All posts by Anne-Marie Fisher

The Loch Ness Marathon, Sunday, October 6, 2019

Peter Hart

The Highest Point in Scotland

Something was not right!

The first half mile was spent adjusting my new running belt, taking it off, putting it back on then readjusting my new running belt. By the time I was satisfied with it, I was already half a mile in. Something still wasn’t right…

My quads, my quads were burning. Around half a mile downhill and my quads were already burning, that’s not right.

2 miles in and I knew that I was not going to get my target time and that this was going to be hell just to finish, if I finished it all!

Fast forward.

I had finished.

I have given all the money I had on me to my kids so they would just leave me in peace for a moment as I watched other finishers and listen to the announcer talk everyone over the line.

I saw Sarah Fawcett and Aileen Scott pass in quick succession in a time that was well under five hours. I screamed and encouraged them as they passed, both had a steely, unblinking focus on the finish line and completely ignored everything I said, until I accidentally yelled  “Come on Eileen!”

Sorry again Aileen.

As I stood watching the pain and joy on people’s faces as they achieved their marathon dreams, I was brought back to reality with the mind numbing spasms from my legs and the realisation that, shit I’ve just smashed that race, that was the hardest thing that I have ever attempted and I smashed it.

That’s when a big wave of emotion came over me and I shuffled off to find my wife as quickly as I could,( which was horrendously slow, painful and resembled the movement of a drunken new-born giraffe.) I gave her a hug and she could tell that I was a bit emotional and so she told me “Come on Peter, you are milking this now aren’t you, it’s time your manned up a bit!”

Probably half of the field hadn’t even finished the race, yet I’ve been milking this for too long!

In hindsight, a deep tissue massage, (elbows and all) followed by a day sitting in the car travelling is not good marathon prep and will never be repeated.

Why did we travel half way across the UK, so far North of the wall that John Snow would be scared, to run a race that was so clearly not a PB course I hear you say?

My wife and I have talked about this considerably in the last few days and we have come to the conclusion that…

We don’t know!

I think the seed may have been sown by the fact that my fabulous wife was 40 years old on the 8th of January this year and so because of this she decided that she would arrange a trip to coincide with every possible marathon I had my eye on for the rest of 2019!

  1. Berlin marathon – she was in Las Vegas.
  2. Manchester marathon- she was in Dublin.
  3. Liverpool marathon- She ran the half.
  4. London didn’t want me, AGAIN!
  5. Errrr, are there any more?

Etc, etc…

bout 53, Loch Ness? Errrr, why not Anna Seeley says it’s a Pb course! (Whatever Anna!)

I had achieved two good times in 2018 and it was getting infectious. I wanted a sub 3hours 30 minutes Marathon.

Loch Ness it is!

So it was I found myself rummaging around at 5.30am in a dark Airbnb somewhere in Inverness, on a windy and rainy Sunday morning. I had to walk the 1.8 miles to the bus pickup point and be there for 7:15 am. It goes without saying that I was late, so I ran down until I bumped into a bunch of striders making their way along the finish line towards the army of buses.

The Scottish bus armada

I have never seen as many buses in my life. It was like a Scottish bus armada. I pictured some marathon organiser sending out a spirited, Dunkirk-esc message to all Scottish bus companies, stating that we need your buses. However, when you Bring your buses please make sure that you are horrendously early, just so we can leave all of our runners abandoned on the top of a mountain, probably the highest point in Scotland, for one hour 20 minutes before the race starts, in the pissing rain and wind!
They all obeyed, to the minute.

I was quite the Fountain of knowledge on the bus journey as we had taken a cruise around Loch Ness looking for Nessie the day before. Arriving at Scotland’s highest point with the excellent addition of Scotland’s worst weather, there was literally nothing there apart from the start line, about eight portable toilets and three or four small tanks of hot water to make free cups of coffee and tea. The planning of this was exceptional as we had about 80 minutes to wait for the race to start and each queue looks like it would take about 79 minutes until you reach the front…

I had a dilemma at this point, do I go to the queue for the toilet or do I go for the queue for the free hot drink? I didn’t have time to queue for both.

I wisely chose the hot drink and then proceeded to wee in a bush as the announcer kept telling us not to wee in the afore mentioned bushes. If they did not want us to wee in the bushes then they should’ve probably given us more than eight portable toilets for 5000 people!

It was time to get serious and the race was about to start. I split the race down into four sections:

  1. The first 10 miles was substantially downhill. (Apart from the uphill sections!)
  2. Miles 10 to 18 are the nice, flat, easy section. (Apart from the uphill sections!)
  3. Miles 18 to 20 there was a quite decent and protracted Hill section.
  4. Mile 20 to 26.2 was slightly downhill or flat section.

As previously mentioned, I knew in the 2nd mile that I was in trouble and by mile 11 I honestly was ready to give up.

The 10 miles’ downhill section had much more uphill than I had expected and I also had to put more effort in to this section than I expected. By the time I got to the flat section between mile 10 and mile 18 it was game up. Whenever I got a flat bit of road and tried to get up the target pace the burning return to my legs, it was the same whenever I ran uphill. So I had a decision to make.

Give up, jog round or give up!

This decision got me to thinking about my team Hart that consists of my little girl Vesper, (aged 4) my boy Carter (aged 7) and my wonderful, supporting and very long suffering wife Emma. (Aged 40!)

I thought about how they had travelled to the edge of the arctic circle to support me. Then the guilt started…

How dare you think about quitting when your family have travelled 300 miles just to watch you run past for 10 seconds.

How dare you think about slowing down just because it hurts a bit when they have stood in a muddy field for hours just to get a glimpse of their dad running past.

How dare I not give every last bit of effort I have in my body when my wife is currently trying to survive and control my two troubled angels and no doubt be using some sort of Jedi mind tricks to persuade them away from their daily fight to the death!

All of this just to be there for me…

Come on Peter, man up and get this done!

The next couple of hours were a blur of thoughts regarding making my Kids proud, Emma and what she has sacrificed for me, various Striders and how they have helped me, trying to make my Dad proud hahaha that literally can never happen and the 7 months of training that I had endured. All of this while Slim shady or Eminem as he likes to be known was banging out “Lose yourself.”

Oh and not to forget the searing pain in the front of my legs!

The course is very beautiful, but also hard. The road that you run down is closed and so apart from sporadic water and energy gel stops and two villages the course is very, very quiet.

Long story short, I did it!

I was about 6 minutes slower than my Pb and a good 10 minutes off the time that I was aiming for, but I am so proud of myself for not quitting and literally putting every bit of energy I could muster into getting the best time that I possibly could.

My legs were/are absolutely wrecked during and after the race. I could not stand up, sit down, walk, lean, lie down or act in any way shape or form how a normal human would. The kids made fun of me because it looks like I had pooed myself, I got stuck in the bath and couldn’t get out, in short, I was an absolute mess. I laid it all out on the course that day.

After the race I made a new rule.

The distance travelled to a race may equal, but would never be greater than the time taken to run the race.

Doing what I do best

Marathons get you, they really do. I love the emotional and physical rollercoaster ride that is a marathon. It can take over everything, most of your time, all of your energy, your weekends, your evenings, your family time, your conversations or you will wake up on the middle of the night and have to do some more calculations regarding average minute mile pace. It never ends. 

Also, this is the biggest secret of running a marathon.

Anyone that has ever ran a marathon will tell you that it’s not easy to bring up in every conversation you ever have that you’re running a marathon soon. You have to be on top of your game to make sure that you don’t miss an opportunity to slip it into a conversation.

Marathons can take over your life, (just ask my wife!) But there is something magical when you cross the finish line of a marathon. Until you’ve done it you don’t understand, you can’t understand yet and you will never understand, because you haven’t earned it yet.

We went to Loch Ness in search of something, what I found was that I have a deep, burning desire to make my kids and wife proud of me and in the pursuit of that I have found that I can go far beyond what I previously thought was possible.
Who knows what the future holds…

Oh and I found the Loch Ness monster…

It’s at mile 19!

Team Hart

Click here for results

PosRace NoFirst NameLast NameHalf TimeGun TimeChip TimeCategory
11IsaiahKOSGEI
(Metro Aberdeen Running Club)
01:11:1502:29:3102:29:31Mara-M40
66KatieWHITE
(Garscube Harriers)
01:19:0802:42:0402:42:03Mara-FS
4352283PeterHART01:43:0303:40:2403:39:15Mara-M40
1696955AlanSCOTT02:07:3004:29:1704:25:55Mara-M50
1911649CraigWALKER02:06:4604:36:5504:34:09Mara-M60
21181263DebraTHOMPSON02:15:4204:45:1804:41:56Mara-F50
22584009SarahFAWCETT02:17:1004:54:1804:47:02Mara-F50
2394956AileenSCOTT02:16:5904:56:3204:51:52Mara-F40
3033503SophieDENNIS02:25:2705:32:0405:28:48Mara-FS
32713771KarenWILSON02:37:4605:56:1305:51:08Mara-F40

Glencoe Skyline, Glencoe, Scotland, Sunday, September 22, 2019

51km/4750m

Fiona Brannan

Old Military road home

‘And now, time for something completely different!’

