There’s still time!
The Elvet Striders DKMS Charity Relays are well underway under sunny Durham skies. Still undecided? Just turn up. Bring some money and a sense of fun. It’s a lovely course.
Must end tomorrow (Sunday) midday!
There’s still time!
The Elvet Striders DKMS Charity Relays are well underway under sunny Durham skies. Still undecided? Just turn up. Bring some money and a sense of fun. It’s a lovely course.
Must end tomorrow (Sunday) midday!
17 and counting…
I ran (and walked) my first Swaledale in 1995. I was new to running and Mum (Jan) suggested we give it a go. It was hell. We did it together, and all I remember was her going on about the beautiful views, and me swearing at her a lot. A year later I was back – fitter, 3 months pregnant with Leigh, and up for it. I was hooked.
There are many great races/runs out there, and many reasons why we each have a preference. Swaledale is my firm favourite. I’ve been back most years (though a long break between 2011 and 2017) and completed it in a range of times. With a decent pottery collection now in use around the house, this year was number 17.
For anyone thinking about doing this, I would recommend it (though you may have realised by now that I am somewhat biased!) You need to be quick getting a number (they sell out fast in January), but for £21 you get a well-organised run/walk, water at all the manned checkpoints and cake and sandwiches at a couple, a hot meal at the end, a badge and pottery souvenir, lots of great views, and the chance to share the experience with other like-minded runners and walkers. You don’t usually need to use your map if the weather is good and you’ve recced the route (though be prepared to do so if needed).
This year – I wished Mum and a few other Striders luck at the start then didn’t see her again after the initial climb up to Fremington Edge. The weather was great – not too much sun, a bit of a breeze, and fairly dry underfoot. I was aiming for under 5 hours but a little worried about post-Yomp legs (only 6 days before).
One of the Swaledale ‘greats’ (Strider RotY in ‘93 and ‘99 – and stepdad – Tony Young) once wisely said ‘the race starts at Gunnerside’. It’s true. I often fade here – that climb out is tough with 16 or so miles in your legs – but when I got there, well within the planned time, I focussed on forcing myself to run at least the flats and downs (ok, jog). This year I managed to keep my pace going and passed quite a few people between there and the end. Pushing hard down the stony track into Reeth (my favourite bit of my favourite race) I finished well under target time.
Really hard work but thoroughly enjoyed the day. Good performances from the other Striders that turned out too.
The best bit for me, 22 years after her first ‘visit’, was seeing Leigh at the end and a big hug; and then (with Tony) cheering Nanny/Mum/Jan in.
I jokingly challenged Leigh to do this next year, but I think she declined. I’d be very happy to walk/jog at her pace, perhaps waxing lyrical about the glorious views…. after all, it never did me any harm.
R'mond & Ze
As always the great British weather is never what you think and before it was 3 pm the sun was beaming down in a very busy Newcastle city centre!
After a few delays, we were finally off at about 3.20pm, 20 minutes later than planned. I had a strategy all planned in my head, realising if I do a steady mile at first then speed up after each mile I should easily beat my time from last year! First mile down and strategy out the window; I recorded a mile almost one minute faster than planned but the pace felt good. I thought to myself I don’t feel like I’m pushing too hard so let’s keep the pace.
Two miles down and the weather was just getting hotter; no water for at least another 2 and a 1/4 mile. My mouth was so dry and it’s all I could think of. A lot of runners had found some shade on Scotswood Road and I followed them for as long as the shade lasted. It definitely helped!
Pace still felt really good and at last the water station was in site. The marshals couldn’t get the water out quick enough, but I managed to get a cup, sip a little then use the rest to cool me down and off again I went.
Pace still feeling good but by this time the sound of sirens are going off; one ambulance passed and then another two. As I approach the end I can see that two runners were receiving medical attention. I grabbed my friend who was running as I started to panic. I thought what if I overheat, I’ve no water and I’m so close to the end. I was also worrying, hoping that these runners were okay; it was unbelievably warm with no breeze!
Once I passed, I then started having the dreaded conversation in my head. I could feel a twinge in my knee, but couldn’t decide if I was just imagining it.
I could see Morrison’s, so I knew the end was in site, this often happens with me as soon as I’m close to finishing, it’s like a little trigger starts and I just want to stop. I pushed on hard. I knew the end was near, all I could think of was a drink of water so I powered on and wound the speed up!
I crossed the line feeling amazing, but my body didn’t know what to do. The heat and everything got to me but I did it and also got a course PB!
I finished in 51:13, I couldn’t be happier!
As soon as I heard about this event I was excited. I’d put so much into the last big challenge. I’d been at a bit of a loose end ever since. This race was my new focus and I wanted to win it.
I’d spent a lot of time over the last year looking at maps and running on hills and wanted to use this to my full advantage. I’d had a look at who was interested in running and knew I wasn’t the fastest but I also knew the massive advantage I could gain by recceing the route well.
I went into full-on stealth mode by switching my Strava account onto private so nobody could see what I was up to; daft I know, as nobody other than me was probably taking it this far, but I was enjoying it. I went out on about 3 recces of the route before I found a line that looked great. It was direct and would save me a big climb, the only problem was, I needed a step ladder.
I was originally planning on using a rope ladder so thought I’d treat my kids to a rope ladder addition to their climbing frame, which I could, then borrow. I could then tie it in place and pull down myself with a bit of string on the night. After testing this method out, it became apparent it wasn’t ideal and I was worried if I committed to this route and couldn’t get up on the rope ladder I’d lose a good few minutes rerouting. I decided I needed a proper ladder and luckily I had an old 12ft set at the side of my garage.
I went down to Whinney Hill roundabout the night before the race and stashed the ladder in a bush before taking a few photos I could then pass on to my partner in crime Elaine Bisson; I also gave her a full brief of what I needed. That was part one of my cunning plan sorted
Part two involved a swim across the river and after a quick up and down the river banks, it became apparent there weren’t many good exit points so I went for a crossing point just by Durham Rowing Club. I didn’t bother having a practice swim and thought I’d leave that one for the night.
Come race night I couldn’t help but chuckle away to myself on the way down to Maiden Castle and I was very relieved to see the ladders were still in place and Elaine was down at the club ready to go, we were both smiling away about it like naughty school kids.
The race set off and I ran as fast as I could across the field and up to the first checkpoint my plan was to get down first, I was sure nobody else would take the route down I had chosen but I didn’t want anyone to follow me and also make use of my secret weapon – the ladders. Elaine had been instructed to move the ladders straight out the way as soon as I was up but if someone was right on my tail that could have been tricky.
I’m pleased to say I made it down first and Elaine had done an excellent job in positioning the ladders, I shot straight-up them then turned to see Elaine running away with them to stash back in the bush. I had a really big smile on my face now and was again chuckling away to myself.
I hit the second checkpoint then headed straight for the Rowing Club. As I ran through the car park, about half a dozen people turned to see where on earth I was heading. I smiled and said don’t worry I’m in a race and then jumped straight into the river. All the rowers on two boats nearby stopped immediately and turned round to see what on earth this madman was doing in the river, I reassured them I wasn’t trying to end my life and made my way to the other side very pleased to see no other runners in sight.
I made a quick ascent to tag the last checkpoint then made my way back down to the river still with no sign of anyone on my tail. As I hit the riverbank I could see Elaine heading towards Maiden Castle, she had been hoping to catch my river crossing but didn’t make it in time. I soon caught Elaine up and was pleased she could confirm nobody else had been passed. It was a short run into Maiden Castle from here and was great to finish the race first, the plan had been a success!
