This is one of my favourite races of the year. I am so very proud to be from this beautiful city and to be able to part of the atmosphere this night always brings, is pretty amazing.
I first entered the Durham City Run 5k in 2016, before I joined Striders. I had recently become a part of the running community via Durham parkrun, and when this race was advertised, I knew I wanted to do it. I actually joined Striders in the time between entering and the actual race and so was lucky enough to be wearing purple on the day. It was the first time the event had happened, and so of course there were teething problems. A mass start of all the 5 and 10k runners and lots of narrow riverside paths made for a frustrating race for everyone. The organisers asked for feedback following the race and it appeared they had listened to it for the 2017 event. This time, the start was staggered (I think – it’s hard to recall last night let alone 2 years ago) and the route was changed. They changed the route again in 2018 but this time it worked a lot better – staggered start times, different starting place for the 5ks and the 10ks and a different route which resolved some of the crowding (well it did at my position anyway, I can’t speak for the fast 10k runners). I think the only thing missing, would be a separate finish funnel for the 5 and the 10. Other than that, I think they had finally got it right. There is support on every corner and the atmosphere is just something else.
I entered the 2019 race purely because I had ran every one since the beginning, and I am a sucker for any race where you get a medal AND a t-shirt. I haven’t been running well recently due to some medical problems that are still being investigated and treated – some days it feels as if my body has given up on me – I knew there was absolutely no chance of a course PB and part of me was dreading it. I always choose to run the 5k because I love being on Palace Green when the 10k Striders are finishing – this is what it’s about for me. The 2017 & 2018 races saw me finish just in time to grab a drink, my medal and a spot at the top of the hill to see Stephen Jackson take the win.
So, for the first time since 2016 the route was the same, we all knew where we were going, which hills we needed to tackle, separate starts – all good. Well it was, until a burst water main caused absolute chaos. We learned only a day or two before the race that the route would have to change because the road closures needed, couldn’t be kept in place because of the required diversion of traffic. We were given maps of the new routes which looked a bit bizarre and I don’t think anybody could quite envisage what the new race would look like. Add to that we would all be starting at the same time, in the same place, covering the same initial 5k together. Oh and it was the hottest day of the year. Based on the weather alone, I had no intention of doing anything other than getting to the finish line and getting that medal, which is lucky because it was carnage. When the race started, there were still people trying to get into the starting area. Immediate bottlenecks which caused literal standstills – this went on probably for the first 2k. The route was bizarre, but it was nowhere near as bad as the poor 10k runners had it (I did not envy you that horrific climb from the riverside up to Palace Green!). The worst part of this race (in my opinion) is the climb up Providence Row (and knowing you get about 10 seconds recovery before you climb up to Palace Green). I could feel my brain telling me to walk it, but I knew I would be so disappointed if I did, because I had managed to run up it last year! Then I heard a familiar voice telling everyone “it’s not a hill – just don’t look up, it’s flat. But don’t look at your feet or you will fall over”. It was Ben Smith (of the 401 marathon challenge). I’ve met Ben a few times at various events, but I’d never had the honour of running with him. He could see I was struggling – he put his hand out and said “come on, give me your hand, we can get up this together”. And we did. He gave me a quick hug at the top, and then off he went to continue the 10k. I knew I was almost at the finish. Just that lovely climb up to Palace Green left. Seeing Wendy Littlewood waiting at the corner where it gets particularly hard, I’m sure she said “Come on Joanne, you aren’t really dying, it just feels like it”. Shouts up that hill from some former Striders and the lovely Anji Andrews (Gateshead Harriers and Events of the North) who told me I was looking sexy (which of course I was) got me to the finish line. 3 minutes slower than 2018, and my slowest 5k race ever but I didn’t care. It was so hot and I had been sensible – now I got to do the best bit – watch for all my amazing club mates running to that beautiful finish line.
For anyone who was doing this for the first time please don’t think it is always like this. It’s not. It is normally wonderfully organised and I can’t even imagine the stress encountered when the organisers were informed on Tuesday evening that they would have to completely re-route or cancel the run. People would have complained if it was cancelled, and lots of people complained about changes. Nothing can take away the atmosphere, community and support shown by runners and spectators for this event, and the organisers did the best they could under the circumstances.
In addition to the 5k, the festival had many other offerings this year, including themed runs, a “Run Like A Legend” mile and a Family event. I entered the mile race when my body was still on side – thinking I could get close to my 7:24 track mile. It was only £5 to enter and you got another medal and a fab Nike t-shirt. It started at the Boathouse pub, ran down and across Baths bridge, along to the bandstand then back. It was really well organised, with bookable timeslots with about 10 people per slot. Sadly, for me, a PB didn’t happen but I will probably give it another try next year – I just need to get better at getting on and off Baths bridge!
When I was first diagnosed with leukaemia, early last year, little did I realise the long road ahead would end up at ‘Transplant Sport’ ! I’d never heard of it until I saw a piece on Look North about the upcoming World Transplant Games, which involves transplant recipients from all over the world, all competing together, but in separate age categories … and it’s all happening within a couple of miles of where I spent months in hospital.