I’ve just always wanted to say that.

Glencoe Skyline, the abridged version; I did a not-that-long (by ultra standards!) but somewhat hilly run. I had to pass a vetting process to make it to the start line (climbing, scrambling and mountain running experience)


I averaged almost 20 minutes per mile, or 3 mph. There was nearly 600ft/ mile (>100m/km) of ascent, and a distinct lack of ‘runnable’ terrain, unless you are a mountain goat (I am not). I ate a lot, drank more – mostly from streams (yes, it’s ok, I survived) and finished 6 seconds under 11 hours, 11th/24 ladies, 78th/142 finishers (180 starters).

33 miles, 16,000 ft. (51 km, 4750m), a grade 3 and a grade 2 scramble. Some ‘character building’ moments in the rain and fog. The course may be flagged, but a trail race this is not.

There were outstanding views, lots of rocks and a few bogs. I even saw a spectre! It seems in this instance my good weather dance worked and saved all the rain for this week; for those starting the cross country season – I don’t apologise at all!

Aonach Eagach Pinnacles

And since my original post about this, some ‘frequently asked questions’, answered!

No, it isn’t a knife edge and we weren’t at risk of ‘falling off ‘, however yes, you do require climbing experience.  The climbing is not technically difficult, but you need to be confident on ‘moderate rock climbs’ with no ropes or rock shoes in any conditions.  There are sections where a slip or trip could be serious and you need to be competent here, but more seriously, participants cannot get ‘crag-fast’ (where one becomes too scared to move), which can then become more dangerous for themselves, other participants and those who would need to rescue them.

Curved Ridge

No, there weren’t queues on the scrambling sections (for those ‘in the know’, particularly referring to Curved Ridge), at least where I was in the race there weren’t – but I suspect with only 180 starters and the run over the WHW at the start (not flat) that few people had to wait.  The mountain safety team were very good at ordering people to wait until the top to overtake!  There were after all a further 25 miles to do so…

Yes, it was hard!

Yes, I found something that tired me out.  I even took (nearly) a week off afterwards.

Yes, it was fantastic and I got lucky with the weather, the race taking place towards the end of a period of high pressure (an hour or so of rain, some atmospheric cloud and generally mild).  The views were spectacular, all captured on my internal camera.

Yes, despite some comments of ‘don’t you have any more clothes with you’, I do feel the cold!  But really, it was rather mild.  I put a Buff on at one point (yes, my hat was in my bag!).

No, I might not do it again, I’m not in the habit of doing things twice – but I’ll still be back, and I would absolutely recommend the races (hard sell from someone who thinks £10 is a lot for a fell race!).  The event is well organised and the money is spent where you want it – on mountain safety teams, maps, proper catering… I find racing really quite stressful, but rather enjoy setting out the courses and standing around in the rain annoying participants by ringing cowbells and shouting ‘honestly, only a few more hills to go…’


Click here for results

Penny’s Pedal and Peaks, Lake District, Saturday, September 14, 2019

Penny Browell

Scafell Pike

For a while I’ve had it in my mind that I wanted to do a big challenge – either running or biking or a combination of the two. I love running in the fells and my new passion is my bike, particularly on hilly roads, so the Lakes seemed the place to go. But there didn’t seem to be any obvious event and anyway I fancied devising something myself. However, I didn’t really know where to begin and sadly the idea faded as I embarked on a new job which involved up to 5 hours a day of commuting and less and less time to train. My personal situation also changed and I lost the drive I’d had previously. I kept running and biking but with no kind of direction, no racing and no goals.

Then things changed and I decided I wanted to do something not for myself but for Beat. They’re not a huge charity but one who are doing great work to help people struggling with eating disorders. I had also resigned from my commuter hell and given myself a summer of being unemployed and therefore a few full days to train (when I wasn’t occupied with childcare).

At first I thought I’d do a long run and then a long bike ride but I couldn’t work out any routes that worked. I considered known routes for the run such as the Cumbrian Traverse and then just doing an out and back on the bike but it didn’t feel very natural or neat as a plan. I spoke to Tom about it who suggested a run up the Scafells followed by a ride to Keswick through Hardknott and Wrynose and maybe stopping off at Thirlmere to run up Helvellyn. I quite liked the idea of doing big hills on my feet and big passes on the bike and it felt like a plan was beginning to come together. It just didn’t feel enough. I decided to add on Skiddaw – if I’m doing the three biggest peaks why not add on the fourth? But I still felt like it could be a neater plan. Starting in Wasdale seemed a bit tricky…and wouldn’t it be cool to make it a round beginning and ending in Keswick? When I suggested this Tom seemed to think I was maybe a bit mad – to get from Keswick to Wasdale is a long old ride as you have to go all the way round to the west and it would add on a lot of mileage. But we agreed there was no point in doing it if it wasn’t a challenge…

So the route was planned and the motivation to raise money for Beat was there. As this was a new challenge there were no training plans to follow or even recommendations from friends. So I figured the key things were to get to know the route and also practice mixing riding and running. It seemed to be the right plan. Getting used to the feeling of transitioning from cycling to running took a few goes but I loved being back in the lakes for a few days of hill-climbing. We managed to get a couple of days to recce the bike ride and it was then that I began to worry. After a full day of riding I was aching and ready for my bed – and this was only half of the full ride. The second half of the ride was harder and due to bad weather very slow – getting up and down Hardknott pass is not fun on a bike (or any form of transport) and seeing a car which had failed to make it up in the rain didn’t help. Tom kept telling me this was a massive challenge and I did start to think I might be mad…

I didn’t have much more time to train after this with a holiday to France with the kids and my new job starting soon. But I’d told everyone I was doing it, recruited some amazing folk to support me and set the date so I had to do what I could to prepare myself. Fortunately, the holiday was an active one in a hilly area so I got some hill reps in and some nice sociable bike rides. Then once I started the new job it was time for a good taper…

Right from the start I’d known that my biggest enemy would be the weather. I’m useless when I’m cold and riding a bike with no feeling in your fingers is more than a little dangerous. So I obsessed about the weather forecast for the week leading up to the big day and was amazed to see it was really quite good. And as the day got closer it stayed quite good – unheard of for the lakes! As we drove over on the Friday evening the scenery was absolutely stunning. I had no excuse for failing – the weather was on my side, the team were ready, I had an endless supply of food, drink and clothing. And a lot of people had given their money towards the cause. I’d even invested in a tracker so the team and supporters could see how I was doing. The problem with it being an unknown was I really had no idea how long I would take to do everything. I assumed each section would be a bit slower than when we recce’d but beyond that I wasn’t really sure….

So the morning arrived (or is 4am still the night?) and after a somewhat disturbed night and two bowls of porridge consumed I was ready to go…

Most of the biking was just Tom and me – we had hoped to have road support between the changeovers but sadly our support wasn’t well so it was just the two of us from Keswick along the 45 miles to Wasdale Head. When we started it was still dark and cold. And when I say cold I mean really cold. I knew there was promise of a nice day ahead but it doesn’t help when you feel like you’re in a fridge. Fortunately, (?) we were soon heading up Whinlatter pass which woke and warmed us up a bit but dropping back into the valley it seemed to get colder and colder. I was desperate for the sun to come out and start warming us up… Eventually it did and we both began to feel more human. This section of the bike ride was the only bit with some tricky navigation but other than one point when wishful thinking made us turn a bit early Tom did a grand job leading us in the right direction and at a comfortable pace. It was a beautiful morning and although hilly, the roads were empty and a pleasure to ride along. I started to feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I was doing. Life can be so complex and hard to navigate – having the strength to enjoy our beautiful country in this way is a real blessing. I had just one point of terror when my chain came off. I’ve only had cleats for a few months and poor Tom has had to endure several occasions where I’ve yelped as I toppled over before managing to unclip. This looked like happening again and we had an interesting discussion in crescendo where he said “unclip” and I said “I can’t” repeatedly until eventually I managed to free myself. I must admit I didn’t feel very professional at that point…

I’d assumed this first section would take 4.5 hours but as we cycled along the absolutely beautiful Wastwater in the morning light I was chuffed to see it was around 9am, just 4 hours since we set off. Tom told me to go into the car park first so I could be cheered in but when we got there we couldn’t see any of the team! Nina and Fiona quickly appeared from Nina’s campervan (the star of the day!) and Alex wandered down from the other end of the car park so all was not lost. But unfortunately the combination of a rubbish tracker (it failed from about 20 miles in) and a misjudgement of timings to drive from Keswick to Wasdale, the car with my kit and food was nowhere to be seen. Nina and Fiona calmly established that I could do the Scafells in Nina’s clothes (fortunately she’s pretty mini like me!). I tried not to stress but it felt all wrong – I had my food and my clothes planned and now everything had been thrown into disarray. Tom went off in search of Nick and my kit and after the others had fed me a cup of tea and some food I realised it would all be fine. Then just as I finished putting Nina’s running kit on Nick and Mel appeared with the car!

