(Mercia Fell Runners)
Simonside Cairns, Sunday, December 10, 2017
11 miles/540 m
Beautiful day for a fell race – but icy cold! So cold that I immediately regretted leaving my gloves in the bumbag as we ran up the tracks towards the fells. My fingers were absolutely numb though everything else felt perfectly OK.
As far as I can remember, this was my first fell race since my Bob Graham in July although I’ve trained on them (the fells) a couple of times. I felt really good after having two unplanned days off and just swimming yesterday (still quite a hard session though).
I started right at the back (also unplanned) as it’s a really restricted start in an alleyway and I turned up on the line later than I would have liked (last I think). However, the race very quickly reaches a road so there’s loads of opportunity to overtake without burning too many matches. If you’ve no chance of winning then starting at the back is often quite a good strategy because it makes you feel like a bit of a god, striding imperiously past mere mortals – until you hit the point where you belong.
Before then I passed Geoff Davis quietly going about his business in his own unmistakable style then further up onto the fell I passed Mark Davinson from Derwentside, so I felt that I was going quite well. In fact, I was running quite strongly up the initial slopes passing many who were already walking – and feeling much more relaxed than I’d expected.
When we hit the fells it was apparent what the theme of the race was going to be: ice! It was everywhere, often in wide sheets, very slippery and HARD! All of the water channels that typically run along and across upland paths had frozen solid in the minus temperatures and wind chill and to step on a smooth piece was always going to end in tears. I hit the deck a couple of times but with no damage other than to my pride.
My particular problem, as soon as I got onto the fells, turned out to be a basic error: I hadn’t put the all-important extra twist in my laces and both immediately came undone when the heather began tugging at them. By this time I was running competitively with a couple of guys from NFR and others and because my shoes still felt fairly secure (Inov-8 X-talon 200s – I love them) I decided to see how far I could get. If it had been boggy I’d have had to stop or I’d literally have lost them. Remarkably, whilst they certainly didn’t feel secure, neither did they feel like we were going to part company and so on I went.
By the time we got round to the back of the course and the climb over the cairns with its stunning views (which I never saw) three of us had broken away though it turns out that there was somebody behind me that was closer than I thought. I was going much better than I’d anticipated and whilst the other guys looked like they were basically faster than me I was right behind them on the climbs, still comfortably running where they were walking, although I had to continue likewise as it involved too much effort to get past in the heather. However, when we reached the tops they very gradually pulled away and that was that.
Much of the long descent to the finish is now on very good, constructed paths obviously put there to prevent further erosion to, what I remember as being, almost muddy tunnels when I last did this race. Now my quads really began to protest. It was simply lack of specific condition but it was more uncomfortable than I would have thought possible. To make matters worse I could hear this guy closing on me so it was going to be fast to the finish and bugger the quads – I’d have to find some other way of walking afterwards.
I pulled away a bit on the last major undulation where I passed a lone walker at the top of the descent of the final fell who for some reason felt the need to tell me that both shoelaces were undone. Blimey, I hadn’t realised! I was actually a bit more uncharitable than that (in my mind) but I’m sure she thought she was helping. Then, almost immediately afterwards, charging down the descent, I hit the deck again when my legs just shot from under me on unseen ice. I was back up almost immediately, shaken and stirred after uncomfortably wrenching a couple of bits and pieces. It was all the guy behind me needed to squeeze by but as we weren’t too far from the finish he must have realised he was going to have to put a shift in.
Personally, unless I was absolutely sure of the situation, I’d have waited until the last descent and raced to the narrow bridge over the river because there’s not much opportunity to pass after that and so you can shorten the race by a hundred metres or so. As so often happens though, once he’d come past it was relatively easy to sit in but I couldn’t help passing him on the last short climb. So I just thought, “get it all out and see what happens”. Nothing – was the answer. That’s the way it stayed until the bridge when the game was effectively over. I was perfectly ready to accept being pipped but was pleased to have only lost the two places after the race had begun in earnest.
Despite the vast amounts of nervous concentration required it was a really good event made all the more enjoyable by the conditions. Not sure where I came but I think I did OK and made third V50, beating the first V45 in the process (I was 13th out of 87 competitors & 3rd V50 in 1:38:51)! Came away smelling of Roses (the Cadbury’s variety).
|13||Scott Watson||M 50||1.38.51|
|31||Geoff Davies||M 60||1.45.38|
The Angus Tait Memorial Hexhamshire Hobble, Allendale, Sunday, December 3, 2017
10.6miles, 1000 ft elevation
This is just about my perfect race. Although you can pre-enter via post or online, EOD are available for one pound more at £8. It had been on my ever-growing list for quite some time. A FB post suggesting the ground would be firm and ideal for racing convinced me to enter on the day. A few texts to Michael and we were all set.
The race starts at a very sociable 11 am, we didn’t leave Durham until after 9, meaning a Sunday lie in was enjoyed!
Race HQ and parking are at the Allendale Primary School. After a few toilet stops (there was no queue), I had a little warm up with Michael while he took me to the start of the first hill, and pointing upwards warned me what I could see was not the top…not in the slightest.
