First running of this FRA category AL race; a 23km/1300m (14.3 miles/4265ft) route taking in the climbs of the northern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors: hosted by Esk Valley Fell Club.
Apparently, this is the only AL (long, and lots of climbs) fell race to be held on the North Yorks Moors (NYM).
Now the NYM are generally regarded as not being particularly high, so how did Esk Valley FC fit in the necessary climb? Simple answer is climb to a peak, drop off the escarpment to the bottom; and repeat; 7 times in all – bit like a fiddler’s elbow, up and down, up and down, up and down…
120 runners turned up for this event on a bright but breezy spring day. Strict kit requirements to usual FRA standards rightly enforced by the organisers, but everything ranging from vest and shorts to full body cover seen out on the hills, especially once at altitude on the moors and exposed to the full force of the wind.
A handful of Striders, Nina, Danny, Robin and Nigel (Jan and Fiona marshalling) attended along with a few faces from familiar running clubs, 3 NFR and a bucket-load of DFR (it’s on their championship race list); a lot of very young and fit types from Durham University AC; and representatives from Scarborough, York, Swaledale, Thirsk, Pudsey, NYM, Middlesborough, Wharfdale, Pickering, Loftus, Leeds, Vegan, Billingham, Darlington, Beverley, Keswick, Totley, Derwent, Driffield, Harrogate, Marske, Wootton, and a certain Mr Fishwick from Chorley.
The start is a sober affair, everyone conscious of the distance lying ahead and wanting to take it easy, on a steady uphill climb, the longest of the day, to summit Round Hill (highest point of NYM), but tempered by the knowledge that there is a 90min cut-off at the top of Cold Moor (3rd climb and living up to its name today) some 6miles away.
As this is a proper fell race there is no defined route and we are free to decide our own way between checkpoints. Some of the CP locations are obvious; summits of Round Hill/Cold Moor/Falconers Seat/ Cock Howe cairn; others are easily visible from above, Toft Hill Scout Hut/Busby stream crossing/Carlton Bank; but CP 8 tucked away out of sight down in Raisdale offers scope for individual route choice off the established tracks.
I elected to go cross-country at this point, taking DFR Denise through the heather with me, and leaving an NFR man to follow the main track. We hopped and jumped through the heather, scrambled down a gully, picked up a nice runnable surface alongside a boundary wall, plodged through a few boggy bits, and arrived at CP 8 from behind; about 10 paces after NFR guy coming in from opposite direction!
I had more success with route choice earlier on, dropping down towards Clay Bank road crossing where I deviated off the Cleveland Way onto a smooth remnant of quarry track, happily overtaking at least 15 others slowly picking their way down the uneven steps and slabs. And again, taking the direct route down a steep overgrown gully onto Busby Moor put me in front of probably the same set of people who had steadily re-overtaken me since Clay Bank but who ran a zig-zag along the obvious track.
My route choice into Scugdale was no good at all; from memory I thought a right fork in the trail would line me up nicely with the Hall (out of sight over the ridgeline) which it did – but I hadn’t factored in the fenced-off quarry/crags that it led to, so a bit of back-tracking had to be done and this is where Denise (who had chosen left fork) got away from me!
The climb out of Scugdale is the last one on the route but it goes on forever. Steep and only walkable at first, you think you are out on to the ridgeline at last but there is still a steady climb of over 100m or so to the last checkpoint at Cock Howe Cairn 2km further on. Run-walk, run-walk; trying to catch those ahead but we are all doing the same; DFR Denise is in sight but I can’t close the gap. Pretty much exhausted and with leaden legs, we are greeted at CP10 by Fiona cheerily hopping about and running up and down the cairn to keep warm; I’m envious of her energy!
At last the downhill run to the finish begins; normally a time to let go, take advantage of gravity and stride out. Not today, the legs just won’t have it; it’s too steep and so it’s a fight all the way. Some small consolation as I manage to pass a couple of equally weary runners on the way down and elect to take the twisty gully track because it feels easier. Slightly surprised as I emerge onto the lane to see I’ve been caught up by another runner taking the direct route down the field so final effort goes into 100m dash through the mud to hold them off, spurred on by Jan’s audible encouragement! 3hrs 40min and near enough 16 miles. Official results coming later.
