The Montane Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra Run, Ingram Village Hall, Breamish Valley, Northumberland, Saturday, December 1, 2018

55miles, 95% on trail/fell, 9500ft ascent, 24 hour limit

Elaine Bisson

A 55 m ultra run will test all your abilities as both your body and mind are placed under stress in this unforgiving environment.’

The Cheviot Goat takes you to ‘the last wild places in England where population count per square mile is the lowest to be had.’ Well if that doesn’t grab your attention, perhaps read Stuart’s 2017 race report! Last year at this time I’d just finished reading it, it was a scary report, particularly those last few miles, but the sense of the immense challenge and satisfaction remained with me. A month or so later entries opened for the 2018 race and with it, a flurry of messages from Stuart… ‘You’re not chicken, are you?’, was the one that really wound me up (think Marty Mcfly!)

And so it was that I stupidly entered. I regretted it the second later. Anyhow, I had the ‘Bob’ to train for and recover from after, so this was a race that gave me nightmares, which strangely excited me and one that I’d rather not face. I was honestly planning NOT to be on the start line. A little more coercion from Stuart and I was out recceing the route. It’s fine, it was just a training run…one that we’d managed well, taking time to map read and successfully navigate until the last 4-miles, when somehow we’d convinced each other that the compass and map, and all logic, was illogical…but then after 30mins of studying the map and the clearly visible landscape, we’d followed the compass and found our way home.

This worried me enormously but yet again a week later I was out at 8:30 pm on that same hill in the dark with Stuart, Sam and Kim ‘mastering’ the last section so I’d be fine come race day. We’d ‘aced’ it, returning to the car at 2 am to return home and collapse on the sofa only to be woken again at 7 am by the kids prodding me!

This running through bogs in the middle of the night lark sure beat my student partying days!

I invested in new kit, good, warm kit. I spread all of my kit options out on the bedroom floor and weighed each piece then decided between items to pack. My kit bag, come race day, needed more than the minimum. I get cold quickly and, if I were to get injured in this race, I’d need them until I was found… which potentially could be a long time.

I got a few messages, most implying I shouldn’t race. The thought of challenging myself trumped the fear and that strange and wonderful excited/nervous/incredibly excited feeling returned that I hadn’t felt since the Bob.

My worries were:
• Will I get lost… well I’d recceed most of the route, the rest appeared fine (+ GPS packed as the last resort.);
• Will I get hypothermia?…so I packed loads of extra layers;
• Will I die in the dark in Hedgehope bog after my head torch has packed in? (spare head torch battery packed, portable battery charger packed, extra head torch packed with extra batteries!).

And so it was, my bag was packed, picnic packed, waterproof map packed and cut to size (200g saved!), drop bag packed with a change of clothes, trainers, extra food and drink. The downside of all this packing, for every eventuality, meant that my bag weighed a tonne.

Friday night I moved out to the spare room and set my alarm for 3 am, Stuart was to pick me up at 3:45, registration was until 5:30 am. Game time, 6 am.

We travelled up listening to motivation clips. Stuart was on an incredible high; he kept repeating ‘Game Time’ in a crazily giddy way. It cheered me up immensely. We registered in the village hall, my beautifully packed clothes had to be unpacked and checked prior to getting my number.

I started to panic, I always do. I look around and convince myself I don’t belong, that all these fit runners will see through my facade and laugh that I’d even attempt it. Stuart said my nervousness reminded him of me pacing around the Moot Hall before the Bob. ‘Game Time’ he kept repeating until it rung in my head. A few trips to the toilet and some fell running legend spotting (secretary of BGR club, Jasmine Paris, Kim Collinson, Carol Morgan, Tom Hollins…), then we gathered on the start line ready for 6 am. It was pitch black and frosty and who was to stand next to me but Jasmin Paris, the only one dressed in the tiniest of shorts. I chatted briefly to her about running and children before we were off and away.

Stuart kept with me here, I was relieved to finally get started and to follow the tracks, loads of people and head torches lighting the way. It seemed that lots flew past as I stopped to climb a stile (and they jumped the gate). I was worried that we were already at the end of the pack. Stuart reassured me that we weren’t. ‘Look back at the top of the ridge and you’ll see all the lights’…I did and it was so pretty, a string of fairy lights stretching across the dark landscape.

We soon hit a flat track and Stuart sped off; I’d thought I’d kept him in range only to realise the pack I thought was Stuart belonged to another runner. I was slightly disheartened as I enjoy his company; I thought that was the last I’d see of him until the end.

It wasn’t long until the sun started to streak the sky with pink and orange. I’d been enjoying myself; I knew this section of the route. It felt wonderful to start the day running through the landscape knowing most people were wrapped up in their beds. I was looking forward to the challenge, to see if I could get myself around. I turned off my head torch as soon as I could, not long before the second checkpoint, trying to save precious battery for later.
The end of the section we’d recceed came too soon; Nagshead Knowe is where we’d cut through the forest to join the second half on our recce. Strange to think how long it would take to reach the Border Ridge when now it was barely half a mile away.

Now onto the first of the bad bogs up Bloodybush Edge. I’m sure Stuart’s ears must have been burning as I cursed him repeatedly. The fog closed in as we climbed and it was pretty unpleasant up there. Down and up to Cushat Law and I spotted a ponytail. I wondered if this belonged to a man or a woman only to realise it was Carol Morgan (winner of the Spine) along with Shelli Gordon (I reckoned these must be 2nd and 3rd ladies) and low and behold my mate, Stuart!

I tagged onto the group and kept with them for quite some time. It was pretty tough underfoot, either bogs or thick heather without much of a trod anywhere.

We soon dropped down out of the mist and you could see for miles over the rolling fells. The tracks became grassier and easier going. I’d tucked myself nicely into a pack and had 2nd and 3rd ladies in clear sight. I started chatting to another runner, he’d marshalled at the DT series and had run the tour last year, we kept together for quite some time. This ultra running was quite sociable!

I was bursting for a wee and with very little cover I dived behind a rock; this is when Stuart, Carol and Shelli sped off. I’d been complaining about my snack choice (I was obsessing with yogurt…reminiscent of Stuart and his rice pudding!). I was having difficulty swallowing anything else; Stuart kindly left me a yoghurt on the track. I was also dreaming of hot sweet tea (always a bad sign, a sign that I’ve had enough.)

There was a lovely descent down Copper Snout, although the huge black cows made me nervous, especially as we’d been warned that there were mad cows en route that liked to chase people! The descent then changed to a steep grassy ascent onto Shillhope Law. I was running by myself here, navigating was not a problem and soon I was dropping down to the food checkpoint at Barrowburn.

A lovely little stone house welcomed us with a roaring fire, ladies handed us tea and soup and our bags were waiting ready for a quick change and top up of supplies. I’d briefly chatted to Stuart, Shelli and Carol but they’d left perhaps 10 minutes before me. I changed my top half as quickly as possible, talc-ed my feet (and left behind a great pile of talc dust) and changed my trainers. Then, tea in hand, I started out of the door.

I knew about 3-4 miles of tarmac lay ahead. It wound around the River Coquet. There were a few signs on the other side ‘warning danger of death’, ‘do not touch bomb shrapnel it may explode and kill you!’ I kept passing two pairs of runners; they seemed to be supporting each other. Everyone’s thoughts were the same. The hard track reverberated through our bodies; it was tough and boring.

Finally, we headed up to Deel’s Hill. I’d been quite happy navigating around the road. There was absolutely no chance of losing the way, but at the ridgeline, the fog descended and the paths crisscrossed everywhere.

I stopped briefly, pretending to get something out of my bag, but really to sidle myself between the two pairs of runners. I wanted to make sure I didn’t go off track and I didn’t want to use up precious GPS battery power until I really needed it. This did mean my pace slowed.

Finally, I hit the start of the Pennine Way. Happy now that I was on target, I stopped the pair in front just to check with them where I thought I was on the map was actually where I was. In agreement with me, I picked up my speed only to realise one of the pair had been doing exactly the same. He then kept with me, pretty much, all the way to the end. He’d been relying on his GPS, which had failed miserably, so now we were both maps in hand urging each other on. His company was appreciated; he’d started singing and whistling, which in the midst of now sideways rain and really cold biting wind was extremely comforting.

At Lamb Hill Stuart had left a message with the Marshall… ‘I’m sorry’.

I’d asked how much ahead he was, ‘Oh not far. 10 minutes at the most.’ I genuinely thought he was underestimating it to cheer me up.

On up to Windy Gyle and the freezing wind, horrible rain and bog underfoot were really taking its toll. It slowed my pace, which again made me colder. I planned to stop with the marshals, top up my water but more importantly, add on some layers and put my better gloves and hat on. Honestly, I should have stopped before, as, by the time I stopped and switched, even though the marshal had helped as my fingers were now ice cold, I was really feeling cold and was concerned.

