When is a race not a race? When it isn’t on Strava? That’s one opinion…
Jan Young asked on the Striders Facebook group if anyone wanted a lift in the week before, otherwise I would have missed it. After convincing the family to come down and have a walk while the race was on, I rejigged my weekend’s runs to fit in.
I wasn’t planning to race earlier in the week and as I stood in the starting bunch of 91 runners, I came to the decision I wasn’t going to run it as one. I’d been working on building some consistent aerobic mileage and didn’t want to ruin that with either an injury from an enthusiastic descent or just over-exertion. I would take it relatively easy on the ascents and not over-egg it on the level and downhill.
I set off gently from the back half of the pack and was really chuffed to reach the trig point at the end of the first climb (stone track all the way) without having walked but not pushed into the red either. There’s a first time for everything. The descent back to the start was steeper and paved, which made it tougher, having to keep my eyes on my footing at all times, but at least this is where I’m at my most comfortable. The paving was a theme on a lot of the path along the ridge to the turn at the far end.
That was only the first climb and I knew there were three more to come before the turn. I ended up leap-frogging several other runners, them either being stronger than me on the ascent or descent (or me being stronger on the descent or ascent, whichever you prefer). The views from the top of the ridge were spectacular, when I could lift my eyes off the path to take them in. I decided to pause to take a snap on my phone, that’s how hard I wasn’t racing.
After a “scramble” through the Wainstones and the final ridge section, I came down to the third checkpoint at Clay Bank and turned for home…only to be faced with a fifth steep climb. Minor planning fail, I hadn’t spotted this one on the elevation profile. Once up this shorter climb, the forest track turned more undulating, without any more serious ascents and a net descent of about 50m. An extra bonus was being back on earth rather than rock. I still wasn’t pushing to the max and it was a good job I’d held back on the first half. I was tiring but it seemed most of the other people I’d been swapping places with were struggling more as they fell back.
I say most because as I passed through the final gate off the fell I could hear footsteps behind me and one runner, from NYMAC, was close behind. Rather than slam it in his face, I decided to hold it open and as he passed through I fell in behind him. We turned onto the finishing field (unwelcomely slight uphill) and I already knew I wasn’t going to push him; if I was racing I would have dug in and given it some beans to the line, as it was I was content to follow him home.
Looking over the results, I was astounded to have come in around mid-table. Nina Mason finished second lady and Camilla Lauren-Maatta was Striders’ other finisher, with Jan acting as sweeper for the day.
So when is a race not a race? When you decide it isn’t.
This one has been on my list for a few months, and it didn’t disappoint. I stayed over in the Lakes the night before (in my new van J and had a relaxing morning wandering round Keswick and down to the lake. The weather was fabulous, if a little warm for running.
After a proper warm up and mandatory kit check, I bumped into Graeme seconds before the start, and then we were off. The race starts and finishes in Fitz Park, and is as simple as it gets….get up Skiddaw as quick as you can (you must stick to the tourist path), one checkpoint at the summit, then back to the park as fast as possible.
It was run, jog, or trudge on the way up, depending on the incline, and I felt pretty good, catching and passing people most of the way. I’ve started to enjoy these ‘out and backs’ – it’s inspiring and exciting seeing the front runners come hurtling past. The eventual winner had a clear lead as he passed me on the flatter section round Little Man, and a few minutes and runners later Graeme got a massive shout from me – he looked strong on his descent.
After my run across the flat summit to the trig, and a breathless ‘thank you’ to the marshals, I set off on the fantastic descent. I absolutely loved this, trying to hold nothing back even on the steeper sections, running as hard as I could all the way. I got a ‘5th lady well done’ from one of the marshals about half way down, so when I saw the 4th female in front, not going as quick as me on the steep descent, I went for it – running past hard, and then trying to keep it going past the car park near Latrigg and down the final section, determined not to show weakness and look behind.
I was convinced she was right there behind me all the way, as I crossed the A66 over the bridge, and raced toward the park. A sneaky peek back as I entered the park showed me I was well clear (thank goodness, my legs had very little left in them), and then all that was needed was an attempt to sprint finish on the grass.
I really enjoyed this race – well organised, brilliant supportive marshals all the way up (and of course down), and on the day we were thoroughly spoiled by glorious weather and views (though not much time to enjoy them).
Well done to Graeme who had a great race, and seemed to retain healthy feet…see below. I was very pleased with both my time and position, with the added bonus of getting the 3rd women’s prize, as one of the faster women declined her prize as she works for the sponsors.
The only downside…I trashed my feet. I don’t think different shoes would have helped, it must just have been the heat, terrain and my running style. I’ve taken all the skin off the soles of my heels. I even have photos if anyone is interestedJ. I’ve been hobbling around, cross because I can’t run despite feeling great otherwise, walking on tip-toe until they healed (heeled!) enough to weight-bear. I’ll be strapping them up the next time I do this race (which is a strong possibility!).
In early April I was contacted by the team manager for the North East Counties, John Tollitt. He wanted to know whether I’d be available, if selected, to represent the North East. My reply was pretty speedy, a short and sweet, most definitely. The last time I’d represented the North East I was in my early teens running the 800m and 1500 m. 30 odd years, a few grey hairs and some frown lines later, just to be asked was pretty special.
A few days later it had been confirmed that I had been successful. I’ve a big race coming up, my training plan was quite specific but for this I adapted massively to optimise a good taper and to get some race specific training in. Unfortunately, it was a little far to recce, that would have been the ideal. I spent a lot of time trawling through old race reports and studying my race map. I’d only run in the area when I had done my fell coaching course so I knew the climbs would be steep and that it should be a challenging race. Fortunately, as it was a championship race, the route was flagged for the day, removing a bit of worry.
Fiona had been selected as well so we travelled down together the car full of nervous energy. We arrived early for kit check and who was to stand behind me but Carl Bell! Then we picked up our numbers and finally our NE vests. Waiting in the toilet queue we were both equally terrified and excited. Fiona had been scouring championship results and kept pointing out previous winners/Salomon/innov8 athletes. It was some line up and to say we were daunted would be an understatement.
We went for a good warm up together across to the start. We had planned to do the first mile or so of the race route but it went straight up a hill, STRAIGHT up….so we decided we’d save our legs and did some laps of the flat grassy field where the race would start. I have never seen so many huge thigh muscles…think of the Hulk (except not green coloured), they must have found it difficult to buy trousers to fit. The warm ups and drills were again something out of a textbook…A skips, B skips, sky high kicks and bounds aplenty, it was quite a sight. These were definitely serious athletes. The race was open to everyone on the day at a princely fee of £7, but the majority were county teams. I was over the moon to spot a couple of older ladies not wearing county vests who I thought I might be able to beat!
We grouped together with the rest of the North East team. As Fiona chatted to Dawn and Katherine, I quietly took myself away so that I could gather my thoughts, calm my nerves and to make sure I raced my race and wasn’t distracted by people I knew. I kept repeating please don’t be last, please don’t be last in my head…. It was a beautiful sunny warm day, clouds flitting across the sky. The race start was in a leisure centre field, very well sheltered, not that there was any wind. Lush green grass, shady old trees and well-tended flower beds surrounded us. The steep valley sides, rising sharply out of the valley floor, were covered in trees.
