Today, I should have been running my 3rd marathon and on the anniversary of the 1st. With the onset of Covid-19, ‘Lockdown’ and the postponement of Manchester and other spring marathons until the autumn, I must admit, I put my training to one side. I may have done a little happy dance when the email from organisers came through on the Friday before I was supposed to do my last long run.
Although I knew I wouldn’t be running a marathon today, I had already decided that if we were allowed, I would be running something today. On Thursday, to tire out my boys, we went for a family 5k. My 10-year-old then added another 2.5k to his. He has previously run 10k with me in November at the Saturn Remembrance Run, and he said he wanted to do so again.
So, this morning in the glorious sunshine, we laced up our trainers and headed out along the lines towards Willington to run a ¼ of a marathon. I know it isn’t much of a difference between 10k and 10.25k but it made it a little bit more special. It wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t the most enjoyable run I have ever done, but we did it together (and Henry knocked 4 minutes off his 10k PB). As Covid-19 makes us all reassess what is important, finding little moments of happiness are important. It may not have been a marathon, but it was a ¼ of one. Manchester will happen, but for now, stay safe everyone.
I had been following Allan’s marathon training plan – albeit now without a marathon to train for. I have found it hugely helpful to continue to follow the plan, as it’s given me a sense of purpose and consistency in a world which at the minute is unpredictable and forever changing. The plan on the other hand is a constant in a sea of change. It tells me what to do, and I do it. It also keeps me feeling connected to Allan, and to Anna whom I had been training with for London.
Usually the plan is fairly straightforward – it gives me a number of miles to run, and Allan’s advice was to run the majority of these “by feel”. This is what I have been doing, although I am very aware that how I feel is now a lot slower than I would have been had I still been training for a marathon which was going to happen. That’s partly because of everything happening in the world, and the mental and physical exhaustion that I feel as a result. It’s also purposeful – as an NHS doctor I am a key worker, and I feel strongly the responsibility to do all I can to stay well and at work. This means not putting my body under undue stress and pressure. Too many long or hard runs may reduce immunity, and a long hard run is definitely off the cards at present.
So today’s run was a conundrum. The “special run” is one of the stalwarts of the plan. It’s a marathon pace driven 15 mile run, with some intervals thrown in just for good measure! The original plan which Anna and I had created was slightly bonkers – we’ve learned that having some bonkers plans in amongst the serious stuff keeps our running fun! We’d planned to take Friday 3rd April off work, stay over in Roker on the Thursday night, go for a nice carb loading Italian with a mutual friend, then run along the coast together following the Special Run pace plan on Friday morning, enabling me to get back to Durham in time to catch the train to Manchester to watch Rory, Nik, Karen and numerous other Striders run the Manchester Marathon on the Sunday. Given the fuss I was making about London I had also planned an indulgent weekend away with Rory, who had missed out on a Good for Age place in London by 19 seconds when they adjusted the time goals.
Clearly now none of these previous plans were going to happen, so I needed a creative solution to the “special run”, and so began the forming of a plan…… I decided I was going to run 15 miles starting at home and following a route that would be special to me. This was to run routes which reminded me of happy times – and for me this meant Striders training sessions.
I loved this run! Whilst I had to run it alone, and at stupid o’clock in the morning to make sure I was assured of observing social distancing on such a long route, running these familiar routes meant that I was accompanied by memories of friends throughout.
I ran from home along the A167 towards County Hall. This initial stretch of the A167 was part of a 7mm 10 mile route which Anna and I had offered to lead on a Wednesday Striders night– we had no other takers! It was a lovely run though just the two of us, reminiscent of our Brampton to Carlisle run in distance and pace but had felt more comfortable than B2C– a sure sign that our training was going well.
I then arrived at County Hall and did some reps of the car park with a couple of efforts up the hill (clearly I can’t stop myself from doing some pace work – the competitive Type A personality is strong!). I had Stephen in my mind, telling me to maintain my form, Jan encouraging me up the hills, I was remembering Peter pipping me to the finish on the final hill rep, and chasing Michael and Graeme up the hills (not winning that one!). I was remembering friendly hugs from Juan, and drinks and chat with Wendy and Chris afterwards.
From there I made my way down to the riverbanks, and ran the final stretch of Parkrun – again unable to resist putting in an effort and pretending it was a sprint finish! I was reminiscing on a number of previous fast finishes there, personally when pacing 25 min with Kathryn and Malcolm finishing just close by. Lovely chats with Karen and Lesley afterwards, and hearing about David and Juan battling out the finishes.
Next up was a cut through the woods towards Maiden Castle, and a run along the riverbanks, across the bridge opposite the Rose Tree, then back along the other side of the banks towards Noisy Bridge. This was a route that Anna and I had run often as a warm up prior to our early Tuesday morning track sessions with Allan. Frosty mornings had not deterred us, although today was sunny and warm by comparison. As I approached Noisy Bridge I had Allan in mind again, his spot at Parkrun provided an opportunity to think of him and to be thankful for all he gave so many of us. The track was not too far away, and that also provided a number of lovely fun memories of times spent there – the Christmas run being the most recent with inflatable Santas, Mince Pies and chocolates! I toasted the front of Maiden Castle with a Kendal Mint Cake gel – my new running food of choice. I was imagining Striders gathered outside MC doing stretches and cool downs, and the good humoured banter that goes along with that (including Lesley’s scarecrow joke which had Phil, Mark, Rory and I in stitches – for all the wrong reasons!)