So … I managed to get myself selected for TeamGB, running and cycling, and was ‘encouraged’ to also do the British Games. Off to Newport …
Cycling ‘Road Race’, Maindy Centre, Cardiff
The ‘road race’, had been planned to be up and down lanes of a car park, but when this was announced, with just a week to go, everyone was aghast. People thought all the bends dangerous, but I just thought it was naff. Anyway, helpfully it was quickly rearranged to be on Geraint Thomas’s childhood velodrome, with a lovely smooth tarmac surface, with gentle banking.
The format was 15 minutes plus five laps, in a race combining 50+, 60+, 70+ men. Think I can confidently say I cycled faster than I ever have before (ignoring Weardale downhills): my Garmin was saying 20-22mph most of the way.
Result: third in the 60s to win a Bronze medal! Whoop!
5K Run, Newport Riverside
The longest race distance at these games is the 5K, so was my best chance of a good run. The route was a pre-existing out and back parkrun course along a flat riverside path, nice surface. The only thing the organisers’ messed up was layering a 3K fun run on the top of it, such that the leaders encountered a mass of families with kids halfway back into town! Doh!
Anyway, set off at quick pace, and kept it together for about 2.5 miles, shouting ahead on the way back (politely, of course) for a bit of space. Well-pleased with the time (21’22), even if it was a bit flattering ( 3-mile course, I reckon).
Gobsmacked to find it was good enough to win the M60s … Gold medal! Whoop!
The first track race, next day, was a mere 15 hours after the start of the 5K, so legs were a bit heavy. Got properly warmed up after having various pulled muscles doing track training recently, then set off after the firm favourite for the race, and kept with him for … half a lap! Hung in there in front of the rest though, and was happy with the time: 3’04. Second place, and a Silver!
Once again: Whoop!! One more event …
After a long wait (legs seize up, massage, snooze in van, wake up, warm up again) … my last event, late afternoon, was 1500m, against the same firm favourite as earlier, but with all the MV50s in the race as well. Race tactics? Push hard all way round and see what happens!
Seemed to work … finished fourth in overall race, second MV60, getting round in 6’09 … so another Silver! Whoop!
Well-chuffed with these games … some wonderful people, great stories, very moving at times, a fantastic supportive atmosphere … and to come back with a Gold, two Silvers, and a Bronze in the cycling was way more than I expected, and all a bit of a bonus. I’d like to put my feet up now, but there’s the small matter of the World Transplant Games in Newcastle next month …
Heading for the last bit now, late in the day; head down, knees hurting, breathing heavy, heart pounding; arms sore from swinging back and forth; someone coming up behind me, give it one last push into the final straight, and yes, – that’s the granddaughter off the swing and into the arms of her dad after another day of child-minding is over! Now, where was I?
Oh yes; Tom’s Bransdale Fell Race: – cursory glance at the FRA calendar a few days earlier and I saw this race coming up soon; not been there before; opportunity to explore another part of the NYM; no previous reports on the Strider’s website; let’s have a go at it; sensible to car-share, any takers? Mike B and Simon D respond so I take a glance at the map and see that Bransdale is only a little east of, but at the same latitude as, Chop Gate with which I am familiar and have run a number of Dave Parry’s NYM races from: so, that’s 1hr 20 mins travel from mine; factor in extra minutes for Mike to get to me after work and then collect Simon down the road; add 15 min to get across into the Bransdale valley, and if we leave at 5.30pm we’ll get there for 7pm with 15mins in hand for traffic/parking/registering contingencies. That’s the plan then, all agreed by email, albeit at relatively short notice for those intending to take part.
Scroll on to Thursday, the day of the event: now I would normally do a bit of extra research into entry requirements, race routes, navigation issues, travel problems, etc, but I’m definitely time-poor in the run-up to this race; anyone with a work or care commitment will recognise the situation, and, as I breathe a sigh of relief when grand-daughter disappears 10 mins before Mike B is due to arrive, I realise I have not properly checked the route to Bransdale where parking may be a problem so I have a quick Google and am suddenly faced with the stark realisation that yes, the head of Bransdale valley where the race begins is ‘near’ Chop Gate, but the only way to get to it by car is by a long journey south to the limit of the NYMs, straight through Chop Gate and on to Helmsley, east to Kirbymoorside, and north on very minor roads along the full length of Bransdale itself. 75miles or so, and a minimum of 2 hrs if we are lucky!
Rapid re-appraisal; unless I drive like a maniac/idiot, this event is not going to happen for us tonight; no way could we get there with enough time sensibly to park up, register, race prep’, etc (even if I don’t do warm ups!) and stop vomiting from the drive up narrow country lanes. Oh yes, the A19 south is also closed due to a collision between a lorry and a car! Nothing about a running event is worth driving like a maniac/idiot to get to and so- that’s it – cancellation!
Quick email to Simon who has only just realised the enormity of the journey for himself and is happy to let it go, but too late for Mike who arrives and, not entirely disheartened, we have a cup of tea and a chat.