A couple of people were laughing at the end about the fact I was soaked through and had obviously been for a swim. It was great fun to be able to reply ‘the swim was only part of it wait until you hear about the 12ft ladder.’…
This really was one of the most fun and enjoyable races I’ve ever done and the response I’ve had from so many about it has been fantastic, I really can’t wait to see what everyone pulls out the bag next time.
Massive thank you again to everyone involved in organising it and bring on the next one.
This is a weekday evening social run organised by local club Derwentside AC in memory of John Donneky.
The weather was brilliantly clear and warm for the run; views for absolute miles from the tops.
It was a bit of a pull to begin with, straight up the Boltslaw incline, 600ft climb in just over 1 mile, but this meant the pack naturally split into 3 pace groups with one leader each, 8-10 runners per group.
I thought I’d not been up Bolt’s Law before but part way round I recognised a tree, the only tree for miles, that I had seen one winter on a social run from Colin Blackburn’s house. It stuck in my mind because it was fully decorated with Christmas baubles, etc –
Rumour has it that Colin revisited the tree and left some anonymous mince pies for the undressing on 12th Night.
Evidently, we ran 7.8miles and came back to Rookhope Village Hall where there was a good spread of savouries and cakes, tea coffee, etc.
A brief mention of John Donneky and acknowledgement from his widow; evidently he used to enjoy taking road runners up onto the fells for ‘strengthening’ sessions; and an invitation to do it all again next year.
66miles, 42 Lakeland peaks, 27000ft elevation gain (like climbing Everest)
1 contender (me), 4 navigators (Geoff Davis, Mike Hughes, John Telfer, Steve Birkinshaw) 16 Pacers (Mandy, Katy, Jules, Mike, Jon, Stuart, Scott, Mark, Rob, Fiona, Gibbo, Mike, Penny, Steph, Nigel, Danny), 1 professional cook and road crew (Heather), 1 Road support and bodyguard (Susan), 1 family (husband, 3 children and a dog), stunt driver Katy Walton and sidecar Lesley Charman.
I first heard of the BGR after a run with Katy, shortly after I joined the Club (2014). She had been involved in the club’s Billy Bland challenge (the BGR run as a relay with pairs on each leg) and, having realised my love of hills, had jokingly said I would do it at some point. I’d come home and googled it, marvelling at the extreme challenge. My husband had then bought me the map as a Christmas present.
After London Marathon 2016 I’d had enough of tarmac. I’d been reading…Steve Chilton The Round, Runner by Lizzy Hawker, Feet in the Clouds, Richard Askwith. All fed into my habit and dream. I must admit now, I love the Lakes; it’s been a part of me since I was tiny. I’ve spent my childhood summers walking in sunshine or torrential rain…whatever the weather I loved it, it was like a second home. The only time I would complain was if we were going anywhere steep. I think it grew from my mother’s nervousness but I had a deep fear of heights, one that I have only just conquered.
Having done well at Swaledale Marathon in 2016, I’d offered to help on Mike’s BGR, I did leg 1. I’d taken a photo of him on top of Robinson (the first peak.) From here nearly the whole round is visible and I was in awe of the challenge he had striven to achieve. It felt superhuman. That put my training into perspective; the fells were something else.
On January 21st, 2017, a birthday treat, Geoff, Mike and I went to recce leg 5 of the BGR. It was a beautiful crisp, sunny day with excellent views. Geoff handed me the map and took me through some basic navigation skills. The pair kept looking at their watches on the summits and on top of Great Calva they gave each other a little look and said ‘well, you’ve just managed to hit the peaks within BGR time, how would you feel about training for it? Maybe do it to celebrate your 40th?!’… No need to think, the answer was a definite yes.
July 2017 I supported Scott on his BGR and had been across regularly supporting Geoff with his Joss Naylor Challenge. The love affair and obsession with the lakes was well and truly re-ignited.
Summer last year I’d sent out THE email, the one you spend ages writing, letting everyone know of your intention to attempt it. To ask for help and to set the date. I’d looked at full moon dates and had set this on the BH so there was a possibility of delaying the start if the weather was bad and to coincide with a big moon. I’d spent a while rereading it before my finger, which had spent a long time hovering over the send icon, finally sent it. My cards were on the table, I’d committed to it.
Geoff had given me advice on the build-up to long runs. He has been an authority on all things Bob, giving me advice and support on anything and everything. Between him and my many running books, I wrote myself a training plan. Putting in key runs that I’d need to tick off. I printed off a Bob Wightman BGR schedule so that I knew my times between summits and determined to meet them every time I recced by myself.
Wednesdays quickly became Lakes days. The winter meant shorter recces, limited due to daylight hours and of course the grotty weather. I went across in all sorts, adapting runs to make sure I got the elevation but remained safe. I’d never been able to cover so much ground, to reach so many summits in one go. I’d come home energised and desperate to plan my next trips. It had started monthly, then fortnightly, often Geoff would show me the route then I’d return alone to master it.
I spent hours map reading, marking out routes, practising navigation. The first long runs were Tour of Edinburgh (55km) then Tour de Helvellyn (38miles). I’d done well in both. After these it was a case of hills, miles and mastering the route myself so that I could navigate should I need it. My mileage increased, I cycled my training, building up over 3 weeks then having an easy week. 66miles was the weekly mileage happy goal (that’s what I’d need to run on the day) anything above a bonus, 10,000ft the elevation goal.
Stuart was training as well. We started competing for elevation, recceing together and his support throughout has been amazing. We’ve gone on a journey together, experienced the doubts, the excitement, it’s been quite something.
One of my favourite recces, again of leg 5 was after heavy snowfall, with Geoff, Mike, Jack and John. People were out skiing off Scales fell. The landscape was just beautiful. I’d been trying my best to ease the journey by following in Jack’s footprints. When he realised, he started making giant yeti steps! Somehow I managed to persuade the boys up Great Calva… They agreed on the condition that I lead making the first prints. This might sound easy but Calva is a steep drag anyway, made a million times harder with knee/thigh deep snow. Probably a quarter of the way up I was fading fast and Jack bravely took up the lead. Icicles jangled on the fence line. Never has that trudge been so hard or so memorable. The summit was otherworldly, the thin barbed fence was coated in foot long icicles blasted on by the wind off Skiddaw. It’s fair to say they were pleased I’d persuaded them, just to see it. Another journey home in relative silence as all three boys snored within seconds of Mike setting off.
My first recce of 2018 was a cornerstone. I’d never had such an experience that would make you believe in magic or ghosts or spirits. The snow had fallen but the forecast was good. I’d planned to do an abbreviated leg 5 recce, up Doddick Fell (as long as no ice remained) perhaps down Blease Fell then up to Skiddaw. I’d got to the top path where it zigzags, the path was like an ice rink but I forged on up the steep grass…covered in snow and ice. By the time I’d realised it probably wasn’t so safe I’d gone too far to retreat and it seemed safer to go up.
I reached the top to find myself above the clouds, solitary, it was covered in sheet ice evidence of thaw and refreeze, Blease Fell would be bad to descend. The safest option was to go down onto Mungrisdale. I took my compass out and just as I looked at my map a broken-spectre appeared just where I should be heading. If I hadn’t have read about them I might have been scared, as it was I stood motionless, transfixed by the vision. It seemed to be directing me to safety and I followed. The common was covered in thick fog but I set on a bearing and kept to it until I hit the river Caldew. Up to Great Calva and then onto Skiddaw. My first good day navigating alone in fog and well under target time.