I had mixed feelings, this was a last minute decision, a Sunday run to top-up my mileage to finish off (for me) a fairly heavy training week. My legs already felt pretty tired. Michael was as giddy as a schoolboy though. This evidently was one of his favourite races and he couldn’t contain his excitement, which was slowly rubbing off! However it’s a race, and I always get nervous before races, no matter what I tell myself beforehand.
We missed the race briefing and joined the runners as they made their way from the school hall, 200m to the start line in a muddy field. I was pretty sure the promise of firm ground was no longer right as the temperature soared and the thaw had well and truly set in.
The gun fired and we were off, splodging over a muddy field until we hit road and then up, for quite some time and quite a few miles. We then turned off onto an equally muddy and puddly trail; it got muddier and muddier until we were attempting to cross the bogs. I’m not fond of bogs, having torn my hamstring and had months off running because of them, so I really grew frustrated with myself for my lack of confidence. The low sun gleaming off all the sloppy mud and puddles made it really difficult to see.
It was such a pleasure to finally feel firm stone trails beneath my feet again and my legs, after their requisite 3-mile warm-up, were finally not aching anymore. I picked up speed and started to catch a few men who had skipped past me as I floundered in the bogs. I started to enjoy myself after that. It was a beautiful day. We turned so the sun was no longer in our eyes and you could see for miles over gorgeous Northumberland moorland. The frustration didn’t end though. Quite soon we were again navigating around boggy puddles along little tracks that you could barely place one foot comfortably, never mind try to run and swiftly get your next foot in front of your other. The thaw had well and truly set in, it was superbly damp and it did seem we were running in small streams. We splashed and soaked our legs for miles upon miles.
Over the worst of it and again we found ourselves flying downhill on road. I’d totally miscalculated, Michael had told me to be ready for the fast long descent. So when quite exhausted and tired I got on the road I thought that was it. I really picked up speed, only to realise the valley curves weren’t quite how I’d remembered Allendale and then with a sunken heart I spotted runners climbing out of the valley bottom up another steep, but shorter ascent. Anyway, I was longing for the promised descent and I realised this must be my last climb.
I gained quite a few places on the hill then we ran on a flattish stony trail until we reached a gate and I was told I was second lady.
I’d entered not really hoping for much. Looking around at the start I’d spotted a few runners that I’d convinced myself would be miles ahead of me, but once I realised my position I threw myself into maintaining it. I set off down this final long descent catching quite a few runners. I felt really strong by this point, I’ve grown to like descending, no, I really love it.
The finish line was in the field where we started. Welcomed in by Michael who had again managed an astonishing 5th place.
I was over the moon to find empty, warm, clean showers to rid my legs of mud and warm up. Tea and cakes were complimentary to runners. I have to say I’ve never seen such a huge selection of cakes, nor have I taken so long in choosing one! We gathered again in the sports hall and welcomed in Tim and Fiona. It was funny to see the faces filling the room. Some bodies covered in blood from knee down (its quite treacherous and you have to keep switched on running over all the rocky paths), others had fallen waist deep in bog and had needed runners to pull them out. I was so pleased to return relatively unscathed and to be 2nd lady.
The prize giving was in the hall, we stayed to collect mine, unfortunately, we had to dash as the second race of the day was on. The most important one, the one where we prove that we weren’t away for too long on a family day…. I just about made that one with minutes to spare!
It’s tough, there are two big climbs, the first being the longest. The terrain and exposure will yield different surprises each year. You can’t beat the organisation, price and wonderful community spirit that an event like this holds. Loved it!
Tour of Pendle Fell Race 4830′, AL, Barley Village, SW Pennines, Saturday, November 18, 2017
‘I’ve not yet done the full course, so back next year it is.’
So said I, two years ago, after the Tour was shortened due to inclement weather (for a fell race, this takes a lot), shortly before developing an unhealthy relationship with work for the next year, with far too many hours spent behind a desk and training tailing off somewhat, along with any motivation to run. The extra stone or so, as a result of this inactivity and a love of bacon, was not exactly helpful either.
Instead, let us forward two years, to now, minus 36 hours, when I stood back on the line (actually, tucked somewhere halfway down the field, safely away from the pointy end), ready for the hammer to drop on this compact, punchy East Lancs race: conditions excellent (cold, clear, blustery but no rain), field sizeable (c400) and Strider numbers one (plus an ex-Strider now running for Kirkstall Harriers). I’d had my porridge at a suitably ghastly hour, had found actual toilet paper in the toilets and was full of tea, so all was basically good. Better yet, earlier XC fixtures at Wrekenton and Druridge had even seen the return of something that felt like competitiveness, which boded well.