As soon as I got moving again I made a concerted effort to pick up my pace and warm myself up. At just the right time, when I was feeling pretty low, through the mist, two men appeared. I was surprised to be greeted by Kevin (Geoff’s friend, who I’d met on JNC recces). It’s funny how these brief meetings can boost your mood.

I continued to push on; worried if I’d slow again I’d really suffer. Thankfully the wind dropped and with the solid paving on this section, my pace increased. The light started to fade on up to the Cheviot.

I knew I wanted to stay without my head torch as long as possible to preserve batteries but I also wanted to get them out before I couldn’t see at all. I bargained with myself that I’d stop at the next checkpoint with the marshals. They came sooner than expected. I stopped and they helped light up my bag. They laughed as I donned my head torch, stuck an extra battery pack in my pocket and then got out my spare head torch. ‘How long are you planning to be out…you’ve only got 11 miles left, you’re on the home straight, you won’t need all of those’.

I’d told them my nightmares of Hedgehope bog in darkness and they continued giggling as I set off towards the summit.

I kept the torch off, as when it was on, the light bounced off the fog and I couldn’t see a thing. I could actually see the stones better in the fading light. A few runners passed me on the out and back, then I saw a light, turned my head to the side so I wasn’t blinded only to hear Stuart’s voice, ‘Elaine?! You legend! Hurry up, the summit’s just there, catch me up and we can do the last bit together!’ I can’t tell you how much that cheered me up, but the summit seemed a long way off.

By the time I got back to the descent, I thought he’d be long gone. I turned on my head torch, now unable to see a thing. However, I was totally disorientated, visibility was so poor; it was at most a few meters. I headed straight for the fence line and was feeling quite scared. I knew the route, I knew I could use the fence as a handrail for the next 4 to 5 miles but I really couldn’t see a thing beyond my feet. Thankfully my companion had waited for me. He knew I’d recceed this section and he had waited to finish it with me.

We made pretty slow progress then hit the bottom. Overexcited, he’d followed another runner who had shot off in the wrong direction towards Langleeford. I’d shouted after him to go back to the fence and thankfully he’d turned back and had kindly stopped again near the horrendous peat hags to help me up the incredibly muddy banks. I can’t tell you enough how wonderful the gesture of someone holding out their hand to haul you out of the bogs feels!

We heard shouting here; I couldn’t make it out at all. But all of a sudden a head torch was facing us and I could hear ‘Elaine I’m waiting for you.’

That was just the thing I needed, my heart lifted and I knew I could finish safely.

The bogs were so saturated I sunk past my knees, far too many times and it was really had to pull against the suction to retrieve my legs again. And so we three became four as another man joined us. We started chatting again and I started feasting on mint cake. Both eased the journey. We even managed to find the lovely bouncy mesh path that we’d stumbled across on one of our recces, saving our legs from the bogs for at least 100m!

Reaching the top of Hedgehope the marshals said the 3rd lady wasn’t far off. I’d really thought they were kidding, a nice way to encourage me.

Descending again we almost went off course…there’s a bit of bog that you naturally head to the right to avoid and if you’re not concentrating you end up heading down the wrong fence line instead of climbing over the stile. We did this on a recce, not far, but enough for us to know immediately our error.

Two lights ahead told us that someone had done just that (from the dot watchers I think it was Shelli). I struggled on the descent, the mist was making visibility really poor and our lights just reflected back on us. We were pretty confident of the route until the crags, trudging through wet and slippy mud and bogs.

On up to the final checkpoint and someone stuck their head out of the tent to welcome us by. Stuart was convinced by now that Shelli was close; he thought we’d passed the man she’d been running with. Anyway, we had more pressing concerns, getting us safely across the last moorland home.

At the crags we’d agreed we would head for the sheepfold then the fence, taking bearings and using our map and compass only. The fence led us straight to the house at Reavelyhill and from there it was easy going. However, between the now 6 of us, we had 3 working GPS units all directing us the same way…odds that all 3 would fail were low so we settled in with this group and slowly we crossed the last moor, on to Reavelyhill.

From the house, it’s an easy run across a grassy path through a gate and up over a stile, across a few farmers fields and onto the road back to Ingram.

Now we were 4 again, urging each other on. I struggled on the road, I’d really had enough but soon there were finish signs. We had to wind back on ourselves and this switch back annoyed me. Stuart was giddy with excitement though and he kept shouting at me to hurry up. He slowed and said, ‘Right let’s get this exactly right so that we cross the finish line together’.

We had our group photo taken, Stuart who had got me into all this boggy madness, Paul who had virtually accompanied me on the final half and another Paul who had joined us at Hedgehope.

It really is wonderful the camaraderie and support from strangers that you receive in these races. I’m proud to have finished 4th; the top three ladies are pretty talented (Jasmin Paris, Carol Morgan and Shelli Gordon).

Into the cafe and a chair was pulled out for me, hot soup and buttered bread brought over. As I happily tucked in Stuart had headed off to another part of the cafe. It was reasonably busy so I thought he’d just sneaked in on another table. After filling my belly I thought I best find him, as he was my taxi home.

Now I won’t divulge the entire story, as I wasn’t party to it, suffice to say I would have been giggling endlessly. I was to find Stuart wrapped in a mountain rescue jacket, a girls scarf, and a blanket with hot water bottles on his feet and hands. His clothes and contents of his bag were strewn all over the place. I do believe from his tale that some of the runners enjoyed quite an unexpected sight amidst their soup and bread! Relieved he was well, we had a few cups of tea and lemonade and we were off home, phoning our spouses to let them know we were in fact still alive and well and would bless them with our company shortly.

So The Goat, it certainly lived up to expectations and that buzz I was missing has certainly returned. Someone said, in the middle of the run, about the law of diminishing returns and how the input becomes ever greater…I believe I may have just started on this path. I am also wondering whether it would be wise to block Stuart from all future correspondence, otherwise, I’ll be on the start line of the Barkley Marathons before too long!

In all seriousness though, it is a well-organised and planned event. However, it should not be attempted as a first ultra and certainly not without good experience on mountains in all weather and self-sufficiency in these wild places. I’d also advise recce-ing the route. A GPS is good as a backup but can’t be relied upon solely. If you did go off track (it is not waymarked until the last 100m) and then got injured, it could be a long time until you were found.

I finished in 13hrs 43 minutes and was relieved to be away from the elements. Some of the runners were out for the full 24 hours! To be out in those conditions, and I know it could have been a lot worse, would not be fun. So … enter with caution.

(Visited 111 times, 7 visits today)

Norman Woodcock Memorial Relays, Newburn, Saturday, November 24, 2018

3 x 1.66 miles, minimum 1 female per team

Fiona Brannan, Gareth Pritchard, Natalie Bell

Fiona Brannan

A total of eighteen Striders turned out on a sunny, slightly chilly November morning for the relays, forming the maximum allowed six teams and truly representing the club and Durham. With teams comprised of new members, road, fell and endurance runners young, and slightly less young the diversity of the club was certainly shown, with fantastic performances all around.

Georgie led the senior team (with Gareth and Fiona), to a strong start, coming round to hand over to the second leg near the top of the field, with a cracking time. After a significantly slower, but a somewhat competitive time in the ‘lady leg’ (possibly 80% of the leg two runners were female), Gareth then took over to fly around and bring the team in a commendable 5th place overall.

The team to watch, however, were the V60 athletes, older but seemingly not much slower as Geoff, Roz and Conrad stormed round to bring the team in 2nd place, only narrowly missing out on the win by a few seconds. Special mention must go to the individual performances here – Geoff bringing home the overall fastest V60 times of the day (not bad for a fell runner!), Conrad coming in with the 2nd V60, and Roz taking the 2nd female V60. Something to aspire to for all those in the younger age categories!

And for a second leg account from someone very out of their comfort zone, but who put on a cracking run…

Natalie Bell

So short runs are not my thing, the feeling of running flat out and close to my limit does not appeal to me. That sick feeling of not being able to breathe nice and deep and my head screaming stop…nope not my thing.

However, I am a fan of team spirit and I love it when striders come together to support each other so I decided to broaden my horizons and go for it. I’m a nervous runner before a race so finding out there were no toilets near the start line did not turn my frown upside down. How bad could this relay be? 1.6 mile of feeling out of breath and on the verge of vomiting… at least it would be over quickly.

Having a look around to scout out the competition didn’t help, especially when you see the likes of Aly Dixon warming up! I felt like I didn’t belong there, trying to run ‘fast’, when we all know I’m a half marathon runner at heart. Steady plodding and deep breathing is where I’m comfortable.

So… after all the overthinking, miserable face and nerves, I went on to run my fastest ever mile and I didn’t vomit!! It’s not a bad feeling over-taking people one by one and the atmosphere towards the finish was fantastic. The pain was over very quickly but the feeling of accomplishment and improvement remains. I tried something new, I surprised myself and I might have liked it a little. Just a little. I will be back next year and I will be hunting down a new fastest mile PB!!

