RUNdown – December 2021

Introduction from the Ladies’ Captain

Grab a cuppa and enjoy this Wintry issue. We begin with the Strider Shout-out. There has been some fantastic running this month, and our cover photo this month encapsulates this, showing Lindsay during the Hexhamshire Hobble race, in Allendale.

Looking for inspiration on where to run that will refresh you in the Winter? You might try our local coast. I include suggestions of places to go.

Next is a new feature called ‘Strider Chat’ where I interview a Strider about their running. This month I spoke to Aaron Gourley, a passionate trail and fell runner. I was gobsmacked to find out that he ran his first half marathon when he was 6 years old! Yes, you read that right: half marathon and SIX! That is truly amazing!

We have a feature on running safety in the hills in Winter, with pertinent insight from Stuart Scott from a training run that he and Elaine Bisson did in The Cheviots this month.

Finally, a look forward to the very popular Brass Monkey Half Marathon taking place in January. Roughly fifty Elvet Striders have signed up this year, so it looks like it will be a fantastic event.

I sincerely hope you all have relaxing Christmas break, and are able to squeeze in a few runs.

That’s all from me, so until next time…

Happy Running,


The Strider Shout-out!

The 61st Blyth Sands race, Sunday 5th December

The Blyth Sands Race takes place along the beach from Blyth to Seaton Sluice and back again. The Striders that went were James McNaney, Allan Renwick, Ian Butler and Heather Raistrick. This race is exciting because of its location and because, as it’s a handicap, the winner may not be the fastest runner. The location is exciting because the route is never the same as the beach topography changes significantly with the sea conditions and tide. You may be running on soft sand, hard ripple grooves or around exposed rocks eroded by sea scouring. There are also groynes to leap over! If you avoid them you are running further possibly on soft sand higher up the beach. James describes this as a brilliant steeple chase, one where the depth of the water on the other side is unknown! It may be ankle deep… or you may be suddenly up to the waist in the North Sea! Apparently Allan had a refreshing experience!

This race is a handicap race, based on age and sex. So, if everyone is equally fit, then everyone should reach the finish at the same time. As people are not equally fit, I would imagine there are people passing each other at all points in time, and given it is a ‘there and back’ race and people are seeking out the best route, people will be coming at all directions adding to the excitement.

There are good prizes to be won and James recommends this as a good race for Striders. James won the men’s senior prize. James and Allan found a good fish and chip café at the end.

The Croft 5k race, Dalton on Tees, Saturday 4th December

New Strider Liam Huntington took part. This race is organised by the Darlington Harriers and Athletics Club. It takes place on the croft car racing track near Dalton on Tees. Therefore it is flat and fast. Liam says the wind was tricky, but despite this he managed a blistering time of 16.44, coming 4th place!

Hexhamshire Hobble, Allendale, Sunday 5th December

This is a trail race which starts at Allendale Town. For anyone who hasn’t been to the hidden gem of Allendale, it looks like one of the Yorkshire Dales but nestled by northern moor and peat bog. Allendale Town itself has a very nice café in the town square, popular with cyclists. Lindsay McEwan, John Bisson and Sean Roberts did this race. It was a day of bracing cold weather. The route is circular and takes you quite high up over moors, which according to Lindsay, were on this day were ‘a series of icy bogs’. He says he fell a lot in the snow and also used ‘technical words’ at times. Looking at the map, it starts with an uphill, then quite a few miles at height (but with ups and downs where there are tributaries) followed by a big descent and ascent in and out of the valley of the Linn Burn about three quarters of the way round, followed by a downhill finish into Allendale. A fantastic looking challenge! Congratulations to all three of you, and well done Lindsay for coming 10th!

York Yuletide race 5 miles, Sunday 4th December

Mick Davis enjoyed this race. It sounds lovely. It takes place in the Rawcliffe country park and also uses paths through fields and along the river Ouse. Rawcliffe country park is a green space with areas of mixed woodlands, a pond and a 3m high climbing boulder (according to the York City Council website). The park has a green flag award. Mick said the route was very muddy on this day. I hope he enjoyed the mince pies and cakes afterwards.

Valencia Marathon, Sunday 4th December

Corrine and Rory Whaling travelled to warmer climates this weekend to attend the Valencia marathon. The photos look amazing! Sunshine! (Not at all jealous!) They both ran amazingly. Rory got a PB of 3.06 and Corrine ran a speedy 3.20 despite taking it easy. Wow!

