Nestling at foot of the North Pennines, Appleby, famous for its annual horse fair, hosts this race. Described as a tough run by some reports, I was about to find out.
The journey across from Durham was fraught with two major road closures, one in Barnard Castle and the other on the A66 at Brough (which I later discovered, much to annoyance, was only to HGVs). These closures nearly sent my Sat-Nav into an apoplectic rage and decided to send me off on a very interesting detour. I ended up in a cul-de-sac in an industrial estate in Kirby Steven at one point and finally along some very, very narrow lanes. However, I arrived in good time at Apply Grammar school where the race started and finished.
It is a low-key affair organised by the local Rotary Club and at the start, there were just over 100 runners. The forecast rain had kept away, so I opted to run without a jacket.
The course is all on roads with only the first few hundred meters marshalled. After that, it’s a matter of keeping to the left!
Down the main street into town and through the other side where a sharp left turn heralds the long slog up to Dufton. The hills are never ending but gradual so it is simply a matter of heads down and dig-in. The views came into their own as I climbed ever higher. Hereabouts are some of the finest Pennine walks to be had. Cross Fell, High cup Nick, all on the Pennine Way of course.
As I approached Dufton at about eight miles, I was quite tired and looking forward to some gravitational relief! However before that came, as I turned out of Dufton, there appeared a 100m steep hill. It nearly stopped me dead in my tracks and after a short walk I lumbered up to the top.
Now began the return; a long downhill stretch back to Appleby. Well, mainly downhill with a few sharp surprises thrown in, including, at mile 11 a short 5-minute storm which threw the dead autumn leaves high into towering vortexes and the rain lashed down. Then as soon as it came, it stopped. Quite bizarre.
The finish leads you right back to the school hall where a commemorative mug filled with soup is presented to you and very welcome it was too. My time was 2hrs 9 mins (although my Garmin begged to differ) which I was ok with. The official elevation figures site 262m and I won’t argue about that. Put into context, the GNR is approx. 107m, Coxhoe trail 114m, Brass Monkey 10m and Dent 220. So, all in all, I can’t be too disappointed.
I’m not sure if I would do this again but I recommend it from the point of view that it is well organised, well marshalled and all for a good cause in a beautiful part of the country and about 80 mins from Durham, normally!
Four weeks prior to race date, I’d completed my first ever half at the Great North Run; it was definitely an experience. I can’t say an enjoyable one.
I’d signed up for Kielder half quite a bit in advance thinking it’d be good to do another half a few weeks after my first. I was told it’ll be tough, there are lots of hills and the terrain isn’t great.
The lead up to the race, I really wasn’t looking forward to it, my mojo had disappeared after GNR and I just knew I wouldn’t be able to run a good run.
I was running the full race with my other half, Robin Linton, as Kielder has some sentimental value to us both. We had no plan other than to just get around it.
The night before, I boldly said I wanted to beat my time, which Robin told me not to get too hung up on because the course is so much different.
We set off on our way at a nice steady pace, which I was sure I’d be able to keep all the way around. The first four miles were actually quite nice and they went by so quickly. In my head, I was thinking this is going to be okay. The tactic was to take a slow run up the hills, use the downhill for speed and normal running on the flats. It really seemed to be working. People that had passed me in the first few miles were now starting to get behind me but I still felt strong. The ups and downs continued and they were tough; mile 8 of the zigzag was definitely the hardest.
Around 8/9 miles, I remember taking an isotonic drink and thinking how tasty it was, at the same time I was wondering how I still felt so good and strong. I was really enjoying the race.
As we got to about mile 9/10, Robin’s knee really started to give him hassle. I was trying my best to take his mind off it, but he was in pain. We slowed down a little, but I had to keep moving because of the inclines. I was a couple of yards in front and could see the pain on his face, so I turned around and went back to him. He told me that I had to go on, that I had a PB in me and he’d be fine. I was a mixture of emotions, felt awful leaving him but was determined to finish the race. After a quick kiss of good luck, I headed off on my last 3 miles.
They were definitely hard but I just couldn’t stop thinking about Robin. Lots of music we both loved was playing through my headphones and I just thought, get this done and go back for him. I really pushed those last miles, this time attacking the hills, as I knew it was only 5k left.
I got to the 800m marker and people were walking. I stormed passed, with a few people shouting go on!