The gun fired and we were off at last, thankful release from the stress of waiting, onwards and upwards. It was an unsurprisingly fast start, I didn’t want to get swept up and dropped after a few miles, so I kept to my pace. It narrowed quickly up some steps where there was the first bottleneck and then it twisted up a small road for a few metres before it turned onto an extremely muddy stepped path climbing up the hillside through a wood. I was desperate to push a bit faster, I’m strong at climbing, but I couldn’t get past on the narrow track. Finally, it turned into a little lane past a few cottages and I could pick up speed again as it dropped slightly downhill across a field and then yet another wait to cross a stile. A few spritely young men vaulted the fence much to a fierce woman’s disapproval who had been waiting in line (she will return later in the tale!)
Then it was up a stony uneven track flanked by crumbly stone walls and up onto the moors. Still climbing up for the first ascent, every time I thought we’d neared the top another summit appeared just beyond reach. My lovely blond ponytailed running companion stayed firmly in sight. I was always a few paces from her and determined to try to maintain this throughout, on the flats she’d pull away, on the hills, I’d pull her back again.
The first summit eventually was reached across a muddy grassy hillside. There were highland cows with their young grazing on the top which we had been warned about. I’m not fond of cows so I tucked in neatly next to a much bigger male target! The fierce lady was up to no good again as her man gave her a shove over a boggy section then handed her some gels…Fiona berated her for her naughtiness. I’m glad to say we both passed her soon afterwards as she fell in a bog. We then dropped down the other side through a nice squidgy section and onto a wide gravel track. It wasn’t long before it turned a bend and dropped down onto a lovely technical descent by a stream…I passed a lot of runners who floundered on the rocks. We crossed over a stile and had to duck under some trees as the track led us into a dark forest.
It was really good fun, I loved the varied terrain, each section only lasted a few hundred metres and then it would change again. Finally, the small awkward trod turned onto a main forest track dropping steeply through the wood. I’ve really become fond of ‘falling down hills’ it’s taken a while to switch my brain off enough and much concerted effort, mainly to keep Geoff in reach, but I now love it. This descent quickly turned into another grassy track strewn with stones that skirted round the hill and dropped down onto the valley floor. A short section of tarmac before it quickly rose and merged into a muddy stony track, then over a stile and onto a tiny grassy trod climbing sharply up onto the fell. Off the fell and then too quickly we were retracing our steps back to the finish.
It was pretty much all downhill from now, the absolute perfect race finish. I felt like I shot down the hill only to pass Carl Bell looking as fresh as a daisy doing his cool down up the hill! Onto the grassy field round the circumference and into the finish. Fiona hadn’t finished too far in front and I ran across to congratulate her and to bounce around merrily as we both rejoiced. We were as high as kites realising that we were first and second counters for the North East female team and certainly not last. We had also both beaten the previous female course record…it’s a shame all those other county runners were there!
It’s fair to say that we both absolutely loved it, the amazing opportunity and the race itself. It had it all, £5 entry fee with EOD, really pretty, varied terrain, some lovely steep ascents and matching descents and not much tarmac to bother with, I only wish it had been longer!
It’s a quiet Friday afternoon here at work, and after some reflection I feel recovered enough to compile a run report. I’m not joking, this was a tough one and I’m still feeling it.
I’ll start at the Finish, When we finished fellow Strider Aaron Gourley was sat on the steps with his head in his hands having finished around 35 minutes before us. “That was one of the toughest races I’ve ever done” I recall him saying. It sticks with me because, Yes Aaron, It was a tough day on the course, and if someone like Aaron is saying that just imagine how I was feeling!
I ran this race in 2018 with friends and we finished around 3am, it was a real hot day last year and two of the five of us that started dropped out en-route. 2019’s event was to be even tougher, at least for me anyway. It was hot, but not blazing blue skies hot, there was plenty of cloud cover. It was the humidity that was to cause the pain and suffering in 2019.
Starting in Wooler and finishing in Melrose this was the shorter of two Trail Outlaws St Cuthbert’s Way events taking place on the day. The longer event, 100KM had started two hours earlier on Holy Island. Both events follow the St Cuthbert’s Way national trail. Now St Cuthbert might have been a good monk, but his sense of direction is terrible. Its only 35 miles by road to Melrose from Wooler and all pretty flat. The route his trail takes is anything but!
The first 20 miles to the checkpoint at Morebattle are tough. The vast majority of the courses 6700 foot (ish) of climb takes pace in these first 20 miles. The second half of the run (no chance of racing!) is much nicer for running with the exception of the last 2/3 miles which take you over the Eldon hills and in to Melrose. This year though for me there seemed to be far more up than down.
I’d agreed to run this race with my good friend and fellow Strider Dave Toth, agreeing to stay together from the start no matter how they day was progressing. Something I’d be thankful for in the later stages, as Dave pretty much dragged me round (more on this later).
From the start at Wooler you take in some of the fantastic views that the Cheviot Hills have to offer, heading towards the first CP at Hethpool at around 8.5 ish miles. This first part of the run was great fun, fresh legs, nice views, and some cloud cover to protect from the burning sun. We met up with our support crew for the first time just before the CP, ironically as I was walking up a hill eating.
Just after CP1 starts the real challenge, the battle to Morebattle. CP2 is at Morebattle and all I can remember of this section is it goes up, up a bit more, you think you’re at the top, then you swear a bit as it’s a false summit and you’re still going up. Eventually you do come down, but then there’s another climb before finally getting to CP2. During this section we caught up with fellow Strider Eric Green who was not having a good day Eric was with us for a while before dropping back. We found out later that Eric had stopped at Morebattle. This wasn’t his target event and in the days conditions probably the wise choice.
Our amazing support crew not only were on hand at CP2, but had ran out to meet us shortly after the delights of Wideopen Hill. The sight of full bottles of water was one I will remember.
Fresh t-shirt and socks at CP2 were the order of the day and that’s what I got. Now I normally always run in a compression top (to keep the bouncy bits in place), but today as luck would happen I had forgotten my second short sleeve one and had to go for t-shirt alone. I may have passed out with a compression top on as the humidity was so intense it was sapping the energy out of me like never before.
Not wasting any time we were off again towards CP3 at Bonjedward eating sandwiches as we left, at least I was. Elaine Bisson who was running the 100K event came into the checkpoint as we were leaving. She had ran about 19 miles more than us and was looking strong.
Around about midpoint between Morebattle and Bonjedward there is a newly built house next to a road, I have no idea where this place is, but it’s around 25 miles into the route. It was here that our support crew were about to become life savers, not just to us, but other runners too!
The heat and humidity were by now really starting to get to me, and I was struggling to cool myself down, even walking and pouring water over my cap and buff wasn’t having the desired effect I was over heating and knew it. Knowing where the next place our crew could get to I called Jill up, the shock of the phone call from me probably sent fear through her, and asked them to meet us by the new house.
Elaine Bisson had not long passed us on her phenomenal run when we again caught up with her, she was in need of sugar to keep her going and Dave suggested that she meet our support and have his jam doughnut. I believe the crew offered gin, but the doughnut and water was enough. When we reached the crew I had ice packs placed on my shoulders, and water doused over me, this along with some cola seemed to do the job and get my body temperature down. Dave, as always, was fine or at least he wasn’t letting on if he was struggling. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen him struggle.