Easter madness heralded the start of my massive ascent figures. I recced all legs, ran up to Arthur’s pike every night from the campsite and charged back down. It was heaven. I felt really strong, distance and ascent figures were huge. I’m pretty sure this is the fortnight that stood me in good stead for the round and it’s thanks to my wonderful husband for supporting and encouraging my training. In the last 10 weeks of training, I’d covered 800miles with 130,000ft of ascent!
One month before I went across with Mike to recce the Scafells, I was nervous. I hadn’t managed to recce this earlier as the gullies had only just cleared of snow. The route between Scafell and Scafell Pike is the biggest headache of the round. You either get a rope set up on Broad Stand (most direct) or you take Lords Rake or the longest is via Foxes Tarn.
Deep Gill/West Wall Traverse/Lords Rake, for me seemed the best of the three but it had been built up to be unpleasant. We’d gone in high winds (the same day Nigel had separately recced leg 5 and had hung onto the rock on Halls fell!). We’d climbed the slope up from Wasdale carpark to touch the peak of Scafell. I’d warned Mike I wouldn’t like it. With a smile and a twinkle in his eye he’d told me, ‘It’s all in your head, now let’s just do it’ and he’d skipped off to the entrance of Deep Gill.
I’d looked down and shook my head and said, I’m not going down there. Somehow Mike encouraged me and quite soon we arrived at Mickledore. I could have jumped for joy I was so pleased. The BGR loop had been sealed. I’d been over the whole route. I felt like I could navigate the whole 66 miles.
3 days later I was across supporting legs 3 + 4 of Stuart’s clockwise round. Even before the day, he’d suggested I do three legs. I’d said I’d see on the day. I’d loved it so much by the time we were at Honister, I was quite fixed on seeing him finish, nothing could stop me. I came home buzzing.
To support someone to reach their goal, particularly when you are training for it and you know just how important it is, is quite special. I’d also ticked off another of my long runs, 3 legs back to back, and felt fresh at the end. Perhaps I really could do it.
A few days later I set up my own secret FB group ‘Elaine’s BGR’. There was much excitement. I was as organised as I could be, I think it distracted me from the enormous challenge I’d set myself. Schedules were tweaked, timing cards made and strung up with pencils, boxes for each leg packed and repacked and labelled with additional fresh food to add. Pacers were assigned to each leg and given jobs (timing cards, kit bag carrier, food/drink bagger, headtorch captain.) I’d even ordered a tracker to make things more fun for my family and easier for my pacers.
I barely slept for the final fortnight, I’d wake regularly and be wide-awake at 5. The butterflies were there almost constantly. I’d tell myself they were flying in formation as Allan would have me think.
The final recce day was surreal. I was still nervous on Halls Fell, Geoff had taken me on it after Stuarts BGR. My legs were fine but I imagined myself at the end of my round, legs wobbling and not managing up the rock. Susan had offered a slow walk up again. The conditions were perfect, dry rock, low wind, and good visibility. We reached the top easily and within time. We’d come across with Geoff and Mike B(recceing leg 4) and David and Mike H (recceing leg 2) it was an amazing day. All these people doing three different recces to help me. Driving home later in the day the car was full of giggles and positive energy. Everyone seemed to will me on, they all had this amazing confidence in me and I came home believing I could actually achieve it.
On the Wednesday before, I met up with my road support Heather and Susan. They were a dream team from start to finish, having helped on previous rounds. I was incredibly lucky to have them both on board.
During the build-up, so that I had a good idea, I’d asked Geoff what weather should I postpone. His reply of ‘high winds, torrential rain’… ‘OK what constitutes high wind?’ (we’ve been out on Robinson when winds forecast 60mph). ‘Anything over 30mph consistently for the whole day’. So the whole week beforehand I was weather spotting, for the whole week it was high winds 40-45mph, increasing in the evening, no let up all day. Geoff said it’s fine, it’ll be fine! I stopped looking at the forecast.
We’d driven across on Friday night, hired a house minutes from the Moot Hall so I could stumble home when the job was done. It was an oversight on my part that it was a three-storey house and not a bungalow.
I spent 30minutes with rising panic as we couldn’t find the code to get in the house. The relief and the tears as we finally got in, I hadn’t realised how stressed I was getting. My poor family have supported me every step, have listened to my tales, looked at my many photos of hills and more hills. Tolerated the piles of sweaty running kit and the lines of laundry. The smelly shoes discarded by the door. The absence at weekends. What they don’t know about ‘The Bob’ is not worth knowing. It’s been quite a love affair and John has been beyond patient with me.
Leg 1 Moot Hall, Keswick – Honister
Robinson, Hindscarth, Dale Head
We left our cottage to arrive at 6:45, the high street already bustling with Market traders and of course my support team. I was feeling nervous, desperate just to start, to stop my stomach doing cartwheels. I climbed the 10 steps to start outside the doors (Stuart had told me it was a lightweights round who started at the base of Moot Hall!) Finally my watch turned 07:00 and we were off. I’d worried I’d miss-pace this section (I was navigating until we met Geoff for the climb onto the fells.) Without my pack I felt as light as a feather, the taper had left me like a coiled spring. I bounced down the lanes, trying my best to keep to a steady pace. My pacers were excited, Katy joined me until Newlands church, Jules, Mandy, Jon and Mike.The sky was blue, lanes full of colour and noise. Lambs now quite large in the fields. The last time I’d been here I’d driven just to remind myself of the rolls of the road. Before that it was reversed chasing down Stuart as he’d sped off on his BGR in the middle of the night, the eyes of the sheep glinting eerily on my headtorch lights.
We dropped down from Littletown to see Geoff waiting. I changed into fell shoes and grabbed my poles, then off up the road accompanied briefly by John who was busy filming snippets of the day.
Up to the house, through the gate and onto the grassy track to the first fell, Robinson. I was all too pleased to leave the road behind. On the steep ascent up to High Snabb, I led and had to wait at the top for pacers to catch me. Geoff had a quiet word, “slow down, you’re going too fast”.
Onto Robinson, my first summit, and amazing views of the legs ahead. I tried not to look around, just focusing on the present and onto the next peak. It would be too daunting to think too far ahead. The wind was pretty strong and deafening, it was hard to talk without shouting at each other. So now the grassy descent before we climb to Hindscarth. My pacers were great, handing me drinks and encouraging me to eat. I touched the cairn and quickly moved on to Dale Head. No stopping. Steph had advised me to just keep moving, keep moving forward and you’ll do it. No pauses for photos, you might need those precious minutes later in the day or tomorrow. So there were no planned breaks until the road stops.
Dale Head is one of my favourite views. Here two of Geoff ’s friends were waiting. Cheering me on. I said a quick hello as I turned and made ready to charge down to Honister. I love this descent it’s pretty grassy and a lovely gradient that you can build up speed. Soon I was running past John who’d walked up to meet us. Then my three, Graeme and Lily were waiting at the bottom. I ran into Honister with cheers and claps. Heather had a chair, tea and honey soaked porridge ready. Susan on duty to keep it quiet.
I guzzled away, feeling fresh and looking forward to leg 2, a firm favourite. Geoff had a word, “pull back, you’re 10minutes up already, just take your time, don’t panic, don’t worry if you lose time, take it steady”. I wasn’t panicking, I felt really good, something in me knew I could do it if only the wind dropped if only the damn wind dropped.