And from our former captain, road-running extraordinaire…

Gareth Pritchard

Norman Woodcock relays from the almost sharp end.

Some people are put off by the fast, flat, tarmac, relays. Not me as it’s everything I love about our sport.

I appreciate other forms of our sport and have taken part in them all. I recognise their value, attraction and training values for sure. You need to do what you love and enjoy, otherwise, you end up doing no running at all. Find your passion for running and commit, that’s the best advice I’ve ever received. 1 week earlier I’d run a sub 2:55 marathon experiment using heart rate, so my expectations pre-run were low.

6 teams were soon formed, with me, George Hebdon and Fiona Brannan in my team. We placed 6th on the day out of over 100+ teams (FB edit – upgraded to 5th in the latest publication of Athletics weekly!). A very impressive performance and a marker in the sand for future teams for sure.

So what was my race like? Stood round in the pen, shot off like a sprinter then into my familiar groove of almost mile pace. I swapped into K pace splits for the short distance, better feedback. I love having people to chase, and I managed to get past a few but left it too late to catch more.

A fantastic experience and the big smiles all round showed that others thought the same too. The team aspect of relays can’t be understated; running can be a solitary sport at times. So we need these days, a reminder that we are a team, a family and a fantastic club.

Results

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Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra Marathon, Jedburgh, Saturday, October 27, 2018

38 miles

Aaron Gourley

This is a race I’d had my eye on for a number of years but never seemed to get round to entering. This year, with me being home alone as the family went away on holiday, it fell perfectly for me to run the race then have time to get home, changed and be back at the airport to pick them up later that evening.

At 38 miles, Jedburgh 3 Peaks is a pretty serious race – but only in distance. From an organisational point of view, this is as fun as it gets. From the encouragement to wear fancy dress for the opportunity to win a spot prize to the YMCA warm-up ahead of the start, this race is a lot of fun. This is very much like the Hardmoors Princess challenge but with unicorns!

With my alarm set at 4 am, I set off on the long drive up to the Scottish Borders. The morning was cold and the first snow of the winter was falling quite heavily as I drove up the A19, which was a little disconcerting.
Upon arriving at the rugby club in the centre of Jedburgh, it struck me as to just how cold it was going to be, so I immediately put on an extra layer then headed to registration. Before long we were all back outside at the start-line waiting to get going, but not until we were all made to dance the YMCA as part of the pre-race warm up. Such was the silliness that I forgot to set my watch and before I knew it we were off on the long run up the road and out of the town.

After a mile or so the route swings out to the river which is followed for another mile or so before crossing a very bouncy bridge which felt as though it was winding up to fling-off anyone who dared try and run across it. The route then meandered its way across fields and tracks and back along the riverside for a few miles, mainly following the St Cuthbert’s Way route. The recent high winds had felled a lot of old trees, which provided obstacles for us to negotiate.

The day was bright and the sky was clear and blue, but there was a bracing wind and it was extremely cold in the shade. I tried to maintain a very steady pace and not get carried away by running too fast on what was a fairly flat and very runnable surface. I’d set myself the goal of completing the race in 8hrs. This was a very comfortable amount of time for the distance but meant I could enjoy the race without overcooking it. Given how badly I’d crashed in my other races this year, this was all about pacing and keeping my heart rate low.

The route was proving to be quite spectacular in the cold late autumn sun and the colours of the leaves added to the overall beauty of the route. The lack of rain over the summer meant sections that would normally have been a quagmire were fairly dry which those veterans of the race around me commented on.

I didn’t stop at the first checkpoint at Maxton Church, but continued my run over fields, along tracks, through plantations and across roads until eventually reaching the second checkpoint at Rhymer’s Stone where I had a drop bag waiting with some supplies such as a milkshake and a few energy bars. I grabbed my bag, stashed my food and drinks and made off as quickly as possible as now, up ahead, were the Eildon Hills which form the 3 peaks in this race.

At the foot of the first, I looked up to see a long line of runners making their way up the side. I joined in the trudge up the steep climb until eventually reaching the summit. Ahead lay the second and third peaks, which got respectively lower. I made my way across them before dropping off the third and circling back around underneath them and into the woods that leads to the third checkpoint at Bowden and the ‘Play Park of Doom’!

Silliness is dished out by the bucket load at Bowden where, following an ambush by someone dressed as a bat (or at least I think that’s what it was), runners are funnelled into the play park where they must negotiate the obstacles which are essentially the climbing frames and slides of a children’s play park.

From Bowden, the route retraces its steps back to the finish and I was running well at this point and really enjoying the race. I was still making good ground on those that had been drawn into running too fast at the start but always conscious not to get carried away.

The run back was pleasant and I arrived back at the final checkpoint at Maxton to grab my last drop bag which had a few treats in to see me through the last 10 miles. I’d been starting to tire in the run back here so I set off at walking pace to try and conserve a little energy. The route, back retraced our steps from the start of the race and before long I was heading back across the bouncy bridge for the final few miles back into town.

I shuffled my way up the road with the finish in sight, which was as lively as it had been when we left. There was music playing and supporters lined the finish funnel to greet runners as they wearily made their way to the finish line.

As I crossed the line I was handed my medal and a goody bag, which was probably one of the best I’ve had in a race – mainly because it contained beer and a fine t-shirt. I’d highly recommend this race to anyone who is looking to step up to ultra-distance but worried about the challenge and the seriousness of the runners. This is a fun race where runners get lots of support in a beautiful part of the world.

Results http://www.kitst.co.uk/jultra2018.html

 

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‘Running My Way’ by Tamsin Imber, Monday, December 17, 2018

Tamsin Imber

Grab a cuppa, maybe some cake, and enjoy a light-hearted read. ‘Running My Way’  is a celebration of taking life by the horns. It documents…

  • What happens when Tamsin, a busy working mum of two, immerses herself in the joy of running and discovers running ‘her way’. From the curiously meditative experience of running hard on a track, to the adventures of running 30 miles across the North York Moors sustained by frozen Jaffa Cakes.
  • The passion and friendliness of the running community, united by the simple act and immense liberation of putting one foot in front of the other (lots of times).
  • The joy of running with wild abandon through the bogs, moors and woods of the countryside.
  • Why the challenge of competitive running is truly addictive. And why you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you don’t get a Personal Best.
  • Why CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) is a serious and life restricting illness. 

 

As follows is an extract from this book by kind permission from Pitch Publishing.

The ‘Hardmoors ‘White Horse Marathon’ North Yorkshire Moors. (28miles, hilly), May 2015.

Driving down the A19 was like driving through the sea! The heavy rain beat down hard and bounced straight back up off the road. The wind came in gusts and repeatedly slammed rain into the side of the car. The car air conditioning roared loudly at full blast as GH (gorgeous husband) battled to demist the windows. Through all this noise the words of James Bay were occasionally caught as the song ‘Cry me a River’ played on the radio! No need to cry, we already had a river! I half wondered if it would be cancelled.  Had I met the organiser of the Hardmoors series, I would have known how unlikely this was!  For now, I really hoped it was on. I was buzzing with excitement!

After our little white Fiat Panda had struggled up the steep angles of Sutton Bank, GH and the kids dropped me off and made haste to warm indoor places in York. The warm inviting car drove away and I was abandoned in the heavy rain in a deserted Sutton Bank visitor centre early on a dim morning in May. In a moment of inspiration I had grabbed my ancient, ‘car-to- work- entrance’ umbrella from the car just before it drove off, and I now tried to shelter underneath it.  This umbrella was useless as the spokes on one side had been bent a long time ago and the thing turned inside out whenever it knew a big blast of wet wind was coming my way. I skidadeled to the visitor centre, hoping to find some shelter. As I got closer I noticed a small group of runners sheltering beneath the roof between the two visitor centre buildings. They were all smiling! Had they not noticed there was a gale outside? One guy was even stripping off in an act of defiant optimism! I was slightly cold!  One lady had come all the way from Norway to experience the North York Moors. I think she was going to get a true experience!

I realised I needed to collect my race number so asked for directions. They pointed me towards the front of the visitor centre. There in small field was a small white tent flapping about for dear life in the breeze! Umbrella up, I braced myself to the elements and made a run for the tent, slip sliding on the mud. My umbrella laughed at me mockingly and used it as another great opportunity to turn inside out.

In the tent I found another group of sheltering runners and marshals giving out numbers. I collected my number and cowered in the tent for a bit. It got closer to the start time, so I joined everyone now congregating behind the start and I shivered beneath my merciless umbrella as the heavens delivered further onslaughts of sheets of water.  In a sudden big gust my umbrella then whacked me in the face. I tried to show it who was boss by throwing it into a nearby bin. Soon a big, strong and tough looking man appeared. He looked like he had come from the army! This turned out to be the Hardmoors organiser. He gave a strict briefing in true style, one that I would come to know and love over the next year, rounding off with a “ OK you ‘orrible lot. Five, four, three, two one, go suffer!”

