All posts by Anita Wright

Adventures in Orienteering – Simply Putting One Foot in Front of the Other?, Aykley Heads & Bolam Lake

Ian Butler

Being creative with Garmin

I was huffing and puffing up a hill at the Gibside Fruit Bowl, in clear pain and feeling knackered, when a mate of mine who was marshalling shouted out “Get on with it!! Running’s easy. Remember its simply about putting one foot in front of the other’.

If only life and running was that simple… and it’s not in my view of the world.

This was brought home to me in the last couple of weeks when I’ve realised that running is definitely not so simple, both in its execution and in the use of all the paraphernalia, which is supposedly designed to make things easier.

Firstly I will cover the gear supposedly designed to make things easier.

In our house of two, we have about 600 pairs of running or outdoor sporting shoes. Ones for road running, ones for the gym, cross country, Outdoor trail shoes for actual trails, outdoor trail shoes for bombing about town, walking boots; and just in case of emergency old pairs of all the above which are kept in the garage. We have not had an emergency yet, but we still keep them.

The point is that to meet our ever-changing running needs each one of these pairs of foot attire represents a greater cost and investment in cumulative design technology than our yearly national contribution to the EU.

For instance, I’m in the market for a pair of new running shoes and I was reading a review in one of the running magazines about one of my preferences. The article had passages like this.

“ A dual density EVA midsole with air units fore and aft provides stability, while a gel heel absorbs shock, but the shoe makes a narrow footprint, a characteristic that typically suits only the biomechanically efficient runner’.

Crikey! I’m not sure if I’m a biometrically efficient runner, but I do know that Neil Armstrong was put on the moon with less science at his disposal.

Having done my research and made my way to the sports shop to buy a pair of runners, the first thing I am asked is ‘ Do you under pronate or overpronate?’

My reply of ‘ Only after 5 pints and a curry’ was not only flippant but also grossly unhelpful and outlined my total ignorance of the complexity of my running needs.

What I should have understood was that the assistant was referring to the natural movement of the foot that occurs during foot landing while running or walking. That this action is composed of three cardinal plane components: subtalar eversion, ankle dorsiflexion, and forefoot abduction, these three distinct motions of the foot occur simultaneously during the pronation phase.

As you can see, it’s dead simple when you are in the know!!

The reality is that the choice of running shoes is seemingly limitless, all scrupulously engineered and biometrically designed to suit all shapes and sizes of runners. Therefore you need the guidance of a shoe guru to keep you right in your purchases, and in my case to keep things simple.

The second aid to simplicity is technology designed not to keep you informed about your training and running, often a great source of entertainment and commonly known as The Garmin, The Fit bit, or simply the running watch.

I just love the write-ups used to entice us into buying these little gems. I read one lately: –

‘The Garmin XT102.5 1S, designed to improve your athletic performance, where knowledge is power, logging your every move and providing a detailed analysis of your bodily functions. Helping you achieve improved super performance, whilst giving continuous readouts during your heart attack, while the Bluetooth connection to your mobile network prompts you to seek medical help when needed,

Technology is great and I love my Garmin, but the hardest part was setting the damn thing up, synching it to my iPad, then linking the data to Strava, which apparently sends prompts to people to like my efforts and give me the thumbs up, or some other gesture as the case may be.

When setting up my device I had to call the Garmin helpline, because I needed to feel totally incompetent by someone much younger than me.

I was stumped by the first question. She needed the serial number.

“Where is it?’ I asked.
‘It’s below the base of the XVS monitor next to the heart rate disequilibrium unit”

I was totally lost and quickly losing the will to live, and showing my complete ignorance of modern technology. Apparently, it was written on the back of the watch, but in letters and numbers so small that I needed a magnifying glass to read it.

My serial number was something like RD1257c6522910976V. Why?….. Never mind…..

Eventually, I got the watch up and running and have great fun with it. I just love the idea of lying perfectly still on the settee and not moving a muscle in order to get my heart rate as low as possible. Or running around a series of football pitches in a vain attempt to write my name using the GPS tracker and mapping function, or running around the village to make a GPS map of every street.

It’s all great fun before you even start to try to analyse all the data that gets recorded. Apparently, I have a great VO2 Max and fall within the top 5% of people for my age group, but when it comes to my FTP (I haven’t a clue what it means) I have moved from Fair to Good with a reading of 2.82, and clearly could do better.

You see, running is supposedly simple, buts its clearly not when it comes to technology. Neither is it in its execution in my view, as highlighted in my recent participation in Orienteering.

Now I’ve done a fair bit or Orienteering over the years, and during the Christmas break, I participated in 2 different events, neither of which proved to be simple.

Firstly to set the scene, I think it’s important to acknowledge that some participants come from a different clan of the running fraternity to the most popular events I usually run in. This is highlighted on arrival at the car park and a look at the cars that regular participants have a preference for. Citroen Berlingo’s, Peugeot Partner’s and Fiat Doblo’s or similar cars of a practical nature and square design are very prevalent, often beige or grey in colour.

Also, regulars run in a style of running kit that is practical for running in or through spikey bushes and dense undergrowth. This encompasses a leg gaiter protector around the lower legs known as bramble bashers, and then loads of very durable running trousers and long sleeved running tops. This gear is not for the fashionistas, and comes usually in the most horrible colour combinations imaginable, and was designed primarily with the Victorian gentleman or lady explorer in mind.

The basic principles of orienteering are that you have a map of the course, a compass, a topographical description of the numbered control points located on the map, and an electronic dibber to record your presence at each checkpoint.

The two basic types of events are: –

1) Score Events

• Competitors visit as many controls as possible within a time limit.
• There is usually a mass start (rather than staggered).
• Controls may have different point values depending on the difficulty to locate.
• There is a point penalty for each minute late over the time limit
• T he competitor with the most points in the fastest time is the winner.

2) Timed Events

• Competitors are given a time slot to start
• All control points are visited in a set order
• The competitor with the fastest time wins

At each race venue, there will be routes of varying difficulty and length to choose from; therefore it’s a good way to lose the whole family if you so wish.

You can do these events on your own, but also you can pair up with a friend or relative to make up a team. If you do these races with your wife, husband or partner, then be prepared to have a really good argument about half way round, usually about navigation and the best way to read a map, or whether to navigate by instinct or compass. You will just have to work out from experience what is the best way for you to compete in the least stressful way.

It should be fairly straight forward to run this event. However, reading the maps takes some getting used to, both in terms of coming to terms with the scale where you may cover the ground quite quickly on the map, and then interpreting what you actually see for it to make sense. For example, the open ground is shaded on the map, whilst woodland is clear and unshaded.

The next difficulty is that each control point is usually cunningly hidden on a topographical feature. Each map usually includes a table listing each control point together with a series of symbols to describe what that feature is and where on this feature the control is located, For example, separate symbols may show the control to be at a flight of steps, at the top, on the eastern side.

The problem is that there are dozens of different symbols to learn and understand, including narrow marsh, a small depression, rentrant, pit, thicket etc. It all gets very complex if you allow it to get to you. My basic approach to this is to just make my way to the vicinity of where I think a control point is, and then run around like a headless chicken until I fall over it.

