A few years ago I was racing every 2 or 3 weeks, chasing PBs and pushing myself up and down fell races trying desperately to win prizes where I could. I loved it but with a full-time job and three somewhat demanding children it wasn’t something I could keep up. Whilst I’ve not stopped running, I have stopped competing and that combined with getting deeper and deeper into the V40 age range has knocked my pace back.
If I’m honest knowing I was getting slower made me less inclined to race but deep down I knew it was something I still enjoyed so when I spotted the Ennerdale Trail 25k was on a weekend I was free I was keen to give it a go. It’s a race I’ve known other people to enjoy, in a beautiful part of the lake district and organised by High Terrain Events who I know from previous experience put on a good day out.
Once I’d decided to do it next job was to get Tom signed up too… he’s had even longer off racing but with good reason as his knees have been bothering him for some time now after the years of racing up and down mountains and completing stupidly long events. He’s been doing short runs but this was going to be a step up or back in time for him. Also, being a trail race I knew he might find it a bit lacking in mountains and even dull…
Anyway I signed us both up and the forecast promised us good weather so I knew all would be fine. However as we drove over from Eskdale on the morning of the race I realised the forecast was a little off the mark as we drove through incredibly heavy rain which Tom described as “the type of rain which gets you really wet”. Once we got to the race headquarters the rain had calmed a little so maybe we were going to be ok.
The route is a big circuit which starts at one end of Ennerdale water, takes you down beyond the other end to the YHA at Black Sail (the half way point) and then back down the other side of the lake. Nice and straightforward with almost all the climb on the first half according to the elevation profile.
The start was congested and I regretted starting near the back as it was hard to get past people but after a mile or so it thinned out and we were on a wide very runnable track. I enjoyed it but couldn’t help thinking it would be a bit boring and hard underfoot for Tom. The first half continued like this – quite a bit of climbing where I was able to overtake people and the weather was kind was just a bit of rain which soon cleared. I was feeling pretty good and knew I was fairly well up the field as we got to the YHA. I looked at my watch to see I was under an hour and was a little confused. The course record for women was well over 2 hours and surely I’d done the hard half as it was the uphill part?
However as soon we passed the YHA we moved into part 2 which was a very different race. There was a lot of bog to get through to cross the river which was fun but definitely slowed everyone down. Then we briefly returned to the easy wide tracks but with occasional bog to keep things interesting. Then the real fun started. We dropped down to the lakeside and went from path to wet loose rocks. I figured this would just be a short section but how wrong I was… it was so infuriating. The views were stunning but I just couldn’t get any kind of rhythm and I stumbled slightly as I felt someone lurking behind me. I asked her if she wanted to pass me and she said no as she was knackered but as we carried on I had to wave her on as I was getting more and more annoyed with myself for not being able to get going on this tougher terrain.
One positive was that I knew Tom would be enjoying it more… but then the thought occurred to me that it could also mean he’d catch me up! I plodded on and as a couple of others passed me I felt quite despondent and wondered if I’d lost my racing bug completely. Eventually we got onto a steep climb which was slowing most people to a walk but I managed to run up and after a short scramble up and down I felt more in my zone. There was then a short run along the final part of the lake – I could see I was closing in on a couple of people who had passed me but all too suddenly I was back at the finish and having a medal thrust over my head. I chatted to a couple of the guys who had passed me on the rocky stuff and before long I saw Tom happily crossing the line.. only a few minutes behind me he seemed to have enjoyed himself although claimed it was a couple of miles longer than he wanted. Results-wise I was nowhere near where I’d like to have been a few years ago but once I’d got over it was pretty happy with 5th lady. I’m not sure if I’ve got my racing bug back or not – time will tell. But for anyone who enjoys trail racing in a beautiful part of the country I heartily recommend the High Terrain Events – well organised and always in beautiful settings.
The growth of ultra marathon running has been nothing short of spectacular in the last few years. If you’ve not tried one, I would encourage you to give it a go – don’t be scared!
But this growth has meant, and this includes races of all distances in general, that they are getting bigger, often more expensive and quite difficult to get a place in. This year’s Hardmoors 55 was a sell out with over 400 people having fun on the North Yorkshire Moors in the deep winter. Bonkers!
