When is a race not a race? When it isn’t on Strava? That’s one opinion…
Jan Young asked on the Striders Facebook group if anyone wanted a lift in the week before, otherwise I would have missed it. After convincing the family to come down and have a walk while the race was on, I rejigged my weekend’s runs to fit in.
I wasn’t planning to race earlier in the week and as I stood in the starting bunch of 91 runners, I came to the decision I wasn’t going to run it as one. I’d been working on building some consistent aerobic mileage and didn’t want to ruin that with either an injury from an enthusiastic descent or just over-exertion. I would take it relatively easy on the ascents and not over-egg it on the level and downhill.
I set off gently from the back half of the pack and was really chuffed to reach the trig point at the end of the first climb (stone track all the way) without having walked but not pushed into the red either. There’s a first time for everything. The descent back to the start was steeper and paved, which made it tougher, having to keep my eyes on my footing at all times, but at least this is where I’m at my most comfortable. The paving was a theme on a lot of the path along the ridge to the turn at the far end.
That was only the first climb and I knew there were three more to come before the turn. I ended up leap-frogging several other runners, them either being stronger than me on the ascent or descent (or me being stronger on the descent or ascent, whichever you prefer). The views from the top of the ridge were spectacular, when I could lift my eyes off the path to take them in. I decided to pause to take a snap on my phone, that’s how hard I wasn’t racing.
After a “scramble” through the Wainstones and the final ridge section, I came down to the third checkpoint at Clay Bank and turned for home…only to be faced with a fifth steep climb. Minor planning fail, I hadn’t spotted this one on the elevation profile. Once up this shorter climb, the forest track turned more undulating, without any more serious ascents and a net descent of about 50m. An extra bonus was being back on earth rather than rock. I still wasn’t pushing to the max and it was a good job I’d held back on the first half. I was tiring but it seemed most of the other people I’d been swapping places with were struggling more as they fell back.
I say most because as I passed through the final gate off the fell I could hear footsteps behind me and one runner, from NYMAC, was close behind. Rather than slam it in his face, I decided to hold it open and as he passed through I fell in behind him. We turned onto the finishing field (unwelcomely slight uphill) and I already knew I wasn’t going to push him; if I was racing I would have dug in and given it some beans to the line, as it was I was content to follow him home.
Looking over the results, I was astounded to have come in around mid-table. Nina Mason finished second lady and Camilla Lauren-Maatta was Striders’ other finisher, with Jan acting as sweeper for the day.
So when is a race not a race? When you decide it isn’t.
This one has been on my list for a few months, and it didn’t disappoint. I stayed over in the Lakes the night before (in my new van J and had a relaxing morning wandering round Keswick and down to the lake. The weather was fabulous, if a little warm for running.
After a proper warm up and mandatory kit check, I bumped into Graeme seconds before the start, and then we were off. The race starts and finishes in Fitz Park, and is as simple as it gets….get up Skiddaw as quick as you can (you must stick to the tourist path), one checkpoint at the summit, then back to the park as fast as possible.
It was run, jog, or trudge on the way up, depending on the incline, and I felt pretty good, catching and passing people most of the way. I’ve started to enjoy these ‘out and backs’ – it’s inspiring and exciting seeing the front runners come hurtling past. The eventual winner had a clear lead as he passed me on the flatter section round Little Man, and a few minutes and runners later Graeme got a massive shout from me – he looked strong on his descent.
After my run across the flat summit to the trig, and a breathless ‘thank you’ to the marshals, I set off on the fantastic descent. I absolutely loved this, trying to hold nothing back even on the steeper sections, running as hard as I could all the way. I got a ‘5th lady well done’ from one of the marshals about half way down, so when I saw the 4th female in front, not going as quick as me on the steep descent, I went for it – running past hard, and then trying to keep it going past the car park near Latrigg and down the final section, determined not to show weakness and look behind.
I was convinced she was right there behind me all the way, as I crossed the A66 over the bridge, and raced toward the park. A sneaky peek back as I entered the park showed me I was well clear (thank goodness, my legs had very little left in them), and then all that was needed was an attempt to sprint finish on the grass.
I really enjoyed this race – well organised, brilliant supportive marshals all the way up (and of course down), and on the day we were thoroughly spoiled by glorious weather and views (though not much time to enjoy them).
Well done to Graeme who had a great race, and seemed to retain healthy feet…see below. I was very pleased with both my time and position, with the added bonus of getting the 3rd women’s prize, as one of the faster women declined her prize as she works for the sponsors.
The only downside…I trashed my feet. I don’t think different shoes would have helped, it must just have been the heat, terrain and my running style. I’ve taken all the skin off the soles of my heels. I even have photos if anyone is interestedJ. I’ve been hobbling around, cross because I can’t run despite feeling great otherwise, walking on tip-toe until they healed (heeled!) enough to weight-bear. I’ll be strapping them up the next time I do this race (which is a strong possibility!).
In early April I was contacted by the team manager for the North East Counties, John Tollitt. He wanted to know whether I’d be available, if selected, to represent the North East. My reply was pretty speedy, a short and sweet, most definitely. The last time I’d represented the North East I was in my early teens running the 800m and 1500 m. 30 odd years, a few grey hairs and some frown lines later, just to be asked was pretty special.
A few days later it had been confirmed that I had been successful. I’ve a big race coming up, my training plan was quite specific but for this I adapted massively to optimise a good taper and to get some race specific training in. Unfortunately, it was a little far to recce, that would have been the ideal. I spent a lot of time trawling through old race reports and studying my race map. I’d only run in the area when I had done my fell coaching course so I knew the climbs would be steep and that it should be a challenging race. Fortunately, as it was a championship race, the route was flagged for the day, removing a bit of worry.
Fiona had been selected as well so we travelled down together the car full of nervous energy. We arrived early for kit check and who was to stand behind me but Carl Bell! Then we picked up our numbers and finally our NE vests. Waiting in the toilet queue we were both equally terrified and excited. Fiona had been scouring championship results and kept pointing out previous winners/Salomon/innov8 athletes. It was some line up and to say we were daunted would be an understatement.
