A small group of Striders (Paul, Geoff, Mike and myself, with Mum (Jan) supporting) headed over to Sedbergh for this GP race. The forecast was for rain/drizzle, with very poor visibility. I hadn’t run this before, so I’d recced the route a couple of times in similar conditions, and had my checkpoint split times and bearings prepared so I didn’t have to think too hard mid-race.
After the usual pre-race warning about kit, compass and a cut-off time at check 3, we were off. The race has a gruelling start climbing up to Arant Haw (check 1), and to spice things up the cloud base was very low – at times reducing visibility to a few yards (except for the finish, I think we only emerged from it once). After check 1, a lot more climbing, descending….repeat. The last few miles is a glorious descent from the Calf (via the ‘bump’ that is Winder) which in good visibility is fabulous running. In the race, I was just focussed on staying on the grassy path in this section, aware of wraith-like runners around me in the mist.
I felt like I executed my race plan well – I used my bearings, checked my map, stuck to the route (from what I could tell) and finished just within planned time. It was great to see Mum at checks 1 and 5, peering through the mist looking out for us all – and joking aside, the mist was so dense we really could hear her before we saw her, chatting to the hardy souls at the checkpoints.
Paul had a great run – as well as his fitness, I think his experience of the course showed. Despite the three of them sprinting away from me at the start, Mike then caught and passed me at check 2, and Geoff caught and passed me twice (yes, twice) at check 2 and check 5. It seems they both ‘strayed’ from the optimum race route and I suspect ran more miles than the race advertises! Perhaps at 57p/mile they didn’t think they were getting VFM. Different conditions on the day and this would be an entirely different race. As well as a number of DNF, there were a few tumbles – with poor Mike cracking his ribs (and then having to drive us home too….thank you, get well soon!)
This is without doubt one of the toughest races I have done up to now – brutal climbs, steep (some un-runnable) descents, sections with no ‘escape route’, ankle-straining gradient on what look like flatter sections, and pathless wilderness between checks 3 and 4. Not to mention the weather conditions. For me, this was much harder than Swaledale or the Yomp – I’m not used to so much climbing, and I know I need to get stronger on the hills.
The pluses – all of the above 🙂! And a well organised race, the beauty of the Howgills (weather permitting), and plenty of friendly, like-minded folks to enjoy it with. Oh, and hot showers at the end at the People’s Hall – what more do you need?
Despite it being tough (or because it was?)….I loved it. Even when my legs were screaming at me to stop. Fabulous race and strongly recommended.
If you are thinking about giving this one a go, I suggest do your homework, test yourself (legs and navigation), recce, recce, recce, and be prepared for anything the weather can throw at you.
I’m not really one for parkrun tourism. If I’m on holiday, the thought of getting up at 730am to go find a local run doesn’t really appeal. Jane and I tend to go to bed later than normal because the kids stay up later….so it all makes parkrun a no no for us. This leads to me usually taking my trainers and going out for a run on an evening when the family is chilling prior to food etc.
Out of curiosity, I had checked if there were any races during our week away in Jersey (incidentally the birthplace of the prettiest of the Littlewoodi (the correct plural I think), Wendy)….and to my surprise the local running club was to hold a 5km race along the prom of St.Hellier.
We arrived back at our Airbnb an hour before the race which was a nice 1mile from the start. The Facebook page had just said “meet at the first shelter” which obviously meant nothing to me. Luckily the aforementioned Wendy knew all about this famous bus shelter so I was given a handy map. I didn’t ask how or why and assumed it was a weird local thing.
I jogged down the hill expecting to get there 15mins before the start at 6:30pm and totally misjudged it. I arrived 30 mins early and had that awkward decision about whether to go for a run or stay and meet the local club runners. I stayed and had a nice chat with a few. People filtered down and we all had to sign our names and get a hand written number, or old GNR number for our vests. Didn’t seem to matter as it was free.
