This is a social event. New and old members are openly invited. We don’t expect everyone to know everyone. The point is to turn up to a safe place and chat and get to know like minded people…..but also get to know the person behind the name/vest.
Dress code is whatever you want. Casual most likely. Students are away so it will be nice and quiet I think.
As you enter the pub, we have a VIP area straight away on the right up 2 steps. I’ve booked this for the purple army.
See below for photos of the pub front and our VIP area highlighted in yellow.
I hope to see you there from 7pm. They do food there if needed I think.
If we decide to move on en masse we can. But the point is to natter.
I will have Facebook and messenger. Get in touch via that if you are not sure or have any questions.
The Island of Islay is best known for its distilleries, which draw in whisky connoisseurs from all over the world. Since the mid-1980s it has also had the Islay half marathon, which judging from the results list, has its own hardcore of international fans. When it was suggested to me and my partner Becca, earlier in the year, that we might like to do this race my first thought was yes, but that’s a big journey from Durham for the weekend. If you face West from Glasgow you’re looking towards Islay but the Firth of Clyde, the Isle of Bute, the Kintyre peninsula and a bit of the Atlantic ocean are all between you and it. It was then pointed out that instead of driving 100 miles around, you can do it in a succession of ferry hops, with short distances in between that you could easily cover on a bike. Having done a fair amount of cycling in Scotland we knew that there is a “five ferries” ride that the keen complete from the mainland in a day, taking in Arran, Kintyre, Cowal and Bute. The first couple of hops towards Islay cover the start of it. This had the makings of a good long weekend adventure. So we booked a day off work, and the evening of Thursday 26th saw us in Ardrossan with bikes ready for the first ferry onto Arran the next day.
The Friday before the race was spent riding around the East side of Arran, then a short ferry crossing to the Kintyre peninsula and across to the other side before the longer ferry to Islay. Despite a surprise hill climb at Boguille in Arran (it’s a surprise if you don’t bother to wonder about the hills before you set off), this was all pretty relaxed, and we didn’t need to worry about tiring ourselves out for the race. Once on Islay itself, we were immediately in distillery country, passing a couple of famous names on the way to our overnight stay near the start in Bowmore. We didn’t stop at the distilleries, but we knew the next day’s race was sponsored by Ardbeg, so it seemed likely that a dram might be on the cards at some point.
On race day we gathered some tips on the course from our B&B host then rode the couple of miles to the start. The course is a loop that heads steeply up out of Bowmore, turns South towards Port Ellen ascending along higher ground, before dropping steeply and returning along part of the “Low Road”, a dead straight of which any ancient Roman engineer would be proud.
Although Islay has some mountainous terrain it’s on the East side of the island, so the ascent only totals about 130 m. This race has the potential to be fast, something that I had in mind as the date approached. Although we’d done a few races of half marathon distance over the last few years, none of them had had the speed potential of this one. I’d done the Durham 10k the week before, and I couldn’t say I was obviously on top form, however, it didn’t seem inconceivable that I could beat my 2007 half marathon best of just over 1hr 37. My rough plan was to aim for that pace and adjust depending on how I was feeling.
The start of the race had the friendly low-key feel that makes you appreciate seeking out these smaller events. We hadn’t left too much time for warming up, so a quick jog up and down the street and it was time to start. With a field of 124 runners, it was a novelty to be on a start line with some elbow room. This also meant that those who wanted to set off quickly could easily do so, and I quickly found myself getting pulled along a bit faster than was ideal, snaking through a few side streets, past Bowmore’s distinctive round church and out into the open countryside.
Checking my watch after the road levelled out I saw I’d done the first and steepest mile faster than my target pace but it didn’t feel too bad, and so attempted to stick with the people around me. The pace had settled down a bit, and I had the chance to look around and appreciate the view across to the mountains in the East. Although I hadn’t especially noticed the rain at the start it was clear that it was getting wet and not showing any sign of letting up. As the route descended off the first high point and turned to head south my trainers were squelching and I had the novel experience of trying to avoid the smoother bits of road, which were quite slippy in the puddles. The best that could be said for it was that after the recent heat wave it was cool! Ironically, and presumably, in response to the heat wave, I think this race had the most water stations I have ever seen. Mindful of the fact that you can’t actually drink through your skin I remembered to make use of a few of them.