I quickly changed my shoes and then we set off up Scafell pike. I’d had a longer break than planned but in a lot of ways that was good – I was ready to go and it was fun to chat to Nina, Alex and Fiona. The thing that makes this challenge very different from most Lakeland running challenges (apart from the fact there’s much less running and more cycling!) is that I’d decided the easiest way to do the peaks was up the tourist routes. Scafell pike is a popular hill any day but on a lovely late summer Saturday it was particularly hectic. It was quite a novelty passing people who exclaimed at our speed (which was not actually very fast…) or helping people out who weren’t sure of the way. Whilst the weather was still lovely down in the valley the tops were pretty cloudy so before long we were into murk. But navigation is very straightforward and before long I was touching my first peak of the day. The next bit was the most exciting of the running element of the day. There’s no easy way between Scafell pike and Scafell but between Fiona, Alex and myself we were pretty confident of our route and enjoyed introducing Nina to Lord’s Rake which is a quite exciting scramble. Once you’re up through the gully it’s a short climb up to the top of Scafell. The cloud was pretty thick at this point and it was a little confusing not being able to see where the peak was! After a bit of dithering we agreed where we were going and spotted some rocks which seemed to go uphill so headed up. Second peak done it was a fairly easy descent back to Wasdale. It was good to get out of the clouds and though I’m not a fan of scree it was quite exhilarating “skiing” down it

Lords Rake

Back to Wasdale and we were met by Tom who looked at his watch and asked what we were doing back so soon. The 3-3.5 hours expected for this leg had been an over-estimate and we were down in 2.5. Tom was obviously worried I was going to crash and burn because I’d gone too fast but I assured him I was fine. After a good feed and change back to cycling clothes I was all set for the next leg – the hard(knott) one. Nick was joining us for the first part of this ride and I thought that would mean a nice leisurely chatty pace. To be honest I think that’s what it was but as soon as I got on the bike I started to feel the miles I’d already covered and had a slight mental wobble. I’d still got the big passes to navigate as well as two more big peaks and several hours of Lakeland undulations on the bike. I focused on the beautiful scenery, had a drink and before long was happily pedalling along and enjoying the Tom and Nick banter. After a few miles we passed the pub where we’d stayed on our recce and I marvelled at how much better I felt today than I had the night we’d stopped there for the night.

A few miles from there was the big one… Nick chose to catch a lift as Hardknott approached and after a quick cup of tea it was time to get our heads down and start the climb. If I’m honest I had no intention of cycling it – on the recce I’d had to push almost the entire thing because it was so wet. So once we hit the steep road I jumped off and started pushing and up we went. And up. And up. The steepness lessens about half way up so we managed to cycle a decent section before jumping off again to get to the top. Then the fun bit starts… As I said the recce had been wet and there was no way I was cycling down it in that weather but today was perfect conditions so I decided to give it a go. The sensation when your bike is facing downhill on a 30% gradient and there are tight bends to negotiate is a bizarre one. Somehow I got down but there was a fair bit of cursing whenever we met cars… When I finally got off the brakes in the valley I had the weird sensation that my fingers no longer knew how to bend. All that clinging on to the brakes for dear life seemed to have sent them into permanent cramp.

We tootled along the valley (which was stunning), fingers gradually becoming normal and then inevitably had to start the next big climb up Wrynose. I managed to stay on the bike a bit longer on this one but after about two thirds I had to get off and push again… On the way down I felt a tiny bit more confident but the hands were getting another battering. At one-point Tom passed me and as he said his brakes were about to fail I got a distinct whiff of burning rubber. We stopped and his brakes appeared to be almost on fire. Water sizzled on them and we waited a few minutes for them to cool down. Once we were down into the Langdales I knew we were past the worst and started to feel pretty happy and confident. I could see we were well ahead of time and I rethought my timings and decided my aim should be a midnight finish. The ride to Ambleside seemed to fly by and then we were onto the main road all the way back. Somehow I always have it in my mind that more major roads are easier and flatter. They’re not. This one goes up Dunmail raise and when you’ve been going for 12 hours or more that’s not much fun. I found myself longing to get off and have the relief of climbing Helvellyn!

Eventually we reached Thirlmere and the car park and again Tom told me to ride in first for the cheers. But again we were early so Nina and Adrian were the sole supporters! We realised Geoff and Gibbo (set to do Helvellyn) probably had no idea I was ahead of schedule and with no reception there wasn’t much we could do about it.

I tucked into some much needed food and got changed into running gear and now I had my new target I didn’t really want to wait too long for the guys to arrive. So Nina and I set off on our next little adventure. The route up Helvellyn from Thirlmere is straightforward and it was an absolute pleasure climbing up in the evening light. The views were just stunning and again I was able to enjoy myself rather than worry about what I was doing.  As we admired the view we spotted two familiar figures climbing behind us. We kept going as we could see they were going faster than us but as the wind picked up we decided to shelter behind a rock so Geoff and Gibbo could join us. It turned out they’d arrived just a couple of minutes after we’d set off. As we continued the climb the wind gradually got stronger and it was reminiscent of Elaine’s Bob Graham when Gibbo had been responsible for sheltering her from the wind!

Once we reached the top Nina took a couple of quick windswept photos and we were off back down again. The legs were starting to complain but the wind died down and the sunset was spectacular and it started to feel like I was on the homeward straight. Once down in Thirlmere there was just a short final bike ride into Keswick and Skiddaw to deal with.
Thirlmere changeover was fairly short – it was getting dark and we knew it wasn’t far to ride so we wanted to get going. Riding along quite a busy road in the dark wasn’t the most fun but it was a great feeling to know we were doing the last few miles and I knew I had it in me to finish the job!

Back into Keswick it was great to see the spot where we’d set off about 15 hours earlier… we’d done it – or almost! For the final climb I had the dream team – Nina, Tom, Geoff and Susan. Head torches on we set off chatting and enjoying being the only ones out on the hills at this time. I figured it was likely to be windy since Helvellyn had been pretty bad but as we climbed higher it seemed like this was going to be a different scale of windy. At first Susan tried to shelter me (despite me pointing out there isn’t very much of her to shelter me!). Then we all started to struggle to stay upright and Geoff grabbed hold of me – speaking to each other wasn’t an option through the noise of the wind so we all just clung together as we fought our way up. I’ve never experienced anything like it. If I hadn’t had Geoff and Tom to hold onto I’m fairly sure I would have taken off…

The climb seemed longer than usual (and Skiddaw is always long!) but eventually we were there. Nina loyally tried to get photos on the top whilst we all did our best not to fly off and then we turned round for the final descent. We wanted to move a bit quicker but not being able to hear, see or stand up properly were hindrances… It was a relief to get to normal levels of wind where we could actually speak to each other. My legs were really not that happy now but as it started to drizzle we broke into a jog. I assumed we’d lost loads of time trying to fight the wind to the summit but I was delighted when Tom said it was only 11.30 and I knew the end was in sight.

Finally we made it back to the bottom at 11.45pm and my challenge was done. Over 100 miles and over 17,000 feet done in 18hours and 45 minutes It’s a weird feeling when something like this is over…exhaustion, elation, emotion…it was all there. Tom and I waved everyone off and then had the simple matter of riding back to our holiday home (less than a mile away). I looked at my bike and looked at the road and thought I can’t do this! Challenge done I knew it was time to relax and sleep….

Congratulations to anyone who has read this far – I know it’s a long one but this really was a most amazing and important day for me. The money it raised for Beat far surpassed my expectations and I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who donated. Beyond that there are some people I owe huge thanks to – this was an odd adventure for all of us and you all made it so special. So big thanks to Geoff, Susan, Fiona, Alex, Nick, Mel and Gibbo. Extra big thanks to Nina who was with me for every step on the hills and whose campervan was an absolute lifesaver! Biggest thanks of all to Tom for encouraging and supporting me every step and wheel turn of the way from the very first seed of an idea through the training, all of the organisation and right to the final pedal and peak.

Now what’s next….Bike and Ben Nevis??