Huge thanks to Esk Valley FC led by Mike Quinn for organising this and making it look so easy even though we know how much work goes on behind the scenes and how many contribute marshalling/tea making/cake baking without the chance to run. And with a nod in the direction of Dave Parry, once the main prizes have been distributed it’s a case of ‘well we’ve got some bottles left, so if you can think of a reason come forward and claim one’ – of course we’re all too polite to do that, so Danny wins one for entering the race before it is officially open (Nina too, but she already has her age category winnings) and evidently someone has travelled all the way from Texas to claim their bottle of beer!
Having run a few marathons in previous years, 2018 became the year of the Ultra. My other (better) half, Jill, decided that we should run Paris Marathon as a training run for the Dukeries 30 miler, which in turn was a warm-up for the St Cuthberts Way 45 miles.
Upon completing St Cuthberts I found myself looking for another challenge. Did I want to ‘just be’ a marathon runner in future? I decided that since I prefer the challenge of off-road to pounding the miles on tarmac racing, after a time, and having felt I had more to give after Cuthberts, that I’d go for it. The Hardmoors 55.
This year the 55 became the 50 to commemorate 50 years of the Cleveland Way (along which the race is run). The route was shortened (to 54 miles) and an extra trip over the summit of Roseberry Topping added for ‘fun’. To make things even more appealing the route this year ran from north to south meaning the big climbs would be in the first 30 miles. The second half is by no means flat.
I spoke with my friend, fellow Strider and Hardmoors 1000 club member Dave Toth about doing this with me and sticking together throughout, as I had no intention of plodding around the moors alone. Dave agreed, and I knew he would keep me right pace-wise. I have a history of going out far too fast and blowing up!
Roll forward months of training and miles and the day arrived.
At 6 am in Durham I opened the front door of the house to discover heavy snow falling from the skies. ‘Great’, I thought, just what we needed!
We arrived at Guisborough Sea Cadets at just after 7 am. It was a wet and miserable 4 degrees. Storm Hannah had decided she was going to make an appearance bringing with her 50 mph winds and driving rain. This was at a low level, what on earth was in store for us when we hit the tops of the moors I thought. We started the race in full waterproofs and were to need them all day.
A few minutes delay to the start meant that waterproofs were already coming in useful as we assembled outside of the Sea Cadets in Guisborough. At 8:20 (ish) we were off.
With Dave knowing how to pace these things, I was very careful of not getting swept away in the rush, jogging out of the Sea Cadets and up the hill towards the stile where we would go off-road. Over the stile and through the woods was a good place to start just gently running towards the first big climb of the race, the Tees Link, up to High Cliff Nab, where we would join the Cleveland Way. This was the first real challenge. The Tees Link was a bog fest and staying upright was the challenge. At least the woods provided some shelter from the rain.
And then the wind hit…
At High Cliff Nab, already wet and covered in mud we were greeted by Hannah and her 50mph winds. Undeterred we pressed on towards Roseberry Topping with rain coming at us sideways driven by the fierce winds. Climbing up Roseberry was tough, descending for the first time even tougher. The front runners were already flying down Roseberry for the second time as we went up for the first, the wind not seeming to affect them. These guys are machines I thought.
So, up to the summit of Roseberry Topping, down the other side to the marshals who then told us to simply turn back around and ascend Roseberry again before rejoining the Cleveland Way and heading off to Captain Cooks Monument.
At the summit of Roseberry, we were greeted by a familiar face. My better half Jill (who was acting as support crew for the day) had climbed up from the car park at the bottom to provide some much-needed cheer! I’m not sure who was crazier, me for entering this race, or her for going up there to see me for 20 seconds!
The section from towards Captain Cooks Monument and from there into the checkpoint at Kildale is mainly downhill (apart from the climb to the monument itself) which allowed some actual running to be done but by now after a tough start, I could feel my legs hating the constant force that running downhill puts on them.