Approaching the finish line I saw a worried mother (Helen Linton). The first thing I shout is he’s okay! I had a sprint finish over the line and I see a friendly strider face…Wendy Littlewood. I just hugged her and burst into tears whilst struggling to get my breath. I’m telling her (between the tears) that I’d left Robin and felt awful. She then turns me round to show me the time, it’s showing as 2:11. I couldn’t really register it but what she’s telling me it’s amazing. I just hung onto her; I needed that so much. After finally letting her go, to let the other runners have some of her time, I stumbled to get my race bag, trying to keep the tears in.
I actually couldn’t believe I was over 2 minutes faster than GNR and this course was definitely different level. I actually really enjoyed this race and I think I’d 100% do it again with the same tactic!
Apparently, the previous organisers had turned to a local race organiser (Trail Outlaws) for some help to ensure the future viability of this race. I decided at an early stage to support it. It was to form part of the RAF Centenary celebrations on 2018 and let’s face it, you don’t get the chance, every day, to run around a historic base that was part of the UK’s missile project during the cold war.
I was also lured by the description of, “stunning views along its length, winding its way around and through Spadeadam Forest with views over to the Lake District and Sycamore Gap on Hadrians Wall. With numerous RAF practise targets and tanks along the route..”. I figured the RAF wouldn’t be doing much practicing on the day!
I set off to drive the ~1.5hr journey, stopping off at a national chain of coffee purveyors on the outskirts of Hexham for a latte and luxury fruit toast – an army marches on its stomach (oops – wrong service!)
Leaving the A69, I headed toward the base along minor roads and then encountered a tail-back – cars and passengers dealing with the security measures to access the base. Fortunately, this gave me time to stretch my legs, and don my offending compression socks (I’m amazed they let me in!).
Once through the gate and parked up, I collected my number (if only every race organiser insisted on seeing a form of photo ID, we’d avoid Bill running as Ben and so-on). I then decided a warm up was in order and being a bit of a radio geek, and noting the additional hazard at one point of non-ionising radiation above 2 metres, I decided to keep my head down!
There was a bit of delay to proceedings with many a pre-race photo opportunity but before long we were lining up. Now having run an Ultramarathon a fortnight ago, and with another a week away, I decided my plan was to throttle back a little and enjoy the sights. Then we were off, up the hill past the parked cars, and up, up, up – in fact the first few miles were definitely ascent territory. Once off the tarmac, we were on lumpy gravel paths for the majority of the remainder, which were ok on the uphill (plenty of that) and on the downhill corners, enough scree to catch you out.
I remember being pleased with myself and thinking that 53 minutes for the first 10km was half sensible and then there was another series of leg-pulling uphills.
The wind was truly formidable – trees were uprooted and it was hard to run straight at times – I remember thinking that the wind would excite a RAF pilot. The highest point was around 13km and I heard one runner say something about it all being downhill from that point. Now I’ve been to a fair few of these events, and whereas there were some fast downhill stretches there were many uphill sections, including one hill near the end which caught a few folk out.
I was hitting a ~1:55 half marathon by distance, again half sensible but from my earlier warm-up, I knew I was about a mile from the finish – a typical trail race then in terms of value for distance. I decided to drop a gear on the last mile and 7 min/mile pace to the finish, feeling the value of my Hoka Speedgoat 2 cushioning.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, managed to stop for a few obligatory selfies, and actually managed to appear in the race photos looking remarkably presentable for once. In summary, not an easy route, but a great experience, with amazing views and I’d do it again in a flash.
Congratulations to Robert Allfree who was 1st Strider home and all the other Striders!
Many thanks to RAF Spadeadam for their hospitality, Hippie Nixon Photography for the photographic memories and Trail Outlaws for a great event, and a rather cool medal!
The Great North Run – And The Benefit of Hindsight
Hindsight is a wonderful thing don’t you think? And it was with the benefit of hindsight – I realised quite quickly, yesterday actually – that thinking of running the GNR was extreme folly! Let’s look at the facts – I hadn’t done a serious race since 2017, the Coniston 14 in March. Since then I did the Beer Belly run, a fun run in Consett – 5K of fancy dress mayhem on August Bank Holiday 2017, and a couple of park runs this year. I had to defer my GNR number for last year. So there I was in the late spring this year, my knees had at last started behaving themselves, so I thought, hey, I’ll start training for the GNR. After all I would have paid over £100 for the same number.