Leg 2 Honister – Wasdale
Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Green Gable, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, Pillar, Steeple, Red Pike, Yewbarrow
Mike was navving, Stuart ready with all my favourite goodies (he knew exactly what I like, having consumed all of my food on his round!) and strong pacers alongside, Scott, Mark and John. I shortened my 10minute stop, eager to move on.
Grey Knotts came quicker than expected, the lovely fresh banter of new pacers carrying me on up the steep rocky ascent. Brandreth was soon reached, the ground had never been so dry. On up to Green gable then down to windy gap (it was all windy) and up Gable. I tripped here, only one of 3 trips but it made me pause and take heed. The wind was really blasting me, Mark tagged alongside trying to shelter me from it. At last, we turned a bend and it eased. There is a bit of scrambling up to the summit, its fun and in no time I was again at the top. Ahead of schedule. I knew the direction off, although invariably I lost the easier route. So I happily followed Mike’s lead. He told me to go steady, watch my feet, no need to go fast, we were ahead. I stuck behind him and soon we were on the pass ready to climb Kirk Fell.
Here John dropped down to Wasdale, he was to navigate leg 3. Stuart and Mark were brilliant, keeping time and asking every half hour what I would like to eat/drink. We made good time over Kirk Fell onto Pillar and then one of my favourites, Steeple. It’s a beautiful little summit that sticks out alone, quick to climb compared to the others on this leg. Mike and Mark accompany me while Stuart and Scott lazed on Scoat Fell (that’s what I did on their rounds!). Onto Red Pike then a swift run down until we hit the bottom of Yewbarrow. We pass a clockwise attempt and wish each other well.
I love the ascent up to Yewbarrow, it crosses scree, huge boulders then winds up through heather and turf until it reaches the wide ridge path and on up to the summit. We made pretty quick progress as the wind had really picked up and we were buffeted and blown all the way along. It was tough going trying to keep upright, particularly crossing the boulder fields. Scott led the way down to Wasdale on a lovely scree run where my legs could rest and we could use the stones to drag us down.
I arrived in a very hot valley, feeling still remarkably fresh. Heather had laid out a beautiful picnic of leek and potato soup, egg sarnies, tomato and crisps and of course hot sweet tea. I gobbled it all while Scott shaded me under a huge umbrella from the hot sun.
Leg 3 Wasdale – Dunmail
Scafell, Scafell Pike, Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End, Esk Pike, Bowfell, Rossett Pike, Pike O’Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Thunacar Knott, High Raise, Sergeant Man, Calf Crag, Steel Fell
Having had a big team on leg 2 this was smaller. John T leading, Rob up from Bath to support, Fiona eager as always to hit the fells (she’d actually only been down to do leg 5 but had stepped up when she’d realised I was short on pacers. Thank god she did!) and Stuart. Sadly Stuart headed back down half way up Scafell, his BGR still in his legs. John T dropped behind and was feeling sick and when we got to Scafell, Fiona asked me what I wanted to do as he was struggling with my pace… Keep on moving was my response. I knew I could navigate most of it really well but was still unsure of the route off Bow Fell (these rocky sections had relatively recently been covered in snow, hampering recces.) Thankfully John got a second wind, just stopping to miss out the tops and by the Langdales he was back to full strength (its much easier just thinking of moving forward and following than the added pressure of navigating).
John led the way into Deep Gill, it was dry underfoot and the wind howled through the gullies. We made good progress until we passed a group on a clockwise round. Stopping to let them pass we then descended. A shout of rock heralded a huge fall of stones and boulders, which narrowly missed John. I looked up cursing, both Rob and Fiona were equally shocked. From then we were pleased to leave the Rake and ascend to Mickledore. It was a relatively quick rocky clamber to Scafell Pike, today heaving with BH tourists.
I was enjoying the company and the different terrain, it’s the rockiest section meaning you really have to concentrate on where to put your feet which helps to pass the time. Peaks are ticked off quickly. Rob, on timing duty, was a great encouragement, so calm and positive that I was moving well and gradually increasing my buffer should I need it. I’ve also become great friends with Fiona, who shares my love of the fells, her happy chatter carrying me along.
Off Ill Crag I start wondering if I have a stone in my shoe from the scree off Lords Rake. We stop briefly at Esk Hause where Susan has walked to meet us (from Wasdale on her way back to Seathwaite.) Low on fluids, we pinch the last of her water supplies as it’s so hot. I stop to remove the stones only to find an enormous blister on the base of my heel. I put my shoes on quickly, not ready to accept that this has happened so early in the round, I then catch Susan’s eye and tell her. She promises she’ll sort it at Dunmail. I move on up Bow Fell, I know the direct line well.
I reach the top with Rob, Fiona and John waiting at the edge where we are to drop down off the face of Bowfell to Rossett Pike. John must have recognised an awkward gait and he persuades me to stop to temporarily deal with the blister. I remove my sock and their three faces drop. I put a blister plaster on (it barely covers it) tighten my laces and am off after John. I ask him warily, this won’t stop me, will it? (I’m scared it’ll continue to shear off) he says its mind over matter, you want this enough, nothing will stop you. Happy with his answer, I follow on. There are midget gems and wine gums offered.
The wind had dropped by Rossett Pike but it’s hot and we are all getting low on fluids. On to Pike-O-Stickle, we use the balcony route used by Langdale fell race. I don’t know this as well but it’s a pretty climb down then I enjoy the climb up to Pike-O-Stickle. They fill their bottles with water from the stream as I continue on. I refuse to drink their ‘bog water’ in case it has ill effects, I’ve a long way to go yet. I start to eat lots of mint cake. I love the scramble up to the summit and I race Rob as Fiona and John wait further up the path to Harrison Stickle.
Up the slow incline to High Raise, spurred on by a sugar rush, I break into a run and am scolded jokingly by Rob. Off Sergeant Man my heel starts to complain, it has a strange sensation of peeling off. It feels like an eternity from here to Dunmail, too concerned with my heel to enjoy it, it’s quite monotonous after the rocky bits. At the top of Steel Fell, I stupidly choose the wrong route down. I stood at the top with Fiona leaning into the wind like an angel, its so strong she’s almost levitating, until sensible head returns and we find John who is waiting at the correct descent. I make slow progress down, my heel is complaining and I’m worried I’ll cause more damage descending at the steep angle. The relief of seeing Steph, sure-headed, sensible strong Steph waiting, is a surprise. I’d thought she was busy but she’s there kitted up ready to support on leg 4. She’s a comfort realising immediately my concerns and bustling me along.
The road crew are like a well-oiled formula-one pit stop. I’m in my chair, wrapped in blankets to keep warm, delicious freshly prepared pasta is waiting along with tea (thanks to Heather who has also fed the pacers.) Susan is ready to sort my foot and has all my clothes ready for the quick change under Mikes modesty towel. It’s just superb. Susan bandages my foot so speedily and efficiently I honestly couldn’t feel that blister for the next two legs (about 26 miles) which is something as it was huge (afterwards I can barely touch it for two days it’s so painful).
I’m back in fresh, dry clothes ready for the night leg, I honestly feel just as I did when I started all those hours, miles and mountains ago. I’m 35 minutes up on my schedule. Seeing my family, my dog, all of my friends who have come to support and some new happy fresh-faced pacers is really brightening my previously dampened spirits. I am still concerned about the wind. It was ferocious and even in the valley, we are buffeted. I ask Geoff again (I know if I stop now I’d still be fit to run in a few weeks) he reassures me it’ll be fine, I’ve put my trust in him, so shrug my anxiety away.
