Welcome to the March issue of RUNdown! We begin with the monthly shout-out, and there have been a wide range of races this March including on road, mud and fell. Also, there is a special shout-out to Liam Huntington who has qualified for Team GB in the duathlon!
I was thrilled to interview Geoff Davis to hear more about his running journey and experiences. You can read this in the Strider Chat.
This month we celebrate cross country running, the involvement of Elvet Striders in the Northeast Harrier League and the people that have made this happen.
Happy running everyone!
Tamsin (Ladies’ Captain and Main Editor of Striders’ RUNdown).
Here is the round up of this month’s races and achievements. Apologies if I have missed anything or anyone.
Fantastic Results from the 2021/2022 NEHL Season
The final fixture of the season was held at Alnwick on 5th March. The Elvet Striders did brilliant this season in cross country! The men’s team finished 5th in the First Division and the women’s team finished 3rd in the First Division! Well done everyone who ran, you should be really proud! Massive thanks from all Striders to Corrine, Phil and Georgie for all their hard work as Cross Country captains.
Dentdale Road Races, East Cumbria
A fantastic club day out with good weather and good food! Many prizes were won. Congratulations to all who ran. Well done to James McNaney who came 2nd, Michael Littlewood who came 3rd and Allan Renwick who came 1st M50 in the 14.2 mile distance. The first male team in this race were indeed the Elvet Striders. Well done to Anna Basu who came 2nd lady in the 14.2 mile distance. Anna crossed the line first, only missing first place by 3 seconds on chip timing. If she had known I know she would have made up the 3 seconds. Well done to Louise Collins for coming first F35. The first women’s team were Elvet Striders (Anna Basu, Fiona Jones and Louise Collins)! Congratulations to Bryan Potts who was 2nd male in the 7.9 mile distance, and to Roz Layton who was 1st F65 in this race. Well done female Striders who were first women’s team in this distance (Lotti Collier, Stephanie Barlow and Roz Layton).
Carrock Fell Race, Cumbria
This race involves climbing Carrock fell, one of the northern fells in the Lake District. The name ‘Carrock’ means ‘stoney, rocky place.’ The route is circular, 5.6 miles with 1640ft of elevation gain. There is an iron age hill fort on the summit which was built by the Celts. Congratulations to Geoff and Susan who won their age categories. Well done to Stuart Scott and David James who both had a great run and did really well. This was David James’ first fell race! Thanks for writing your report David, it was a good read. Thank you to Stan White for supporting, in what looked like a howling gale.
NECAA Thornley Cross Country Relays
It was like the first day of Spring weather-wise, dry with sunshine. Brilliant running from the Elvet Strider teams at this event. What a great photo of Graeme Watt running through the ribbon at the finish line! Bronze medals were won by the ladies’ vets team comprising Emma McCabe, Steph Barlow and Rachelle Mason. Well done to the vets men’s team for coming first! This team was Graeme, Mark Warner and Michael Littlewood.
Bilsdale Fell Race, North York Moors
It was Emma McCabe’s first fell race! She did brilliantly and said she enjoyed it. Not an easy fell race to do for your first one! Graeme Watt did amazing coming 8th male and 2nd M40. I had a good run and came 1st F40, winning two Easter Eggs (which have so far survived three days intact as I have hidden them well from the kids). This race starts at Chop Gate (pronounced Chop-ee-yat) in Bilsdale. The aim is to get to ten checkpoints, then to the finish. The checkpoints are in a rough geographical circle but the route you take between them is up to you. Finding the quickest route gives you a big advantage! Nina Mason very kindly took us all on a recce and showed us some great short cuts and trods which were more ‘runnable’ than others. I then did a few more recces on my own, just to make sure I would not have to map read on the day and to suss out any further quicker lines. (I would strongly recommend anyone to do a recce if they should try this race as it definitely helped and I would be happy to show people round in the future.) The race is brilliant! If you like being released from main paths, clambering down streams, running across open heather moors and running free, this race is for you.
Stanhope Trail Race, Weardale, by Greener Miles Running
Congratulations to Jane Dowsett, the sole Strider at this race. A beautiful trail half marathon (actually 15 miles) on the moors above Stanhope. She said the first half was very uphill and the second half was very downhill.