We went for a good warm up together across to the start. We had planned to do the first mile or so of the race route but it went straight up a hill, STRAIGHT up….so we decided we’d save our legs and did some laps of the flat grassy field where the race would start. I have never seen so many huge thigh muscles…think of the Hulk (except not green coloured), they must have found it difficult to buy trousers to fit. The warm ups and drills were again something out of a textbook…A skips, B skips, sky high kicks and bounds aplenty, it was quite a sight. These were definitely serious athletes. The race was open to everyone on the day at a princely fee of £7, but the majority were county teams. I was over the moon to spot a couple of older ladies not wearing county vests who I thought I might be able to beat!
We grouped together with the rest of the North East team. As Fiona chatted to Dawn and Katherine, I quietly took myself away so that I could gather my thoughts, calm my nerves and to make sure I raced my race and wasn’t distracted by people I knew. I kept repeating please don’t be last, please don’t be last in my head…. It was a beautiful sunny warm day, clouds flitting across the sky. The race start was in a leisure centre field, very well sheltered, not that there was any wind. Lush green grass, shady old trees and well-tended flower beds surrounded us. The steep valley sides, rising sharply out of the valley floor, were covered in trees.
The gun fired and we were off at last, thankful release from the stress of waiting, onwards and upwards. It was an unsurprisingly fast start, I didn’t want to get swept up and dropped after a few miles, so I kept to my pace. It narrowed quickly up some steps where there was the first bottleneck and then it twisted up a small road for a few metres before it turned onto an extremely muddy stepped path climbing up the hillside through a wood. I was desperate to push a bit faster, I’m strong at climbing, but I couldn’t get past on the narrow track. Finally, it turned into a little lane past a few cottages and I could pick up speed again as it dropped slightly downhill across a field and then yet another wait to cross a stile. A few spritely young men vaulted the fence much to a fierce woman’s disapproval who had been waiting in line (she will return later in the tale!)
Then it was up a stony uneven track flanked by crumbly stone walls and up onto the moors. Still climbing up for the first ascent, every time I thought we’d neared the top another summit appeared just beyond reach. My lovely blond ponytailed running companion stayed firmly in sight. I was always a few paces from her and determined to try to maintain this throughout, on the flats she’d pull away, on the hills, I’d pull her back again.
The first summit eventually was reached across a muddy grassy hillside. There were highland cows with their young grazing on the top which we had been warned about. I’m not fond of cows so I tucked in neatly next to a much bigger male target! The fierce lady was up to no good again as her man gave her a shove over a boggy section then handed her some gels…Fiona berated her for her naughtiness. I’m glad to say we both passed her soon afterwards as she fell in a bog. We then dropped down the other side through a nice squidgy section and onto a wide gravel track. It wasn’t long before it turned a bend and dropped down onto a lovely technical descent by a stream…I passed a lot of runners who floundered on the rocks. We crossed over a stile and had to duck under some trees as the track led us into a dark forest.
It was really good fun, I loved the varied terrain, each section only lasted a few hundred metres and then it would change again. Finally, the small awkward trod turned onto a main forest track dropping steeply through the wood. I’ve really become fond of ‘falling down hills’ it’s taken a while to switch my brain off enough and much concerted effort, mainly to keep Geoff in reach, but I now love it. This descent quickly turned into another grassy track strewn with stones that skirted round the hill and dropped down onto the valley floor. A short section of tarmac before it quickly rose and merged into a muddy stony track, then over a stile and onto a tiny grassy trod climbing sharply up onto the fell. Off the fell and then too quickly we were retracing our steps back to the finish.
It was pretty much all downhill from now, the absolute perfect race finish. I felt like I shot down the hill only to pass Carl Bell looking as fresh as a daisy doing his cool down up the hill! Onto the grassy field round the circumference and into the finish. Fiona hadn’t finished too far in front and I ran across to congratulate her and to bounce around merrily as we both rejoiced. We were as high as kites realising that we were first and second counters for the North East female team and certainly not last. We had also both beaten the previous female course record…it’s a shame all those other county runners were there!
It’s fair to say that we both absolutely loved it, the amazing opportunity and the race itself. It had it all, £5 entry fee with EOD, really pretty, varied terrain, some lovely steep ascents and matching descents and not much tarmac to bother with, I only wish it had been longer!
It’s a quiet Friday afternoon here at work, and after some reflection I feel recovered enough to compile a run report. I’m not joking, this was a tough one and I’m still feeling it.
I’ll start at the Finish, When we finished fellow Strider Aaron Gourley was sat on the steps with his head in his hands having finished around 35 minutes before us. “That was one of the toughest races I’ve ever done” I recall him saying. It sticks with me because, Yes Aaron, It was a tough day on the course, and if someone like Aaron is saying that just imagine how I was feeling!
I ran this race in 2018 with friends and we finished around 3am, it was a real hot day last year and two of the five of us that started dropped out en-route. 2019’s event was to be even tougher, at least for me anyway. It was hot, but not blazing blue skies hot, there was plenty of cloud cover. It was the humidity that was to cause the pain and suffering in 2019.
Starting in Wooler and finishing in Melrose this was the shorter of two Trail Outlaws St Cuthbert’s Way events taking place on the day. The longer event, 100KM had started two hours earlier on Holy Island. Both events follow the St Cuthbert’s Way national trail. Now St Cuthbert might have been a good monk, but his sense of direction is terrible. Its only 35 miles by road to Melrose from Wooler and all pretty flat. The route his trail takes is anything but!
The first 20 miles to the checkpoint at Morebattle are tough. The vast majority of the courses 6700 foot (ish) of climb takes pace in these first 20 miles. The second half of the run (no chance of racing!) is much nicer for running with the exception of the last 2/3 miles which take you over the Eldon hills and in to Melrose. This year though for me there seemed to be far more up than down.
I’d agreed to run this race with my good friend and fellow Strider Dave Toth, agreeing to stay together from the start no matter how they day was progressing. Something I’d be thankful for in the later stages, as Dave pretty much dragged me round (more on this later).
From the start at Wooler you take in some of the fantastic views that the Cheviot Hills have to offer, heading towards the first CP at Hethpool at around 8.5 ish miles. This first part of the run was great fun, fresh legs, nice views, and some cloud cover to protect from the burning sun. We met up with our support crew for the first time just before the CP, ironically as I was walking up a hill eating.
Just after CP1 starts the real challenge, the battle to Morebattle. CP2 is at Morebattle and all I can remember of this section is it goes up, up a bit more, you think you’re at the top, then you swear a bit as it’s a false summit and you’re still going up. Eventually you do come down, but then there’s another climb before finally getting to CP2. During this section we caught up with fellow Strider Eric Green who was not having a good day Eric was with us for a while before dropping back. We found out later that Eric had stopped at Morebattle. This wasn’t his target event and in the days conditions probably the wise choice.