Leg 4 Dunmail – Threlkeld
Seat Sandal, Fairfield, Dollywaggon Pike, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Helvellyn Lower Man, Whiteside, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, Watson Dodd, Great Dodd, Clough Head
I’d looked forward to leg 4, of everyone supporting me. I had run with Geoff the most. I was sure he would get me to Threlkeld as comfortably and as swiftly as he could. He’s also renowned for his navigation skills. I’d also asked David to move onto this leg, I’d recced frequently with him, he’d been superb on Stuart’s and I knew if I was fading his strong, quiet confidence would be a huge boost. I also had Mike, Penny and now Steph. A great team.
On up Seat Sandal, Geoff moved to let me lead, I was feeling a bit queasy, I’d eaten a fair amount at Dunmail and needed to make sure it stayed down. I happily tucked in behind, well used to following Geoff’s gentle steps. As we climbed the wind strengthened, I struggled to move forward and felt like I was pushed sideways. Steph, also struggling by its power, bossed the boys around to protect me from the wind. They did their best and on most of this leg, they were there, even sidestepping to help me through.
Unfortunately, it seemed to come from all angles and was incredibly strong (forecast of 40mph gusts was indeed correct). Off seat sandal my knee started to pull – it’s a fairly steep grassy descent.
Now Fairfield loomed above us. People had told me beforehand what a trudge, an unnecessary out and back on what normally was a good loop.
However, I had determined not to dread any summit and had tried to think of something I like about each and every climb so that none would feel impossible. I actually quite like Fairfield, its a mixed step and scree climb, over relatively quickly and then a nice easy run back down to the tarn. I’d often used this little loop around the tarn to gain good ascent on really bad weather days. Today, however, there was no let up from the wind from any direction.
Onto the steps of Dollwyaggon, I managed to get a swift and nice rhythm going. I hid behind David, warning that I potentially would be his shadow all the way along. Again we reached the summit easily. The wind really strengthened as we climbed and both David and Mike worked hard to shelter me. They handed me drinks and food at regular intervals so I barely needed to ask. They soon became nicknamed the Mitchell brothers.
Just before Nethermost I got a shock from a really strong gust and was nearly blown over, we stopped and in the middle of a huddle I put more layers on, Mike immediately giving me his jacket to keep me warm. We moved on huddled together to touch Helvellyn.
As the sun started to set, the sky was filled with the most amazing rich colours, I couldn’t help but smile, it’s my favourite place, its where I come to feel alive. I was now looking forward to night falling, for something different. The group tends to close in, everything shrinks. It forces you into the present, so you can’t think too far ahead.
It was dusk as we climbed up to Whiteside. We stopped briefly to get more layers on and get our head torches out. By Raise it was pretty dark, I love the rocky top and its cairn, I could just about make it out against the darkening sky. The sun soon left the sky, ready to return in a few hours, I wondered where I would be when it reappeared. The full moon behind us made it a little brighter and the stars seemed to fill the sky. Had it not been for the wind it would have been stunning.
We kept moving forward, on up Stybarrow Dodd, Geoff commented that I was still moving as fast as I had been on my first peak, Robinson, all those hours ago. After eating a handful (or two) of Mike’s jelly babies I again got a sugar rush and ran quickly over the next peaks. I am reprimanded by Geoff who normally navigates metres ahead. We were fighting to take the lead. It was a great feeling moving through the darkness. All I had to do was move forward and touch the cairns as they were lit up by torchlight.
I’d climbed and ran well on these more gradual peaks but the descent off Clough Head is steep and my knees really started to hurt, slowing my progress. In frustration, I try to pick up the pace but ended up tripping and falling onto my back. I have to say those few seconds were utter bliss, lying on the soft grass staring up at the starry sky as the wind howled around us. If I hadn’t been on a mission I might have stayed just where I was. As it was Mike, who was guiding me down with his bright torch, was worried and I felt I should really get up and move on.
By the time I got back up Geoff’s little red reverse light had almost disappeared and I shouted for him to stop. Soon we were back on a more gradual incline and I could run comfortably again. I hit the small road and started to smile. What was left didn’t feel so big anymore, especially cloaked in darkness. I was really excited by the last leg and somehow knew it was in my grasp if I just kept eating, drinking and moving forward. On the road Danny was waiting, headtorch on and ready to go.
Turning into Threlkeld carpark I was surprised to see my lovely three, all in their pyjamas and dressing gowns munching on popcorn and having the adventure of their life! I had thought they’d be tucked up in bed, but John doesn’t want to miss a second.
Again I was guided to the exceptional pit stop, handed porridge and tea. I still felt strong, excited. My main concern was still the wind. Geoff asked whether I’d be happier going up Doddick, I’d agreed. Happy and full of porridge, I head into the darkness, quickly hugging my family and Steph. Up we go.
Leg 5 Threlkeld – Moot Hall, Keswick
Blencathra, Great Calva, Skiddaw
Out of the carpark, Steve said “let’s just do Halls Fell”, that’s all the persuasion I needed, it’s the quicker route by half a mile and takes us straight to the summit….”ok then”. I’d been looking forward to this, my team were good, experienced. Steve, well he’s a legend in the fell running world, so to have him get up in the middle of the night and navigate me round was quite a treat (thanks to Geoff for organising.) Interestingly Steve ran an anticlockwise BGR route as well.
We went up the road, past the hounds (who were unusually silent). Through the gate and over the nearly dry riverbed. Then we wound our way up the bottom slopes of Halls Fell. I followed Steve’s steps. He asked me if the pace was ok. My response, “Its fine, I just want to go slow up here”, is misconstrued and he thinks its too fast…“no its perfect.” Within no time we were winding our way along the crest, to the right we were buffeted by the wind, to the left we were relatively sheltered.
I was not confident on the rocks, I was now 55 miles in, it was blowing a pretty fierce hoolie and I was worried I would slip or trip over. Fiona had promised to watch out for me and occasionally she gave me a shove or just guided me up over the rocks. Both Nigel and Fiona urged me on. We were at the top before I’d really had a chance to think. There’s a beautiful sunken ring to mark the summit.
I tried to run down the slope and over the scree but my knees were now sore granny knees. I was glad to reach Mungrisdale Common, the gradient is kinder and I could run easily. The tufts of cotton grass were magical in our torchlight. Danny kept telling me I could walk this and still make it back in time. He then said “you only need to run if you want to get under 22 hours”…why wouldn’t I want to get under 22 hours now, I thought and pushed onwards.
We wound our way down to the River Caldew. I crossed carefully, the stones are always sloppy, the cold water, as it soaked to our skin, woke us all up.
Then it’s over the bog, the squelchy, muddy, bog. On up through heather to Great Calva. The chatting and laughter carried me on up to the summit. My headtorch started to cast this beautiful surreal super coloured glow to the grass. I’ve seen it before, it’s gorgeous but made me wonder if my head was still on straight. I ate more Snickers, just in case. Off Calva I tried to run, it’s more of a downhill shuffle…as fast as Nigel can walk. I laughed at myself and asked him to at least pretend to run. I looked forward to the ascent to Skiddaw, my legs were still strong going up. I couldn’t believe there was only one peak left. This of all the legs, I knew like the back of my hand, I’d been over it so much. It was comforting in the darkness to recognise it all. I wondered if we’d get there before sunrise?