Onwards to the club run route – I ran one lap this time round, remembering the first time I had done this route. Stephen came flying past towards the middle of the first lap, looking supremely comfortable. I had commented to Alex B that it was so unfair that Stephen looked so comfortable – Alex said something that would stay with me – he pointed out that the “speedies “ were trying just as hard as the rest of us, and it wasn’t easy for anyone. Too true! Running through the woods today was brilliant – quiet, peaceful, birds and squirrels galore.
After the club run route I headed up towards the science site, remembering a club run there a couple of years ago which was great fun. Michael and Fiona had organized a 3 drill run – reps of the hill, laps of the carpark, and a Parlouf style run towards South Road. I had been paired with Anna M, and we’d had great fun. I again couldn’t resist a couple of efforts on the hills and flats. Going up the hill I had Allan R in my head – “go, go, go” – how he has the energy and breath to shout encouragement whilst still going at some speedy pace himself I will never know!
I then returned to South Road and made my way to the Theatre of Dreams. This holds so many happy memories – I was a regular last year and that was when I really started to see my times improve. I thought the track was for speedies, and had avoided it in favour of 10k routes around town, but the idea of running round a car park was not so intimidating so I really took to it and the interval training it provided reaped big rewards. I had really enjoyed chasing Peter, Mark, David, Alex, Matthew C and Anna M round in circles – we were all very close in pace and had great fun lots of Wednesday evenings. I enjoyed watching Michael and Mark K go flying past, often joined by Graeme in close succession. Seeing Lisa L improve her times here, along with so many others, made it a lovely social occasion.
The last stop was Low Burnhall where I had Elaine in my mind, funny warm up dances, and setting off far to quickly on the first efforts at a pace that I could not sustain throughout despite desperate attempts to do so. I’m not naturally a cross country runner, but I do enjoy trying. Memories of Nina and Jan encouraging me to try to catch Elaine, and of Barrie going flying up the hills, as well as lots and lots and lots of mud….
Back along the A167 I had meant to jog the final mile, but the legs felt good, so I decided to go for it – and ended the run to find I’d got a second place Strava trophy for the “A167 short section” segment, only behind Tracy Millmore on the leaderboard – not bad for the end of a 15 mile run! Clearly my legs are still in decent condition, and the urge to race has not left me! In fact perhaps I’d better to back out and try for that crown soon……
This was a great run – showing that although we are socially distancing, we are not socially distant. My Striders friends were with me throughout that run, in my mind and thoughts. I look forward to the time when we can be together again in person, but until then the Striders family remains a source of strength, inspiration and great memories!
Newton Hall to Kepier hospital on the sands. Hope this relieves the boredom a bit and I thought it apt to talk about the leper hospital. However bad we feel stuck at home we could be John Bulmer.
STOP 2 KEPIER HOSPITAL
The first hospital chapel (now St Giles Church, Gilesgate) was dedicated in June 1112.
Kepier hospital was refoundedbeside the River Wear at Kepier, c.1180, by Bishop Hugh le Puiset with an establishment of thirteen brothers, serving around thirteen (male) inmates as well as travelers and pilgrims. Many were lepers a common disease.
St Giles was the patron saint of beggars and cripples and Godric of Finchale was a doorkeeper of the hospital church before settling at Finchale and further becoming St Godric. Naturally Kepier was important for its hospitality and in 1298 King Edward I was among those entertained here.
Not many years later in 1306 the `visit’ of Robert the Bruce was not so warmly welcomed. On June the 15th of that year Bruce’s Scottish army swarmed towards Kepier and severely burned the building.
Kepier Hospital was inspected in 1535 as part of Henry VIII’s ValorEcclesiasticus survey of monasteries. It was shown to be the richest hospital in the diocese, devoting 25% of its gross annual income of £186
Henry ordered the closure of the lesser monastic houses (including Kepier) prompting the doomed Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion. The Master of the Hospital supported the Bishop of Durham in opposing the Pilgrims, but its (lay) steward Sir John Bulmer was executed for participating in the rebellion. It was the “most serious of all Tudor rebellions”, it was a protest againstHenry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the policies of the King’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, as well as other specific political, social and economic grievances. John Bulmer was found guilty of treason was tied to a hurdle and dragged through the streets of London. Bulmer was taken to Tyburn and was hanged, almost to the point of death, revived, castrated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered .Later that day Margaret Cheyney his wife was burnt to death at Smithfield.
Lakeland 50, 2019: a lock-down inspired race report of my first ultra
“Do these paracetamols belong to anyone?”. Blank stares all round. I pop a couple. It’s cheating a bit, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to podium, so it’s probably okay.
I’m at the second check point (Mardale Head, 20 miles in) and, as well as cheating, I have just sat down ignoring some advice I had read in a Strider race report: ‘Beware the chair’. It’s lashing it down and windy, so the checkpoint makeshift ‘shelter’ isn’t really doing its job (think market stall with a few seats under the canopy). Still, the biscuits and sandwiches are a welcome distraction and the marshals have had to drive out to the middle of nowhere to set this up, so I think myself lucky.
