Yes, it had to happen! Sooner or later actual racing was going to restart, and Martin Stone, well-known to fell-runners and those using SiEntries, was the man to organise it. This 13-mile race was set up as, I think, a bit of a test event, the first fell race since lockdown, and one to be observed by the FRA and others to check out Covid19 security measures. These involved using essentially a time trial format, six runners going off at a time at five minute intervals: 234 runners, taking all morning to get set off. We could choose our start time, and groups of up to six could ask for the same start to have a bit of a mini-race. No water stations, mask on at the registration and finish, and they asked for not too much hanging around before and after the race.
So, how did it go? Well the whole thing was organised superbly, and no one behaved stupidly, as far as I could see. The only people perhaps not socially-distancing enough were the quite large numbers of the general public also in and around Lowther Castle during the event – quite a few in the cafe courtyard – but the organisers had no control of that.
Race-wise, I set off pretty strongly, but had a taster of how the day would go when I found the long 3-mile climb out of Askham very heavy-going. I put it down to the heat at first (20 degrees at 11:00, then getting hotter), but as I kept taking little walks to get my breath back, it dawned on me that giving blood six days earlier was having an effect: I kept going ‘into the red’ far too easily. Once I realised this I could manage it better, and try and keep my effort (and pulse rate) down on the climbs. But it was much harder work on any sort of gradient than it had been just a week earlier.
I’d expected lots more overtaking, and being overtaken, than in a normal race, where runners essentially self-sort till you end up alone. But, though I did see more people, we were still pretty sparse. Nice route – a bit of everything, including lovely soft grass, some tarmac, some stony hard track, a long drag, a very big hill, a bit of bog … and a plodge through a river!
Very pleased to get back to the castle … took about two and a half hours, which was much longer than I’d expected, but it could have been worse in the circumstances.
A good crack! If this is the new normal for racing, it isn’t bad …
Following on from the announcement of Keith’s sad and far too early death,it occurred to me that many club members, especially newer ones, will not know Keith or be aware of his contribution to the Striders over many years. Due to Covid restrictions we won’t be able to give him the send off he deserves and because of his shyness and modesty it’s also a chance to share a bit more of Striders history too.
Keith took to running at school in Middlesbrough,combined with a serious and successful road cycling career, including with Cleveland Wheelers on Teeside.
When he came to Durham he ran with Durham City Harriers and later Chester le Street AC,riding the wave of the running boom in the early 1980s, including the emerging popularity of London Marathon and Great North Run .By the time he joined the Striders quite frankly he had done it all, including a sub 2.30 marathon, 6 and 12 stage relays, National Cross Country several times and all of the established track,road,fell and cross country races.
With that pedigree Keith,along with the likes of Dave Jenkins ( Sunderland) Mickey Page( Houghton le Spring AC), John Marshall and Barrie Evans ( Durham Harriers) was part of a small experienced group who trained with the Striders in the early days and passed on their experience of the running world ,helping to establish the Striders as a new club in the North East, while still competing seriously for other NE clubs.
Keith’s racing experience, advice on targeted training, his careful approach to injury management and peaking for specific races proved invaluable to all of us as we naively explored the running world by doing as many races as possible. His long Sunday runs and hill sessions around his home area of Esh and Cornsay were legendary.
Eventually Keith realised that he could run seriously and also have more fun so left Chester le Street to become a regular with the Striders,turning out for over 20 years at races,relays,Harrier League and the gamut of club events. He was also one of the many club members who gravitated to the Saturday morning runs on Waldridge Fell,where he became a key part of the social off road running there.
Together with his wife Gill he was also a regular at most social functions,parties,fancy dress runs and Christmas handicaps. There was a great deal of truth in the story that most of his costumes were directly from his current wardrobe!!
As a club member Keith was always reliable and committed,a creature of habit who did the races he knew and loved, dragging Gill and his family around the country, often disguised as holiday destinations or weekends away. For 20 years or so when the Calderdale Relay came round he would say ” Put me down for leg 6″ and he would guide his relay partner round, always saving energy for a fast last mile to overtake competing pairs and ensure we weren’t last!!