Northern-eastern XC Championships, Sedgefield. Saturday 11th December

Well done to the Striders who took part in this race. I heard it was muddy and constantly undulating but with no huge hills. Some great running efforts are clear from the photographs. Everyone did really well which meant the men’s team came 7th and the women’s team came 11th.

Bollihope Carrs Fell Race, Weardale, Saturday 11th December

This fell race takes you to the summit of Bollihope Carrs and back down again. Nigel Heppell ran this and came second in his age category despite strong performances from Swaledale Runners and Durham Fell Runners.

Roseberry Topping Half Marathon, Hardmoors Series. North York Moors, Sat 11th December

Congratualtions to Rebecca Talbot and Jane Dowsett for completing this tough race. About 15 statute miles I believe and very hilly.

Tour de Helvellyn, Saturday 18th December

This is a 38 mile route around Helvellyn with 2000 metres of total ascent and descent. This makes for a very tough race in the Winter. Self-navigation is required as the route is not marked. Congratulations to Elaine Bisson, Geoff Davis, Aaron Gourley and Nina Mason. Elaine did really well coming second female and ran a 50 minute PB for this race! Here are some photos taken by Aaron. It looks amazing!

Ronnie Walker Saltwell 10k Road Race, Gateshead, Saturday 18th December

An undulating route on tarmacked paths round Saltwell Park. This is hilly and bendy, so not a PB course. There is always a strong club turnout. A lot of Strider men entered and gave a strong performance. I’m not sure if there are team prizes but I wonder if there are, if Striders’ men would be contenders? Well done to Graeme Watt who came 18th and Michael Littlewood who came 25th. Brilliant performances also from Allan Renwick, Lindsay MacEwan, Ptolemy Hand and Andrew Davis. Well done also sole female Strider Jill Rudkin! Brilliant photos from Anna Basu.

Stuart and Susan Scott’s Backyard Ultra, Saturday 18th December

Some Striders including myself took part in this. I hope to write about this as a separate report, but just to say it was a lot of fun and very social.

Running our Local Coast in Winter

A run along our local coast can really lift you. There may be a serene still sea or powerful churning waves. Both are energising. The power of the sea is humbling and magnificent. Sunset at this time of year is not too early, and given we live in the east the sun will always rise over the sea making many opportunities for magnificent sunrises with skies of orange, pink and umber tones.

For a run close to civilization, the Pier to Pier route, or sections of, from Sandhaven beach to Roker pier is beautiful, highlights being Souter Lighthouse, Marsden Rocks, Finlay’s Labyrinth and Roker Lighthouse. Early morning in winter is the best time to have these cliff tops and beaches mostly to yourself. There are car parks (charges apply) at Roker, Marsden and Littlehaven amongst others. For a more circular option, strike inland using the footpaths around Cleadon Hills, and you will discover an old windmill and get good views in all directions (see map).

For a more rural coastal run, start at Noses Point, Seaham and run south. This is the Durham Coastal Half Marathon route, but any distance of ‘there and back’ can be done from Noses point. South of Easington Colliery is ‘the rollercoaster’ of steep ups and downs (some with steps) which is a true test of stamina, all the way to Crimdon dene. There are hidden bays of black coal sand and coastal art sculptures.

Strider Chat – A Coffee and Chat with Aaron Gourley

This month I talked to Aaron Gourley to find out about his running.

When did you start running and why?

I’ve always loved running. I used to run with my dad when I was little. I lived in Peterlee and in the early 80s each year during Peterlee Carnival there was a half marathon on the Sunday morning. I loved watching the runners come past my house at the start and then would wait around for them to come back through. My dad entered each year and when I was 6 and I really wanted to run it too so he entered me. I remember training at Howletch College running track. On race day I left my dad and ran the race on my own. My mam still has my medal (see photo). So running was always something I liked to do but getting to teens and the early 20s I swapped it all for a late night lifestyle. I didn’t get back into running properly until around 2009 and joined Striders around 2010/11.

Where is your favourite place to run?

Most of my training is done in and round Castle Eden Dene and the East Durham Coast. These are my favourite places locally but my all time favourite has to be the Lake District. I love the rough and wild terrain. Some of my best running days have been in the Lakes supporting Bob Graham Rounds, Joss Naylor attempts and the Lakeland 100.

Describe your best race experience so far.