There was nothing left to do but to embrace the heavens! First along the top of a wood along the top of the escarpment. It was slightly more sheltered with this tree barrier.  I didn’t have a hood as I hadn’t been able to find a cheap water proof jacket with hood in my copious spare time, just a thin wooley hat on my head. My hat soon became soaked through, but it was a warm, heavy wet thing on my head which was better than nothing on my head. We ran along a rutted, rocky footpath, which necessitated sighting ahead to find the best foot landings without falling over. This was difficult through my rain streaming glasses. Then it was down a steep mud bank and around Goremire lake, which is a very nice hidden gem. There were marshals around the lake which helped as there were a myriad of little muddy paths here and there. Once round the lake it was a steep mud bank, back up on to the moor.  The mud back was churned up by all the runners ahead and I was on my knees at times!

Then we ran away from the edge, and higher up on to the open wild exposed Moors! It really could not have got any wetter! I cannot report on the views. I just saw a watery scene with some heather in it. Due to my impaired vision it was hard to navigate. After five or so miles, there was a path off to the right. Was this our path? Luckily my map was accessible and cling-filmed, stowed in my new, still cheap, but larger, running rucksack. I could not see the map, but others could, and this confirmed we did indeed need to take this path.

Brilliant! We were now running south west, the rain behind us with a downhill trend. Lovely!  On a steep muddy descent my road shoes were a bit like ice skates and I had to gingerly slow down to a tip toe. There were six guys just behind me at this point. They waited patiently, offering encouragement! I felt very bad holding them up though so let them past as soon as I could find a vaguely firm surface to stand on. Then it was to a forest. I put on a surge and managed to catch the guys up. I was surprised to find I wasn’t so keen on people passing me! I kept up with them along the wider track through the edge of the forest. They put on a good pace! Hooray, it had stopped raining now! Eventually the guys out-paced me and disappeared into the distance.

I was now running alone through private land. (The organiser had negotiated with the land owner to enable us to run through this area, due to a problem with the original route).  This felt nicely well off the beaten track! It was a wooded area of recent tree felling and machines and vehicles had churned up the land. Spindly tree branches lay across the path spiking me through my leggings. Underfoot was soft rutted mud. At one point I had to haul myself up a bank of tree branches! I hadn’t had so much fun for ages! Eventually I came to the other side of the dendrous*[1]obstacle course, to meet a smart little road. Tarmac felt like a luxury product! At a junction I was unsure of which way to go. I admit to being very lazy and instead of wrestling my numb fingers with wet zips to get the map out I just waited until the runner behind caught me up. He seemed surprised to see me standing there. He was very polite and also confident about the route. We ran on together and enjoyed some conversation. The bit on the road was not for long and we soon found ourselves running across a flat valley bottom through grassy and boggy fields. We talked about the possibility of trench foot. The valley was steep sided and wooded. Then ahead I saw the most beautiful sight! It was Riveaux Abbey, shrouded in the low mist which blended into a white sky. The Abbey looked eerie and majestic. Given the weather, the Abbey grounds were deserted and we had this peaceful sight to ourselves. A lone marshal directed us over a stone hump back bridge and we headed back West, admittedly still a fair few miles to go, but West nevertheless which uplifted my spirits and gave the legs a new boost of energy from places unknown.

It was round further woods and grassy fields we went, more ups and downs, to reach a final checkpoint. The Hardmoors series is entirely run by these amazing volunteers who stand in bad weather at wild outposts for hours, who are always smiling and encouraging and some even bring home baking! Some are runners, others are friends. I thank them, and did no more so than at this point when I was feeling the distance. I was offered a cup of delicious cool water and home made shortbread! It was nice to chat and stay a while! Then back to the task at hand, to get to Sutton Bank Visitor centre. After more knee wrenchingly muddy paths, came a rather less attractive track, with less attractive views. I guess we were right off to the south of the Moors now. It was  past featureless ploughed fields. It was very long. I was felt really hungry and had a craving for meat. As I passed a lone grass pasture I eyed up the sheep.

I caught up some others and we walked up a hill, discussing the gravity of the situation to justify walking! Groups of walkers with dogs appeared in the wooded area a mile from the Visitor Centre. Then at long last the Visitor Centre was ahead! Just a case of getting round to the tent! The sun shone down warmly and the car park was now full and a buzzing scene of happy picnickers and families! I stumbled along the side of the car park to be cheered on by a few runners, (some of whom I recognised from earlier) who had already finished. Finally I was back in the tent and a marshal took my number down. I was a bit stunned at how much of the North York Moors you can see in a morning if you want to! My family returned from a good morning seeing the museums of York and we went to the Visitor Centre café to exchange experiences. I also got a sausage sandwich!

The next day was a Monday and I turned up at the women’s running group! I had heard the word ‘recovery run’ bandied about, but wasn’t sure really what it meant. A slow run to ease the legs maybe? I’m not sure I could do that! My legs were so stiff I had to kind of walk down the stairs like a robot without bending my legs. Sitting down was painful, and at home the repeated sweeping of the floor necessitated by children meant flipping myself from standing to press up position without bending the legs, sweeping up lying down, then snaking to the bin! At the track I decided to cheer people on, then enjoyed the café! I told the woman’s running group leader about my post race mobility. She looked at me wryly and said well done. She asked me how the route had been. I’ve no idea, I replied I hadn’t seen 95 per cent of it what with the rain on my glasses!

If you wish to read more, Tamsin’s book is available to pre-order from Waterstones and Amazon websites. It is available from these websites and in bookshops from 17thDecember 2018. 

https://www.pitchpublishing.co.uk/shop/running-my-way

[1]          Dendrous: Made of twisting tree branches, logs and other forest furniture.

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A potter around some Lakeland fells, Hartsop, Cumbria, Sunday, November 18, 2018

6.4 miles 500m climb

Nick Latham

If you haven’t read Charlie Spedding’s book (From Last to First: How I Became a Marathon Champion), I can heartily recommend it. One of the ideas he touches on (and I apologise for the terrible paraphrasing) is that your subconscious brain will hold you physically accountable for any deals you make with it.

My deal wasn’t anywhere near as grand as holding out for an Olympic marathon medal. I’d been fending off a cold all week, somehow managing to keep it to a light tickle at the back of my throat. We had a family celebration weekend planned in the Lakes (I wouldn’t be able to make it to the XC at Aykley Heads) and I was desperate to make the most of it, not have a cold spoil things at the last minute. As with any of these weekends, we had walks planned and I also really wanted to get out on the high fells for a run. Did I make a deal with myself? I don’t remember thinking the words, but maybe the underlying desire was enough.

Come Sunday morning, I was still holding the cold at bay so my run was on. My original plan had been a loop from where we were staying in Hartsop up to Hayeswater, climb The Knott and then head clockwise to High Street, Thornthwaite Crag and Gray Crag before the steep descent back into Hartsop. As the week had progressed I was getting more uncertain of this route – not my ability to do it under normal circumstances, more whether it might be pushing a little too hard if I wasn’t 100%. I had picked out a couple of alternatives and after a final planning session the night before with my (considerably) better half, I decided to dial it back to something slightly shorter with a little less climb; I’ll be back another day and the other route will still be there waiting for me.

I was running this solo. I’ve done this plenty of times before, but I never take the fells for granted. I know from first-hand experience how the weather in the Lakes can change in a moment and how a simple problem can become much more serious because of the remoteness. I treated it like a race, making sure I had FRA minimum mandatory kit, so I was carrying full waterproofs, map, compass, whistle, emergency food, gloves, hat and buff plus a head-torch (yes, I’m a real pessimist) and thermal blanket. In addition, I had my mobile phone (not expecting any signal, mainly for taking photos) and was running with a GPS watch, which could provide me with a grid reference if I really needed it. I left my route back at base with an ETA in case something happened to me. The final factor to consider was the weather forecast (mwis.org.uk is the only source I trust) and this was distinctly favourable – relatively mild for the time of year, light wind and most importantly no cloud cover.

It was chilly and clear as I set off, immediately donning my gloves. I headed through Hartsop village, and then almost immediately made a potentially disastrous navigation error. I knew I needed to turn right and cross a bridge, but I took the first one I came to and nearly went off up Pasture Beck – completely the wrong valley! As a junior orienteer, I was always told that the first rule of relocation is accepting you might be in the wrong place. Luckily all that experience came in handy and I quickly backtracked to the main path.

Immediately after crossing Wath Bridge, the track started to climb steeply over the lower slopes of Gray Crag. I dropped to a fast walking pace – this was a substitute for a long run, not a race, and I didn’t want to trash my legs and spoil the ridge section or descent. In the end, I only managed to run a very short section of the total climb after the bridge.

