All posts by Simon Graham

Montane Spine Challenger, Edale To Hawes, Saturday, January 11, 2020

108miles, 17000ft elevation, 60 hours cut off

Elaine Bisson


The Spine Challenger – ‘A non stop 108 mile race between Edale and Hawes…This challenging and technical section of the Pennine Way is a physically and psychologically demanding route that demands concentration, good physical fitness, resolve and respect.’

Where to start? I feel shell shocked, overwhelmed and as if the last few days have all been a very strange dream verging at times on a nightmare! But then I look down at my elephant feet and I realise it was more than just a dream.

I’m standing on the start line of one of Britain’s iconic races, ‘Britain’s second most Brutal race’, absolutely petrified. Frantically trying to open my poles and spot where my family have gone. The start has caught up on me way before I feel ready….

If I take a deep breath, I know that’s not entirely true, my own training plan I have followed to the letter, despite struggling round one of the long runs, The Tour of Helvellyn, with flu…what doesn’t kill you and all that! Strength and conditioning, done. All of my kit has been weighed, checked, packed on training runs and used. Although somehow, I didn’t quite anticipate such a heavy bag, the kit list is huge including sleeping bag and stove, all in all its just shy of 10kg. My big let down is my recceing, I managed two recces, the other planned days were taken over by illness or other commitments. I’ve studied the maps. I know if I take my time, I’ll be fine. I just have to believe.

I travelled down on Friday to get my kit checked and register, a pretty stressful event in itself. The race briefing is the scariest one I’ve ever been to. We are warned about the weather…’gusts that WILL blow you off your feet. Constant rain’. We’ve been told to wear our goggles, too many last year fell victim to wind blindness and had to retire…wind blindness, really????

Registration done, we drive 10 minutes to the cottage I have for one night, my family for the weekend. Aptly called Happy Feet, it’s beautiful and I wish I hadn’t found such a gorgeous one, to make it easier to leave.

Back to the start line, Stuart nudges me, pointing at Jen Scotney, he believes she is my only worry. Standing there, my only worry is whether I’ll make it to the other side!

The valley is gorgeous with the rolling grassy fells flanking its sides, the sun has only just decided to rise, the wind is already making itself known. We wind our way up towards Jacobs Ladder, I know this is where I’ll potentially see my rivals…I’m always good at climbing, even when my legs are shot. I reach the top in first lady position and am briefly interviewed whilst on the run. I tell them I’m looking forward to the adventure…

The landscape becomes increasingly wild and absolutely stunning. Huge boulders everywhere, the sky glowing pink, the wind blowing a hoolie and trying its best to knock me over…which it does, quite a few times. I feel alive! We traverse Kinder Scout, the tiny lights of Glossop still twinkling as the dawn breaks. We make our way to what is surprisingly called Kinder Downfall. It certainly wasn’t falling down today as spray curls upwards soaking everything nearby, myself included. Crossing on to Mill Hill, I’m getting increasingly more confident, absorbed in the moment and the landscape.

Despite a little line of runners leading the way, the man in front has already managed to take 3 wrong turns…whilst on a pretty big trail or flagstone path. I quietly giggle to myself.

On to Bleaklow, the path is quite sheltered, being cut away and almost sunken in the landscape. This does mean I can’t see any other runners, but I’ve got my map. I’m attentive to any other turns, of which there aren’t any, and continue on. Soon enough I’m out of the dip and views stretch across to Torside Reservoir. We circuit the steep side of Torside Clough and descend onto a large track to the first mini Mountain Rescue checkpoint. I spot my family in the car, just arriving on the road, they all stick their heads out and shout ‘we love you, well done!’ It always amazes me how such a brief meeting can cheer you up for miles.

Joined by my daughter

I’m pleased to be offered tea and biscuits which I stop to enjoy, dunking custard creams into my tea. Stuart catches me up, then the second lady. She’s polite but I sense the competitiveness as she refuses any nourishment and quickly disappears along the track. Not long after, I catch and pass her on the way up to Blackchew Head. I feel happier as I manage to increase the lead by gaining more ground on the climbs.

The side of the ridge of Laddow Rocks drops precipitously to my right. I’m concerned as with the height we’ve gained the wind has picked up and is again trying its best to push me over the side. I use my sticks to fix me to the ground and feel relief when we finally drop down onto stone slabs. I’m still with Stuart and we chat away, its quite a bleak run towards Wessenden head MR point. Here, we’re told in no uncertain terms to put on our goggles or risk missing the race. I stop briefly to locate them and then I’m off on a wide track to Wessenden. It’s a pleasant downhill run around the reservoirs, then off up a steep muddy trail and across Wessenden Moor. The wind is ferocious now. We are reduced to a walk as we fight to gain ground. It’s blowing big waves across the tiny reservoir. At the A62 junction my family, to my surprise, have stopped again and my daughter has run to meet us. She tells me how cold she is in the wind, as if I don’t know! I get a few brief cuddles, shouts of ‘we love you mum’ and I’m gone. Leaving Stuart behind as he tops up fluids.

It’s strange passing over the M62, all of those people in warm cars, speeding along, miles passing in minutes. While I’m up on the footbridge, being buffeted and threatened by everything mother nature can hurl at me. I’m soon aware that I’ll have to stop as the rain and darkness threatens to fall. When the man in front sees his opportunity, I too stop and get my waterproof trousers and mitts on. I stuff my headtorch into my pocket. Stuart passes, already fully waterproofed and I work hard to catch him up again.

Weather ready

Just before Chelbourn Moor, we drop down to another MR point. Someone is holding the gate open and shouting my name. To my delight I realise it’s Kerry and her daughter, who I’d met at the coaching course. I stop again briefly, hiding in the MR van and have another tea with numerous biscuits until I brace myself and exit, back into the wild. Darkness has engulfed everything and the weather is horrific. I’ve not witnessed anything so scary and I’ve been out in all sorts. Soon we’re submerged into hell. The light from our headtorches bouncing back off the mixture of fog and horizontal rain as it lashes us this way and that. The wind howls and gusts. We can barely stay upright nor see our feet, never mind discern the track we’re supposed to be following. Thankfully we are a party of three and we stick together, one clutching his GPS like his life depends upon it. I keep telling Stuart how scared I am. Stuart then suggests one of us keep our headtorch on and follows the others without their headtorches switched on, allowing the others to see better. It works a treat and we take turns until it improves.