Kildale to Clay Bank, from what I can remember of it, is mainly just a huge climb up to the top of the moors followed by a long slog across the exposed moorland. We attempted to run parts of this but the wind and horizontal rain were simply making it all seem rather pointless with little progress being made. It was here, somewhere near Bloworth Crossing, we were passed by someone wearing snow goggles. There had been lots of discussion on Facebook about snow goggles in the days before the race, but I hadn’t actually expected to see someone wearing them! Onwards we plodded, power walking and running, or at least attempting to, towards Clay Bank.
At Clay Bank Checkpoint there was Jill again with coffee and a much-needed food resupply.
Onwards we pressed over the ‘Three sisters’ (even though there’s four of them). Climb up, run a little over the top, descend and repeat three times before coming into Lord Stones Country Park.
At Lord Stones, or what I thought was about the halfway point (turned out to be only 22.5 miles), we met Jill and our friends David and Debbie who has driven down to provide some support. I think the support was as much for Jill, spending the day sat driving from place to place and waiting, as it was for us. A quick change of clothes into a fresh dry kit, a food resupply and again we were off, this time up the ‘fourth’ of the ‘Three Sisters’ Carlton Bank and towards the indoor checkpoint at 31 miles in Osmotherley where I knew there was freshly cooked pizza waiting. Well, there was for me anyway. Vegan Dave could have whatever he wanted, I just looked forward to warm pizza!
Leaving Osmotherley we walked to let the food settle in our stomachs, and since it was uphill to Square Corner it would have been silly to run. The rain seemed to have eased by this point and the wind had died down making the conditions much nicer, or at least it would have had it not simply soaked the ground through so much that what would have been solid, was now just pure mud. We did some ‘Ultra Shuffling’ on the downhill bits we found, but mostly it was power walking uphill to see Jill, David and Debbie again at Square Corner. From Square Corner is another big climb up Black Hambleton hill, fortunately, this is a long and steady climb which was actually somewhat of a relief to me following the previous big steep climbs.
Back on the tops of the moors it was head torch time, and although this section was pretty boring with no scenery (it was dark) it did allow quite a bit of running (shuffling) to be done towards High Paradise Farm and the descent into the disco (yes, they had a disco going on with lights and everything!) checkpoint at Sneck Yate. Straight through this checkpoint and onto Sutton Bank Visitor Centre where once again we met with our amazing support crew, took a few minutes to refuel and pressed on to White Horse.
The Hardmoors Run Director Jon doesn’t like to make things easy, and so rather than simply being allowed to head towards the finish at Helmsley from to top of Sutton Bank, he put in an out and back section to the car park at the bottom of the White Horse. Yes, you go from the top to the bottom and back again climbing loads of stairs along the way. It’s like Roseberry all over again. Once you’re back at the top of the White Horse stairs though you know you’re on the home straight with about 9 miles to go.
From the White Horse to Helmsley is almost all downhill, with no significant climbs left to do. Unfortunately, its also on a lot of grass and tracks which had been turned into what can simply be described as a mudfest by the preceding runners. Thanks for that fast lads (and lasses), as if I wasn’t slow enough I now have to slip and slide my way to the finish!
So, it’s muddy, it’s slippy, it’s dark, I have tired legs and Dave is a power walking machine up any hills. I said its mostly downhill, but not all. I chased him up pretty much every climb on the course.
We pressed on knowing that the end was in sight and that we should just make the cut off of 16 hours. Before we started, and in good condition, I had thoughts of being able to do this in around 14 hours. How wrong was I. The end was in sight though and leaving the mud and hills behind we descended into Helmsley where Jill, David and Debbie had walked to the top of the track at the end of the Cleveland way to meet us and see us to the finish.
Solid ground and tarmac was a delightful sight, but this was a Hardmoors event and it wouldn’t be complete without one last hill to the finish at Helmsley Sports Club. It’s really just a gentle incline that normally I wouldn’t think twice about running up, but this was mile 54 and there was no running up any inclines going on!
We had done it. Finishing in a time of 15 Hours 48 minutes. Dave for his 6th (I think) time, me for my first (and last!) time. Jill, being the amazing support that she was had even got our beers for the finish (She’s a keeper) and boy did they taste good.
What have I learnt, and what’s next?