Onward we pressed, 5 ish more miles to the next official CP at Bonjedward, seemingly all uphill from memory apart from the descent into the CP itself. Straight through this CP with a quick stop for melon, Red Kola (a constant on Trail Outlaws events) and a water refill.
The route to CP4 at Maxton Church is pretty much a blur. I can recall rivers, crossing a suspension bridge, making a navigation error, some fields, a speed camera (navigation error). Essentially fatigue was really starting to kick in now and the main aim was to just keep moving, and in the right direction.
Just before CP4 at Maxton we once again met up with our support crew who had ran / walked out to meet us, they accompanied us into the CP and set about doing their things. water refills, food stocks, etc. They really were amazing. I was ready for another change of shirt and socks before the final push into Melrose, and it was here that the cramp kicked in… As I sat on the passenger seat of Jill’s car attempting to remove my socks my left calf went into cramp, I started screaming, Jill started shouting. “I’m in cramp” I said in agony, “Well there is nothing I can do about it is there”, Jill replied. ” Stand up” she said firmly. Eventually, socks on, shoes on, salt tablet taken we headed back out onto the course.
The final 8/9 miles, again are a bit of a blur, until the Eildon hills anyway. There’s lots of wooded sections, a village with a nice smelling Chinese takeaway, a river, a golf course and the constant throbbing that was the cramp in my left calf, that bit I can vividly remember. The thunder storm and ensuing down pour I can also remember. I had been wanting this all day! Wetness, freshness, coolness! We were leaving the golf course when this happened if anyone cares (or knows where I’m on about).
As we entered the final section and ascended the Eildon Hills the day’s heat and humidity followed by the thunder storm brought with it fog and mist in the woods, making visibility a real challenge. Fortunately, there was only one trail to follow. Dave, leading us up the hill as he had done all day, had the brightest light ever seen attached to the back of his race pack and I was able to ’follow the light’ up the hill, out of the woods and to the glorious sight that was Melrose town beneath us. We only had to descend and we were finished.
The earlier thunderstorm whilst being kind enough at the time to cool me off had also decided it would turn the trail descending in to Melrose into mud; adding extra weight to already tired legs. Descending carefully we entered Melrose to be greeted by the welcoming committee, our support crew and 11th placed Mark Dalton who was staying with us. From where we met the days ‘heroes’ to the finish is only around 300 metres up the high street past, our accommodation, and in to the rugby club. These were to be the fastest 300 metres of the day.
A fellow runner who we’d been running with, navigating on and off during the last section had over taken us whist we’d been enjoying our victories with friends. We weren’t going to be beaten by him, so a sprint ensued. It was probably more like a gentle jog, but felt like a sprint to beat this guy into the finish. We did it, and since Dave had lead all day he lead us home.
It had taken us until just before midnight to complete this epic challenge, but we made it. Starting and finishing on the same day. I was handed a ‘Gin in a Tin’ and sat down on the steps opposite Aaron Gourley. I was grey. I was exhausted. I felt sick. I was drinking that gin.
What have I learnt?
Well, firstly I couldn’t do anything like this without the support of my fantastic other half Jill and the rest of the day’s support crew. They were amazing. I would have DNF’d without them. Secondly I have realised that I don’t have the mental capacity to do an event of this nature on my own. Without Dave setting the pace and pushing on up the hills allowing me to give chase I would have slowed and just walked a lot more than I did. I would have ensured that I finished, but it would have been hours later. Lastly I have learnt that I can’t do events like this without having two recovery days after the event. This event took place on the Saturday, finishing just before Midnight. I was back at work on the Monday, lets just say it was a struggle and leave it there.
Writing from the comfort of a DFDS Ferry after transiting mainland Europe in one day, here’s my account of the Iron Man branded Long Distance Triathlon based at Klagenfurt , Austria 07 July 2019. The run bit’s toward the end, but I had to swim and bike to warm up for it, hope it’s of interest.
Jeez that was a bit of a stress head experience – the weather in the weeks leading up to the event was ringing all the wrong bells – record temps in Europe – severe warnings of danger to life – In 21 years of IM Austria there has only ever been one non wet suit swim before but all the warning signs were there that this was going to be another.
For context there are water temperature thresholds which determine whether a race is deemed either ‘wet suit compulsory’, ‘optional’, or ‘forbidden’. I’m a weak swimmer, and wet suits help some people like me (mainly blokes with heavy, sinky legs) to be more efficient and confident in the water. For me a non-wet suit swim is a big deal, without wearing one there’d be a very likely chance that I’d not make the 2h20m cut off time.
I didn’t follow any web forum threads (I never do – a recipe for headspace disaster imo) – but as I suspected that there’d be a good chance of a non wet suit swim I bought a SwimSkin from Wiggle – It’s an uber tight hydrophobic garment which is some sort of cross between a swimming costume and an industrial strength condom. Still I watched the weather forecast from three different web sites AND logged the reported water temperature – it never exceeded 23C and was forecast to go down – that would be OK, just….. except that the break in the weather as forecast kept slipping back, and the temp stayed high. Not till I got to the race venue in Klagenfurt did i start to get unsolicited info about water temp being >26C (24.5C is the non wet suit threshold for age group athletes), & even then one didn’t know whether or not that was competitor hyperbole, or swim wear vendors plying for sales.
I was really miserable – I know how hard it is to navigate this particular swim course – instead of being 3.8k it’s previously been up to 4.2k at worst – the chances of me DNF’ing the swim were huge.
OK so I’ve been doing loads of fresh water swim training recently – but even so the maths are very close sans wetsuit…… and without one I’m even more nervous and afraid of, getting breathless in, open water – it all serves to slow things down. I even thought about shaving my legs!! I mean WTF – is that even a thing????
I also bought some neoprene shorts – I tried them over the Swim Skin (or as it has become known in some quarters: my ‘Body Sheath’! it felt worse than just the Body Sheath (BS) and It really was too warm to swim in the wet suit (a bit like being boiled in a bag) whereas wearing only the BS felt cool and easy BUT the timing – I’m so slow at swimming ….. aargh.
In the race briefing on Saturday when they confirmed it would be a non wet suit swim it was a relief tbh, at least I knew what to prepare for – the organisers made an error and said calf guards were OK but nothing else was to be worn below the knee or elbow.
There was a cheer from a small part of the crowd which I thought was pretty shit – they (the cheerers) were never going to be obliged to wear wet suits themselves, so what was the point of the cheering other than to make already nervous people even more so. Loads of hubbub in the crowded race briefing – so much so that the official intervened and said something like ‘stop – its disrespectful talking over me while I’m trying to do a briefing’.
Questions were invited and I asked them to clarify the ‘calf guard / nothing below the knee’ thing – which they did for those who’d gone to the front to ask, and also for the German briefing which followed. No rubber, no neoprene and nothing below the knee or elbow.
Nevertheless there was a massive rush on neoprene shorts in the expo – the vendors were having a field day!
A guy (a German guy) came up to me in the hotel later that day (after the English and German briefings that he clearly hadn’t attended) and asked me “is wet suit forbidden?” My chance had come – after years and years of ‘entertaining’ folk (!) with my ‘flair for languages’ ! (I reckon to be fluent in any language within an hour of arriving in a country – this usually equates to speaking very poor french at people no matter where I am, and shrugging and mumbling a lot) I was FINALLY able to use my one and only true German phrase (“for you ze var is over” doesn’t count) – and I delivered it with flair and passion……. “Wetsuit ….:.ES IST VERBOTEN” I said.