Moral of the story? – Do your homework – not just about the race route, but how are you going to get there (and back: – for example, personal experience suggests that motorbikes do not combine well with leg cramp after a stiff fell race – can still be fun though!) – Health and Safety lecture over And so, Tom’s Bransdale Fell Race remains untouched by Elvet Striders – anyone available in the early afternoon for a trip out next July?
I had been really excited about this race for a couple of weeks. The race is organised by Northern Fells Running Club, starting and finishing at the Old Crown pub in Hesket Newmarket, with five checkpoints – the summits of some of the fells after which the brewery (based at the pub) has named its beers.
I’d done one recce a few weeks ago, and found some route choices I was happy with, and some that needed improving. A second planned recce was thwarted by my post-Skiddaw Fell Race feet (now healed) but I was still relatively confident with my chosen route. After my disagreement with eating in the Old County Tops, I’d also carefully planned my snacks, and had them stashed where I could grab them easily. I was aiming on getting round (in 6hrs perhaps) and having a good day out.
I saw Geoff at the start, who rolled his eyes at the fact I’d put my number on my bag (rather than my chest…not enough room with rucksack straps). Anyway, you think that’s bad, wait till you read about my compass.
Kit check and registration complete, 43 runners gathered on the green outside the pub for the pre-race briefing. The sun was shining, and it was fairly warm, though there were a smattering of raindrops as we set off.
There is a mile of road, then from Wood Hall set/flagged routes over fields and then out on to the open fell. A fair amount of running, then a hands on knees climb to CP1 – Carrock Fell. I was quite near the back, but happy to watch a stream of runners ascend ahead of me. Weather still good.
From Carrock the organisers had strongly suggested a route heading towards Round Knott before dropping down to the stream, to avoid the gorse. I’d recced this and knew my way, though the shoulder high bracken near the stream made things fun! Weather and visibility good.
There were three stream crossings to choose from; I had already decided on the first (with a rope) as I wanted to head straight up Bowscale here, rather than nearer Blackhazel Beck (where I had not enjoyed my recce…too tussocky, contoured ground). Again, hands on knees on the steep section, then trudge up, up, up. Check the time – first snack – flapjack.
And then the clouds start to blow over, cutting the visibility to maybe 50yds, and the rain starts. Jacket straight on as I don’t want to get wet and cold. I know I am most of the way up Bowscale, but it’s pathless here so I check the map and do a swift bearing check (compass seemed fine here…. read on). I’d been following a guy in a blue jacket, and now caught him, and we ran together over the pathless ground. We hit the trod coming off Bowscale, and its flatter here, so we both started running towards Blencathra.
Then the steep stony path up to Blencathra. I want to run when I start coming off the top, so I eat again here on the way up – snack two, mini cheese sausage roll. Drink water to help it down. The rain is coming and going, it’s pretty windy, and the clag is thick. I focus on the path in front. Blue jacket is just behind me.
CP2 Blencathra – the marshalls huddled in a tent, and Susan is there too! It’s wonderful to see her, and we have a quick hug and then I’m off, back down to the little pool which for me indicates a left turn down to Cloven Stone. I’ve taken a bearing, and have my compass out to follow….and this is where it goes wrong. My compass needle is swinging around, despite me tapping it, shaking it, and using some rather unladylike harsh language. Every now and then it would settle, and I would confidently start running down the common, and then off it would go again and I’d be reduced to a walk while trying to get it to ‘work’. Blue is still near me in the mist. My compass has become my trusted friend on runs like this – always there, reliable, never lying. I felt lost (emotionally) and let down. What had I done for it to desert me like this, just when I need it? Anyway, I lost track of how long I thought I’d been running downhill, and ended up descending down the valley too early, to the end of Sinen Gill rather than a kilometre or so further north.
So I hit the main track towards Skiddaw House, angry with myself. Blue was with me again, and I explained my error, trying not to sound cross or like I was blaming my tools. Clearly time for snack three – more flapjack.
From Skiddaw House (water available) an easy-to-follow track up Sale How and then Skiddaw. I started to feel pretty weary up here, sick of the mist, and the wind, and my aching legs. I want some proper downhill! It could be hunger. On the final stony climb up to Skiddaw I tucked into snack four – another cheesy sausage roll. It sticks in my throat, but I force it down, knowing how bad I will feel if I don’t eat.
CP3 – Skiddaw. Marshalls sheltering again (it’s pretty wild), pat the trig, and stick with the route I’ve chosen, heading north, and over Bakestall, and follow the fence line to Dash falls. Blue is with me again and I tell him my plan. One alternative (and recommended) route is to follow the BG route over Hare Crag and then up Great Calva, but from my recce I know the path up Little Calva so had already decided to go that way. I tell Blue he’s fine to follow, but not to blame if anything goes wrong, like my descent off Blencathra.
It was pretty good running down here, and then it happened – we dropped out of the cloud, and our whole view ahead was perfectly clear. I love that moment, going from that slightly unpleasant, (but kinda fun), restricted world where visibility is a few yards and sometimes confidence wavers, to suddenly, in a few seconds, having everything visible, the sun shining on the hills ahead, and your route perfectly clear in front. So I shout my wonder and joy to Blue, and filled with energy and confidence I bound down to Dash falls, leaving Blue behind.