I’m starting this report at check point two because it’s where the challenge began for me – it’s when the endurance bit of the race started. It hadn’t really been necessary to stop at the first check point in Howtown (10 miles in) but it was nice to use the loo and get out of the rain. Here, Ash and I were in pretty good shape. Ash is good friend since university days and we were doing the race as a pair. After this stop, the tallest climb on the route (about 2,000 ft at 11 miles) had taken us up into the hills away from the familiar sight of Ullswater and it wasn’t too bad at all. We had hiked up in mud and trotted down the other side without any drama. We were chatting to friendly, soggy competitors, all in good spirits, but it wouldn’t be long before things started getting difficult, for me at least.
It was between 18 and 20 miles that I had grown uncomfortable jogging and when leaving check point 2 even my walking was limited by increasingly tight knees. I didn’t say anything to Ash but when we began the next 1000ft climb it became obvious I was struggling. While he maintained our normal pace, I started to fall behind quite quickly. I was hoping I could just ‘walk it off’ but doubt set in as I carried on with small steps, zig-zagging up a normally unchallenging rubble path. I caught up with Ash who was waiting for me periodically and then he would head off up again. As my legs didn’t improve and I inched up the slope, I started to mull things over. We had clocked less than 25 miles. Not even half done and my knees were sore to the point of wincing with each lift. I was asking myself whether I should be just realistic and call it a day? With all the preparation and excitement that would spell a small, personal disaster.
What I needed at this point was someone to convincingly say: ‘this isn’t the end of your race, it’s the start of the next bit’ and that ‘to finish you need to accept sore legs and crap weather, move forward and do not stop, it’s going to be worth it’. I have now read books that tell you that it is the last third or the last quarter of your big challenge where you have to rely on your determination more than your body. I didn’t really understand this at the time, and perhaps you can’t until you have done something like this already.
It’s doesn’t make for a good story, but I didn’t make a single, determined decision – there was no ‘I’m going to do this!’ moment, I just carried on as best as I could. A big consideration was that if you start Lakeland 50 as a pair then you need to finish as a pair. Alternatively, you both DNF. I didn’t want to balls-up Ash’s race, too, so I plodded on aware I was eating into our 16hr target time. To make things worse Ash was, at times, literally skipping along.
We eventually reached the top of the big climb and, as the landscape levelled, I realised that I was relatively comfortable on the flattening path. This changed my outlook: it was mountainous terrain but parts of it were going to be flat, and perhaps downhill would be okay, too? I now figured that the event was, possibly, doable.
Pushing through the next few miles, I wondered why my knees went so early on given that our pacing had been very sensible; I was expecting a recurrent calf problem to be the issue if anything. During my training in months prior, I had been running half marathons off-road at weekends and shorter runs in the week. Not ideal in terms of distance, but I had at least included quite a lot of steep hills and step-up workouts. Maybe I should have ran with my full pack more, or perhaps my knees were always going to be a problem without better training? I’m none the wiser now. Anyway, we managed to make it to the next check point at Kentmere (mile 27) without pausing.
All the check points have small stories in their own right, for which there isn’t time. For example, at Kentmere I realised I had left our hard cups at the last checkpoint. Ash took the news well and was distracted anyway as he thought he had forgotten to dib his electronic dibber and was stressing about DNF’ing as a result (#newbies).
At each point, Lakeland 50/100 marshals and volunteers do a great job; some are even in themed fancy dress (what is it about runners and costumes?). A key thing for checkpoint for me was that, even though most were indoors, I started to lose body temperature and shiver whilst in them (drying out a bit, resting and eating). After leaving Kentmere, a concerned marshal even asked me if I was okay because I had full on body shivers and was setting off in slightly the wrong direction. I said I was fine – I knew that I just had to get moving again to warm up, and because of this I was actually looking forward to cracking on with the next looming hill.
Up and up again, we were now heading to Ambleside. The rain had been patchy all day, but the cloud hadn’t spoiled all of the elevated views. The weather was deteriorating now though, as was the daylight, and some of the paths had turned to total mush.
As night fell, we trapesed through flooded steep hillside fields, slanting rain, up to our ankles in mud, the only head torches in the darkness. Such places made me appreciate just how much harder it must be to do the race solo at 50miles and particularly at 100miles. We had passed quite a few of the tail-end Lakeland 100 competitors a number of whom, in all honesty, seemed like broken, shuffling phantoms in the night. I’m not being derogatory: they had already completed our distance and were cracking on to do the same again in pretty horrid conditions. Some were happy to exchange a few words, where others just grunted in recognition, or pain, as we passed.
We descended down into Ambleside and I was happy for the pavement, well-wishing people out on a Saturday night, and the camaraderie, salty veg soup and boxes of crisps in the parish centre. Out of town, we sploshed our way through some more miles. Occasionally disembodied sheep eyes reflected our torches in the distance; some waited, unspotted in the darkness and then bleated loudly as we passed. (‘Mint Sauce – you little buggers!’) It wasn’t all tough: there were sizeable flattish sections where I was able to lead because my energy levels were pretty good (it was just my stupid knees on the climbs). In fact, I distinctly remember thinking on some level single track that my shadow, cast by Ashes torch, showed how I was power walking rather than limping along, but I might have been a bit delusional at this point.