Again it’s not simple, and this point is emphasised with some of the language used to describe some features. My favourite is a ‘linear thicket’. To most people, this is a hedge, as in ‘I’m going to cut the hedge as it needs trimming’. I certainly don’t say, ‘Today, I’m going to cut my linear thicket’.

This Christmas I completed in two very traditional annual events: –


1) Aykley Heads – Score Event – Boxing day (1 Hour Time Limit)

This was pretty straight forward for me, based on the fact I know the venue very well, I could read the map easily and basically knew all the paths and shortcuts without having to use the compass I did not take with me.

Running on instinct rather than with a plan, the control points were located across the County Hall and Aykley Heads site, covering the ground across to the railway line. Taking a counter-clockwise route, I got to 31 control points out of 35. The only problem was that the proximity reader held on my finger failed to register 5 control points, meaning that there was no record of my visit to those points.

Thus, whilst this was a great run out, and the navigation was relatively straight forward to execute, modern technology failed me and made a simple task very hard.


2) Bolam Lake, Northumberland – Timed Event

Getting lost at Bolam Lake

We do this every year and it is always a great one to do. The area covered is much smaller than Aykley Heads, but the terrain is much more difficult to navigate. Forget about linear thickets and open ground. Think of dense jungle and lost tribes. The control points are set in sequence across the park, with some points requiring a good long run to cross between, whilst others are much closer together, but well and truly hidden and requiring proper navigation to get to.

Having done this event on many occasions, I know the ground and can read the map; so seeing where to go to get to each control point, in turn, is straight forward. The hard part is that some of the controls are placed in deep marshes in the middle of thick evergreen forest. The purists will dodge off on a compass bearing and measure out the distance to hit perfectly the control point. I will rely on counting out drainage ditches on the map, and then turn off paths to find the control in the forest. At Bolam Lake, I once come across some members of the infamous lost ‘Wherethehellarewe Tribe’, so you can understand how thick the vegetation is.

The reality is this is no 7.30minute mile pace race. It’s more like wandering around in circles, jumping across ditches, falling into ditches, in search of control points, at 15-minute mile pace. This point is emphasised on my Garmin tracker, which records my taken route that seems to wonder like a lost spider across the screen.

Its tough, and it can be dangerous, and as I tried to run through an evergreen tree to make it to a known path I virtually impaled my left hip on a broken low hanging branch. Completing a self assessment triage, I established that although I had drawn blood, I didn’t need an immediate medical rescue and evacuation by the Great North Air Ambulance Service, and so I was able to continue and make it to the end in a reasonable time placing me in the middle of the field (Note – not the middle of A FIELD, but THE FIELD, my navigation is not that bad).

Finally, running, in theory, can be very simple and should be about putting one foot in front of the other. The reality is that equipment; technology and races such as orienteering events can be very complex and at times incomprehensible. However such complexity simply gives added value and infinite variety to the sport we love.

Country to Capital Ultra, Wendover to London, Saturday, January 12, 2019

45 miles

Paul Evans

Cat: there’s no way this one’s getting into the FRA calendar

Reviewing my running in 2018 in November was, on the whole, a satisfactory experience: decent weekly mileage? Check, with only a few slack weeks due to injury or work. Getting some worthwhile XC and cat A/B fell races in? Check, with a handful I’d never done before slipped in. Knocking a bit of time off previous PBs on a couple of races? Check once more. The only real holes in what was otherwise a good year were the failure to get across to any of the Lakeland Classics and the 2x ultra, Did Not Starts, the former (Calderdale Hike) due to a bout of man-flu that hit me the evening before and saw me find out what a temperature of c40c feels like (not great, would not recommend), the latter (Bradwell) as a result of a shift over-running to the point that I’d not left work by the time my train pulled out of Central Station. As a consequence, whilst on a bit of a high after taking 6 minutes off my Pendle PB, I looked at the ultra calendar for something, anything, that I could knock off early in the year to get some big miles in my legs. This essentially boiled down to a choice of two southern ultras, the Peddar’s Way in Norfolk and the Country to Capital Ultra, the latter eventually chosen as it was easier to get to and less likely to be snowed-off in the event of a ‘Beast from the East’ reprise. Once booked, I did the logical thing and promptly returned to training by both running up and down hills, and doing some road-based interval work, managing to rack up a single run in the intervening period of 20 miles (I think), but definitely getting faster over middle-distance – a core ultra skill.

Funnily enough given the above, I was not 100% confident when 12 Jan 19 came around that I had the necessary miles in my legs, and upon getting to Wendover early on the Saturday morning, had distinctly mixed feelings about what was about to transpire, repeating to myself the mantra ‘be like Anna (Seeley, the only ultra-runner I know who makes it look easy),’ as this was the only way I could see myself finishing – set a pace, stick to it, don’t think about going too fast etc; essentially, run metronomically for hour after hour after hour. Oh, and stop and take whatever food and drink is on offer, whenever it is on offer. With this plan, I registered, collected my EMIT tag and number, dropped my bag at the van that would take it to the finish, used the portable loos repeatedly and then set off in the middle of the 2-300 runners down Wendover High Street hoping to get to Paddington in around 7 hours or a little less.

The first mile was easy, and essentially a tour of a fairly pretty market/commuter town before mile 2 saw us hit the first, and biggest hill of the course, a pleasant walk up a wooded track, which would have been very runnable were it not for the facts that a) everyone else was walking and I was stuck b) there was still a VERY long way to go. We got to the top and I started running again, keeping a pace of 8:20 – 8:50 min/miles dependent upon terrain (largely wooded/farmland and rather pleasant), with a brief dip sub-8 on a nice long road descent, and hit CP1 at Chesham, 7.7m in for water, a bit of cake and the knowledge that the leader had gone through in around 53 minutes; I was impressed, though the occupants of this outpost of Betjeman’s Metroland appeared less-so, carrying on normal Saturday morning life as a stream of runners trickled through their town centre, through a nature reserve and past youth football training, en route to CP2, Horn Hill, 17.3 miles in and again, most of it nice-if-unremarkable green countryside with the occasional village to break up the greenery.

After leaving CP2 it was straight downhill through more fields to the M25, which I must confess to feeling slightly awed by, running high over it on a bridge that appears used largely by animals and tractors (judging by the underfoot matter) and feeling viscerally the speed and relentless roar of the many lanes of constant traffic underneath.

Straight after crossing I actually had to apply my brain a little, as several of us became temporarily confused by the correct route out of Maple Cross, eventually finding our way down to the A41, which we hand-railed for the next mile. This loose agglomeration of half a dozen of us was to last for a few miles, taking us off the main road and up a steep wooded embankment to skirt Denham aerodrome and cross a golf course, thankfully both holes crossed having people putting rather than giving it their all with their drivers. Into Denham itself, the railway station served as a convenient landmark (we had to run under it) as well as the halfway point and, also, a marker that the fun was nearly over. One of our remaining trio (two had dropped away and one other had picked up his pace) had reconnoitred the second half of the route, running from Paddington to Denham and taking the train back, and simply said ‘welcome to the Grand Union Canal, in its’ bleak majesty. It all looks a bit like this from now on.’ He was not wrong.