Well, I have learnt that whilst I have the time to go for long runs on a Sunday morning, what I don’t have the time for is all of the other miles. The back to back long runs, the cross-training that is required for an event of this nature. Running 18 miles on Sunday is all well and good, but doing it again on a Monday after a full day at work, now that’s hard!
What’s next? I have the remainder of the Hardmoors 26.2 Half Marathon series to look forward to. The longest ‘Half’ Marathon is around 17 miles which are comfortable and doable on my planned training schedule of a couple of 10k’s, a parkrun and 10 miles/ hm’s on Sundays. During the long-run training, I’d forgotten just how much fun and enjoyable a 10k (or about an hours run) can actually be and I look forward to enjoying my runs again, not being permanently tired, and being able to get out of bed without aching again.
Oh, and I have also promised to return the favour for Dave Toth and accompany him on the St Cuthberts Way 45 miles. Guess those pain-free mornings are just going to have to wait.
Striders on tour this weekend with success across the country!
At the ever popular Dentdale runs, 28 Striders turned out in force to represent the club with some fantastic performances through the field. The men’s team of Michael Littlewood, Matt Archer and Allan Renwick retained the Striders first place title for another year, while Katy Walton won her age category in the 14 mile race. In the 7 mile race, success in the form of one Mark Kearney (sounds familiar, has he won something before…?), storming home to win two minutes ahead of second place. Another win for Jan Young in her age category as well!
Further down south, Stephen Jackson continues his running success with another personal best at the London half marathon; coming home in 71 minutes and 60th overall, despite the high winds! Well done to Striders Karen, Lesley and Rachel who also travelled down; conditions could have been more pleasant but top running all round.
Tonight at 7, as many of you will know – entries for the Blaydon race open, therefore we are postponing the meeting time until 7:30
So, at 7:30 from the Houghall bus stop we have:
Alison will take the 11 min mile group, about 4 miles
Michael will lead a Jon Ayres special, suitable for those who run at 8-10 min miles but nobody left behind. Will include ‘hills, speed and fun’ I am told! Turn up to find out more…
Proving that it’s never too late for a race report.
Below is my account of the Walt Disney World Marathon, which I ran with my daughter, Lucy, in 2016. I’ve transcribed it word for word from my diary and have included some of my illustrations I’d drawn in it, at the time.
It was masses of fun, flat, you get to run through all the parks and their back-lots and then get to spend a week in Disneyland afterwards. What’s not to love and enjoy?
A GREAT BIG tick on the bucket list – can’t recommend it highly enough.
Thursday 7th – Travelling to London Well…we’re off. 20 weeks of training and over 600 miles of running around Durham. This is me. Currently worried about: – getting a cold – missing the flight – flight being delayed – flying – not making the expo in time to get our bib – being ill – not waking up in time on Sunday – needing the toilet during the race – runners belly – not finishing – Lucy’s leg injury – How I’ll meet Lucy at the end.
Met Lucy at Gatwick. Checked into the Sofitel and then did a practice run to the check-in desk for tomorrow.
Friday 8th – Travelling to Orlando Stupid Sofitel! Last night they told us that the phones and lift would be off from 09:00. What they actually omitted to tell us was that there was no flaming electricity in the whole hotel. I got in the shower to wash my hair just as everything went black. I was left with wet hair and no way to dry or straighten it. This is how I arrived at check-in.
Cashed in all my Virgin miles and went Upper Class. What a treat.
Saturday 9th – Expo Day NEVER SLEPT A SINGLE WINK – I’M SO NERVOUS Up stupid early to get our race bib – the next thing on my list of things I’m obsessing about. Got to the bus stop so early that the buses to ESPN, where the expo is, hadn’t started. Despite my reservations, there were no problems at the Expo. Looked around the Expo. Purchased additional T-shirts. One can never have too many commemorative t-shirts.
Lucy lied, she said my official T-shirt was a perfect fit! Went to Epcot to carb-load at Italy. Bed by 7:00. Earplugs jammed in.