Next up was Chapel Stile (40 miles in). This was a brilliant checkpoint. An open fire heated the Marquee where some kind marshals provided us with quality brownies. We exited the tent and Ash pointed out there was only 10k until the last check point which was Tilberthwaite (46.5 miles). We were both rested and in a good place. It sounded very doable and we strode off enthusiastically. At the time we probably both could run 10k in around 52-54min. It took us 2 hours 15min. There had been a steep 500ft climb though and we were having to dig deeper now being weaker at the business end of the race. There is only one unmanned, open check point in the 50 mile event at Blea Moss. We had to do quite a lot of bog trotting, but navigation was aided by small ribbon flags some kind soul had set out to show the way where the path wasn’t clear. Approaching the dibber area, we saw a man in his 60/70s standing in the rain dressed in country walking clothes. I remember reading that the organisers had tracked him down – it turns out he is a local widower who likes to guide people in and provide support at this point each year. What a legend!
We approached Tilberthwaite, quickly grabbed an odd cheese toasty, which had been cooked using an outdoor log burning stove. We then headed straight off as we had agreed not to stop ‘so close to the end’. We had no illusions about how tough the last 3.5miles would be. Jacobs Ladder is no secret and it begins the final proper climb of around 800ft. At the beginning there are nicely defined steps with lanterns highlighting each one trailing up into the hillside. But at some point, god knows when, it got steep (think easiest grade rock climbing at times), muddy and endless. This was the only stretch of the route where at one point I was on all fours.
We found our way to the last summit and started to wind our way down to Coniston. We were ambling and chatting now. The weather had cleared, and we had realised some time ago we were going to miss our 16-hour target, so we were content just to finish. The clouds above and below us were starting to lighten with the dawn and, a bit later on, looking back up the mountain I could see a string of tiny head torches tracing the way we had descended. It was a nice view and also good to know that there were a lot of competitors behind us.
Coniston at dawn was very quiet and we strolled up to the finish and had a hug and a selfie. We were led back into the main marquee where the calmness was shattered by light and noise as we were announced by someone banging a pot and lots of people (those who had finished) cheering. We got our finisher’s medals and a picture taken and met Mark our friend who had completed hours before us and who was sporting a big grin. He had drank lots of coffee and was our designated driver. We swapped a few war stories on the way back in the car, but Ash and I lasted about 20min into the drive before we both snoring.
Will I try another ultra? I am not sure. It’s a lot of time to train and a big ask of the family. I am sure about this though, as a result of signing up for this event, I found a new hobby in off-road running and I also found a great running club. Both of which will have to tolerate me for years to come.
Last Easter I researched and ran a route that I was going to lead looking at some of the historical facts that pack Durham. Clearly this is now not possible so instead I’m planning to deliver it as a kind of blog with pictures of me with my trusty companion. I hope you find it interesting over the future weeks apart. I hope you can find time to run it on your own. I’m currently running it in stages.
So here goes.
An approx 8.5 mile route taking in the history and connections between Durham then and now of the Arnison centre and Newton Hall. It follows the route of old railway lines, then into Durham where we visit the Kepier Leprosy Hospital associated with St Giles Church in Giles Gate. Crossing the main road into Gilesgate to discover the history of the DLI Victoria Cross heroes and into Durham to the Cathedral and castle to look at the rarer stories associated with palace green. Returning through Flass vale and its gory secret. To return to Framwellgate moor and its mining heritage on route to discover the naming of ‘pity me’ whilst returning to the Arnison centre.
STOP ONE NEWTON HALL
Newton is first mentioned in the Boldon Book of 1183. This was Durham’s equivalent of the Domesday Book and it records that Newton was a farmhouse or settlement belonging to William, a former abbot of Peterborough.
It became Newton Hall in the 18th Century when a Georgian mansion was built in 1730 for Sir Henry Liddell, Lord Ravensworth. His successor, Thomas, sold the house in 1812 to William Russell, the son of a Sunderland banker and the richest commoner in England. He owned Brancepeth Castle and was also a coal owner. By the 1830s Newton Hall had passed to the Spearman family and in the 1880s belonged to the Maynards, a Yorkshire family who made their fortune from ironstone mining. The Maynards virtually owned the town of Skinningrove on the east Cleveland coast. In the later part of the 19th Century, Newton Hall ceased to be a private residence and was taken over as a branch of County Durham’s hospital for mentally ill patients, based in Sedgefield.The fate of the hall in the early part of the last century was similar to that of many historic houses. It was used as a barracks during the First World War and then fell into disrepair.
The hall was knocked down in 1926 and a tragic incident occurred during its demolition when a joist thrown by a workman accidentally killed 14-year-old John Arnison. He had left school only three days earlier and his first job was cleaning the bricks removed from the hall for recycling.
In 1988, the teenager was immortalised in the name of a neighbouring retail development – the Arnison Centre. His name was chosen as the result of a competition to name the site.