At 6:45pm there was a photo shoot of some in attendance and a little speech by the organiser about the meaning behind the run. It was for a nice sounding lady called Daphne Wagstaff who had passed away a few years previously but had done a lot for the local running community.
The race started at 7pm in full sun and no wind. Gutted. I hate running in the sun. It was about 26c. I knew it would be flat though so decided to take it easy and not do anything stupid (which is hard for me!).
The 37 of us set off at quite a nice pace and quickly formed into the usual groups. I was at the back of the fast pack and we pounded along watching out for cyclists (who can be quite aggressive in these parts we had been warned) and the odd dog walker. The simple route was an out and back along the prom with the beach (and sun) to our left. I passed about 5 bricked shelters (so I’m glad Wendy knew which one was the special one) and picked up my pace to pass one chap who was being tracked by his wife on a bike. Up ahead we passed almost through a cafe and I eventually saw a friendly face smiling at at sign directing me to turn back. By now the fast lads had passed me on their way back and I had a decent gap between me and the next runner. But it was hot and my head knew what was going to come.
The elevation map of the route should be flat but there were key sections which where I had to jump over a grate or a curb and thus added mini hills of about 10cm. Nothing Fiona B or Stuart and his ladder would struggle with.
With about 1.5km left I started to really feel the heat (Have I mentioned that I hate heat!?). I’d been eating and drinking holiday food all week and probably wasn’t hydrated nearly enough for a parkrun paced race. I could see a female closing about 100m behind me so I had to focus on the bus shelter ahead….but to my horror it wasn’t THE shelter but a trick one to put me off. Onwards forged against the driving wind, rain and 1:4 hills. I wished! My feet were on fire and my eyes were blurring with sweat. I saw the shelter again….people were stood at it so I put my all into the last 100m to make sure I wasn’t passed by the closing lady. But once again I was betrayed by the shelter and it was just a trick! I had to crack on but I’d mentally gone. If I was a horse in the National the jockey would have just pulled me over to trot to the end to protect it from injury. I couldn’t do this! I was representing the Elvet Striders internationally and I could feel the weight of expectation on my drooped shoulders. By now the lady’s shadow was just in the corner of my vision. I knew I’d be beaten. I could actually see the finish now but with 50 yards to go I was passed by what turned out to be the female winner (she was actually second female but you can only win the trophy once and the other lady won it previously).
I passed the line to claps from the fast lot as the first Elvet Strider! I was happy to add to my tally of being the first in purple for my last 2 races (See Roof of England Fell Race).
We stayed around by the beach clapping in all the rest, much as we do up in Durham. The trophies were given out to the first new Male and Females from Jersey Spartan AC. This seemed a good idea as it enabled different to win it rather than just the same persons each year – it was a memorial run after all.
After the photos I popped down the steps to the beach, ran to the shore and jumped in!! Poppy and Fred met me there whilst Jane sunned herself on the beach.
This was a lovely local race with some fast runners and inclusive feel. 37 of us ran and nobody needed a GPS/OS map or more than 1 Marshall. I’d recommend the island and this race to everyone!
This is a social event. New and old members are openly invited. We don’t expect everyone to know everyone. The point is to turn up to a safe place and chat and get to know like minded people…..but also get to know the person behind the name/vest.
Dress code is whatever you want. Casual most likely. Students are away so it will be nice and quiet I think.
As you enter the pub, we have a VIP area straight away on the right up 2 steps. I’ve booked this for the purple army.
See below for photos of the pub front and our VIP area highlighted in yellow.
I hope to see you there from 7pm. They do food there if needed I think.
If we decide to move on en masse we can. But the point is to natter.
I will have Facebook and messenger. Get in touch via that if you are not sure or have any questions.