Click here to donate to Penny’s fundraising page

Abraham’s Tea Room Round, Keswick, Saturday, September 14, 2019

48km/3657m

Jules Percival

Descent of Causey Pike towards Rowling End

In mid-July an email from Nigel Heppell* entitled “This one’s got your name all over it”, contained a website link to the Abraham’s Tea Room Round. “A tea room? Does that mean there is cake?” I thought wistfully….and clicked to explore further. Fast forward two months, and Nigel’s dangled carrot resulted in probably one of my most enjoyable days on the hills to date, and the reason for this report (both to cement it in my memory banks, and to tempt other folk to give it a try…).

*please note: IT WAS HIS IDEA!

Ok so here goes for the background history bit…The George Fisher store in Keswick was originally the Abraham’s photographic shop, but in 1957 George Fisher turned it into an outdoor equipment store. High up on the top floor, with spectacular views – is Abraham’s Tea Room. The view from the café is beautiful, but often obscured by the weather, so someone has painted the view above the window, and labelled all the fells that you can see on a clear day.

A remark from Alan to Jacob (who work at the store and had clearly been looking at the painting and daydreaming) apparently went along the lines of “Tell ya wat Jacob. Garn round skyline from Tea Room would be a grand day out eh?!”

This inspired the 30 mile route that starts at the front doors of the shop, it’s creation coinciding with George Fisher’s 60th Anniversary – see the George Fisher Blog.

The website states that the tops you need to ‘touch’ are: Catbells, Robinson, High Stile, Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head (AKA Hobgarton), Eel Crag, Sail, Causey Pike, Rowling End and Barrow. You can do them in any order/sequence that you like, and successful completion of the route (photos and submission of a GPX trace as proof) is awarded with a badge, and place on their leader board.

The website states that the tops you need to ‘touch’ are: Catbells, Robinson, High Stile, Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head (AKA Hobgarton), Eel Crag, Sail, Causey Pike, Rowling End and Barrow. You can do them in any order/sequence that you like, and successful completion of the route (photos and submission of a GPX trace as proof) is awarded with a badge, and place on their leader board.

Having had a relatively empty race calendar since my Hadrian Hundred at the end of May and no trips to the Lakes at all this year, I was feeling rather dubious about our chances; not worried about the distance, but rather by the climb…with “12,000ft +” it has over twice the amount as the Tour (de Helvellyn) which I have done a few times and is always a tough one. Was this bonkers?!

Nigel and I vaguely pondered logistics…usually in the pub after club night, and mostly without any resolution (other than continued consumption of pints and soggy thrice-fried chips). When to do it? Clockwise or anti-clockwise? Who could we rope in? Could we run it as a relay? Were we fit enough? Were we mad enough?!

As the weeks went by, summer was fading and it felt like this was a project best saved until the Spring, with better weather, longer daylight hours and more serious recces under our belts. We’d vaguely considered the 23rd September as a possible date, but long term forecasts didn’t look that hopeful, and we had agreed that – after my two previous 100 mile rainstorms – this was NOT going to be a bad weather outing. But then the Met office predicted a strange thing…was this a mini heatwave on its way? Surely not?! I emailed Nigel…. we had a weather window! would he consider an outing sooner than planned…in fact very soon…like, THIS weekend?! Shall we just go and DO IT?!
After roping in another last minute willing victim in the shape of Mike Hughes, at 5.45am on Saturday morning 14th September, we were driving down a deserted motorway bound for the Lakes, not quite sure what the day had in store. We parked in Keswick, made our way to George Fisher’s (slightly eerie walking through empty streets that were usually rammed with tourists) and took the obligatory starter selfie on their doorstep before setting off soon after 8am.

The route starts with a short run out to Portinscale village before heading up and over the top of Catbells. As we made our way up the first climb, the early morning sun was shining, spirits were high and we were all enjoying the distinct lack of tourists – a rare occurrence here! A calm Derwent Water was gleaming below us, and we stopped frequently to savour the views. If it continued like this, it was going to be a cracking day.

Top of Catbells

We descended down into Little Town in the Newlands Valley, trotted past Newlands Church and up the grassy banks of Robinson: familiar territory from leg 1 of the Bob Graham, only difference being this time I was allowed to pause for breath! After another selfie at the summit cairn – all grinning from ear to ear – we descended Robinson using an easier grassy route than the hideous slippery rock scramble down to the road that we had tried on a recce (when I had ended up on my bottom x4 times), this time taking us straight to Gatesgarth and the shores of Buttermere. Well aware of the most difficult section that lay ahead, we enjoyed a quick pie pit stop and psyched ourselves up for heading into virgin territory for the loop on the other side of the Lake.

The climb up High Stile starts innocently enough as the path contours parallel with the water, climbing gradually until you cross a fast flowing gill, but then you clamber up through the crags ..up and up…a relentless quad-burning and calf-popping climb (there was swearing), which wasn’t helped by the increasing strong winds. But the views back over the Lake (and beyond in all directions) were breath-taking, and at one point the three of us just sat down to gaze back into the valley and soak it all in. Knackering, but what better place to be on a Saturday morning?!.

High Stile Summit

After a windy summit photo stop, the only way back down was to tick off Red Pike Summit too (staggering views on the ridge line but avoid Chapel Crags edge), and the descent from here down to Bleaberry Tarn was dismal…sliding/staggering down on loose scree and rocks that smashed at your ankles and sapped the (now waning!) energy from the legs. The route back to Buttermere eventually takes you through Burtness Wood, on a never ending path of rocky steps that –with wobbly legs – was frustratingly impossible to attack with any sort of speed (if you still valued your teeth).

Ah, returning to Buttermere was a relief! All feeling a bit battered, we headed to a cafe to refuel on shortbread and tea (well, it was a tea room round after all!). As we sat savouring our cuppas, my comment of “anyone fancy getting the bus back then?!” was met with unanimous agreement that we were going to crack on. After this we would be committed to be up in the hills for a good few hours, but I think we all felt ok. The thought of coming back and having to do High Stile again if we failed on this attempt was all the motivation I needed to carry on.

It was soon after 4pm when we left Buttermere, the possible rain that had been forecast hadn’t appeared, and in our minds – even though we had hours ahead of us – it felt like we’d broken the back of it. For the first time that day, it dawned on me that we had a good chance of completing the round, and we trotted out of the cafe feeling rejuvenated.
As we headed out of the village up through the woods alongside the river, I grabbed the chance to devour another of my sarnies before I needed both hands for my poles and the climb up Whitless Pike. As we clambered up to the top it got progressively rockier and ridiculously windy (same as last time I was there…coincidence, or bad luck?) and the poles were soon ditched to make sure I had both hands to grab on safely.

Over the top, we took the track to Wandhope and over to pass east of Crag Hill. By now everything felt a lot more isolated & exposed, and the only other faces we saw were the fluffy-cheeked smiles of Herdy sheep that were idly chomping on their early supper, but the terrain was more runnable in parts. Stretching out in front of us to the left was Sand Hill & Hopegill Head behind it, and Grisedale Pike to the right, both of which we had to climb.
The skies (that had been full of high cloud for most of the afternoon) were clearing, and the low sun gave everything an orange glow as we set off to do this out and back. The odd shaped triangular bit of the route on the map didn’t look too daunting compared to what we’d already done. Someone commented “this bit’ll be over in a jiffy”, which of course wasn’t the case.

It was hard going, but again the views from Hopegill Head were a just reward. The ridge route along Hobcarton Crag was, er, bracing! (and another crawl on all fours in parts…just felt safer when my bum was on the floor!) and after a quick selfie stop on top of Grisedale Pike, the pace quickened to get back down asap, and retrace our steps back to the crags, and back to the route that returned to the eastern side of Crag Hill. After a ludicrously steep but relatively short climb up to Eel Crag, we pushed on to Crag Hill summit, and paused. This was the highest point, with spectacular views and beautiful skies in all directions, and the landscape around us was burning in low evening sun. Wondering if I’d ever be lucky enough to experience these kind of views and conditions again, I just stood there and savoured it for a bit.

Shortly afterwards on our way down, we sat in a line on the grass, legs stretching down the hill and resting back on our rucksacks, and just had a breather. It was just before 7pm, and my Garmin said we’d done 25 miles. Only 5 miles to go? Hhmm I was starting to suspect it would be longer, and it wouldn’t be long before we lost the daylight. But the toughest climbs were behind us…for the next few miles it was a case of running along the ridges with gradually decreasing height…it felt like the end was in sight.

We pushed on across to Sail, past the squiggly ‘fix the fells’ giant zig zag path, and along Scar Crags. The increasing wind had become bitterly cold (yet more layers were pulled out of the rucksack), and again going was slow as safety demanded trying to get as much contact with the rock as possible. The side wind on Causey Pike summit was mental…I struggled to stay on my feet, removing my glasses before they were whipped off my face. The sun was just setting behind us as we descended down, creating orange and pink clouds ahead of us and rich inky shadows down to our left in Rigg Beck Valley.