Liam Huntington Qualifies for Team GB
Congratulations to Liam who has qualified for the Team GB age group squad that will compete in the 2023 sprint distance duathlon World Championships in Ibiza.
Liam has been cycling for 11 years and was in cycling clubs at his sixth form college and then later at university. He was the club road cycling captain of his university cycling club. He started running much later (5 years ago), in his final year at University when a friend convinced him to come running with him. He enjoyed it and managed to run a 10k with them in 40minutes! Following that he started to do parkrun each week, but not much more running than that until he joined Striders last year. Since then he has increased his running a lot and thanks the club for its support and encouragement. Through this he met Striders who are also members of the Durham Tri Club. He also knew someone who had qualified for Team GB for duathlon and looked up qualifying times and found he was not far off, so decided to set himself a challenge to see if he could qualify, and was successful.
Liam is training hard as he has also entered the qualifying race for the European Championships, which takes place soon, on 23rd April. Good luck Liam we are all rooting for you!
Coniston 14 Road Race, Cumbria
This is a hilly, 14 mile road race around the shores of Coniston Water. Congratulations to the five Striders who ran this race. They were Marc Jones, Alan Smith, Lindsay McEwan, Emma McCabe and Michael Littlewood. It must have been one of the hottest days of the year so far, with wall to wall sunshine, something we are not acclimatised to! Despite the heat all ran really well, with both Michael and Alan coming third in their age categories, and Michael coming 10th place overall.
Hardmoors 55, North York Moors.
Huge congratulations to Alex Brown who completed this hilly trail ultramarathon. The race begins in Guisborough and follows the Cleveland Way to Helmsley. This is a tough race with 2000m of ascent, which includes Roseberry Topping and the ‘Three Sisters’ along the North York Moors escarpment. Well Done Alex!
Strider Chat: An Interview with Geoff Davis
It was a pleasure to talk to Geoff and to find out more about his running history and running experiences.
Tamsin: When did you start running and why?
Geoff: Well, I feel I have run all my life. I used to run a lot as a child, the games we played seemed to involve either being chased or chasing other people. I remember I discovered as a child that if I ran on my toes, I ran much quicker. I can remember that my first competitive race was in the cubs. I won my heat, it was probably only a 60 yards dash, but I wasn’t called for the final, so there had been some mistake. That disappointment has stayed with me for fifty odd years! When I went to grammar school I was able to do ‘proper’ athletics and specialised in the 400m. In my first year we had a sports day which the whole school attended and I won the 400m for my year group. That is a better memory that has stayed with me for 50 odd years!
So I think there’s only been a short period of my life where I didn’t really run much and that was for a few years after leaving school. I started again in the early 80s around the time of the first London marathon and first Great North Run. I think I ran 9 of the first 10 Great North Runs. During this time I was just a recreational runner using it to keep fit for fell walking which was my main activity. From fell walking I graduated to fell running and from about the mid-1990s I started running seriously and I’ve never stopped!
I did a bit of cross country at school but really got into it once I started fell running when it was an enjoyable thing to do in the winter when there were fewer fell races to enter. So cross country fills a bit of a gap in the fell running “off season”, I think that’s the case for a lot of fell runners. Also, it is very competitive, just like fell running, and wherever you are in the field someone will want to race you, and I like that.
So why did I start running? I guess because I enjoyed it. When I was a kid I didn’t need a racket, bat, ball or expensive kit to run – just my plimsolls.
Tamsin: Where is your favourite place to run?
Geoff: I would say on the Northern Fells of the Lake District. I also love the Cairngorms in the Highlands, that’s a really gorgeous place to run, it’s such a vast area where you need a certain level of mountaincraft to be safe. Susan and I go to Scotland 2-3 times a year and have done most of the Munros now including all those in the Cairngorms.
Tamsin: What was the first fell race you did?
Geoff: Although I’d already done a few mountain marathons the first actual fell race I did was the Carnethy 5 Hill Race on the edge of Edinburgh in 1990. I’ve now done that race 30 times! So I must have enjoyed it. Susan’s also done it 26 times.