So around 2 months of training commenced, basically starting from scratch. My longest run (last weekend) was 9 miles on the Waskerley Way, painfully slow. But I thought, what the Hell, I’ll get round. The plan was to start very slow, and to walk up the hills. Or to do Allan Seheult’s run 5mins walk 2mins plan. I had serious doubts all last week but I thought – what’s the worst that could happen … another black eye?? After all, it was plastered all over the walls of Howtown Outdoor Ed Centre when I was a young teacher “A quitter never wins; a winner never quits”. So no quitter, I thought just do it.
Sunday dawned and I pitched up for the bus. Arriving at the start there was the usual stampede for the toilet cubicles (with many repeat visits!). At first the weather was uncertain – rain or sun? Or both, as it turned out. Eventually, I went to my number area (green) and my ‘pen’ group (i). Kay Cairns was there along with a few new Striders. It was a long wait with rain, then sun, then more rain … and the Red Arrows. It took around 35 minutes of walking to cross the start line, mostly walking. And then we were off. I didn’t even start my watch but I realised pretty quickly that my ‘start slow’ plan wasn’t working. On the Tyne Bridge I spotted that my number/pen group were following the pace flags for 2h25 and 2h 35 – surprisingly close to each other. I was thinking about 3hours (pathetic I know!) but realistic. So I slowed down and after the Tyne Bridge walked up to the Felling Bypass. By then, Mo would approaching the last mile and a sub hour victory!
So far so good. It was warming up and I got to Heworth ok with the run/walk plan. It was when I got to Whitemare Pool that things began to unravel. I was hot and I was starting to feel achy. I thought it was the beginning of cramp. Very soon just about everything below the waist began to tighten up and ache. By then I was walking. I trotted into a St John’s Ambulance tent and explained that I thought I was cramping up and could I have a painkiller? “Oh no” they said, “ We couldn’t possibly give you Ibuprofen!”. “To protect my kidneys?” I asked. (You see I do listen Paul Evans!!). “That’s right”, they said. So they applied something topically to my legs and lower back. I have no idea what it was, there was no smell and it could well have been a placebo, but it did seem to work, for a short while. They also gave me an electrolyte drink and sent me on my way. By the time I got to the John Reid Road and around 8 miles I was struggling. My legs really hurt and running was just so painful. So walking and the odd period of jogging ensued for the rest of the way. I’d had lots of spectators shouting encouragement and calling out my name. And around 9 miles I heard “Pam Kirkup, Elvet Striders, what are you doing back here? Get a bloody move on”! I have no idea who it was but it was both flattering and encouraging but also a little bit disheartening. I knew I could do much better. By the time I got to 10 miles I began to think ‘no this is not cramp it’s just extreme muscle fatigue’. I kind of imagined my legs screaming out at me “No! Enough already! What are you playing at? We’re not prepared for this”. And if muscles could speak they would have been right. My training had been minimal and I just didn’t have the stamina or the endurance to get around without causing this level of pain and discomfort.
When I got to the horrible hill at mile 11 I looked around me and thought, ‘Yes I’ve found my level’. Nobody was running – young, old, slim, overweight – everyone was walking. And then we got to the Elvis Impersonator at the top of the hill. I didn’t actually see him but the song ‘King Creole’ was belting out. The last time I ran the GNR his song was ‘The Wonder of You’ which, in my case, would have been somewhat ironic this year!
I had hoped to run down the hill to Marsden and along the last mile to the finish but by then my legs had seriously gone. I managed a few hundred yards but then I realised I was wobbling so much that walking was the best I could do. I did think they might give way but I got to the finish and then lurched off to the baggage bus for my stuff.
I got to the pub after a very slow walk – mainly the crowds –to Bents Park and then up the hill to the Look Out. I’m not a beer drinker but I have to say, the restorative powers of a pint of lager are amazing. By the time we left the leg wobble had gone and the pain was receding.
Positives – at least I finished even though it was tempting to jump on one of the hoppers taking struggling runners to the finish; I managed to avoid the burly nutters and thugs so wasn’t pushed over and no black eye; I have recovered quite quickly – no pain today; and it hasn’t put me off. It’s just made me realise I have to do much more consistent training for such a race. Maybe I should do a few 10Ks and build up. From nothing to a half marathon like the GNR is probably foolish – with the benefit of hindsight!