Sunday 10th – RACE DAY Woke up at 01:30 am (no surprise). The travel kettle I bought with us for our porridge is rubbish. The change of electricity means it takes 20 mins to boil. Good job I put it on a practice boil last night. Filled it up, switched it on and reset the alarm for 02:00 am. Breakfast:
Out of the room by 03:10. Tied up our hair in red and white polka-dot Minnie mouse ribbon. Bus went directly from our resort to Epcot parking lot, where the race is due to start at 05:30. The timezone difference put us at a massive advantage but I think the people on the bus didn’t like us very much – they were sleeping and we never stopped yapping the entire journey – nerves and excitement.
Walked to the start through the parking lot and security.
So many people, so early in the morning. Had our photo taken and mulled around a while.
Real carnival atmosphere. Lots of trips to the toilet. It’s SO incredibly humid. Sweating profusely. It was about a 10 to 15 min walk to the starting pens from the drop-off. Headed across at 04:00 am.
Yesterday at the Expo we signed up for ‘Live tracking’. The plan is that Michael lets everyone else know our progress through the race.
Lucy and I had a big kiss goodbye at 05:00 am before we split-up to go to our respective corrals. Both got very nervous. I cried when the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ was played.
The crowds were not as chirpy as at UK races. Not very cheery but I suppose the 02:00 am wake-up accounts for that.
We were set off by corral at 2:30 min intervals. I wasn’t expecting that but EVERY corral got a firework display as they set off and a big send-off from Mickey, Dopey, Goofey and Donald.
Each mile of the race was marked by a massive illuminated billboard of a Disney character with the corresponding musical number. Got very emotional at the Beauty and the Beast one. They were playing ‘Be Our Guest’.
Masses of characters all along the race route. Lots of runners were stopping for photos but I ploughed on. The temperature when we set off was 18 degrees but the humidity was totally unbearable.
The 1st mile went by very quickly. I was so worried about setting off too quickly that I ended up doing the first 5 miles stupidly slowly but to be honest, the humidity was so bad at that point, I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish. I was streaming sweat and my heart rate was up at 185bpm.
It started to settle down by the time I approached the Magic Kingdom. As we approached the tunnel to the MK there was a man with massive hands on top the bridge, shouting words of encouragement.
As we approached the MK, the route followed alongside the monorail. As a train passed, it tooted its horn. Runners were literally jumping out of their skin with surprise.
Ran through the MK car park entrance booths, across the MK car park and into the MAGIC KINGDOM and then down Main St. It was utterly amazing. The crowds were huge.
It was still dark and very early but hundreds of people were crammed in, cheering and waving their posters of support. This was my first view of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle since we arrived. It was all still lit up with its sparkly Christmas lights.
Despite having resolved that I wasn’t going to stop, I ended up taking a selfie.
The route passed through Tomorrowland, then by the Seven Dwarfs’ Mine train and back through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle where all the characters from Frozen were waving from the balcony. They even had snow falling from the balcony onto the runners. Wonderful. Headed past Big Thunder Mountain before leaving the park via the back lot. Lots of runners were stopping for pics. Saw the new mechanical dragon, which is part of the parade, all parked up in the back lot.
We then had a boring 6 miles of road, in the dark as we headed to the Animal Kingdom. Lots of characters along the way though; Corpse Bride, Mary Poppins, Mickey, Donald, Goofy and many more.
The sun started to come up and it was light by the time we reached the Animal Kingdom. As we approached they had petting animals by the road. I was disappointed that they didn’t have their proper animals out. They must have been asleep. Patted a Shetland pony, a donkey, a pig, a giant tortoise and a goat.
Ran past the Everest ride which was very funny. It was strange thinking that it was only a year ago since we were trekking the trail to the real Everest. I probably would never have trained for this had we not been there. Ran past the AK’s new Dinoland. Went by quite quickly.
Very disappointed to get overtaken by the 4:30 pacer – I should be doing better than this. Coming out of AK we reached the halfway point. People were perking up considerably at the sight of the sign – no idea why. We’ve still got the same to run again.