The Island of Islay is best known for its distilleries, which draw in whisky connoisseurs from all over the world. Since the mid-1980s it has also had the Islay half marathon, which judging from the results list, has its own hardcore of international fans. When it was suggested to me and my partner Becca, earlier in the year, that we might like to do this race my first thought was yes, but that’s a big journey from Durham for the weekend. If you face West from Glasgow you’re looking towards Islay but the Firth of Clyde, the Isle of Bute, the Kintyre peninsula and a bit of the Atlantic ocean are all between you and it. It was then pointed out that instead of driving 100 miles around, you can do it in a succession of ferry hops, with short distances in between that you could easily cover on a bike. Having done a fair amount of cycling in Scotland we knew that there is a “five ferries” ride that the keen complete from the mainland in a day, taking in Arran, Kintyre, Cowal and Bute. The first couple of hops towards Islay cover the start of it. This had the makings of a good long weekend adventure. So we booked a day off work, and the evening of Thursday 26th saw us in Ardrossan with bikes ready for the first ferry onto Arran the next day.
The Friday before the race was spent riding around the East side of Arran, then a short ferry crossing to the Kintyre peninsula and across to the other side before the longer ferry to Islay. Despite a surprise hill climb at Boguille in Arran (it’s a surprise if you don’t bother to wonder about the hills before you set off), this was all pretty relaxed, and we didn’t need to worry about tiring ourselves out for the race. Once on Islay itself, we were immediately in distillery country, passing a couple of famous names on the way to our overnight stay near the start in Bowmore. We didn’t stop at the distilleries, but we knew the next day’s race was sponsored by Ardbeg, so it seemed likely that a dram might be on the cards at some point.
On race day we gathered some tips on the course from our B&B host then rode the couple of miles to the start. The course is a loop that heads steeply up out of Bowmore, turns South towards Port Ellen ascending along higher ground, before dropping steeply and returning along part of the “Low Road”, a dead straight of which any ancient Roman engineer would be proud.
Although Islay has some mountainous terrain it’s on the East side of the island, so the ascent only totals about 130 m. This race has the potential to be fast, something that I had in mind as the date approached. Although we’d done a few races of half marathon distance over the last few years, none of them had had the speed potential of this one. I’d done the Durham 10k the week before, and I couldn’t say I was obviously on top form, however, it didn’t seem inconceivable that I could beat my 2007 half marathon best of just over 1hr 37. My rough plan was to aim for that pace and adjust depending on how I was feeling.
The start of the race had the friendly low-key feel that makes you appreciate seeking out these smaller events. We hadn’t left too much time for warming up, so a quick jog up and down the street and it was time to start. With a field of 124 runners, it was a novelty to be on a start line with some elbow room. This also meant that those who wanted to set off quickly could easily do so, and I quickly found myself getting pulled along a bit faster than was ideal, snaking through a few side streets, past Bowmore’s distinctive round church and out into the open countryside.
Checking my watch after the road levelled out I saw I’d done the first and steepest mile faster than my target pace but it didn’t feel too bad, and so attempted to stick with the people around me. The pace had settled down a bit, and I had the chance to look around and appreciate the view across to the mountains in the East. Although I hadn’t especially noticed the rain at the start it was clear that it was getting wet and not showing any sign of letting up. As the route descended off the first high point and turned to head south my trainers were squelching and I had the novel experience of trying to avoid the smoother bits of road, which were quite slippy in the puddles. The best that could be said for it was that after the recent heat wave it was cool! Ironically, and presumably, in response to the heat wave, I think this race had the most water stations I have ever seen. Mindful of the fact that you can’t actually drink through your skin I remembered to make use of a few of them.
The road climbed gradually until about mile 6 where we turned off towards the coast and the low road. This was a solid mile of steep downhill and I attempted to make the best of it. Turning back towards Bowmore on the level, I was disconcerted to find that my legs hadn’t taken too kindly to the downhill stomp. I was at risk of feeling sorry for myself and slowing down when I was overtaken. The race was reasonably well spread out at this stage, so this was a bit of a wake-up call and spurred me on. I also knew that the next few miles were pretty well flat and if I was going to get close to my wished-for time, this was where I’d do it. So I pushed on and stuck with the other runner who was keeping a very tidy pace.