Soon enough it lifts and we’re onto Warland Drain and briefly on water laden flags until the boggy bits before Stoodley Pike. I’m quite excited to be there. I’ve seen it from the valleys but have never run up to it. It’s a welcome sight, even in the rain and gloom.

There’s a light up here and I think its attached to a building until I see it move and realise it’s Max. I cheer up no end. To have ventured out to greet us on a dark, extremely windy and rainy night, means a lot. He’s careful to run behind us so that we can’t be accused of cheating. Soon he turns off back to his car and we head down a good track to Hebden Bridge. By now I’m starting to feel the cold. The bogs have slowed my progress and the wind is strong. I pick up speed on the descent, eager to get warm again. Somewhere along the road, Stuart drops back and I don’t see him again until the checkpoint.

I’ve picked up another runner. We work our way to Hebden Hey, me spotting signs and him check, check, checking against his GPS and map. We make our way up a tiny little lane, rising steeply from Hebden Bridge and wade through the quagmire.

Slightly Soggy!

We pass up a little lane by a house and I’m pleased I have company. The lane is lined with odd gnomes, one of which is a clown and surely would feature in a horror movie. It’s still raining, although not so heavily. Soon we’re on the main road of Slack and drop down steps, ankle deep in mud and debris with a newly formed stream gushing over everything. This is where I’ll have to retrace my steps after the checkpoint. Those new dry socks I’d been so looking forward to will immediately be soaked and covered in mud.

I get a lovely welcome from the volunteers who cheer and clap and quickly and efficiently lead me through. I take my trainers off and they’re labelled and put near a radiator, not that it’ll do much good. My bag is already on a table. It seems surprisingly quiet, there are only a handful or so runners there already. They tell me food is available in a different room. I ask to see a medic. I’ve been religiously applying Vaseline to my back, where I know my pack rubs, but it’s beginning to feel sore. I change into a full set of clean dry clothes. It’s heaven.

Clean, dry and smiling.

I hang my coat near the fire hoping it’ll dry while I’m eating food. In another room, I’m welcomed by the giddy staff cheering me in as first woman. I am offered four different meal options. I opt for a vegetarian pasta then a lovely rice pudding with a heap of strawberry jam. I have two cups of tea then go through to see the medic. She quickly and expertly puts pads and then Ktape across my lower back. She says I’ve probably caught it in time.

Then I’m back to sort my supplies. I’ve given myself 30 minutes grace and want to use it efficiently. I left myself a checklist on top of my bag so that I wouldn’t forget anything. It’s another 62 miles to the finish, with very little support on route. I happily go through everything and only faff a bit choosing extra layers. I’m told the rain that had been forecast to stop at 2am is now set to stay. I opt for lots of layers, putting on my baselayer, primaloft top, primaloft jacket and Paramo jacket. I stuff another fleece into my bag and get my spare gloves, hat and buff on. I’m ready, sort of. On my way out, feeling refreshed, I pass the second and third women. This gives me a boost, they certainly do not look fresh!

When I go to leave, the interviewer asks who I’m buddying up with for the night. I shrug. He tells me the man I came in with, has only just left. He’s on the Mountain Rescue Team race and would be great for nav and pacing. I try my best to catch up with him. We stay together over Heptonstall Moor. Everything by now is waterlogged. The paving slabs all sit below inches of water. My headtorch creates these amazing waves across the long grass in the bogs, it seems to dart lazers along the stems. It’s quite beautiful.

We weave our way round the Walshaw reservoirs. I’m enjoying his company. We don’t talk too much, but keep each other going at a good pace and on the right track. On toward Withins Height. It’s with huge disappointment that I realise his pace is dropping. He soon tells me he’s struggling with shin splints and urges me to push on. The trail across the moor is reasonable but I soon see a light ahead and try harder to speed up. Just above Ponden I catch up with Gary Chapman. He’s a Spine and Spine Challenger veteran, in fact he’s local, living near Ponden. My luck is in! He knows all of the direct lines across what are now swamp fields and he chats incessantly. It’s lovely company and reassuring that I won’t lose time or waste energy covering any extra miles by getting lost! The rain has by now subsided and I start to think daylight is nearing, only to realise the full moon is lighting up the tracks.

A brief rest.

We stop briefly at Lothersdale MR point. Gary’s club has put on a non-official checkpoint for the last few years, offering food, drink and shelter. His friends are all marshalling and they run up the track taking orders via a walkie talkie, so hot drinks and soup are all ready when we arrive. It’s a first class service and much needed escape from the elements as we’re wrapped in warm blankets and fussed over. Chris soon arrives, although I haven’t met him yet…

Gary had planned a longer stop, but his friends tell us we are unbelievably in 6th and 7th position. I easily persuade him to reduce it significantly. He’s never been so high up or so quick with his splits. Happily, he accompanies me out of the door and up onto mud sucking fields. Each and every field tries it’s best to pull our trainers off whilst simultaneously draining our legs of all energy. I don’t enjoy the next few miles. It’s flat and on a good dry day you could skip over these fields but today every step is a huge effort, pulling against the mud and wading through sodden fields. By now Chris has caught us up.

At Gargrave,  a lovely lady who has driven to Mcdonalds at some silly time in the morning, waits at the roadside with 3 teas for us to enjoy! She’s been busy tracking us through the night and has arrived in perfect time. We happily accept her kind offer and shelter briefly in a bus stop.

I start to feel incredibly tired, its been nearly 16 hours of darkness and it’s starting to take it’s toll. I’m relieved when the sky lightens around Airton. There are a few diversions in place to avoid the worst of the waterlogged fields.