Before things became truly unpleasant there were highlights, however: CP3 was only a further 4-5 miles in, marking marathon distance (3:46hrs) and being equipped with water, mini-sausages and mini-beef-and-veg pasties, which hit the spot very nicely as I walked away (again, figuring that losing a bit of time was better than accidentally inhaling pastry and provoking a coughing/vomiting fit – it has been known).

Food taken, I trotted on, solo now for the rest of the race as my companions were looking to run in at 9-9:30 min/miles from here, whereas I was still feeling comfortable at c.8:30 or so and knew I had one more piece of navigation to accomplish, this being taking the Paddington canal branch at a white bridge 3 miles on, with a sign pointing and saying ‘Paddington’ on it. Backing myself to manage this, I followed the water, occasionally changing sides as the towpath switched at locks, urban London starting to intrude more as the greenery beside the canal became dotted with fly-tipping and the quiet of the countryside was disturbed by the hum of concrete plants, distribution warehouses, rakes of freight wagons on lines running parallel and over and then, finally, commuter and tube trains announcing we were definitely in the capital. Having passed through Southall, the highlight being a bouncy floating bridge carrying the towpath past a building site, CP4 came at 33 miles, then was followed a mere 4 miles later by CP5, the organisers bunching them closer to allow for the fact that later runners would be finishing in the dark, paired after 1500hrs. I was still at a pace that felt comfortable breathing-wise through both, but was starting to slow slightly after CP5 and both feet were beginning to get rather sore; if honest, whilst the backs of factories and warehouses are of interest in some ways, this was not the scenery I’m used to and the lack of reason to change pace or watch my foot placement was strangely hypnotic, the daydreams being disturbed only by occasional cheers from passers-by, the smell of skunk at fairly regular intervals and the odd grunted hello to a competitor as I ground past them. Truthfully, even a day later I can’t remember how many people I overtook in the last 10 miles of the race, but it was a handful and all appeared to be suffering a little, with just finishing clearly being the aim. Again, all I tried to do was maintain rhythm and pace, step-by-step, mile by mile, and the repression of my earlier instincts to run faster made this possible.

Finally, Little Venice arrived, the finish being hidden from view until 20 yards away by a bridge, and all the more wonderful for the surprise. EMIT handed in, confirmed that I’d managed 6:22, and was apparently 22nd overall, the winner having managed sub-5hrs. After that, tea, water, reclaim baggage and stroll to the tube with a couple of other finishers, doubtless smelling a bit ripe, before a quick wash in a pub toilet prior to getting the train back north.

Thoughts? Good event, though even stripping out the fatigue effect, the first half is much nicer running than the second. Well-organised, the pleasant-seeming organisers being ex-military, which is always a plus, and serious runners themselves, with the CPs being spaced sensibly and the cut-offs neither too tight nor too likely to lead to disaster.

Overall, despite this being some distance outside my comfort zone for pace, terrain or distance, I enjoyed this more than I expected. Indeed, I’d even recommend it to Anna, whose way of doing business essentially got me around, next time she wants some long-distance, canal-based fun.

Brass Monkey, York, Sunday, January 13, 2019

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. Endurance Champion Race - click flag for more information. Half Marathon

Jo Robertson

Having only joined Striders towards the back end of 2018 Sunday 13th January marked my first race in the purple and green vest. Not knowing many people and complete with my shiny new Striders hoody I arrived super-early so as not to miss the bus to Brass Monkey 2019.

I’ve never really described myself as a runner, so joining a club was a big deal for me. I’d done some running prior to having my children (a couple of GNRS back in 2013 & 2014 – one of which is best never to be mentioned again and a handful of 10ks) but always seemed to find myself injured.

The last 12 months have been different. Coming back from having William, I have done a lot of running. Significantly slower than I used to try to run, I have learned to love it and this led me to joining Striders and getting up at silly o’clock in October to try and get a place in Brass Monkey. Well okay – I was up anyway with an 11-month-old, but it was still very early! I was keen to have something to aim for over the winter to keep me going out when the nights were dark and cold and so was delighted to get a place.

Having done the GNR 2018 in 2hr10 (including having to stop for the loo!) I knew I would likely go a little faster and the intention was to do my best but to try and relax/not worry about time. I had in mind to work towards the magical sub 2 hour half later in the year after trying to build up some speed and so decided to run the race without looking at my watch and just go by feel. I seem to not be very good at the battle inside my head during a race. I see a fast pace and spend the whole time worrying I’ll blow up – which then of course I do or I see a slow pace and spend the whole time thinking I’m not good enough. Perhaps only recently have I truly realised how much of running is mental strength.

Anyway, Sunday morning was here and the weather was really very warm for January. It was certainly windy but the potential 40mph gusts didn’t worry me too much as this was about enjoying the race no matter what. Brass Monkey is a very well organised race with lovely indoor facilities and a massive Striders contingent. I certainly don’t feel like I don’t know anyone anymore! Having been chatting at the start I met another lady who was also going to run without her watch and although I knew she was quicker than me I thought I could probably stick with her for at least the first few miles, so I wasn’t on my own.

The race itself is fast and flat apart from two tiny hills at the beginning, which they then take, away and double in size in time for people coming back on the return leg. The marshalls are amazing and so supportive. Harriet who I was running with said thank you to everyone and I soon started joining in this, adding to the enjoyment. I knew we had set off pretty quickly as I could see other Striders near me who I know are speedy people but I felt fine and the chat was good so was happy to keep it up for a while. My inner voice started at about mile 3 where I was worried I was holding Harriet up and encouraged her to run on. She, in turn, tried to encourage me to leave her and run on which settled my anxiety for the next few miles. A quick stop for water seemed to settle my breathing too and the next few miles flew-by still feeling strong. I did see the main clock at the halfway point and knew we were going well but didn’t give it any further thought. The second half is always harder anyway, and no matter what time you get in they give you a lovely T-Shirt.

Mile 9 onwards became harder but still manageable. I had no idea what speed we were going but had a sense we must have slowed, as I was still feeling okay. The gap between us and the Striders ladies in front wasn’t growing though, so who knows. By now we were onto a very interesting discussion about veganism so there wasn’t much time to ponder it further.

At about 11.5 miles Harriet fell a couple of meters behind me and encouraged me to go on. I really struggled with this as we had run so far together and I knew that the main reason I was feeling good was that of the support she had given me. I also knew though that I would have wanted her to go on if she could have and that by that point we were both clearly going to finish so I did push on and sped up a little.

It was really hard work now but my training was paying off as I did still have something to give. With just under half a mile to go, I finally decided to look at my watch. I couldn’t believe the time and nearly started crying right there in the street. With the distance left it was looking pretty certain that I’d be under 2 hours. A barrier I never thought I would be able to achieve. Turning into the racecourse and hitting the worst headwind of the day wasn’t enough to stop the joy at this point and I crossed the line in 1:56:57.