Our amazing support crew not only were on hand at CP2, but had ran out to meet us shortly after the delights of Wideopen Hill. The sight of full bottles of water was one I will remember.
Fresh t-shirt and socks at CP2 were the order of the day and that’s what I got. Now I normally always run in a compression top (to keep the bouncy bits in place), but today as luck would happen I had forgotten my second short sleeve one and had to go for t-shirt alone. I may have passed out with a compression top on as the humidity was so intense it was sapping the energy out of me like never before.
Not wasting any time we were off again towards CP3 at Bonjedward eating sandwiches as we left, at least I was. Elaine Bisson who was running the 100K event came into the checkpoint as we were leaving. She had ran about 19 miles more than us and was looking strong.
Around about midpoint between Morebattle and Bonjedward there is a newly built house next to a road, I have no idea where this place is, but it’s around 25 miles into the route. It was here that our support crew were about to become life savers, not just to us, but other runners too!
The heat and humidity were by now really starting to get to me, and I was struggling to cool myself down, even walking and pouring water over my cap and buff wasn’t having the desired effect I was over heating and knew it. Knowing where the next place our crew could get to I called Jill up, the shock of the phone call from me probably sent fear through her, and asked them to meet us by the new house.
Elaine Bisson had not long passed us on her phenomenal run when we again caught up with her, she was in need of sugar to keep her going and Dave suggested that she meet our support and have his jam doughnut. I believe the crew offered gin, but the doughnut and water was enough. When we reached the crew I had ice packs placed on my shoulders, and water doused over me, this along with some cola seemed to do the job and get my body temperature down. Dave, as always, was fine or at least he wasn’t letting on if he was struggling. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen him struggle.
Onward we pressed, 5 ish more miles to the next official CP at Bonjedward, seemingly all uphill from memory apart from the descent into the CP itself. Straight through this CP with a quick stop for melon, Red Kola (a constant on Trail Outlaws events) and a water refill.
The route to CP4 at Maxton Church is pretty much a blur. I can recall rivers, crossing a suspension bridge, making a navigation error, some fields, a speed camera (navigation error). Essentially fatigue was really starting to kick in now and the main aim was to just keep moving, and in the right direction.
Just before CP4 at Maxton we once again met up with our support crew who had ran / walked out to meet us, they accompanied us into the CP and set about doing their things. water refills, food stocks, etc. They really were amazing. I was ready for another change of shirt and socks before the final push into Melrose, and it was here that the cramp kicked in… As I sat on the passenger seat of Jill’s car attempting to remove my socks my left calf went into cramp, I started screaming, Jill started shouting. “I’m in cramp” I said in agony, “Well there is nothing I can do about it is there”, Jill replied. ” Stand up” she said firmly. Eventually, socks on, shoes on, salt tablet taken we headed back out onto the course.
The final 8/9 miles, again are a bit of a blur, until the Eildon hills anyway. There’s lots of wooded sections, a village with a nice smelling Chinese takeaway, a river, a golf course and the constant throbbing that was the cramp in my left calf, that bit I can vividly remember. The thunder storm and ensuing down pour I can also remember. I had been wanting this all day! Wetness, freshness, coolness! We were leaving the golf course when this happened if anyone cares (or knows where I’m on about).
As we entered the final section and ascended the Eildon Hills the day’s heat and humidity followed by the thunder storm brought with it fog and mist in the woods, making visibility a real challenge. Fortunately, there was only one trail to follow. Dave, leading us up the hill as he had done all day, had the brightest light ever seen attached to the back of his race pack and I was able to ’follow the light’ up the hill, out of the woods and to the glorious sight that was Melrose town beneath us. We only had to descend and we were finished.
The earlier thunderstorm whilst being kind enough at the time to cool me off had also decided it would turn the trail descending in to Melrose into mud; adding extra weight to already tired legs. Descending carefully we entered Melrose to be greeted by the welcoming committee, our support crew and 11th placed Mark Dalton who was staying with us. From where we met the days ‘heroes’ to the finish is only around 300 metres up the high street past, our accommodation, and in to the rugby club. These were to be the fastest 300 metres of the day.
A fellow runner who we’d been running with, navigating on and off during the last section had over taken us whist we’d been enjoying our victories with friends. We weren’t going to be beaten by him, so a sprint ensued. It was probably more like a gentle jog, but felt like a sprint to beat this guy into the finish. We did it, and since Dave had lead all day he lead us home.
It had taken us until just before midnight to complete this epic challenge, but we made it. Starting and finishing on the same day. I was handed a ‘Gin in a Tin’ and sat down on the steps opposite Aaron Gourley. I was grey. I was exhausted. I felt sick. I was drinking that gin.
What have I learnt?
Well, firstly I couldn’t do anything like this without the support of my fantastic other half Jill and the rest of the day’s support crew. They were amazing. I would have DNF’d without them. Secondly I have realised that I don’t have the mental capacity to do an event of this nature on my own. Without Dave setting the pace and pushing on up the hills allowing me to give chase I would have slowed and just walked a lot more than I did. I would have ensured that I finished, but it would have been hours later. Lastly I have learnt that I can’t do events like this without having two recovery days after the event. This event took place on the Saturday, finishing just before Midnight. I was back at work on the Monday, lets just say it was a struggle and leave it there.
It seems fitting that the last thing I read was Kilian Jornet describing his not so victorious Western States Endurance Race. He finishes by saying that ‘you learn little from victories; on the contrary, when things are going badly, when the situation is hard and it’s difficult to get out….that’s when you mature and really learn something about yourself’. This isn’t my target race, this was my practise run, I made some serious errors of judgement which lost me an enjoyable run, a good race and a podium finish.
I’ve just finished reading an excellent ultra running guide. Ultra running and training have so many more dynamics and difficulties. The training and considerations on race day are far more than for a flat 10k road where pace, clothing and shoe choice are pretty easy. On ultras, aside from the training, which is possibly the easiest bit, the weather is a huge consideration, kit choice, weight of kit, fluid and fuelling and prevention of blisters and chafing and all other horrors that may befall an ultra-runner. One of the main areas of advice from this book was to never enter an ultra unless you are passionate about that specific race. Perhaps this was my first error.