The road climbed gradually until about mile 6 where we turned off towards the coast and the low road. This was a solid mile of steep downhill and I attempted to make the best of it. Turning back towards Bowmore on the level, I was disconcerted to find that my legs hadn’t taken too kindly to the downhill stomp. I was at risk of feeling sorry for myself and slowing down when I was overtaken. The race was reasonably well spread out at this stage, so this was a bit of a wake-up call and spurred me on. I also knew that the next few miles were pretty well flat and if I was going to get close to my wished-for time, this was where I’d do it. So I pushed on and stuck with the other runner who was keeping a very tidy pace.
Another runner I chatted to at the start of the race had described the low road straight as “soul destroying”. I could have seen his point if I’d been staring at a long strip of never-ending tarmac, but maybe because the misty rain was largely obscuring the view, or maybe because I was just trying to keep the pace it didn’t seem that way to me. After a while, I and my unofficial pacer acted as the wake-up call for the next runner in front, who made us a group of three for a while. This lasted until about two miles from the end of the race when the flat straight road became a slightly hilly road.
Looking at the profile after the event the final hills look insignificant but after the hard push along the flat, my legs were complaining severely. My temporary companions didn’t seem to be having the same trouble and so I had to watch them disappear off ahead. There was no way I could avoid slowing down, however, soon enough the round church was back in view and there was one final plummet down Bowmore’s main street to the finish in just under 1 hour 39.
Having collected my medal and t-shirt I saw Becca finish in a personal best time of just over 2 hours (15 seconds!). Then we retreated to the village hall to dry off and for sandwiches and the anticipated dram or, for those who really needed to rehydrate, a can of Tennents.
After an hour of recuperation, it was time to point our bikes towards the ferry. Thankfully it turns out that the muscles you need for cycling are complementary to the ones needed for running. This meant that we could make it back to Kintyre for the night, and still enjoy our ride round Cowal and Bute the next day. It’s always going to take a bit of extra effort to travel to Islay for this race, but even if you don’t cycle to get there it’s surely a good excuse to get out and explore some of the remoter parts of Southern Scotland and get a friendly, fast and scenic race into the bargain.
I’ve long been an armchair fell racer. I’ve done bits-and-bobs here and there (Swaledale Marathon being my biggest and favourite). I’ve also been a member of the Fell Runners Association for 2 years to try to motivate myself to get out there… They send out amazing magazines and a yearly calendar of events. But…. children, work, travel and laziness have prevented me from getting out onto the fells until I saw DFR offering the Roof of England Fell race. All the planets were in their right zodiac signs and I discovered that I was able to make it!
Weardale is one of, if not my favourite, of the dales…. maybe only beaten by Borrowdale and Swaledale. The drive over to St. John’s Chapel was stunning. Nobody was on the road and I thoroughly enjoyed the sweeping roads and views over the fells. I pulled up outside the public loos after driving past a couple of dozen chaps and lasses in their respective club vests. I saw Geoff in an alien vest and realised tonight he was one of the enemy. Geoff Davis (aka Yoda) has long been the club’s bastion of Fell running and puts on some great up and downhill training sessions. The plan for the night was to finish with Yoda in sight. I knew I’d been off the boil over the last few weeks so this was more about testing myself and seeing if my armchair love for fell running would develop into true love, as I suspected it might.
Much humming and haa’ing ensued and I decided to go full Mudclaw. It rained very heavily the night before but until then, we’d had a month or so of now’t but sun. The kit list was downgraded too from full FRA requirements to map, compass and whistle. Thank goodness, as I didn’t fancy carrying the full body cover, hat, gloves and water – a tad excessive for a 7km race.
I wandered across the road after a 200m warm-up through the village to meet the race director for our pre-race briefing. In total there were 46 of us from a wide range of clubs on the rocky start line. The fast lads (and lasses) had made their way to the front under the flags but the atmosphere was jovial and people were nattering away in the gorgeous summer’s evening light.
