool looked different to Freeman’s Quay, so at the end of each length I checked to make sure I was on the correct side of the lane. The course was to swim up and down each lane once, by ducking under the lane ropes to change lanes, thereby finishing at the other side of the pool. I kept going! The first swimmer to pass me gave me a wide berth! Phew! ..I waited for more to pass but no-one did and soon I was climbing up the steps out of the pool!
In trepidation I gingerly walked outside to the transition area on the grass outside the building. Hummm, there were only a few people out. I had a feeling that I ought to be waiting for everyone else? It was a bit strange! I put my trainers and jacket on then waited a bit for Nina who was also out of the pool. I followed another girl who was ready to go and looked like she knew what she was doing. However, once out of the new- to -me -zone- of- transition, I felt more confident. OK, this was a bike ride now! (And very usefully we had arrived early to Ponteland and Helen has driven us around the course! ) So I rode at a pace I thought would be best, which given it was a short course, I decided this should be as fast as I could go! I chased the girl ahead! She was powering up the hill! I followed in hot pursuit, feeling competitive now! But randomly after a few hundred metres some small, long brown things fell out of her bike bag onto the road. They looked like cigars !? Whatever they were, they must have been important as she swore loudly and stopped immediately to pick them up. I asked if she was OK as I passed. She said she was so I carried on.
Goodness, I was now in the lead on the course (although obviously not in time)! I pushed my feet down hard on the peddles continuing up the hill, I needed to do this as fast as possible as I didn’t want anyone to catch me, especially given my head start! I was also determined as I wanted to see how I might fare in this triathlon lark! I made sure I was always out of breath, except for on the down hills where my aim was to go as fast as possible without falling off the bike! Its a very good course. Gradual uphill for the first half, then gradual downhill for the second half. And all left turns bar one! Whizzing back downhill to the Leisure centre I hoped I would not miss the turning, but it was well marshalled! I turned the corner, and Helen’s kids were there cheering me on, bless them! It was a short push-bike -and-run without bashing your ankles into the transition area.
In transition, I had a big fight with my jacket. The zip got stuck! So the hole I was trying to get my head out of was small! I tugged and pulled at it, which made the zip travel further up so the head hole just got smaller and smaller until the zip was stuck right at the top! Aghh! I tore my glasses off and gave a final yank of effort squeezing my head through the hole which felt like removal of half my face skin! After this impromptu facial beauty treatment was over I noticed a guy had caught me up and was just entering transition. I ran out as fast as I could! Back through the taped transition exit, onto the run route! More kind cheers from Helen’s kids as I went past!
The run route headed round the corner, then onto a footpath. My legs didn’t seem to get going as quickly as I wanted them too. Maybe due to a circulation thing from being on the bike? Anyhow I strode on as fast as I could. I couldn’t actually remember how far it was but I knew it was a very short length as it was a mini-triathlon and knew that this meant run as hard as you can. There was no-one on the path for ages then I saw some dog walkers in the distance. Oh dear! My active wear now constituted a swimming costume and, erm, trainers..Ha ha ha! Living on the edge! I ran faster in-case they called the police. Half way down the track, the guy who I’d seen behind me caught me up and overtook. Aghh! I chased his heels! Round a corner and we were now both running down the grass verge of a busy main road in swim wear! At the end of this road, the route went along the pavement of the road straight back to the leisure centre. I recognised this from the bike route so knew it was not far so pushed the pace a bit. Back past transition and I gathered myself for a final effort to sprint to the finish flags! Gasping for breath at the end I was handed a rather nice goodie back containing welcome water, cereal bar and a smart sports bottle! I hadn’t expected anything for a £10 race entry fee! I downed the water then went round the corner to wait for Helen and Nina to cheer them on. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable, supportive and friendly event!
I am signed up to do this event again and was interested to compare my times to the lady that came first. My run time was the same as hers. She was 3 minutes quicker on the bike and 1 minute quicker in the swim. She also spent a lot less time in transition. As its such a short event, it seems that every second counts. I think I can easily improve my overall time by being much faster in transition and next time my plan is to start counting in my head when I enter transition, and aim to be out the other side by the time I reach 30! As far as decreasing my time for the other elements maybe there could be different approaches. Perhaps I could just try to do everything faster, or focus on what I am best at, running, and try to decrease my time for that. I can also now give them a more accurate swim time which means I can be more ‘in the midst’ of the action and perhaps get a more realistic race experience? In terms of enjoyment I was surprised to enjoy the bike bit most! The swim and run bits were just a bit too short for me. I look forward to trying this event again with these plans from the experience I have gained!