Now I’m not complaining (much) but sometimes it’s nice to run a low key, inexpensive, no-frills kind of race and that’s exactly what I found in the Pen-Y-Ghent ultra.
Organised by Ranger Ultras, this race was the baby of two races that day, the other being a 70k race which took in the other two of Yorkshire’s three peaks of which 100 people had signed up to. If you were feeling really mad they offered the 70k runners to the chance to extend to 100k by heading back out from the finish up Great Shunner Fell to Thwaite and back.
The Pen-y-Ghent ultra was a mere 50k heading out along the Pennine Way from the village of Hawes up onto the Cam Road, an old Roman highway, before dropping into Horton-in-Ribblesdale for a loop up and over Pen-y-Ghent and then retrace the route back to Hawes. With just 19 starters it was certainly low key, and the 70k runners heading out an hour before us meant that solitude was almost guaranteed. Running with my long-time running partner in crime, Jen, the first few miles were a sloppy slog up along the Pennine Way to the Cam Road which gave way to expansive views over the Dales and its three peaks in the distance.
A steady plod was the order of the day. I wasn’t here to break any records, just enjoy a nice long day out, so I maintained a nice pace that wouldn’t have me blowing up at any point. It was a nice easy route to follow as I made my way down into Horton where there was a simple check point offering hot drinks and cold pizza. From there I enjoyed the climb up to the summit of Pen-y-Ghent, it was a bit more relaxed than my last visit in the fast and furious 3 Peaks Fell Race a few years ago. At the summit, the lead runner in the 70k race caught me. He looked strong and relaxed as he bolted off down the nice and new looking flagstone steps that lead off the fell. Taking my time has its benefits but soon, as I approached the last checkpoint with around 6 miles to go, the weather turned getting cold and wet and generally miserable, visibility reducing to near nothing. Cold pizza dipped in hot tomato soup cheered me up and is definitely the future of ultra running fuel!
With waterproofs, hat and gloves quickly put on I made my way onwards to the finish back down the even wetter and sloppier tracks of the Pennine Way and back to in Hawes in just over 7hrs. Not fast by any means but a great way to spend a Saturday. I hung around a little to see some of the 70k runners coming in and for one or two of the foolish souls to head back out for another 30k – what’s the matter with these people?
So, if you’re looking for a low key challenge, I’d highly recommend one of Ranger Ultra’s many races.
Having watched Graeme in, we were off, up a short muddy slope through the woods and out into open moorland. A slow run soon turned into a steady hands-on-knees walk as the slope steepened through bracken and heather. The next hour or so was hard work. Muddy tussocky narrow paths, the occasional bog and stream crossing, and short sharp uphills, grabbing on to rocks and heather for extra grip. When we didn’t have our heads down watching where our feet needed to land next, Paul and I had the odd exchange.
Alright, yeh, keep it going, fast walk, no shame in that, Kendal mint cake, no thanks, stunning view, no sign of Elaine and Fiona, phew…..
Between checkpoints 4 and 5 we had our only real route choice. Contour round to the next checkpoint, longer but safer, or a more direct route down into a gully, through a stream and up the other side. We went for the latter, stumbling down through knee-high heather and head-high bracken down a steep ravine before crossing the stream and clambering up onto a runnable track where our pace picked up again. We began the final climb and reached checkpoint 5 having gained a few places. The final mile was the fastest of the 8, it was great to stretch the legs on a gradual downhill path, before descending steeply through heather, open field and woodland, handing over to Geoff and Nigel for leg 3. A great team event, well organised, perfect weather and a very tasty chilli at the end. Who’s up for next year then?!
After a scenic cycle ride from the car park in Brampton a few miles away I was met with a carnival atmosphere on a flat green space flanked by an impressive dam.
Since I was running the last leg I had plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere and to watch runners setting off and arriving through a steep muddy path and up the hill at the edge of the green. 2pm arrived and I decided to warm up and gather in the starting pen nervously watching the woods for the arrival of Nigel and Geoff. 3:20 arrived and since Nigel & Geoff hadn’t yet arrived I joined the mass start for leg 4. By this time I was feeling pretty relaxed; over an hour hanging round in the pen chatting to Susan Scott had managed to ebb my pre-race nerves away.