I enjoy the track toward Malham Cove. Leaving the monotonous water drenched fields behind, is a relief. The landscape at last opens up in front of us and is stunning. I do wonder whether someone has been up painting images of sheep onto the face of Malham cove, but keep quiet, quite sure it’s just my sleep fogged brain playing tricks on me. On the steps up to Malham Cove, we leave Gary behind, he’s eager now that we push on. I stay with Chris and follow his lead as he goes across the limestone. Moss and huge cracks, threaten to twist or break our ankles. He slips and falls breaking one of his poles. With our daft route choice, we’ve lost time and arrive back on the Pennine Way only to realise Gary has pushed quite far ahead by taking a higher, easier path.

I start to feel quite cold, my pace has dropped off with the awkward, rock strewn path. I’m getting quite low in spirits (I really wish I’d brought more gin). Thankfully, just before Malham Tarn, Max appears again with his cheery smile despite the inclement weather and my moody face. By the checkpoint I’m really cold and quite concerned. I’m wearing almost everything and look like a Michelin woman. I warm up with a lovely hot chocolate and somehow manage to persuade Chris to join me back on the trail. ‘Let’s get this finished’, I urge. By now he’s 3rd male and desperately wants to cling on to it and I’m still maintaining first lady position. He’s also feeling the cold and getting increasingly fed up. We start to run to warm up on the easier tracks and continue towards the end, run/walking and encouraging each other on. He’s perfect company.

Lets get this finished.

Fountains Fell seems a never-ending climb. It’s pleasant and easy enough but the higher we climb the more cold, windy and foggy it gets. I’m trying to orientate myself and chivvy myself on. Desperately searching the skyline for glimpses of Pen-y-ghent, our next big climb. Its hidden in cloud. Dropping down to the road Chris pushes ahead. My knee is beginning to hurt on the descents.

On the road I’m stopped twice. Firstly, offered a tray of cookies and when I decline, saying they look gorgeous but I would struggle to swallow them, the man races back to his car and brings out a handful of gels! A few hundred metres further on, an old man jogs up and asks for a drink order, he then races back to his car and presents me with a lovely sweet coffee. It’s part of The Spine magic, I’m not sure if they realise just how touching these wonderful gestures are. They even know my name as they have been tracking me.

We’ve got this.

Heading up to Pen-y-ghent, Chris has waited to make the climb together. I struggle with tired legs and the wind that is trying to detach us as we scramble/crawl up the rocks with our huge packs. There are a few moments when I fear I’ll be blown off. The other side is even worse, descending on the God-awful slab steps. Chris, again, pulls away.

Surprisingly, Max is again waiting up the lane and he chats briefly trying his best to reassure me that the second lady is not gaining, despite my slower pace. Problem is, I think he’s just being kind. Panic rises as I start to think that after 90 miles of being first, I’m going to drop my position. Arriving at the MR checkpoint, I’ve just about had enough despite the kindness of the staff, who bring me soup and bread. I’m entering into quite a dark place. I sit with Chris, who looks equally crestfallen. Two rather sprightly men pass through and we both think our places are dropping. I urge him to get up and head on out before him.

Leaving for the final push

I spend a while faffing on the road in Horton, my brain is muddled and I can’t make head nor tail of the simple map. The more I look the more I get in a pickle. It is ridiculous, its daylight, the sun has even decided to make a brief appearance, I’m on a large road in Horton. It’s quite obvious where I am and I can’t remember the way nor see it on the map! Thankfully, Chris catches me up, calms me down and I’m back on it. Map in hand, I’m determined not to lose any places by getting lost on this final stretch. I know the route, I’ve covered the ground numerous times before, my confidence is increasing again.

By now, my quads are in agony, my legs work but I have to ignore the pain. I tell myself over and over ‘pain is temporary, victory lasts forever’…something on a motivational video Stuart has filled my head with, although I later realise the ending is somewhat different. I like mine better! It works and I continue to walk the hills and sort of run the flats and downs. Chris is lagging behind until we pass a photographer. He tells Chris he is in fact third male, the other two who had passed were MRT challenger racers. We work together pushing onwards to Cam End. By Cam Road he’s had enough of the panic that has risen in him. He stops to check his tracker. Catching me up he reassures me the second lady is way behind, maybe 4-5 miles. However, he says the next male is about 2 miles away. He calculates and recalculates our pace and time. We move as fast as we can. Unfortunately, I struggle to keep up and its disappointing to see his red jacket pull further away into the increasing darkness. By West Cam Road, I really need to put my headtorch on, but I know if someone is not far behind it might just be the thing they need to give them a spurt of energy. I still don’t believe anyone about my lead over the second woman! I keep it off until a high wall when I’m out of sight. I have to stop again to get my goggles out. The wind has picked up, a few times I’m blown and stumble to the side and my eyes are stinging with its ferocity.

I search and search for the signpost onto the last boggy section to drop across the fields into Hawes. Aaron had warned me before my recce that it was easy to miss, so I’m on high alert not to miss it today. Finding it, I start to panic as there are two tracks and for a minute I can’t remember which one is correct. Taking stock, I calm myself down and choose the right track but take my GPS out just to make sure. I’m too close to risk it now. Soon I see the familiar red jacket again, Chris has waited to run into Hawes with me. He said he’d tried to wait on Cam Road but the wind had been horrendous, so he’d pushed on.

It’s a wonderful feeling being a team again and seeing those longed-for lights of Hawes. It’s just a shame it seems to take an age to make them any bigger! Chris is still on high alert, he keeps checking behind to see if a light is catching us. We slowly make our way down into Hawes, taking another diversion that has been put in place to avoid the worst of the muddy fields. We gladly follow the road and soon we’re passing through the houses, along the tiny lanes, through a gate and we’re again being interviewed as we make the final push to the finish. I hear cowbells and my daughter appears, mad as a hatter. Chris’ pace increases and increases, somehow I keep up and it’s with relief and extreme happiness that we pass through the finish line together. Unbelievably, I am joint 3rd overall and 1st lady.

We did it!

Afterwards, I sit with my family, Fiona and Max who have come to cheer me in. I eat soup and drink tea, I’m transported to the YHA to shower and clean up (the best shower ever!)I have my photo taken with a trophy, mine will be engraved and sent on. I’m awkwardly interviewed. Then going out of the door I’m told my ‘prize’ is free entry into next year’s Spine Challenger. ‘Oh hell!’, I think.