From there, a steep and rough trudge up a fence line to Little Calva, then to a pool just north of this, then it’s a good trod up to Knott. My solid food used up (as planned) I have a caffeine gel (it is already past my afternoon coffee time). I’m feeling pretty good.
CP4 – Knott. The going is good from here, runnable grassy trods and a section along the Cumbrian Way. I even manage a slow jog on the uphill’s and pass a couple of guys, stripping my jacket off – it’s warm again. I check behind but I can’t see Blue. On the final climb to High Pike it’s the moment I’ve been waiting for all day – cracking open the tangy, sour, sugar-covered jelly sweets (non-branded today). I eat a handful, smiling at the memory of them saving me on the OCT race, feeling good. I will carry my compass back home, I will apologise to it for swearing, and somehow we will sort out our issues and be besties again.
CP5 – High Pike. Pleased that all of the ‘up’ is behind me, I set off back downhill to Wood Hall, through the intake wall, across a cow-filled field (I shout at a few when they start to look vaguely interested). From Wood Hall I retrace the first mile on the road, but this time it’s all downhill and I race along, and back to the finish on the green at Hesket Newmarket. Brilliant support again from Susan (who had managed to drive to Threlkeld, get up and down Blencathra, and drive back).
The winner finished in an eye-watering sub-4hrs. Geoff had another strong performance finishing in 5.27 (despite a fall – I know, mountain goat Geoff! – and a bout of cramp). I just missed the target 6hr mark (a minute and a half over) but happy with that. I had a cracking day out. I’d like to try this one again, perhaps taking some different (probably faster) lines. This was a tough race that needs experience and navigation skills (even when clear), and certainly benefits from knowing these hills or a thorough recce. The organisers provided some suggested routes, and cake and tea I think at the end (though I didn’t partake, not up for it…. I just needed cool liquids in the immediate aftermath). I would definitely recommend this one.
Anyway….cut to the evening. Sitting at home, clean and warm, with a glass of wine and access to the internet. Searching for ‘compass not working’. And there it is – compass deflection. I think I’ve heard of this. Underwired bra? Errrrrr……no. I wrack my brains. And then I read ‘magnets that fix a water bladder tube to your rucksack’. What an idiot! I’ve only used the bladder a few times, and only when I haven’t had to use my compass. Compass is stored in a pocket, a few inches away from the end of my bladder tube and that pesky magnet. What have I done?? I can only imagine the tutting and shaking of heads of fellow fell-runners. How I have made it this far??
I will, therefore, bow my head in shame, revert to drinking from muddy puddles, and also share my stupidity with you all if it means that someone else benefits…and can find their way when the clag descends. My compass and I are on good terms again, and I’ve promised to look after it well in the future.
So what is Endure24 you ask? Simples really, you have 24 hours to cover as many miles as you can, run, walk, crawl or just endure till you can’t give any more and the time expires. The person who covers the greatest distance is declared the winner. You start at midday Saturday and end 24 hours later. The course is a mixed terrain 5 Mile loop, chip timed and quite challenging in places. You can stop/start whenever you like within reason, eat, sleep, change clothes, shower, whatever you need. Your battle is against yourself, the ticking clock and your desire to achieve a distance you never thought possible.
I ran this event in 2018 as my first ever proper ultra and it went really well to say the least. I won with 125 miles, breaking the course record with a personal distance PB of 90 miles. It remained my absolute top running highlight of all time, something I believed deep down I would never be able to top, so I was quite happy to move on to other challenges. It was with mixed feelings then, that I ended up entering Leeds endure24 2019.
How did this happen? As the Leeds champion, the organisers asked if I would like to run their larger sister event at Reading. Quite a big honour, so felt like I had to give it a go and said yes. I later checked the dates and realised to do Reading my traditional spring marathon would have to be sacrificed, a definite no from me. So I decided to switch my place to Leeds, allowing me to enter Blackpool and Windermere marathons, hopefully it would all work out for the best.
The build-up this year was very different, I was in good shape for my goal marathon at Blackpool, but unfortunately the wind destroyed my sub 2:45 goal. On the day I still went out hard chasing my dream time but suffered towards the end placing a good 3rd which I was still happy with. A bearded lad from a northwest running club caught and passing me in those last few miles. I’d aimed high and had fallen short again, as it turned out I’d see this runner again at endure24 for a rematch. Windermere marathon was only 4 weeks later, a quick recovery and turnaround. I ended up running it even faster than Blackpool proving to myself I’d been in shape to achieve that day if conditions had been kinder. I was happy with my training and had been in great shape, but unfortunately it will have to wait for another day, endure24 was fast approaching.
I had 6 weeks of good training leading up to endure24, the highlight being parkrunathon on the 1st of June organised perfectly by Catherine Smith. We helped raise approximately £6000 for IUCS and was a massive success on many levels. It was a privilege to play my part and running 8.5 parkruns with breaks between them was great Endure24 training too. In the build-up I also managed to win a 50k race on the Manchester canal ways holding a good sub 7 min mile pace. Training miles peaked with a 70-mile week (high for me but still quite low for ultra training) but in the end I opted for a longer taper this year. Not perfect but with so many variables in ultras, it’s better to be fresh and ready to go at the start than over train and tired.