Perhaps it was the same bloke, who knows, but shortly afterwards someone was observed removing their bike and both transition bags from the transition area. I haven’t looked at the DNS / DNF lists yet – but I’ll bet there was more than one DNS (see epilogue).
Anyhow – once it was confirmed, it was what it was, a Non Wetsuit Swim! – I ignored the chit chat and did my thing – controlled what I could, left the rest to fate and got the bike and run stuff ready and put it in transition. Then I returned to the digs – had dinner and three rounds of pudding and went to bed at 20:00 for a 03:00 alarm (I’d been going to bed and getting up a little earlier each day for a week to try and adjust my body clock, so this was an hour earlier than I’d moved it to).
PRE RACE PLAN:
03:00 • Alarm Denial Ritual • Ablutions (very important – another one week of pre race body clock conditioning) • Smother self in Butt’rrrr • Get into all Tri Suit / swim gear except ‘Body Sheath’, swim hat, and goggles.
04:00 • Breakfast – to be completed no later than 2.5 hours before swim start – needs to be digested before 07:30 swim start
05:00 • Go back to Transition – put food, energy drinks and Garmin on bike. • Blow up the tyres. • Switch on the lights and Garmin
05:30 • Back to Hotel • Breathe
06:00 • Double Espresso • Walk to race start
06:30 • Get into Body Sheath!
OK here we go. I’m wearing white hotel slippers – a Body Sheath – a rubber hat and a pair of tinted goggles – it’s not a good look. I’ve self seeded (yes it’s a thing) into a predicted swim speed pen with 3000 or so other similarly clad peeps, many of whom (at my end of the pen) also look scared witless – non wet suit swims are not a popular pastime.
There’s a bunch of marshals looking out for folk wearing illegal kit and a big pile of confiscated neoprene shorts, socks and calf guards. As I approach the start gate I guesstimate about 5 minutes to go before I get to the front and have an energy gel – any sooner and if I wasn’t active my body would think I didn’t need it and initiate an insulin response which would lower my blood sugar and be counter productive.
We were released into the beautiful turquoise water of Lake Wörthersee in groups of 4 every 5 seconds.
So there I was, where I thought I’d never be, at the start of a NON WET SUIT IM-Triathlon swim!!
So now it really matters – ever since my dad tried to teach me to swim (age 5) by getting me to jump into a pool and then NOT catching me I’ve never liked swimming (!) – Even now, despite the best efforts and advice of many well meaning but occasionally conflicting coaches – I’m pretty sh@t at it. UNLESS I’m absolutely calm, and in total control, swimming to me is a bit like being waterboarded in a hypoxic sensory depravation chamber. To get through a race I have to stay calm, stay aerobic, sight to way-markers one by one, not lose my cool when swam over, kicked in the head or my vision is blocked by a paddle board mounted swim marshal. In this, my first IM distance race without the safety aid of a wet suit, the first section is crowded – I’m getting punched and kicked and swam into – but the sun is behind me and I can see my way – I tick off one yellow route marker buoy at a time – breaking it into manageable chunks. Sooner than expected I (think I) see what the race brief said would be a red triangular 90 degree direction change buoy – it wasn’t – it was a marshal on a paddle board in a red t shirt and he/she was moving – so I’d been heading to a moving object and was off course – CALM – BREATHE – finish every stroke – smile sweetly at the marshals – say “thank you marshal”.
When I eventually reach the YELLOW (not red at all) triangular 1st 90 degree direction change buoy I turn left – I breath to the left – the sun is rising above the mountains to my left – I’m totally blinded to my breathing side; so I close my eyes and only open them every 10 strokes when I want to peek forward to keep on course to the next buoy.
Left again at the next Triangular buoy – this time straight into the rising sun – I can’t see a bl@@dy thing foreword – just occasional silhouettes – this is the worst bit, I’m supposed to be finding the entrance to a canal from the expanse of a lake – I can see the occasional silhouette of a paddle board and some yacht masts – I know there’s a marina near to the canal entrance – blind logic – breath – finish every stroke – stay calm – repeat.
Into the canal – another 1200m or so, there are people lining the side – looking at their watches – looking behind me – I mustn’t be last if they are looking behind me – but I have no idea at all what time it is. I keep on keeping on – reach – stroke – finish it – breath – reach stroke finish it – breath ….. the bank side is moving slowly by – I collide with a tree root – then a patch of lily pads – there are boats moored to the side, their outboard motor oil stinks in the water – I can see the marshals at the swim exit – 100m or so to go – crowds and marshals are screaming at me – I reach the ramp and what seems like a thousand arms descend and drag me out of the water COME ON … What time is it? – It doesn’t matter GO GO GO – FFS I’ve made it with FIVE minutes to spare!!!! I later learn that someone behind me made it with TWO SECONDS to spare!
TRANSITION 1 – SWIM to BIKE
A light touch is required – I’ve got a v short time to get in and through before it too is closed – I strip off the Body Sheath, grab my bike bag, run into the ladies area of the changing tent – nobody cares – there’s no body there – they’re all miles ahead – Slap on some more Butt’rrrr and get my bike kit on – bike shoes – helmet – a quick waz – grab the bike and GO GO GO.
This is my best bit, this is where it all comes together for me, it’s like skiing on freshly groomed motorway width pistes & I LOVE IT. The course had been modified since I last did this race two years ago – I’d driven the (new for this year) Northern Loop in the VW Fun Bus a few days earlier – it seemed to be gently sloping up and down and with largely smooth surfaces (from the comfort of Das Bus that is) – I was really looking forward to it. I came out of transition, got up on the pedals, and off.
Everyone I go past on the bike course in triathlons has been quicker than me in the swim – it’s great for the ego. First one, then another; I need to keep a check here, and not get carried away…then they started coming thick and fast. Rules are ‘no drafting on the bike’ you can’t get close to another rider without then getting past them in a very short time – or you get a five minute time penalty – DQ for repeat offenders. That’s created a problem – it meant that on what had appeared to be gentle, smooth steady paced climbs from Das Bus I kept having to put in bursts of power to get quickly past each successive one time fast swimmer (now slow cyclist) competitors; and the motorcycle mounted draft buster marshals were being a bit zealous in their mission. I got one informal talking to, so after that I was more careful. The effect was that I wasn’t as consistent in the bike as I might have been – much more on and off – a bit of holding back till I got a decent descent and could take a few bikes out at a time. But once the field had thinned out a bit I was off again.
There’s different schools of thought on cycling in Triathlon (Quelle Surprise!) One endorses slow cadence, high torque, low HR – the other fast cadence, low torque, higher HR. Both give you the same net power, but they each rely on different energy systems and related predominant fuel. I’m a fan of the latter, shredding your leg muscles and bruising joints by overloading them for 180k is really bad way to warm up for a marathon. So I get my HR into Zone 4, drink near constant glucose & fructose mix for fuel and hydration, eat Nak’d Bars and Banana and spin it out – flying.