The race begins with a fairly flat mile on the reservoir track, primarily to permit the field to spread before turning due north up the slopes of Buttock, onto Pendle Hill. This passed quickly, with a degree of mild frustration when trying to pass slower runners, until I reminded myself there was a long way to go and a lot of it would be spent walking; this indeed occurred shortly, with the first climb being a run/walk affair until the contour lines began to space out and permit a steady pace to be achieved up to the trig at CP1, the high point of Pendle Hill (in case you’re wondering, the entire race is essentially an up-down affair of one hill, the hill only being 558m in height). The top was wet but runnable, and the leg down to CP2 was a delight, what with being able to see this year, all of it downhill and none of it steep – 2 miles of pleasure, with only the wet ground at all hazardous (reader, we had bottom/ground interface for the first time when ambition trumped ability in an over-taking attempt), then another easy half mile to CP3, hand-railing another reservoir.
The fun was now over, and we needed to climb sharply through slippery mud and bracken, then back onto the
moorland; this was slow, but profitable in terms of places, and I crested ahead of those who’d come past me on the way down. I then saw them again as they flew past me on the infamous ‘Geronimo’ descent, which started slowly, got faster as I gained confidence and finished sliding on my posterior, stopping just short of the stream of Ogden Clough (CP4); this was 2 climbs and descents of a total 6 accomplished, and it was starting to hurt, though the field was beginning to spread and I was gaining one or two more places on each climb or flat section than I was losing. I’d also acquired some blood on my right hand and face (another runner pointed this out), though was unclear how.
Through the stream and sharp left, we ran single-file along a narrow, rocky path towards the headwaters, then crossed it again and made a shorter climb that was actually runnable for the second half (another place gained) before dropping gradually, at proper running pace again, to CP5, legs loosening and enjoying the chance to stretch out. Up again to CP6, another left off the top, with yet more descending like a crab/ball/a.n.other thing incapable of running in a straight line on feet, and it was onto the final two climbs, those missed off the bad-weather course of two years ago. Going back onto the top to CP 8 started well, though the horror of concave slopes is that they get harder the closer you get to the top, so the first hundred or so yards were fine, unless you raised your eyes and looked up at the grassy wall in front – the one peppered with dots of colour, all moving slowly upwards. I would say that everyone was suffering by this point, but realistically the winners were nearly home by now, so that would be untrue; the rest of us were firmly in ‘hands-on-thighs’ mode, though I managed to steal a place or two by getting hands-on and essentially crawling upwards, hitting CP 8, embellished with a massive union flag blowing in the wind along with the waterproofs of the well-wrapped marshals.
I now knew we had half a mile of running on the flat top of Pendle, another descent, a final climb and then home for tea and cake. It played out essentially that way, with me holding my place on the top, dropping a couple on the downhill section (a few little crags on this one, just to keep you on your toes), then working as hard as possible, again with hands-on-grass, on the last uphill, knowing this was the last chance to push for places – in the event, I gained half a dozen or so, and hit CP10 (at the trig passed on the first leg) opening my legs desperate to hold whatever slim advantage had been gained in the last 15 miles. The leg to CP11 was the reverse of the initial leg, but a little to the west – grassy and downhill all the way to Ogden Clough, easy running and probably fun were it not for the competition. It hit me here that I wanted this place, wherever in the field I was, and that the competitive urge largely absent for a long while was back – I would probably not resort to knee-capping other runners to hold my position (this isn’t XC, after all!), but I’d not dismiss the idea out of hand…idle thoughts aside, I had breath in my right ear and the vests of Bowland, Todmorden, Rossendale and some club in red ahead of me, all of them possibly catchable. Some, on the reservoir road that makes up the final mile, were caught, others were not, and some who’d not been in sight initially were chased fruitlessly as I got closer – there was even an approximation of a sprint finish, entirely in vain as I was never going to make up 30 yards on someone who was themselves only 20 yards from the line.
That, then, was that – the line crossed, a ‘well done’ from the time-keeper and handshakes with those in front and behind me for a race hard-fought, whilst drinking from the jerry-cans of water set out for runners. 17 miles done and a category AL race in the bag, for the grand cost of £9. As things stand, writing this on Sunday evening whilst wearing the race T-shirt that the organisers throw in), I don’t actually know my finishing time (3hrs-ish?), nor my position (top half?), but am satisfied they couldn’t have been a lot better on the day in what is always going to be a hard race, no matter the conditions: six times up and six times down a hill that’s not that high sound so much easier than it actually is.
Scafell Pike, Saturday, September 16, 2017
AS / 7.2km / 914m
A long line of runners were strung out above me dragging themselves up the grassy ridge of Lingmell in ungainly, clambering motions. Running was impossible due to the sheer steepness! This was the start of the Scafell Pike fell race! I was excited to finally be here! I was now enjoying the challenge of trail shoes on wet slippery grass incline versus gravity. The very start of the race had been one lap of the Wasdale campsite field, before heading up. This was to ‘thin people out’ they said, as the path up was narrow.