Another runner I chatted to at the start of the race had described the low road straight as “soul destroying”. I could have seen his point if I’d been staring at a long strip of never-ending tarmac, but maybe because the misty rain was largely obscuring the view, or maybe because I was just trying to keep the pace it didn’t seem that way to me. After a while, I and my unofficial pacer acted as the wake-up call for the next runner in front, who made us a group of three for a while. This lasted until about two miles from the end of the race when the flat straight road became a slightly hilly road.
Looking at the profile after the event the final hills look insignificant but after the hard push along the flat, my legs were complaining severely. My temporary companions didn’t seem to be having the same trouble and so I had to watch them disappear off ahead. There was no way I could avoid slowing down, however, soon enough the round church was back in view and there was one final plummet down Bowmore’s main street to the finish in just under 1 hour 39.
Having collected my medal and t-shirt I saw Becca finish in a personal best time of just over 2 hours (15 seconds!). Then we retreated to the village hall to dry off and for sandwiches and the anticipated dram or, for those who really needed to rehydrate, a can of Tennents.
After an hour of recuperation, it was time to point our bikes towards the ferry. Thankfully it turns out that the muscles you need for cycling are complementary to the ones needed for running. This meant that we could make it back to Kintyre for the night, and still enjoy our ride round Cowal and Bute the next day. It’s always going to take a bit of extra effort to travel to Islay for this race, but even if you don’t cycle to get there it’s surely a good excuse to get out and explore some of the remoter parts of Southern Scotland and get a friendly, fast and scenic race into the bargain.
I’ve long been an armchair fell racer. I’ve done bits-and-bobs here and there (Swaledale Marathon being my biggest and favourite). I’ve also been a member of the Fell Runners Association for 2 years to try to motivate myself to get out there… They send out amazing magazines and a yearly calendar of events. But…. children, work, travel and laziness have prevented me from getting out onto the fells until I saw DFR offering the Roof of England Fell race. All the planets were in their right zodiac signs and I discovered that I was able to make it!
Weardale is one of, if not my favourite, of the dales…. maybe only beaten by Borrowdale and Swaledale. The drive over to St. John’s Chapel was stunning. Nobody was on the road and I thoroughly enjoyed the sweeping roads and views over the fells. I pulled up outside the public loos after driving past a couple of dozen chaps and lasses in their respective club vests. I saw Geoff in an alien vest and realised tonight he was one of the enemy. Geoff Davis (aka Yoda) has long been the club’s bastion of Fell running and puts on some great up and downhill training sessions. The plan for the night was to finish with Yoda in sight. I knew I’d been off the boil over the last few weeks so this was more about testing myself and seeing if my armchair love for fell running would develop into true love, as I suspected it might.
Much humming and haa’ing ensued and I decided to go full Mudclaw. It rained very heavily the night before but until then, we’d had a month or so of now’t but sun. The kit list was downgraded too from full FRA requirements to map, compass and whistle. Thank goodness, as I didn’t fancy carrying the full body cover, hat, gloves and water – a tad excessive for a 7km race.
I wandered across the road after a 200m warm-up through the village to meet the race director for our pre-race briefing. In total there were 46 of us from a wide range of clubs on the rocky start line. The fast lads (and lasses) had made their way to the front under the flags but the atmosphere was jovial and people were nattering away in the gorgeous summer’s evening light.