As you approach the end of the new Northern Loop and start to drop back down toward the Wörthersee you can see over the lake to the far side of the Southern Loop and the mountain ranges that form the border with Slovenia – fantastic..that’s where I’m heading now. But first back past the transition area – through the screaming fan zone – up on the pedals to get the carbon wheels singing – and off again … off along the Southern shore of the Wörthersee towards Velden – but what’s this – strange, feels a bit like hard work, feels a bit WINDY, it cant be .. surely …
BOOM – CRASH – KARUMBA – KRACKLE – A bit like the storm that broke the summer of 2018 on the same weekend as The Lakeland 100 and the Outlaw Triathlon – A HYOWJ thunderstorm hit the Karentan area of Austria just as I was mid way between Klagenfurt and Velden on the shore of the Wörthersee. There was washed out soil and tree debris everywhere – The wind was catching my wheels and throwing me about, the rain at lake level (hail in the mountains) soaked the roads and riders. Folk didn’t seem to know what to do. I passed cyclists sheltering under bridges and in barns. I saw at least three who had taken their helmets off (I’ve no idea why) and were heading back toward the race HQ. WTF, I thought, surely to hell they haven’t black flagged the race for a bit of WEATHER – jeez, it was little more than Sunny Sunday TriClub Cycle to Sedgefield. When I arrived at the next aid station it was clear that they’d had a bit of a panic at race HQ, but NO Black Flag (phew) – the storm passed and I shot off West then looped back to the South then East – up over the infamous Rupetisburg Hill Climb – I didn’t even notice it. There were no cow bell dingling spectators on that part of the course this year (no brollies or wellies I guess) which was a shame, but it’s amazing how much harder a hill climb is when there’s shed loads of graffiti on the road and crowds lining the route shouting HOPHOPHOP to tell you that it is one.
The last 20k of the Southern Loop, is mainly downhill and smooth – a guy cycles up beside me (no draft buster marshals survived the thunder storm) and tells me about his recent puncture. ‘Have you got a spare tube?’ ‘Yes sure’ I say. ‘What about CO2?’ ‘That too’, my retort. So he drops back – and I wonder what he’s thinking. Then he cycles up again, ‘I’ll just slip in behind you then’ he says.
I’m wondering if he’s expecting me stop and give him a tube, or perhaps even the full Convoi Exceptionalle / National Breakdown service so – I reach for my easy access CO2 and hand him the canister. ‘Look mate, happy to help but if you want the tube you’ll have to stay ahead of me’.
He slips in behind but despite the massive assistance afforded by slip streaming me he drops back…. and I’m off again.
I know the course, it feels fast – this bike is a joy to ride – mountains turn to pasture, trees to deciduous, I can smell the lake again, hear the hum of the city and then the transition zone, the Pros and young folk with brand new bodies are on the run course – some have even FINISHED it (b@stards). I fly through the suburbs, past the sports stadium, waved through red lights by the police and into T2.
TRANSITION 2 – BIKE to RUN
7 hours for 180k for the bike is slower than envisaged by about 45 mins. Add that to the 45 min excess swim time and I’m running out of contingency time for the run! Another light touch required – no brewing up or making sarnies. Why do I do this again? .. oh well COME ON…. rack the bike, grab my run bag, towel out on the floor, change socks and shoes (all pre prepped with Johnson’s finest baby powder). Helmet, gloves, shoes all in the bag, turn the race number belt around and off, but something doesn’t quite feel right…
…. Something wasn’t right – there was a distinct mass in the undercarriage department – had I followed through with one of those post gel farts ??? Thankfully not, I’d forgotten to take my bike shorts off – the rain and sweat sodden chamois swinging about like a well hung baboon and knocking me off my stride. No worries , I give the crowd a laugh, took them off with a burlesque flourish and flung them to the baying crowd – hilarious.
And off we go, round three, a 42.2k run. It’s so important to get this right and not blow up. We’ve all heard about hitting WALLS in marathons, but that’s really just running out of fuel, esp the carbs / glycogen fuel needed to run in HR zone 4 and above – it’s hard if not impossible to replenish glycogen at the rate it’s consumed over the course of a marathon distance, so we get that WALL thing at c.30k when there’s nothing left. So here I am I’ve just swam for 2h15m and cycled for 7h in a purposeful HR Z4, and despite constant fuelling on the bike I’m already glycogen deficient and now it’s time to do the marathon.
After blowing up early at both Paris and The Northumberland Coastal Marathons earlier in the year due to fuelling anomalies, my strategy for this race was to start and stay well sub threshold for the whole distance – I wanted to start and keep my HR in the Low Zone 3 region and be more reliant on Fats than Glucose for fuel. I’d already stacked up on ham and cheese croissants during the latter part of the bike course and I set out to start each run section slowly allowing my pace to steadilly and sustainably increase so that I never went into an oxygen debt – and if my HR crept up toward Z4 I’d back off. Note: training for that sort of run strategy is best done alone – it’s embarrassing – but it works.
So I shuffled off – past an already busy finish line grandstand – and toward the town of Krumpendorf. Feed stations are every 3k or so, and at each I walked though, swigged flat coke, iso, and a splash of water; ate a slice of melon, a lump of banana and two pretzels – then I’d get on my tip toes, walk tall, reach my hands up high, stretch out and slowly get back to an exaggerated easy shuffle which then morphs into a sustainable easy run.
From Krumpendorf it was back to the Grandstand, collect lap band #1 then out to Klagenfurt City Centre. In Klagenfurt it’s all so very café culture – the bars and restaurants do a great trade while the competitors run through the cobbled streets dinging a charity bell. Back along the canal tow path to the Grandstand and out toward Krumpendorf again.
So by now the Grandstand is in full swing and I’ve still got another half marathon to run. As I left the hum of the Grandstand behind it tended toward dusk, the aid stations were running out of stuff, it’s a quiet part of the course and frankly a little bit mentally taxing to ‘keep on keeping on’ when out Krumpendorf way. It’s time to start to count – 1 & 2 & 3 & 4, fiver, sixer, seven, eight, all the way to 100, then repeat, then repeat, then repeat ….. eventually back to the Grandstand area and collect lap band #2.
By now it’s properly dark, and remember that avoiding the 30k wall thing ? Well this is where it pays off – I keep it going, walk the aid stations, fuel, fluid and caffeine – restart…… But it’s starting to hurt now – I’m still keeping the intended pace and HR zone but my quads are complaining, my hamstrings are tight, and I get a bit of a wobble on when the ground goes uneven. I walk the subway descents and ascents so as not to pull a calf.
As I approach Klagenfurt for the final time I actually begin to wonder if I’m going to make the time cut off – I’ve stopped being able to do basic maths and I can’t work out how long I have left to finish or how far it is – but I take comfort (of sorts) in the fact that there’s no broom waggon in sight and there are still loads of other folk on the course.
Back to the park near the finish line & grandstand – the distance signs say different things (as they do on any multi laps course – Kielder is the worst!) and I can’t recall which signs are relevant and whether they mean distance ‘completed’ or ‘to go’ – I get to one that says 3k – surely it can’t be – and then Boom there’s the ‘turn here to finish sign’.
I turn the corner and it comes upon me a bit quicker than I’d expected – didn’t have time to lose my rabbit caught in the headlights expression …. but the Grandstand is BOUNCING– the finishing shoot resplendent – dancing girls in full swing – cheesey tunes mixed into the best apres ski sound track you’ve ever heard – It’s fantastic. IM is one of the few event companies (of my experience) that know how to do a finish line properly (the other being ‘Challenge’), and this one is no exception – it’s fantastic.