At the start-line I had looked around mystified, as so many people were not carrying anything. I had the equivalent of a fridge-freezer on my back! Full waterproofs, leggings, spare top, hat, gloves, 1.5 litres of water, full OS map, compass, phone, money, GPS device, etc. etc. It was very heavy. I could have done with less, but it made me feel secure as this was my first fell race. I would probably survive a nuclear holocaust. They also had very different footwear to me! Shoes with inch deep grippers! I admit this made me feel a bit disadvantaged in terms of competing! In fact, at the start I just let them go, and off they went powering round the field! Including Fiona. Fiona is a runner from Pendle. I had arrived with an hour to spare, and bumped into her. This race is a series of three; Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike, and she was doing them all. I find whenever I befriend someone before the start of a race, I then have a strong urge to beat them! Especially as she looked similar age as me! However, the fridge-freezer combo was not helpful in this! I pressed on, climbing up the lower slope of Lingmell. I had studied the map super hard during many evenings so had the map in my head plus a small selotape laminated one-page copy in my pocket! Finding myself now with the back of the pack there were group of people chatting, laughing, crawling up on all fours, trying to walk up backwards and I joined them for a bit! One guy kept stopping, and then powering up past a load of people shouting ‘I’m not racing today!’!
I had forgotten the weight on my back now and was into my stride and I wanted to race. So I dug in and started to power-walk past people. It was going well, I was feeling determined! I fired my legs up and passed a few more. Runners were spread out now. Below Goat Crags, the path became less steep. This was across the boggy, grassy catchment area of the Lingmell Gill. I took advantage of this and started running. I passed quite a few more, and then. Yes! Fiona was ahead, and I found I could pass her! We exchanged breathless ‘Well dones’ and I went on ahead. Behind her smile the expression on her face told me she was secretly totally racing me! 🙂
Next was a tall skinny guy (in fact 80% of participants were tall skinny guys) with a green top on. He kept up a good pace and it was hard to overtake him. Especially as we were now crossing the many braids of the stream and his long legs were advantageous. The tributaries of the steam lay in those unsuspecting deep cuttings in the bog, hidden in the bog grass. a nice deep wet surprise! After the bog, the big rock buttress of Scafell Pike towered above us. I was still feeling good. I estimated I had done the equivalent of three Roseberry Toppings now. (The Lake District being so far away, and the ‘chaos of life’ meant I hadn’t been able to get across to do any training. So I had used the nearest steep hill I could think of to do hill reps on. 4.1 Roseberry Toppings = 1 Scafell pike). So, one Roseberry Topping to go! The way up to the buttress was a mossy bank of slippery slime in a shady hollow with sharp rocks. Very precarious. But I was right behind the green-topped guy now, and managed to pass. Then it was up, up, up the rocky, baron crag to the summit!
I pressed on! I was now above the col and could see down the other side! I looked up from my feet for a fleeting moment to see down the other side, to a green, rocky landscape shrouded in low lying mist. Beautiful! But I had to look at my feet! Then, the first man came bounding down the rock scree towards me! Flying from one rock to another! He definitely spent more time airborne than in ground contact! And then, the next guy and the next, all bouncing down! I pushed on, using my arms to propel my weight forwards and upwards, feet in steady rhythm. From one most secure looking rock/foot hold to the next. Sighting the next one, and the next. I was now following a rocky zig-zag path. Up the next zig there was a rounded stoney cairn on the corner. A group of walkers plodded round it with their happy lively dog skitting about, his paws sliding on flat rock surfaces. They heard me coming and kindly got themselves to the side. At the same time, more runners came bounding downhill towards me, including two ladies. I urged myself on past…and the summit could be seen nearby! A hug flat-rocked cairn at the top and four summit marshals stood facing me in bright yellow jackets. ‘What’s your number?’ one shouted to me as I reached them. (My number was half covered by my top tied round my waist). “45” I replied, handing him my plastic token. Wayhay! Half way and I was in 3rd lady position! I really wanted to look at the views… but I didn’t want to lose my place!
A quick glimpse up and I had an awareness of more rock, mountains and ribbons of mist! I turned round and staggered! My legs seemed to need a few moments to get into ‘downhill mode’! I willed them on and began a dicey descent! Parachute would have been easier!
The “path” was a screeish mixture of loose rocks, pebbles and gravel! And the rocks were angular and sharp sided, as my shins found out! I leapt from rock to rock feeling my life expectancy decrease to 5 minutes! But I was not going as fast as the more experienced people behind me. A few men passed me..and then two ladies. Oh no! and then Fiona past me with a surprised and determined look on her face! I made a decision then and there. I could attempt to keep up with them and risk injury, or I could keep a careful pace for me. All the lovely races I have signed up for this year went through my head, and I decided to slow down and be careful. After scrambling down the slippery grassy bank with spikes of stone, I ran across the bog enjoying the beautiful views of Wastwater below. More people passed me. The big crags of Illgill fell overlooked the lake, with tremendous grey screes falling into the water. Visibility was good and I could see the Irish Sea on the horizon and the faint grey outline of the Isle of Man. I leapt on down, past sheep, rocks, a few walkers and soon the campsite came into view below. It was a further knee wrenching, thigh aching descent down to the head of the valley, to the finish.