2nd time lucky? Last year, I settled for a rather splendid long sleeved top in lieu of my entry, and heard the tales of a splendid and scenic coastal run in the sun. This year, the race sold out in a matter of six hours but fortunately I secured an entry again, and had my sun tan lotion at the ready.
Saturday evening saw me consider various weather forecasts, and contemplate my shoe and clothing choice. Having packed my hydration vest, at the eleventh hour, I abandoned it and decided for the minimalistic approach of club vest (fear not, I had shorts too) and trail shoes given the inclement weather anticipated.
A Sunday morning reveille at 0600hrs (what else would any sane person do on their wedding anniversary?) saw me tiptoe around the house, and jog up to meet the Strider bus. As I had stayed up quite late, reading old race reports of the Coastal Run and contemplating what lay ahead, I quite fancied a snooze on the bus but this notion rapidly faded, as the bus filled full of other chatty but half asleep Striders.
We made good progress, and parked up in Beadnell, donning waterproofs to saunter down the road to the Boat House for registration. I always find it a challenge with my OCD to attach a bib number perfectly straight – to do this in the rain, with a fresh breeze on the upturned hull of a small boat compounded the challenge. Event clips and bib attached, I processed along the beach toward the start area at Beadnell Bay. There were portaloos aplenty, and a fairly short queue leaving time to join fellow Striders to shelter and stay warm(ish), stowing bags on the baggage bus at the last moment, for the obligatory team photo on the beach.
Lined up on the start, and raring to go, I listened intently to the official at the front – I relayed his information to other runners because I thought it was wise to heed the advice, which I summarised that runners should stay between the first set of marshalls to avoid perishing on the slippy rocks. Then we were off, across golden sands, the warmth of the sun on our backs, the breeze in our hair, amidst children building sandcastles, and enjoying ice-cream [error, that was a figment of my imagination]. Then we were off, across a sandy base of rivulets fed by the Long Nanny River, which set the scene of what would be a challenging race. I had struck out at a pace just sub 5 min/km, which softened as I met the first constriction point of soft sand and rocks up to High Newton by the Sea. I was amazed at this point to see a runner relieve himself against the dunes in full view of other competitors – how could he have missed the vast provision of portaloos, and council facilities adjacent to the start?
Having climbed this initial hill, I enjoyed the short fast downhill section to Low Newton and the sands at Embleton Bay. We then negotiated the inland side of Dunstanburgh Castle, on mud, grass and rock paths, with a few slips and falls. I halted to check one poor soul who had taken an impressive tumble, landing hard but he was fine to continue. I passed a few runners, at this point lamenting their choice of road shoes, and wondered if Matt Archer had his racing flats on.
Next up was Craster Village, at which point we were looking a little more bedraggled, our muddy battle paint splattered up our legs, and higher! Support was evident here, and water was provided. The encouraging sight and sound of Michael Mason galvanised my resolve as I climbed up past the harbour past The Heughs, where there was a cheeky kink taking us along the headland to Cullernose Point.
Then a treat of a section of road past Howick, and on to Sugar Sands where the majority of runners took the bridge across Howick Burn but some hardier souls opted for the water crossing. A short but punishing climb ensued, up a rocky path, which I decided to run passing a couple who were walking, clearly conserving their energy to pass me on the flat on the top!
Into Boulmer for the final water stop, which I needed, where supporters braved the conditions to cheer us on. Leaving Boulmer, just prior to dropping down to Foxton Beach, a cheery chap stood beside a sign which advised ‘about 2 miles to go’. He shouted encouragingly, that it we were nearly upon the beach and only 10 minutes to go. I looked at my watch briefly, trying to calculate what this meant but gave up as ‘nearly 2 miles’ was too imprecise a measure for me, a detailed metric man.
This beach seemed never-ending, and I remember thinking about the meaning of this approximate 2-mile sign. I tried in places to pick up my pace, mainly because I thought if I did the race would be over quicker but there were slippy rocks, and dilapidated fences (really!) to cross. On one particular fence, my ability to hurdle non-existent, my right hamstring cramped as I ungraciously ‘hopped’ over it. I recovered to catch the magnificent sight of a blue inflatable finish arch.
The arch got closer, and I tried to pick up pace, hastened by Jon Ayres who was doing a sterling job as a bare-chested Mr Motivator having already finished. Attempting to follow Jon’s advice of lengthening my stride, I managed to briefly return to that sub 5 min/km pace again, prior to what felt like sinking to my knees in the softer sand near the finishing arch. Through the finish, I immediately felt that sense of accomplishment which makes it all seem worthwhile; and a quick check of my watch confirmed a pleasing sub 2-hour time (subsequently 1:55:31 chip time).