A quick dib of the timing chip and off: Following a short steep muddy bank and gentle jog through the woods the course turned eastwards up a long, steep hike over Pike Low, before dropping straight (and very steeply) down the opposite side, closely following a stone wall pretty much right down to start level to cross a stream before ascending again towards Derwent Edge. The grass tracks quickly gave way to a sea of heather across stunning moorland; with the next mile involving hopping around bouncing over and through the knee deep brush (I still haven’t quite decided the best technique) whilst on a long steady climb. Through this bit one had to keep a bit of an eye on the overall direction as the yellow flags were easy to lose (no navigation required on my leg). The heather eventually gave way and the climb levelled off with the next section being quick running over spongy grass tracks with the odd patch of peaty bog mixed in.
A good mile of this terrain followed before the descent commenced, with a gradual downhill at first before crossing through a gap in a stone wall whereby the path steepened to a fun descent through a fields, steepening a bit more as we approached the woods, and then more again for the immensely fun 45° mud slide back down to the green and finish line area. A quick sprint to the finish line and a very fun, scenic run was over. My Garmin clocked exactly 5 miles and 375 metres elevation gain; a good first-timer leg and a very enjoyable experience!
A Navigation leg, run as a pair – Geoff Davies and Nigel Heppell were sent away ahead of the mass start by the combined efforts of Graeme W(leg 1) and James G/Paul E(leg2).The map is only handed to us after we are a few hundred metres into the race and tells us that the course is 11.2km long with 520m ascent through 7 checkpoints.
By the time we return we have recorded 14.7km and 727m … but manage to hold on to 170th place out of 242 teams(Overall, Elvet Men are 18th of 38 teams in the V40 category).
The route we chose comprised trods with loose rocks, interminable gritty uphill tracks, precipitous descents through deep heather; thigh-height stream crossings; ascents so steep you could nibble the bilberries direct from the bush just by leaning forward slightly, headlong downhill charges through tussocky grasses hiding foot-sized holes in the ground;- and then it got harder when we reached the boggy bits! I face-planted a couple of times and felt my life-force draining away more than once.
Pleased to get to the last 1/2mile of steep grass followed by mud into the finish – for the first time I find myself in front of Geoff, and it happens to coincide with the only photo of us –not a true reflection of events at all
And from Nina:
A stunning setting and good weather greeted us at the fell relays. I ran the navigation (third) leg with Tricia, and had so much fun (more than is usual in a race, for sure!).
After pacing round the ‘handover’ pen waiting to spot Fiona and Elaine running in from leg 2, we were suddenly off, with a sharp climb up out of the woods, collect the map, and set off uphill to the first checkpoint.
Tricia and I made a good team, sharing the lead running (or clambering!) and discussing and agreeing on the nav. I had my compass out a couple of times just to be sure the hills were in the right place, but as visibility was superb it wasn’t really needed on the day. The terrain was mixed, and together we found plenty of mud, streams, vegetation – and some runnable bits too.
We made pretty decent progress round the course, with the exception of one route choice between checkpoints where we thought direct was the best bet. In hindsight it wasn’t. We could see a trod on the far hillside, but had to find (fight) our way through a couple of hundred yards of dense, tall bracken to reach it. As we didn’t have our machetes this slowed us down a little, though made the day particularly memorable! Crawling under the bracken as the easiest way up a steep hill is a new one for me.
A brilliant experience, sharing a race with the best fell runners in the country, and with strong, supportive Striders’ teams. Great fun running with Tricia. A special mention to Adrian for ‘hanging around’ in a muddy field and supporting all day – rewarded (as was I) with a pub meal and a couple of pints. Very well done to the hosts – Dark Peak – for ending the legs with a hugely entertaining downhill (whether running or spectating!) and for organising an unforgettable day.
Elvet Striders were able to produce two teams for this years Fell Relays, hosted by Dark Peak Fell Runners. However, for the first time, one team was all ladies!
A cold and misty start to the morning soon cleared for blue skies, against the impressive backdrop of the Ladybower Dam. Accompanied by the theme to ‘Dambusters’, Susan Davis and Graeme Watt led both teams off strongly. Graeme returned an impressive 13th V40, against some of the strongest fell runners in the country. Not far behind, Susan had a good run and had spent her leg picking people off on the climbs, steadily working her way up the field to hand over to leg 2, Elaine and Fiona.