A group of finished runners were munching on flapjack as I arrived and I was happy to join them! Then I climbed back up a short way to meet my family who had been doing a little walk during the race. The kids were enjoying sliding downhill on their bums! Later, there was a short presentation when everyone had finished by Joss Naylor! A kind and humble man. He thanked everyone for coming and then conducted the prize giving. It was lovely to see a race with such a big age range, from 20’s to over 70’s! and nice that there were therefore age group prizes reflecting this. I was pleased to see Fiona get the first F40 prize, and also to win first F40 for the series! Well deserved. She kindly complimented me on my uphill running and said she had given herself a kick up the bum when I passed her! She said she had found it the most technical of the three mountains. I congratulated her. I had enjoyed it. And it had been an interesting and enlightening experience!
And I shall end my report by leaving you with this poem, which sums up the lakes really.
Solitude in hidden places by Heidi Sands 9/2/17
The mountains surround me, all shades of green
The sun shines upon them, as beauty moves, I’ve seen
— Shadows dancing on the hillside —
— Holding so many places to hide —
There is solitude there, away from the busy streets
Where traffic is flurried, or backed up where it meets
The mountain scenes, bring peaceful pleasure to view
Every season, from greens, multi-colors, white, to blue
Long Tour of Bradwell, Peak District, Saturday, August 12, 2017
BL / 52.7km / 2200m
It’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to spend a Sunday evening sat at a laptop, trying to recall what took place the day before. Probably around two years or so – [ actually just last year! ^DN] the website seems to show nothing from me since November 2015 [<cough!> Paul Evans ^DN]. However, a return to racing with a rejoinder from our webmaster means that what happened must be relayed, for the ever-developing archive of north-eastern running that is our website. Here goes…
0712hrs at Sheffield railway station for a 25 minute ride on a rattling little train, older than I, to Hope. The journey is spent checking bumbag contents, unpacking and adjusting. The only other passengers seem similarly absorbed in their kit, and I assume both are heading for the tour, either long or half, also. We walk the mile or so the Bradwell in amiable silence. The fact that the western edge of the valley is obscured by cloud bodes ill. I consider switching to the half tour, a 17-miler that cuts out the more punchy climbs, then remember I’m returning with a ultra so I don’t HAVE to race it.
0810hrs. Check-in for the race is slick (impressively, EOD are taken as well), laminated maps are issued and a demo is given of the new electronic timing system. Hot brews are offered and received, and the portaloos portable toilets provision is adequate. Kit is re-checked, re-assembled and then adjusted once more, nipples taped and anything that might chafe greased to fairy obscene levels. A decision is made to add to the bumbag a half dozen mini pork pies, on the basis that I’m not really racing, but instead here for a nice day’s running.
0900hrs. Assembly at the village green, in a light rain with overcast skies promising more. No kit check. We set off at an easy pace for the gentle undulation of the first mile or so along a damp, overhung lane, the rumble of the enormous cement works a background note. I’m not impressed to note that my Mudclaws are showing themselves to be awful on wet concrete, having switched to Inov8 after four successive pairs of Walshes disintegrated early in their lives [same here, sadly. ; a gentle downhill sees me skid to one side and hug the fence. Control 1 is found easily (ie. at the point you leave the lane – truly idiot-proof) though it later turns out that my timing gear does not register, despite flashing and beeping. From here a steady run, with occasional walking on the steeper parts, takes us through the quarries that feed the plant below, along a track to CP2 and then down some grassy fields…
…to the abomination that is Cave Dale. For those of you who have not visited Cave Dale, it is a picturesque descent through limestone crags and lush greenery. For tourists, it is delightful. For farmers, it’s a nice place to graze sheep. For runners, it is a steep downhill over loose limestone, polished by water for centuries, today in the rain. It is an axiom of ultra-runner to ‘walk the ups, run the downs.’ I did the opposite, and lost a good number of places to those with a little more poise and balance, only falling twice, which I think a result of sorts. This led into Castleton, pretty as ever, along a minor road to the climb up to Hollins Cross, then straight down a good track, under the railway line and into Edale.
1030hrs. Edale gained, with two of the big climbs over with. Banana and a few peanuts offered along with water, and a small group of us trotted out past the Nag’s Head/Pennine Way start, over the footbridge and up the zig-zags that mark the start and finish of the Edale Skyline fell race; walking only here. About two-thirds of the way up the climb flattens and the ground becomes soggier, helped by the rain that’s picked up a bit. Reaching the plateau I hit my stride, unfortunately making the mistake of enjoying the running too much to notice the trod that leads to CP5, the Druid’s Stone. Heather-bashing needed, then more of the same to regain the edge, followed by what someone following me informs me I’ve ‘picked a great line’ through the rocks and heather tussocks that take us down to runnable fields (I don’t tell him that I descended earlier than intended then made the best of it/pretended I had a plan). A fast downhill mile brings us under the railway again, then it’s over the road and straight up the other side of the valley to Lose Hill, walking pace resumed. I crack open the mini pork pies. I eat one slowly, then realise it is not sitting well; in retrospect, this lack of hunger should have been a warning. Nevertheless, Lose Hill CP6 is gained with a stiff tab to the steps and then a run along the tops, legs feeling less stiff than earlier. The descent is a grassy delight, halted only to call back a handful ahead of me who’ve taken a bad line and are liable to end up a mile or so west of where they need to be. Hope, CP7, is another food/drink station and by this point we’re well-mixed with runners doing the half tour, so it is harder to ascertain who the competition is. If I were being competitive, which I’m not.