I tapered well, however my planned rest day on Friday went pear shaped as I’d parked my car to drop my son off at school…on a road where drop off is allowed until 9am. I walked back to the car only to realise the key was no longer working, my house keys were locked in the car. The wardens often roam this street, so I set off on a mad sprint to retrieve both sets of keys. Thankfully when I returned, no parking ticket was there and my keys opened the doors.
The next comedy of errors was that I’d downloaded 2018 race instructions ages ago and had somehow muddled them up with 2019 instructions. I arrived on Friday night thinking I had until 22:00 to register at Darnick village hall only to arrive at the hall to shut doors and no one around. Frantic checking of my phone, I eventually found my error and drove back to the headquarters at the rugby pitch, with 10 minutes to spare. Thankfully Mark Tierney had recommended a lovely B&B a few minutes from the finish. I arrived a little frayed to a wonderful room, with a huge bed, big fluffy pillows and a lovely owner fussing around me eager to help in whatever way possible. She provided a lovely supper and prepared my breakfast ready and waiting in the room fridge. I showered, laid out my kit, got my bottles and bladder sorted and settled down for a good night’s sleep. That is, until the snoring from the guest upstairs began….
I ‘awoke’ early, or at least got out of bed to get ready. We had to arrive to get the bus from the finish at 6:15 to the start on Holy Island at 8. It was a pleasant drive across; I was quite excited seeing the pretty countryside we’d soon be running across. My concern was the heat, already at 6 am I was content in short and t shirt, it was oppressive.
It was a beautiful start running across the causeway to the mainland. I’d looked at previous split times and had a fair idea of my target times for the checkpoints. Off the causeway it was across fields, through the first cow field of the day where the cows were pretty frisky and kept dashing back and forth, clearly excited to see the stream of runners passing through. Round past the railway line onto the first checkpoint at Fenwick and across the A1. On through the rolling countryside, fields, forests, hills and along tiny overgrown trails. It was really gorgeous.
I’d read a few race reports warning runners the way is not well sign posted in England…too right, I missed a few but going only slightly off track which I quickly remedied. I soon reached Wooler checkpoint, again on time. Here there were ‘more substantial food stuffs available’ and my drop bag. I quickly filled up my fluids and replenished food supplies. Popped my head in to see a very limited, pretty dire array of sustenance. I always look forward to tea, I was pretty miserable leaving with only a bag of ready salted crisps.
Now along familiar trails. I’d done The McWilliams Round Short last year with Stuart. It was a similarly scorching day, we completed it in a shockingly slow time all due to heat and running out of fluid. That day Stuart had dropped to his knees, scraping across the grass as he’d heard the burbling of a little spring off The Cheviot. He saved us from dehydration with that Cheviot bog water! It was nice to be back. Passing the last of Wooler’s houses a woman poked her head out of her garden gate and told me I was going to bake…thanks for that, 20m in, I’ve already consumed 2L, I am well aware that it is exceedingly hot.
I kept pace with a group of men, chatting to one about Lakeland races for quite some time. As we dropped down into the valley heading to Hethpool, the comparable coolness on the tops made it feel like a furnace. Stopping by a stream I dunked my head in, it felt so good. I left the man behind as he started struggling with the heat. By now I’d caught up with a few 45m runners, they start from Wooler at 1030. The tracks were getting busier again and it was nice to pass time chatting as I went by. Again there were more cow fields complete with the mothers and their calves, always fun to negotiate.
At Hethpool checkpoint there were yet more fizzy drinks, jellied sweets and pretzels, they made my stomach turn. It was a delight to set my eyes upon melon, I stopped to devour a few slices, topped up my water bottles and on I went (I was consuming 2 litres every 2 hours. It was hot). This next section on to Morebattle was possibly the most challenging but most rewarding isolated terrain with its rolling grassy hills and amazing views for 360°. There is a lovely stile to cross from England into Scotland.
It was only at Kirk Yetholm that my legs really started to hurt from chafing leggings. The gel I’d put on and had kept reapplying to prevent it, was not working, it was just too hot. My skort leggings that I’d thought would be lovely and light in the end were too lose and rough.
Having got a lovely surprise cheer from present and past Striders (the crew!) out to support David, Simon and Bill, I finally caught up with Bill. We had a brief chat before the last of the big ascents, a lovely three peaked climb over Wideopen Hill. By now we were in Scotland and the signs were frequent and hard to miss. I reached the summit to see a lovely grassy descent and looked forward to running down only to feel a blister shear on my heal. I stopped immediately. I had at least 30 miles to go and needed to prevent it getting bigger. I pealed back my sock to reveal an enormous blister. I emptied my first aid kit out and started to dress it. Unfortunately, my blister plaster which had been lying unused in my bag for the last year was now not sticking. I started to wrap tape round it so it wouldn’t shift only to realise I couldn’t rip the tape. And so the whole roll went round and round my ankle. Ready again I was off although I could already feel my other foot complaining. I’d have to go on regardless. By now I was going quickly off all food, it was just so stifling. I started feeling queasy. I’d had enough of my drinks and was just desperate for a cup of tea.
I can’t say enough how pretty the route is, mostly trails. There are a few road sections but they don’t last long. But by now I was beginning to not enjoy any of it. The heat was incredible, my feet were sore, the skin on my legs was sore. Every step was uncomfortable and the only thing I could think to make it all better was a good cup of tea. On to Morebattle, another ‘major’ checkpoint with bag drops. Again the crew were in force offering support. The check point was in a pretty, small village hall. My hopes raised, perhaps tea would be here, or a sandwich or three. But again only fizzy pop, water, a few bananas but mostly sweets and crisps. I refilled my bag with my drop bag contents. Pleased I’d packed loads and a good variety. I downed my chocolate milk and was off again up the lane, cursing everything and everyone, why no tea????
It was here just before Cessford Castle ruins that I caught up with David and Simon, I passed them on a little lane, continuing my rant about the food and lack of tea. Poor David got an earful as I went past. They were wisely being supported, David started reading off a list of foods I could choose from next time I saw Jill. When I eventually spotted their car and was greeted with ‘how are you, do you need more fluids, can we get you anything else??’ Nicola had a can of gin and tonic, it looked cold, she was floating it in front of my face. That was the first point I thought how nice it would be not to run anymore in this heat. Days like this were meant for short runs then sitting in the sun, drink in hand. A DNF?? Stuart’s motivation video rang in my ears, ‘you didn’t come this far to only come this far’, I pushed this thought aside and mentioned the doughnut. More than happy to help it was quickly found and again anything else?? And despite those dominant thoughts about a DNF, a lift back to Melrose perhaps, a G+T… somehow a ‘No thanks’ came out of my mouth instead. Who was this imposter pushing me to the finish in this horrendous heat??