With the reasonable head start that Paul Evans and James Garland had on leg 2, Fiona and Elaine were unable to catch them, but spent the 8 miles of wonderful Peak District running slowly gaining places to hand over to the nav team, Tricia and Nina. Nigel and Geoff, the nav team for the mens leg were off and away by this point, and with plenty experience of this event knew the ropes. Nina and Tricia, having never run together or competed in such an event (route map only provided 500m past the start), rose admirably to the challenge and had a fantastic run.
The final leg for the men was run by Robin, a last minute reserve who kindly dropped everything to run for us, and appeared to have a fantastic time, even when he locked his bike to the dam and threw away the key. Susan Scott, recovering from a baptism of fire at the Langdale Fell Race the week before unfortunately suffered a bad ankle sprain not long into her leg; but after a short rest, got up and carried on and ran into the finish so strongly that none of us realised until she had finished.
Overall, the men’s V40 team was 18th/38 and the women’s was 26th/53, putting both teams into the top half of their categories – not bad for a Durham based club, competing against the Country’s finest, and I think perhaps better than any of us expected. Above all, it was a fantastic day out and great experience for all.
And now, from us: Firstly, we’d like to thank you all for supporting us this past year while we find our feet and try to explain our mad ideas to you! Even just this past year we have seen the club grow further, new talent emerge and witnessed the improvement of so many people, there has barely been a week we haven’t seen a new PB or record broken. It is such a thrill to hear of all of the Striders incredible achievements. I wonder how many of our members have ran faster or further than they would have dared to dream this year?
Some highlights of the year for us would include the five athletes who qualify for championship entry to the London Marathon (Mark Kearney, Michael Littlewood, Emma Thompson, Stephen Jackson and Michael Mason), Elaine and her continuing success in the ultra-running world with the completion of the Lakeland 100. We also saw the first race of its kind; Stuart Scott ran until he could run no further at the Last Man Standing, and Gareth continued to excel by retaining his winning title at Endure 24 Leeds, breaking his previous course record at the same time. The tradition of summer seeing successful Bob Graham Rounds continued with Tricia, who battled the elements along with a small army of Striders to become the latest to complete the challenge. However, the triumphs are not all endurance challenges! Proving that we have success across the board, we have four people above 80% age grading (national level!) at parkrun (Roz Layton, Fiona Shenton, Jean Bradley and Stephen Jackson), we had representation this year in North East Counties Fell Running and Cross Country teams – out of the six women in the fell running team, two were Striders (Fiona and Elaine) – and the first two home for the North East! Stephen continues to dominate in every discipline, and has even picked up an England Masters Cross Country vest, seems we haven’t seen the best of him yet.
For an unbelievable example of true grit and a never give up attitude look no further than our very own David Toth who conquered the UTMB this year on his 4th attempt. Closer to home, Mark Kearney seems to have cemented his very own happy place, running the ridiculously tough Hardmoors events. At the time of writing, he is leading the marathon series.
Striders also seem to set themselves apart when not running. Many of our members are part of the core team at our local parkruns, we thank you. This is in addition to helping out at other local races, we are a supportive bunch and we all know that without the volunteers, these events would not happen. Speaking of parkrun…. apparently running 1 in one day is simply not enough of a challenge, why not do 8 in one day (and a junior parkrun)! parkrunathon raising money for If U Care Share Foundation was such a special day, terrific work by Catherine and the team for making such a memorable and important day happen.
For us, one of the best parts of having these roles is seeing the enthusiasm of members; when we lose the track in the winter months and everybody rallies to the alternatives, the monster turnouts at relays events (50 at Durham, >90 at Sedgefield!) – exciting as it is when we make it onto the podium, the turnout and energy of everybody who comes to run is what really makes these events. The club is only as good as its members, so we have a pretty good start there! With representation in every discipline from road, track, fell and cross country, and a truly diverse membership of old and new alike we truly are a force to be reckoned with in the North East.
The first half mile was spent adjusting my new running belt, taking it off, putting it back on then readjusting my new running belt. By the time I was satisfied with it, I was already half a mile in. Something still wasn’t right…
My quads, my quads were burning. Around half a mile downhill and my quads were already burning, that’s not right.