Tamsin: Describe your best race or running experience so far.
Geoff: Well, I have run 100s of races, mainly cross country and fell races, and I have had some good results over the years. I suppose the best running experience I’ve had was completing the Bob Graham Round in 1999. (This is a 66 mile route with 27,000ft elevation, a circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the Lake District in 24 hours.) I‘ve actually done it twice but the first time must count as my best running experience. Back then, it seemed to me that the BG was only for supermen and superwomen so I didn’t think I could do it, but I did. That was really satisfying, I felt it was a great achievement. It was definitely the hardest thing I’d done.
Tamsin: What are your proudest running achievements?
Geoff: Running has greatly enriched my life and it’s given me lots of proud moments particularly when I’ve been able to help others enrich their own lives through running. I’ve helped 30 people to complete the BG, including Mike Hughes, Elaine Bisson and Stuart Scott, either just navigating a leg for them or, in many cases, coaching or mentoring the participant. I’ve also helped a few people complete the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge including Susan and I’m very proud of her. (The JNLC is a challenge in the Lake District that is a linear route from Pooley Bridge to Wasdale involving 48 miles, 17,000ft and 30 peaks. There are different time cut offs depending on your age!) I’m also proud to have led probably hundreds of runs for Striders, organised and coached numerous xc or fell sessions and helped to organise the Aykley Heads XC and the Willow Miner Trail Race on behalf of the club. I’m very proud to have introduced others to fell and cross country running.
As regards pride in my own achievements, well, winning that race as a young school boy in front of the whole school and winning a couple of races against other schools are great memories. As an adult it’s completing two BGs and two JNLCs that stand out as well as completing some tough mountain marathons, qualifying for the Harrier League XC medium pack and having a few top ten finishes in fell races. I was also proud to be Striders Runner of the year, Fellrunners’ Fellrunner of the year for Northumberland Fell Runners and most improved runner of the year for DCH.
Tamsin: What is the hardest running or race experience you have encountered?
Geoff: I would say the Bob Graham Round is the hardest thing I have ever done. But some of the fell races are quite tough such as the Tour de Helvellyn, the Allendale Challenge, Wasdale fell race and the Borrowdale fell race. I’ve run all of those in fairly challenging conditions!
Tamsin: What three pieces of advice would you have for runners?
Geoff: We have lots of really good runners in Striders now, they have achieved fantastic things on the fells, trails, roads and track. Some of them put some massive miles in their training and they reap the rewards from what they sow. However, I worry that some of them won’t be running when they are my age, and I am sure a lot of them would like to. So I want to promote longevity for Striders and the three things I would say to people are rest, warm up, cool down and stretch (is that four?!) Rest is part of your training. It’s not an admission of weakness. Sufficient rest is essential for your body and will help you to be a better runner and extend your running career. Warming up properly before a race or hard session will help you to avoid injury or worse. Bring your heart rate and blood pressure up so your body knows it’s going to run. At the end of the race or session cool down with a gentle run for a few minutes and then stretch those muscles. This should help you to avoid injury, improve your suppleness and range of movement. If I didn’t stretch I wouldn’t still be running!
Tamsin: What are your future running goals?
Geoff: Well, I have a couple this year. One is the 26 mile Allendale Challenge, which you are also doing. This will be the 17th time I’ve done it. So you could say it is another favourite race of mine.
Tamsin : I just can’t believe that one year you did it in 4 hours 28 minutes, I mean maybe that’s not your PB, I was reading someone’s report about it and remember reading that in the results… and I was just like, how?! Given it took Jules and I 8.5 hours recently, admittedly on a recce, but… the ground was so boggy though, and you had to lift your foot up and over for every step, like you know where the grass is like big mounds, and it went on forever ha ha!
Geoff: Yes, the peat hags on Killope Law.
Tamsin: It was before that actually, I mean the peat hags were an ‘interesting feature’ but before that, you know that massive expanse of featureless moor that goes on for like ever… that bit. It’s like a swamp. It’s a good challenge though.