Over the next few days I eat everything in sight and I’m still hungry. I stumble around, my feet belong to an elephant and I have no shoes that fit. I have managed to survive relatively unscathed, minimal blisters, a few toenails due to fall off, but pretty well considering. I’m totally overwhelmed with the messages I’ve received. I never imagined that while out in the wilderness, at times feeling very alone and scared, that so many people would be watching my tiny dot progress.

Strangely, it doesn’t take me long to start thinking about how I can improve for next year…Britain’s most Brutal certainly is an apt tag line. It has been the biggest adventure and challenge of my running life and yet I did it. I vowed never again…but perhaps ‘never’ is a word I shouldn’t utter!

Brass Monkey 2020, York, Sunday, January 12, 2020

Stephen Jackson

The Brass Monkey is one of my favourite races, a chance to see ‘where you’re at’ at the beginning of a new year, a new decade in this case.
I’d purposely dedicated a four-week block of training to this race, and throughout December I’d managed four consecutive 100 mile weeks, an arbitrary target for the obsessive club runner in me. I’m not blessed with natural top-end speed but I am very lucky in that I’m pretty resilient when it comes to knocking out fairly high mileage without breaking. A preventative flu jab and plenty of vitamin C had got me through December without so much as a sniffle.

A two-week taper, of sorts, including a few much-needed lie-ins over Christmas and I arrived at the start line in good shape. I knew from a few key work outs and a good race at the North Easterns’ that a PB was possible.
I’d decided to race, rather that run to a target pace and latched onto the second group, and I was probably only twenty seconds or less behind the leaders at 5k. The pace was quick; but felt comfortably hard. I was on the edge, but that was exactly where I needed to be to run my best.

By 10k I was in a group of 5/6 runners, taking turns to lead the pace. I was deliberately not using too much mental energy off the front, quite happy to ‘tuck in’. We passed through half way in 34:32 – I made a conscious effort to look at my watch at this marker.
There was lots of surface water but it was a mild January morning, with very little wind – perfect running conditions really once the rain had subsided early on in the race.
Around mile 9 there was a change in the group dynamic, two runners had caught us and began to increase the pace, three or four dropped off the back. Liam Aldridge of Bill Marsh House had finished ahead of me recently at Alnwick and I knew he was running well, I tried to hang on. Kilometre 15 was a 03:12 split, 16 minute 5k pace; I was starting to feel more ‘on the edge’ than before.

Rather than back off I adopted a ‘now or never’ approach, I decided I’d rather blow up than back off too much; not wanting to settle for second best. My experience told me the body sometimes has a little more to give. Suddenly, those early relaxed miles felt a long time ago. It occurred to me I’d had a gob of spit on my chin for a few minutes because I was too tired to wipe it off, I didn’t want anything to break my rhythm.
I was still moving fairly well and despite the best efforts of the two guys in front of me they were no further ahead by mile 12, in fact I’d closed the gap a little. I knew a PB was in sight, I just wasn’t sure how big.

Mile 12.

I instantly though of coach Allan at mile 12. Every year he made the trip to this race to support Elvet Striders. He would appear after about a mile on the way out, disappear for cake and coffee (of course) before standing at the top of the bank, just as York racecourse is in sight. I realised just how much he will be missed on days like this. 
“You’re running really well Stephen, just relax”. I suddenly had his voice in my head.
Often, he would shout my position, never as high as it was to be this year.

This year this race was for my friend Allan.

Results : – https://www.runbritainrankings.com/results/results.aspx?meetingid=335811&event=HM&venue=York&date=12-Jan-20

Tour de Helvellyn, Saturday, December 21, 2019

Nina Mason

The route

I had planned for this to be my ‘big one’ for 2019. I entered the race in January thinking I would have nearly a full year to build up the mileage and effort required. I was looking forward to braving the elements, and running in the dark – I find this so much fun. The route is out and back from Askham with a loop ‘round’ Helvellyn

Having completed the Old County Tops with Elaine in May however, I didn’t feel like it was uncharted territory anymore – and I became giddy with excitement in the few days before the event!

I had recced the route a few times in sections. My other prep included squeezing all the kit (a fair bit) and food (ditto) into my rucksack, writing the checkpoints on my hand (so no worrying if my mind got foggy), deciding what time to start, planning when and where to snack (easier for me on ups), and what I might snack on (buying race food was a highlight in the week before!)

The weather was kind on the day – no wind to speak of, and although it might have drizzled on me, I don’t recall proper rain. It was mild too for the time of year. Snow, ice, wind, or rain would have changed the day entirely (though there were small patches of melting snow over Sticks).

The route is on tracks and trails, and there is a small bit of road too. There was no navigation needed, though I was pleased that there were runners around me in the low cloud over Sticks Pass and Grisedale Tarn.

I found it very different to other (shorter) races I have done in the Lakes – I didn’t dare tackle the ups and downs as I would usually (full throttle – though that means different speeds depending on direction) due to the distance. I felt I had to hold myself back a little earlier on – it is so tempting when warmed up to really enjoy the downs! I’ve never had much speed on flatter sections, so a steady plod here felt ok.

I saw mum at Side Farm on the way out – I think I surprised her because she shouted ‘slow down!’ (she was trying to take a photo) but she just got a ‘No way! Have a good day!’ I missed her (or she missed me?) on the way back as I was ahead of schedule. I didn’t look at my watch until I got to Side Farm on the return – I didn’t think there was any need, as I could only go as quick as I could go. When I did look I was pleasantly surprised, and this spurred me on for the ‘home stretch’ (10 miles, but it felt like the home stretch!)

Anyone on Barton Fell as the daylight dwindled may have witnessed the ‘Mason shuffle’ – not quite running speed, but quicker than my walk. And achievable whilst snacking on fizzy, jelly sweets – always a winner for me when getting tired, ‘solid’ food is looking less appetising, and I need an instant hit. I do however feel more research on this may be required, and am always on the lookout for new brands, shapes, or flavours to test, and different hills to eat them on.