Vale of York Half Marathon was my first race at this distance back in 2015 and I loved the event, so wanted to pay it another visit. It’s based out of the aero club near Sherburn-in-Elmet (between Leeds and Selby), so it’s a bit of a drive to get to (about 1 hour 30 minutes from Durham), but not outrageous for a half marathon. I’d arranged to give a lift to David Browbank and Georgie Hebdon, partly to be a bit greener and partly to have company on the drive. It was a smooth journey down the A1 as one might expect for early on a Sunday morning, only punctuated by the seemingly never-ending road works in two places. Sherburn in Elmet is only 10 minutes or so off the A1, so really easy to get to.
We knew that the road to the car park was also part of the race route and the access was being closed at 9am, so setting off at 6:40am to get there just after 8am seemed like enough contingency for any travel problems; it was plenty. As we arrived, we chuckled at the apparently over-zealous marshalling in the car park as we headed over to the portaloos and registration (in that order, got to get your priorities straight). We were early enough that both queues were limited and the loos were still in a decent state, so there was an added benefit to being early.
For some reason, the aero club seemed to be a centre for the local wasp population, so once the car park entrance was closed and the announcement went up to head over to the start we trotted over to shake them off and made use of the runway for the rest of our warm-up. Conditions were cloudy and reasonably mild (mid to high teens celsius) but breezy; looking back, we had much better overall conditions than the Great North Run competitors were “enjoying” that morning. The start was scheduled for 9:30am but was delayed for about 10 minutes for people arriving late at the start. After a couple of short announcements, we were off.
The course was slightly modified for this year but started in a similar way to my previous experience – we went most of the length of the runway and looped back before following the aero club roads out onto the surrounding lanes. I set off at 8 minute mile pace as that was my plan and what I intended to hold for the first half of the race. Once I’d settled into my pace, I switched to keeping tabs on my heart rate, since I know from experience how best to manage my effort through the race.
One of the big attractions of the course is that it’s almost completely flat. There’s one rise in the form of a bridge over the railway line which we reached just after 3 miles and appears again on the return. I eased off the pace coming up the slope and picked up a little coming down the other side before settling back into my pace.
The camber of the roads is, shall we say, interesting. In places they’re pretty flat, in others they distinctly roll off to one side or another, so at times I had to pick my line carefully to avoid running across the slope. The beauty of the smaller field (limit of 2,000) meant that after the first couple of miles it was possible to pick whatever line I wanted.
After the railway bridge, there was a stretch through Bishop Woods, which was also where the first water station was set up. The road continued along to a crossroads shortly after 5 miles where a left turn started the loop of the lollipop-shaped course. Just after taking the turn I started on my fuelling – jelly babies – which I know I benefit from and have tried in training before. I find them less uncomfortable on my stomach than gels.
I’ve heard people describe the course as dull, but I think the area’s very attractive, with lots of open countryside, occasional housing and some variety to the views. A lot of the people who live in the area come out to watch the race and support the runners, some at junctions & turns, some at the ends of their drives. It’s a welcome boost all round the course.
Just after the second water station, about halfway round the loop, I started to pick up the pace a little – about 7:50 per mile, sticking to the plan – which lasted until about the end of mile 8, when the wheels started to come off. My legs were numb and I had to ease my pace off to around 8:20 per mile just to keep my heart rate in check; I knew that if I tried to push on at the pace I wanted I would blow up way before the finish, and I had a feeling that breeze was going to play a bigger part towards the end. I gritted my teeth and concentrated on plugging on, keeping my heart rate progression where I wanted it. Over the next 3 miles or so, I managed to keep up at between 8:10 and 8:20 pace, ignoring the last water station in the woods and measuring my effort over the bridge – easing on the climb and accelerating downhill again.
That breeze I mentioned had mostly been at our backs, cross-winds or sheltered in places by the wood or the hedges. As we turned back along Bishopdyke Road, just after 11 miles, it was full in our faces and a fair bit stronger than it had been on the way out. There was still two miles to go, no prospect of shelter from the wind and dead legs. This was purgatory. Even turning a 90 degree left turn towards the aero club at 12 miles didn’t seem to help. Nothing for it but to focus on trying to keep form and cadence, dig deeper and just get to the finish. It was great to get shout outs from faster Striders who’d already finished, like Chris Callan, and other Strider supporters on the run in. From my previous running of the course, I knew where the finish was so I was able to time my final effort. I hadn’t used any of my fast-twitch fibres up to that point, so managed a respectable kick over the last hundred metres or so, but that was my lot. I left everything out on the course and that’s all I could ask of myself.