The support for the last finisher is unreal – then when the final cut off of 17 hours ticks over and there’s Fireworks over the Wörthersee.
What a Day – a non wet suit IM Triathlon in the bag – and #5 of 10 (or so!) done.
The results include 8 (web) pages of folk who have dns or dnf against there names and a few dq’s. I don’t know how this compares to previous years but It feels like a lot. As well as the normal collection of finishers in their 60’s and 70’s (occasionally 80’s) who are an absolute inspiration – there was one guy there who at close of play Sunday had completed 252 (two hundred and fifty two) IM distance triathlons – I’m still trying to work that one out!
I joined the striders in May, having being on the lookout for a running club for a little while but not having plucked up the courage to do so, so if I haven’t met you yet, hello! The Willow Miner hasn’t been far away from conversation since I joined the club. On the last bank holiday in May I did a recce of it on a ‘Captains Special’ run and made my usual excuses afterwards that trail wasn’t for me, uneven ground is tricky etc.
Having said that, training on trail routes had been progressing reasonably well so I took the plunge and signed up, knowing this would be my first event in striders colours. I am certainly not at the top end of the club in terms of pace but I was determined I was going to maintain a reasonable level of pride in the performance I put in.
Last week another recce of the route was to follow (thanks to Malcolm for giving up his time for this) and I found I had gained some confidence from the first time I had attempted it. Onto race day, I had persuaded a friend (who isn’t currently a strider, maybe one day) to attempt the race as well. He has had a pretty severe knee injury and hasn’t run a lot of late but he is always game for a challenge. Following the opening messages involving a lot of thank yous to get the race on (more on that later) we were good to go.
As is often the case at the beginning of the race, the first part was quite frantic, settling down around about a mile in. This is where my next thank you is owed, I ran the rest of the race from this point with Louise, a fellow strider, who was an absolute superstar.
She was a superb pacemaker through the middle of the race and then I took up the role for the last 2km or so. She kept me on point excellently and I wouldn’t have managed the time that I did without her. Finishing time officially for me was 50.02, work to do on that but I had set myself a target of 50 minutes so the aim for next year will have to be 45 minutes! My injury prone friend managed 57 minutes without any reoccurrence of his injuries so that’s a positive to build on also!
To Jonathan and all of the volunteers who marked out the course and marshalled to make the event possible I must say thank you, you were excellent and kept me going! It was very professionally done and at no point did I think I was going to get lost.
To the striders who showed up to offer support who weren’t involved, thank you to you too, its that sort of support that makes this club what it is (even including the photographers who always catch me looking fresh!) The mood at the finish was excellent with the buzz of all of the different clubs involved, many of whom I spoke to were very complimentary about the event and our club as a whole, which is excellent to hear. Finally well done to our speedsters and to each and every strider who finished the course, in humid conditions all efforts were impressive!
Final thought from me is with regards to the club and how welcoming it has been in the short time I have been a member. If you are considering joining a running club I couldn’t recommend this one highly enough. There are runs available for all abilities on a weekly basis and I have improved both speed and endurance a lot in my short time with the club, with lots of further room for improvement.
It seems fitting that the last thing I read was Kilian Jornet describing his not so victorious Western States Endurance Race. He finishes by saying that ‘you learn little from victories; on the contrary, when things are going badly, when the situation is hard and it’s difficult to get out….that’s when you mature and really learn something about yourself’. This isn’t my target race, this was my practise run, I made some serious errors of judgement which lost me an enjoyable run, a good race and a podium finish.
I’ve just finished reading an excellent ultra running guide. Ultra running and training have so many more dynamics and difficulties. The training and considerations on race day are far more than for a flat 10k road where pace, clothing and shoe choice are pretty easy. On ultras, aside from the training, which is possibly the easiest bit, the weather is a huge consideration, kit choice, weight of kit, fluid and fuelling and prevention of blisters and chafing and all other horrors that may befall an ultra-runner. One of the main areas of advice from this book was to never enter an ultra unless you are passionate about that specific race. Perhaps this was my first error.
I tapered well, however my planned rest day on Friday went pear shaped as I’d parked my car to drop my son off at school…on a road where drop off is allowed until 9am. I walked back to the car only to realise the key was no longer working, my house keys were locked in the car. The wardens often roam this street, so I set off on a mad sprint to retrieve both sets of keys. Thankfully when I returned, no parking ticket was there and my keys opened the doors.
The next comedy of errors was that I’d downloaded 2018 race instructions ages ago and had somehow muddled them up with 2019 instructions. I arrived on Friday night thinking I had until 22:00 to register at Darnick village hall only to arrive at the hall to shut doors and no one around. Frantic checking of my phone, I eventually found my error and drove back to the headquarters at the rugby pitch, with 10 minutes to spare. Thankfully Mark Tierney had recommended a lovely B&B a few minutes from the finish. I arrived a little frayed to a wonderful room, with a huge bed, big fluffy pillows and a lovely owner fussing around me eager to help in whatever way possible. She provided a lovely supper and prepared my breakfast ready and waiting in the room fridge. I showered, laid out my kit, got my bottles and bladder sorted and settled down for a good night’s sleep. That is, until the snoring from the guest upstairs began….
I ‘awoke’ early, or at least got out of bed to get ready. We had to arrive to get the bus from the finish at 6:15 to the start on Holy Island at 8. It was a pleasant drive across; I was quite excited seeing the pretty countryside we’d soon be running across. My concern was the heat, already at 6 am I was content in short and t shirt, it was oppressive.
It was a beautiful start running across the causeway to the mainland. I’d looked at previous split times and had a fair idea of my target times for the checkpoints. Off the causeway it was across fields, through the first cow field of the day where the cows were pretty frisky and kept dashing back and forth, clearly excited to see the stream of runners passing through. Round past the railway line onto the first checkpoint at Fenwick and across the A1. On through the rolling countryside, fields, forests, hills and along tiny overgrown trails. It was really gorgeous.
I’d read a few race reports warning runners the way is not well sign posted in England…too right, I missed a few but going only slightly off track which I quickly remedied. I soon reached Wooler checkpoint, again on time. Here there were ‘more substantial food stuffs available’ and my drop bag. I quickly filled up my fluids and replenished food supplies. Popped my head in to see a very limited, pretty dire array of sustenance. I always look forward to tea, I was pretty miserable leaving with only a bag of ready salted crisps.
Now along familiar trails. I’d done The McWilliams Round Short last year with Stuart. It was a similarly scorching day, we completed it in a shockingly slow time all due to heat and running out of fluid. That day Stuart had dropped to his knees, scraping across the grass as he’d heard the burbling of a little spring off The Cheviot. He saved us from dehydration with that Cheviot bog water! It was nice to be back. Passing the last of Wooler’s houses a woman poked her head out of her garden gate and told me I was going to bake…thanks for that, 20m in, I’ve already consumed 2L, I am well aware that it is exceedingly hot.
I kept pace with a group of men, chatting to one about Lakeland races for quite some time. As we dropped down into the valley heading to Hethpool, the comparable coolness on the tops made it feel like a furnace. Stopping by a stream I dunked my head in, it felt so good. I left the man behind as he started struggling with the heat. By now I’d caught up with a few 45m runners, they start from Wooler at 1030. The tracks were getting busier again and it was nice to pass time chatting as I went by. Again there were more cow fields complete with the mothers and their calves, always fun to negotiate.