The race started at quite a pace but slowed slightly as it became almost single file up between stone walls moving very much in an upwards direction. After 1 mile I’d passed quite a number of my fellow fell runners (I think I can say that now) and we passed the first set of Marshalls wishing us well. After this, it was every man and woman for themselves. There was no route. Only point upward to Chapel Fell Top. Competitors could go any route their heart desired (imagine that at the GNR!) as long as they made the summit. This was much like the Durham three peaks challenge but no ladders would be of help here…
The terrain quickly became very steep. I was about 10m behind Yoda and I decided that this would be a good classroom to learn the ways of the force. Where he walked I walked. Where he picked up the pace, I picked up the pace. My legs were feeling good, I was loving the surroundings, but the grass and moss were getting higher and squishier respectively. There was no clear route and people were spread out across the Fell trying to find a route of least resistance. I kept swapping places with a Keswick AC and Derwent Valley runner over the next gruelling mile. It was great. I loved it but, my word, it hurt my calves. All of a sudden I thought I saw a “different” more direct route to Geoff’s and went off on my own…. sod the lesson plan, this was a race! It seemed to be the bed of peat bog (one which Elaine would probably try drink out of if the stories are true) but was now dried to a powdery black mush. We both rounded the Cairn together and turned back to decent down (down deeper and down) to the village once again.
Here it became a bit crazy in a very good way!! I’ve always loved going up hills (but they hurt)…. but LOVE running down…. it seems to play to my strengths. It sounds stupid writing it but I find it’s like a super fast game of chess. My brain works at 100mph working out where to place my feet. What’s safe? What’s not? Where will require a little jump and where will cause a bit of a squelch. I love this side of downhill running on trails (and now fells). It makes me feel very alive and following Geoff was certainly that.
He is obviously very good at this and I savoured the challenge of keeping up. I passed a couple of people with a, “you alright mate?”, who’d twisted and ankle (or 2) and flew down some sections with the grass whipping at my knees. It was hard work but on the thighs now. I loved it.
We passed the 1-mile left marshal and picked up the pace. My Strava said 6:30m/m over the next very rocky section. I’m really pleased about this as it was tough underfoot but was great fun. We went down with the dry stone walls blurring past us. My plan was to wait until 200m or so before the end and to kick on and pass. All was going well and I spotted my chance…. but stupidly I hesitated. I have no idea why, as I had more in my legs to give… Then the track changed and became single file only. I couldn’t pass. I debated going through the nettles but it seemed a bit silly as I’d already proved to myself that I was okay at this AS grading of Fell runs. (Fell races are all graded. Simply put, the first letter A-B-C, is for the grade in terms of steepness/complexity. The second letter, S-M-L is the length and I’ll let you work out what they stand for). This was an AS. Under 10km and carried a fair bit of elevation gain (400m).
We rounded the last corner with the flags in sight. I passed the finish line on the heels of Yoda and was met by an “oh I didn’t realise it was you chasing me!”
We cheered/clapped in the remaining runners and chatted about the race.
After a quick Lucozade in the Chatterbox cafe (apt name), we moved outside for the prizes. Andy the Race Director had put on a great spread of wine, beer and chocolate for the lucky winners. Strangely I got a spot prize for it being my first proper fell race.
Many then returned to the cafe for a treat… My chosen indulgence was a freshly cooked scone (rhymes with gone!), jam and cream. I sat with runners from other local clubs and just nattered. It was the perfect after race party in that respect.
The drive home was stunning. The sunset behind me made it look like the Gods were happy and putting on a show especially for us runners. Reds, oranges, yellows and amazingly, purples. This little Elvet Strider was one happy bunny after bounding down Chapel Fell Top at sun 7mins/mile.
I’d love to see many more Elvet Striders join me next year. It’s a fantastic race and at £5 on the day, what is there to lose?