I have to say that jam doughnut, especially when I got to the jammy half, was absolutely DEVINE! I gobbled it up and licked my fingers not wanting to waste any of the sticky sweet jam and headed on through a wood. The light was now starting to fade, it felt slightly earie, there was no one around and I kept hearing noises that made me jump. I attempted to eat some more food, I know with all the fluids I’d not done well, I felt nauseous and starting slipping into self-pity. There were a few other families out, appearing on road crossings. In particular, there was a couple supporting their son, they must have seen my rapid deterioration from cheery to absolute moroseness. I knew from their faces I must have looked a state. I knew I could quite comfortably run much, much faster, but today my stupid kit and my skin had failed me and every step was agony. I kept counting down the miles and calculating then recalculating and recalculating again how long it might take. My original, perfect race pace was rapidly slipping away and I just wasn’t bothered enough to pull it back. I’d stopped enjoying it. Stopped enjoying running. Stopped enjoying my picnic. I’d stopped enjoying the adventure.
It was here that the 3rd placed woman passed me. She was chirpy and lovely. She chatted away and dragged me along telling me I couldn’t give up on my podium spot now after all of this. I started to forget about everything hurting, I remembered my stash of mint cake, I can always eat mint cake. I started to believe I could keep 4th at bay and keep my podium spot. If only I kept up with this girl. It would be fun again, an adventure and a diversion from my own negative thoughts. We were happily skipping over tree routes down a wooded trail when I heard a shriek behind. I stopped and looked back. A runner had fallen, she wasn’t getting up and she wasn’t responding to my shouts are you alright? So I made my way back to see if she was OK. She’d fallen and landed badly on her hand, shoulder and knee. She was shaken up. It didn’t seem like she had any significant damage but three quarters of the way through her 45m she was worried this may signal the end for her. I stopped with her, located her bandage and made sure she was ok before she urged me on my way.
By this point my life source had disappeared, I was alone again. Back receding into my own dark thoughts and through the darkening lanes. I was trudging through woods where every creak seemed to herald something sinister. And then coming down a country lane I spotted Aaron, I caught up with him and had a brief meltdown. It was clear he was having a tough day too. He told me I’d be ok if I just rested a while at the next checkpoint which was only minutes away. I stopped for a brief rest, a drink of lemonade (more fizzy rubbish!) and more fluid top ups, then as the 4th lady slipped past and stole all hope from my tiny stash still left, I grabbed a banana and got on my way. Perhaps if I just ate this it would take my thoughts off everything hurting and I could catch her up.
Back into woods and I started to feel really weird, I started shivering and felt very sick. I waited a bit to see if Aaron would catch me up but after a few minutes of shivering and trying desperately to eat the banana, I knew I had to get moving again. Then to my surprise I heard a gorgeous American voice drifting through the trees, ‘who is that in a strider vest?’, only to see Ashley. She caught me up before she passed as I struggled to eat the banana. Then it was through a cow field, again, mothers with their calves. I could see Ashley ahead happily jogging by. I have a big fear of cattle so I walked quietly attempting not to draw attention to myself, then one of the calves started getting too interested and I headed quickly for the fence line. To my surprise the girl, Cloey, who had fallen, followed my lead and now we ran together both complaining about cows and dark woods and heat and blisters. She then suggested we should keep together for those last 9 miles. She wasn’t enjoying the dark woods on her own. She was scared now she’d miss a sign in the dim light with fatigue taking over. She was nearly as fed up as me. Her friend who had planned to run with her had dropped out many miles and hours ago, and she too needed company to keep her going. This was just what I needed. Someone to chat to, I wasn’t bothered now whether it was fast, I just needed to get to the end. Again with the company and the chatter I started to enjoy the views. The wide riverbanks, the meadows, the neatly mown golf courses, the forest trails and tiny tracks. I no longer jumped at every sound through the woods.
Then the rain came, it had been threatening all day, but despite a few drops and all of our prayers and wishes, nothing substantial fell. As if to say ‘You’d wished for this, well here it is!’ the whole sky fell in. It crashed to the dry earth, too fast to drain, puddles and streams formed everywhere. We were soaked to the skin within seconds, unable to see with the rain dripping in our eyes. 60 miles of relentless dry heat with 5 miles until the finish, now this. We both started to laugh at our misfortune.
Our last climb around the Eildon hills was still substantial but we knew the end would be in sight. As we reached the ridge we saw the most beautiful twinkling pink lights of Melrose, I desperately tried to work out where the finish was. I searched for the path that would surely now lead straight down directly to the finish. But no, the sign pointed up and away along the claggiest clay path you could imagine. Our feet stuck and slipped and slid all the way until we were finally on a grassy track dropping down to Melrose. By now you could feel our relief, our happiness that finally this day would end. On the street we passed Cloey’s husband who ran with us for a few hundred metres then pointed us home. Our journeys end to collect our medals. Then up to the most glorious sight I saw all day…a huge steaming pot of sweet sugary TEA!! I stayed there a while to drink a days’ worth. Lots of tired faces and bodies strewn around.
So now, a few days later, what would I say, what do I think? It’s a gorgeous route. I love the history of it, the passing from England to Scotland, taking in the places important in the life of St Cuthbert. The instructions clearly state that more food would be provided at Wooler and Morebattle but that your own supply would benefit you. It also suggests having your own crew to support you or even having a friend pace you. I’d definitely recommend it if you can, especially the personal road crew. Or even better, just make a day of it yourself.
I’m disappointed, the heat took its toll in ways I hadn’t thought. My usual good food choices weren’t hitting the spot. My kit choice didn’t come up to scratch. I wish I’d loved it; on a normal nasty British weather day I would have loved it without a doubt. However, it was my practise run and as that it’s been invaluable. A lovely thank you message from Cloey appeared on FB, she wanted to thank me for stopping to help her and to congratulate me on finishing 9th overall, 4th lady and 1st in my age category, V40. To say I wasn’t as s*** as I thought I’d been and to say the teamwork in the end was brilliant.