We crossed the bog on Hare Crag. For once it was really dry, lovely and soft to run on. I usually panic here by myself, worried I’ll get stuck all alone and die in the bog-like that fell-runner. The sky started to brighten, shades of blue and a hint of orange appeared. I asked Steve how much further, “300/400m” he replied. It’s a long 300m.
The noise of the wind increased as we neared the stile. Clips from the motivational video Stuart had sent, played over and over in my head… Rocky… It’s not how hard you get hit, it’s how hard you get hit and keep moving forward, just keep moving forward… Pain is temporary, it may last for a minute, or an hour….eventually it will subside, if I quit, however, it will last forever…
I was handed drinks and snacks, without asking. I started to hide food in my pocket as I now couldn’t swallow. Fiona reprimanded me for it and encouraged me to gorge on Kendal mint cake…That’s about all I ate on this last leg.
Eventually, we reached the stile and I remember holding on really tightly, the wind was so strong, I was scared I’d be blown off. On nearing the top I asked Steve to stand near me, to make sure I stayed upright. Eventually we all linked arms, the wind was so forceful. We made quite a comical group across to the summit and then dipped down the side to reach the gate. My headtorch was whipped off and Nigel kindly went back, I kept checking to see if he was OK. It was pretty scary up there.
Soon, we reached the path and the strength of the wind decreased. I could actually run here, it’s a nice gradient for most of the way down. Not long at all Keswick was in view and we could see the twinkly lights still glowing orange, a huge moon shone pink and bright above the sleeping village. Up the path came a solitary figure, it was Rob who had got up early to join us for the last few miles. That cheered me up no end. I whooped with glee, I’d touched all 42 peaks, I just needed to get down in one piece, I could even get under 22 hours if only I kept moving. Certainly, at that point, I felt like I was moving well. Its 4.5miles down, I kept checking my watch, frustrated when we hit anything steep as my knees were agony. Over the worst of it and I broke into a run. I tripped on a rock and fell face first. I quite liked the stillness, the excuse to stop, but I picked myself up and moved on.
I asked how much further (I knew myself, but I wanted someone to fib!) Rob replied “about a mile”, Steve said, “it’s a long mile!” Indeed it was.
My knees were by then battered inside and out, I walked 50m then started again. It was beautiful, the view and the gradient is partly my reasoning for going anti-clockwise. I love the run round Lattrigg, over the little bridge to Spooney Lane, through Fitz park, over the footbridge. I walked up the slow incline, desperate to make sure I could run up the final straight. Nearly there. My mind went blank in the town, I couldn’t remember the way. Bustled along, everyone eager to get me there, we quickly reached the carpark.
I saw this car, it looked familiar, swerving into the carpark. It looked like a stunt car, the driver was in an awful rush at that time in the morning. I wondered what the emergency was and then the doors and windows were flung open and I saw/heard (!!) Katy and Lesley. They’d driven across, just to see me finish. I waved at them, not stopping, I couldn’t stop. Fiona led us down the alleyway, onto the High Street, everyone was clapping.
There were a lot of people out at a silly time on Sunday morning. Fiona ran with me all the way until I hit the steps. I actually managed to run up all 10 steps and touched the doors. I stopped and bent over, not really sure what to do with myself. My grin was like a Cheshire cat and I couldn’t stop myself bouncing up and down. I was totally overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it was the end, I didn’t want it to be the end. It had been so good. There were cuddles, smiles, bear hugs, dog licks and many congratulations.
21:44 Geoff said surprised, he showed me his watch to confirm it. I’m not sure he really believed it!
I didn’t really comprehend what had happened, all these people, out all day and all night just to get me around, to see me finish.
I did it, I really did it!
It was absolute magic, each and every step. With the best support, I could ever have hoped for.
The BGR is so much more than just that day. It’s about the friendships forged in all sorts of weather. The sense of being alive, of running miles from anyone and being the tiny solitary dot within the huge mountainous landscape. Of returning to nature, feeling insignificant against it, appreciating weather systems, how it affects the rock, the earth beneath your feet. Learning and developing a great and deep sense of respect for the mountains. Making the right decisions at the right time. Always being safe. Conquering fears, facing them full on. Being able to fill your lungs and your heart and all of your soul. Challenging yourself time and time again. Feeling tired and getting home with the deep exhaustion a day on the fells can only produce. Feeling scared when bad weather closes in, of battling through and returning to the car to flasks of hot sweet tea. Sweaty friends sharing adventures. All having that sense of achievement. The giggles, the laughs, the icy eyebrows and wind buffeted bodies. Being soaked to the skin, numb fingers and toes, wet and soggy bog shoes. Piles upon piles of bog socks and trainers. Packing bags. Maps, maps, maps. The views. Of carrying a bag that weighs a tonne, knowing the lack of it will help you on the day. The happiness and security of coming across fell shoe trod. Learning to seek out the tiny faint trod, or fence post or rock or bit of bog that leads the way. Developing a new vocabulary and using those new words all too frequently (trod, clag, best line. ) Not following paths, seeking out the shortcuts. Checking on the weather, obsessively. Of talking all too frequently of Bob, Bob, Bob……
The BGR it’s just a day on the fells with friends… Well yes, it is, but it is so much more.
With Striders being the biggest club at the Pier to Pier thanks go again to John Hutchinson for the task of crunching the GP data. The latest positions can now be found on the GP Results page, with still everything to play for.
We have a fixture change for the fourth Polka-Dot/Mountain event. M4 was scheduled to be the ever popular Cronkley Fell Race, but unfortunately this (sort of) clashes with the DKMS Charity Relays. It has been decided to re-schedule this event to the 19th August to the Sedbergh Hills fell race. This means the next polka-dot/mountain event is Saltwell Harriers Fell race on 3rd July. This is a fantastic first-timers event for anyone wishing to give fell racing a try.
The updated GP schedule can be found on the GP fixtures page.
Many of you, having been harangued by me over the last few months, will know that this race is special to me. It is also special to the Club, as evidenced by the fact that they pay entry fees for as many teams as we can muster. I can’t answer for the Club, but for me there is a lot to be said for the scenery, the fact that it is now a summer race, meaning you can enjoy said scenery (having raced the winter version before a particularly brutal cold spell caused cancellation in 2010, I know of what I speak), and the pairs-relay format. Why the latter? Simple: no two runners are the same. There is joy when, as team captain, you match a pair of runners well enough that they complete a leg mutually-exhausted and having run in a way that just feels right for both of them. Witness Jack Lee and Mark Warner in 2016 or Tom Reeves/Jon Ayres and Diane Watson/Angela Greathead in the same year.
There is also the challenge of trying to finesse the selection of runners in Elvet A to maximise the chance of us both being competitive and getting the baton around the course, against ever-tighter cut-offs which date from the years of this being a winter race, with dusk at 1600hrs.
This year, the challenge was truly set, as we had to make 2 teams of 12 runners, in 6 pairs each, to complete the 55 or so miles of the ever-undulating course. Courtesy of clashes with P2P and Windermere, family commitments, last-minute emergencies and a general nervousness about the fact we would be travelling 2 hours south just to get beaten by some of the UK’s best fell-runners, we had 17 runners to make up these 2 teams. Not quite Jesus, the bread and the fish, but I like to think something of that ilk was required in order to hand in 2 complete team sheets at Heath RUFC, bright and early on the Sunday morning.