The Elvet Striders Track and Field athletes continue to make and break club records. Keep an eye on the club-records page to see who has been breaking what. And if you can beat it, correct it, or comment on it, let us know via the form at the bottom of the records page, or e-mail the website officers.
Thanks to Geoff Watson and the people he pestered for digging out the historic results for the Durham Three Peaks. Where the checkpoint times have been available I’ve published that too and it can be quite addictive sorting the table by the various checkpoints to see individual tactics. It’s the sort of race where anyone can go for that stage win.
If I’m right, the results and flyer from the July 1996 event is now our oldest website report. Although despite constant nagging, Barrie Evans has still not sent in his race report for the Two Oceans from 1990. It’s never too late to send in a race report.
The Wasdale Fell Race claims to be one of the toughest fell races and I was soon to realise just how tough.
Since my BGR I’d tried not to lose fitness but unfortunately, recovery has taken its time and it was only last week that my body and my knees were feeling anywhere near as strong. I was eager to get a fell race under my belt though, having hardly raced all year.
I had planned to recce the whole route a few weeks ago, but parking at Seathwaite and meeting the race route at Esk Hause at a steady pace had only got me as far as Greendale. With 6 hours already on the clock and a fair way to go, I’d sensibly headed back to the car. This did mean that the only section I hadn’t recced was that between Greendale, on up to Seatallan and then onto Scoat Fell. Unfortunately, it was also the part I was most likely to lose my way, as there are very few paths/trods.
It’s a 3-hour drive; thankfully it doesn’t start until 11 am. Parking is in a field behind the National Trust car park at Wasdale. I arrived at a field packed with camper vans and extremely lean, mean and fit runners, mostly male…there were a handful of female runners. A board stood beside the registration HQ (a van) declaring that this race was not for novices. GPS devices should not be needed (you should be confident with map and compass). Cut off times were strict. Now, this was something I’d never factored in. The cut-off times were pretty tight. I knew for a fact on my recce I hadn’t even reached the first checkpoint within cut off, let alone the others. The weather forecast was for fog early on, then sunshine from 4. I could already see that Pillar, Gable and the Scafells were hiding in the clouds. Too late to worry; I was here now. Time to test myself.
I got my number; my dibber was tied to my wrist. We were assembled for a quick race briefing. Standing there, swallowed up by my fear, a female runner congratulated me, ‘well done’ she said. As I looked at her puzzled, she started chuntering on about how she was impressed. I looked so glamorous for a fell race. She loved my skort and thought my attire was very well put together. She then started garbling on about how she loves red lipstick and that’s she’s never found one that stays put during races. This is when I switched off entirely and resolved to run as fast and as far away from this lady as possible!
And then it was on. Through the gate and up, up, up and up some more. I was keen to keep as much in the tank as I could. There is little let-up in the whole race. The last 4 miles are just as hard if not harder than the first four and all the bits in the middle.
Finally hitting the top of Illgill Head there’s a lovely runnable section towards Whin Rigg. I kept a good pace along here enjoying the cloud cover and the views. I reached the first checkpoint with only 10 minutes to spare. Not as much as I’d hoped. As I started to descend to Greendale, the initial bit is nice and grassy. My poor trainer choice already had me skidding on the dry trod, then it steepened and I was really like Bambi on ice. I couldn’t believe I’d left my Innov8s at home. Runners streamed past and I cursed myself for my poor preparation. On this part alone, I fell on my bum at least 5 times.
At Greendale there’s a very short trail leading across the valley bottom, the route here was taped. I nearly took myself out on a gate whose hinges had stuck fast, leaving a tiny gap to squeeze through. Then there’s a path along the river before it winds through fields. I passed a man lounging in the shade of a tree only to realise that it was Joss Naylor ‘ well-done lass’ he calls as I run past, the biggest grin appearing on my face.
Then it’s onto unknown territory as we make the climb up the base of Middle Fell, through waist-high bracken, across the stream and on up the unending grassy slopes of Seatallan. Geoff hates this hill, I can see why. It’s so monotonous, made even worse by the fog that is closing in as we rise. I listen intently to the men behind, consumed with their splits, they start me worrying again about cut-offs and one says he missed it last year. Scared I’m in bad company I push on a bit faster. I want to finish comfortably.