Another 5 miles of roads which went by quite quickly. The cambers on the turns in the intersections were mental. Almost running at a 45 deg angle. Very tough on the ankles, knees and legs
(Forgot to mention that en-route there had been numerous uniformed, marching high school bands and cheerleaders. That also made me emotional. Between sweating and crying, I was like a prune)
(NOTE: The banana advice I got from a fellow runner last night was spot on. At 11 miles, my stomach started to cramp and I thought I was going to be in trouble. Just as it happened a banana stop came into view. It was very difficult to eat and run. I looked like a chipmunk with it stored in my cheeks. It killed the cramps almost immediately. It’s obviously potassium that’s doing the trick. Had another one at 17 miles)
At 16.5 miles did a sharp left into ESPN. At this point, there were runners who were ahead of us on the other side of the highway. They were at 21 miles. That was a bit tough to handle.
Entered the gates of ESPN at 17 miles; left 3 miles later having run around EVERY conceivable sports groud known to man. Who knew the Americans played that many sports. Each time you left a sports ground, thinking it was your last, then you entered another one. What a nightmare.
Finally got to the baseball stadium, which I knew was the last one. Mickey Mouse was there and lots more cheering supporters.
At 21 miles we arrived at the only hill on the course (A bank to an intersection- hahaha). The much anticipated Toy Story Green Soldiers did not disappoint. They were barking orders to run faster, dig-in, etc at all the runners. I gritted my teeth and speeded up.
Another 2 miles to Hollywood Studios. At this point, I was doing lots of motivational talking in my head. 22.5 miles was the longest I’d ever run in my training. I had to keep saying to myself that it was only a parkun.
Into Hollywood Studios past the Tower of Terror. Runners were stopping for rides – not me. You could hear people screaming as you ran on through the park.
Onward through Washington Sq gardens and the set of the New York streets with the false perspective. Ran through the Big Movie ride in the dark. Exited via Hollywood Bvd. We then ran around the lake and the Boardwalk.
Entered Epcot just in front of the UK part of the Round the World and then ran around all the countries of the world at Epcot Showcase. I was really biting back the emotional blubbering. More head ‘talking-to’.
It was amazing when Spaceship Earth came into view. My last mile was bizarrely my quickest.
Finished 4 hrs 45 – blubbed my eyes out.
Rang Michael straight away. He told me that Lucy was doing really well so I decided to wait for her rather than go to the hotel as planned.
Got more photo’s together and Lucy posted on Facebook. More donations for our Just Giving page for the Alzheimer’s Society (we made over £3500 at the final count). Back to the hotel.
Both had ice baths which were a life saver. The only problem was that as soon as I got in the bath I discovered that I’d got blisters on my bum; Lucy was similarly scarred.
Once clean and tidy and Savlon-ed up, we headed back to Epcot in our T-shirts and medals to get more photos. It was brilliant. Everyone was congratulating us. Rode the all rides at Epcot. Mexico for dinner.
Back to the hotel and bed at 9:30
WHAT IN UTTERLY AMAZING DAY. EXCEEDED ALL EXPECTATIONS.
The warmth of the village hall was soon forgotten as I headed out the door and into the morning darkness for the start of the Tour de Helvellyn. The weather forecast had been the subject of much debate the previous day on Facebook between the small group of Striders that were due to take part in the race.
. The weather forecast had been the subject of much debate the previous day on Facebook between the small group of Striders that were due to take part in the race.
With Storm Deirdre bringing winds in excess of 60 miles per hour and wind chill down to around minus 10 degrees, the day was certainly looking to be a challenging adventure. Thrown into the mix were freezing rain, a rare occurrence in the UK, and snow for later in the day to further add to the hazards we’d face. The weather brought the dilemma of what kit to start the race in and what to carry in addition. I opted to start out light and add layers as the day went on meaning I’d be carrying a fairly heavy pack.
I arrived at Askham Village hall in good time to register and prepare ahead of the race which I’d decided to start at around 7:30 am. Getting out of the car it was immediate how cold it was going to be and headed straight to the hall to register. Upon entering I happened to notice a small handwritten note which read that the route was to be shortened by around 12 miles, cutting out the loop around Helvellyn due to the weather.
At registration, this was confirmed and although I was slightly disappointed, I was relieved that I wouldn’t be out in the mountains for as long as I’d thought. This also meant I could ditch a small amount of the extra kit I was carrying and lighten up my pack a little. As I did so, Elaine, Geoff and Juliet turned up to register.