The out and back run from Causey Pike to Rowling End was memorable due to the attentions of an extremely stubborn and persistent grouse*. Not content with bursting out of the undergrowth around us every few minutes, flapping about our heads and generally making a horrendous din, it manoeuvred itself on the path in front of Nigel and became our little bobbing front runner! This somehow seemed even funnier on the return journey. But even so we were glad to be rid of it when we turned to drop down into Stoneycroft Ghyll.

* it turns out the grouse had almost celebratory status on the ATR facebook group. George Fisher commented “we actually decided you needed a bit more of a challenge so have been training “attack grouse” to help keep your times competitive”. On a more serious note, they realised that it was probably protecting a next somewhere and have asked folk to be considerate.

By now it was almost completely dark, and I could just make out Nigel and Mike’s silhouette’s as they headed down into the valley through the heather ahead of me. Even in daylight, there is no visible path or trod…. it’s a case of spotting the path up (eventually bearing right, up to Barrow) on the opposite side of the valley, heading in that general direction and hoping that you can cross the beck when you get to the bottom. It was a long slog down, but thanks to Nigel’s lead, we found the path, crossed the beck, and paused to put on head torches before we climbed up again…the LAST ascent…and not before time.

We climbed up in silence, tired but determined, the world around me confined to the small pool of light from my torch, with spiders, toads and other wriggly wildlife things scuttling out of sight. At Barrow summit we stood and looked down at the twinkly lights of Braithwaite and Keswick. The three of us let out an audible sigh of relief…we weren’t home yet, but it was all downhill from here.

The inky black route down to Little Braithwaite seemed blanketed in calm after the earlier windy heights. We let gravity tug us down over the gently descending grassy banks and every now and then spotted the little flicker of a glowing insect (beetle?) flashing up from around our feet. Once down on the road, for the final couple of km (that dragged!) we followed the signs to Portinscale and Ullock and the feeling of nearing civilization grew as the houses became more frequent, until we found ourselves back on the same path leading back into Keswick, and walked through town back up to the market square.  We got some odd looks from Saturday night revellers who were spilling in and out of the pubs around 10pm, and looking at the selfie we took when we reached the doors of George Fisher, I’m not surprised!! We looked somewhat more bedraggled and weather beaten than we had at the outset, but the big smiles were still there. We had done it!!

At the end, Mike had muttered something under his breath about “never opening an email from Jules again”…!…but over the few days that followed there was swapping of photos and stats. 32.89 miles; 14:01 hrs; 14,603ft ascent: 7hr15m going up: 5hr43m going down; and 1hr05m flat time. After emailing our gpx proof to George Fisher, a reply informed us that we had been added to the Leader Board of Glory and would also receive some spoils in the form of Badges of Honour, and…wait for it…. free tea and cake in the café next time we are there!

Next time I am there? Will I be in Keswick to just to sit in the café, or will it be to try this again? There is no doubt we could have done it quicker (skipping the food shops/food stops/sit downs/café visits/grouse chasing episodes), but would I want to? I’m not so sure… the day was pretty near perfect as it was.

But one thing is certain…next time I am in Keswick for whatever reason, there WILL be cake.

Well earned cuppa

Coxhoe Trail Race, Sunday, September 22, 2019

10km

Simon Graham

Courtesy of Kev Morson

I can’t remember the last time I entered a 10K race. Sure, I run 10k’s as training runs, but they are normally at a nice comfortable pace. I made the decision after my last Ultra to give up on distance for a while and just focus on getting my love for running back with some shorter stuff with my ‘Long runs’ being around 10 miles unless I was at an event.

The Coxhoe Trail 10k was just a random event that I knew would see a good Strider turnout. It was local, cheap (£10), and had a nice t-shirt. It was the T-Shirt that sold it for me.

Registration was quick and easy at the Active Life Centre (formerly the Leisure Centre) in Coxhoe itself collecting race number and event t-shirt. It is then a miles walk uphill to the actual race start location. This worked quite well as a bit of a warm up.

At the start area a huge strider contingent amassed and led by Captain Michael a number of us headed out for an out and back warm up. It was at this point I was starting to feel like the odd one out. I had chosen, as I always do, to wear my striders t-shirt and not club vest. everyone else was of course in their vests. Since I don’t like wearing a vest I’d just have to be ‘unique’. Back from the warm up and now assembled on the start line we were ready to go, though I soon realised that I was far to near the front of the pack.

The 10k route spends a lot of its first mile running downhill, and starting to near the front, I of course got swept up in the initial stampede.

Running a 7:30 minute mile downhill is all good and well if you can sustain it onto the flat, I, in my current shape (round), cannot. For long anyway.

As more and more sensible runners passed me having already reached their appropriate cruising velocities I reluctantly eventually reached mine. This was after thinking about a mile in that I was on course for a 10k PB on the flat, never mind off road. Reality soon kicked in and forced me to slow to the far more comfortable 8:30ish pace on the flat.

After the initial downhill sprint (and delusions of grandeur) the Coxhoe Trail 10k course is actually really nice. It’s an out and back loop course, so head out along the flat trails, which I assume are a former railway line, drop down, and then at around 2.5ish miles start a long steady climb up to Quarrington Hill. Several runners were struggling on this climb, but I felt strong. Anyone who has ever ran a Hardmoors event would probably only consider it a minor blip on an otherwise flat section, but to those who haven’t I can understand why it was a struggle.

As said, this is an out and back with a loop, and what goes up must again come down. As I approached the summit of the climb I passed fellow Striders Ian Jobling and Lesley Charman, who obviously weren’t loving the climb as much as I. They both caught up with me as we descended, and Lesley kept with me for the majority of the rest of the race, though I kept both of them in my sights.

Down the hill, back along the flat former railway line (please someone tell me if I’m wrong) and back up the hill which I flew down at the start. Going up the hill, I again felt strong, perhaps because my delusions of grandeur had long since passed and a PB was now just a passing memory. As I eased my way up through the field I was about to pass Lesley when she suddenly let out a huge scream and pulled up in pain. Concerned I stopped to make sure she was ok, she assured me she was so I pressed on with Ian Jobling now in my sights.

I passed Ian, again on the final hill, and noticed Anna Mason was just ahead, she too looked to be struggling on the hill, and as we approached the top I shouted some words of encouragement to her “Don’t get beaten by a fat lad”. I suspect it didn’t work since I didn’t see her again.

Slightly cruel, but to finish this race you actually have to almost run past the finish and into the woods for a final loop, I did this and entered the finish field to see the Strider finish staff doing their jobs admirably.

Ok, so lessons learnt; Hills for strength, Track for speed. Guess where I’ll be headed alternate weeks on Wednesdays, even though I dislike track (sorry Allan). 
I really enjoyed this race, even though I’m not used to ‘racing’ and would recommend it to anyone.
Special Congratulations to Gareth Pritchard for 1st male and Emma Thompson for 1st Female, and to all the other Striders for some great efforts.

Click here for results

Great North Run, Newcastle upon Tyne, Sunday, September 8, 2019

13.1m

Kirsty Nelson

Ok so how do I start my first race report? What do I put into it? Who will read it? My god the questions that went around my head at mile 18 at my first marathon in York, me writing my race report is what got me through the next 8 miles, but this isn’t that report. I never wrote it, don’t know why. Fast-forward 7 months my 2nd marathon running Windermere with my strider girls, a completely different experience, but still no report, I don’t know why. Fast-forward 4 months my first ultra-marathon, do I write about this new-found enjoyment of Hell?  …no because I still have nightmares. Fast-forward a week it’s the GNR, it’s my 5th time I know the route. Most of us do. We’ve either ran, supported, or volunteered at it. So why this one, why do I feel the need to write about this one, even write about my 5th GNR in fact. Because this wasn’t my run this was David’s.

I met David in June when I became his guide runner, David is visually impaired blind in his left eye, visually impaired in his right only seeing shapes (but not branches he hits a lot of branches, he’s quite tall and I forget to say duck!) Anyway I digress, David and I have been running together since July, not much time to train, he doesn’t like speed work, and he doesn’t like hill reps. So basically, we just went out together he would decide a route I would follow. I would tell him when there was change of surface, heights, obstructions, roads, dogs, pedestrians (they are often the worst, quite funny though either literally jumping out of your way with an embarrassed look or totally not caring that you are running tethered to a 6ft blind guy and it’s you veering off course. Sometimes I would be chatting that much that when I needed to let him know of a change, my brain would not kick in, in time and I’d often say a completely wrong word for what was coming. Any way he somehow trusted me to be his guide runner for the GNR.