Looking at my splits now I can’t believe how strong and consistent we were. I know for a fact I wouldn’t have let myself go that fast if I had been looking at my watch. I’m utterly over the moon with how it went, thoroughly grateful to Harriet and all the other Striders support we got on the way around and maybe, just maybe, have a little more belief in myself. I’m still not calling myself a runner though… 😉

Pos.Finish timeChip timeParticipantCategoryPace
1 Male1:09:441:09:42Adrian Bailes
BIRTLEY AC
5:19 min/mile
1 Female1:14:581:14:57Becky Briggs
CITY OF HULL AC
5:43 min/mile
1401:13:2601:13:24Stephen Jackson(M) V355:36 min/mile
3401:16:1501:16:13Gareth Pritchard(M) V355:49 min/mile
4901:17:2901:17:27Michael Mason(M) V405:54 min/mile
7101:19:2201:19:18Graeme Watt(M) V406:03 min/mile
10001:20:5801:20:54Michael Littlewood(M) V406:10 min/mile
18701:25:0901:25:04Stuart Scott(M) V356:30 min/mile
20101:26:1401:26:07Matthew Archer(M) V356:35 min/mile
22101:26:5801:26:48Barrie Kirtley(M) Open Senior6:38 min/mile
22701:27:0901:26:58Allan Renwick(M) V506:39 min/mile
30001:29:3301:29:20Andrew Hopkins(M) V406:50 min/mile
32201:30:3201:30:20Rory Whaling(M) V456:54 min/mile
38201:33:4901:33:14Juan Corbacho Anton(M) V357:09 min/mile
43501:35:4401:35:20Michael Anderson(M) Open Senior7:18 min/mile
49501:38:1601:37:38Mark Payne(M) V357:30 min/mile
50601:38:2501:37:53Andrew Davies(M) V407:30 min/mile
53001:39:1901:38:57Sarah Davies(F) V507:34 min/mile
53401:39:3601:38:58Natalie Bell(F) Open Senior7:36 min/mile
56101:40:2401:39:49Louise Morton(F) V357:39 min/mile
70101:44:3901:43:39Clare Wood(F) V407:59 min/mile
75201:46:1201:45:29Peter Hart(M) V408:06 min/mile
75301:46:1501:46:15Chris Shearsmith(M) V408:06 min/mile
75401:46:1601:45:32Mark Foster(M) V408:06 min/mile
77401:47:0601:46:07Corrine Whaling(F) V358:10 min/mile
78401:47:1701:46:33Matthew Carr(M) V408:11 min/mile
80201:47:4801:47:03Nick Latham(M) V458:13 min/mile
94001:52:1801:51:42Mick Davis(M) V458:34 min/mile
95301:52:3901:51:40Roz Layton(F) V658:35 min/mile
97401:53:2801:52:21Helen Parker(F) V408:39 min/mile
99701:54:1601:53:15Sue Gardham(F) V408:43 min/mile
106001:56:4001:55:33Trevor Chaytor(M) V558:54 min/mile
109001:57:3901:56:28Anna Seeley(F) V358:58 min/mile
111601:58:2401:56:57Joanne Robertson(F) V359:02 min/mile
112801:58:5201:57:01Louise Barrow(F) V359:04 min/mile
115802:00:1901:59:13Lisa Sample(F) V359:11 min/mile
119102:01:3802:00:11Joanne Patterson(F) V359:17 min/mile
127202:05:5502:05:55Adam Bent(M) V659:36 min/mile
129402:07:1102:06:05Carolyn Galula(F) V459:42 min/mile
130302:07:2702:06:20Wendy Littlewood(F) V409:43 min/mile
132402:08:5902:07:32Rachel Coy(F) V359:50 min/mile
134002:09:4202:09:42Alan Smith(M) V709:54 min/mile
135402:11:0102:09:00Kimberley Wilson(F) Open Senior10:00 min/mile
135602:11:0202:09:02Robin Linton(M) Open Senior10:00 min/mile
153302:33:0402:33:04Sophie Dennis(F) Open Senior11:41 min/mile
153602:35:0902:33:04Catherine Smith(F) V4011:50 min/mile
153702:35:0902:33:04Kerry Barnett(F) V4511:50 min/mile
155002:43:5202:41:56Anne-marie Fisher(F) V3512:30 min/mile

Marcothon Madness, Every day in December, UK & France

Peter Bell

In Ashford kent being chased by a WW1 tank at 5.30 am

After a fairly disastrous Great North Run, I decided I needed to set myself a challenge to keep running over winter thus avoiding the seasonal crawl into a corner with a duvet and a big bar of Cadburys. I set up the thousand miles group with the aim of running 20 miles a week from October 18 to October 19 completing an annual total of 1000 miles. I quickly fell behind as tightened Achilles and 45-year-old knees said no to a 14 mile round trip to riverside park run, I needed something different to cramming miles into the weekend.
As December approached I was still behind on my target mileage. Then onto my facebook page popped «Marcothon ». The December running streak challenge. The simplest of rules, 3 miles a day EVERY day in December.

I’m not sure Marcothon is supposed to be enjoyable. Perhaps just motivating! What is it about us mad runners that we commit to these stupid challenges and don’t want to let down strangers by quitting the challenge early. Now I was no stranger to this. I had completed it 2 years ago, and it’s no mean feat. The cold, the damp the darkness and the myriad of different Christmas events and associated demands of “dad take me here, dad take me there.” The millions of microbes lining up to give you some sort of gruesome winter bug as all around you the family cough sneeze and splutter.

So spurred on by the international hoards of Marcothoners on social media I set off for the dullest runs of my life. 3 boring miles around the estate every day. People call them junk miles but at least I was out!

The pattern continued as I tried to run every street in Newton Hall just to give me another pointless purpose to this madness. I even joined Strava; blown away by many Marcothoners attempts to draw festive patterns as their route map. I only managed a tiny Christmas tree then lost interest.

By the time we reached the 23rd of December both myself and K9 companion Cookie with her associated Barkothon were still in it to win it! But then came a feat of planning as I was off to France for the Festivities with that side of my family. The morning of the 23rd was in a hotel in Kent followed by the ferry. How was I going to fit it all in? I slept in my running kit and at 5:30 am ran through the unfamiliar streets of Ashford even tangling with a World War one tank. Done! Next-stop la belle France.

Whenever I’m in France training is easy. With miles of tree-lined canals and all the time in the day to run, my first five miles took me to my favourite spot. The museum of the French Resistance. I have become over the years an expert in the battles that took place between the exceptionally brave Free French resistance who took on the might of the Nazi army. Led by British trained French SAS soldiers and (Special operations executive) agents they held superior forces in place during the days around D-day to prevent the Nazis from sending their forces to the beaches. Having encountered a tank the day previously I took the opportunity to have a selfie with the Anti-tank gun that sits in the grounds of the museum.

Christmas day was relatively sensible with an 8 am run around the town and back in time to play Santa. At least it was Santa as in France they have the Anti Santa Père Fouettard who only delivers the smacked bums to the naughty children.

The following days consisted of fresh bread, cheese, chocolate and all the things I shouldn’t eat balanced only slightly by around 400 calories per run.
As the final day approached I actually dragged my feet around the canal and associated sites taking as many photos as I could but finally finishing the final 3 miles outside the church in France where 14 years ago I was married. Done! I sprinted home knowing that was it.