I grabbed some water, and headed over to provide some encouragement to my fellow Striders. Jon congratulated me, and I quipped that that last beach was like a club committee meeting in length! Then via the baggage bus, to the Strider bus, which now resembled something of an impromptu changing room. I was grateful at this point for Lesley’s advice to take a change of footwear, and in equal measure for her encouragement to attend this race. Prize giving was in the nearby Alnmouth Links Golf Club, which provided an opportunity to dry out, and celebrate the team achievement. It was great to see Stephen Jackson pick up a prize for 5th place, a valiant effort indeed after his Durham City Run win of only a few night’s previous, and to see other age category winners; Tamsin Imber for 1st FVET40, Christine Farnsworth for 2nd FVET65 and Margaret Thompson for 3rd FVET65.
The organisation of this race by Alnwick Harriers is first rate. Marshals and locals alike are friendly, and supportive. The coastline and scenic aspect is fantastic, and where else can you run ~14 miles through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on a mixture of sand, road and trail? In summary, I’d encourage anyone to have a go at this race – I’d certainly like to do it again, but hopefully next time on a drier, more summery day!
You can relive the Northumberland Coastal Run here
This HAS to be one of the best races in the north-east! The fact that it sells out in a few hours supports this.
Beautiful rock-pooled, sandy beaches , Dunstanburgh castle, the pretty village of Craster and convivial cliff top coastal footpath make this one magnificent run! And when raining and grey this coast looks beautiful in a wild, wind-bashed way. I make no apologies for the amount of gush in this report!
Today, early morning in Beadnell, the sky was thick with cloud and it was raining. I was cowering in the warm baggage bus along with others, discussing if a rain coat would be a good idea. One lady posed the question, had you ever needed a raincoat during a race in the summer? The problem was that my answer to this question was yes. However, today the temperature was 19 degrees. Also I am usually freezing cold before all races whatever the time of day or year, and it seems to bare no relation at all to my temperature when running. That the hidey holes of trees in my local nature reserve are often housing old jumpers of mine to collect after a run is attest to this. So, I decided to wear, a swimming costume, my Striders vest top and a thick cove of factor 50+. (The latter to protect me from any direct sunlight that in a freak event may appear. I was on antibiotics following tick bite in Dalby forest, the type of which the nurse stressed to me makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight so I must stay in the shade she said with emphasis).
Detaching myself from the bus, and shivering in the cold wind which greeted me I jogged up over the small dunes green with thick tussocky maram grass and down onto the beach. At the top of the beach were little fishing boats pulled up high above the tide line resting on their sides on the sand. The sea looked grey and ominous, reflecting the sky.
A large crowd of runners was rapidly gathering at the Beadnell end of the beach in the distance. With still twenty minutes to go I decided to get the legs moving and jogged in the opposite direction for a bit. Matt Archer and two others ran towards me doing the same. Then it was time to go to the start. I met Rachelle in the crowd. I felt anxious though as I did not know which way we were heading, there was just a sea of heads around me. So I whizzed out of the crowd and approached it head-on. The crowd was fronted by a line of elites! Like, no joke, they totally looked like them Ha ha! Thin, muscley men, shoulder to shoulder, silent and focused looking….and Gareth was one of them…phew! He looked a bit surprised to see me, perhaps as I was about to get run over in two minutes? He helpfully advised me we were all headed between the two bright orange marshals half way down the beach. I quickly made my way past the elites for about 3 metres deep into the crowd until I got to some ladies and stood with them.
One minute later with a loud parrrrrrp on the horn, we were off! Careering across Beadnell Bay! People were running all round me. There were large pools of water, where the sand was hard but rippled and uneven underfoot. Big splash as your foot suddenly went down into a pool, and up the other side. I kept getting side splash from other runners, and it started to rain again now, so also getting wet from above. More splash from below as a river crossed the sand. Despite this I was now totally baking hot! My swimming costume seemed really heat insulating. It was annoying, so I took my striders vest off and wrapped it round my arm, Ah, that. Running in a swimming costume! Well, we were on a beach.
After a short cliff top stretch we onto Newton Haven beach, and then the grand beach of Embleton Bay. The mystical stone ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle rose out of the misty haze on the distant headland that cups the bay. I headed towards the sea, to run on the wet firmer sand. Half way across I could see there was a choice of path, either stick to the coastal path or clamber over rocks up to the path. I opted for the latter. It would not save me much distance but it would avoid the runner congestion on the coastal path. I changed my track to head straight for the rocks. As I did so, who should speed past me but Jon Ayres! Lovely to see him! He asked me when my next triathlon was (a reference to the swimming costume?). I said it was today if I got tired of running.. We kept pace together and reached the rocks which were very slippery and seaweed covered. We bounded up as fast as we could, and met the path, which was unexpectedly muddy and slippery. This continued on the narrow path round the castle, slip-slide running. Trying not to elbow other runners. Once past this bit, the path widened and was back on low cliff tops. One of the Kenyans I’d seen at the start was sat on the side as he had injured his foot and was clearly in pain. There were two marshals helping him so I carried on. Jon had gone on ahead at this point.