8th September 2019

The day starts early, I pick David up at 6.45 to be on the bus at County hall for 7, sorry Mark but that walk to the Lookout pub was too much to bear for David after 13.1 miles. We find ourselves on the start line at 9.45, our time for leaving was 10.16(Very precise), we are at the very start I can’t believe it. Usually I’m way back in the masses I can’t even see the start line. We chatted to other Blind, VI runners and their guide runners, a couple of guys in wheelchairs, (not allowed with the elite racers not the right chairs.). well I had to ask! I asked for advice from other guides and their runners, and asked David what he wanted from the day… his reply Just to Finish… fair enough I said. Seconds later the gun went off, I honestly jumped out my skin, it was so loud. The elite woman were off, then the wheelchairs, or the other way round I can’t remember I was too excited and I was trying to stay calm for David.

Then it was our turn, there was about 20 runners and their partners around us, I knew from our training runs it was going to be a steady pace, but that was fine this wasn’t my run. The gun goes again, and we’re off. Strange feeling being at the front, the road is all you can see not masses of bobbing heads and back signs that make you cry, no fancy dress to laugh at. We soon lost sight (no pun) of the other runners and the road was literally ours, “oh my god David Mo Farah is warming up in front of us! Hey MO, see you in 40 mins” … no reply… I suppose he was in the zone. We carry on for another 100 metres and a few other elites were warming up, one clapped as we trotted past, “have a good day” he said. The first mile was bizarre no one around us except some supporters clapping and cheering David, it was like a scene from 28 Days Later at some points, we could have literally done anything, no cars, no people, a deathly silence apart from me wittering on about how weird it was, and how I needed to wee!

So we are approaching the underpass that leads to the bridge I explain to David about the people on the bridges etc., there’s not much surface changes to let him know about no kerbs to watch and at this point certainly no runners. As we start coming up to the Tyne Bridge I say to David “are you ready?” “ready for what?”, “this I say”. The roar of the crowd was so overwhelming, so loud, clapping, shouting whooping, David’s name being shouted over and over, I couldn’t help smiling from ear to ear, I looked at David and he was smiling back, the crowd was amazing all cheering for us lonely goats on the bridge, never will that moment be erased from our memories. Incredible, no words, we feel like how an elite runner must feel, but obviously not in the same head zone, they go so fast they must only hear one syllable and one clap.

Well we only had a quick wave and shout from Heather and Ian before we found out, a marshal was telling us to stay right, the front runners were on their way. I looked over my shoulder and said David its time, up went the arms and we tried to do a MO sign as he went past. It kinda worked, well no sooner were they past us then the first purple vest went past belonging to Steve Jackson, my god that guy moves quick! He was so quick I couldn’t even get his name out to cheer him on, then another purple vest then another one with a yellow hat! Well I knew that was Michael. Then a cool breeze came from behind as more and more runners came whipping past, quite a few shouting well done to David, he was so laid back just lifted his hand like the queen.

Mile 2 and the road belonged to the masses now, my real job was about to start. From mile 2 to 6 was pretty much the same a steady pace that David felt comfortable with and no stopping, I told him he can stop when he’s dead…Not the best thing to say perhaps but he laughed, the support continued throughout, runners clapping David on the back with “Well done David, park runs are working for you David, keep going, riverside parkrun well done, go on Big Lad”, if I had a £ for every well done we would have been buying a pint for the whole of striders. I’ve never felt so much appreciation, admiration and support for 1 person ever. I kept telling him, that’s for you, how does that make you feel? Brilliant he replied. I felt brilliant for him, we danced as we passed bands. We soaked up the atmosphere and we enjoyed ourselves, we mooched along as others panted by, me on so many other occasions! We walked through the middle of water stations to avoid the caps and bottles, in the end instead of saying bottle and trying to avoid them, I would just say kick! He managed 20 kicks and 5 misses! Not bad for a Vi runner…

We get to mile 8 and David is starting to feel the emotions of the day, we slow to a walking pace as we come across a band playing heavy metal, after a minute of head banging which ended up with David’s bottle being launched into the air and landing several feet away. Forgetting that I’m tethered to David, I went to retrieve it with him being dragged along… oops rookie error. We carried on, along the way we saw other striders who shouted encouragement. Happily mooching along from mile 8 to mile 12, my day was easy apart from bottles and timing mats, it was more describing people around us, the costumes, the people who lined the streets, than many obstructions, and luckily no branches. I soaked up the atmosphere the support and didn’t look at my watch once. I didn’t need to know my pace we weren’t out to win.

I see the sea, but we’ve still got a long way to go, David is tired. The crowds are still shouting his name. We hit the 400 metre mark and I ask “are you ready?”, David nodded and that was it, we started up again, nearly there I promise, he felt the change from tarmac to grass, and he started to slow, no 10 more meters …crossing the line was the most emotional thing ever. He cried I, cried, the Marshall cried, we all hugged…..I smugly smiled that he didn’t fall over at any time! We went to collect our medal I was looking for a strider, I found Wendy and I was so happy to be with David to see him receive the well-deserved medal. Unfortunately, David took a bad turn when we finished and needed a medic, after a sit down, some Lucozade we were off we had 15 minutes to get to coach. At this point I wasn’t taking no for an answer we were ducking and diving the crowds, David remained quiet.

Safely on the coach I ask David if he fancies doing it again ,” possibly /probably,” he tells me he wants to run the Kielder marathon, I reply “are you joking it’s really hilly”, “yeah but the scenery is beautiful” he replies with a wicked grin on his face, he then offers to drive the bus home. He’s feeling better.
I get home at 6pm exhausted but elated, it was David’s 3rd GNR and my 5th and it has to be without a doubt my proudest must fulfilling GNR to date.

Click here for results

Derek Price Memorial Grisedale Horseshoe, Glenridding, Lake District, Saturday, September 7, 2019

AM/16km/9.9m

Nina Mason

Image courtesy of Joseph Twigg

A fabulous, warm, sunny day greeted the runners of this year’s Grisedale Horseshoe.  This year it was one of the English Championship counters, with some of the best fell runners in the country taking part. Start and finish in Glenridding, at the parish hall, where my timing dibber was expertly attached to my wrist at registration; after a thorough kit check and receipt of a free buff at the playing school fields in Patterdale.

I had no goals other than to get round as quickly as I could. I think due to the number of runners the ladies were started 10 minutes before the men. We set off along the footpath through Gillside campsite, where I had camped the night before. Knowing what was ahead, I didn’t look at the van sat there in the sunshine.

It was a bit of a slog up the tourist path to the wall, and to Hole-in-the-wall (where the men started to catch me). From there it was focus on running as hard as I could towards Red Tarn, and then a hands-on-knees, heart-pounding, breathless ascent straight up the grass to cp1, Catstycam.

My legs felt ludicrously wobbly as I clambered over the rocks of Swirral Edge to cp2. A change of gear to run as hard as possible across Helvellyn, and over the undulating but generally-downhill terrain past Dollywaggon Pike, to the first serious descent to Grisedale Tarn.

The men setting off after worked well for me – when I could hear them coming to pass me I worked hard to stay in front; when the faster guys did (inevitably) pass me I worked hard to stay with them as long as I could. The steep ups and downs created a more level (see what I did there?) playing field for the men and women, with individual strengths showing.

From the tarn it felt like a long jog/walk up St Sunday Crag and cp4 – my legs starting to feel the climbs. I took a moment to look up (when I could take my eyes off the ground in front) – the views were amazing in every direction, a fantastic day to be up the hills.

But then no time to look, as the descent down Blind Cove to the barn (cp5) near Grisedale Beck was crazily steep. Sliding down the gully (sometimes on my bum) and then running down steep grass. I fell here, I thought quite stylishly. I did a shoulder-butt-360 roll and ended up on my feet, slightly dazed but actually feeling that I had bounced off the soft ground. Thank goodness I had missed the boulders strewn about. I got a few ‘are you oks?’ from other runners, obviously replying with a very confident (but not really felt) ‘yes, I’m great thanks!’.

Barn, cp5. Through the beck, delightfully fresh and cool and only shin height. Forcing myself to run along the valley footpath, knowing what is coming and not daring to look up to the left.

Other Striders have written reports about this race, and I think all sum up, in different ways, how this last climb feels. I keep a running diary, with races (and distances and climbs) written in the back. Part of my prep, as well as recceing, is looking at the feet of climb per mile. Of course terrain and weather etc. make every race different, but I like the climb/distance comparison – for me it usually holds true for pace and how much a race hurts.

This race has the most feet/mile of all the races I’ve attempted so far. This last climb looks small on the map. A few hundred metres. The contours look fairly close, but how hard could it be? After the 8 miles or so just completed in the race, it was…..well, polite words don’t sum it up.