Geoff: I know, it’s awful. I mean it can vary from year to year depending on the weather. I pulled a friend out of one of the bogs one year and she maintains she’d still be there if I hadn’t done it! One tip to preserve your energy is to try and keep those jumps across the bogs to a minimum, even if it means going in, knee deep, otherwise you’ll run out of energy very quickly. Often something will bear your weight which you think won’t. If you can see someone else’s footprint, go in that, rather than do a big leap.
Tamsin: It’s really tempting to just run in a straight line rather than go round the bogs, but I was just wondering if I could get sucked right into a bog, like, I mean my whole body submerged? Is that a possible danger there?
Geoff: Touch wood, it’s not a danger to life. It won’t be like a quick sand thing like you see on the Tarzan films or in the Hound of the Baskervilles where they are sucked down into the Grimpen Mire. You might go knee deep, and you might need to be pulled out. But it won’t go over the top of your head. But I would say no, don’t run in a straight line, try and go as straight as possible, but do go round if you need as you don’t want to be stuck and you don’t want to have to do those big jumps. There is no hard and fast rule, you just have to use your judgement.
Tamsin: Thanks for this advice, this is really useful. To return to running goals, do you have any more?
Geoff: Yes, my other main goal this year is I am going to be 65 years old in June and I plan to complete the Joss Naylor Challenge on my birthday. For this age, the cut off is 24 hours, but I aim to complete it in under 17 hours. I did it 5 years ago in under 15 hours, and 5 years before that in under 13 hours, so I am going on 2 hours more for every 5 years.
However, my main goal is to run for as long as I possibly can in my life. If I am not running I will be walking on the fells.
Tamsin: Thanks so much Geoff for being happy to be interviewed, and also thank you for your time. It has been really inspiring to hear about your running and your experiences. I am sure I speak for all Striders when I say we wish you all the best for the Allendale challenge on 2nd April and for your Joss Naylor Challenge on your birthday (12th June) this year.
Focus on Cross Country
A Short History of Cross Country and the Evolution of The North Eastern Harrier League
The following information comes from the book ‘Whipper in’ by Archie Jenkins. 2016. Published by Wanney Books.
Cross country running developed from the long-standing pastime by men of ‘Hare and Hounds’ racing, also known as ‘Paper chase’ races. This is where one group of runners would be the hares or foxes and set off first, then the rest of the runners would be the hounds and would be chasing them across the countryside. They were called ‘paper chase’ races when trails of paper were left by the hares or foxes. The first harrier clubs formed in the 1860s, and clubs started to compete against each other in these ‘hare and hounds’ style of races. Although these were very popular they did not involve huge numbers of people seen in cross country racing today. We are talking of less than 40 people. The first harrier clubs in the Northeast formed in the late 1880s and friendly fixtures where clubs competed were arranged on an ad hoc basis. In 1894, the North Eastern Counties Athletic Association was formed, and a structured league competition in the Northeast called the Northumberland and Durham Paperchase League was created. This was renamed the North Eastern Harrier League in 1976. In 1950/51, the races became ‘all out’ rather than ‘hare and hounds’ style races. Today’s system of slow, medium and fast packs did not come in until much later on when numbers increased.
Cross country running was male only. Attempts to admit women were met with a lot of opposition and it was not until 1924 that women were allowed, although it was only a handful of women that tried it. In 1950, Avery Gibson was the first and only lady from the Northeast to take part in the first ever national cross country event which was at Parliament Hill in London. Not long after this, Blaydon Harriers organised the first ever cross country race for women in the Northeast. Twenty-three women attended. In 1958 Mary Bickley pushed for female involvement in cross country, stating it was character building, suitable for slower runners and good for team spirit. In the same year a cross country league for women in the Northeast was contemplated, but did not come to be accepted until 1983. The daily lifestyle of women involved employment and looking after a family, which meant they had little leisure time, so entries into cross country races were very low. Fields rarely attracted more than 20 runners. A lady called Marie Garrett took on the role of administering the NE Women’s league. Her dedication saw an increase in the interest of women in cross country and in competing, which led to men and women both competing in the 1992 and 1996 joint NECCA Championships at the same venue on the same day. The Davison Shield was donated by Pam and Ron Davison in 2002, which is the equivalent of the men’s Sherman Cup.