We’d opted to go with what we thought would be the quickest Elvet A team possible, at the cost of this team comprising 7 runners for 12 places, 5 of them doing 2 legs apiece. Elvet B had the relative luxury of 9 runners for their 12 places, with only Angela G, Danielle W and Mandy D having to double up. The instructions for Elvet B were something along the lines of ‘enjoy, it’s a lovely day for it, see you on the course.’ Elvet A’s first two leg pairs, all of them doing other legs later, were asked to give everything they had on the first leg, hold nothing in reserve, then try to do it again later.
Final words spoken, Phil Ray and I stood with Nigel H and Mandy D at the bottom of the bank for the mass start, surrounded by close-packed bodies and ready for the sprint to the start of the climb through the woods. Words were spoken, the runners in front of us moved and so did we, with the intention of getting far enough up the field that we would get ‘trapped’ in position neither too far forward nor too far back as, after about half a mile or so of climbing, there is a mile-long section where overtaking is near-impossible on a narrow path between a fence an foliage skirting the moor.
I took the pace here, trusting Phil to stay roughly behind me and to shout if any problems, and we next saw each other at the top when we were able to exit the woodland path and start slowly overtaking pairs in front of us, hitting a road crossing just after two miles to the encouragement of the Striders who’d driven up to shout us on at this early point.
The field was fairly tight here, with us following a pair of Barlick ladies who we’d tail for the remainder of the leg, as well as assorted other colourful vests from Yorks and Lancs. Firm ground made for a decent pace, Phil leading across the moor edge as the Calder Valley fell away to our right, taking us through miles 3 and 4 at sub-8m/m pace until we hit a long downhill into Ripponden where we let the feet fly, high-fiving at 7 minute-mile pace a trio of amicable drunks who appeared to be at the end of a long night, swigging cans of Polish lager as they tried to ascend the lane we were hammering down. The fun ended here, as a core rule of fell-running is that if you lose height, you’ve got to re-gain it; so it proved, with the next three miles being a slog out of the town, a brief descent and then a longer pull upwards, initially through bluebell woods then onto an interminable farm track/minor road combination, hitting the moorland again at around 8.5m, slowly climbing a little more and then downhilling all the way for the last mile and a half, finally over-taking the Barlick pair, being overhauled by CVFR B despite now running sub 7m/m, leaving the moor, cutting through more pretty woodland and dropping into Cragg Vale to hand the baton on to Fiona and Jack, arms outstretched and with the intensity of hungry greyhounds at the front of the waiting group.
Job done in 1.29hrs for 10.7m (27th overall). Water on board. Wait for Mandy and Nigel, see of Danielle Whitworth and Jan Young, then off to Todmorden.
I can’t really comment on leg 2, other than to say it is:
a) hard, particularly in the heat
b) clearly well-suited to Fiona and Jack, who managed 1.12 for it, comparable to the best-in-recent-years time set by Tom and Jon, handing over to Mike Bennett and David Gibson for Elvet A, Paul Foster and Angela Greathead doing the honours for Elvet B, though we had to leave before they set off. Leg 3, by the way, is only 5 miles, but they’re all uphill and by now the day was uncomfortably toasty (official met-office terminology).
The next stop for the race is Blackshaw Head, a small village sitting high up on the edge of the moorland, with the luxury of a portable loo and a cake/tea stall set up to raise money for the local school. After earlier exertions, Fiona and I should probably have partaken in the latter but did not do so as we were more concerned with getting registered for the leg and making our way to the start, in the hope that Mike and David had thrashed themselves. To their credit, they did, managing 54 minutes for the leg, meaning Fiona and I had around 1.25hrs to beat the cut-off for this 9.5m leg.
Fresh, I think we might have managed it, and we managed a rapid-enough start down the first hill, over the ancient packhorse bridge (under repair), up to Heptonstall and down to the river, Fiona positively bouncing when presented with a descent. The fourth mile, however, was an absolute swine, 441′ of climbing in the mile, reducing us to 15 minutes for said mile and effectively wrecking our chances of beating the clock, as our legs were not quite able to capitalise as they should on the next few miles of glorious open moorland. Basically, we slowed whenever the path went upwards and could not quite compensate when it went down. On the plus side, a pair overtaking us (one of three who did so) called Fiona a ‘legend’ when they heard that we were on our second leg of the day, which I think is high praise indeed; a muttered ‘well-done’ is more standard in the world of the fells. In pain, leg four ended with a rapid descent past the evocatively-named Jerusalem Farm, through more woods, over another stream, up through the trees and, finally, at near-walking pace, to the handover point at Wainstalls, all runners (including our own Jack, Phil, Danielle and Dave Shipman) now departed as we’d managed 1.36hrs. There was little to do but sag, mutter ‘well done’ to each other and gratefully accept the water thrust at us by Danielle’s mum (a Sowerby Snails runner herself). Mandy and Camilla were in a while later, both looking suitably sweaty.
For us, the war was over, and there was little to be done but head back to the rugby club for the finish, as we’d not be able to get to the leg 5 finish/leg 6 start in time to see off David G, Mike Hughes, Keith Wesson and Angela G at Shelf village. So we did, admittedly somewhat disappointed, albeit (in my case) hugely impressed with the guts shown by Fiona in putting herself through a painful second leg with nothing in the tank. The rugby club had showers, tea and food, as well as the all-important sunny, dry field to watch the finishers. My vest now has a pink streak on the left-hand white stripe, where I had inadequately-vaselined myself; it started to move, so I generally didn’t. David and Mike came in, both looking slightly worse for a day that was now officially super-toasty (again, official term), their 1.58 seeing us 45th team of 100 (in 8.24hrs), then Angela and Keith finished off for us, their 2.21 giving us a time of 11.52hrs for Elvet B, 98th of the 100 teams.
I’ll leave it there, but for to say that this was a hot, hard day for running, and everything I asked of the runners doing two legs was given in spades. Rarely have I been so pleased to see harrowed, hollow-eyed faces. Particular mentions to both Danielle and Fiona, both of whom were out of their comfort zones, both of them also fairly new club members – to take this on was no small undertaking. Thanks also to those who came down to run one leg each, particularly given the effort apparent for all. Next year? Well, the dream of being able to submit Elvet A, B and C lives on, and it remains an aspiration to run Elvet A as a one-leg-per-runner team, as I maintain we could be fairly competitive on this basis. Ladies and gents, I have a dream. Or three.
If somebody said to me 2 years ago that one day you could run a marathon, I would have probably just laughed at them. Well, it turns out that I actually could run a marathon; in fact, anybody could, providing you put in the hard work.
Last year, my wife ran the half marathon at Liverpool Rock n Roll, in fact, it was her first HM, and she absolutely loved it. I was told how the bands on the route were brilliant, how the atmosphere created by the runners and watching supporters was second to none (she hasn’t done GNR yet), and that the whole weekend, in general, was amazing. So given her feedback, how could I say “No”. After all, it was only the HM I was saying “Yes” to. That was until fellow Strider, Chris Edwards, stuck is oar in and tried to persuade me to join him in the marathon instead. After reviewing each run’s route, it didn’t take me too long to make a decision. The deciding factor being that the marathon goes by Goodison Park, the home of Everton, my childhood football team, as well as Anfield, a place where the other guys play. This might not make sense to many of you but as a massive football fan, this was very much the overriding factor.
Given this was to be my first marathon and having an obsession to have things planned and organised, I wanted to ensure that I had all bases covered before I started; a trusted training plan, knowledge of race nutrition, setting of race goals and strategies.