If running be the food of love, run on, Give me excess of it that, surfeiting,
the appetite may sicken and so die. That strain again, it had a dying fall.
O, it came o’er my legs like the sweet sound that breathes upon a bank of violets, stealing and giving odour. Enough, no more.
Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
I was knackered!
[ sorry Shakespeare]

Christmas Handicap 2018, Houghall, Durham, Sunday, December 16, 2018

Handicap Course

Pam Kirkup

The Christmas Handicap came within a whisker of being cancelled this year. A few days before the deadline, I had only 6 entrants and quite a few apologies from people who would normally take part but were doing other races or Christmassy things. But then there was a flurry of last-minute entries and on the morning of the race, there were 34 runners, about normal for the last few years.

The theme for fancy dress this year was ‘Movies past and present’ – lots of scope in that, I thought. George Nicholson and David Shipman had agreed to lead off the ‘scratch runners’ so that anybody new to the course would not get lost (more about that later!) and the various turning points and ‘hazards’ were well marked with arrows and tinsel.

And so we were all set to get going at 11.00 … except that the only ‘scratch’ runner hadn’t turned up. So I had to do a quick revision of the handicapping – mostly in my head.

Where’s Allan Seheult when you need him? He’d have done it in a heartbeat! So David (alias Where’s Wally and George (alias Banana Man?) set off with the 3 new scratch runners, followed by Wendy (the Riddler) Littlewood. There were some amazing costumes including Captain America, Crocodile Dundee, a nun, a busy-bee and Conrad who seemed to be a downhill racer!

It was a good day for running – not too cold, sunny and the only bit of ice was on part of the footpath and on the corner at Houghall Lane. Everyone entered into the spirit of it – the bran tub was overflowing and Santa entertained passers-by as usual.

The first across the finish line was Fiona Harrington Hughes in 47 minutes. Fastest male was Bryan Potts in 32:07, the fastest female was Fiona Brennan in 34:56. All 3 juniors got prizes – the fastest being Lewis Littlewood in 41:01. The rest of the prizes were for fancy dress. And then we come to the last across the finish line … we waited but there was no sign. And then someone said ‘Is that not him running down from Shincliffe Bank?’. Completely from the wrong direction! He had just kept going past Houghall Lane in spite of the large arrow and tinsel directing runners to turn right. Obviously ‘in the zone’! Anyway, he saw the funny side of it.

Afterwards, we went to the Court Inn for the Christmas Carvery and the prize giving. Fancy Dress prizes went to (in no particular order) Lizzy Wallace, Conrad White, Mike Bennett, Anna Mason, George Nicholson, Lesley Charman, David Shipman, Wendy Littlewood, Tim Matthews, Lesley Hamill, Karen Byng, Fiona Kinghorn Jones, Joanne Richardson, Sam Renwick, Jonathan Hamill and Fiona Brannan.

Once again it was a very enjoyable and sociable event.

More Photo’s can be found here.

Name5 mile timeHandicapFinish timeActual time
Bryan Potts29.0022.0054.0732.07
Fiona Brannan29.0022.0055.5633.56
Sam Renwick30.0021.0055.2134.21
Terry Robertson35.0016.0051.5935.49
David Holcroft35.0016.0051.5735.57
Lewis Littlewood40.0011.0047.0136.01
Conrad White37.0014.0051.2437.24
Mike Bennett34.0017.0056.4839.38
Lizzie Wallace43.008.0049.4141.41
Anna Mason42.009.0052.0643.06
Tim Matthews42.009.0053.4844.48
Oscar Littlewood40.0011.0056.0345.03
Graham Perry38.0013.0058.4145.41
Fiona Harrington Hughes51.000.0047.0047.00
Lesley Charman43.008.0055.1947.19
Wendy littlewood48.003.0051.1048.10
Joanne Mustard43.008.0059.1251.12
Fiona Kinghorn Jones45.006.0058.1652.16
Karen Byng45.006.0058.1652.16
Lesley Hamill45.006.0058.1652.16
Danielle Glassey46.005.0059.0954.09
David Shipman51.000.0056.4256.42
George Nicholson51.000.0058.0158.01
Joanne Richardson51.000.0058.0158.01
Erin51.000.0059.1259.12

Nine Standards Fell Race, Kirkby Stephen, Tuesday, January 1, 2019

BM 8mile; 549m climb

Nigel Heppell

A straightforward out and back again fell race starting from Kirby Stephen marketplace.
Hosted by Howgill Harriers.

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Unusually warm, dry and sunny conditions meant this was a very runnable race.

See if you can work out where the summit lies on the chart below –

Results

1st J Cox (Eden runners) 00:53:17
62 Geoff Davis (NFR) 1:09:08 1st V60
70 Penny Browell 1:10:17
145 Nigel Heppell 1:22:55
166 Dougie Nisbet 1:29:16
196 finishers

Guisborough Woods, Guisborough, N Yorks, Thursday, December 27, 2018

BS 5.5miles Climb 1234ft

Fiona Brannan

I’ve had a gentle few months in terms of training, an injury picked up in early November, not helped by a fall in the Wooler Marathon (two months later, the bruising is still there and hurting!). Cross-country proved doable, but running in, or walking in the fells was impossible for a few months, as I could go up fine – but not down!

After a rather sedentary week in Somerset for Christmas, and a number of get-togethers and office parties in the weeks before, the short and not horrendously steep Guisborough Woods race was a good way to get back into fell races, if not actually onto the top of any fells. It is a course of 3 laps around the quarry in Guisborough woods, each lap with around 130m of climb and descent – so after the first, you know exactly what you have to do again, and again… In terms of distance, it is close to cross-country, but requires rather more effort – a worthwhile training exercise for both the up and downhills! It might not be the most scenic of fell races – it’s not a bad view, you just see the same one three times – but is a marked, marshalled course with no exposed summits or kit requirements (on the day I did it – in bad weather this would likely change!) so a good options for anyone off work and looking for something to do between Christmas and New Year (there are junior races too). The lapped course may not be the most exciting, but it does mean that no runner is ever far from the start or help if needed. A bumper turnout of around 200 runners showed lots had this idea!

My time off and reduced training definitely showed, I was significantly slower and in more discomfort in the climbs than usual, but made it round all the same being beaten by sometime Strider Danny Lim – that hasn’t happened before! Well done Danny, I’ll need to work harder next time… At least the weather was kind and sunny, and my knee didn’t show any signs of pain on the descent, which meant I was able to claw back some time and places careering down through the mud, nearly taking out a poor man from DFR on one lap (running down steep mud is easy – stopping quickly is not!). Not long after I finished, Mike Bennett ran in, soon followed by Nina, arms out and clearly enjoying flying down the hill for a final time. We lined up along the finish to cheer Jan in, the final of our ladies team (we came 3rd!) as she let us all know that she had managed to stay on her feet this time, no broken bones!

A trundle back to base at the Rugby Club for the prize giving – including winter series winners from last year, the year before, top 3 male and female finishers in this years race, veteran finishers, junior prizes – I kept asking Nina what the current prize was for, eventually we both lost count – Esk Valley are very generous with their prizes! A final shout of ‘anyone who hasn’t got a prize, and thinks they should have – come and see me!’ and time to go home and wash the mud (and in Nina’s case – blood) off our legs and rest up ready for the Captain Cooks NYD race.