As an individual Keith often presented as a complaining, Victor Meldrew-like personality, known for a time as Grumpy of Esh,a title bestowed on him by Mudman and Mudwoman, Geoff and Susan Davies. For those who got to know him over the years he was a funny, kind, devoted family man who had a huge amount of detailed knowledge about running, athletics and cycling. If you ever did a long run with him you might also benefit from his more specialist subjects, including cars, aeroplanes,motorbikes ( anything with wheels and/or an engine), wartime airfields of Lincolnshire, Polish steam engines ,the journalistic skills of Suzannah Reid,or the well-hidden musical talents of the Pussycat Dolls.
Post- running on Wednesday nights, refuelled by a pint and his staple chips and gravy,apart from talking about the races coming up in the near future his regular lectures on how not to parent three teenage girls or how to prevent them from ever getting a boyfriend were legendary.
Keith made a significant contribution to the club, especially in the early days,then wearing the Striders vest in races for many years. He will be sadly missed by many friends in the club and our thoughts are with Gill and family after his sudden and unexpected death.
David Shipman, President – Elvet Striders August 2020
I found myself in the unusual position of being able to take a day off at the end of July, so I took my opportunity and booked it. I really wanted to go to the Lakes to run some fells but other commitments meant that a full day trip wasn’t practical, so I started looking a bit closer to home – perhaps the North Yorks Moors or the Yorkshire Dales? I’d never run in the Dales before, so when I came across the Reeth 20k Trail Race and realised it would be about an hour’s drive from home my plan started to take shape.
The weather forecast was scorching, with temperatures due to reach 29C in the afternoon, so I wanted to be finished before it got too hot. I managed a fairly early start, arriving in Reeth just after 8:30 only to find that Friday is market day, with part of the green taken up with the market and a lot of people already parked up. Luckily there was still some space, though, so I parked up and paid £2 into the honesty box for all day parking. After changing my shoes and checking my kit, I was off.
Rather than walk to the normal race start, I decided on a gentle jog in to warm up a bit. I found my way past the chapel and along a back lane to drop down to the river and suspension footbridge. It was deserted as I picked up the race route on the other side and started off at a gentle pace for the first mile or so proper alongside the Swale. At the far end, the path turned away from the river and climbed to the road where I doubled-back for a quarter of a mile, before following the finger-sign pointing me right, up onto the moor and the start of the main climb of the day.
All of the route from here, until reaching this road again, was on clear tracks and very easy to navigate, so much so that I tucked away my map and unconsciously let my Garmin do the work for me (I’d uploaded a copy of the course that I’d found online and checked against the OS map beforehand). Nav beginner mistake number 1! It wasn’t until a little while later when I thought “I don’t know this area and don’t actually know where I am on the map” that I gave myself a virtual cuff around the back of my head and got my act back together. GPS can fail for many reasons and should only ever be a back-up. I worked out where I was along the track from the various features and kept tabs on my position as I went after that.
I’d set off with the intention of running this route in a relatively relaxed way, not treating it as if it were a race, so I was walking the steeper hills (in fact, most of them) and getting moving again on the easier and downhill sections. In reality, I was working reasonably hard, not helped by the heat. I was slathered in factor 50 and turned my cap around to help keep the sun off my neck. I’d drunk a bottle of water with an energy sachet in it on the drive down so I was fairly well hydrated to start and kept taking on water as I went.
I was stopping periodically to take photos as well. There were some great views across Swaledale; this isn’t the rugged, craggy fells of the Lakes and a bit bleak in places on the tops, but with the mostly clear skies and a bit of distant haze there was plenty of scenery to take in, when it was possible to raise my eyes from the track! I also noted a few local features, like the road crash barriers re-purposed as drainage culverts across the track. There were also childrens’ paddling pools being used to create drinking ponds for either the sheep or grouse, it wasn’t obvious which they were intended for.