The 1995 World Cross Country Championships in Durham
I couldn’t find much information about this race or the course other than the results. All references state it was held at Durham University, so I wonder if the course was on the fields on the other side of the noisy bridge at Maiden Castle. I have scoured the internet but only found three photos from this race. Perhaps some of the older members of the Elvet Striders were there and will have more information and may have taken some photos?
Records indicate that the race was held on 25th March 1995 and that 58 nations took part. There were 27 runners from the UK. The Kenyan men’s and women’s teams came first place. The UK men’s team came 9th place. In the senior men’s race, the first UK athlete to cross the line was Andrew Pearson, who came 20th place. The team also comprised Keith Cullen (55th), Martin Jones (59th), Adrian Passey (71st), Christian Stephenson (72nd), David Clarke (77th), Tommy Murray (81st), Bobby Quinn (100th) and Spencer Duval (121st). The women’s UK team also came in 9th place, and comprised Paula Radcliffe (9th place), Bev Hartigan (24th), Alison Wyeth (44th), Angie Hulley (78th), Lucy Elliot (83rd) and Andrea Duke (102nd).
How did the Elvet Striders first get involved in the North Eastern Harrier League?
I asked our first, and long time serving, previous Men’s Cross Country Captain, Geoff Davis.
Geoff: I wouldn’t say we got it going because it was already going when we joined Striders. Susan joined Striders before me, I was running with Durham City Harriers and I came over to Striders after a few years. So it was already up and running. Most people put it down to Alan Purvis who sadly died a few years ago, hence the Alan Purvis Quaich for endeavour. So Alan got the club involved in it and Susan and I moved it on a bit. When Susan was club captain, rather than cross country captain (because originally we didn’t have cross country captains), she was club captain for two years, that would have been the time when Elvet Striders women won the Harrier League. The women’s team won it in the seasons 2003/04, 2005/06 and 2006/07. Susan was involved in recruiting women into cross country. Now at that time she managed to recruit nine women to run for the cross country, which at that time was a huge team, given the field was only around 50 female runners, if that. We were known as ‘the sea of purple.’ Donna James christened it this.
At Harrier League races, even when I was in the Durham City Harriers, I used to help put the Striders tent up. No one seemed to have much of a clue. I remember at one fixture the tent was in a right state and the poles weren’t right and it was barely standing and I thought to myself I can’t have my wife get changed in a tent like that! So after that Susan and I always put the tent up, and I found myself socialising with Striders more than with Harriers, so eventually I came over. After a couple of seasons the men’s team were relegated to the third division mainly because for one of the fixtures we didn’t turn out 6 men, and in those days that meant a big load of penalty points. I felt humiliated by that relegation and thought there is no way that is not going to happen again.
Most other clubs in the Northeast had cross country captains. So I suggested to the committee that we should have cross country captains and that Susan and I would do it. It was accepted and that following year we bounced straight back into the Second Division. Although we were there for a few years we eventually went up to the first Division. The women’s race used to be just one league, i.e. just one division, due to the low numbers. Then they introduced two divisions, then three. Well, Striders women have never been out of the first Division. That is quite an achievement. As we were captains we took over all things cross country, and resolved to have things organised! I would also lead runs for Striders every Wednesday evening and recruit people. Susan and I tried every method we knew to recruit Striders to XC: encouragement, flattery, bribery, blackmail and threats! Susan was particularly good at this (and still is!)
After ten seasons in post and with the men’s team regularly finishing mid table in Division 1, I thought we need someone new; someone younger, someone faster than the 60 year old me, someone to take us to the top, so I asked Stephen Jackson if he would do it, and he would, although unfortunately he moved on, BUT in the year that Stephen did it, the men’s team were runners up, and that is the highest position the men’s team have ever been.
Tamsin: Thanks Geoff, for all your hard work as our first and longest standing cross country captain. It has clearly paid off.
Elvet Striders Climb Through the League!