If I’d managed to pull off what I’d intended in my planning, I would have achieved a PB compared to Sunderland 2017. As it was, I came in 2 minutes slower at 1:46:55 (chip time), but beating my previous time on this course by 3 minutes. I could try to blame the wind, but I reckon it only took about 40 seconds out of me over those last two miles. The truth is that my training wasn’t enough to support my aspiration. The important thing is I’m going to take the experience and see how I can adapt my training to achieve it next time.
Georgie was already back (a long time before me!) and David was right behind me – I was still trying to stand upright without feeling like I was going to fall over when he emerged from the goody-bag distribution. Some of the other Striders arrived too, including Simon, Stephen J & Vics and Steph. We had a chat about the race and watched the prize-giving, proudly cheering Stephen collect his prize for 3rd male. By this point, we’d cooled down and agreed it would be a good idea to be ready to escape the car park once they re-opened it. We knew the access was being shared with the race route, so might need to be patient.
From where we sat in the exit queue, we couldn’t see what was happening but the shouty marshals who were there when we arrived were curiously absent. Eventually there were signs of movement but mostly behind us rather than ahead as people bolted for a different exit. We eventually decided that was the better option and joined them. Once we were out, it was a smooth run back home.
The following day there was an email from the organisers which explained what had happened and why the start and parking arrangements were different to previous years. In short, they’d been denied access to a piece of land they had previously used and the aero club had stepped in at the last minute, which allowed the race to go ahead. The exit arrangements were always going to be a challenge, but were compounded by someone ignoring the road closure and then getting their car & trailer stuck in the entrance gate. The organisers have promised to learn from this year’s arrangements and improve them for future years, and I’m fully confident that they will.
Apart from the parking problems, which for us were only a minor niggle, the only downside with hindsight was that none of us thought to organise a Striders group photo before the start. I’ve tracked down some excellent photos from John Ashton, amongst which I humbly submit my own Race Face and Flying Feet nomination for this year.
I’m told the course has a lot in common with the Brass Monkey – mostly flat, one bridge, a loop to turn, a common start & finish. Perhaps with the right adjustments to my training over the next few months, that might be where I could try again to recover those lost minutes. Before I get carried away I’ll see if I can get an entry first!
Trails and Tribulations – How to be a Very Amateur Athlete
Since joining Striders 3 years ago and getting in to this running lark, I have often questioned my self as to whether I am an athlete or not.
I am often the recipient of letters and emails from various sporting organisations addressed to ‘Dear athlete’, and note on race applications and results lists, that athletes are participating in the same event as my self. But the fact is I just don’t see myself as one of the tribe.
A definition I have found describes an athlete as:
A person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise
However, my experiences this year whilst preparing for and taking part in races hardly demonstrates proficiency in sport, and in reality is more like a long list of complete cock-ups. Having said that, I think with the Vale of York Half Marathon, I am starting to crack it and may be on my way the being a proper athlete. I will now try and explain:
For me, an athlete must have a six pack, muscles in the right places, a square jaw and absence of numerous chins, look the part with all the right gear, and demonstrate excellence in their chosen sport. This goes back to my youth when sporting athletic hero’s looked the part and delivered. People like Brendan Foster, Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell, Kelly Holmes and Alf Tupper were in their prime, and achieving sporting greatness, and are the role models on which I measure what an athlete should be.
I conversely don’t fit in to that mould.
Firstly, my body has a bit of wear and tear, consisting of a series of sporting and work related injuries, held together primarily by scar tissue and lumpy bits. Getting out of bed in a morning, any form of sudden movement, or just walking the short distance from the bed to the loo, is always accompanied by a soft ‘Oooooh’ or “Argghhhhh’ as I manage the aches and pains and delicately try to get things moving. Once I get going, I’m fine, but the getting going gets harder with age.
Secondly, my list of athletic achievements remains short. Admittedly, I was a joint winner at the Maltby Church School wheelbarrow race (1973). I competed in the Inter-house schools cross country (1981), finishing around the back of the field limping in and ending up in hospital having 3 stitches after falling over in the mud at Roche Abbey. I completed the Raby 10k and was awarded a prize, but could not collect it as it was for 3rd finisher in the W60 section having taken a hand me down entry off a friend. I was 32 at the time.
Quite simply, I could not see myself as either athletic or an athlete.