The next few legs are fairly easy running, bar a cheeky climb up Whin Hill, with views of Ladybower reservoir, some very enjoyable forest trails and a bit of flat converted railway line taking us to CP9, the cut off for the full tour.
1230hrs. The two races separate, the half tour runners having broken the back of their race and heading home. It feels lonely again. I change pace again to drop down from the line through a couple of fields onto CP10, situated halfway along Bamford Weir, admire the serenity of the ducks paddling through the lilies, then accept I cannot change the fact that a couple of miles of climbing, on road then rocky track, lies between Stanage Edge and I. Strangely, I make up a few places here, my ability to sustain an uphill plod serving me well, gain CP11 and then shuffle-run along Stanage Edge to Burbage Bridge, the sun now out and the views superlative, miles of purple heather to the left and lush valley to the right. CP12 at the roadside sees us fed again, though I’m really not hungry by now, and we descend steadily to Toad’s Mouth, 2 miles of largely downhill easy running…or would be if my left foot were not now hurting with every step. CPs 13, 14 and 15 feature no big climbs, some pretty woodland and Burbage Brook, which is this afternoon rammed with children paddling, fishing and enjoying themselves. How dare they, when some of us are suffering? Some even have snacks they appear to relish eating, rather than 5 uneaten pork pies they cannot face but must carry.
1430hrs. CP15 reached, a lot of water and 4 peanuts forced down and the rest shoved into a pocket. From here, I know I’ve got about 6 miles, an hour, one big, but steady climb and, in the immediate future, one short road climb to go. I and two others who appear also a bit on the tired side climb to the farm track, descend into the woods and then walk-run through terrain that seems more uneven than the map suggests to CP16, at a brook I refill my water bottle from. We then climb slowly to Abney hamlet, take a right up an interminably-long track (the map says only 3/4m, but it feels worse) and then skirt another quarry before dropping down through gorse and mud into Bradwell, for a final half-mile trot along the road. Our threesome has split by now, after all checking that we’re fine, and I come in last of the three after another involuntary trip down the hillside on my bottom.
1545hrs. It is done. Hot brews and soup. Flapjack that takes 15 minutes a square to eat as my mouth does not have sufficient moisture to masticate adequately. Lying on my back in the warm grass, the moist soil fragrant. A walk back to the station and half an hour sat waiting in the sun, finally able to eat again, content, knowing it is all done and that, hurting feet and all, it has been a run to remember. And I might have, despite all good intentions, actually raced the thing. Maybe a little.
Steel Fell, Lake District, Monday, August 7, 2017
AS / 5km / 400m
My legs feel like jelly…in fact they don’t feel like they’re mine anymore as I hit the road for the final chase into the finish. There’s a Keswick AC runner up ahead whom I’d eyed as a potential catch to gain a vital place in this short but incredibly tough little fell race but my legs have other ideas. My brain can’t decide what to do with them, they don’t feel real.
32 minutes earlier, I’d been on this path heading up the hill to the start of the off-road climb up Steel Fell. From the farmer’s field at West Head Farm just off the A591 beyond Thirlmere, over 70 runners gathered – Keswick, Ambleside, Helm Hill, Bowland and Kendal are some of the vests synonymous with fell running that are donning the mostly lithe, athletic and clearly fit for the fells, runners.
I stood cutting a lone figure in my purple Striders vest – the Lone Strider – tipping up for this summer fling as I happened to be on a week holiday in the area. The fee? free for 3 miles of fell running fun.
The premise of this race is easy – wheeze your way to the top of Steel Fell, run around the summit cairn then leg it as fast as you can back down the same way. How hard could that be?
With heads down and hands on knees we make our way up the steep slope on a beautiful summer evening. Every now and again I look up to see what progress I’m making and to see if the front runners are on their way back down yet – they’re not! How far is this race again? Surely they must be heading back, I’ve been climbing for what seems like ages!
Eventually I reach the plateau where the gradient levels off. Now I can see up ahead the summit cairn and turn around point. I can also see the front runners on their way back, they’re like gazelles leaping effortlessly across the rough ground.
With the field well stretched out now, I make my way slowly to the turn around point before the fun of the downhill starts. There’s about half a mile of easy running before the gradient drops. I run to this point, take a moment to savour the view of Thirlmere and the valley stretching out in the late evening sun, then, with a sharp intake of breath, hurl myself down the slope.
I’ve eyes on a couple of people who I think I can catch. My legs are pounding and arms are held aloft to keep balance as I pass two guys taking tentative steps. Then I spy another target, which I manage to take. My legs are really taking a battering now but there’s not far to go and I’m enjoying the experience.
Then up ahead is the Keswick runner, I think I might have this place but it’s going to be a battle. Back onto the road and the battle is lost before it begins. My only hope is no-one catches me from behind as I try to maintain my form for the final stretch to the finish.
Job done but my legs have took a serious battering from this little beauty of a race.
The 8th Philiphaugh Hill Race, Selkirk, Monday, August 7, 2017
11km / 400m
A poor result north of the border -or was it?