So, left turn. Straight up the bank to cp6, up at the wall. My legs were screaming ‘stop, stop moving’. Breathing was ok and I managed to get a couple of jelly babies down. I took to all-fours – glancing up now and then to make sure I was still going in the right general direction, staring at the grass in front, unable to think, as it would have just been ‘stop’, as I hauled myself up with handfuls of grass, trying to take the burden off my legs. It felt very slow. Torturous. I was feeling every hill and mile that I have never trained, and now regret. I think the only thing that was ok was that everyone around was struggling too – not that I wanted them to be in pain, but if they had all looked ok and waltzed up I would have laid down and cried.

And then….the top. A dead rotten sheep. Marshalls telling me to dib, and to climb the wall. Pointing me in the general direction I needed to go as I saw a vest disappear over the edge of the hill. I obviously looked out of it. Wobbly over the wall stile. And then like a switch has been flicked, glorious downhill – some wonderfully boggy, kind on the feet and with really good grip. My legs suddenly feeling ok again. Focussed, running hard. Back on the tourist path we had ascended a couple of hours before, run past the campsite (no looking at the van now!) and back to the hall.

This one was tough (that final climb was unforgettable, and everyone talked about it as we were eating cake at the hall). A great turn out and we were very lucky with fantastic weather. Well organised and great support from the marshals. I loved all of it, even the painful bits. I got my food right (two gels and some jellies). I didn’t carry water knowing I could drink from streams all the way round (which I did, copiously, without any ill effects).

The sharp end, given the field, was sharp, and very impressive. Those that were out longer had a great day for it. I was very happy with my mid-pack position and time.

Sitting in the sunshine in the afternoon now, showered and happy, glass of cider, by the van (cracking campsite btw). Looking at the hills we had conquered.  Feeling tired and very happy.

Please click here for results

Durham City Run Festival, Thursday, July 25, 2019

Joanne Patterson

Courtesy of Events of the North

This is one of my favourite races of the year. I am so very proud to be from this beautiful city and to be able to part of the atmosphere this night always brings, is pretty amazing.

I first entered the Durham City Run 5k in 2016, before I joined Striders. I had recently become a part of the running community via Durham parkrun, and when this race was advertised, I knew I wanted to do it.  I actually joined Striders in the time between entering and the actual race and so was lucky enough to be wearing purple on the day. It was the first time the event had happened, and so of course there were teething problems. A mass start of all the 5 and 10k runners and lots of narrow riverside paths made for a frustrating race for everyone.  The organisers asked for feedback following the race and it appeared they had listened to it for the 2017 event. This time, the start was staggered (I think – it’s hard to recall last night let alone 2 years ago) and the route was changed. They changed the route again in 2018 but this time it worked a lot better – staggered start times, different starting place for the 5ks and the 10ks and a different route which resolved some of the crowding (well it did at my position anyway, I can’t speak for the fast 10k runners).  I think the only thing missing, would be a separate finish funnel for the 5 and the 10. Other than that, I think they had finally got it right. There is support on every corner and the atmosphere is just something else.

I entered the 2019 race purely because I had ran every one since the beginning, and I am a sucker for any race where you get a medal AND a t-shirt.  I haven’t been running well recently due to some medical problems that are still being investigated and treated – some days it feels as if my body has given up on me – I knew there was absolutely no chance of a course PB and part of me was dreading it.  I always choose to run the 5k because I love being on Palace Green when the 10k Striders are finishing – this is what it’s about for me. The 2017 & 2018 races saw me finish just in time to grab a drink, my medal and a spot at the top of the hill to see Stephen Jackson take the win. 

So, for the first time since 2016 the route was the same, we all knew where we were going, which hills we needed to tackle, separate starts – all good.  Well it was, until a burst water main caused absolute chaos. We learned only a day or two before the race that the route would have to change because the road closures needed, couldn’t be kept in place because of the required diversion of traffic.  We were given maps of the new routes which looked a bit bizarre and I don’t think anybody could quite envisage what the new race would look like. Add to that we would all be starting at the same time, in the same place, covering the same initial 5k together.  Oh and it was the hottest day of the year.
Based on the weather alone, I had no intention of doing anything other than getting to the finish line and getting that medal, which is lucky because it was carnage.  When the race started, there were still people trying to get into the starting area. Immediate bottlenecks which caused literal standstills – this went on probably for the first 2k. The route was bizarre, but it was nowhere near as bad as the poor 10k runners had it (I did not envy you that horrific climb from the riverside up to Palace Green!). The worst part of this race (in my opinion) is the climb up Providence Row (and knowing you get about 10 seconds recovery before you climb up to Palace Green). I could feel my brain telling me to walk it, but I knew I would be so disappointed if I did, because I had managed to run up it last year!  Then I heard a familiar voice telling everyone “it’s not a hill – just don’t look up, it’s flat.  But don’t look at your feet or you will fall over”.  It was Ben Smith (of the 401 marathon challenge).  I’ve met Ben a few times at various events, but I’d never had the honour of running with him.  He could see I was struggling – he put his hand out and said “come on, give me your hand, we can get up this together”.  And we did.  He gave me a quick hug at the top, and then off he went to continue the 10k.  I knew I was almost at the finish. Just that lovely climb up to Palace Green left. Seeing Wendy Littlewood waiting at the corner where it gets particularly hard, I’m sure she said “Come on Joanne, you aren’t really dying, it just feels like it”.  Shouts up that hill from some former Striders and the lovely Anji Andrews (Gateshead Harriers and Events of the North) who told me I was looking sexy (which of course I was) got me to the finish line. 3 minutes slower than 2018, and my slowest 5k race ever but I didn’t care.  It was so hot and I had been sensible – now I got to do the best bit – watch for all my amazing club mates running to that beautiful finish line.


For anyone who was doing this for the first time please don’t think it is always like this.  It’s not. It is normally wonderfully organised and I can’t even imagine the stress encountered when the organisers were informed on Tuesday evening that they would have to completely re-route or cancel the run. People would have complained if it was cancelled, and lots of people complained about changes. Nothing can take away the atmosphere, community and support shown by runners and spectators for this event, and the organisers did the best they could under the circumstances. 

In addition to the 5k, the festival had many other offerings this year, including themed runs, a “Run Like A Legend” mile and a Family event.  I entered the mile race when my body was still on side – thinking I could get close to my 7:24 track mile. It was only £5 to enter and you got another medal and a fab Nike t-shirt. It started at the Boathouse pub, ran down and across Baths bridge, along to the bandstand then back.  It was really well organised, with bookable timeslots with about 10 people per slot.  Sadly, for me, a PB didn’t happen but I will probably give it another try next year – I just need to get better at getting on and off Baths bridge!

Click here for 5K results

Click here for Run like a Legend results

Tom’s Bransdale Fell Race, North York Moors, Tuesday, July 9, 2019

BM/12km/400m

Nigel Heppell

Heading for the last bit now, late in the day; head down, knees hurting, breathing heavy, heart pounding; arms sore from swinging back and forth; someone coming up behind me, give it one last push into the final straight, and yes, – that’s the granddaughter off the swing and into the arms of her dad after another day of child-minding is over!
Now, where was I?


Oh yes; Tom’s Bransdale Fell Race: – cursory glance at the FRA calendar a few days earlier and I saw this race coming up soon; not been there before; opportunity to explore another part of the NYM; no previous reports on the Strider’s website; let’s have a go at it; sensible to car-share, any takers? Mike B and Simon D respond so I take a glance at the map and see that Bransdale is only a little east of, but at the same latitude as, Chop Gate with which I am familiar and have run a number of Dave Parry’s NYM races from: so, that’s 1hr 20 mins travel from mine; factor in extra minutes for Mike to get to me after work and then collect Simon down the road; add 15 min to get across into the Bransdale valley, and if we leave at 5.30pm we’ll get there for 7pm with 15mins in hand for traffic/parking/registering contingencies. That’s the plan then, all agreed by email, albeit at relatively short notice for those intending to take part.


Scroll on to Thursday, the day of the event: now I would normally do a bit of extra research into entry requirements, race routes, navigation issues, travel problems, etc, but I’m definitely time-poor in the run-up to this race; anyone with a work or care commitment will recognise the situation, and, as I breathe a sigh of relief when grand-daughter disappears 10 mins before Mike B is due to arrive, I realise I have not properly checked the route to Bransdale where parking may be a problem so I have a quick Google and am suddenly faced with the stark realisation that yes, the head of Bransdale valley where the race begins is ‘near’ Chop Gate, but the only way to get to it by car is by a long journey south to the limit of the NYMs, straight through Chop Gate and on to Helmsley, east to Kirbymoorside, and north on very minor roads along the full length of Bransdale itself. 75miles or so, and a minimum of 2 hrs if we are lucky!