We arrived early on Friday to get a good camping spot in the solo area, the event had grown again from last year, now with 4000+ runners in total taking part. We wanted to be next to the course if possible to make things easier. Me, Catherine, Kerry, Anna and Rob all got a great spot and started making the place feel like home. We had a 3 tent pitches with a good cooking/gathering area next to the course rope. The Strider solo team area plus Rob (borrowed from TBH) was done, First goal achieved.
The event was definitely bigger than last year, but the festival for runners feel was still present as we walked to the registration area. The Beer tent, pizza stall, hot drinks, a full canteen area, and a big fire pit in the middle. I started to get those familiar pre-race nerves and excitement coupled with doubts about the task ahead. I kept thinking, no way was I ready, last year was a fluke, all the ultra-pros will be out this time, you’re a short distance road runner…. what are you doing Mr Pritchard? I tried hard to ignore these negative thoughts, putting that pressure on myself is always a bad idea. Catherine in her normal easy way brings me back to reality and we enjoyed a relaxing pre-race night of camping. Good food/chat with friends and catching up with people from last year. Relaxed and ready, we tucked ourselves up in our tents for the night ready for the 24 hours of endurance ahead.
Catherine decided to run endure24 solo with Kerry, both hoping to achieve their distance goals together and enjoy the experience. Anna once again attacked her dream 100-mile target, and I was the other strider solo taking part. We also had some Durham Mums on the run here as relay team members (a total god send in the end for their awesome support) which also included Striders and other local runners we knew. Having taken part last year, we already knew a lot of the people taking part along with others from different events. This was quite normal, the running world is a small community and it’s one of the reasons I love it so much. I walked to the start line feeling relaxed and ready, kit/food sorted in the tent/solo area, I did my best to hide in the crowd on the start line. It was almost perfect till the PA announcement happened, “ the course record holder and winner from last year, Gareth Pritchard, is taking part” I felt like the whole place was looking at me and a very big target had just been painted on my back. I shrugged it off best I could, and off we went. The relay teams charged off, and I settled in around mid-field.
I went straight into my run/walk plan as per my training plan. It’s a tricky thing to do, walking so early into a race when you feel fresh and strong. But 24 hours is a long time and I wanted to keep going, this means I had to walk the hills to conserve as much energy as possible. Run clever and stick to my plan, I ran/walked from the very first to my very last lap. I knew I’d lose little in time from my training, and it really does help keeping things under control.
The plan went perfectly apart from one small problem, that Saturday turned out to be the hottest day of the year. The temperatures climbed to 30 + degrees from the start and we poor runners got slowly cooked. An unfortunate side effect is that your heart rate shoots up under hot conditions, so while I was prepared for the sun with hat, high factor cream, etc. I still suffered massively in those early hours and it required a bigger effort than normal to keep the miles ticking over at the pace I wanted. I somehow managed to stick to my plan for 50 miles, 10 full laps without too much issues. Then something happened, it all went downhill and fast, the wheels started to come off big style. I’m talking the 20-mile marathon hitting the wall hard here, wobbling about, end of the world feeling. The legs were gone, complete lead weights, I could hardly move let alone walk. Somehow I got back to our solo tent area and collapsed on the floor, the game over, I was done. No retaining the title, no 100 miles and no moment of glory, the disappointment felt absolutely crushing.
It was an odd feeling laying on the floor defeated, I didn’t know what to do. My body refused to move and I still had a very long way to go. Rob our support star was doing his best to console me and bring me back to my senses. Flat out on the floor is how I stayed for a good length of time as I got my thoughts together. Foam rolling my legs might help I guessed, hot drink/food, then hopefully try grinding out some more laps if possible. I slowly came round and tried to sound more cheerful as one solo runner after another went past our tent and saw my sorry condition, asking if I was ok. “just not my day, will hopefully still get to 100” this was all I could think of saying. Rob helped put me back together and after a while I decided to set off again, very slowly for another lap, still struggling but at least going again. The trick is to keep moving forward if you can in these situations, one step at a time, relentless forward movement. The next 3 laps were my slowest and most painful. I was just about still in the game.
24 hours is a long time and the great thing about that is it’s possible to have a massive blow up yet still recover and achieve. Through stubbornness and effort, I kept moving forward and found myself on the other side. After some refuelling and time, I managed to get my legs back and started to feel human again. Yes, the win might be long gone, but I believed the 100 miles was still achievable. The joy of the event was back with full force.
I was really looking forward to the sun going in at this point and happily it turned into a perfect night for running. I ran throughout the night in a t shirt with calf compression and shorts, feeling very comfortable. I really got into a nice rhythm and started to count down the laps toward the dream 20 (100-mile point). I still stopped every lap, getting the food and hot drinks down me when I could. This is when your support team is absolutely priceless in keeping you going. I still believed the win was long gone at this point, but I was enjoying the experience, soon the sun was coming up with morning fast approaching. The relay teams were still crashing past me and words of encouragement were being exchanged with everyone on the course. I love this stage of the 24-hour event, the hard work mostly done, sun coming up and only another 6 hours to grind out…….