Cuddy’s Corse – The Mince Pie Equaliser, Chester-le-Street to Durham , Friday, December 28, 2018

~8 miles Social Run

Jonathan Hamill

Keen to settle their festive excess debt, a dozen or so Striders met at St Mary and St Cuthbert Parish Church in Chester-le-Street, lured by the promise of a challenging, hilly yet rewarding route – Cuddy’s Corse.

I explained at the start how lucky we were not to have to carry the uncorrupted body of Cuthbert, the Patron Saint of the North, like those who went before us. I then suggested we stage a club relay run with a coffin – this received a less than enthusiastic response.

Off we went from the Church, under the A167, following part of the Riverside parkrun route, then across the River Wear towards the field edges and a lovely climb up to Great Lumley. Luck and fair weather were on our side as the conditions were favourable compared to the slip-slide of the last Striders’ run on this route. Having paused at the top to admire the views, we processed on to Finchale Priory and to more familiar ground – HMP Frankland, continuing down to Durham (at this point folk seemed to rejoice in the downhill opportunity).

Following the exact Cuddy’s Corse route, we crossed Framwellgate Bridge and startled shoppers as we climbed Silver Street and up to the Cathedral – job done and well done all!

Corse Map

Corse Leaflet

Tour de Helvellyn: A Tale of Two Spectators, Lake District, Saturday, December 15, 2018

Our route: 17 miles, a few thousand ft of ascent, 3 coffee shops, 30 miles bus travel

Nina Mason

It was Brownies that taught me to always carry emergency money. The 2p piece for the telephone box has now been replaced by my credit card, a crumpled fiver, and my phone….and I was glad of the 40-yr old lesson last Saturday.

I’d heard about the Tour a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that I’d thought it might be achievable for me to complete. I want to enter the race in 2019, giving me time to build up the mileage required, practise navigation, running in the dark etc. Having done an out-and-back recce of the first and last 12 miles of the route, I wanted to recce the ‘loop’ at the end of this ‘stick’, parking at Patterdale and following the course round Helvellyn

And what better day to do it? On the day of the race itself, with Mum for company, at an easy jog/walk pace, experiencing the weather the competitors would get. I’d checked the forecast and we knew it would be a tough day out, so kitted up with everything we needed. We would go in the opposite direction to the runners and hoped to surprise the hardy group of Striders that were competing (Aaron, Elaine, Geoff, Juliet, and Patricia) with chocolate and jelly babies half way up a hill. I’d worked out their approximate split times, aiming to bump into them between their checkpoints 3 and 4, probably on our way up to Sticks Pass.

Well, that was the plan…..

The day started well. Up at 4.30, drive and park up at Patterdale. Then a 7 am start up to Grisedale Tarn. In hindsight, this was the best bit of the day. Despite the freezing temperature and a bit of breeze, we soon got warmed up, jog-walking up the track, head torches on. It was pitch dark when we set off, and the mountains slowly appeared around us as we headed up the hill – a stunning experience that I will never forget.

It was quite breezy at Grisedale Tarn but nothing we couldn’t manage, followed by a very icy (so fairly slow) descent down Raise Beck. The next section – a long forest track by the side of Thirlmere – was straightforward. We stopped briefly for second (maybe third!) breakfast, and I think we were lulled into a false sense of security by the breeze – nothing alarming – being at our backs.

We reached Stanah (the runners’ checkpoint 4) at 11 am. I’d been expecting to see runners coming towards us by now, but there was no-one visible. Maybe they were just on their way…

What happened next justified some of the precautions that we are all told to take when we head up the hills – appropriate clothing, map and compass, spare food…yes, all that of course, it goes without saying. But equally important – an ‘escape route’ and (Brownie) bus fare home.

As we headed up the steep path to Sticks Pass the wind was in our faces. After a couple of hundred metres of ascent, we were struggling. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced wind like it – literally, every step required effort and a pause to rebalance and ‘pin’ ourselves two-footed to the ground. The wind was relentless, and every now and then a stronger gust would mean we had to stand still, leaning into it, preparing to drop to the ground if it knocked us down. Whilst we were just about warm enough in our clothing, the bits of exposed skin around our eyes (the only bit showing between hat, hood, and buff) was freezing, it was so bitterly cold.

So when mum got knocked off her feet the second time by the wind (quite literally blown off her feet) we knew it was time to quit. I’ve only ever bailed out once before – in similar conditions out walking with Leigh when she was young (also in the Lakes). If I had been alone I might have continued, but I always tell Tony I’ll bring Mum home in one piece, and it just suddenly felt too dangerous – so we hunkered down, backs to the wind, and looked at our options. Back down the hill to Stanah first.

We then considered a long jog/walk back to Patterdale via the Old Coach Road and Dockray, but the mileage looked a bit much, particularly as it was starting to rain fairly heavily by now, and the wind would have been in our faces for much of it.

From there then, an easy, though long, finish to the day. Coffee shop then jogged along to Threlkeld, half hour wait; bus to Penrith, over an hour wait and two more coffee shops (pretty cold and sick by this time); bus to Patterdale, and then a drive home in appalling conditions via the A69 (the 66 unsurprisingly being shut). Home at 8 pm desperate for a shower and bed.

I think Mum enjoyed herself – the early start took a bit of convincing, but she agreed it paid off. I think she too will remember the experiences of the day. And – she had the foresight to bring her bus pass! (hmmm, I must ask if she went to Brownies….)

We found out later that the race went ahead, but a shorter route – to CP3 and back. We had missed the runners by about a mile and a half – in my opinion, the wildest, windiest mile and a half in the country that day! Well done to Aaron, Elaine, Geoff, Juliet, and Patricia on the day – we were thinking about you even if you didn’t get the shouts and sweet treats!

After a day like this, I tend to reflect. What did I learn?
I want to experience more darkness and dawns amongst the hills.
I am definitely planning to do the Tour next year.
The life-skills learned at Brownies will remain with me forever (laugh if you want, but we played a game involving the order you wash your dishes, and that also remains with me).
And I obviously have more ballast than mum.

The Montane Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra Run, Ingram Village Hall, Breamish Valley, Northumberland, Saturday, December 1, 2018

55miles, 95% on trail/fell, 9500ft ascent, 24 hour limit

Elaine Bisson

A 55 m ultra run will test all your abilities as both your body and mind are placed under stress in this unforgiving environment.’

The Cheviot Goat takes you to ‘the last wild places in England where population count per square mile is the lowest to be had.’ Well if that doesn’t grab your attention, perhaps read Stuart’s 2017 race report! Last year at this time I’d just finished reading it, it was a scary report, particularly those last few miles, but the sense of the immense challenge and satisfaction remained with me. A month or so later entries opened for the 2018 race and with it, a flurry of messages from Stuart… ‘You’re not chicken, are you?’, was the one that really wound me up (think Marty Mcfly!)