However, things changed a little at the beginning of the year when I retired from work. With more time to focus on training I vowed to improve my running and compete more effectively in races, working to more of my strengths to help improve my fitness.
With very dodgy knees, which are painful in a morning and after longer distance runs, I simply could not risk increasing running mileage. Therefore in addition to the usual weekly runs, I focused on working very hard in spinning classes, 2 sometimes 3 times a week, and cycling in general. This helped me enormously, both aerobically and strength wise, and helped feed my competitive urge when I started to see some improvements.
A failure on my part was not to have a training plan as such. In my mind, if I worked harder, then there should be some improvement. However, as a training aid I have bought a Garmin Run / cycle / swim watch, which I have to admit is brilliant. Apart from trying to run a route, which writes my name on the Garmin Mapping Package, the advantages of the Garmin are many fold. I now know what different running paces feel like rather than second guessing, I can see performance improvement in the stats, I can see what times mates have run and rub it in that they should be faster than me by virtue of age.
In December last year, with little specific training I completed a half marathon for the first time in around 25 years in Sunderland. It killed me, and post race I could hardly walk around, with stiff legs, hips and other bits. However, I had set a marker PB, which I vowed to beat when I next competed in a similar race at some point in 2018, and the VOY Half Marathon was my target.
In the meantime, I had to do more races leading up to VOY to iron out how to do it properly, with out messing up. With that in mind, I have learnt some interesting lessons through competition:
1) Pre Race Food
Running magazines, wise wisdom and other top tips seem to advise that Carb loading is a good idea the night before a race, with a nice pasta dish being a meal of choice.
That’s all well and good, but I have a great recipe for a Chilli and baked bean sausage casserole, which I made the night before the Trail Outlaws Penshaw Monument half Marathon. As hills were expected in this race, I washed the meal down with a bottle of Wainwrights Beer.
The problems started at about 3am with some stomach gurgling.
Having taken appropriate measures I was ok until the moment 20 minutes before the race when I had a distinct need to complete a 100m dash to the toilets. I was pre prepared having taken a role of Andrex™ Best from home, but the main issues was not my ablutions, but the fact I fell off the toilet as the screws holding it to the floor came away and tipped me off. Unbeknown to me, the plumbing from the cistern was now detached, from the toilet, so when I flushed the loo, 10 gallons of water flooded the men’s toilet block. I managed to do some plumbing repairs,, but the cubicle was a mess. I’m sorry if this affected anyone at the time, but I did report it, and it wasn’t my fault, but it was a lesson learned, make sure you eat the right food before a race.
2) Pre Race Ablutions (and Post race ablutions)
The motto is be prepared, and go regularly so that the system is clear.
I thought it was clear on the Gateshead trail 10K at Blaydon, but about a quarter of the way around I had that stomach gurgling again. Whether this was pre race nerves affecting my system or what I’m not sure. The effect was that as the race went on I was running with very tense muscles, and was very close to making a dash to some tree cover to seek relief. Counting down the last kilometres was desperate. However, I eventually managed to get over the line, grabbed my medal and continued at 4-minute mile pace to the toilet cubicles.
That was another lesson learned on my way to being an athlete.
This is a real problem for me. Not the fact that I need to take water on board, but how to take water on board at water stations. Race organisers seem to think up different innovative ways to soak me rather than feed water in.
a) Paper cup – Water split all over the place and trying to drink whilst on the move always ends up with water splashing dribbling down the side of my face
b) Water Bottles – Always seem too big, can’t find the opening and I have to tilt my head back, missing my mouth and again dribbling water all over the place
c) Water pouches – As used at the Durham 10k. This was a real hard one to master, as I simply could not get the water out whilst running, so gave the damn thing a really good squeeze, resulting in a jet of water in the face and up my nose, missing my mouth completely.
My agreed approach now is that I simply don’t care, and as long as I take water on board, I’m happy.
4) Jelly Babies and other race nutrients
Race organisers like to give out nutritional treats at feeding stations, particularly Jelly babies, which in the right circumstances are great.
Personally, I bite the heads off and chew them, but the dilemma is how many do you take from the box,? And can you select the red berry ones, and ditch the green ones without losing time?
At a Trail Outlaws race I just grabbed a handful as I passed the feeding station, but had too many to eat at once with out feeling sick. Rather than chucking to them away, I decided to keep a few back, only for them to create a horrible sweaty and sticky goo in my hand.
Is it race etiquette to grab a handful, or just take a few selected ones to nibble at?