2 miles in and I knew that I was not going to get my target time and that this was going to be hell just to finish, if I finished it all!
I had finished.
I have given all the money I had on me to my kids so they would just leave me in peace for a moment as I watched other finishers and listen to the announcer talk everyone over the line.
I saw Sarah Fawcett and Aileen Scott pass in quick succession in a time that was well under five hours. I screamed and encouraged them as they passed, both had a steely, unblinking focus on the finish line and completely ignored everything I said, until I accidentally yelled “Come on Eileen!”
Sorry again Aileen.
As I stood watching the pain and joy on people’s faces as they achieved their marathon dreams, I was brought back to reality with the mind numbing spasms from my legs and the realisation that, shit I’ve just smashed that race, that was the hardest thing that I have ever attempted and I smashed it.
That’s when a big wave of emotion came over me and I shuffled off to find my wife as quickly as I could,( which was horrendously slow, painful and resembled the movement of a drunken new-born giraffe.) I gave her a hug and she could tell that I was a bit emotional and so she told me “Come on Peter, you are milking this now aren’t you, it’s time your manned up a bit!”
Probably half of the field hadn’t even finished the race, yet I’ve been milking this for too long!
In hindsight, a deep tissue massage, (elbows and all) followed by a day sitting in the car travelling is not good marathon prep and will never be repeated.
Why did we travel half way across the UK, so far North of the wall that John Snow would be scared, to run a race that was so clearly not a PB course I hear you say?
My wife and I have talked about this considerably in the last few days and we have come to the conclusion that…
We don’t know!
I think the seed may have been sown by the fact that my fabulous wife was 40 years old on the 8th of January this year and so because of this she decided that she would arrange a trip to coincide with every possible marathon I had my eye on for the rest of 2019!
Berlin marathon – she was in Las Vegas.
Manchester marathon- she was in Dublin.
Liverpool marathon- She ran the half.
London didn’t want me, AGAIN!
Errrr, are there any more?
bout 53, Loch Ness? Errrr, why not Anna Seeley says it’s a Pb course! (Whatever Anna!)
I had achieved two good times in 2018 and it was getting infectious. I wanted a sub 3hours 30 minutes Marathon.
Loch Ness it is!
So it was I found myself rummaging around at 5.30am in a dark Airbnb somewhere in Inverness, on a windy and rainy Sunday morning. I had to walk the 1.8 miles to the bus pickup point and be there for 7:15 am. It goes without saying that I was late, so I ran down until I bumped into a bunch of striders making their way along the finish line towards the army of buses.
I have never seen as many buses in my life. It was like a Scottish bus armada. I pictured some marathon organiser sending out a spirited, Dunkirk-esc message to all Scottish bus companies, stating that we need your buses. However, when you Bring your buses please make sure that you are horrendously early, just so we can leave all of our runners abandoned on the top of a mountain, probably the highest point in Scotland, for one hour 20 minutes before the race starts, in the pissing rain and wind! They all obeyed, to the minute.
I was quite the Fountain of knowledge on the bus journey as we had taken a cruise around Loch Ness looking for Nessie the day before. Arriving at Scotland’s highest point with the excellent addition of Scotland’s worst weather, there was literally nothing there apart from the start line, about eight portable toilets and three or four small tanks of hot water to make free cups of coffee and tea. The planning of this was exceptional as we had about 80 minutes to wait for the race to start and each queue looks like it would take about 79 minutes until you reach the front…
I had a dilemma at this point, do I go to the queue for the toilet or do I go for the queue for the free hot drink? I didn’t have time to queue for both.
I wisely chose the hot drink and then proceeded to wee in a bush as the announcer kept telling us not to wee in the afore mentioned bushes. If they did not want us to wee in the bushes then they should’ve probably given us more than eight portable toilets for 5000 people!
It was time to get serious and the race was about to start. I split the race down into four sections:
The first 10 miles was substantially downhill. (Apart from the uphill sections!)
Miles 10 to 18 are the nice, flat, easy section. (Apart from the uphill sections!)
Miles 18 to 20 there was a quite decent and protracted Hill section.
Mile 20 to 26.2 was slightly downhill or flat section.
As previously mentioned, I knew in the 2nd mile that I was in trouble and by mile 11 I honestly was ready to give up.