I pushed on for the last few miles over the moor, conscious of the clock, overtaking a few people and determined they wouldn’t go past – though knowing I wasn’t necessarily racing them, as everyone chooses their own start time. But the competitive urge is always there, so when I spotted (and I think verbally greeted) the gorse bush on the moor above Askham, I knew it was a downhill mile or so back to the village hall. I pushed hard, had to brake suddenly to get over the cattle grid, grimacing to get the legs running again.

And a dash into the heat and lights of the hall, to be dibbed at the finish. I must have looked wild-eyed (wild-haired? tired? windswept? sugar rush or crash?) as I got a few ‘are you ok?’s and ushered into a chair, vaguely disgruntled that I hadn’t even needed my head torch – both starting and finishing in the half-gloom.

Because of the staggered start times I was washed, changed, and full of soup by the time I saw the other Striders. We shared a few war stories, and then thank goodness for the post-race buzz that allowed me to drive home. Great fun, and already signed up (and hoping for snow) for next year.

Event Website: https://www.nav4.co.uk/tour-de-helvellyn

Results: http://results.opentracking.co.uk/event/tdh2019

Photo courtesy of John Bamber


Fiona’s 2019 and goals for 2020

It is pleasing to be able to say that I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved this year.

The London Marathon in April saw me bag a new PB, finishing 13 minutes faster than my previous marathon effort. Not only that, but conditions were near-perfect for me and I paced it well. 
Most importantly, it was a truly wonderful day. 

At the Copenhagen Marathon, 3 weeks later, a much hotter day but a new PB again by another minute, and a fabulous weekend away with friends to boot! 

I didn’t want to lose momentum following the spring’s exertions, so I also participated in the Northumberland Coastal Run for the first time, and then during Autumn I did several trail half(ish!) marathons. 

I closed out the year with a new 10 mile PB at the Brampton to Carlisle Race, and I exceeded my 1000km target for the year, making this my highest mileage year since I started running 10 years ago. I was also very surprised and happy to finish the Ladies’ GP in the top 10 for the endurance category and in the top 20 overall.
Certainly, I am feeling ‘fit at 40’! 

Challenges for 2020:
Hardmoors Half Series
Dark Skies 14
To try to run more consistently and increase my annual mileage
To keep enjoying it!

London Marathon 2019

Ian Jobling’s 2019 with Elvet Striders

I turned 50 in March 2019. For many this half century milestone is a trigger to slow down and take it a bit easier. For me 2019 would be different. I wanted to drop a few pounds and improve my fitness, so I signed up for the Great North Run. I would run my first GNR for Cystic Fibrosis. A training plan was drafted based on 2-3 short runs and a longer weekend run of about 8 miles. Training went well but it took about 3 months for my body to adapt to serious training.

I did my first Durham parkrun in April in a time of 00:36:08. Then a friend and member of Elvet Striders suggested I came down to a track session at Maiden Castle which I did, and boy did I enjoy it. This was when I met Michael Littlewood and Allan Rennick. Both guys were so welcoming and encouraged me to stick at it for age was not a barrier but a challenge to be overcome. My first event for the Striders was the 3 Peaks trail race. The team spirit and forthcoming encouragement from fellow striders was overwhelming. I was hooked and signed up to the Durham 10K which I completed in 01:06:38. I remember that night was so hot, and the atmosphere was electric. Meeting Paula Radcliffe was special. Then it was onto the Darlington 10K which I completed in 00:54:24 minutes. Then came the Gateshead 5K which I ran in 00:25:18.

A two week holiday in Kefalonia was followed by the GNR. My family and I took the Striders bus that morning to Newcastle and everybody was buzzing. It was tough. I had set a target time of 2:15:00 and eventually struggled over the line in 02:16:47 which I was happy with considering it was my first attempt. I did the Tynedale Jelly Tea 10 mile in 01:36 and then it was onto the Coxhoe 10K which I finished in a time of 00:53:36. I was feeling good and was getting quicker. I ran the Hamsterly Forest 10K in 00:56:20 and then got my parkrun PB of 00:54:07 in October a whole 12 minutes faster than I had achieved in April. The Autumn saw me compete in the NEHL Wrekenton 6K XC race 00:54:56, the Brampton to Carlisle 10 mile 01:26:05, then the 12K NECC Championships in Alnwick where I got a time of 01:16:04. This was my hardest race in 2019 and took its toll on me. My final race of the season was the Saltwell 10K where I achieved another PB of 00:52:50 compared to my Durham 10K time of 01:06:38.

My targets for 2020:
Sub 22 minute 5K
Sub 50 minute 10k
Sub 2 hour Half Marathon

I have met some wonderfully supportive people during my time as a Strider. I would especially like to thank Alison for making such a great club run leader, Wendy for her positive encouragement on race day, Allan for making me feel so welcome every time I turn out and to Stephen and Michael for being great team captains and for setting an example of how to train and race to success.

2019 North East Cross Country Championships Alnwick Elvet Striders Men’s Team

Montane Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra, Saturday, December 7, 2019

55 Miles, 11,000ft ascent.

Elaine Bisson

Its just after 6:30 on Saturday evening. It’s dark outside, you can hear the wind howling. I’m sitting in a cosy cafe in Ingram next to John Kelly (amongst others!) A beautiful glass 2nd female trophy is on the table in front of me. I’m sipping on hot, sweet, tea and chatting about Nicky Spinks, Jasmyn Paris, TDS, BGR, Grand Round attempts and Spine training. I’m covered in mud, its smeared all over my clothes, across my face, remnants still linger in my eyes occasionally making everything blurry. My hair is windswept and matted with mud and rain. I have an indent on my forehead from where my headtorch has been pressing for the last few hours. I no doubt stink. I’m tired but extremely happy. It’s a deep sense of satisfaction, one that I’ve craved for months now. This is it, this is what I love and this is why I keep returning.