We were fast approaching Craster. I was well surprised! Half way already? This half seemed so much easier than Dalby Forest half, but then this one is flat and easier underfoot, and there is no flat in Dalby. Craster is a pretty little village and running through it I could smell the smoke of the Craster fish smokery. A small crowd of local residents cheered us on.
After Craster there was a long stretch of muddy slippery coastal foot top. I kept my pace, comfortable but a bit hard. I was enjoying this! We ran down onto the next beach to be immediately greeted by a bridge over a stream. A girl overtook me at this point but I was determined to follow her as there probably was only 4 miles left now I estimated, from my study of the OS map beforehand. Also, at this point I sensed an up-shift in vibe in the runners around me from ‘maintaining pace’ to ‘getting serious’. I upped my pace to match hers and kept a secret 10 metres behind her. I followed her steadily along the path.
Off Boulmer beach, onto another hedge-lined minor road parallel with the sea. This one was looong, but I knew it lead to the final headland then onto the final beach. It was not far now, the guys around me were now more upping it, as was the girl I was following. At the headland, marshals cheered us on and said 2 miles to go! Yes! Down a flight of steep steps and we were onto the last beach! Great! Nice to be back on sand, another beautiful bay, this beach had a few areas of slippery grey rocks and rock pools of uneven depth to negotiate! Rounding the corner and there were the groynes to hurdle over ha ha! Made difficult by the fact we were all trying to go hard now, and that the level of the beach on one side of the groyne was different from the level on the other side! ..and once round the corner the blue inflatable finish arch could be seen..so near… but ….so ….far! A teasing sight! On and on and on….and it did not get an nearer! This was really hard now! I gritted my teeth and ran past the girl I had been keeping up with, but could not stop another girl flying past me! The arch was still far away! Finally, we were up with the first supporters! Katy and Graeme with their new baby were there and Lesley cheering us on! A few more yards and booff!, deep deep deep soft sand! Not the greatest when trying to vaguely approximate a sprint! I think swimming through it may have been faster. The deceptive blue arch was proving to be a battle to reach! A staggering inelegant plod and at last, I was under the arch!
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!
It was a warm, shorts-are-needed, sunny day in Grasmere! What good luck! The Borrowdale volcanic fells, flanked with many shades of green and their characteristic grey lumpy rocky tops looked magnificent and inviting. It was a lively tourist filled, bustling Summer morning in the village of Grasmere. Excited runners in active wear buzzed about in the Grasmere sports field, registering and portaloo-ing. With ten minutes to go, the ardent sound of bag pipes cut through the air as we were herded to the start-line on the bridge…and with a 3, 2, 1 through a megaphone..we were off…!
Well, ha ha…kind of! I, spending too much time chatting, had not noticed the large number of participants in comparison to the capacity of the narrow wall-lined road, and therefore found myself stuck at the back of a large crowd.. behind a large number of Nordic walkers and family fun runners! (There were several events all starting at the same time). So I found myself walking for the first quarter of a mile! This was taking ‘Don’t set off too fast’ to the extreme! Although I was disappointed as I felt I’d kinda lost the race before I had started, it was a pleasure to hear and see the excitement and joking of many of the kids participating in the fun run.
Once people spread out a little I started weaving through them. It was a bit precarious dodging the random angles of the sticks of the Nordic Walkers!, but it added a steeple chase element! I didn’t get the Nordic Walking race though. Surely there would be the temptation to break into a cheeky little run now and then…?!..? Maybe the poles trip you up if you do this.
I had got to a point where people were more spread out so was able to get up to pace. Wonderful! Despite my start, I was determined to try my hardest as I love the thrill of it, and to enjoy the run! As I continued to weave past people I saw beautiful pink rhododendron flowers and yellow poppies on the stone wall and smelt the occasional scent of honey suckle as we continued along the road that goes round the lake side. ..Ah ha! And what was that ahead? A purple vest with green and white stripes! It was Jill! Woohoo! After a cheery hello, I continued uphill now, and soon onto stony trail.
The route was so scenic! We ran along Loughrigg Terrace with stunning views of Grasmere and it’s forested island. Then downhill through scattered mature deciduous trees where we had to leap over roots and puddles. We reached Pelter Bridge and it was a shady minor road up to Brow Head Farm. Then back onto trail, round Ivy Crag to Loughrigg Tarn. I was now running with four guys, with one girl a bit ahead of us. It was lovely to zoom along with space. I was surprised to find that since the London marathon I am better at running downhill than uphill (it used to be the other way round!) With every uphill I fell behind the four guys, and with every downhill that followed I whizzed past them! After Loughrigg Tarn there was a long downhill section and I decided to use this new found ability to my advantage. I ran past the four guys again, then caught up with the girl ahead and put in a surge to pass her!