The main body of Newton Hall was located about where Brancepeth Close stands today, although the hall and its walled gardens covered a wider area.
A tower-shaped gazebo was on the edge of the gardens, where Eggleston Close is today.
A driveway linked the hall to Framwellgate and Durham to the west and more or less followed the course of Carr House Drive, the present estate’s principal road.
A major stimulus for the growth of the estate was the relocation of the Post Office Savings Certificate Office to Durham from London.
The 2019-20 cross country season saw its fair share of disruption. Lambton Estate was a new fixture this season but the first attempt was rained off and it was rescheduled to March. Druridge Bay suffered the same fate and by the time Thornley Hall Farm came around in February there wasn’t an option to postpone it and it was cancelled.
Then, with the season heading towards its close, COVID-19 has put its oar in. Lambton wasn’t cancelled but it was reaching a point where individually people were starting to question whether they should be taking part. Men’s cross country Captain Stephen put out a message to the club encouraging everyone to judge participation individually and to be sensible about how we conduct ourselves. At that stage, it was a tricky balance between avoiding unnecessary risk and wanting to contribute and support the club. In the end I judged it reasonable for me to attend. Subsequently, the Harrier League organisers had to cancel the Druridge Bay re-run, so it turned out to be the last race of the season.
We went into the fixture with the mens team 3rd in the league, tied on points with second-placed Gateshead Harriers and 3 points behind Sunderland Harriers in first place. Blaydon Harriers were breathing down our necks just one point behind. We had an outside chance to win the league and a great opportunity to finish in second; we just needed a massive performance.
The women’s team started out equal fifth on points with North Shields Poly. They seemed secure in the league but Heaton and Elswick Harriers were poised within a few points to strike.
I’d picked up new member Tom Dutton and rising XC superstar Alex Mirley to give them a lift. For once I arrived in time to see the start of the women’s race and there was a good section of the taped area taken up by Striders men cheering them on. Also for a change, I was well prepared and was quickly geared up and ready to go for a warm up, unlike my normal rush to get my number on before jogging to the start, which isn’t the best starting line experience. I got to cheer on some of the women finishing, right up until the point that the slow pack got called up to the start.
Waiting for the start is always a nervous excitement. I haven’t been a counter for our team yet but I normally try to get to the front of the pack to at least give the other clubs someone they have to get around. And I reckon that extra couple of metres, that odd second, might just come in handy later.
The gun went off and away we charged towards the first turn and the stable block before hitting the tarmac estate road and starting the steep descent towards the river. There were plenty of people in spikes opting for the grass verges but I’d decided on studs much earlier in the week and was confident in my choice. There were a couple of brilliant steep drops at the bottom of the hill which took us to the riverside and onto the main track, where I was finally able to settle into a more sensible pace.
Measuring it afterwards, the track was about 1,200m long until hitting the climb that we knew would come. I’d settled quickly into a good pace alongside Peter Telford from DCH – we get on well, but there was no chat and both of us had our game faces on. I could see Geoff Davies’ and Robin Parsons’ vests bobbing around in the pack not too far ahead and I had hopes that I might be able to at least keep them in sight.
I ran the first Lambton 10k back in 2014 and knew the hill back up would be steep and unpleasant and I wasn’t disappointed, with 30m of climb in about 300m. It never sounds as much in numbers as it feels at the time in the legs and lungs. I was pleased to reach the top, though, feeling strong and able to keep up my pace while I recovered from the climb with others gasping around me. I picked the easiest line around the field edge at the top to save my legs and we were quickly into the woods heading back to the entrance road. Once there, the tarmac / grass verge choice was only about 50 metres long before heading back into the trees and by far the wettest part of the course (apart from the river). Choosing the right line was critical to balance a longer detour against the strength-sapping mud of a direct route.
The estate had also generously included a fallen tree to add to the decision-making – drier but longer to hurdle the low part, or straight line through (reasonably) deep water? The first time around I went for the detour and was amazed that the person in front virtually stopped to clamber over the tree – I planted my foot on the trunk and launched myself past him while he faffed.
Once off that ride, the paths dried a bit to vary between flat and firm to deeply claggy, but all still eminently runnable. After a few twists and turns there was a short drop and we were passing through the gates into the castle grounds. No-one was stopping to admire the architecture from the front lawn, though, and in moments we were back onto the road and turning right into lap 2.
The arrangement of the field was great with the start and finish areas close to each other, which meant we had brilliant support. I was so focused on the race that I don’t remember everyone who was yelling encouragement, but I remember Joanne and Wendy, with Jan and Nina roaming the course as well. Sorry to those I can’t remember but your shouts made a massive difference, they do every time.
The second descent was fast and uneventful but as I hit the track again I could see Geoff and Robin ahead – was I actually gaining on them? I’d also realised that in between them and me I had Paul Swinburne’s vest as a closer target to aim for. Perhaps this thought was too tempting as I overcooked the 2nd climb and went a bit too deep, taking longer than I would have liked to recover at the top. Going back into the woods, I was more adventurous at the fallen tree, going for the middle option but also spotting some of the Medium / Fast pack runners overtaking on the straight line.