After about an hour of morning sunlight and some good laps, the big 100 came and went in relative silence as I passed the start line. I cheered inside then slumped off to the solo area for a well-earned break, time out and food. Last year I loved milk chocolate as a treat, but now I’m a vegan and didn’t have this option. Gone were the pork pies, meat pizza and milk, I was now powered by plants and stronger for it. Catherine had found some amazing alternatives which I now gladly tucked into from my box. Greg’s vegan sausage rolls, mountain fuel bars, salted crisps, lots of coffee. Melon was also another god send, out on the course and in solo area. 100 miles done and I could still move, considering the state I’d been in at 50 miles, I was extremely happy and felt surprisingly good.
From Catherine, Rob and my team I started to hear that I might still be leading or at least it was very very close. I was in shock, I still felt good, relatively fresh and apparently still in with a shot of placing well. The idea of doing the double and retaining my title came back with full force, I was back in the game. I knew who the leader was at this point as he had lapped me much earlier. The same lad who had beat me in those last miles at Blackpool marathon. A good runner beyond doubt but the idea of getting my own back now definitely drove me on.
I must have passed him at some point in those last 7 laps but I honestly couldn’t tell you when. Catherine was being amazing with her support and I’d get updates as I lapped. I would give myself targets I’d be happy to achieve by the end of the race to keep me going. Just try to equal 25 laps (my total from last year) surely that would be enough. 125 miles won by a clear 5 miles then, so on I went. I started to realise how close it was, but at no point did I panic or think I couldn’t afford to walk or stop. The 125 mark was a big milestone for me, achieved with a 54 min lap and still running well. I celebrated like I’d just won when I crossed the line.
I was quickly told the lad in 2nd was matching me lap for lap, slowing but still within distance and with race time still left. I’d have to do another; the course record would need to go. He was about 30/40 mins behind me at this point. The problem now was that this event is sort of a 25-hour race not a true 24 hours. If you pass the start/finish line before 23:59:59 then you are allowed to keep going for another lap as long as you’re in by the 25 hours’ point. This had always sat funny with me, I said before the event I wasn’t going to go over 24 hours as it wouldn’t count in my head as endure24. The real possibility now was I could stop before the 24-hour point as planned yet still loose due to the 25-hour rule. I knew deep down that my Blackpool Lad would go out for another lap if time allowed. It was eating me up inside as I set off for another lap, I still had no idea what I would do if it happened, would I have to run over 24 hours for the win? Did I want to? I felt I could if needed as I was still moving well.
I decided in my head I was going to keep running when I passed the line at 130 miles with 26 laps done, I would need 27 laps at the very least regardless of the 25th hour problem. it was too tight and the situation was starting to bug me. I learned later Catherine and the others were desperately trying to think of ways to get me out again for lap 27. They had already worked out that the Blackpool runner might be able to match my 135 miles, but would most likely run out of time completing his 27th lap and would not be allowed to attempt another. He wouldn’t get round within 24 hours and the time on the clock would beat him.
Just 23 hours and 35 mins into the race I crossed the line for my 27th lap and 135th mile for the win to massive cheers, one of the best feelings ever. The Durham mums on the run were cheering loudly but I couldn’t see my solo gang. It turned out I’d ran that last lap quite fast and they weren’t expecting me in yet. I could see them dashing towards me after the cheering and PA announced I was crossing the line. The DJ was asking if I would head back out for another lap? A big no from me, I’d finished within 24 hours and that was all I really wanted. I didn’t quite realise at the time just how close I was to regretting that decision.
Our bearded runner in second apparently ran round that last lap like a mad man, sprinting when he could and chasing the clock. He crossed the line 30 mins after me and importantly 4 minutes after the 24-hour mark, unable to complete another lap. I only found this out later, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. He had 20+ club members cheering him on in that last stretch and unfortunately he didn’t take it very well. At the presentation he refused to shake my hand, despite the achievement of running 135 miles. You can’t always win, but it’s important to know how to loose well too. I’m not perfect at this but I’m getting better, enjoy your achievements when they come but most importantly try to enjoy the experience regardless of the outcome.
So endure24 is over for another year, I won’t be doing it again in 2020. In September I turn 40 so it’s time to concentrate on the short and fast now for a while. I’ve learned I can just about do both, with a 10k PB in the build-up, but that 5k speed has definitely drifted. Well done to The Durham mums relay team who placed first in their category. Catherine and Kerry achieved with good distances on the day, despite challenging conditions which caused blisters throughout. Anna suffered in the heat, yet still achieved an impressive distance. I have no doubt she will go on to get that 100 miles in the near future.
2019 endure24 Leeds champion and course record holder, I still can’t quite believe I did it. Recovery is ongoing weeks later and I’m not quite running again yet, but I have no regrets. I’ll be back up and running soon, fitter faster and just happy to be able to run. Onto the next challenge, ultras are amazing but I’m not quite ready to leave my short stuff behind just yet. Gareth
When is a race not a race? When it isn’t on Strava? That’s one opinion…
Jan Young asked on the Striders Facebook group if anyone wanted a lift in the week before, otherwise I would have missed it. After convincing the family to come down and have a walk while the race was on, I rejigged my weekend’s runs to fit in.