We were soon back into woods and uphill, before a fantastic downhill zigzag from Loughrigg terrace down to the foot of Grasmere! It was then a pretty shore-line gravel path back along the lakeside to the village. As we (me and the four guys-they had caught me up on some uphill so we all ended up together) ran through the village the friendly marshals signposted us back to the Sports Ground to the finish! And the finish lead to a tent of water and National Trust cakes 🙂 I collected my jumper that I had hidden behind a gate up the road, then bumped into Jill again! She had enjoyed it too. It was a lovely race and I would definitely do it next year. Shout-out to Alan Smith, who I didn’t bump into on the day, but later heard he won the V70 prize in the 10k race!
That evening I had a small trip to Grasmere for ice bath plus to try my first wild swim avec newly learned front crawl! I approached the foot of Grasmere where the stony beach is from the path above. There, enjoying the evening, I saw a lady throwing a ball for her dog into the water, two mallards, and a pair of Italians in underpants with a ghetto blaster. There was also a swan in the far distance. The overall effect was reassuring. Luckily the ghetto blaster seemed to give up the ghost. It was a clear evening with sun low in the sky and a light breeze making lake reflections blurred. There were small ripples from the wind. I was planning to stay in my depth, and just swim up and down parallel to the shore. It was lovely and cool and I was soon in! After summoning up my courage I looked under the water through my goggles! Oooo! Wow! Amazing! The sun shone through the water and you could see all the rocks and stones below! I started swimming and it was being in a different world! I saw lots of little black fish, one had a proper triangle-shaped fin on its back! But it wasn’t a shark. They flitted away from me as fast as I had seen them. A bit further along I couldn’t see, as it became sandy and the water was yellow and turbid. I wasn’t so keen on this so it became my turn around point. I found I could navigate as I passed the same rocks, large stick and bolder just going up and down level with the shore. It was a lovely way to end the day!
Warning!: This is not a positive report. Other reports about this race are available!
I’m not a city person. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like traffic. I don’t like constant loud noise. And I don’t like too much concrete. COD (Concrete Oppression Depression) is a ‘thing’ that happened to me when I lived in Liverpool for 5 years. So why did I enter the London marathon? Curiosity and that was it. Ha, well, yeah, we all know what killed the cat don’t we.
So, I was at the Green start, having got a Good For Age place, and needed to get to Maze Hill train station for this start area. The race and the whole of London it seemed were very well organised for this race. The organisation I can not criticise at all. There were marshals everywhere in the Underground train system sign posting people. Also everyone was extremely friendly. And anyone with a race number also travelled free. I arrived in good time and did all my usual pre-race things.
..It all went wrong when I went to my start pen. From then on for the next 26.2 miles I was in a crowd. The problem with being short is that most people are taller than you so you can see only the backs and sides of people around you and a bit of sky above. I once stood on a chair to experience life from the view point of my husband and it really does give you a different perspective! So, in this crowd of runners it was really hot, smelly and claustrophobic. Following the blue line was never going to happen as I couldn’t see it! As we got closer and closer to central London the spectator noise increased exponentially. Due to the crowd situation a short girl running next to me went splat on her face. I stopped to see if she was OK and two guys from behind ran straight into me so I went flying too. One of them had kindly tried to stop me by grabbing me, but he squished my body so tight with his hands that his nails made me bleed. I felt really stressed. I had a splitting headache. As we pounded the hot tarmac I tried to work out why. I can only conclude it was stress. Stress from people always in my personal space, stress from the noise and stress from lack of fresh air. I had sewed two pockets onto my Striders vest top and in one of them I had luckily put some foam earplugs. They only blocked out 50% of the noise but it helped a bit.
Then the sun came out. Thing with down south is that its obviously warmer than up here, add that to the London heat island affect (plus 2 degrees) and the sun coming out and suddenly you have 20 degrees. I’m not good running in the sun. I squirted my legs with water from the water stations to cool me down, which also served to get rid of the nauseating sticky orange yak that got squired on my legs from other runners stepping on Lucazade sport bottles.
After half way it soon became clear to me that I was not maintaining my 7.50mm pace, probably due to the stressful conditions, and my hopes of 3.25 rapidly dissolved. After some many miles of trying to get up pace and failing to do so I considered leap-frogging over the barrier to escape, but decided to continue because actually I’d only be standing in a hot, sweaty crowd queuing somewhere else to get onto a tube station platform. At least by continuing the race I was in a moving crowd going to where I wanted to go.