Round we went again and by the third visit to the long track, I realised I had fallen away from Geoff again. I realised that I’d dropped Peter but I’m not sure where that was – perhaps the first climb, I wasn’t really paying attention, just running my own race.
I got the third climb just right, pushing as hard as I dared but able to recover normally at the top. I was gradually gaining on Paul and at the tree I took the direct (wet) line and came alongside him. My dreams of picking him off weren’t to be though, he started to lift his pace through the woods and I couldn’t match him from that far out.
There was no-one immediately behind me as I passed the castle (confirmed by a quick glance over my shoulder at the bend) and there was a good crowd in front so I knew I was aiming to pick up places in the finish rather than defend from behind. I hit the grass and put the hammer down, driven on by the encouraging shouts from the spectating Striders. I managed to pick up one place but the second was too strong and he held on.
In the end, I finished 6 seconds behind Paul Swinburne, 29 seconds down on Geoff and 35 on Robin, coming in 173 out of 325 and lowest scorer of the Striders D team. I really felt as though I’d acquitted myself well, an improvement on previous XC races. Even Jan Young said I was a cross country runner now!
We came second on the day and second overall for the season. The women’s team managed an excellent 6th and maintained their place in the top division, an even better achievement because we only had 7 runners. Fiona has already summarised some of the other great club results from the day but I wanted to add a couple of other observations. We fielded 5 male teams – 30 runners, the most of any club. Gateshead Harriers didn’t manage a full team. DCH had 7 runners and placed 9th. Our B team would have placed 5th and every member of our D team (as well as B and C) impacted on DCH’s team score. This truly is a team sport and all runners can have an impact on the result, even if you aren’t a “counter” for the A team.
It’s been a while, and it may be a while more… You will all have heard to death by now, there’s a bit going on at the moment. As has been communicated already, we will not be organising club activities for the foreseeable future. As a country we have not yet been prevented leaving our houses, but all non-essential travel has been advised against and the situation is serious. Get your fresh air and exercise while we still can, but please remember that we have been sent home for a reason.I’m not sure many, if any of us know where the coming weeks will take us or when normality will resume, but for now it is head down, do what we are told and stay safe. We do have a wonderful connection in the way of technology that can help hugely in times such as this so if you haven’t already, and wish to stay connected with club members please utilise the Facebook page and Strava group. Anybody with an internet connection and a device on which to use it can do this. Virtual connections may become the new normal so please make full use of them, and stay positive while you do so. Team app and the emails associated with it will remain the means of official club correspondence.
In terms of outdoor activities, why not try something new and away from the city streets? Many people run the railway paths but they do extend past Lanchester and Crook! If anyone has any extra time for a drive, head into Weardale and try the Waskerley Way stretch. There are plenty of flat sections (and some good hills too if you look for them). I’ve never encountered people out that way, only pheasants! A fell race recce is often a good few hours spent, there are many in the surrounding area and a tentative question will have any fell runner in the vicinity springing up in seconds (then you have to get rid of them again…). The Weardale way that we know so well in Durham is actually 78 miles long, why not try another stretch of it?
But to further the serious note, that we may be forced into our houses as they have experienced in Italy, Spain and parts of France – consider how we may train in our houses and gardens. It isn’t what we might like, but it may be necessary – and it’s likely that 97% (references not available) of us would benefit from some extra stretching, strength & conditioning or yoga. Get inventive! No weights? No problem! Enlist your children/ pets/ partners/ canned food that everyone seems to be hoarding… And keep us updated! Those with instagram – have a look for ‘#sportividacasa‘ to see how the Italians have been coping!
As always, the one thing that can ALWAYS be done… WRITE YOUR RACE REPORTS! We will all be needing things to read in the coming weeks! Perfect means of ‘social distancing’ – something that we all need to be doing to keep each other safe.
In the final Harrier League of the season runners were treated to a course inside the private Lambton Estate and from all accounts, it was a good one (although there did appear a lengthy thread about horsefly bites soon after. Must be a sign it’s warming up). In the ladies race, it was a sprint finish for Emma Thompson from the fast pack and Nina Mason running from the medium, coming home first and second counters, shortly followed by Susan Davis (also first V60 home) and Wendy Littlewood, having only just decided to run and in her trainers no less! Though this completed the team, Jan Young was also first V65, proving that cross country is not something you grow out of!
In the mens race, Alex Mirley ran strongly from the medium pack to finish 3rd overall and 6th fastest of the day, closely followed by Stephen Jackson in 8th place from the fast pack, posting the 5th fastest of time the day. They were joined by Georgie Hebdon, Stuart Scott, who gained promotion to the medium pack, Michael Littlewood (escaping the fast pack once again!) and Chris Callan to finish an overall 2nd place on the day, and 2nd place in the league, a personal best for the Strider men. Taking home the trophy next year?
As this was the end of the season, one of unprecedented cancellations and postponements, the individual standings are also known and we have some podium finishes; congratulations to Stephen Jackson and Graeme Watt on 3rd place finishes in the senior and veteran male categories respectively. Here’s hoping for a full set of fixtures next year!
On the roads, Corrine Whaling and Anna Basu further showed the value of great training partners to finish 16th and 17th overall, and 3rd and 4th females, Anna taking the 1st V40 prize also. London (October) 2020, watch out!