I have not worked this one out yet, so it’s work in progress..
5) Race Strategy
I’m always being given helpful advice on race strategy. Whether that relates to the pace for the race, (start out slower and finish faster; start out faster and finish slower; just hang in there for grim death), or make sure you get near the front at the start.
The reality is that I fail on race strategy on the day, other than by adopting an approach that I must beat Runner X to the finish line. Runner X being a friend from the dark side, otherwise known as Durham City Harriers.
So far it’s 2 all on the races we have caught up with each other, with me taking the 10k races, and him the half marathons. I tend to start fast and gain a lead, then he gets me as a die close to the finish line
I need some coaching on race strategy.
This is a completely new concept to participation in sport, both in training and at events.
It never ceases to amaze me that so many photo opportunities exist. The only problem I have, is that I have a great face for radio.
From photos I’ve seen, I seem to manage to pull a tremendous gurning race face, look like a burglars bull dog chewing a wasp, or generally look half dead, even when I’m stationary and not even started the run.
Once I’m up and running, strategically placed photographers always manage to capture me looking as if I’m in the mid throws of collapse, or dealing with trapped wind.
A recent article in Runners World stressed the virtues and benefits of running with a smile, and the evidence of this is everywhere in photos of others, happily running with a happy carefree smile and striking new PBs.
I’m just going to have to smile more when running in order to achieve my goals.
With these observations in mind, I made my way to Sherburn In Elmet for the VOY, with a view of trying to get a new PB for the distance.
On arrival, the first thing to notice at the race start, was the total absence of Crocodiles, Father Christmases, Dinosaurs, Hen & Stag parties and runners carry fridges on their backs.
What was obvious was the number of club runners sporting their club vests. A smattering of north eastern clubs were represented, but I guess the GNR drew in many from our region. However, the race was dominated by clubs from Yorkshire, such as Steel City Striders, Grimthorpe Harriers, and Royston Vasey ACC. With the promise of a flat fast paced course, the race had clearly attracted many runners intent on going for a good time or PB.
Getting to the start was simple. The only local celebrity available to start the race was the Mayor of Selby, who thanked everyone for coming and set off the race with his air horn.
I’m pleased to say the execution of my plans went well:-
1) Pre race food
Pasta, and no negative after effects.
2) Pre Race Ablutions
Got to the start in good time, and completed without issue.
No problems, I just saved the hassle by pouring it over my head.
4) Jelly Babies
5) Race Strategy
Got near the front at the start.
I went out far too fast, died at 8 miles as I turned in to the wind, but managed to keep things going and got over the line in a new PB.
Runner X got to the finish line 11 seconds ahead of me after a last ditch overtake, and that’s not got to happen next time.
Having said that I had the moral victory as he is 10 years younger than me, but I wasn’t able to articulate that well to him after the race, plus he wasn’t listening.
Smiled all the way around, with evidence from the event photo gallery.
Its fair to say that I have learnt my lessons, shown improvement and despite several previous mishaps, have become a little more proficient in this chosen sport. If that makes me an athlete, then I am a happy runner, and role on the XC season.
The Island of Islay is best known for its distilleries, which draw in whisky connoisseurs from all over the world. Since the mid-1980s it has also had the Islay half marathon, which judging from the results list, has its own hardcore of international fans. When it was suggested to me and my partner Becca, earlier in the year, that we might like to do this race my first thought was yes, but that’s a big journey from Durham for the weekend. If you face West from Glasgow you’re looking towards Islay but the Firth of Clyde, the Isle of Bute, the Kintyre peninsula and a bit of the Atlantic ocean are all between you and it. It was then pointed out that instead of driving 100 miles around, you can do it in a succession of ferry hops, with short distances in between that you could easily cover on a bike. Having done a fair amount of cycling in Scotland we knew that there is a “five ferries” ride that the keen complete from the mainland in a day, taking in Arran, Kintyre, Cowal and Bute. The first couple of hops towards Islay cover the start of it. This had the makings of a good long weekend adventure. So we booked a day off work, and the evening of Thursday 26th saw us in Ardrossan with bikes ready for the first ferry onto Arran the next day.
