Monthly Archives: November 2018

‘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.

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.

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.

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 ]