I called upon Anna Seeley to help produce a first timer’s training plan. Anna helped customise the plan to fit in with life’s busy schedule, which worked out perfectly. I also spoke with many others within the Club and asked them about their first time experiences (that doesn’t sound right, does it?), seeking advice about training and/or race nutrition. I knew that I had to set myself some target times, ones that were clearly stretching myself but equally achievable. I also set myself a target of losing some weight, much of which would come naturally as part of the increased training, but supported by a healthier and more balanced diet. From start to finish of the training plan, I lost approximately 1.5 stone, not quite target but very close to it (fingers crossed it stays away).
After 16 weeks of training, a period in which I saw many of my running/training buddies complete their training and run their own marathons before my own, I knew I was finally ready to give it a shot. I had worked hard for this race and I knew it was too late now to let myself down or anybody else. This was it….
The day before the big one I ran the Rock n Roll 5k run. This was purposely planned for 2 reasons; firstly, a nice gentle warm up to keep the legs warm and secondly, you get an extra ‘Remix’ medal for running on both days. It’s all about the bling, for some ☺.
The remainder of the day was spent sightseeing in the city centre. The sun was out which encouraged the crowds into town, creating a wonderful, vibrant atmosphere amongst the locals and visitors. Liverpool is such a beautiful city, one that has undergone so much regeneration and change over the years. If you’re not going to run this race or an equivalent Liverpool race then I would definitely recommend paying the city a visit at some point.
I didn’t think I would be nervous but I was. It was difficult to pinpoint why I was nervous because I had been excited and fairly confident in the run-up. All my kit had been prepped and set out the night before, so no worries there, however, I had to lacquer a couple of gallon of sun cream over myself. Maybe a slight exaggeration, but the forecast said it was to be hot, just like the previous day, so sun cream was a necessity.
We made our way to the starting line, just a shortish walk from our hotel, cheering on the HM runners who had just started. As predicted, it was warm but thankfully there was some welcomed cloud cover. A short warm-up lightened the nerves before we took our place in the corral (never heard this before, must be an American thing). Finally, we got to the starting line, the hooter went and we were underway by which point the nerves had gone.
The route initially led us around the docks (BTW, Fred’s weather map has gone) and the Liver building before leading up and out of town towards the Everton area. The crowds along the way were out in good numbers and very supportive, and the bands were loud, just enough to drown out my terrible singing. I felt that the pace was comfortable and I was on target as per my plan, and for now, there was no sign of the heat affecting me.
It wasn’t long before Goodison Park was on the horizon (about 4 miles in). I’m not one for taking photos whilst running, in fact, I don’t usually take a phone with me at all, but as mentioned this was the main reason I decided on the marathon rather than the half. I managed to take a pic or 2 at Goodison whilst trying not to lose focus on my run and pace.
The route made its way across Stanley Park towards Anfield where once again I tried desperately not to let it distract me. Just before Anfield, I reached the 10k timing point and a quick glance at my watch displayed 55:02 mins, just under 9 min/mile pace, so I was still on plan. For the first time in the race’s history, the organisers had an agreement with Liverpool FC for the route to run through the concourse of the famous Kop end.
Crazy as it might seem, being a Toffee fan (that’s Everton’s nickname for those who don’t know), this was actually my 2nd biggest highlight of the race. As I ran through the concourse I noticed there was a lit up opening, which led to the stand looking out towards the pitch, I just couldn’t miss out on this opportunity (sod the time, well it took all of 20 secs, just kind of wish I had more time to admire it the stadium and the pitch).
Gradually the route rose to its highest point at about 7.5 miles in, a point, which provided wonderful views over the City Centre, although it wasn’t the nicest of areas of Liverpool.
Pace and timings were still good as we made our way towards the city centre, through China Town and then up the hill (some bloody hill) towards Sefton Park. I hit the halfway point at 13.1 miles in 1:58:08, so I was now spot on 9 min/miles with the big hill out of the way, or so I thought. It turns out there was a series of hills, one after another, but thankfully they were among some beautiful parks and areas including the famous ‘Penny Lane’ – I didn’t see any ‘fireman with an hourglass’, however, it was definitely at that point that the ‘Blue Suburban Skies’ appeared. It was suddenly like ‘here comes the sun’ but without the words or music. The heat soon turned up a notch.
I was in need of a quick pit stop before hitting the next park, I’m not just sure if doing so took its toll on me, but I slowed down somewhat after this point: most probably a mixture of sun and stopping for a wee break. I finally reached the 20-mile point before hitting the long stretch along the river towards the finish. It was at this point cramp kicked in, not just one calf, but also both calves and both quads. I was like a zombie at some points, absolutely excruciating pain, unlike anything I had ever felt before.
Unfortunately, I knew my race target and goal was over at this point, it was just a case of making sure I got to the end and completed the race, however necessary.
I was warned before the race that the last 5 miles weren’t the most exciting and it certainly lived up to those comments. There were a few bands spaced out along the path but nothing that gave me the boost I so dearly needed. The sun was still beating down which obviously didn’t help, so you could say I wasn’t feeling particularly happy at this point; however, I persevered and continued to run/walk through the pain.
My pace dropped considerably to about 11-11.30 min/miles but I was focused on just getting to the end regardless. I wasn’t the only one suffering, many others looked to be in a similar situation, but collectively we pulled each other along which coincidentally made me think of the Liverpool’s famous anthem “You’ll never walk alone”.
As I approached the last 500 meters, I heard the usual shouts of “the finish line is just around the corner”, and there’s me thinking it is but plus another lap of a track. I kept it going as much as I could but I felt I wouldn’t have the usual sprint finish within me. I honestly felt destroyed but with 200 meters to go, I heard a series of shouts from the crowd, recognisable voices too, and as I glanced over I saw Rachel Toth and Jacqui Robson cheering me on.
I then felt a euphoric feeling as the crowd pulled me in and thrust me towards the finish line. I did it, yes, I bloody did it. I finished in a time of 4:16:31. This was the definite highlight of the race. Completion!
The sense of achievement was and still is unbelievable. I had genuine tears in my eyes as I crossed the line, instantaneously realising exactly what I had just achieved. It was nothing short of remarkable (for me that is), something that I’ll always remember, but at the time thought ‘never again’.
In summary, I wouldn’t say I loved it, nor did I hate it. There are plenty of pros and cons of the race itself. I would definitely recommend it to folk who fancy a hilly road marathon with some fantastic views and parks to run through whilst being provided with great support and excellent live bands for most of the route.
It’s not the best sort of race for those who detest the commercial type runs. The goody bag contents were ok; however, I say ‘goody bag’, there was no actual bag, so you literally had to carry everything. Not great at the end of a marathon when you just want to collapse. Signage and directions need to be worked upon by the organisers, as it took a while to figure out where to collect my shirt from, but I certainly knew where to find my free beer.
The medals are fantastic, 3 for the price of 2, providing you run both days. Having said all this, I personally don’t believe I would do this race again, but another marathon, who knows??? I’ve already changed my tune in the few days since the run. There are definitely lessons to be learned on a personal level but I guess all this comes with experience.
Lastly, many thanks to all who supported me, sending best wishes and congratulation messages, however, special thanks goes to Anna Seeley, Allan Seheult, Lesley Hamill, Peter Hart, David Browbank & Chris Edwards. You all played different parts in the process and I’m very grateful for everything.