The 10 miles’ downhill section had much more uphill than I had expected and I also had to put more effort in to this section than I expected. By the time I got to the flat section between mile 10 and mile 18 it was game up. Whenever I got a flat bit of road and tried to get up the target pace the burning return to my legs, it was the same whenever I ran uphill. So I had a decision to make.
Give up, jog round or give up!
This decision got me to thinking about my team Hart that consists of my little girl Vesper, (aged 4) my boy Carter (aged 7) and my wonderful, supporting and very long suffering wife Emma. (Aged 40!)
I thought about how they had travelled to the edge of the arctic circle to support me. Then the guilt started…
How dare you think about quitting when your family have travelled 300 miles just to watch you run past for 10 seconds.
How dare you think about slowing down just because it hurts a bit when they have stood in a muddy field for hours just to get a glimpse of their dad running past.
How dare I not give every last bit of effort I have in my body when my wife is currently trying to survive and control my two troubled angels and no doubt be using some sort of Jedi mind tricks to persuade them away from their daily fight to the death!
All of this just to be there for me…
Come on Peter, man up and get this done!
The next couple of hours were a blur of thoughts regarding making my Kids proud, Emma and what she has sacrificed for me, various Striders and how they have helped me, trying to make my Dad proud hahaha that literally can never happen and the 7 months of training that I had endured. All of this while Slim shady or Eminem as he likes to be known was banging out “Lose yourself.”
Oh and not to forget the searing pain in the front of my legs!
The course is very beautiful, but also hard. The road that you run down is closed and so apart from sporadic water and energy gel stops and two villages the course is very, very quiet.
Long story short, I did it!
I was about 6 minutes slower than my Pb and a good 10 minutes off the time that I was aiming for, but I am so proud of myself for not quitting and literally putting every bit of energy I could muster into getting the best time that I possibly could.
My legs were/are absolutely wrecked during and after the race. I could not stand up, sit down, walk, lean, lie down or act in any way shape or form how a normal human would. The kids made fun of me because it looks like I had pooed myself, I got stuck in the bath and couldn’t get out, in short, I was an absolute mess. I laid it all out on the course that day.
After the race I made a new rule.
The distance travelled to a race may equal, but would never be greater than the time taken to run the race.
Marathons get you, they really do. I love the emotional and physical rollercoaster ride that is a marathon. It can take over everything, most of your time, all of your energy, your weekends, your evenings, your family time, your conversations or you will wake up on the middle of the night and have to do some more calculations regarding average minute mile pace. It never ends.
Also, this is the biggest secret of running a marathon.
Anyone that has ever ran a marathon will tell you that it’s not easy to bring up in every conversation you ever have that you’re running a marathon soon. You have to be on top of your game to make sure that you don’t miss an opportunity to slip it into a conversation.
Marathons can take over your life, (just ask my wife!) But there is something magical when you cross the finish line of a marathon. Until you’ve done it you don’t understand, you can’t understand yet and you will never understand, because you haven’t earned it yet.
We went to Loch Ness in search of something, what I found was that I have a deep, burning desire to make my kids and wife proud of me and in the pursuit of that I have found that I can go far beyond what I previously thought was possible. Who knows what the future holds…
OK, strap yourself in. I’m turning the Nostalgia dial up to 11.
Back in the day, when I was a lad, we’d often go to visit my grandparents in Peebles. My brother and I would spend weekends playing in Hay Lodge Park, jumpers for goalposts, and exploring the woods along the River Tweed. My grandparents lived in Hay Lodge Cottage, opposite the park gates, where my aunt still lives. As I grew up in Edinburgh I’d still visit Hay Lodge Park, with my student chums, and late at night, we’d sometimes manage to get into Neidpath Tunnel and walk through casting our torches ahead like something out of Scooby Doo. The real challenge was to walk through, alone, without a torch. Larks.
The whole stretch of line here is an engineering marvel, from the tunnel to the viaduct with its amazing skew-arch construction, which was necessary as the bridge crosses the Tweed at an angle. There are stories that suggest that the Royal Train hid in the 600 yard tunnel during WW2 as the King and Queen visited war damage in Clydeside. Great story. Not even sure if I’m bothered about whether it’s true.