That’s tough question as there have been loads but I’d say the start of Lakeland 100 this summer was probably my favourite race experience. There were so many parts that were memorable in there own way. The amount of people that lined the streets of Coniston to see us off was brilliant. The line of head torch lights that stretched through the night across the Wasdale valley was just stunning. Reaching Tilberthwaite checkpoint just as dawn was about to break for my second day, knowing I only had 3 miles left to go to complete the race was brilliant. The the race finish itself was great, even at 5.30am there were so many people around to cheer runners in. I’ll never forget that race.

Hardest or Worst experience during a race?

There’s been lots of these too. I ran Hardmoors 60 later this summer after picking up a last minute place that was being offered. It was a hot day and I just didn’t drink enough fluids or eat enough food. By the time I got to Sandsend (around 25 miles) I was feeling a little worse for wear. The next few miles to Whitby were just awful with sickness and cramp. I was struck by how quickly it all unravelled for me. I dropped out at Whitby which was really disappointing but things like that can happen in a long race.

Favourite running fuel or food?

I do like to eat real food when on long runs, I can’t really stomach gels etc. I do like shortbread and a bag of crisps for long runs. If it’s a race I tend to see what food is on offer, pizza is always a nice treat.

How do you celebrate after a big race or event?

With a beer!

What three pieces of advice would you give to someone doing their first ultra?

Believe in yourself. Don’t think too much about the distance, believe in your ability. It’s all relative – remember when you first started running and 5k seemed a long way, as you build fitness the distances will get less terrifying.

Slow down. You are not going to run top speed for the whole distance, so relax and ease off the pace and don’t be scared to walk a bit. Even those at the front will have a few breaks, doing well in an ultra is about being efficient.

Learn to fuel your runs. Knowing what to eat and drink and when can make or break a long run. Take time to figure out what works for you but remember this can change so it’s a continual process. (And it’s fun eating pizza whilst running!)

Future running goals?

For 2022 I have a couple of runs planned – Grand Union Canal and the Lakeland 100 are my big races for the year. Looking ahead, I’d love to have a go at the Bob Graham Round but for now I’m just enjoying helping others achieve their goal with that one.

Thanks Aaron, that’s really interesting and inspiring, especially your descriptions of the Lakeland 100. Good luck with your goals for 2022.

Book Review: ‘Unbelievable’ by Jessica Ennis

I found this book in a red phone box library whilst on a family walk. What a lucky find! This is Jessica Ennis’s autobiography of how she goes from bullied school girl to Olympic heptathlete. It is a revealing insight into the life of an elite athlete. It gave me understanding about the role of each member of the team around an elite athlete, and of the immaculate attention to detail played by every member in their specific role. For example, one of the team is a biomechanist who repeatedly videos her high jumps during training to study and feedbacks with advice on the minutiae of her technique. He monitors her performance on a laptop and draws charts with details of approach speed and take off speed to find the optimum conditions for her. This book also illustrates the mental strength, hard work, dedication and self-belief needed of an elite athlete. This is needed to be able to commit to 6 full days a week of training for many years, at the expense of a more balanced life. This is needed to be able to cope with pressure from the media and public when things are going well and when they are not. This book reveals how injury is very common at elite level, and therefore can often mean a bad performance or non-attendance at an event that has been trained for, for months, so there are many set-backs. Jessica Ennis is very resilient (understatement). Her final sentence is my favourite. She writes ‘…I always believed. And when you do that life can get unbelievable.’

If any Striders have recently read a book that has grabbed them and would like to write a review for RUNdown, feel free to send it my way.

A Tough Day in the Cheviots – Stuart Scott

It was Friday 3rd December, the day before I was due to start the 55 mile Montane Cheviot Goat race for the 4th time, when I received a message from the race organisers to say the race had been cancelled. I was gutted, I have always loved the challenge of this race and this year it was also one of my biggest training runs for my A race in January. The race was not cancelled due to the forecasted weather conditions but due to the on going relief effort due to the damage caused by Storm Arwen the week before.

I knew Elaine would also be gutted the race was off so we soon formulated a plan to go up and run the course anyway, a 55 mile training run around Durham is not the same.

As the Cheviot Goat is an extreme winter ultra, you are required to carry a minimum kit list and this is what I would have been running with, had the race gone ahead, after all the minimum kit had served me well in previous years. This year I’m extremely pleased I was not carrying just the minimum kit!

The race we are training for in January requires a kit list that is way bigger than the minimum required for the goat and my pack weighs nearly 10kg fully laden with food and water, but as we were no longer racing we decided we’d bring these much bigger packs to assist our training and test our kit.