Out on the open moor, it was starting to get light as I moved at a steady pace having set off at 7:45 am. The wind was blowing but nowhere near as strong as expected and, despite the initial shock of the cold, I was happy with the number of layers I had on. The first few miles cross Askham Moor are pretty straightforward to navigate. I ran with a girl from Penrith and we chatted as we steadily made our way towards Howtown.
The ground was quite hard underfoot and there was the odd patch of ice but nothing too treacherous. At Howtown there’s a choice of routes you can take to get to the first checkpoint at Martindale Church – either continue straight across the trail and arrive at the back of the church, or cut down past the adventure centre and run up the road to the church. It’s noted that the road is the quicker of the two and is the route I took on my previous running of this race. Today, opted for the trail.
Checking in at Martindale Church, I moved swiftly through to the next section which is a long road run up the valley to the start of Boredale Hause. From here the route climbs to the col which then leads to the village of Patterdale on the other side. The next checkpoint is at Side Farm at the foot of the pass on the edge of Patterdale but you cannot pass through until this opens at 9:30 am so timing your run is vital. This meant that there were a lot of runners on this section as I arrived just after the opening of the checkpoint.
Inside I grabbed a few treats then made off for the next section through Glenridding and up towards our turn around point at Swart Beck Footbridge, just below Sticks Pass. The weather was still ok on this side of the valley but the howl of the wind could be heard and every now and again there’d be a strong gust that would take you by surprise. Still taking my time, I ran into Glenridding and up past the Traveller Rest pub to the Greenside for the start of the steep climb up to Swart Beck. The route climbs steeply here, often the need to use all fours to make progress. It was getting colder and the wind was stronger as I made my way up. For the very short moment I dared lift my head I spotted Elaine making light work of the descent having already been to the checkpoint and turnaround point. The girl is a machine and had passed me somewhere on the route as I knew she’d started after me.
I eventually got to the point where that path levelled off and made my way across to the checkpoint before turning around and making my way back. On the way back I passed Geoff who has been running immensely strong this year and again, I knew had started after me so was making good time. It was now a battle to try and stay ahead of him.
The run back off was taken with caution as the ground was covered in loose rocks. I slipped and pulled a muscle in my left shoulder, nothing serious but was quite painful at the time. Retracing my steps back through Glenridding to Side Farm, I enjoyed the run in the shelter of the valley. I checked in at Side Farm and took a moment to grab a nice hot cup of tea and a biscuit. Rather than wasting time, I set off with my tea (you have to bring your own mug if you want a drink), as I left Geoff came running in, he was closing the gap on me.
I made my way up the steep climb back up to Boredale with my tea which seemed to be retaining its heat a bit too well. The climb was slow and laborious but eventually, I reached the top, stashed my now empty cup and made for the long descent back to Martindale Church. At the foot of the pass, I went to open a farm gate but a gust of wind howled in and trapped me, I had to wait until it eased to get myself free. I ran/walked up the road eventually arriving back at the church. I checked in and decided to head back across the trail rather than take to road route through Howtown.
The wind was picking up and my body temperature was dropping as was my pace. I was feeling really tired all of a sudden and running was becoming difficult. The ground was getting icier heading back to Askham and the tracks were becoming more hazardous. Hopping the tracks and ice was energy sapping and because of this I misjudged a jump and ended up flat on my back. I lay for a bit as I slowly tried to comprehend what I’d just done before trying to get up which was much more difficult than it should have been.
It was now raining but it didn’t seem too heavy. This was freezing rain however and I was now soaked and very cold. With about a mile and a half to go, I decided to just keep moving and get back to the finish as quickly as possible. Eventually, I made it back and was so glad to be warm. Elaine was already relaxing and Geoff was back getting changed. He’d managed to pass my due to route choice at Martindale Church, I’d taken the high road, he’d taken the low.
In all, I’d enjoyed this race but was pretty relieved that it had been shortened – even though it was still a 27-mile race. I made hard work of it as I seem to have with all my races in 2018 but it was a good experience again. The journey home was just as eventfully however as the A66 had been closed meaning a diversion up the M6 and across the A69 was needed to get home.
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
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.
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.
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… 😉
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]
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.