Finally got to the end. Thank God. Gutted about my rubbish time. A rubbish 30 minutes later than my PB and 35 minutes later than my goal! Didn’t really want a medal. Cried. Collected my bag. Gave myself a kick up the bum and went to meet my family.
On the Virgin train back to Durham I ate an overpriced Richard Branston baguette with chemical flavourings and tried to work out what had happened. I love marathons, it is my favourite distance. I just didn’t like London. I can’t wait for my next marathon. I suspect it will be a race in some unknown backwater of nowhere where I can just run freely, where I can concentrate on what I am doing!, where maybe there is some scenery!, and where I can enjoy it! Even though London wasn’t for me and didn’t go well I am proud of myself for trying it and I learnt a whole lot about big city marathons.
I was running straight into the mouth of a giant beast! Wow that was one big, eerie tunnel entrance! Aghh! Running head first into it was like plunging into the sea! Freezing cold! Aghh! With a freezing cold ‘tunnel wind’ complete with big blobs of icy water splashing down on my head from above! It was bendy. Dark. No light at the end of the tunnel to be seen. And there were mysterious echoes ..somewhere.. ahead?..behind?! …I was deep in the tunnel. The sound of my breathing in, out, in out. Rapid echoey footsteps, go faster, keep on!
The Monsal Trail is a disused railway line in the Peak District, now used as a cycleway and footpath. Starting near Bakewell, it doesn’t go round the ‘Peaks’ of the Peak district..it goes through them, meaning seven long tunnels! The Monsal trail half marathon takes a ‘there and back’ route from the Bakewell end, taking in three of the tunnels, several viaducts…and back again!
This half marathon was part of my London marathon training plan, and fell within weeks of training, so there was no tapering before and it was done on tired legs! But, no way can I race and not race. I wanted this. I wanted a podium finish. I wanted a PB. And, I wanted to beat all females younger than me!
I arrived early, so chatted to other runners for a while, but inside I was itching to start. With half an hour to go I escaped for a short warm-up, and to get away from the crowd. As I set off, I spotted my husband and two kids! I thought they had gone to the cycle hire? My daughter skipped towards me, her hair flying about getting in her face, waving her Care-Bear in the air. My son remained by husband’s side, looking serious. As I reached them he looked up at me earnestly, his big green eyes open wide and said “Mum, if you want to run faster, just imagine you robbed a bank and the police are chasing you!” I thanked him. It was original advice. Maybe it would work!
Five minutes to go. The runners just behind the start-line looked in scarily good condition. Tall skinny guys. ..and a large contingent of young twenty something looking girls. Hummm. Was I deluded? I climbed over the rope and squeezed my forty year old self in beside them. Tension and nervous anticipation filled the air. It was also absolutely freezing cold but I was fussing that the two layer option I’d gone for would be too warm. Make a decision, make up your mind. I stuck with two layers.
Last minute loudspeaker instructions over, the gun fired and we all charged forwards like sheep escaping from a pen. My legs protested immediately! I ignored it and forced myself to get into a steady rhythm, building up to a pace that was hard and painful, but that I hoped I could keep up. It was gravelly underfoot. As I got into my stride, so did runners around me and I found myself running in a group of four guys. Concentrate. Keep pushing that steady pace. You can. We reached Hassop station. A small crowd outside the cafe cheered us on! Pounding on I became warmer and warmer as the first sun of the year got properly up and I was soon totally baking! And looking forward to the first water station! I managed somehow to rip off my long-sleeved top from under my Striders vest top whilst running and threw it to the side. Then I saw the grand, eerie looking entrance of the first tunnel was looming closer and closer! Wow that was a big entrance! Aghh! Running head first into it was like plunging into the sea! Freezing cold! Aghh! With a freezing cold ‘tunnel wind’ complete with big blobs of icy water splashing down on my head from above! It was bendy and I could hear mysterious echoes ..somewhere.. ahead?..behind?! I was deep in the tunnel. The sound of my breathing in, out, in out. Rapid echoey footsteps, go faster, keep on! Suddenly out of the tunnel and back into the bright light made me feel a bit spaced out for a few moments. Focus! I concentrated on keeping on it. I was running on my own now, having dropped two of the guys and two had gone ahead. Focus. Keep the pace up. My lungs were OK but my legs were tight. Oooooo! Two more tunnels, viaducts, valley views, cycle path…and then, the first male, having reached the turnaround point, came speeding towards me. Then more guys. Then the first lady…and the second. And the third..Noooo! The fourth..Nooo! The fifth ..Noooo! ….Then…me. I quickly reached the half way point and threw myself round the tight bend round a disused platform. Speed up, get on it! The girls ahead all looked a lot younger than me…but even more reason to try and catch them! My legs hurt more now, but they can speak to the hand, cos the brain ain’t listening. Back through the third tunnel, then the viaducts. More runners were coming towards me now. I heard one say “oooo she looks in pain!” I tried to smile at her but grimaced. Back through the second tunnel, more cycle path, I kept pushing on. And on.