Here are the results of our club in the North Eastern Harrier League (since records on the NEHL website began). As noted, the women’s team won in seasons 2003/04, 2005/06 and 2006/07.
|Year||Men’s Team||Women’s Team|
|2021-22||First division 5th||First division 3rd|
|2019-20||First division 2nd||First division 7th|
|2018-19||First division 7th||First division 6th|
|2017-18||First division 5th||First division 2nd|
|2016-17||First division 6th||First division 7th|
|2015-16||Second division 1st||First division 6th|
|2014-15||Second division 9th||First division 5th|
|2013-14||Second division 7th||First division 7th|
Increasing the Participation of Women in Cross Country
It is clear that Susan Davis has played a pivotal role in getting women into cross country, and not just from the Elvet Striders. Through her passion, she has encouraged Strider women to try cross country, and once they tried it many have found they really enjoyed it thus resulting in a long-standing and large women’s team. However, through this she has also inspired many other women into cross country. Women from other running clubs saw our female ‘sea of purple’ and were inspired to try it, partly out of curiosity and partly from a competitive angle. Once the ‘sea of purple’ was there, the participation of women in cross country grew.
Celebrating International Women’s Day
To celebrate International Women’s Day (8th March), given the focus of this issue, I think it is fitting to acknowledge Susan Davis for her huge and long standing contribution in getting women in this club into cross country running. I am one of these women and I would like to thank Susan. Cross country has and will continue to give me a lot of enjoyment. I have discovered a fabulous, friendly and supportive community that enjoys a challenge.
What You Said about Cross Country
The cross country season 2021-2022 has been a fantastic season, with new members trying cross country for the first time. I asked some of you about your experience.
What is your favourite cross country fixture and why?
“Thornley – the course was great (every course should have at least one stile to jump over) and the mud was plentiful!” Lotti Collier.
“Alnwick – because it was a lovely runnable course, fantastic views and weather, and amazing cakes and company.” Emma McCabe.
“My favourite cross country is Alnwick. I thought it was a particularly pretty course and not quite as muddy as some of the others!” Paul Swinburne.
“I like all of them! If I had to pick a favourite fixture it would have to be Aykley Heads; it’s a tough course, the support is always brilliant as it’s our home fixture and the weather is always typical cross country weather given it’s usually the back end of November.” Georgie Hebdon.
“Alnwick – because of the setting and as the course has a downhill to the finish.” Theresa Rugman-Jones.
“Aykley Heads. I think it’s a testing course and shows Durham off well.” Mark Warner.
“Tricky because I really love Aykley Heads and Alnwick, but I think it has to be Thornley! Usually poor weather, tough ‘open to the elements’ course across rough fields, and if we are lucky we get the most of the different types of mud to run through!” Nina Mason.
“Aykley Heads because it was brutal and the women’s team finished first.” Nina Bojadzic.
“Thornley – because it was my first cross country in a Strider’s vest”. Ellen Powell.
“In my experience, the most enjoyable event was the regional championships at Pontefract. Mainly as the course was flatter and faster, but also as you got to see a different calibre of runners! The second would be Lambton as it is a good mix of steep hills, that wasn’t a problem as you needed to walk but could get some speed up coming down and on the flat, that just seemed to suit my mood on the day.” Steven Lonsdale
Summarise your experience of cross country in one sentence.
“This was my first year of running cross country. I loved it, it was awful and cold, and I’ll do it again.” Lotti Collier.
“Playing in the mud, racing friends (and friendly enemies!) and eating cake, with your teammates supporting you in all of these!” Nina Mason.
“Keeps you fit over winter and is good preparation for spring.” Mark Warner.
“It’s a good personal challenge, there’s a fabulous team atmosphere at the events and it’s great for cake and a chat afterwards with our lovely club members.” Theresa Rugman-Jones.
“Cross country gives you a feeling of freedom and achievement without the pressure of reaching for a PB, all wrapped with a sense of camaraderie amongst the team.” Stephen Lonsdale.
“Best atmosphere ever!” Ellen Powell.
“My cross country experience so far has definitely been character building, huge fun and ultimately very rewarding!” Georgie Hebdon.