And so it was that I stupidly entered. I regretted it the second later. Anyhow, I had the ‘Bob’ to train for and recover from after, so this was a race that gave me nightmares, which strangely excited me and one that I’d rather not face. I was honestly planning NOT to be on the start line. A little more coercion from Stuart and I was out recceing the route. It’s fine, it was just a training run…one that we’d managed well, taking time to map read and successfully navigate until the last 4-miles, when somehow we’d convinced each other that the compass and map, and all logic, was illogical…but then after 30mins of studying the map and the clearly visible landscape, we’d followed the compass and found our way home.

This worried me enormously but yet again a week later I was out at 8:30 pm on that same hill in the dark with Stuart, Sam and Kim ‘mastering’ the last section so I’d be fine come race day. We’d ‘aced’ it, returning to the car at 2 am to return home and collapse on the sofa only to be woken again at 7 am by the kids prodding me!

This running through bogs in the middle of the night lark sure beat my student partying days!

I invested in new kit, good, warm kit. I spread all of my kit options out on the bedroom floor and weighed each piece then decided between items to pack. My kit bag, come race day, needed more than the minimum. I get cold quickly and, if I were to get injured in this race, I’d need them until I was found… which potentially could be a long time.

I got a few messages, most implying I shouldn’t race. The thought of challenging myself trumped the fear and that strange and wonderful excited/nervous/incredibly excited feeling returned that I hadn’t felt since the Bob.

My worries were:
• Will I get lost… well I’d recceed most of the route, the rest appeared fine (+ GPS packed as the last resort.);
• Will I get hypothermia?…so I packed loads of extra layers;
• Will I die in the dark in Hedgehope bog after my head torch has packed in? (spare head torch battery packed, portable battery charger packed, extra head torch packed with extra batteries!).

And so it was, my bag was packed, picnic packed, waterproof map packed and cut to size (200g saved!), drop bag packed with a change of clothes, trainers, extra food and drink. The downside of all this packing, for every eventuality, meant that my bag weighed a tonne.

Friday night I moved out to the spare room and set my alarm for 3 am, Stuart was to pick me up at 3:45, registration was until 5:30 am. Game time, 6 am.

We travelled up listening to motivation clips. Stuart was on an incredible high; he kept repeating ‘Game Time’ in a crazily giddy way. It cheered me up immensely. We registered in the village hall, my beautifully packed clothes had to be unpacked and checked prior to getting my number.

I started to panic, I always do. I look around and convince myself I don’t belong, that all these fit runners will see through my facade and laugh that I’d even attempt it. Stuart said my nervousness reminded him of me pacing around the Moot Hall before the Bob. ‘Game Time’ he kept repeating until it rung in my head. A few trips to the toilet and some fell running legend spotting (secretary of BGR club, Jasmine Paris, Kim Collinson, Carol Morgan, Tom Hollins…), then we gathered on the start line ready for 6 am. It was pitch black and frosty and who was to stand next to me but Jasmin Paris, the only one dressed in the tiniest of shorts. I chatted briefly to her about running and children before we were off and away.

Stuart kept with me here, I was relieved to finally get started and to follow the tracks, loads of people and head torches lighting the way. It seemed that lots flew past as I stopped to climb a stile (and they jumped the gate). I was worried that we were already at the end of the pack. Stuart reassured me that we weren’t. ‘Look back at the top of the ridge and you’ll see all the lights’…I did and it was so pretty, a string of fairy lights stretching across the dark landscape.

We soon hit a flat track and Stuart sped off; I’d thought I’d kept him in range only to realise the pack I thought was Stuart belonged to another runner. I was slightly disheartened as I enjoy his company; I thought that was the last I’d see of him until the end.

It wasn’t long until the sun started to streak the sky with pink and orange. I’d been enjoying myself; I knew this section of the route. It felt wonderful to start the day running through the landscape knowing most people were wrapped up in their beds. I was looking forward to the challenge, to see if I could get myself around. I turned off my head torch as soon as I could, not long before the second checkpoint, trying to save precious battery for later.
The end of the section we’d recceed came too soon; Nagshead Knowe is where we’d cut through the forest to join the second half on our recce. Strange to think how long it would take to reach the Border Ridge when now it was barely half a mile away.

Now onto the first of the bad bogs up Bloodybush Edge. I’m sure Stuart’s ears must have been burning as I cursed him repeatedly. The fog closed in as we climbed and it was pretty unpleasant up there. Down and up to Cushat Law and I spotted a ponytail. I wondered if this belonged to a man or a woman only to realise it was Carol Morgan (winner of the Spine) along with Shelli Gordon (I reckoned these must be 2nd and 3rd ladies) and low and behold my mate, Stuart!

I tagged onto the group and kept with them for quite some time. It was pretty tough underfoot, either bogs or thick heather without much of a trod anywhere.

We soon dropped down out of the mist and you could see for miles over the rolling fells. The tracks became grassier and easier going. I’d tucked myself nicely into a pack and had 2nd and 3rd ladies in clear sight. I started chatting to another runner, he’d marshalled at the DT series and had run the tour last year, we kept together for quite some time. This ultra running was quite sociable!

I was bursting for a wee and with very little cover I dived behind a rock; this is when Stuart, Carol and Shelli sped off. I’d been complaining about my snack choice (I was obsessing with yogurt…reminiscent of Stuart and his rice pudding!). I was having difficulty swallowing anything else; Stuart kindly left me a yoghurt on the track. I was also dreaming of hot sweet tea (always a bad sign, a sign that I’ve had enough.)

There was a lovely descent down Copper Snout, although the huge black cows made me nervous, especially as we’d been warned that there were mad cows en route that liked to chase people! The descent then changed to a steep grassy ascent onto Shillhope Law. I was running by myself here, navigating was not a problem and soon I was dropping down to the food checkpoint at Barrowburn.

A lovely little stone house welcomed us with a roaring fire, ladies handed us tea and soup and our bags were waiting ready for a quick change and top up of supplies. I’d briefly chatted to Stuart, Shelli and Carol but they’d left perhaps 10 minutes before me. I changed my top half as quickly as possible, talc-ed my feet (and left behind a great pile of talc dust) and changed my trainers. Then, tea in hand, I started out of the door.

I knew about 3-4 miles of tarmac lay ahead. It wound around the River Coquet. There were a few signs on the other side ‘warning danger of death’, ‘do not touch bomb shrapnel it may explode and kill you!’ I kept passing two pairs of runners; they seemed to be supporting each other. Everyone’s thoughts were the same. The hard track reverberated through our bodies; it was tough and boring.

Finally, we headed up to Deel’s Hill. I’d been quite happy navigating around the road. There was absolutely no chance of losing the way, but at the ridgeline, the fog descended and the paths crisscrossed everywhere.

I stopped briefly, pretending to get something out of my bag, but really to sidle myself between the two pairs of runners. I wanted to make sure I didn’t go off track and I didn’t want to use up precious GPS battery power until I really needed it. This did mean my pace slowed.

Finally, I hit the start of the Pennine Way. Happy now that I was on target, I stopped the pair in front just to check with them where I thought I was on the map was actually where I was. In agreement with me, I picked up my speed only to realise one of the pair had been doing exactly the same. He then kept with me, pretty much, all the way to the end. He’d been relying on his GPS, which had failed miserably, so now we were both maps in hand urging each other on. His company was appreciated; he’d started singing and whistling, which in the midst of now sideways rain and really cold biting wind was extremely comforting.