I reached mile 9. Never been best buddies with mile 9. I really needed that next water station too. Swinging my arms more strongly to battle with my legs I ran on. I tried and failed to relate to a police chase. Instead I chanted ‘Mo Farah, Mo Farah’ in my head over and over in time to my feet. Mile 10! Phew! One final ice tunnel and there was the water station! Thank God! Literally! I stuck my hand out in advance, grabbed the cup, threw as much as I could in the direction of my mouth, got most of it over my face, threw the cup to one side and carried on.
Only 3 miles to go! I can do this! Yes! I found I could run a bit harder. A runner then caught me up (male so that’s OK). I kept up with him and we pushed each other on. Yes! I can do this! Lets go catch em! I increased the pace, and so did he. Back past Hassop station, just cycle path all the way now. The sun was really burning down, why was he putting his woolly bobble hat on? Ignore it, focus! Where are those girls? Catch them! I held on. The faster I run, the sooner I can stop. I ran harder and left the guy behind. 12 mile marker, only a mile! Yes! I will catch them. Aghh, the pain! Go, go go! I tried to run harder. Where are those girls? At last the finish in sight! Then suddenly he was right on me, running flat out! No way! I stopped him passing me and raced him to the finish. Aggghhh!! and then we were both over the line, stopped, bent over, gasping for air…!
I didn’t catch those girls. I came 6th lady. But not catching them makes me more determined for next time! I got the FV40 trophy. I didn’t get a PB. I tried my best and and ran as well as I could have done on the day. You win some, you lose some, especially in running! My watch showed even-pacing, which boosted my confidence as I didn’t look at it. And I love my medal with its Bakewell pudding on!
As I drove into the Kirstall area of Leeds, marshals were in position directing cars to the free car-parking. It was a short, signposted walk to the start at the canal-side. Toilets and left baggage tent are available at the start. There were actually 5 races all starting at 9.30am!: a 5k, 10k, half, marathon and ultra-all going along the canal, but all went very smoothly.
The weather was perfect-a nice dry spring day. A lively Yorkshire vibe filled the air as runners kept arriving and a crowd gathered. A jolly Yorkshire man recalled a ‘Horse versus man’ race he had done last year. Another Yorkshire runner told me about canal depths-she had fallen in last year! After a briefing from a megaphoned marshal standing on a large rock we were herded to the start line. Gareth had helpfully advised me to stand somewhere near the front to avoid bottlenecks when the race started. So I exceeded this advice and stood right at the front! Just behind me were very fit looking running beans including four very fit looking Yorkshire girls. Two of them chatted merrily about 3 hour marathons. Wow, I wouldn’t mind a 3 hour marathon one day! We waited for time to pass and the marshal to start the race.
I had decided not to wear my sports watch as I just wanted to run. I planned to try my best using my ‘breath-o-meter’ method, which is that if I am breathing really loudly then I know I am doing maximum effort! (Maybe not the best method for a longer race!).
The race started and I sped off! It was very scenic along the tree-lined canal. The canal path was muddy in places, tarmacked in others and cobbled under bridges. I got into a good, noisy, rhythm. A few cyclists here and there but they all rang their bells. There were no distance markers, but I gauged how far I had gone by seeing where the marshal turned the 5k runners round-I knew I had to do the same again before us 10k runners were turned around (it was a there and back route). There was one 10k girl ahead of me and she kept increasing her speed so soon she was out of my sight. I couldn’t hear anyone behind me. I was really enjoying just running fast along the canal! It was great! After 4 bridges I reached half way and was turned round by a marshal. Now I could see how far people were behind me as I met them coming the other way! In terms of ladies the two runners who had been talking about 3 hour marathons were next! I tried to run faster incase they were planning a negative split! As I went back past familiar landmarks I’d seen on the way out I used that to gauge how far I had to go. The 3-hour marathon girls were nowhere to be heard. I started the sprint finish –my favourite bit! -where the white track joined the canal-side, and soon could see the finish ahead, where a friendly crowd cheered me on! What a fun run! I had no idea what my time was, but who cares! I really enjoyed the running! Plus, bonus -I got a new bling, Kentish fine ale (don’t like beer but it looked cool) and a snickers bar (can’t beat the chocolate-peanut combo!). I quickly took off my number (69 was a bit embarrassing to wear) and soon spotted a huge table top off home backed cakes! Yum!… I’d love to do the half next time as it ended far too soon!, and the half route looks lovely along the canal in the other direction heading out of Leeds to Saltaire. Next time!