And if I spooked one grouse, I upped a hundred, they were almost as common as the sheep. A word of caution for anyone heading up there after the not-so-Glorious Twelfth (of August) – I’m sure a lot of this route will have grouse shoots going on, so better to check before travelling down. There were a lot of other birds around too (none that I got a clear enough view to identify) as well as the ever-present sheep (mostly Swaledales, of course).
The track climbed continuously, with a couple of respites, until a T junction on Whitaside Moor at about 4.2 miles into the race route (4.8 miles for my run). Turning left, the climb continued right up until crossing the fence that runs over High Carl and Gibbon Hill and marks the top of the southern ridge of High Carl. From there, the track enters Apedale (at least, the beck is called Apedale Beck and the track Apedale Road, so I’m calling it Apedale). Here it starts to drop, so I took the chance to open up my stride a little and benefit from gravity. I still needed to be cautious as the surface underfoot in the steeper top section was still pretty stony. It would be very easy to turn an ankle and this is a pretty remote part from which to need rescuing and combined with the pressure it would put on Mountain Rescue due to Covid-19 restrictions I wanted to make sure I avoided that. Further down, where the gradient eased, the surface improved and this was a chance to really get moving, hitting sub-7 minute miles at some points (put in the context of a 15 minute third mile during the climb and getting on for an 11 minute mile average over the whole run, this should give you an idea of how much fun the downhills were!). Another thought going through my mind was not to get too carried away as I knew I had another decent climb to come.
The sign this climb is approaching is reaching Dent’s Houses, which are just the other side of another gate across the track. At the crossroads, a left turn took me almost immediately up towards Greets Hill. Near the top there’s a small quarry (stay to the right, towards the cairn, if you want to avoid the quarry itself) and the fence junction at the top marks the end of the second climb. From here, the bridleway became more grass than stone, which was much more pleasant to run on and allowed a pretty rapid descent to the road across Grinton Moor.
Apart from a farm crew repairing the track early on, this is where I saw my first people of the day, as a couple of cyclists passed slogging their way uphill. I was pleased to still be descending, even if on tarmac for a bit. It wasn’t long (a third of a mile or so) before I was back off onto the bridleways and heading up the valley above Grovebeck Gill. This was a marginal incline – noticeable by this stage (I was 10 miles in) but eminently runnable. The target was the spoil heap and building visible up the valley, at which point the track turned and I was back into downhill mode.
Approaching a complex-looking junction, I quickly re-checked the map – straight on – and continued the descent. Rockier underfoot here, so cautious again. Eventually the track reached a field above the road and this is where I made my first minor nav error, following the bridleway to the right as I hadn’t seen the track branch off left, cutting off the corner. Not to worry, no big deal. Another short stretch of road before a right turn at Harkerside Place which has a footpath signpost to Reeth – nearly home. This is where race signage or marshalling would have helped because the footpath signs get a bit sparse. With a few false starts and a minor detour I eventually got back on the right path and dropped down to the “finishing field”.
I decided that the end of the suspension footbridge would be my finish point – I would have regretted running all the way back up the path to the village. And besides which, the crowds had started to come out – there were kids swimming in the river, people queuing to take photographs of the bridge (no, I’m not kidding), dog walkers…I was just glad I’d set off early!
In the end my route recorded as 13.2 miles with 560m of climb, which included a 0.6 mile warm-up from the village and a couple of small nav errors in the last mile, so 20km / 12.5 miles was pretty much spot on.
The village green was even busier when I got back but after taking a steamed-up “finished!” selfie and a quick change I couldn’t help starting my recovery with a good mix of protein and carbs from the Ice Cream Parlour.
This was a great route with some lovely views of the Dales. It was very quiet despite the glorious weather and with the combination of distance and climb should prove to be a helpful session ahead of some Lakeland runs, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
It is with huge regret that I have to announce the death of Keith Wesson, long term member of Elvet Striders, Cestria cyclist and regular Waldridge Warrior. Having undergone successful cancer surgery Keith was re-admitted into hospital where he died on Thursday. Our thoughts and condolences go to Gill and the family at this difficult time.