Before long I’d climbed above the Filter House, a leftover from when Hayeswater was an operational reservoir and was crossing Hayeswater Gill just below where the dam used to be. I followed the obvious path a little way up the fell before a quick stop to take a few photos. Then it was upwards; I intended to follow the bridleway marked on the OS map, but the paths on the ground made following the northernmost wall a more logical choice. Before I knew it, I’d reached the Coast-to-Coast path and was surprised at how short the climb had been, overall 40 minutes from setting off – 2.5 miles and 420m of climb. Could I have kept climbing? Probably. Would I have had the same experience? Definitely not. And besides which, it was too late, I wasn’t going to deviate from the route plan I’d left behind.

After a few more photos, I turned my back on The Knott and High Street, heading northwest towards Satura Crag. The sun was out, the breeze on my back (when does that ever happen?) and the views were just amazing. In between sections where I had to carefully watch my foot placement, there were some clear stretches of path where I could drink in the views, especially towards Fairfield and the Helvellyn ridge. I carefully picked my way across Satura Crag, where the path wasn’t always distinct – the walls and a compass were my friends here and it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be a great place to be caught in low cloud – before dropping down to Angle Tarn. This is such a beautiful place, a high tarn with views across the valley. I felt I had to add some balance, so stuck my mug in the way of it for a selfie.

Below Angletarn Pikes the path splits and I kept to the westernmost one, with clear views down across the fields of Patterdale and into Deepdale. As I ran I was thinking how fortunate I was to be there and to be able to do what I was doing. Sadly, it was over all too soon and I was on the descent to Boredale Hause. I passed a pair of runners heading up the steep section, cheerfully telling them that I’d already done my penance for the morning as I bounded gracefully (at least, in my head) down the rocky path past them. Within a couple of minutes, I was standing on the great plateau of the Hause. Before descending, I sent a quick text to my family since I had a signal; pointless, it turned out because they didn’t!

The descent was steep and I could feel my quads protesting at me braking but I didn’t have the confidence to let go until I reached the more friendly gradients lower down. Then it was just a case of following the bridleway south down the valley back to Hartsop.

The total bill was 6.4 miles and 500m climb, according to my Garmin. Kit used: gloves, map and compass. Experience: priceless.

For the record, the cold finally kicked in about two hours after I got back…there could well be something in that theory.

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Observations of an Accidental Cross Country Runner, Druridge Bay & Aykley Heads, Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ian Butler

Not holding hands, but a rolling road block of StridersMany years ago, when I got sent to jail, I didn’t take it at all well. I refused all offers of food and drink, spat and swore at anyone who came near me and burst into tears. That was the last time that I ever played Monopoly with my big sister!

I have always had a very competitive streak, and whilst resorting to tears to gain a win at Monopoly may have shown determination as an 8-year-old, that positive approach to push my self to try and win has stayed with me all my life.

I don’t generally burst into tears now, as a tactic to be used to achieve sporting success, as a general lack of sporting talent and advancing age puts a stop to my unrealistic ambitions. However. I do like to push myself and try new things and the latest outlet for my competitiveness is unbelievably cross-country running and the Harrier league.

For those of you unfamiliar with this pastime, it involves men and women congregating in a wet field in the middle of winter, donning a thin vest with the club name on it, and then running around a series of hills and bogs lined with tape before crossing a finishing line. Some of the more sadistic courses have more mud than others, have heavy rain and gale force winds organised for the day, and include a stream to jump over where crowds of spectators gather to watch some poor runner go headfirst into the mucky bilge. I have it on good authority that next year the powers that be are considering introducing an obstacle to cross while under fire from a machine gun or water cannon.

The basics of the races are that they are divided into men and women’s races. Each race is handicapped, with 3 groups setting off at timed intervals.

The first group off are the normal people or slow group, to go by the official title. Why it’s called the slow group I’m not sure, as looking at the field it seems to have everyone from the carthorses, like me, who plough their way around, to some super fast individuals who run around like whippets. The second group, known as the Middle group, set off a couple of minutes later and in hot pursuit of the slow group. The final group, known as the fast group, consisting of stick thin prime athletes, then set off 2 minutes later in very hot pursuit of the leading groups.

The idea I think is that the handicap system should create a leveller playing field for all, with clubs scoring points by getting their first 4 athletes over the finish line, whilst those, not scoring points are there to generally get in the way of others.

Personally, I think the handicap system should change, as my experience is the fast ones seem to steam past me as if I’m stood still, usually on the first lap of three. My recommendation would be that the middle and fast groups should have to carry weighted rusk sacks and an assault rifle. That would be a fair approach in my view, and at least give me more of a chance of helping out the team.

Previously, I had not run in the harrier league owing to work commitments, plus I was a wuss on wobbly ground from a couple of dodgy ankles caused when I was testing out a pair of Addidas Bambers many years ago. Therefore, when I heard about the cross-country league I decided that I would give it a go, but that I needed both the kit to run securely over rough ground and some guidance from the experts.

The Kit

The kit is basic from what I can tell. All you need is a club vest, (which must be worn during the race) and a pair of simple running shoes designed to disperse and give you grip on mud, water and slime.

The shoes can be picked up quite cheaply from running shops. My pair of cheapo shoes has really given me confidence in mud running, but I still have to look down and really concentrate on the 2 meters in front of me as to where I put my feet.

The Training

I needed to get confidence on the ups and downs of hills and rough ground, and so this year I joined the Monday lunch training sessions presided over by Geoff and Elaine. These sessions I found massively helpful.

Fig 1 – Receiving advice on my race start

The training group tends to consist of like-minded victims, who are generally directed by the Professors of Cross Country to run up or down a hill (Or both) in a set time or for a set distance, in order to gain fitness and improve skill levels on rough ground. Top tips on how to do this without breaking your neck are also freely given. Generally, these sessions turn me into a gastropod, huffing along and giving me a sweaty and slimy stinky sheen.

However, the advice is brilliant, and the benefits are massive, and I have certainly gained benefit from these periods of torture.

The Venues

So far I have done 2 events, Druridge Bay and Aykley Heads.

The experience at both is similar.

On arrival, the first job is to tackle the maze known as the club village and find the club tent. This tented community is a bit like a disorganised scout camp, where you need a compass, map and detailed grid coordinates to find your club abode. Usefully, all the tents look the same, but luckily each club proudly displays their club flag for all to see, so after wondering around for half an hour, you will find the home of Elvet Striders and familiar faces.

Considering that up to 50 plus Striders may attend these races, and use the tent to shelter from the rain and to change into their kit, then the 10ft by 10ft space is no Dr Who Tardis. However, there is room to take your tracky bottoms off and pin your race number to your vest, so it serves a valuable purpose.

Race Tactics

I think I heard Geoff Davis once say in his best Churchillian accent, ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’.

I understand he may also have said the following, ‘ We shall go on to the end. We shall run at Wrenkenton, we shall run at Druridge Bay and Aykley Heads, we shall run with growing confidence and growing strength on the hills and across the streams, we will never surrender’.

So, its very clear to all that there is club pride at stake in our participation in the Harrier League, and that the individual participation is for the greater good of the team and the club. That is one of the great things about Cross Country.

Whether you are the faster or slower runner, what struck me is that this is a team game, with strong support for the runners in each race by fellow Striders, both running or spectating. Therefore, the encouragement is there to push yourself and execute your best race.

I have asked several people about tactics to race execution and the basic top tips I got were: –

  1. At the start, get to the front of the group in order to get a clean break rather than getting bogged down in the crowd. That way, you are ahead and other runners then have to make up ground to pass you.
  2. On a 3 lap race, if you can’t do a reconnaissance and run the route beforehand, then on lap one suss out the lie of the land, but don’t compromise your pace to achieve this. Then once the ground is known, really put in some effort.
  3. If you are a slower runner, your contribution is still valuable for generally getting in the way and in pushing down the position of other teams runners, so don’t give up.
  4. Do not get involved with other clubs runners with any pushing or shoving, cause an Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm, or use any Threatening Words or Behaviour likely to cause Harassment, Alarm or Distress to fellow competitors or spectators. Whilst such a demonstration in the heat of the moment may make you feel better about the sod that just cut you up, in the long term you are likely to be disqualified. Basically, don’t get involved in any ‘Argy Bargy’ and save energy for the race. You can always nip into the car park after the race and let down the car tyres of your chief protagonist.
  5. Keep going to the end, and in the finishing straight try and pass others, and don’t whatever you do allow yourself to be overtaken.
Race Execution
1) Druridge Bay

Standing at the start of my first cross country at Duridge Bay, with my competitive juices boiling, I turned around and found a right Bounder stood next to me. A Blackhill Bounder to be precise by the name of Alex.

Alex is a 20-year-old young whippersnapper. I’m a much much older chap. I used to be his boss at work, and during our conversations about important things, like ‘what did you have for your tea last night?” and ‘what did you do at the weekend?’, it became clear that we had some common ground. We both had done some triathlons, run similar races and followed sports in general, plus we knew many common acquaintances and generally got on well. The only problem was that he was under the great misconception that by virtue of my age that I was some sort of sporting guru and athlete, rather than a bit of an incompetent sporting dabbler.