The race started at quite a pace but slowed slightly as it became almost single file up between stone walls moving very much in an upwards direction. After 1 mile I’d passed quite a number of my fellow fell runners (I think I can say that now) and we passed the first set of Marshalls wishing us well. After this, it was every man and woman for themselves. There was no route. Only point upward to Chapel Fell Top. Competitors could go any route their heart desired (imagine that at the GNR!) as long as they made the summit. This was much like the Durham three peaks challenge but no ladders would be of help here…
The terrain quickly became very steep. I was about 10m behind Yoda and I decided that this would be a good classroom to learn the ways of the force. Where he walked I walked. Where he picked up the pace, I picked up the pace. My legs were feeling good, I was loving the surroundings, but the grass and moss were getting higher and squishier respectively. There was no clear route and people were spread out across the Fell trying to find a route of least resistance. I kept swapping places with a Keswick AC and Derwent Valley runner over the next gruelling mile. It was great. I loved it but, my word, it hurt my calves. All of a sudden I thought I saw a “different” more direct route to Geoff’s and went off on my own…. sod the lesson plan, this was a race! It seemed to be the bed of peat bog (one which Elaine would probably try drink out of if the stories are true) but was now dried to a powdery black mush. We both rounded the Cairn together and turned back to decent down (down deeper and down) to the village once again.
Here it became a bit crazy in a very good way!! I’ve always loved going up hills (but they hurt)…. but LOVE running down…. it seems to play to my strengths. It sounds stupid writing it but I find it’s like a super fast game of chess. My brain works at 100mph working out where to place my feet. What’s safe? What’s not? Where will require a little jump and where will cause a bit of a squelch. I love this side of downhill running on trails (and now fells). It makes me feel very alive and following Geoff was certainly that.
He is obviously very good at this and I savoured the challenge of keeping up. I passed a couple of people with a, “you alright mate?”, who’d twisted and ankle (or 2) and flew down some sections with the grass whipping at my knees. It was hard work but on the thighs now. I loved it.
We passed the 1-mile left marshal and picked up the pace. My Strava said 6:30m/m over the next very rocky section. I’m really pleased about this as it was tough underfoot but was great fun. We went down with the dry stone walls blurring past us. My plan was to wait until 200m or so before the end and to kick on and pass. All was going well and I spotted my chance…. but stupidly I hesitated. I have no idea why, as I had more in my legs to give… Then the track changed and became single file only. I couldn’t pass. I debated going through the nettles but it seemed a bit silly as I’d already proved to myself that I was okay at this AS grading of Fell runs. (Fell races are all graded. Simply put, the first letter A-B-C, is for the grade in terms of steepness/complexity. The second letter, S-M-L is the length and I’ll let you work out what they stand for). This was an AS. Under 10km and carried a fair bit of elevation gain (400m).
We rounded the last corner with the flags in sight. I passed the finish line on the heels of Yoda and was met by an “oh I didn’t realise it was you chasing me!”
We cheered/clapped in the remaining runners and chatted about the race.
After a quick Lucozade in the Chatterbox cafe (apt name), we moved outside for the prizes. Andy the Race Director had put on a great spread of wine, beer and chocolate for the lucky winners. Strangely I got a spot prize for it being my first proper fell race.
Many then returned to the cafe for a treat… My chosen indulgence was a freshly cooked scone (rhymes with gone!), jam and cream. I sat with runners from other local clubs and just nattered. It was the perfect after race party in that respect.
The drive home was stunning. The sunset behind me made it look like the Gods were happy and putting on a show especially for us runners. Reds, oranges, yellows and amazingly, purples. This little Elvet Strider was one happy bunny after bounding down Chapel Fell Top at sun 7mins/mile.
I’d love to see many more Elvet Striders join me next year. It’s a fantastic race and at £5 on the day, what is there to lose?
The Elvet Striders Track and Field athletes continue to make and break club records. Keep an eye on the club-records page to see who has been breaking what. And if you can beat it, correct it, or comment on it, let us know via the form at the bottom of the records page, or e-mail the website officers.
Thanks to Geoff Watson and the people he pestered for digging out the historic results for the Durham Three Peaks. Where the checkpoint times have been available I’ve published that too and it can be quite addictive sorting the table by the various checkpoints to see individual tactics. It’s the sort of race where anyone can go for that stage win.
If I’m right, the results and flyer from the July 1996 event is now our oldest website report. Although despite constant nagging, Barrie Evans has still not sent in his race report for the Two Oceans from 1990. It’s never too late to send in a race report.