Fast forward 40 years and things have changed a little. Hay Lodge Park now has a parkrun, and the tunnel is open to the public. It’s normally unlit, but for one day, the tunnel is lit for the Tweed Tunnel Run.
I first heard about the run when I saw that Colin Blackburn had ran it previously. It looked a hoot. Three courses to choose from; 20km, 10km, and 4km. I signed up and put it in the diary.
The weather wasn’t looking great for the run, which was a bit of a shame. There’s a lot of autumn colour and contrasts and a ray or two of sunshine would’ve made for stunning conditions with the Tweed running high after all the rain. The Start was an intriguing affair. Like many races there was the problem of bottlenecks early on, especially with narrow wet rocky rough paths within the first kilometre. The organisers tackled this in an interesting way; every runner was set off individually, with the fast guys off first. It reminded me of these scenes you see of people taking a parachute jump; the starter would tap a competitor, say GO, then the next one would move forward, and a few seconds later (4 I think), the process was repeated. They allow half an hour to get all the 20km runners away, then it’s time for the 10km runners.
I’d seeded myself near the back of the pack and it was about 10 minutes before I finally got going. Even so, it became apparent to me pretty quickly that this was not going to be a quick race. I was full of a big tea from the previous evening, and I was beginning to suspect my field research into the relative merits of Clipper IPA vs Broughton Pale Ale had perhaps, on the whole, been a little too extensive. I settled down into a comfortable pace that seemed to be slightly slower than everyone else’s, meaning that I was steadily overtaken on the narrow paths.
On my feet I was wearing a pair of reliable and comfortable but worn Saucony Nomad trail shoes that had served me well. But the recent rain meant the paths were muddy and slippy. The route is mostly trail with occasional track and short sections of road, but even so, if it’s as wet as this next year I’ll wear a shoe with a more aggressive sole.
The route itself was wonderful. I thought I knew the area pretty well but the race took us upriver and across bridges and along paths I never knew existed. I loved the contrasts. I love woodland paths but this was all mixed in with tracks and riverside and open hillside, with twists and turns so you were never quite sure what was coming next.
Having done a few ultras I thought a 20km trail run would be pretty easy and I was surprised when we got to the 10km marker and got that ‘only half-way’ feeling. But I wasn’t pushing hard and I was happy to run easy and enjoy the views. One advantage of non-standard distance races on mixed terrain is there’s no benchmark. So I felt no pressure to go faster, as frankly, what was the point?
We were led onto open hillside and an exposed climb round Cademuir to the highest point of the course where the views of Peebles and the valleys made me stop and stare for a bit. Then there was some fun descending down slippy paths where again I felt the lack of traction in my shoes. It wasn’t downhill all the way though with a few kick-ups here and there, before the feed point and the turn into South Park Wood and the approach to the tunnel.
This bit of the race was a series of flashbacks, probably mostly imagined, as the last time I’d played in these woods was a long time ago, usually involving convoluted plot adaptations of Swiss Family Robinson. Still, every now and then I’d see a familiar path or feature and it was curious to see how much had changed, and how much hadn’t.
The routes converged and split a few times, and on the final descent to the tunnel there was a bit of congestion. There were no obvious problems as far as I could see though, and I guess if I was a bit faster, I’d be in front of the pinch points. I quite like these mixed-pace runs that you often see with LDWA events where the runners catch the walkers and there’s a lovely big melting pot of runners and walkers all out doing their own thing on their own terms.
The approach to the tunnel was quite a thing. Quite theatrical as it got closer, and then 674 yards until daylight again. I liked it. I wasn’t sure I would as I thought it might be a bit cheesy, but I think they got it just right. There were walkers and runners in the tunnel but I jogged through and enjoyed the surrealism, knowing that I’d be back for seconds later.
One of the great things about this event is that after the races are over there’s a 3.5km walk that you can sign up for that takes in a loop over the viaduct then back through the tunnel. This means the day can be a family affair as the runner has time to get back, finish, then go out on the walk again.
I set out with Roberta on the walk, retracing bits of the run route, and this time with plenty of time to enjoy the tunnel again.
I’ve already signed up for 2020. If you fancy a taster of what to expect, and to see some more, ahem, professional quality video of 2019, have a look at the Tweedlove video below. And I’m not just saying that because I make a brief appearance (1:34 since you ask).