At the Run Northumberland Big 20 Miler, Stephen clearly wasn’t too tired after the cross country, as he retained his title from the previous year to once again come home in first place.
Now, for the best words (I’m not biased) – to the fells!
Six Striders plus Jan went down for the Bilsdale fell race, a GP fixture and the only ‘AL’(reasonably long and equally hilly) in the North York Moors. Somewhat out of the comfort zone of many in attendance (and on cross country legs from Saturday), to their credit, everybody made it round, and nobody missed any checkpoints! Not to be said for all attendees of the race… Special mention to Nina, for taking a full 17 minutes off her time of last year, despite the mud this time round being 6 inches deeper – how’s that for a PB. Overall we had a 1st, a 4th (and category win), I think the men might have been third team as well, and we all met Nicky Spinks. My claim to fame; she watched me fall waist deep, face first into a bog, I’m sure it was elegantly done though. Thank you also to Jan for marshalling, and I believe the Parson family were out shouting encouragement from somewhere beneath the Wainstones, though it might have been lost in the wind!
After sacking off Manchester Marathon due to a slight Achilles issue in January, I was looking to revise my springtime race calendar once the ankle allowed me to run again. My first port of call is as always, the club GP fixture list, it offers such a diverse range of events I couldn’t recommend it more to any of our new members looking to do something slightly different, chances are there’s always going to be at least one other strider there. Saying that I’m fairly new to the off road stuff, other than the harrier league, I’d ran in a couple of races over the Christmas period and managed to place 8th at Captain Cook’s on New Year’s Day so I was keen to give road racing a break and have a bash at more fell races.
Bilsdale was next on the agenda, £10 entry, 15 miles and just shy of 4000ft of climb. Lovely.
I have absolutely zero knowledge of the North York Moors so when Fiona B suggested a quick trip down for a recce a few weeks before the race I jumped at it, the only problem with this was that it was the day Thornley got cancelled because of Storm Ciara. The wind was absolutely crazy, on the descents you could lean forward and the gusts would hold you up like a scene from a Michael Jackson video, at least it can’t be any worse than this on race day I thought! However, in the time between our recce and race day, the Lambton Estate HL fixture was rescheduled for the Saturday before Bilsdale. This put me in a bit of a predicament knowing how demanding Bilsdale was going to be and given that the men’s team were joint second in Division 1 and with a big turn out there was potential to top the league. I was never in any doubt that I would participle in Lambton but just how hard I would go, maybe I could take it easy for two laps and push on the final? These thoughts rattled round up until about five minute before the gun when I saw Nina just after finishing the ladies race, she was also doing Bilsdale and I think her exact words were, “it’s a different kind of race tomorrow, it’ll be fine”. Needless to say I went hard from the off…
Arriving at Chopgate village hall early on the Sunday morning for registration, everyone was a bit precautious with the handshakes and congregating in close proximity to each other due to the current climate, but everyone seemed to be grateful that this, unlike so many other events was still going ahead. Having had my kit check complete, picked up my number I had a meander round the car park eyeing up the competition; I’d already done my usual cross-check of last years’ results and this years’ participants, followed by a browse on power of 10 and Strava profiles… In the build-up I was quietly confident that if things went well, I could place quite high in the field. What I’ve learnt in my short tenure in fell racing is that things don’t always go the way you plan.
The start is at the bottom of the first climb, quarter of a mile or so on tarmac before turning off onto a trail and up to the first steepish section. I started off in the lead pack of 4, an easy pace compared to what I’m use to but I knew what lay ahead warranted the slower pace, the pack began to spread out by a few yards and I made an error by following the guy in front instead of looking up at the tracks. By going round instead of straight up a climb I lost a bit of time and two guys from Durham Uni passed me by taking the shorter route, I carried on at the easy pace regardless knowing that from CP1 there was a long stretch of downhill that I could open up my legs and try to regain some of that distance. The looped one way system at CP1 allowed a quick thumbs up to both Michael and Barrie before putting my head down and picking the pace up down towards the road crossing, thankfully the wind wasn’t too bad on this section and I started to slowly reel in the two lads in front. They were just starting the climb up the steps from the road as I was crossing it, this is where the efforts from the XC the day before began to make itself known; from the road to CP2 is a continuous climb up and my legs started to feel it big time. I looked at my watch, 5 miles, wow I was in for a long day if I’m hurting already. I plodded on, not really making time on the lads in front and no one had passed me so at least I was breaking even, passing CP2 and heading round towards The Wainstones where I made another bad call on the route.
During my recce we went straight through the stones and down but pre-race Barrie mentioned there was an easier trail that went round to the left, I did neither and found myself doing a few zigzags/parkour leaps until I found a way out and back onto the route, passing Zoe and the kids spectating. After another climb up to CP3 and the subsequent descent where again, I made another error following the guy in front by bearing left after a gate we started to climb again and when we approached a junction I knew we were in the wrong. I followed the trail on the right to get a better view and down below as expected, I could see a few runners heading towards the scout hut at CP4; I had two options here, either head back to the gate and get on the right route inevitably losing more time or as the crow flies straight down through the bushes, I decided on the latter more fun option. The climb out from CP4 towards the stone seat absolutely killed me, my legs were absolutely screaming by this point and I could have quite happily face planted and slide all the way back down. I opted not pursue with this strategy though and carried on slowly climbing, from the stone seat was pretty uneventful for me heading back down and electing for “the shoot” route towards the stream checkpoint (CP6), from here the route was flagged up to a small road section to keep us pesky runners off someone’s land. This time round the tarmac section seemed so much longer and steeper than what I remembered from our recce.