With that in mind, personal pride was at stake and it was clear that I simply had to beat him around the course.

At Druridge Bay, the ground was quite solid, so as predicted I set off far too fast because I never learn, and because the slow pack is not slow enough, and so I got pulled along with the group. I said to my self, ‘YOU IDIOT’, but I ran the first lap quite well and was able to stick with the pace and determine the lie of the land.

I was also conscious that I was ahead of ‘Whippersnapper ‘, but I was not prepared to turn around and see how far ahead I was, so into the second lap I dug in and started to make some ground on others in the slow group. At the same time, several high-speed medium and fast pack runners passed me in a blur, making me feel great.

Six miles is a good distance for me, as through racing I now know I can keep a decent pace going, and even push on a bit towards the end. On entering the third lap I felt quite good and began to make ground on a couple of others, but there was a group of 3 or 4 runners who I just could not catch. As I accelerated, a little so did they and I simply could not close that 20 to 25-metre gap. However, I was spurred on and remembered the rules I had been told, namely don’t get overtaken, and don’t give up, despite the pain.

By some miracle, as we moved into the last 400m I found myself making ground on the 3 others directly ahead, and as I moved into the final straight I saw that I was closing rapidly. I then sprinted (not really) the last 20 meters, pulled an effort making face, and just as we reached the line they each slowed down allowing me to pass them just before the finish line and take the win in a loud grunting and gasping shout.

Fig 2 – Crossing the line at Druridge Bay

Take it easy and steady-on there lad!’ shouted the man with a clipboard at the finish. I’d got them on the line as directed to do so, and the man called me a lad, so I was happy. Additionally, I had beaten the Whippersnapper.

My competitive juices were well and truly oiled and I looked forward to my next test at Aykley Heads.

2) Aykley Heads

I know the lie of the land very well here, and that was the problem. I know it can be a complete ‘b_ _ _ _ _ _ d of a route, with many ups and downs, grassy molehills, mud and general rough terrain. Therefore, it is a great lung bursting challenge and not one to be missed!!

I followed race tactics as planned, namely, I again went off too fast, but was able to keep a steady pace going. even on the undulating sections after the first mile or so. However, I was very unsure going downhill, on rough ground and my natural instinct to hold back to protect my ankles certainly slowed me down. Unlike others, I simply did not trust my ability and speed downhill; hence I was overtaken on the down sections, whereas on paved surfaces I have much more confidence with speed.

This was really the story of laps 1 and 2 for me.

The most notable aspect of the race was the support given by the marshals and spectators to Striders as we ran around the circuits. It was truly inspiring to have that support. Shouts of ‘Well done Striders’ or ‘Come on Striders’ were heard around the whole course, In addition, shouts of ‘you’re looking good Striders’, although descriptive, certainly did not tell the story of how I felt at the time.

The most curious shout came on the third lap. By this time I was wondering what the heck I was doing here on a Saturday afternoon. But by this time all the faster runners had passed, and I was in a sort of bubble of other similar runners who had gone around together and kind of formed a brotherhood in adversity. This group included a bald-headed bloke in a luminous vest, a Red Kite Runner, and a chap in a red-hooped vest who looked like a bumblebee. In support, I found my self-running alongside fellow Strider Daniel Mitchel and we kind of kept each other supported as we dragged over the undulating sections.

As we ran downhill side by side, a helpful Strider marshal shouted ‘ Stop holding hands and get on with it’. Little did this fellow know that we had applied race tactics and formed a Strider running rolling roadblock, aimed at preventing others from passing, and threatening our faster teammates ahead. This tactic actually worked and kept others at bay for quite a long time until the final leg uphill leg along the railway line.

Then it was an uphill slog over the hill and down through the woods to the final ascent of the finishing climb, which I managed to plod up. Once on top of the hill and on the flat I saw a few of our bubble of runners ahead and somehow managed to overtake them. As I entered the finishing straight, I was really conscious of someone on my inside trying to pass, but I managed to put in a real spurt and hold them off over the finishing line. I felt that I had won the Olympics, and not come in 421st out of 570 finishers.

It’s fair to say that Cross County has met my competitive urges. It’s certainly better than playing Monopoly and running the risk of being sent to jail.

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British Fell Relay Championships 2018, Grasmere, Saturday, October 20, 2018

Fiona Brannan, Geoff Davis, Jack Lee, Mark Warner, Nigel Heppell, Paul Evans

Leg 1; Mark Warner, solo, 5 miles, 2400 ft

I love running and I love mountains but for some reason, I rarely combine the two, so when Paul Evans put a call out for an Elvet Striders team for the ‘British Fell and Hill Relay Championships‘ in the Lakes, it seemed like an opportunity to combine the two. I had put myself forward for the first leg, as I had to be back in Durham for work later in the day. More experienced members of our team helped check I had the right kit to carry around with me, gave me a map and some last minute fell running tips and before I knew it, we were being herded into the starting pen.

Without having considered a race plan, the gun went off and on a spur of the moment decision; I thought it might be fun to ‘blast’ the first field. Zoom, I was off! Head of the pack – Elvet Striders leading the race! But crikey, before I knew it, I had lactic burning like I’d just raced an 800m on the track. Then we started going up – I’ve never run on anything like it; about 3 miles up – getting steeper all the way. The everlasting incline was no place to be trying to clear the lactic acid, my heart and lungs were on fire. This was not running, as I know it; folks were pulling themselves up the mountain on tufts of grass, or rocks – whatever you could grasp. As the race got higher we entered the clouds and visibility was very poor – I was just trying to keep someone close by as I hadn’t really entertained trying to navigate too, but at some point, I reached the summit and then we were heading down.

Through reading, and some of Geoff’s off-road sessions, I know the theory of running downhill (switch off brain, lean forward, don’t brake) but can I put it into practice? – err, no! The whole way down the mountain, despite trying to relax, I was clearly thinking too much and leaning back and braking – my quads were taking such a hammering (5 days after the race, writing this, I still can’t walk properly) but it certainly was exhilarating. After 3 miles of heart and lung burning going up, this was 2 miles of slipping and sliding my way down.

Back to the starting field after handing over to Jack and Fiona, I managed a brief catch up with the rest of the team and used my token for some hot food and drink before heading home. I had a great day – I love the variety of running, but I always seem to enjoy the day more when it’s a team event or relay, it really brings you together.

Leg 2, Jack Lee and Fiona Brannan, paired, 6,7 miles, 2800 ft

Jack: “So that’s what you call dibbing!”

I have never understood fair weather running. Heat makes me overheat while I find a drizzly, windy and generally just a bit crap day brings out my best. I was probably at close to my best at the relays and still I had no chance of keeping up with Fiona on the downs. (Fiona: I’m not a great fan of the ‘up’ part, but I really, really like the ‘down’…)

Our leg of the relays started with some shouts that Mark had been spotted and a fast run away from the line, only to be quickly assaulted by the fells. Usually, the ascent tires me out but today I just plodded on surprised by how easy it was going. (Fiona: it’s true, I’m not much good at ‘up’) Leg 2 started with the ascent of Great Rigg and then Fairfield from Grasmere, and after that it becomes a bit of a blur.

Fiona and I spent 50 minutes trudging up Fairfield with the occasional jog on the flatter section; it was a bit damp but the effort kept us warm, however, when we got to the top the cold wind cut through my clothing. You could get cold very fast if you stayed still but fortunately after a slower start Fiona had found her legs (Fiona: have I mentioned I don’t like the ‘up’ parts?!) and it was all I could do to keep up with her. The next half an hour was one of the most frenetic (Fiona: I think he means fun and exciting!) of my life. I leapt over rocky escarpments, slid down bog on my backside and waded streams all at a frenzied pace just to keep up. I have never descended so fast and was pushing my limits; quite a few times I placed my foot on muddy paths of steep slopes for my footing to go. I was, after all, in a pair of borrowed shoes, as I had forgotten mine. I owe Nigel my eternal thanks and a beer sometime for the loan of shoes. (Fiona; our split times on this section are somewhat more impressive than the ascent, and we managed to gain around 30 places here so must have been doing something right!)

Photograph courtesy of Beau Dog Photography

Eventually, as must happen, the slope became shallower but this just encouraged Fiona to up the pace, so I dug deep and used all the pace I had left just to keep up and after a treacherous descent over the final muddy field (onlookers hoping for exciting slips and falls!) we sprinted in just ahead of fell running legend Angela Mudge and her partner from Carnethy. We tagged Paul and Geoff and our job was done.