Its Friday night, I’m standing in my bedroom, clothes strewn across the floor. I’m wondering what bag to take and what clothes to wear. I’m not off  out for a wild night on the town, I’m preparing for a day on the wildest of Northumberland fells.
I seem to have grown horns and quite quickly I get the sense that my family are avoiding me. Occasionally my kids peep in but they rapidly retreat and leave me to it. I go to bed early, hoping to sleep but instead I keeo checking I haven’t missed my alarm. It finally goes off at 2:55. I tiptoe round the house and start my journey at 3:30. Its quiet on the roads until I turn of the A1 towards Ingram. I catch up with a long line of about 10 4x4s, the mountain rescue team on their way to race headquarters before they’re deployed across the fells in the hope they will keep us safe.
At the race briefing I stand next to Nicky Spinks. We are to run the route in reverse, the forecast is for extreme weather conditions, winds now of 40mph, gusts of 60mph, increasing all day to reach 80mph. We are to get the higher more isolated terrain over with first.

The wind gets stronger as we climb, the voices of Carol Morgan and Nicky Spinks  have long since disappeared. I can just about make out the white trig point of Hedgehope hill. There is a string of lights stretching far across the fells. The sun is rising from its sleep, reluctant to awaken amidst the imminent storm, its colours splash across the sky. The bogs glisten  and sparkle as though they are things of wonder. A man, submerged up to his thighs calls for help as another two go to his aid, hauling him from the bog. Our fight against the elements has begun.

The wind strengthens as we climb toward the Cheviot, the fog descends yet despite the ferocious wind, the mountain rescue in red jackets still welcome us and wish us well. It’s hard work running forwards on the slabs to the summit, the wind is blowing us sideways. Reaching the trig I tap it with my hand, I wonder if that’s what everyone does, or do they loop round it or is standing within a metre of it enough?

Then its back the way we came, passing people precariously, neither wanting to leave the safety of the slabs to step into bog. Nicky isn’t far behind, she is the only one not to smile, not to wish me well. I wonder how many metres I can keep up this charade of being first female?

The border ridge is magnificent in its wild windswept beauty. Dropping down beneath the fog the views stretch up to Scotland and over England. Rolling hills for miles around, uninhabited countryside. Isolated. Unforgiving. The ground beneath our feet also wants to reclaim its ownership, to deny the presence of humans.  Complacently, I attempt to step on a slab that has sunk deep beneath the bog. The sensation of plunging out of control, sinking into the bog is worse than the drop on Tower of Terror. My breath is taken away as mud splats in my face, eyes, all over my clothes. I have to grab the nearest slab to pull and crawl out. I can’t see properly for miles, bog swimming around my eyes. I have nothing clean to wipe it off and I seem only to make it worse.

17miles, I showed Nicky the way for 17m until that bog unnerved me and slowed my progress. Then she’s past. Max gestures for me to jump on board the ’Nicky train’. I just about keep them in sight until I stop at Blindburn and the Marshalls help me to wash the bog from my eyes and clean up a bit!
5miles of road, I’m loving it,I can actually see again and the smell of tea is keeping me going. I hated this section last year but after my battle with the bog I’m pleased to land on safe hard ground. Its not long when I reach the little stone building. A Marshall giddy as can be says ‘you’re second lady, not far behind Nicky Spinks, you’re doing amazingly, miles in front of everyone’. Now that’s why it’s quieter, I’m doing better than last year, far better. I turn another bend and my eyes lock on Nicky’s, I sense the dread as she spots me. I have to say, that look was the best part of the day. I may not have had a chance of beating her, but I made her wonder whether I could!

I quickly sort my bag. I’m impressed with my own organisation skills , my drop bag is efficient and I spend minutes refuelling. I carry a soup and bread up the hill , not willing to lose any time. Max assures me he’ll catch me up, which he does, very quickly. From here on in the weather worsens and worsens. We form a group of three, Max, Al and I. Perhaps I could have gone faster but I’m not convinced I remember the way and I know there is a huge area of bog not far off. I HATE bogs. What idforgotten was just how much bog. Its never ending, the wind is now shooting rain at us horizontally, the fog has descended again. The ground is treacherous, threatening to swallow us up if we take a wrong step. It seems to go on forever and when I stupidly think we’re nearing the track,I spot a runner in front missing what I thought was the trail and heading straight up over more bog infested land. It’s a place you wouldn’t venture out of choice, there is nothing beautiful about it. Miles of Bogland, like its been a war zone…the front line of a war zone with craters and human traps everywhere.

I cheer myself up with a now frozen Snickers. It’s a pleasant surprise how tasty and easy to swallow a frozen Snickers is!

Reaching the track I virtually jump for joy, then Max does a funny dance and shouts at Al to hurry up. We see him shrink to half his height as he plummits into bog, metres from safety.
A three again we’re heartened by the solid ground. 10miles left, seems like loose change. Its relatively more ‘pleasant’ down in the valley, I can actually feel my fingers again and hear.

Darkness falls, I like it. It obscures what is coming and somehow because of the need to concentrate, the miles pass quicker. We’re enjoying ourselves too much that we miss a turn, I quickly notice  our mistake and its not too long to backtrack.
Only now am I bothered about maintaining my position. I push on, unwilling to allow another female to skip past. At some point I no longer hear their voices or see their torches. I can’t see well or move fast enough, everything is cloaked in a veil of fog. I’m desperate to reach the finish, counting down the miles on my watch, they seem to take forever. Then through a gate I recognise, another, then lights ahead…not of a headtorch but of a building. I pick up speed, I’m so excited, I have a grin from ear to ear. I round the bend up the path and that’s it. Its done.

I’m back into safety, into warmth and comfort and company. My adventure is over, and yet now, I wish it wasn’t….

Blyth Sands 5 mile race, Sunday, December 1, 2019

Jan Young

A Day of Sun, Sea, Sand & SECONDS

One hundred and seventy seven runners helped this race celebrate its 60th birthday. The event organised by Blyth Running Club, is an age handicap, oldest off first, which makes for lots of getting caught. We climbed three groynes twice, ducked under a drainage pipe twice, avoided dogs, but couldn’t avoid wet feet in calf deep water channels.

Fiona, Nina & I returned to this race after absences of too long, Conrad is a regular, Tim chose it over the Hobble and Katy made a last minute decision to run, after Dalton Park cancelled.

All agreed it needs to return to Striders’ sprint GP. It was included in the 1990s & so popular, we booked buses.

Female Striders all placed SECOND in their respective age cats.

Inexpensive £6/8, possible entry on day, never cancelled, first three mixed teams & first back in each five year age cat awarded Start Fitness vouchers, all offered SECONDS of tea, mince pies and sherry. Recipe for success.