Rapid re-appraisal; unless I drive like a maniac/idiot, this event is not going to happen for us tonight; no way could we get there with enough time sensibly to park up, register, race prep’, etc (even if I don’t do warm ups!) and stop vomiting from the drive up narrow country lanes. Oh yes, the A19 south is also closed due to a collision between a lorry and a car! Nothing about a running event is worth driving like a maniac/idiot to get to and so- that’s it – cancellation!


Quick email to Simon who has only just realised the enormity of the journey for himself and is happy to let it go, but too late for Mike who arrives and, not entirely disheartened, we have a cup of tea and a chat.

Moral of the story? –
Do your homework – not just about the race route, but how are you going to get there (and back: – for example, personal experience suggests that motorbikes do not combine well with leg cramp after a stiff fell race – can still be fun though!) – Health and Safety lecture over
And so, Tom’s Bransdale Fell Race remains untouched by Elvet Striders – anyone available in the early afternoon for a trip out next July?

Old Crown Round, Hesket Newmarket, Lake District, Saturday, July 20, 2019

AL/22.4miles/7218feet

Nina Mason

Race start Courtesy of Ian Grimshaw

I had been really excited about this race for a couple of weeks. The race is organised by Northern Fells Running Club, starting and finishing at the Old Crown pub in Hesket Newmarket, with five checkpoints – the summits of some of the fells after which the brewery (based at the pub) has named its beers.

I’d done one recce a few weeks ago, and found some route choices I was happy with, and some that needed improving. A second planned recce was thwarted by my post-Skiddaw Fell Race feet (now healed) but I was still relatively confident with my chosen route. After my disagreement with eating in the Old County Tops, I’d also carefully planned my snacks, and had them stashed where I could grab them easily. I was aiming on getting round (in 6hrs perhaps) and having a good day out.

From the FRA rule book. That’s me told.

I saw Geoff at the start, who rolled his eyes at the fact I’d put my number on my bag (rather than my chest…not enough room with rucksack straps). Anyway, you think that’s bad, wait till you read about my compass.

Kit check and registration complete, 43 runners gathered on the green outside the pub for the pre-race briefing. The sun was shining, and it was fairly warm, though there were a smattering of raindrops as we set off.

There is a mile of road, then from Wood Hall set/flagged routes over fields and then out on to the open fell. A fair amount of running, then a hands on knees climb to CP1 – Carrock Fell. I was quite near the back, but happy to watch a stream of runners ascend ahead of me. Weather still good.

From Carrock the organisers had strongly suggested a route heading towards Round Knott before dropping down to the stream, to avoid the gorse. I’d recced this and knew my way, though the shoulder high bracken near the stream made things fun! Weather and visibility good.

There were three stream crossings to choose from; I had already decided on the first (with a rope) as I wanted to head straight up Bowscale here, rather than nearer Blackhazel Beck (where I had not enjoyed my recce…too tussocky, contoured ground). Again, hands on knees on the steep section, then trudge up, up, up. Check the time – first snack – flapjack.

And then the clouds start to blow over, cutting the visibility to maybe 50yds, and the rain starts. Jacket straight on as I don’t want to get wet and cold. I know I am most of the way up Bowscale, but it’s pathless here so I check the map and do a swift bearing check (compass seemed fine here…. read on). I’d been following a guy in a blue jacket, and now caught him, and we ran together over the pathless ground. We hit the trod coming off Bowscale, and its flatter here, so we both started running towards Blencathra.

Then the steep stony path up to Blencathra. I want to run when I start coming off the top, so I eat again here on the way up – snack two, mini cheese sausage roll. Drink water to help it down. The rain is coming and going, it’s pretty windy, and the clag is thick. I focus on the path in front. Blue jacket is just behind me.

CP2 Blencathra – the marshalls huddled in a tent, and Susan is there too! It’s wonderful to see her, and we have a quick hug and then I’m off, back down to the little pool which for me indicates a left turn down to Cloven Stone. I’ve taken a bearing, and have my compass out to follow….and this is where it goes wrong. My compass needle is swinging around, despite me tapping it, shaking it, and using some rather unladylike harsh language. Every now and then it would settle, and I would confidently start running down the common, and then off it would go again and I’d be reduced to a walk while trying to get it to ‘work’. Blue is still near me in the mist. My compass has become my trusted friend on runs like this – always there, reliable, never lying. I felt lost (emotionally) and let down. What had I done for it to desert me like this, just when I need it? Anyway, I lost track of how long I thought I’d been running downhill, and ended up descending down the valley too early, to the end of Sinen Gill rather than a kilometre or so further north.

So I hit the main track towards Skiddaw House, angry with myself. Blue was with me again, and I explained my error, trying not to sound cross or like I was blaming my tools. Clearly time for snack three – more flapjack.

From Skiddaw House (water available) an easy-to-follow track up Sale How and then Skiddaw. I started to feel pretty weary up here, sick of the mist, and the wind, and my aching legs. I want some proper downhill! It could be hunger. On the final stony climb up to Skiddaw I tucked into snack four – another cheesy sausage roll. It sticks in my throat, but I force it down, knowing how bad I will feel if I don’t eat.

CP3 – Skiddaw. Marshalls sheltering again (it’s pretty wild), pat the trig, and stick with the route I’ve chosen, heading north, and over Bakestall, and follow the fence line to Dash falls. Blue is with me again and I tell him my plan. One alternative (and recommended) route is to follow the BG route over Hare Crag and then up Great Calva, but from my recce I know the path up Little Calva so had already decided to go that way. I tell Blue he’s fine to follow, but not to blame if anything goes wrong, like my descent off Blencathra.

It was pretty good running down here, and then it happened – we dropped out of the cloud, and our whole view ahead was perfectly clear. I love that moment, going from that slightly unpleasant, (but kinda fun), restricted world where visibility is a few yards and sometimes confidence wavers, to suddenly, in a few seconds, having everything visible, the sun shining on the hills ahead, and your route perfectly clear in front. So I shout my wonder and joy to Blue, and filled with energy and confidence I bound down to Dash falls, leaving Blue behind.

From there, a steep and rough trudge up a fence line to Little Calva, then to a pool just north of this, then it’s a good trod up to Knott. My solid food used up (as planned) I have a caffeine gel (it is already past my afternoon coffee time). I’m feeling pretty good.

CP4 – Knott. The going is good from here, runnable grassy trods and a section along the Cumbrian Way. I even manage a slow jog on the uphill’s and pass a couple of guys, stripping my jacket off – it’s warm again. I check behind but I can’t see Blue. On the final climb to High Pike it’s the moment I’ve been waiting for all day – cracking open the tangy, sour, sugar-covered jelly sweets (non-branded today). I eat a handful, smiling at the memory of them saving me on the OCT race, feeling good. I will carry my compass back home, I will apologise to it for swearing, and somehow we will sort out our issues and be besties again.

CP5 – High Pike. Pleased that all of the ‘up’ is behind me, I set off back downhill to Wood Hall, through the intake wall, across a cow-filled field (I shout at a few when they start to look vaguely interested). From Wood Hall I retrace the first mile on the road, but this time it’s all downhill and I race along, and back to the finish on the green at Hesket Newmarket. Brilliant support again from Susan (who had managed to drive to Threlkeld, get up and down Blencathra, and drive back). 

Courtesy of Ian Grimshaw

The winner finished in an eye-watering sub-4hrs. Geoff had another strong performance finishing in 5.27 (despite a fall – I know, mountain goat Geoff! – and a bout of cramp). I just missed the target 6hr mark (a minute and a half over) but happy with that. I had a cracking day out. I’d like to try this one again, perhaps taking some different (probably faster) lines.

This was a tough race that needs experience and navigation skills (even when clear), and certainly benefits from knowing these hills or a thorough recce. The organisers provided some suggested routes, and cake and tea I think at the end (though I didn’t partake, not up for it…. I just needed cool liquids in the immediate aftermath). I would definitely recommend this one.

Anyway….cut to the evening. Sitting at home, clean and warm, with a glass of wine and access to the internet. Searching for ‘compass not working’. And there it is – compass deflection. I think I’ve heard of this. Underwired bra? Errrrrr……no. I wrack my brains. And then I read ‘magnets that fix a water bladder tube to your rucksack’. What an idiot! I’ve only used the bladder a few times, and only when I haven’t had to use my compass. Compass is stored in a pocket, a few inches away from the end of my bladder tube and that pesky magnet. What have I done?? I can only imagine the tutting and shaking of heads of fellow fell-runners. How I have made it this far??

I will, therefore, bow my head in shame, revert to drinking from muddy puddles, and also share my stupidity with you all if it means that someone else benefits…and can find their way when the clag descends. My compass and I are on good terms again, and I’ve promised to look after it well in the future.

 

Click here for results.