I wasn’t planning to race earlier in the week and as I stood in the starting bunch of 91 runners, I came to the decision I wasn’t going to run it as one. I’d been working on building some consistent aerobic mileage and didn’t want to ruin that with either an injury from an enthusiastic descent or just over-exertion. I would take it relatively easy on the ascents and not over-egg it on the level and downhill.
I set off gently from the back half of the pack and was really chuffed to reach the trig point at the end of the first climb (stone track all the way) without having walked but not pushed into the red either. There’s a first time for everything. The descent back to the start was steeper and paved, which made it tougher, having to keep my eyes on my footing at all times, but at least this is where I’m at my most comfortable. The paving was a theme on a lot of the path along the ridge to the turn at the far end.
That was only the first climb and I knew there were three more to come before the turn. I ended up leap-frogging several other runners, them either being stronger than me on the ascent or descent (or me being stronger on the descent or ascent, whichever you prefer). The views from the top of the ridge were spectacular, when I could lift my eyes off the path to take them in. I decided to pause to take a snap on my phone, that’s how hard I wasn’t racing.
After a “scramble” through the Wainstones and the final ridge section, I came down to the third checkpoint at Clay Bank and turned for home…only to be faced with a fifth steep climb. Minor planning fail, I hadn’t spotted this one on the elevation profile. Once up this shorter climb, the forest track turned more undulating, without any more serious ascents and a net descent of about 50m. An extra bonus was being back on earth rather than rock. I still wasn’t pushing to the max and it was a good job I’d held back on the first half. I was tiring but it seemed most of the other people I’d been swapping places with were struggling more as they fell back.
I say most because as I passed through the final gate off the fell I could hear footsteps behind me and one runner, from NYMAC, was close behind. Rather than slam it in his face, I decided to hold it open and as he passed through I fell in behind him. We turned onto the finishing field (unwelcomely slight uphill) and I already knew I wasn’t going to push him; if I was racing I would have dug in and given it some beans to the line, as it was I was content to follow him home.
Looking over the results, I was astounded to have come in around mid-table. Nina Mason finished second lady and Camilla Lauren-Maatta was Striders’ other finisher, with Jan acting as sweeper for the day.
So when is a race not a race? When you decide it isn’t.
This one has been on my list for a few months, and it didn’t disappoint. I stayed over in the Lakes the night before (in my new van J and had a relaxing morning wandering round Keswick and down to the lake. The weather was fabulous, if a little warm for running.
After a proper warm up and mandatory kit check, I bumped into Graeme seconds before the start, and then we were off. The race starts and finishes in Fitz Park, and is as simple as it gets….get up Skiddaw as quick as you can (you must stick to the tourist path), one checkpoint at the summit, then back to the park as fast as possible.
It was run, jog, or trudge on the way up, depending on the incline, and I felt pretty good, catching and passing people most of the way. I’ve started to enjoy these ‘out and backs’ – it’s inspiring and exciting seeing the front runners come hurtling past. The eventual winner had a clear lead as he passed me on the flatter section round Little Man, and a few minutes and runners later Graeme got a massive shout from me – he looked strong on his descent.
After my run across the flat summit to the trig, and a breathless ‘thank you’ to the marshals, I set off on the fantastic descent. I absolutely loved this, trying to hold nothing back even on the steeper sections, running as hard as I could all the way. I got a ‘5th lady well done’ from one of the marshals about half way down, so when I saw the 4th female in front, not going as quick as me on the steep descent, I went for it – running past hard, and then trying to keep it going past the car park near Latrigg and down the final section, determined not to show weakness and look behind.
I was convinced she was right there behind me all the way, as I crossed the A66 over the bridge, and raced toward the park. A sneaky peek back as I entered the park showed me I was well clear (thank goodness, my legs had very little left in them), and then all that was needed was an attempt to sprint finish on the grass.
I really enjoyed this race – well organised, brilliant supportive marshals all the way up (and of course down), and on the day we were thoroughly spoiled by glorious weather and views (though not much time to enjoy them).
Well done to Graeme who had a great race, and seemed to retain healthy feet…see below. I was very pleased with both my time and position, with the added bonus of getting the 3rd women’s prize, as one of the faster women declined her prize as she works for the sponsors.
The only downside…I trashed my feet. I don’t think different shoes would have helped, it must just have been the heat, terrain and my running style. I’ve taken all the skin off the soles of my heels. I even have photos if anyone is interestedJ. I’ve been hobbling around, cross because I can’t run despite feeling great otherwise, walking on tip-toe until they healed (heeled!) enough to weight-bear. I’ll be strapping them up the next time I do this race (which is a strong possibility!).
In early April I was contacted by the team manager for the North East Counties, John Tollitt. He wanted to know whether I’d be available, if selected, to represent the North East. My reply was pretty speedy, a short and sweet, most definitely. The last time I’d represented the North East I was in my early teens running the 800m and 1500 m. 30 odd years, a few grey hairs and some frown lines later, just to be asked was pretty special.