On holiday in the Scottish Borders? Looking for a Sunday run? Something simple to raise funds for the local play park? Never visited the Three Bretheren before? The 8th Philiphaugh Hill Run looked just right at 7 miles and 400m ascent.
A mixed bag of 62 runners competed over a nice traily route over two hilltops with stunning views; no kit required -‘its a summer run’.
I manage a very mediocre 1hr 07mins putting me 5th in the V60 category.
The official results table shows my time as 140% of the winners’ time which sounds pretty poor to me;
The winner is no spring chicken either, he’s a V50; but I then notice he is Colin Donnelly of Cambuslang Harriers – one time youngest winner of the Ben Nevis Race (1979) and Scotland’s representative at the World Hill Running Championships for 14 years in a row, winning silver in 1989; winner of the British Fell Running Championship 1987-89; and numerous top performances in Scottish Cross Country racing; he retains the record for traversing the Welsh 3000’s and has course records for the Buckden Pike and Shelf Moor races …
Maybe my time isn’t so bad after all?
Chevy Chase, Wooler, Saturday, July 1, 2017
BL / 32.2km / 1219m (20 miles, 2 hills and a smattering of bog)
Joan Hanson …
The thing about entering an event months in advance is you can have that hazy positive belief that in x months time you will be bounding effortlessly over the afore mentioned 20 mile course, laughing in the face of some decidedly sucky and squelchy stuff underfoot and hardly noticing the however many thousands of feet of ascent and descent the said 2 hills (Cheviot and Hedgehope) will entail. And you will have the most enjoyable, relaxing day of running possible…. As I said a hazy and possibly rose tinted vision.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks before the event and the realization that you aren’t quite as fit as you had envisaged being and that this year they have removed the walkers option so you have 6 hours to complete it in. Hmmm.
And then the horror on the morning of the event when your companion for the journey (Dougie who has done this before) casually mentions the phrase ‘cut –offs’ for each checkpoint and that they seem a little on the tight side for the first half of the race.
I have felt in more positive frames of mind.
But at least it has stopped raining and the summits are cloud free so navigation involving maps and compass will not be needed- and you can see exactly how far away those hills you are aiming for are away. Everyone is very friendly, kit checks are passed and before long we were off, Susan disappearing off into the horizon not to be seen again until the finish. Dougie and I leapfrogging for a fair part of the race, he faster on the steeper downhilly bits, me making up time going up. Both agreeing that the second half which on paper should have been the easy bit was anything but, I needed to dig really deep at several points to maintain forward momentum, at one point wondering why they put Wooler so far away.
We all made it back well within the cut offs- interestingly none of us exclaiming what an easy and enjoyable run we have just had but able to reflect on a real sense of achievement (and in my case relief) that it was done.
The Chevy Chase is a great and brilliantly organized event. The route takes in some beautiful and wild terrain, this year we enjoyed expansive views when we could lift our eyes from where we were putting our feet.
I’m glad I did it, the Cheviot’s are a beautiful part of the world and not that far away- definitely worthy of closer exploration –but possibly at a slightly more relaxed pace.
… Dougie Nisbet …
I’d done that bloke sulky pouty thing when Roberta had insisted on me packing some sunscreen. But as I nudged up with Susan and Joan outside race HQ and passed the sunscreen round (on the left hand side) there were lots of Dad comments about getting it behind straps, knees, ears and neck. Still, past-its-sell-by factor 30 wasn’t really going to cut it on Cheviot and Hedgehope in July and I was a bit crisp when I finished later in the day.
I could’ve pretty much written the script for the first half of the race. Joan’s shrewd choice of carrying walking poles had attracted the occasional derisory comment but they’d pretty much dried up as she climbed strongly to Cheviot with me using her as a useful point of purple to focus on as she receded ever further into the vanishing point.
After Cheviot and a revelation. You need to hang left, immediately. When I last did this in 2013 I carried on (zoned out following a walker to Scotland) and turned left too late and missed the trod that took a neat line towards Hedgehope on the other side of the valley. I caught Joan on the descent, pausing to shout “is that you falling on your arse again Hanson!”, before passing her and showing her how to do it properly.
Everyone was now pretty much a walking washing powder commercial in the making and as we climbed towards Hedgehope I was unsurprised to have Joan back on my shoulder again. And so it continued for the next few checkpoints until CP6 – Brands Corner – we both paused for a drink and check in. The climbing was mostly over and there was a lot of running left now to the finish. I was looking forward to making up some ground in these last few miles.
“Sling your hook Joan, I’ll catch you up”, I said, when it was clear Joan wanted to press on. And so she did. And, I did catch her up, so to speak, after I’d crossed the finish line and she’d brought me over a cup of tea. I had a tough last few miles on what should be a lovely part of the course – the stretch up North West from Carey Burn Bridge is gorgeous, but I was far too busy feeling sorry for myself to pay much attention to the sunny scenery. Susan had a good decisively sub-5 finish, with Joan in around 5:16, then me in around 10 minutes later.