Results
13th Conrad White 37.15
23rd Nina Mason 39.53
24th Fiona Shenton 43.57
36th Katy Walton 39.29
73rd Jan Young 49.55
140th Tim Matthews 47.32

Full results (PDF)

Whinlatter Forest parkrun, Saturday, November 30, 2019

Jill Young

Being a self confessed parkrun addict there was no fear that a weekend away would not include a parkrun. After a friend visited Whinlatter Forest and relayed its breath taking views to us, it was top of the list for Saturday morning.

We awoke to a beautiful glittering frost, and as any parkrunner knows this means a quick check of the Facebook page to ensure the event is on! Dressed and barcodes at the ready we headed into the forest…

Met by many lovely fellow parkrunners all eager / apprehensive about what awaits, we gathered for the race briefing. A massive shout out to today’s RD Sonia doing her 100th volunteer stint today! After covering all the safety aspects, welcoming all the visitors and a round of applause to the amazing volunteers we were off!

So earlier I mentioned breath taking views! What my friend failed to mention was these are not the only things that take your breath away on this run! Hills (they are our friend), they are famous here at Whinlatter Forest! Officially the UK’s hilliest parkrun but also the most beautiful!

Today was definitely a parkrun first for me and Whinlatter, for that matter, by the presence of a dinosaur! NEVER did I imagine that parkrun would turn into a scene from Jurassic Park! The chirps of all the fellow runners pushing on and looking between the trees to not be beaten or chased down by a dinosaur!! Thankfully we managed to escape the clutches of the T -Rex and thunder down the hill to the finish.

Image courtesy of Whinlatter Forest parkrun

Met by the lovely RD and her team of amazing finish line helpers we had the obligatory selfie in the frame and picture with the parkrun sign (if you don’t do this as a tourist you didn’t attend)!

Refuelling in the on-site cafe we met some other lovely visitors from Druridge Bay,  Scunthorpe and Derbyshire.

Thank you making us so welcome, we would welcome you all to our lovely (FLAT) course any time!

Kendal Mountain Festival 10k Trail Race, Saturday, November 16, 2019

10k

Richard Hockin

I’ve been to the Kendal Mountain Festival a few times over the years and always been inspired by the programme of storytelling, films and other presentations. So when I lined up with over 600 other runners on a cold but sunny morning at the start of the festival’s 10k trail race I felt confident in my ability to tackle a challenging course.

We ascended almost continuously over the first two miles, heading out from the centre of Kendal in a south-westerly direction over the substantial rocky limestone escarpment of Helsington Barrows. We then turned north along Scout Scar with the exquisite Lyth Valley down below us to the west, and a panorama of Lake District fells in front of us. The conditions were much easier now, on gentler gradients and short turf, and it didn’t seem long before we turned eastwards towards Kendal with the Howgill and Barbon Fells coming into view beyond. Just to add to the variety of underfoot conditions the final mile of the route included some muddy downhill slopes and back streets with many steep steps, before finishing in the town centre.

How did I feel at the end of the race? Pretty good really – I’d prepared mentally for the first two uphill miles, and once that section was over it was just a case of keeping a rhythm going and concentrating as best I could on running technique.

An exhilarating experience, setting me up nicely for the rest of the festival to enjoy some more stories of exploration and endurance.

Richard and Chief Support Crew

A Beginners Guide to Elvet Striders Track Sessions

Tamsin Imber & Allan Seheult with contributions from Lesley Charman, Katy Walton and Fiona Jones

Our club track sessions are for ALL abilities. While track sessions may seem intimidating if you have never done them before, once you take the plunge you will see that they are fun, extremely beneficial and certainly not intimidating. You may be nervous about not understanding the session, or being slower than other people. This guide to the basics of track sessions will allay your fears.

What is a track session?

A track session is a running fitness session which takes place on the track [see Appendix]. The track sessions run by the Elvet Striders are led by club coaches, although are also completely possible to do on your own.

Each track session is in three parts: a warm-up, the main session and the cool down. All track sessions begin with a warm-up. The warm-up is really important to prepare the body’s muscles for the hard work to follow and to reduce the risk of injury. This usually involves some easy running, by dynamic mobility exercises and strides. The easy running may be a few social laps of the track. Dynamic mobility exercises are exercises which raise the heart rate and which get the muscles firing. Some examples include ‘fast feet’, walking lunges, skipping, side-steps, bum kicks, shallow squats, ‘windmill’ arms. These exercises are dynamic to prevent the muscles from being over-stretched before they are warm enough. They focus on the main groups of muscles used in running. Strides are running fast for very short distances. For example, the coach might ask you to run 2 laps of the track where you jog the bends and run fast on the straights. The aim of this is to slowly raise your heart rate to that which you will use during the main session.

The main track session follows. The main session involves a series of intervals and recoveries. Intervals are when you run harder at a specified pace (to be explained), and recoveries are when you recover from running harder. For example, you might do 6 repetitions of 3 minutes hard running with 2-minute recoveries. That would mean that you are doing 18 minutes of harder running in total. In the recoveries you would run at a much slower pace, either jogging or walking or some combination of the two. The aim is to keep an even pace throughout the session in both the intervals and the recoveries, i.e., you should cover the same distance in each interval. Whatever you decide to do in the recoveries (jog or walk) you should aim to do the same each time.

There are different paces which you might be asked to run the intervals in. These include threshold pace, interval pace and repetition pace. These paces are determined by your current fitness level and can be calculated using for example a parkrun PB, or 5K PB or 10K PB, using either the calculator in http://www.attackpoint.org/trainingpaces.jsp or a simple calculator provided in the session notes circulated in both email and FaceBook communications. If you prefer to run by effort and feel, no problem, just leave your sports watch at home. The following table indicates how running effort can be graded on a scale of 1 to 10. You should aim to run at the same effort in each interval and in each recovery. 