In previous years the Cheviot Goat has been run both clockwise and anticlockwise, however as the weather wasn’t looking the best we chose to go for the anticlockwise option, to get most of the ascent out of the way early on. The start of the run went really well, the views were stunning and as most of the bogs were frozen, they were relatively easy to move across. I fell through the ice once into a knee deep frozen bog but that’s just standard in these sorts of areas in winter so I was fine with my thermal leggings and long waterproof socks.

The rest of the morning went really well and we chatted as we went along and nodded to other runners, every now and then, who had obviously had the same idea as us. During the morning section we both used Yaktrax over our shoes, which were not part of the minimum kit list for The Goat, but really help when running on the frozen Pennine slabs.

We hit the halfway checkpoint and all was good, we had a brief stop then put our waterproof trousers on. At this point I was wearing silk sock liners, knee high thermal socks, thermal leggings, waterproof shorts, and waterproof trousers on my bottom half with a thermal base layer, standard race T-shirt, thick heavy-duty waterproof jacket and a balaclava on my top half, along with several buffs and two pairs of gloves. I’d previously had 3 pairs of gloves but unfortunately I lost a glove liner earlier in the day.

Not long after leaving the halfway point I couldn’t stop smiling, I was enjoying myself so much and commented about how much I loved being out on the hills. I can also remember how the rain and sleet looked like something from star wars in the beams of our head torches and I thought it looked really cool. An hour or so after this everything changed!

Snow and sleet started coming in fast and the wind made the snow drift in no time, visibility dropped to next to nothing and we were soon knee deep in snow trying to battle forward as quickly as we could. The ground we were moving across was very uneven and isn’t the most fun to cross at the best of times but when it’s covered in deep snow and every few steps you fall into a hole or bog you didn’t even know was there, it’s bloody horrible.

We took turns leading the way as when you are cutting through deep fresh snow its very hard work, especially with poor visibility and when you are continuously falling over and picking yourself back up. I was very grateful I’d done a lot of strength and conditioning over the last few months!

I was also extremely grateful we had GPS watches, with the route on, as although we had a course map and compasses, just following the lines on our watches made things a lot easier, and quicker. We also had handheld GPS units as back ups in case our watches did fail but thankfully these were not needed.

The next 3 miles took the best part of 3 hours and were possibly the most challenging 3 miles I’ve ever experienced, it was just relentless. We were both getting wet and cold with the constant falling down and big lumps of snow and ice were forming all over our clothes and packs. We knew we needed to get more layers on but we were just so exposed, if we stopped where we were the new layers would be soaked and cold before we even got them on so we pressed on. We had a flask of hot water and a few slips of that worked wonders in keeping us warm and helping to get us off the fell.

It was such a relief when we finally got down off the hill and we made a beeline for the first barn we came across, it was a fantastic sanctuary to completely change our kit and get warmed up. The dry bags our spare kit had been carried in had served us both well and getting into fresh warm, dry gear felt so good.

Another piece of kit I was carrying was a Jetboil stove. I’d played with it many times before but it is mandatory kit for my January race and now I fully understand why! All the hot water we’d been carrying had now been used up but I was able to fill the large cup with snow and melt it down to make two more hot drinks, once these were finished we were on a mission to get back to the car.

Shortly after leaving the barn we were met by a farmer who had seen our head torches and came to see if we were OK. Apparently mountain rescue had noticed there was a couple of cars parked in Ingram and with the conditions being so bad they were really concerned about our welfare. Mountain rescue had tried to contact both me and Elaine, however, to save our batteries for an emergency, we had both switched our phones onto airplane mode so we didn’t get these messages until later. The kind farmer offered us shelter and hot drinks but having just changed and finished our own hot drinks we were able to thank him very much and press on. The farmer promised to contact mountain rescue to inform them we were fine, we had lots of winter equipment and were happy to make our own way back, I’m sure he laughed and said we were crazy but all I could think was this is great training for January.

From the farm it was decided we’d stay on the road just to get back as quick as possible and I’m pleased we did as flash flooding throughout the valley meant we had to wade through knee deep water to get back to the car. Thankfully my car is slightly higher than standard cars and we were really pleased it is, as the flood water was about two inches from the door sills, when we reached the car park. I didn’t want to risk getting stuck so we just jumped straight into the car, soaking wet, and got out of there.