There was further uncertainty among a few of us on the route to CP7 but no major issues or loss of further time, Jan was marshalling at this checkpoint and she called out I was in 11th, people ahead must have missed this checkpoint as I thought I was further down the pack. Slowly getting to the top of the climb a walker and his grandson stopped to ask me what the race was, welcoming a very quick break for my worn legs I stopped and pretty much had shout over the howling wind for him to hear me. From here it was anyone’s guess at the best route down to CP8, I carried on down the firmer track until I thought it was the best time to veer left through the heather and down to the gate; I’d overshot it by about 200m and ended up on a small track with runners heading towards me, that’s never a good sign but it didn’t look like I had lost too much time by the time I had U-turned at the checkpoint. From here on I was pretty confident of the route and there were no major hiccups in route selection, the biggest challenge now was just getting to the end, I had absolutely no power left in my legs; I’d already had a gel and even tucked into my emergency food supply.
Heading out of Scugdale (CP9) I had a brief chat with another runner who gladly pointed out this was the last climb, once at the top and heading towards CP10 I employed a run/walk strategy with the first signs of cramp in my right quad showing, I didn’t want to push too hard to have to walk the whole way back to Chopgate. The twinges in my quad became slightly more bearable so I gingerly dropped the walk element of the run/walk strategy and plodded on to Cock Howe Cairn, the final check point, I felt a slight wave of relief overcome me as I knew it was all downhill from here. My legs were too far gone by this point to even try and pick up the pace, I had to use all my energy to concentrate where I was putting my feet regardless of hearing the panting of someone behind me, I couldn’t even muster the effort to try and put in a spurt to hold him off and he went flying passed towards the finish. With about 200m to go, from behind, I heard “COME ON GEORGIE!!”, it was Fiona coming in fast and we eventually finished with about 10 seconds between us. She finished first lady, a brilliant performance. I scuttled straight round to my car and chugged a bottle of water and got some warm clothes on before heading into the village hall to have a delightful cheese pasty and piece of red velvet cake to regain some calorific goodness.
Regardless of the pain I was feeling for pretty much 66% of the race, this was a great event in a great location and as long as it doesn’t land on the same weekend as a HL fixture next year I will definitely be back – it has only contributed to my ever growing love for fell racing.
Further to the information circulated yesterday, the decision of this Committee is to cancel all face-to-face club activities with immediate effect and until further notice.
EA’s advice includes that where possible, runners are encouraged to maintain their own personal fitness and keep active during this time while following government guidelines about safe distance and safe exercise environments.
Some of you will recall my previous messages about the great fellowship that this club offers, beyond simply running together.
Please be mindful of the potential negative impact on mental wellbeing at this time. Our club FaceBook group allows us to stay in touch and for those who don’t use that, we have other channels (TeamApp, club Strava and Garmin groups) too. Don’t suffer in silence – let’s look after each other!
For the second year in a row I went over to Northern Ireland to run last one standing, the race with no end.
The first time I entered this race I was sure I would hate it but I loved it and it got hold of me big time. I was really looking forward to trying to improve on my 29 laps and 120 miles from the previous year and believed from everything I had learnt the first time round this was well within my capabilities.
Unfortunately things did not go to plan and I only managed 14 laps on the horrendous bog fest of a course, I just could not get in the zone and in an event such as last one standing getting in the zone is everything.
The concept is so simple all you have to do is keep moving forward at a pace of 4.167 miles per hour, every hour on the hour until only one competitor remains and this is why I love it so much, its just running and movement in its purest form.
The next few paragraphs are adapted from a post by the inspirational runner, who does an awesome podcast!
You can learn a lot about yourself in these events as they expose every weakness you have physically and mentally, poor preparation and planning will guarantee you any early exit.
You need to learn how to be in tune with your body, problem solving and decision making also needs to be spot on or you will not go the distance, there is very little time to pull back a mistake.
Most people stop well before what they could have achieved as their inner voice is able to justify why it is a good idea not to finish a loop or start another. In a standard 24 hour event you can be in a very dark place but you are able to push on as even if you want to quit you might have to go along way before you can, in the backyard you can end it with great ease whenever you want and this is what makes it so hard.
Eion Keith, one of the best ultra runners on the planet, has stated last one standing races are some of the hardest there are and this is why they appeal to me, I just love the challenge.
Straight off the back of my disappointment at Castleward I was planning my next backyard ultra and as luck would have it Challenge running are putting one on in Suffolk on 6th June and I cant wait.
If you are intrigued please ask me any questions you might have as it would be great to have a good strider turn out at Suffolk and it would be fantastic to see some of you get the buzz I do from these unique events.