Leg 3; Geoff Davis and Paul Evans; paired ca. 6-7 miles, 3000 ft, navigation leg

Having done the fell relays a couple of times before, both times leg 2, 2018 saw me decide to push out of my comfort zone a little and take on leg 3 with the guiding hand of the veteran Geoff D to keep me right and deflect my natural inclination to take route alpha at all opportunities; essentially, I was there to push the pace and to learn, he there to ensure sanity and to guide me in the subtle art of efficient hill running. This played out as follows on a leg of 7 miles and c3000 feet:

Start – CP1: fast start along a lane away from the event field, having been tagged by Fiona and Jack. Easy running on tarmac, then sharp bend upwards to a pair of marshals who hand us our maps of the control locations. A quick glance at the map and it becomes apparent that Geoff’s talents will be of use, as my urges are to go up and over, whilst he takes us nicely up the side of a fast-flowing beck, twisting up the valley over slippery rocks and through bracken to arrive at a stream junction and CP1, other teams arriving and departing rapidly.

CP1-2: the fun starts here, as we exit northeast, traversing up a hill into the low cloud. We follow a sheep trod, and other teams also, then it all becomes very puzzling as we arrive at a tarn that isn’t on the map, but with a saddle that definitely is. We know we’re somewhere around Heron Pike and then, Eureka! Unsurprisingly, the only such body of water on the map is, we realise, where we must be even if we’d been further up the hill, as we’d assumed, and therefore closer to our destination. We lose a good few minutes pondering this, though it turns out, race leaders Keswick lose even more (and, in the process, the overall race). Upwards, over the ridge, downwards, aiming for another stream junction with a sheepfold beyond; I suggest we simply follow the stream to our left and make up for my error with the tarn to an extent by this proving correct, albeit with an element of luck. Dibbed, and done.

CP2-3: easy – take a bearing and follow it, climb gently, descend gently onto a Land-Rover track and the next control, with marshals huddled in a tent.

CP3-4-5-end: easy navigation, but straight up and over, a long line of ant-like figures ascending into the heavens/cloud above us. This gets chilly, and I push the pace fairly hard as we use all limbs to get us up to the very runnable ridgeline, where we make up a few places before contouring around a valley head and then dropping sharply through endless greasy bracken, broken earth and unseen rocks. There are now teams to our left and right, some of them last seen on the climb, some not seen previously. We hit the stream, cross it and then have a choice – up and over or veer round to our left then back right again, adding 300m but taking out the climb. Geoff prefers the latter, so we do it and meet at the next control the teams who entered the water with us: no advantage either way until we then race them downhill on a firm track and realise we have more in our legs, taking out 4-5 further teams. By now the back of the leg is broken and we’re heading home, a little climb taken with aggression and then the final run-in down churned, slippery tracks, CP5 hit, then fields, control on the descent limited and Geoff slipping ahead as I’m just rubbish on this terrain. We re-enter the final field and Geoff’s driving hard and not looking back, knowing I’ll go all-in to catch him again, which I do before we hit the line and tag Nigel. Job done, baton not lost, lessons in the art of navigation on the move gained. Here goes Nigel…

Leg 4; Nigel Heppell, solo, 4.3 miles, 2000 ft

Leg 4 – known as the ‘glory’ leg; also suitable for 16yr olds – I’m well
over-qualified!

Standing for several hours in a field on a wet Lakes day while legs 1,2
and 3 take place, I try to keep as much clothing on as possible before
getting down to race kit and entering the holding pen in what I think
should be a reasonably short time before Geoff and Paul appear for the
handover at the end of their navigation leg. Such is the calibre of the
superstars of the fell running world that the loudspeakers let us all
know the relay has actually been won before half the field even set off
on the last leg and there is a 5min call for the mass start. Peering
into the distant murk, I spot the unmistakable gait of an HH top leading
Paul down the final slope and into the funnel and then it’s my turn to go
off up the lane with a grateful lead on the pack behind.

The official route description says it all; narrow lane; cross beck;
path up to tarn; big zig- zags on climb; scenic dash
around tarn; cross wall; stiff ascent of Heron Pike; nothing to see now
as we enter the cloud base shrouding the tops; onto Fairfield Horseshoe
race line; contour below summit of Great Rigg; speedy contouring descent
onto summit of Stone Arthur; exit cloud cover; hair-raising descent down
leg 2 ascent path; and back into the event field.

On the climb up I very soon hear the sounds of the pack gaining
on me; one or two lanky types begin to lope past; then a whole bundle go
through – I guess the fitter club runners who were held back by the late
arrival of their leg3 runners – then I seem to hold my position; ascent
of Heron Pike is just plain hard work; a bit chastened to be steadily
overtaken by what appears to be a classrooms-worth of school children
but then things level off and we get running again. A few of us trade
places once or twice along the contour and then the fun starts as
gravity kicks in. It always amazes me how timid some become on a descent
over rough ground and now it’s my turn to overtake; beyond Stone Arthur
the slope increases dramatically and keeping a foothold is marginal at
best; no way of slowing down without a fall so go for it, trying not to
wipe out runners caught in front; through hole in wall and into final
descent of event field; others say this is really steep and slippery but
it feels quite relaxed after what went before and I again have to expend
energy running into the finish.

For the road runners amongst you, I ran this at a pace of 15min/mile –

For the fell runners, my rate of ascent was a lowly, but fairly steady
60’/min; and my rate of descent was largely 200-220’/min.

[Footnote – The photograph of Jack and Fiona was generously provided by Beau Dog Photography. There is no oblligation but if you would like to make a donation to the Phabkids then please follow the link and give from as little as £2. Thank you https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Lee-and-Sarah ]

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Venice Marathon, Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sarah Fawcett

Not as impressive a performance as Stephen Jackson’s marathon but he didn’t mention jellyfish!

I promised Catherine Smith that I would write a race report if I finished today. I must have had a feeling it wasn’t going to be as good a result as I hoped.

I booked the Venice Marathon and 5 days in Italy months ago, but yesterday I was thinking of only doing UK ones hereafter.

It’s been stressful as I don’t speak Italian and I’m out here solo. From Airbnb reservation issues to having to navigate every sort of public transport; clocks changing on marathon eve; and, a persistent low-level headache all week, I’ve set the scene for you with all my excuses!

Well the taxi did turn up this morning at the only time I could book and 10-mins early to boot, and I got to the start before anyone else. Have you ever seen a bank of portable loos with no one queuing?

People soon started arriving by the busload, just as the rain and lightning appeared. It became apparent that the baggage buses were going to leave 15-mins ahead of the posters in the tent. The multilingual announcements were very good. The lorries ended up driving to the port then being put on boats to get them to the finish. Such is Venice. Still, ages to visit the loos – manageable queues- yes, I’m obsessed. Good to get out of the eye-watering fug of embrocation in the tent and the flooded floor.

 

The sun came out and the race started 20-mins earlier than advertised – see a pattern?

The route follows the River Brenta from Stra past glorious 17th and 18th Century villas – the summer residences of rich Venetians. Thinking of the contrast to the snow in Durham yesterday, I was wishing I had shorts on, not 3/4 lengths. All was fine until about 10 miles then I recognised that it was feeling like a slog. A poor halfway time of 2.24 and those demons started working- was I going to be able to finish?

But I had come all this way… From mile 16 I was run/walking and I couldn’t have told you what the scenery was. There was 2km in San Guiliano Park where the expo was and then some industrial area before the beast that was the 4km road and train link from the mainland to the island.

Today it was a headwind and spray and a view of a tumultuous sea. I walked most of it, as did those around me. We were all struggling.

It was a relief to reach Venice out of the wind, marginally, but after crossing a specially constructed pontoon, put across the Grand Canal for the race, it wasn’t long before we were all shocked by the path ahead; it was flooded by the tide for the entire last 2 miles. Not a little puddle, but a gutsy, wave breaking, ankle deep jobbie.

The ramps over the bridges, instead of being dreaded, were welcomed as dry land. This seafront stretch is where I saw the jellyfish on the “ path” and hoped no one was going to tread on it in the same way that I normally observe beetles or slugs on marathon paths.

I was relieved to reach the end. I hadn’t performed well at 5:09, my slowest road marathon, but at least I have the medal. Catherine Smith tells me the flooded end has reached FB if you want a laugh.Would I do it again? Probably not.

I think Venice is a beautiful city to visit but I don’t need to run to it. At this point, I’m not even sure I want to do another marathon!!

[Footnote added by Sarah on 30 October, 2 days after the Marathon:  Actually it is now no laughing matter. By Monday 70% of Venice was flooded in the worst tides they have seen for 50 years.]

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Harrier League, Gosforth Park, Saturday, October 27, 2018

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. Mud King/Mud Queen Race - click flag for more information.