A few days later it had been confirmed that I had been successful. I’ve a big race coming up, my training plan was quite specific but for this I adapted massively to optimise a good taper and to get some race specific training in. Unfortunately, it was a little far to recce, that would have been the ideal. I spent a lot of time trawling through old race reports and studying my race map. I’d only run in the area when I had done my fell coaching course so I knew the climbs would be steep and that it should be a challenging race. Fortunately, as it was a championship race, the route was flagged for the day, removing a bit of worry.
Fiona had been selected as well so we travelled down together the car full of nervous energy. We arrived early for kit check and who was to stand behind me but Carl Bell! Then we picked up our numbers and finally our NE vests. Waiting in the toilet queue we were both equally terrified and excited. Fiona had been scouring championship results and kept pointing out previous winners/Salomon/innov8 athletes. It was some line up and to say we were daunted would be an understatement.
We went for a good warm up together across to the start. We had planned to do the first mile or so of the race route but it went straight up a hill, STRAIGHT up….so we decided we’d save our legs and did some laps of the flat grassy field where the race would start. I have never seen so many huge thigh muscles…think of the Hulk (except not green coloured), they must have found it difficult to buy trousers to fit. The warm ups and drills were again something out of a textbook…A skips, B skips, sky high kicks and bounds aplenty, it was quite a sight. These were definitely serious athletes. The race was open to everyone on the day at a princely fee of £7, but the majority were county teams. I was over the moon to spot a couple of older ladies not wearing county vests who I thought I might be able to beat!
We grouped together with the rest of the North East team. As Fiona chatted to Dawn and Katherine, I quietly took myself away so that I could gather my thoughts, calm my nerves and to make sure I raced my race and wasn’t distracted by people I knew. I kept repeating please don’t be last, please don’t be last in my head…. It was a beautiful sunny warm day, clouds flitting across the sky. The race start was in a leisure centre field, very well sheltered, not that there was any wind. Lush green grass, shady old trees and well-tended flower beds surrounded us. The steep valley sides, rising sharply out of the valley floor, were covered in trees.
The gun fired and we were off at last, thankful release from the stress of waiting, onwards and upwards. It was an unsurprisingly fast start, I didn’t want to get swept up and dropped after a few miles, so I kept to my pace. It narrowed quickly up some steps where there was the first bottleneck and then it twisted up a small road for a few metres before it turned onto an extremely muddy stepped path climbing up the hillside through a wood. I was desperate to push a bit faster, I’m strong at climbing, but I couldn’t get past on the narrow track. Finally, it turned into a little lane past a few cottages and I could pick up speed again as it dropped slightly downhill across a field and then yet another wait to cross a stile. A few spritely young men vaulted the fence much to a fierce woman’s disapproval who had been waiting in line (she will return later in the tale!)
Then it was up a stony uneven track flanked by crumbly stone walls and up onto the moors. Still climbing up for the first ascent, every time I thought we’d neared the top another summit appeared just beyond reach. My lovely blond ponytailed running companion stayed firmly in sight. I was always a few paces from her and determined to try to maintain this throughout, on the flats she’d pull away, on the hills, I’d pull her back again.
The first summit eventually was reached across a muddy grassy hillside. There were highland cows with their young grazing on the top which we had been warned about. I’m not fond of cows so I tucked in neatly next to a much bigger male target! The fierce lady was up to no good again as her man gave her a shove over a boggy section then handed her some gels…Fiona berated her for her naughtiness. I’m glad to say we both passed her soon afterwards as she fell in a bog. We then dropped down the other side through a nice squidgy section and onto a wide gravel track. It wasn’t long before it turned a bend and dropped down onto a lovely technical descent by a stream…I passed a lot of runners who floundered on the rocks. We crossed over a stile and had to duck under some trees as the track led us into a dark forest.
It was really good fun, I loved the varied terrain, each section only lasted a few hundred metres and then it would change again. Finally, the small awkward trod turned onto a main forest track dropping steeply through the wood. I’ve really become fond of ‘falling down hills’ it’s taken a while to switch my brain off enough and much concerted effort, mainly to keep Geoff in reach, but I now love it. This descent quickly turned into another grassy track strewn with stones that skirted round the hill and dropped down onto the valley floor. A short section of tarmac before it quickly rose and merged into a muddy stony track, then over a stile and onto a tiny grassy trod climbing sharply up onto the fell. Off the fell and then too quickly we were retracing our steps back to the finish.
It was pretty much all downhill from now, the absolute perfect race finish. I felt like I shot down the hill only to pass Carl Bell looking as fresh as a daisy doing his cool down up the hill! Onto the grassy field round the circumference and into the finish. Fiona hadn’t finished too far in front and I ran across to congratulate her and to bounce around merrily as we both rejoiced. We were as high as kites realising that we were first and second counters for the North East female team and certainly not last. We had also both beaten the previous female course record…it’s a shame all those other county runners were there!
It’s fair to say that we both absolutely loved it, the amazing opportunity and the race itself. It had it all, £5 entry fee with EOD, really pretty, varied terrain, some lovely steep ascents and matching descents and not much tarmac to bother with, I only wish it had been longer!