At Lamb Hill Stuart had left a message with the Marshall… ‘I’m sorry’.

I’d asked how much ahead he was, ‘Oh not far. 10 minutes at the most.’ I genuinely thought he was underestimating it to cheer me up.

On up to Windy Gyle and the freezing wind, horrible rain and bog underfoot were really taking its toll. It slowed my pace, which again made me colder. I planned to stop with the marshals, top up my water but more importantly, add on some layers and put my better gloves and hat on. Honestly, I should have stopped before, as, by the time I stopped and switched, even though the marshal had helped as my fingers were now ice cold, I was really feeling cold and was concerned.

As soon as I got moving again I made a concerted effort to pick up my pace and warm myself up. At just the right time, when I was feeling pretty low, through the mist, two men appeared. I was surprised to be greeted by Kevin (Geoff’s friend, who I’d met on JNC recces). It’s funny how these brief meetings can boost your mood.

I continued to push on; worried if I’d slow again I’d really suffer. Thankfully the wind dropped and with the solid paving on this section, my pace increased. The light started to fade on up to the Cheviot.

I knew I wanted to stay without my head torch as long as possible to preserve batteries but I also wanted to get them out before I couldn’t see at all. I bargained with myself that I’d stop at the next checkpoint with the marshals. They came sooner than expected. I stopped and they helped light up my bag. They laughed as I donned my head torch, stuck an extra battery pack in my pocket and then got out my spare head torch. ‘How long are you planning to be out…you’ve only got 11 miles left, you’re on the home straight, you won’t need all of those’.

I’d told them my nightmares of Hedgehope bog in darkness and they continued giggling as I set off towards the summit.

I kept the torch off, as when it was on, the light bounced off the fog and I couldn’t see a thing. I could actually see the stones better in the fading light. A few runners passed me on the out and back, then I saw a light, turned my head to the side so I wasn’t blinded only to hear Stuart’s voice, ‘Elaine?! You legend! Hurry up, the summit’s just there, catch me up and we can do the last bit together!’ I can’t tell you how much that cheered me up, but the summit seemed a long way off.

By the time I got back to the descent, I thought he’d be long gone. I turned on my head torch, now unable to see a thing. However, I was totally disorientated, visibility was so poor; it was at most a few meters. I headed straight for the fence line and was feeling quite scared. I knew the route, I knew I could use the fence as a handrail for the next 4 to 5 miles but I really couldn’t see a thing beyond my feet. Thankfully my companion had waited for me. He knew I’d recceed this section and he had waited to finish it with me.

We made pretty slow progress then hit the bottom. Overexcited, he’d followed another runner who had shot off in the wrong direction towards Langleeford. I’d shouted after him to go back to the fence and thankfully he’d turned back and had kindly stopped again near the horrendous peat hags to help me up the incredibly muddy banks. I can’t tell you enough how wonderful the gesture of someone holding out their hand to haul you out of the bogs feels!

We heard shouting here; I couldn’t make it out at all. But all of a sudden a head torch was facing us and I could hear ‘Elaine I’m waiting for you.’

That was just the thing I needed, my heart lifted and I knew I could finish safely.

The bogs were so saturated I sunk past my knees, far too many times and it was really had to pull against the suction to retrieve my legs again. And so we three became four as another man joined us. We started chatting again and I started feasting on mint cake. Both eased the journey. We even managed to find the lovely bouncy mesh path that we’d stumbled across on one of our recces, saving our legs from the bogs for at least 100m!

Reaching the top of Hedgehope the marshals said the 3rd lady wasn’t far off. I’d really thought they were kidding, a nice way to encourage me.

Descending again we almost went off course…there’s a bit of bog that you naturally head to the right to avoid and if you’re not concentrating you end up heading down the wrong fence line instead of climbing over the stile. We did this on a recce, not far, but enough for us to know immediately our error.

Two lights ahead told us that someone had done just that (from the dot watchers I think it was Shelli). I struggled on the descent, the mist was making visibility really poor and our lights just reflected back on us. We were pretty confident of the route until the crags, trudging through wet and slippy mud and bogs.

On up to the final checkpoint and someone stuck their head out of the tent to welcome us by. Stuart was convinced by now that Shelli was close; he thought we’d passed the man she’d been running with. Anyway, we had more pressing concerns, getting us safely across the last moorland home.

At the crags we’d agreed we would head for the sheepfold then the fence, taking bearings and using our map and compass only. The fence led us straight to the house at Reavelyhill and from there it was easy going. However, between the now 6 of us, we had 3 working GPS units all directing us the same way…odds that all 3 would fail were low so we settled in with this group and slowly we crossed the last moor, on to Reavelyhill.

From the house, it’s an easy run across a grassy path through a gate and up over a stile, across a few farmers fields and onto the road back to Ingram.

Now we were 4 again, urging each other on. I struggled on the road, I’d really had enough but soon there were finish signs. We had to wind back on ourselves and this switch back annoyed me. Stuart was giddy with excitement though and he kept shouting at me to hurry up. He slowed and said, ‘Right let’s get this exactly right so that we cross the finish line together’.

We had our group photo taken, Stuart who had got me into all this boggy madness, Paul who had virtually accompanied me on the final half and another Paul who had joined us at Hedgehope.

It really is wonderful the camaraderie and support from strangers that you receive in these races. I’m proud to have finished 4th; the top three ladies are pretty talented (Jasmin Paris, Carol Morgan and Shelli Gordon).

Into the cafe and a chair was pulled out for me, hot soup and buttered bread brought over. As I happily tucked in Stuart had headed off to another part of the cafe. It was reasonably busy so I thought he’d just sneaked in on another table. After filling my belly I thought I best find him, as he was my taxi home.

Now I won’t divulge the entire story, as I wasn’t party to it, suffice to say I would have been giggling endlessly. I was to find Stuart wrapped in a mountain rescue jacket, a girls scarf, and a blanket with hot water bottles on his feet and hands. His clothes and contents of his bag were strewn all over the place. I do believe from his tale that some of the runners enjoyed quite an unexpected sight amidst their soup and bread! Relieved he was well, we had a few cups of tea and lemonade and we were off home, phoning our spouses to let them know we were in fact still alive and well and would bless them with our company shortly.

So The Goat, it certainly lived up to expectations and that buzz I was missing has certainly returned. Someone said, in the middle of the run, about the law of diminishing returns and how the input becomes ever greater…I believe I may have just started on this path. I am also wondering whether it would be wise to block Stuart from all future correspondence, otherwise, I’ll be on the start line of the Barkley Marathons before too long!

In all seriousness though, it is a well-organised and planned event. However, it should not be attempted as a first ultra and certainly not without good experience on mountains in all weather and self-sufficiency in these wild places. I’d also advise recce-ing the route. A GPS is good as a backup but can’t be relied upon solely. If you did go off track (it is not waymarked until the last 100m) and then got injured, it could be a long time until you were found.

I finished in 13hrs 43 minutes and was relieved to be away from the elements. Some of the runners were out for the full 24 hours! To be out in those conditions, and I know it could have been a lot worse, would not be fun. So … enter with caution.