Safely away from the flood water we stopped the car to get sorted and turned our phones on to immediately receive a number of messages from the Goat organisers and mountain rescue wanting to confirm we were OK, thankfully we were, but only because of the experience we have between us and the kit we were carrying. I honestly believe a lot of people could have had a lot of problems had the race gone ahead that day so please let this be a warning to anyone contemplating big winter days out and races such as The Cheviot Goat.

Running on Trails, Hills and Fells in the Winter

Here is some Winter running advice I have collected from several websites. Actually, forget ‘Winter’, because bad weather can happen at any time of year.

Mountainous areas have their own localised weather systems. The higher up a mountain you go the colder it gets (typically 1°C per 100m ascent). If it’s a little windy at the bottom of the mountain it’s probably really windy at the top. Then there is the wind chill affect. As air rises over a mountain and cools it can also generate low cloud which can be difficult to navigate through. This cloud can also increase the intensity of rainfall – a phenomenon called “orographic enhancement”. Cloud cover or heavy snow combined with snow cover on the ground can give white out conditions. The weather can change very quickly in mountainous areas.

Where can I get a local weather forecast?

The Mountain Weather Information Service (known as MWIS, pronounced “em-wiss”) does a detailed and specific forecast for each of the mountain areas of the UK. It will also give you useful context like the effect of the wind on you and the chance of cloud-free summits. They also give a freezing level, which is particularly useful for snowy winter runs. The Met Office website also has forecasts for some of the most popular mountains e.g. Helvellyn and Snowdon.

If there’s any chance of snow on the hills, you should check the Avalanche Forecast. For the Lake District, the Fell Top Assessors do a daily report from Helvellyn, with useful pictures. So yes, it is genuinely someone’s job to climb Helvellyn every day of the year. The Met Office does a mountain weather report for Snowdonia, the Yorkshire Dales, Peak District and other main mountainous areas.


Go for the ‘Mary Berry’. ‘Layers and layers’ she says (in reference to cakes). We are talking full body cover, full water proofs, thermal long sleeved tops, hats, gloves, fleeces. I would say an emergency bivvi bag is essential. NOT a foil blanket, you need a bag. A bag may save your life. This is for if you are forced to stay stationary for any length of time. A nylon group shelter can also be a vital refuge for a lunch stop, or if waiting for help to arrive. Bring a head torch and spare batteries in case you are caught out. Better still is a spare head torch as changing batteries in the dark with cold hands is a faff. It goes without saying bring navigational aids (map, compass and electronic backup systems). Bring more food and water than you think you will need. You should carry a mobile phone (but don’t expect it always to work in hilly areas) and some cash in a waterproof bag and first aid. This kit list is not exhaustive. Have lots of spare warm clothes and a flask of tea in your car for when you get back.

Time and route planning

Routes will take longer than expected in bad weather. If it is Winter, remember there are shorter daylight hours so you can’t run as far if you want to remain in daylight. Plan your route but be flexible and ready to shorten or change it if the weather changes, if you are running out of time or according to group ability on the day. Even if you have spent months planning this run, if conditions look bad, do a different, shorter or lower level route or save it for another day. Whatever route you have, consider escape routes. Basically, what is the fastest way to get off the mountain if you need to. If you are alone, keep things within your personal limits. Go with others whoare more experienced if going outside your area of expertise (e.g. navigating in mist).

If you do need help

To get assistance in an emergency (in the UK’s mountains), call 999 and ask for the Police, then Mountain Rescue. Give as much information to the operator as possible. Although an exact Grid Reference is nice, a description of where you’ve been and were intending to go is just as useful. Tell them when you last knew where you were if you’re lost and what you’ve done since then. If you have an injury, give them a best description as you can of the symptoms and what happened. They’ll be with you as soon as they can.

Looking ahead to the Brass Monkey on 16th January 2022.

A fast and flat road race to bring in 2022. This is a race where many an Elvet Strider has powered to a PB, including Wendy above, where she ran her first sub-2 hour half marathon. Stephen Jackson says ‘The Brass Monkey is one of my favourite races, a chance to see ‘where you’re at’ at the beginning of a new year’ (see his race report on Elvet Striders website). Stephen came 7th in this race in 2020.

This race is popular with club runners, including the Elvet Striders, and as every year, a whole coach load of us will be running it in 2022. It’s a big social occasion with lots of support for the race. Jo Robertson attended this race as a new Strider in 2019. In her race report she writes, ‘I’m utterly over the moon with how it went, thoroughly grateful to Harriet and all the other Striders for the support we got on the way around.’

Good luck to everyone running this race. Here’s looking to another great Strider day out!

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