On a day with a nearly 30 % DNF over both distances, with some very experienced runners among those DNFs, perhaps I’m being slightly hard on myself. I just know the finish could have been different. But I discovered so much about myself, amongst others, my incredible desire for tea and my steadfast determination to finish. In the end a DNF was never going to happen, I would have crawled over the finish line if I’d needed to. When things f*** up, learn from them, and do better next time!
After the London Marathon, I had planned to try and use my new found level of fitness to achieve a sub-40 10k. One failed attempt, a second attempt thwarted by Father’s day, and I decided to shelve this dream for a short while as I was getting too negative about it all.
So when Fiona mentioned the Saltwell fell race on Tuesday morning, it caught my eye. A quick online search told me this was only 5.5 miles and was partially marked – that sold it. A quick check to make sure I wasn’t going to be the only Strider there, and the decision was made – my first fell race! No PB chasing and no clock watching.
With the nice weather, it seemed unlikely we’d need full kit, but I wasn’t taking any chances and quickly treated myself to a whistle, a compass I can’t use and some taped seam trousers on the afternoon. Now I have the kit, I’ll have to do a bad weather race to get my money’s worth!
The race start was located a couple of miles north of Stanhope. Race HQ was the back of someone’s car parked by the side of the road, with parking also scattered along the road. A flag marked the race start. Very low key.
As soon as I parked I realised that, in my effort to pack a full FRA kit, I had forgotten my inhaler…. Whilst I can manage as long slow run without, exercise is the main trigger for my asthma, so without this, it was going to be a slow jog over the fells. I decided to randomly ask total strangers if they had an inhaler but had resigned myself to just enjoying a gentle run out on a summer evening.
Having found Nina, Robin, Nigel and Simon at the start, we were ready to go. Well almost, a request from the race director for an inhaler came up with a result, so 2 quick puffs and we were off!
I had no real idea what to expect so was happy just to settle into pace with those around me at first. After a very short section of path, the race heads uphill, through heather and bracken. There was a small (very small) gap to follow and I just slotted in at a very comfortable pace, not wanting to waste energy at this point traipsing over the foliage. As we got higher, there started to be some slightly sparser areas of foliage (is there an official fell term for this???!), so I started to take the opportunities to move up a few places at a time. Eventually we joined a gravel path again for a short time, reaching the top of the hill. By this point I suspected I might be first female, and if not, then not far off. But was well aware I may have just gone out too fast and had no idea what I was doing or where I was going…
We headed back on ourselves with a long mainly downhill section, but we were back on rough ground. Constantly watching for the best path through, I’d hooked onto the back of a very similarly paced runner and was happy to let him help guide me through. Both taken by surprise with the first bog, not helped by running into the sunshine. He lost one leg into the bog, I lost both above the knees and was pretty concerned about my trainers, but managed to get out with both still on my feet. Off we went.
Second fall was a km or so further on, when a sudden dip in the ground sent me flying forwards with a bit of a thump into the heather. Slightly winded (and with a quick check around to see if anyone had noticed) I got going again and gradually built my pace up again.
Plain sailing until we approached the stream and the ground just seemed to drop away. As I gingerly picked my way down, I was overtaken by Dawn Metcalfe of Durham Fell Runners, who was taking a very much more confident approach to the descent. Then it was into the stream – no we didn’t need to cross it, just go in to the far side, clip our numbers, then back out the same side. Took this crossing a little too fast and fell again, up to my chest in water, but actually quite welcome at this point in the race. Sadly fell right at the feet of the same guy from the bog who by now was probably wondering what I was doing…
There was a bit of a climb back up and then, essentially, it followed the river line. However, I got back in front of Dawn and the river fall man, and started heading up and left further than we needed. Another runner whistled us back down. I had a few random “I don’t know where I’m going” moments (out loud – same man still in earshot, presumably shaking his head around this point), torn between pushing ahead, or holding back and tagging along. Dawn actually took a higher line and in retrospect this worked better, as she got back in front of me.
We dipped back down to the river and then it was a climb and a half back up towards the finish. This was a walk-run in places, and Dawn was still well within reach. She went for a more even pace, and each time I ran, I caught up a little more. Never did quite get there though and had to settle for second place in the end. Still, more than happy with that for my first fell race. And it was just what I needed! I might have to do another one now. And learn how to use that compass. And run down really steep hills without fear for my life.
A wonderful low-key but challenging fell race (also with a kid’s race, a 10k run, and three ‘Alwinton Challenge’ walks) – all to support North of Tyne Mountain Rescue.
There are no cut-offs in this race, and I entered this with no time to chase or expectations – just to enjoy the run out. I persuaded mum to come along as my #1 cheerleader, and for a walk out on the hills. As always, she performed admirably, including fending off some inquisitive bullocks in one of the fields on the return.
The course was marked pretty much all the way round, so I didn’t even need to navigate, and we all got some sunshine, a dry day, and some glorious views of the Cheviots (though plenty of bog underfoot in some sections 😁).
A good day out, and a race I would recommend.
Thanks to the cheery marshalls at the seven checkpoints, and to the ROs for a great race, and the snacks and drinks afterwards
I am presently typing this report while sat at the computer wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, alternating the soles of my feet between a blocks of ice, a ribbed roller, and a stretch band; and whilst glowing with moisture having returned from one of the gruelling track sessions. The pong emanating from my body has even driven away Rosie and Tess, my ever loyal Border Terriers, who prefer to sniff each other’s back sides rather than associate themselves with me at this time.
I sometimes wonder why we do this running and training lark, and so do the dogs. All that effort, managing the pain, followed by some gain. Whilst I enter a fair number of races I’m never going to be a star runner, nor likely to finish in the top 10, or win a trophy or get a mention in dispatches other than a few sympathetic ‘well dones’ and ‘good efforts’ from fellow competitors. However, I have a real competitive urge, and so having given this much thought I decided to review my race strategy and see how I could improve on my performance to secure a higher race finishing position. I needed to find a race that best suited my talents.
Then last week my wife Heather found the ideal answer to my needs, the inaugural TRAILDOG running event at Chopwell Woods, to be run on Father’s Day.
The idea of this race is that a runner and his or her race dog run around either a 5 mile or 5k course along the woodland forest trails, against fellow runners and their dogs. This was ideal for me, as our Tess, a young Border Terrier is built for speed, especially when called for her breakfast, tea, or a treat, and I was sure that if we trained properly, then we might be able to secure that podium finish I’ve been after all this time.