So..this is the first time this race has been run! It is organised by ‘High Fell Events’ (see their website). It was fantastic! A hardy group of Striders who hedged their hopes on this wintry half included Katherine Preston, Joan Hanson, Penny Browell, Neil Sleeman, Corrina James, Kathryn Sygrove, Anita Clementson, Camilla Lauren-Maatta and Kate McPherson.
For me, it began with ‘the morning after the night before’. The ‘night before’ being the ‘Durham Mums on the Run post-Xmas party’ and ‘the morning after’ being 6am in a quiet and dark house! The family who had been intending to come until yesterday slept soundly! I quickly ate some breakfast and crept out of the house into the pitch black street. The sound of my key unlocking the car seemed to echo loudly in the silent street. I got in and drove off, carefully to find a dim, car-free, A1. Progress north was steady, and cheerfully accompanied by loud cheesy tunes on the radio!
The race start was at Ingram, a small hamlet in the Cheviots. Turning into Ingram I saw a pretty stone church, a few houses, the visitor centre and café and a signpost to parking in a field. It was starting to get light and the morning was dim and hazy with low cloud. And it was FREEZING!! Some surprised sheep looked on with curiosity as cars kept arriving and parking up. Registration was in a tent with a handy heater 🙂 The café was open selling welcomed hot drinks. A big group of chatting and smiling, high spirited runners was gathering.
The race began! ..Slowly! I found myself stationary behind a bottled-necked start-stop queue of 300 odd runners trying to fit along a narrow path! Luckily this was not for long and soon we were climbing up grassy, boggy moorland! It was muddy and very uneven underfoot. Icy pools of water formed in ruts and soon my trainers were soaked through. After a mile I warmed up and had to stop to force my thick waterproof jacket into my backpack. About 50 runners passed me as I wrestled with the zip! Job done, I got into steady pace. Being no path I spent most time looking down to see where to put my feet! I found the bog was deepest where the moss was light green, so I avoided that moss. The ridge climbed upwards to the crinkly Cunyan Craggs which towered above us. It was stony, slippery and steep! I was running in a group with 2 other guys at this point. We waved to the friendly marshals above the Craggs. Continuing upwards to reach Dunmoor hill the grass became stiff and white with frost. Some of the strands of grass had beautiful fringes of 1cm long ice crystals! Looking around, bleak, featureless moorland stretched in all directions. White, rounded Cheviot hills were seen in the far distance. And we could now see the summit of Hedgehope Hill ahead! As we got closer the first guy was galloping towards us! And then more guys behind him! It was fun to see everyone pass us! After my shouts of ‘well done’ and ‘put the kettle on’ I focused on speeding up as I had spotted a lady in the runners ahead. I clambered past her. Then Penny was zooming downhill toward me 🙂 🙂 ! Soon I was also at the summit. It was breezy and misty at the top and the rocks were white with frost. Two amazing (they can’t have been warm!) and windswept summit marshals shouted encouragement! We had to run round their summit flag…and then we were off back down! Trying to fly fast without falling over was exhilarating! My new trail shoes seemed to forget their purpose! I fell over five times in total, including a double-body-roll event! 🙂 Down, down down we went! I was now very brown in colour! Back past the green moss, past the Craggs, past friendly runners coming up, moor, mud,muddy moor, … more mud .. I was nearly there.. only a few miles to go. I was starving hungry now!I had a short daydream about hot chocolate and fell over again! Then after a bit more mud, here was the minor road to Ingram! Wayhay! The tarmac jarred my legs in a new way! It was not far though and I looked ahead and could see where the road turned into Ingram. I planned to start my sprint finish there. …but…turning the corner ..oh!!! BIG OH!!! …ha ha ha! The route was suddenly marked off-piste..to the river!! !! !!as in, to wade ACROSS the river!! oooooo it was deep!… and cold!! and up to my waist !! ha ha ha!! brilliant! ..I staged onto the gravel river banks, only to see the route was taped a bit further on to wade back across the river, and again!! Fantastic! A very refreshing, surprise ending! Ice-bath included in entry fee. Plus I was not only in brown any more! A climb over a fence and small jog into the finish tent ! What a great run!
After a rapid change into dry clothes I saw Penny and others in the café! We drank our free soup/I ate chocolate cake and then we stood round the handy heater in the tent waiting for people to come in. Later it was lovely to see Penny get 3rd place prize in the presentation. What a great, fun and well organised event! The organisers and marshals were superb. There were first aiders with erected shelter tents and mountain rescue at strategic points. The route was spot on! The vibe was good. I really enjoyed this race!