I’ve often said, to anyone who’ll listen, that the Chevy Chase at 20 miles, is twice as hard as the Durham Dales Challenge, at 32 miles. This was the first year the race has dropped the walking race and the cut-offs might need tweaking in the years ahead, but whatever the cutoffs it’s always going to be a tough 20 miles.
Swaledale Marathon – Jack’s story, Swaledale, North Yorkshire, Saturday, June 10, 2017
The Swaledale Marathon like any decent run ends up as a story. This will be the story of how I started full of energy, in a rain jacket with a pack full of gels and water and ended up exhausted, sprinting through Reeth and soaked to the skin in just a Striders vest. However, if you ask any who ran or spectated that day they will give you their stories; most of those are shared with friends such as Camilla and Kathryn, Tim and Phil or Gareth and Stephen and many others. While I rarely ran with other Striders I made many friends who shared my struggle and who while I might never know their names I shall never forget.
Swaledale might not be on the FRA calendar but it has one thing in common with the fell races I have ran…it started with a long, steep and painful ascent. This was towards Fremington Edge and while I had told myself and others before I would stay with friends (Jon and Elaine were the ones I was thinking of) I found that my regimen of strength and core training meant I floated up the hill. I looked into Jon’s eyes on the way up and knew that I was too strong to hold myself back. What had felt like a tough start the year before seemed like a jog down to the shops for milk and so I struck off on my own ahead into a windy and rainy new adventure.
Stephen, Michael and Gareth had gone off in their triumvirate but I became the fourth strider running with a group across the top of Fremington and down into the next valley towards Whaw. An increasingly terrifying gap behind meant that the little group I was in became my new comrades and I had to keep the legs turning over to keep up. It wasn’t difficult but I always feared for later as I had barely held onto consciousness last year in the final mile and didn’t fancy going through that again. I kept up through the valley and up towards Great Punchard Head where we lost a few on the climb, at this point I was with a few other men and the first lady (checking the results her name was Amy and she ran for Rugby and Northallerton). She floated up Punchard…I don’t think I ever saw her walk and we were together for 12 or so miles including all the hard work up Great Punchard Head. I ran almost all that uphill as well with only short stops to walk and make sure I didn’t get ahead as I hadn’t recce’d Punchard as thoroughly as possible.
After a while we made it to the bog and I am not sure how any of us made it through that mass of muddy holes and collapsing paths. It had been raining pretty consistently since the start of the race and by now we were all sodden and the coarse was soaked through from current rain and that in the week before; wet bog is a beast of its own but we fought through mile after mile of tough track and a few self-clip points later and one manned clip point we came to the last self-clip on Punchard. My group had whittled down to myself, another guy who seemed nice and Amy (who glided as if on road). She later told me at one point it was her second time doing Swaledale and that she was a road runner by trade. Considering her nav (thumbing the map as she went) and her strength I would recommend a change of focus. Anyway we reached the final self-clip on Punchard to find a very wet looking group of three clipping at which point Michael turned around and greeted me. We had run the fell so well that we had caught up to Michael, Stephen and Gareth apparently.
This was the start of the downhill towards Gunnerside and when I said to my new friend that these three were some of the fastest in my club she turned to me and said only “you have them”. Encouraged by this I quickly over took Gareth who was busy writing a determined story of his own (albeit maybe not the happiest of tales). When the navigation went a bit awry I took the rest of them and went down towards Gunnerside. While there I did the manned clip and started tactically stripping…I was too hot in the rain jacket and the rain was down to a mere drizzle for the first time since the start of the race. My new friends left ahead and I was left with Michael, with Stephen and Gareth behind. Michael and I started the uphill out of Gunnerside and he stayed with me for a bit until I said something like “Michael, I have run the race of my life but there is not much left and I know the rest of the route…leave me, I will be fine”. So hesitantly he did.
I don’t know how I got through the rest of the miles but I did. I thought I could see Michael’s luminous jacket ahead although it turned out it was someone else and he was actually well ahead overtaking everyone and their mothers. I ran as the rain and wind came back to lash at my Strider’s vest. I fell after surrender bridge while in a small gulley and just remember getting up and thinking that I couldn’t stop. My leg had cramped but I though hiking out of the gulley would stretch it out. I was in a bad way at this point with no strength left although I was fairly conscious at least.
I kept going and after seeing Jan’s husband I made my way down the lane of loose rocks with the last self-clip and came out into Reeth where a small crowd with a few cheering Striders (Joanne and Lesley come to mind) coaxed a pseudo-sprint out of me. It felt like a sprint to me but for all I know it could have looked more like a waddle. Everyone else turned up in layers at the least and mostly in rain jackets but I must have looked a sight in only shorts and a soaked vest. I got to the finish line, gave in my card and went for food. I had finished 14th in 3 hours and 36 minutes. 7 minutes quicker than last year in much worse conditions and 37 places higher. With food I sat down and made merry…job done.
Well done to everyone who ran a tough and wet Swaledale this year with a special mention to Michael Mason (6th), Elaine Bisson (3rd Female) and the Men’s Team (2nd). An honourable mention to everyone who spectated as well who waited in the rain while we had all the “fun”.
Results available here