The first bit was to test if it was possible for Tess and I to run the distance together without getting in a tangled mess between her, the dog lead and me. So on the week before the race we did two training runs over the full course distance. To be fair, I was the one out of breath, and we ran really well together, with Tess seemingly to have boundless energy. The only problems I found that may have an impact on race day, was her tendency to bark loudly at other dogs, and her need to complete full doggy ablutions a part of the way around the route.
These were issues I would have to deal with on the day, but never before have I done a race with 3 emergency doggy poo bags in the back pocket of my shorts.
On arrival at Chopwell Woods, it was clear that Tess was excited and raring to go, by the height of her leap from the tailgate of our car. We made our way down to registration and confirmed our participation as bona fide Elvet Striders, as I was wearing my club T-Shirt. I was classed in the usual way as MV55, whilst Tess was FTU2 (Female Terrier Under 2 years). I think we were in a class of our own.
The next thing I needed to sort out as a matter of urgency was for Tess to have her second full ablution. If we were to be competitive and do well in this completion, which I was determined to be, then we had to make sure that there would be no time delays on the route. We simply could not drop a second, so we nipped off in to the woods for Tess to clear her system fully.
On our return I got chatting to other competitors in the usual form of human greeting and general chitchat. Nothing controversial was said and it was all very pleasant, For example, I met up with fellow Strider Katie Davison who was running with her dog Fenton, so a strong Strider contingent was committed to the race.
However, on the doggy front, not everything was totally civilised as the dogs tended to take one of two postures with their fellow competitors: –
a) Friendly approach – shown by the dogs wagging their tails and then sniffing each other’s bits
b) Unfriendly approach – shown by a general round of barking, yapping, snarling, accompanied by owners shouting ‘Gerrrrroffff”, ‘Get down’ and a generally pulling of leads to split up the fight
I have only previously witnessed such appalling behaviour from competitors at Harrier League races.
I then took Tess to one side to give her a pep talk. For the race she would be on a harness, attached to a lead, and would run alongside me. I told her to ignore other dogs, don’t get involved in any argy bargy, and to concentrate on her run.
In addition, we went around to suss out the opposition. On the human front, there were some clear competitive sorts in club running vests, with top-notch harnesses linking man to beast. They were clearly pretty decent runners who looked the part and experienced to this sort of race. They tended to have the sort of dogs with them that suggested speed and agility. Border Collies and Spaniels were clearly favoured running dogs.
On the other hand, along with the experts there were families running, along with runners in general with a wide variety of dogs.
Tess identified to me that she should have the measure of the Beagle and the Labradors, along with some other lumbering types.
What was clear to the both of us, was that we could do alright in this race, if everything went our way
Effectively there were three races to this event. Firstly the family friendly general walk, then followed by a mass start for the 5-mile and 5K races.
We had elected to do the 5k race, based on the fact that on the previous day I had completed The Haydon 100 Cycle Sportive, covering 65 miles from Haydon Bridge down to Alston and Nent Head. This was a somewhat hilly course, and my legs were empty, therefore the 5-mile route was a non-starter for me. The good thing was that Tess’s legs were full, and she was raring to go, so hope fully she would pull me along.
We made our way to the star line, and after a briefing of sorts we were formally sent on our way. The 5 milers set off straight on to the course, whilst the 5K group performed 400m lap and then back through the starting gate. We were off and running.
We quickly moved to the front of the 5k group as Tess was quickly in to her stride. The two training runs we had done meant that she knew what was expected and got in to her rhythm. There is some research that suggests that dogs love this pack type activity and that it helps them bond better with their owners, and that was clear from her response.
The first kilometre was downhill, and we took advantage of this knowing that my legs were tired from the previous day, and that we needed to get ahead of the pack for when we returned up hill.
We passed some of the 5 milers on the down slope. As we overtook, Tess took a wide berth and basically ignored them, which was great.
After about 1.5k we passed the first ‘doggy slurp station’, but Tess declined any water. Whilst I (sorry, that should be ‘we’) were determined to do well, it was important to make sure Tess was happy and comfortable, therefore she had every opportunity to get a slurp.
We then moved on to a long slow uphill section, which to be honest was no good for my dead legs. We were overtaken by two long legged pointer types and their handlers on the 5-mile route who we had passed previously on the downhill section. Tess only has little legs, and mine were non-functional, but to her credit, she ran ahead and virtually pulled me a long.
We got going again and at the second slurp station she took a quick drink and we were off and running along at a good pace to the final slurp station and then towards the finishing line.
By this stage I knew that we were ahead of the rest, and despite my heavy legs we were determined not to let go of our lead, even if it meant that I would have to pick Tess up and sprint with her in my arms over the line. So we pushed on hard and with growing confidence, and thankfully for me Tess was hardly out of breath.
We came in towards the finish line and to the sound of blaring music crossed the line, much to my and of courses Tess’s delight.
One of the organisers came running up to us shouting’ You’ve won, let me put your medal on’. and then ceremoniously placed a medal over my head. It was like being at the Olympics. I was also handed a joint ‘doggy bag’ of gifts and prizes for both Tess and I. Rather than getting a trophy, we got a play ball to go on the mantlepiece, a bag of dog treats, a chocolate bar and a can of posh water.
We now waited for the other competitors to come in. The first home in the 5-mile group came charging in at a rate of knots. He was with his Border Collie and was a clear veteran of these events as he had all the gear. I heard him saying that they had to stop for a poo half way around the course. I asked him innocently if he was referring to him or the dog, but the question went unanswered as he was still in the competitive zone. However, it turned out that he travelled all over the north of England competing in these type of events, and made some good recommendations on future events and best fit leads and harnesses if we wanted to repeat our efforts another time.
I had achieved my ambition and won a running race as an Elvet Strider. Admittedly, Tess was there and played an integral part in the achievement, but I can now honestly say that I have found my niche where I can compete on equal terms with others.
Pleased as punch we made our way home, imagining the headlines in the sporting pages of the Northern Echo or the congratulations from our peers at our outstanding achievement.
So, on arrival home, much to her delight, Tess’s Mum put our victory photos on various pages of Facebook. The response was outstanding, and to be honest fairly predictable.
450 likes alone came from the Border Terriers Owners Club Facebook Page, accompanied by loads of comments along the line of ‘Arrrrhhhhh – How cute’, ‘Well Done Tess’, ‘Absolutely Brilliant Tess’, How wonderful Tess’, ‘Tess this’, ‘Tess that’ etc. etc.