Eventually, I reach the top, 20 minutes within time. I pause briefly to check my bearing and then head off towards Scoat Fell. By now I seem to have joined a group who are running at a similar pace. It doesn’t change until the climb to Great Gable. They descend again faster than me. I’m still worried about my knees, which took one hell of a battering on my BGR, and my slippy trainers are not helping matters. I work hard to catch them up on the relatively flat grass (its known as Pots of Ashness) and I’m relieved this usually boggy section is today, as dry as a bone. Then it’s a climb again on an unholy uncomfortable camber where I find my ankles are bending at a ridiculous angle. Through some rocks, at the base of Gowder Crag, until we hit Scoat Fell.
I know the route now and am happy to have reached familiar territory again. I’ve been running with another woman since the start. Its quite foggy, visibility is down to at most 5 metres. It’s comforting running alongside someone else. We encourage each other on and share our supplies of sweets. There’s again a climb onto Pillar. I know it well and can take myself directly to the cairn. We pause at the checkpoint then I quickly get my bearings for the descent. It’s not long really until the path becomes visible and it’s easy going, sometimes across rocks/ boulders but it soon breaks into a lovely little trod onto Black Sail Pass. I trip far too many times, not used to my wide cushioned trainers on this uneven surface. Again the group pulls away and I am chasing again until we start the ascent to Gable. I drop down off the side of Kirk Fell. I haven’t gone on this route but I know where it should be. I must look confident as a man following asks me the way. I’m pleased, as now the clouds have cleared; we can see the little line of runners leading the way. I start to chat and I’m with this man virtually until the end. It’s really getting hot now and my pack is much lighter since I’ve been drinking most of my supplies.
I don’t like Gable, it’s a great big mound of rock and I’ve never been up or down it the same time twice. It’s here I start to pass a few runners. I’m definitely stronger on the ascents. I quite enjoy the climb; I’ve taken a daft route and end up needing to use my hands to pull myself up over the huge boulders. It’s a pleasant change from running.
Quite soon we’ve reached the top (now only 15minutes to spare) and my companion tells me that this is now the home straight, no more cutoffs…woohoo I can finish after all! The man persuades me to follow him on his quicker route, which turns into a nice scree run where I can let my legs recover. We reach the stretcher box then it’s on up past Sprinkling Tarn. All the inflows and outflows are pretty dry today. Runners are starting to slow, the heat making it hard work and all those miles/hills taking their toll.
I start to pass quite a few. A lovely change from the rest of the race where I’ve felt like the last, desperately hanging on. I tuck into my last Snickers, grab a handful of jelly sweets at Esk Hause checkpoint and I feel pretty strong now. The views are stunning, I know I can complete it and I’m slowly picking off other runners.
I like the huge boulder hopping near Ill Crag and make reasonable progress up to Scafell Pike. Then it’s downhill at last, although I’m not looking forward to it. It’s steep with rocky sections. We both smile as we hit the soft grass of Lingmell and it’s a nice flattish grassy run until we hit the corner and it steepens again. It’s also very slippy with small sections of gravel. We pass two walkers heading down on their bums, I’m pleased… it’s not long ago since that would have been my preferred choice of descent. Today, however, I’m attempting to run as fast as my knees and trainers will allow. My companion falls on his bum a few times. I somehow stay upright but am far slower than I’d have liked.
Relieved not to be last, I skip through the field, through the gate and am encouraged to the finish line by fresh-faced finishers (they’ve probably been there for hours).
I chat with a few other runners who have shared some of my journey. The overriding feeling is that it was tough…I’m surprised just how tough. Without a doubt its the toughest race I’ve done. My friend, who I met from the DT series, a really good trail runner, failed to reach Seatallan checkpoint.
I’m proud to have finished. I know it wasn’t my best run, but it’s one hell of a race attracting some of the best fell runners the country has to offer (Jasmin Paris is, yet again, first lady). I try not to be too disappointed but I know I’ll really have to up my game before my next attempt.