Rating of perceived exertionActivity Level
1Resting – no exertion
2Minimal activity – barest exertion
3Light activity – comfortable, slight difficulty breathing
4Light activity – comfortable speaking, breaking a sweat
5Moderate activity-speaking is easy, light sweating.
6Moderate activity-able to speak, moderate sweating
7Hard activity-difficulty speaking, heavy sweating
8Hard activity-Unable to speak, difficulty breathing
9Very hard activity
10Maximal exertion-cannot push any further

The main session is followed by a cool down. This is where the body is brought back gradually to its pre exercise state, reducing heart rate, body temperature and breaking down of any build-up of lactic acid from the session (this is thought to be one of the contributing factors to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). The cool down may begin with some easy running or walking, which may be joined on to the end of the main session. This is followed by static stretches to bring the muscles back to their pre-exercise length as when you exercise muscles by contraction, they tighten/shorten. Repeating the stretches later or using a foam roller later also helps. Examples of static stretches include deep squats, hamstring stretches, glute stretches and quad stretches.

Club track sessions are calibrated by time. By this, I mean a coach will time the intervals and recoveries with a watch and blow a whistle—one blast meaning start hard running and two blasts meaning start of recovery; and usually 3-5 blasts signalling the end of the session. Thus, regardless of ability, everyone starts and finishes every interval and recovery at the same time—in true Elvet Strider tradition, “no one gets left behind”.

Track sessions can be done equally well by distance., especially if you are doing a track session on your own or with a few friends you could use sports watches if you are running by time, or use the distance markers round the track if you are running by distance. 

Why do track sessions?

Regular track sessions can improve your speed and endurance. This takes time but does happen. Improvement can be measured using time trials or by comparing over several weeks your parkrun times on the same parkrun route, preferably under similar conditions.

Track sessions enable you to learn how to pace yourself (run with even effort/speed over time). This is useful training for racing where setting off too fast could mean a weak finish or hitting a wall before the finish. (Note that in a marathon, owing to the distance, hitting a wall is unavoidable due to human physiology, however if you pace yourself well then this wall creeps up later and more gently rather than earlier and suddenly).

Track sessions are very time efficient in terms of training. The whole session may last only 45 minutes.

A key benefit of track is you can run freely without interruption, focussing fully on your running and running form. There is no uneven ground, pavement curbs or pedestrians and road crossings to look out for.

Track sessions are sociable. You get to meet lots of people running in circles. If you are nervous you could pal up with someone of similar ability and run together. You can also run with people of similar speed to help push each other. 

I am not a fast runner—is track for me?

Track is for all. Track is for beginners to elite runners. Track can help road, trail, fell running and triathlon to maintain and improve fitness. 

The wonderful thing about running in circles is no-body knows where anyone is as it all gets a bit mixed up with everyone running at different speeds. So, don’t worry if you think you might be slower than everyone else as no-one can tell. In fact, running in a circle you can always assume everyone is behind you! 

Also, be mindful that speed is not only a function of fitness. Speed is also dependent on age, number of hours a week you work, number of hours you devote to running, and family considerations. Speed is adversely affected by lack of sleep, stress and by how much else you have done that day. 

There are many games you can play running in circles! Running in circles with others also allows you to challenge yourself. For example, you could decide everyone is ahead of you and that you need to attempt to pass as many people as possible. This is good mental preparation for pursuit races such as cross-country.

If you are finding it hard, a mental trick that I play is to pretend the track it is always downhill. The long edge of the track nearest the sports centre is slightly downhill, then you spin round the bend and are greeted by the other long edge next to the river which is yet more downhill, run around the bend and …funnily enough …. you are going downhill again! 

What to expect afterwards

Some DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) is normal for a few days after a track session as you have pushed yourself, especially if you are new to track. Especially as it required 200 muscles to take a stride when running! To help your muscles recover you should eat protein between 30-60 minutes after hard exercise, drink lots of water and rest or run at an easy pace for a few days after or longer depending on your fitness. If you have more than general overall soreness/stiffness or a specific area which is sore, you could consult one of the club coaches for advice. 

I am relatively new to running—is it safe to do track sessions?

Please discuss with one of the club coaches who will be more than happy to help. 

If you are pregnant/had a baby recently/have a health condition please follow guidance from your GP as appropriate and also discuss with club coaches.

What should I wear and what should I bring to a track session?

Bring plenty of water and warm clothes for afterwards. These can all be left track-side. Wear whatever you feel most comfortable in. 

Track etiquette

There are a few ‘rules of the track’ to keep everyone safe. We all run around the track in the same direction (usually anticlockwise). You run in the inner lanes and it is the responsibility of faster runners to overtake you on your right leaving plenty of space. If you are running with a friend, do not run abreast, but in a line, or with one person on the shoulder of the other. This allows more room for faster runners to pass. When overtaking, stopping, or leaving the inside lane to leave the track, you should check over your shoulder for runners coming up behind you, so as not to cause a collision. Note that warm-up and cool downs are done in the outer lanes of the track to keep out of the way of runners doing a main session.

Finally, …

Most things in life worth doing are not easy. There is a sense of achievement after every track session

APPENDIX

What is a running track?

A modern running track is oval in shape with eight lanes. Running tracks are built following guidelines established by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations). These guidelines state the distance around the track in the most inner lane should be 400m. 

The distance around the track for the other lanes can be calculated by knowing the lane width and a few other measurements. The formula, L = 2S + 2pi(R + (n-1)w) can be used to calculate the distances around the track for the various lanes. In this formula L equals the lane distance, S equals the length of the straightaway, R is the radius of the turn, n is the lane number and w is the width of the lane.

Since the IAAF has standardized track lane widths at 1.22 meters the above formula calculates the distance around the track in lane 2 as 407.67 meters, lane 3 as 415.33 meters, lane 4 as 423 meters, lane 5 as 430.66 meters, lane 6 as 433.38 meters, lane 7 as 446 meters and lane 8 as 453.66 meters. So, if you are running in lane 8, you are running an additional 54m every lap than the guy in lane 1 (the inner-most lane).

If you are running in lane 1 (the inner-most lane), 4 laps are roughly a mile (4.02 laps to be precise). 

Running tracks can be built with different surfaces. The running track at Maiden Castle has a red, all weather surface which is made of polyeurethane (a synthetic rubber). This surface is durable and heat-resistant