Results

men
PosbibNameRace TimePackCatActual Time
1852Matthew Briggs (Morpeth Harriers & AC)34:18SMU2034:18
24452Georgie Hebdon37:50MMsen35:20
64504Stephen Jackson39:07FMV3534:07
68483Paul Evans39:10SMV3539:10
76453Graeme Watt39:20MMV4036:50
78506Stuart Ord39:25SMsen39:25
96456James Garland39:39SMV4039:39
100472Matthew Archer39:43SMV3539:43
154480Neil Sleeman40:28SMV4040:28
161507Stuart Scott40:32MMV3538:02
180434Chris Callan40:43FMV3535:43
241429Allan Renwick41:31SMV4541:31
247470Mark Warner41:36MMV3539:06
274467Mark Griffiths41:59MMV4039:29
305451Geoff Davis42:31SMV6042:31
324455Jack Lee42:54MMsen40:24
326461Juan Corbacho42:55SMV3542:55
355436Conrad White43:29SMV6043:29
414444David Lumsdon45:09SMV5045:09
415442David Gibson45:11SMV5045:11
438501Simon Dobson45:53SMV4545:53
474430Andrew Davies46:46SMV4046:46
479479Mike Bennett46:57SMV6046:57
481445David Oxlade46:59SMsen46:59
486481Nick Latham47:08SMV4547:08
4961596Graeme Walton47:29SMV4547:29
500460Jordi SabateStriders47:37SMV50 47:37
501493Richard Hockin47:39SMV6547:39
533509Tim Matthews49:21SMV5549:21
541511Trevor Chaytor49:43SMV5549:43
546486Pavlos Farangitakis49:52SMsen49:52
552466Mark Foster50:09SMV4050:09
586490Peter Mcgowan52:25SMV5552:25
ladies
PosbibNameRace TimePackCatActual Time
11024Danielle Hodgkinson (Wallsend Harriers)26:06MFsen23:36
23382Sarah Davies30:23SFV5030:23
65319Anna Basu31:34MFV4529:04
67371Nelli Bala31:34SFsen31:34
82372Nina Mason31:53SFV4031:53
102360Katy Walton32:22MFV3529:52
131337Fiona Jones32:48MFV4030:18
163338Fiona Shenton33:24SFV5533:24
173320Anna Mason33:34SFV4533:34
1831132Corrine Whaling33:49SFV3533:49
184370Natalie Bell33:50MFsen31:20
211384Stef Barlow34:14SFV4534:14
2291169Emma Lecavalier34:31SFsen34:31
231348Jenny Search34:33SFV4034:33
262317Angela Dixon35:11SFV4035:11
273377Rebecca Talbot35:49SFV4035:49
306346Jan Young36:37SFV6536:37
330380Sam Askey37:23SFV4037:23
331391Victoria Jackson37:24SFV3537:24
366350Joanne Patterson38:28SFV3538:28
417316Alison Smith41:32SFV4041:32
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The Chelmsford Marathon 2018, Sunday, October 21, 2018

Stephen Jackson

This is a race that would never have been on my radar at all had it not been on the doorstep for my younger brother, Gerard, who lived a couple of miles outside the City. He had run his first marathon in Manchester in April 2018 and we had agreed to run his ‘hometown’ race later in the year. Gerard had managed a very credible 04:07:22 on his first attempt but felt confident he could follow it up with a better time without the logistics of travelling to a ‘big City’ marathon (and also benefit from doing some proper training).

Having only participated in one road marathon per annum (quite enough, if you ask me) for the previous 3-4 years, I initially intimated I would run with him. In hindsight, that was probably never going to happen with the prospect of racing for a new PB too tempting, having fallen just short of my best at a ‘warm’ London marathon earlier in the year.

It was to be a nice trip, one we were all looking forward to as it coincided nicely with school half term and the weather is always a few degrees warmer in the South-East. However, on the 24th August 2018, my only brother died tragically and that second marathon wasn’t to be.

During that awful first week following Gerard’s death, it occurred to me that he had entered the marathon and at that point, I just hadn’t got round to it. I had a chat with my wife, Vics, and I decided that I would contact the organiser’s to transfer the number into my name and run the race in his honour. The truth was that I was looking for a focus, a reason to maintain some disciplined training. Running continues to be a huge positive in my life, both physically and mentally.

On the morning of Friday 21st September 2018, I wrote myself a 4-week training plan for the Chelmsford marathon. I’d been running 60-80 miles a week throughout the summer and had already ‘banked’ a 25-mile long run with club captains’ new and old (Michael and Gareth). The plan was to do a ‘short and sharp’ focussed build-up using some of the same sessions I’d worked on in previous years with coach Allan. 100 miles, 80 miles, 50 miles, taper; easy.

By the evening of Friday 21st September 2018, I couldn’t walk from my bed to the en-suite bathroom because of a sharp pain in my left calf; the following morning it felt worse. By the Sunday I’d popped the marathon plan in the recycling bin and booked a physio appointment. I’d decided the injury was a calf strain – I was calling it a strain as that sounded less severe than it felt; it felt like I’d torn part of the muscle.

By the Monday morning, I’d seen Neil at Platinum physiotherapy and I was ‘cross training’ by Wednesday; a swim in the pool followed by 45 minutes in the gym. I managed a full seven days without running before I attempted an easy parkrun at Durham (mostly on grass).

The following two weeks could probably be described as gung-ho. Back up to marathon volume (two 10k runs a day – 140km per week) whilst walking the tightrope between injury and recovery. I didn’t feel fully fit, but I could run – just about. I was seeing Neil or someone at the team at Platinum twice a week. As the calf recovered I triggered some other niggles as I unconsciously adjusted my running gait. Oiled fingers, thumbs, forearms and elbows were applied with pressure into my hamstrings, quads, glutes and back as I discussed running and life in general through gritted teeth.
I was getting there.

With less than two weeks to go before the marathon, I attempted my final ‘long run’ with some trepidation. I’d loosely scheduled to do some work at as yet undetermined marathon pace but the real goal was to be pain-free running. With Michael recovering from the Kielder marathon and Gareth out of the country, my training partner for the day was Vics; on two-wheels with gels in her pockets and a bottle of water in her back-pack – what a hero.

If anyone is still reading this I’d be interested to know if this is the furthest into a race report anyone has got without mentioning the race itself? Answers on the back of a race number to the usual address.

By race day I felt good physically, no niggles and my legs actually felt quite fresh, possibly due to the enforced week of rest. The marathon is a distance that can chew you up and spit you out, but it can be tamed with a diligent approach. Having run 6 over the previous 5 years I was aware of most of the mistakes that can be made; on my debut in Nottingham, I made the baffling decision to not take so much as a sip of water throughout the entire race. By now, I know what time to set my alarm so the routine can begin; water, coffee, toilet, breakfast, toilet (again) and so on. I drop my bag at 08:45 and jog half a mile to the start. I have one final wee in Costa Coffee and stand on the start line – there are 20-30 runners within the ‘sub-3-hour section’, London Marathon, it ain’t.

It occurs to me that I’m likely to be racing fellow runners as opposed to my watch and a pre-determined goal time. I make the decision to go with the lead group for the first mile and assess the situation. Three or four years previously Paul Martinelli had won the race (for context, he ran 02:18 this year in Berlin) but I knew that six-minute-miles would have you ‘in the mix’ most years.

There were a few twists and turns during the first two or three miles, as runners were taken out of the City Centre and by 5km there was a group of 5-6 runners just behind the lead bike, including myself. The pace was brisk but soon settled to approximately 6-minute miles in old money (my watch was beeping each km between 03:40 and 03:45).

There was a name I recognised, a local runner called Crispian was getting lots of support. I knew he’d won it on a previous occasion and although now in his forties had a fantastic pedigree as a club runner (his Power of 10 is a fascinating read)

We reached 10 miles in just under 59 minutes and the group of six had become three; Crispian moved 5-10 metres ahead and seemed to be getting quicker. Sure enough, my watch beeped 03:33/km; which was 2 hours 30 pace, too quick for me but not for him? I did the only sensible thing I could think of and moved back to the front, running faster still I dropped my shoulders and shook my arms off – a bit of bravado that was to suggest I was finding this easy (I wasn’t).

This seemed to have the desired effect as the pace settled back towards 6-minute miles and the three of took turns to take the lead and the miles through country lanes were ‘ground out’ with only the occasional Sunday cyclist and the odd car for company.

I had no plans of trying to make a move for the win until the last 5km or so but just after the 20 mile marker I suddenly realised that I was on my own at the top of an incline, not significantly but enough that it no longer felt like I was running as part of a group. By 22 miles the guy on the lead bike told me I had a gap of about 400m, but remembering I had a guy behind me with a 2.29 PB I was taking nothing for granted.

I did, however, feel remarkably fresh considering I was well over twenty miles into a marathon. I started to push a little bit as the splits started to creep towards half marathon pace and I ran the final 5km in about 17 minutes, this was turning into the best performance of my running career to date. I knew the gap had increased and the race was mine to lose, I discarded a sweaty cap at mile 25 and blew Vics and the girls a kiss, one more mile – I could run a mile.

I’d done some maths in my head and though I could be on for sub 02:35 so I was absolutely delighted to see the clock on 02:34 as I turned the final corner and hurtled towards the finish line and let out a roar.

02:34:17 – that one was for Gerard.

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