At Hethpool checkpoint there were yet more fizzy drinks, jellied sweets and pretzels, they made my stomach turn. It was a delight to set my eyes upon melon, I stopped to devour a few slices, topped up my water bottles and on I went (I was consuming 2 litres every 2 hours. It was hot). This next section on to Morebattle was possibly the most challenging but most rewarding isolated terrain with its rolling grassy hills and amazing views for 360°. There is a lovely stile to cross from England into Scotland.
It was only at Kirk Yetholm that my legs really started to hurt from chafing leggings. The gel I’d put on and had kept reapplying to prevent it, was not working, it was just too hot. My skort leggings that I’d thought would be lovely and light in the end were too lose and rough.
Having got a lovely surprise cheer from present and past Striders (the crew!) out to support David, Simon and Bill, I finally caught up with Bill. We had a brief chat before the last of the big ascents, a lovely three peaked climb over Wideopen Hill. By now we were in Scotland and the signs were frequent and hard to miss. I reached the summit to see a lovely grassy descent and looked forward to running down only to feel a blister shear on my heal. I stopped immediately. I had at least 30 miles to go and needed to prevent it getting bigger. I pealed back my sock to reveal an enormous blister. I emptied my first aid kit out and started to dress it. Unfortunately, my blister plaster which had been lying unused in my bag for the last year was now not sticking. I started to wrap tape round it so it wouldn’t shift only to realise I couldn’t rip the tape. And so the whole roll went round and round my ankle. Ready again I was off although I could already feel my other foot complaining. I’d have to go on regardless. By now I was going quickly off all food, it was just so stifling. I started feeling queasy. I’d had enough of my drinks and was just desperate for a cup of tea.
I can’t say enough how pretty the route is, mostly trails. There are a few road sections but they don’t last long. But by now I was beginning to not enjoy any of it. The heat was incredible, my feet were sore, the skin on my legs was sore. Every step was uncomfortable and the only thing I could think to make it all better was a good cup of tea. On to Morebattle, another ‘major’ checkpoint with bag drops. Again the crew were in force offering support. The check point was in a pretty, small village hall. My hopes raised, perhaps tea would be here, or a sandwich or three. But again only fizzy pop, water, a few bananas but mostly sweets and crisps. I refilled my bag with my drop bag contents. Pleased I’d packed loads and a good variety. I downed my chocolate milk and was off again up the lane, cursing everything and everyone, why no tea????
It was here just before Cessford Castle ruins that I caught up with David and Simon, I passed them on a little lane, continuing my rant about the food and lack of tea. Poor David got an earful as I went past. They were wisely being supported, David started reading off a list of foods I could choose from next time I saw Jill. When I eventually spotted their car and was greeted with ‘how are you, do you need more fluids, can we get you anything else??’ Nicola had a can of gin and tonic, it looked cold, she was floating it in front of my face. That was the first point I thought how nice it would be not to run anymore in this heat. Days like this were meant for short runs then sitting in the sun, drink in hand. A DNF?? Stuart’s motivation video rang in my ears, ‘you didn’t come this far to only come this far’, I pushed this thought aside and mentioned the doughnut. More than happy to help it was quickly found and again anything else?? And despite those dominant thoughts about a DNF, a lift back to Melrose perhaps, a G+T… somehow a ‘No thanks’ came out of my mouth instead. Who was this imposter pushing me to the finish in this horrendous heat??
I have to say that jam doughnut, especially when I got to the jammy half, was absolutely DEVINE! I gobbled it up and licked my fingers not wanting to waste any of the sticky sweet jam and headed on through a wood. The light was now starting to fade, it felt slightly earie, there was no one around and I kept hearing noises that made me jump. I attempted to eat some more food, I know with all the fluids I’d not done well, I felt nauseous and starting slipping into self-pity. There were a few other families out, appearing on road crossings. In particular, there was a couple supporting their son, they must have seen my rapid deterioration from cheery to absolute moroseness. I knew from their faces I must have looked a state. I knew I could quite comfortably run much, much faster, but today my stupid kit and my skin had failed me and every step was agony. I kept counting down the miles and calculating then recalculating and recalculating again how long it might take. My original, perfect race pace was rapidly slipping away and I just wasn’t bothered enough to pull it back. I’d stopped enjoying it. Stopped enjoying running. Stopped enjoying my picnic. I’d stopped enjoying the adventure.
It was here that the 3rd placed woman passed me. She was chirpy and lovely. She chatted away and dragged me along telling me I couldn’t give up on my podium spot now after all of this. I started to forget about everything hurting, I remembered my stash of mint cake, I can always eat mint cake. I started to believe I could keep 4th at bay and keep my podium spot. If only I kept up with this girl. It would be fun again, an adventure and a diversion from my own negative thoughts. We were happily skipping over tree routes down a wooded trail when I heard a shriek behind. I stopped and looked back. A runner had fallen, she wasn’t getting up and she wasn’t responding to my shouts are you alright? So I made my way back to see if she was OK. She’d fallen and landed badly on her hand, shoulder and knee. She was shaken up. It didn’t seem like she had any significant damage but three quarters of the way through her 45m she was worried this may signal the end for her. I stopped with her, located her bandage and made sure she was ok before she urged me on my way.
By this point my life source had disappeared, I was alone again. Back receding into my own dark thoughts and through the darkening lanes. I was trudging through woods where every creak seemed to herald something sinister. And then coming down a country lane I spotted Aaron, I caught up with him and had a brief meltdown. It was clear he was having a tough day too. He told me I’d be ok if I just rested a while at the next checkpoint which was only minutes away. I stopped for a brief rest, a drink of lemonade (more fizzy rubbish!) and more fluid top ups, then as the 4th lady slipped past and stole all hope from my tiny stash still left, I grabbed a banana and got on my way. Perhaps if I just ate this it would take my thoughts off everything hurting and I could catch her up.
Back into woods and I started to feel really weird, I started shivering and felt very sick. I waited a bit to see if Aaron would catch me up but after a few minutes of shivering and trying desperately to eat the banana, I knew I had to get moving again. Then to my surprise I heard a gorgeous American voice drifting through the trees, ‘who is that in a strider vest?’, only to see Ashley. She caught me up before she passed as I struggled to eat the banana. Then it was through a cow field, again, mothers with their calves. I could see Ashley ahead happily jogging by. I have a big fear of cattle so I walked quietly attempting not to draw attention to myself, then one of the calves started getting too interested and I headed quickly for the fence line. To my surprise the girl, Cloey, who had fallen, followed my lead and now we ran together both complaining about cows and dark woods and heat and blisters. She then suggested we should keep together for those last 9 miles. She wasn’t enjoying the dark woods on her own. She was scared now she’d miss a sign in the dim light with fatigue taking over. She was nearly as fed up as me. Her friend who had planned to run with her had dropped out many miles and hours ago, and she too needed company to keep her going. This was just what I needed. Someone to chat to, I wasn’t bothered now whether it was fast, I just needed to get to the end. Again with the company and the chatter I started to enjoy the views. The wide riverbanks, the meadows, the neatly mown golf courses, the forest trails and tiny tracks. I no longer jumped at every sound through the woods.