Little was said about our joint achievement. In fact, I might as well not have been there. In reality, what chance did I have of getting the kudos? Me, a sweaty middle-aged runner with no hair, Tess a cute one-year-old little waggy tail dog!
Honestly, this was a great event and much fun. It can be both a simple family dog walking exercise in the countryside, or it can be as competitive as you wish as the event caters for all types of runners, dog walkers and dog types.
As excuses go, Sunday being Father’s Day was pretty good for getting my wife and kids out to Seaham. We hadn’t seen the sea for a while and didn’t know this bit of the coast. They watched the race start, saw the view, and headed down to the beach to look for sea glass in the sunshine.
In the race, Graeme Watt and Michael Littlewood shot off as expected but I wasn’t too far behind – I counted 12 in front of me and it was a fast, fairly flat start. The path was clear enough to enjoy the scenery as well. As the gaps got bigger it became clear that I and another guy were pretty even. He was good at the ups, I knew the pace on the flat and we both enjoyed the downs. I followed him for a few miles, then passed him – and found he’d been helping me find the route, too.
Courtesy of Jan Panke
Every now and again there was a stream that had cut down to the sea. At one point I could see the front of the race just 100m away – but they were on the other side of the stream and a mile ahead. We had to go inland, down and up and back out to the coast but it was good to see the leaders flying.
The race information warned about the 320 steps in those down and ups. Before the race I had gone over the river at Finchale Priory to practice a few times – but those steps are nice easy ones (I now realise). The steps along the coast are a whole lot higher so it was quite a relief to see everyone walking up them. Being in 13th place wasn’t too unlucky then – I’m not sure I’d want to watch the leaders on those climbs! The key was to start running at the top. I suspect that’s when my heart rate hit 178.
Then it started raining. In case you’re wondering, my family, with their waterproofs by the buildings of Seaham, got a few spots of rain on the beach. A few miles South it was pouring down on my Striders vest. Then we got to the stream that almost stopped the race. Over-the-ankle paddling, and we were told to stay in the middle of the ‘path’. It felt like running in lead boots for a while after that, so it was great to have Jan Young encouraging me up the hill. It also meant that Tony and I, still running together, exchanged names. Pairing up is great when it works, and we exchanged thanks at the end.
I didn’t cross the line with Tony, though. This was my longest race since 2003. Back then I was training for the London marathon, mostly alone and on the roads down South. I had learned that I could run up to 17 miles with no fuel. Turns out that, if you push hard enough off-road, the limits around 12. Tony edged away and, instead of speeding up on the flat finish, I lost places. Thanks to Allen Renwick’s yells of encouragement I did run over the line – but boy was I glad to see those cakes.
Thanks to all for the shouts and photos; the course and the education. I’m looking forward to the Northumberland Coastal Run.
November 17 was my 50th Parkrun which I celebrated at Riverside but one I will remember for all the wrong reasons. The run route had to be changed 5 minutes before the start as a young man was threatening to jump from the footbridge. Rumour has it that a parkrunner with connections to If U Care Share talked the young man down until the police arrived. I will never forget seeing that young man being escorted to safety through the park by police.
Only a few days earlier I had been invited to participate in Parkrunathon 2019 for this self same charity. Irony or karma?
So along came June 1st, and after a series of injuries I was probably the most unfit I have been since taking up running and was going through one of my lowest periods ever. I had no idea how the day would evolve and even less idea how my running would stand up to this rather obscure running challenge.
The atmosphere was electric. We were all buzzing. The organisation was flawless. A sprightly bunch of runners descended the coach at Sedgefield, looking fresh and enthusiastic. Junior Parkrun followed by the “official” Sedgefield Parkrun – we were well on our way! For me it was all about finish lines. Finish times were banished from my mind!
From Sedgefield we got back on the coach to Hartlepool. Wasn’t sure what to expect. After all their official Parkrun had been finished only minutes earlier. Would anyone be there? Of course there was…local support was out in full force. 2.5 runs ticked off and back on the coach – direction Cotsford Field.
Timing was tight for this one. 40 minutes’ turnaround time. It’s one of my favourite parkruns but not an easy one. My legs were kind and got me round the full course just in time to get back on the coach to Sunderland.
We had a generous amount of time at Sunderland and were “blessed” by the rain. I was cold, stiff and fairly miserable by this point, and although I walked some of the course it was here that my determination kicked in. I was suddenly determined to tick off all these parkruns. Sunderland I didn’t enjoy you…at all! But the Sunderland crew supplied us with ice lollies and we were off again. Next port of call – South Shields.
It was here I got my mojo back. Kept a slow but steady pace and ran the whole course. We had terrific support with hot drinks, snacks and fresh strider faces to join us on the run. By this point we were more than half way. Only 3 left to go…
Windy Nook was our next chosen destination. Boy did I suffer on this one. I literally felt broken. But if I could get through this one, then there was just Riverside and Durham left. My family were coming to support at Riverside so I knew I’d find some renewed energy there, and, well even if I had to run till midnight I would finish Durham!
Windy Nook has to be THE most complicated parkrun ever; twists and turns everywhere. The core team were there thankfully to keep us right. On the last lap I teamed up with George who was also battling the beast and we crossed the line, albeit in last position, together.
Only 2 left. It started to really feel like I could do it. Did I mention I’d never run this far before? Longest run to date had been a half marathon. Even getting on and off the bus at this point was proving tricky!
Riverside was fab. My local parkrun. Mam, sister and bestie all there to support me, but the support for the event as a whole was simply amazing. Another fab supply of drinks, snacks and encouragement.
Back on the coach to Durham and I was giddy knowing that I was on my way to running my first ever marathon distance. But by this point I was hurting – everywhere.
I will be forever grateful to Kerry for running with me at Durham. She fixed me mini challenges of reaching a lamppost, a bridge, a tree then allowing myself to walk and recover before starting to run again.
I crossed the finish at Durham with a massive feeling of accomplishment and pride and maybe a year or two. Not necessarily pride in myself but in the club and running community that I am part of. I can only imagine the organisation that went into planning everything. The support throughout the day was simply amazing.
What a day! Pushed myself to my absolute limits. But more importantly we raised awareness and precious funds for this amazing charity.
I hope the young man who marked my 50th Parkrun has found solace in this or another similar charity.