Then the rain came, it had been threatening all day, but despite a few drops and all of our prayers and wishes, nothing substantial fell. As if to say ‘You’d wished for this, well here it is!’ the whole sky fell in. It crashed to the dry earth, too fast to drain, puddles and streams formed everywhere. We were soaked to the skin within seconds, unable to see with the rain dripping in our eyes. 60 miles of relentless dry heat with 5 miles until the finish, now this. We both started to laugh at our misfortune.
Our last climb around the Eildon hills was still substantial but we knew the end would be in sight. As we reached the ridge we saw the most beautiful twinkling pink lights of Melrose, I desperately tried to work out where the finish was. I searched for the path that would surely now lead straight down directly to the finish. But no, the sign pointed up and away along the claggiest clay path you could imagine. Our feet stuck and slipped and slid all the way until we were finally on a grassy track dropping down to Melrose. By now you could feel our relief, our happiness that finally this day would end. On the street we passed Cloey’s husband who ran with us for a few hundred metres then pointed us home. Our journeys end to collect our medals. Then up to the most glorious sight I saw all day…a huge steaming pot of sweet sugary TEA!! I stayed there a while to drink a days’ worth. Lots of tired faces and bodies strewn around.
So now, a few days later, what would I say, what do I think? It’s a gorgeous route. I love the history of it, the passing from England to Scotland, taking in the places important in the life of St Cuthbert. The instructions clearly state that more food would be provided at Wooler and Morebattle but that your own supply would benefit you. It also suggests having your own crew to support you or even having a friend pace you. I’d definitely recommend it if you can, especially the personal road crew. Or even better, just make a day of it yourself.
I’m disappointed, the heat took its toll in ways I hadn’t thought. My usual good food choices weren’t hitting the spot. My kit choice didn’t come up to scratch. I wish I’d loved it; on a normal nasty British weather day I would have loved it without a doubt. However, it was my practise run and as that it’s been invaluable. A lovely thank you message from Cloey appeared on FB, she wanted to thank me for stopping to help her and to congratulate me on finishing 9th overall, 4th lady and 1st in my age category, V40. To say I wasn’t as s*** as I thought I’d been and to say the teamwork in the end was brilliant.
On a day with a nearly 30 % DNF over both distances, with some very experienced runners among those DNFs, perhaps I’m being slightly hard on myself. I just know the finish could have been different. But I discovered so much about myself, amongst others, my incredible desire for tea and my steadfast determination to finish. In the end a DNF was never going to happen, I would have crawled over the finish line if I’d needed to. When things f*** up, learn from them, and do better next time!
After the London Marathon, I had planned to try and use my new found level of fitness to achieve a sub-40 10k. One failed attempt, a second attempt thwarted by Father’s day, and I decided to shelve this dream for a short while as I was getting too negative about it all.
So when Fiona mentioned the Saltwell fell race on Tuesday morning, it caught my eye. A quick online search told me this was only 5.5 miles and was partially marked – that sold it. A quick check to make sure I wasn’t going to be the only Strider there, and the decision was made – my first fell race! No PB chasing and no clock watching.
With the nice weather, it seemed unlikely we’d need full kit, but I wasn’t taking any chances and quickly treated myself to a whistle, a compass I can’t use and some taped seam trousers on the afternoon. Now I have the kit, I’ll have to do a bad weather race to get my money’s worth!
The race start was located a couple of miles north of Stanhope. Race HQ was the back of someone’s car parked by the side of the road, with parking also scattered along the road. A flag marked the race start. Very low key.
As soon as I parked I realised that, in my effort to pack a full FRA kit, I had forgotten my inhaler…. Whilst I can manage as long slow run without, exercise is the main trigger for my asthma, so without this, it was going to be a slow jog over the fells. I decided to randomly ask total strangers if they had an inhaler but had resigned myself to just enjoying a gentle run out on a summer evening.
Having found Nina, Robin, Nigel and Simon at the start, we were ready to go. Well almost, a request from the race director for an inhaler came up with a result, so 2 quick puffs and we were off!
I had no real idea what to expect so was happy just to settle into pace with those around me at first. After a very short section of path, the race heads uphill, through heather and bracken. There was a small (very small) gap to follow and I just slotted in at a very comfortable pace, not wanting to waste energy at this point traipsing over the foliage. As we got higher, there started to be some slightly sparser areas of foliage (is there an official fell term for this???!), so I started to take the opportunities to move up a few places at a time. Eventually we joined a gravel path again for a short time, reaching the top of the hill. By this point I suspected I might be first female, and if not, then not far off. But was well aware I may have just gone out too fast and had no idea what I was doing or where I was going…
We headed back on ourselves with a long mainly downhill section, but we were back on rough ground. Constantly watching for the best path through, I’d hooked onto the back of a very similarly paced runner and was happy to let him help guide me through. Both taken by surprise with the first bog, not helped by running into the sunshine. He lost one leg into the bog, I lost both above the knees and was pretty concerned about my trainers, but managed to get out with both still on my feet. Off we went.
Second fall was a km or so further on, when a sudden dip in the ground sent me flying forwards with a bit of a thump into the heather. Slightly winded (and with a quick check around to see if anyone had noticed) I got going again and gradually built my pace up again.
Plain sailing until we approached the stream and the ground just seemed to drop away. As I gingerly picked my way down, I was overtaken by Dawn Metcalfe of Durham Fell Runners, who was taking a very much more confident approach to the descent. Then it was into the stream – no we didn’t need to cross it, just go in to the far side, clip our numbers, then back out the same side. Took this crossing a little too fast and fell again, up to my chest in water, but actually quite welcome at this point in the race. Sadly fell right at the feet of the same guy from the bog who by now was probably wondering what I was doing…
There was a bit of a climb back up and then, essentially, it followed the river line. However, I got back in front of Dawn and the river fall man, and started heading up and left further than we needed. Another runner whistled us back down. I had a few random “I don’t know where I’m going” moments (out loud – same man still in earshot, presumably shaking his head around this point), torn between pushing ahead, or holding back and tagging along. Dawn actually took a higher line and in retrospect this worked better, as she got back in front of me.
We dipped back down to the river and then it was a climb and a half back up towards the finish. This was a walk-run in places, and Dawn was still well within reach. She went for a more even pace, and each time I ran, I caught up a little more. Never did quite get there though and had to settle for second place in the end. Still, more than happy with that for my first fell race. And it was just what I needed! I might have to do another one now. And learn how to use that compass. And run down really steep hills without fear for my life.
I was tempted to run today. Cronkley Fell is an old Strider favourite and a traditional GP fixture. But 14 days after Comrades I knew it’d be unwise. Many times I’ve run a favourite race, felt fine for the first mile, then not so fine for the remaining 90% of the race. Lessons learned.
So Roberta and I wandered up by High Force, flasks and flapjacks packed, bumped into Jan, and settled down beside the Tees. This is a fine course. There were moments when I wished I’d been on the other side of the lens, but a man’s got to know his limitations.
But it illustrates the wonderful fickleness of the GP. The GP is the Elvet Striders all-rounders race. It’s open to all. And if you had been a lady Strider today, and ran, and finished, you’d have scooped 15 GP points.
Callum Hanson (Pudsey & Bramley)
Geoff Davis (NFR)
Robin David Parsons
Susan Davis (NFR)
GP Note: Geoff and Susan are not eligible for GP points as they ran as NFR. If I’d run today, as DFR, as I’d planned, I would’ve been ineligible too. To be eligible for GP points you must run as a Strider.