The Friday before the race was spent riding around the East side of Arran, then a short ferry crossing to the Kintyre peninsula and across to the other side before the longer ferry to Islay. Despite a surprise hill climb at Boguille in Arran (it’s a surprise if you don’t bother to wonder about the hills before you set off), this was all pretty relaxed, and we didn’t need to worry about tiring ourselves out for the race. Once on Islay itself, we were immediately in distillery country, passing a couple of famous names on the way to our overnight stay near the start in Bowmore. We didn’t stop at the distilleries, but we knew the next day’s race was sponsored by Ardbeg, so it seemed likely that a dram might be on the cards at some point.
On race day we gathered some tips on the course from our B&B host then rode the couple of miles to the start. The course is a loop that heads steeply up out of Bowmore, turns South towards Port Ellen ascending along higher ground, before dropping steeply and returning along part of the “Low Road”, a dead straight of which any ancient Roman engineer would be proud.
Although Islay has some mountainous terrain it’s on the East side of the island, so the ascent only totals about 130 m. This race has the potential to be fast, something that I had in mind as the date approached. Although we’d done a few races of half marathon distance over the last few years, none of them had had the speed potential of this one. I’d done the Durham 10k the week before, and I couldn’t say I was obviously on top form, however, it didn’t seem inconceivable that I could beat my 2007 half marathon best of just over 1hr 37. My rough plan was to aim for that pace and adjust depending on how I was feeling.
The start of the race had the friendly low-key feel that makes you appreciate seeking out these smaller events. We hadn’t left too much time for warming up, so a quick jog up and down the street and it was time to start. With a field of 124 runners, it was a novelty to be on a start line with some elbow room. This also meant that those who wanted to set off quickly could easily do so, and I quickly found myself getting pulled along a bit faster than was ideal, snaking through a few side streets, past Bowmore’s distinctive round church and out into the open countryside.
Checking my watch after the road levelled out I saw I’d done the first and steepest mile faster than my target pace but it didn’t feel too bad, and so attempted to stick with the people around me. The pace had settled down a bit, and I had the chance to look around and appreciate the view across to the mountains in the East. Although I hadn’t especially noticed the rain at the start it was clear that it was getting wet and not showing any sign of letting up. As the route descended off the first high point and turned to head south my trainers were squelching and I had the novel experience of trying to avoid the smoother bits of road, which were quite slippy in the puddles. The best that could be said for it was that after the recent heat wave it was cool! Ironically, and presumably, in response to the heat wave, I think this race had the most water stations I have ever seen. Mindful of the fact that you can’t actually drink through your skin I remembered to make use of a few of them.
The road climbed gradually until about mile 6 where we turned off towards the coast and the low road. This was a solid mile of steep downhill and I attempted to make the best of it. Turning back towards Bowmore on the level, I was disconcerted to find that my legs hadn’t taken too kindly to the downhill stomp. I was at risk of feeling sorry for myself and slowing down when I was overtaken. The race was reasonably well spread out at this stage, so this was a bit of a wake-up call and spurred me on. I also knew that the next few miles were pretty well flat and if I was going to get close to my wished-for time, this was where I’d do it. So I pushed on and stuck with the other runner who was keeping a very tidy pace.
Another runner I chatted to at the start of the race had described the low road straight as “soul destroying”. I could have seen his point if I’d been staring at a long strip of never-ending tarmac, but maybe because the misty rain was largely obscuring the view, or maybe because I was just trying to keep the pace it didn’t seem that way to me. After a while, I and my unofficial pacer acted as the wake-up call for the next runner in front, who made us a group of three for a while. This lasted until about two miles from the end of the race when the flat straight road became a slightly hilly road.
Looking at the profile after the event the final hills look insignificant but after the hard push along the flat, my legs were complaining severely. My temporary companions didn’t seem to be having the same trouble and so I had to watch them disappear off ahead. There was no way I could avoid slowing down, however, soon enough the round church was back in view and there was one final plummet down Bowmore’s main street to the finish in just under 1 hour 39.
Having collected my medal and t-shirt I saw Becca finish in a personal best time of just over 2 hours (15 seconds!). Then we retreated to the village hall to dry off and for sandwiches and the anticipated dram or, for those who really needed to rehydrate, a can of Tennents.
After an hour of recuperation, it was time to point our bikes towards the ferry. Thankfully it turns out that the muscles you need for cycling are complementary to the ones needed for running. This meant that we could make it back to Kintyre for the night, and still enjoy our ride round Cowal and Bute the next day. It’s always going to take a bit of extra effort to travel to Islay for this race, but even if you don’t cycle to get there it’s surely a good excuse to get out and explore some of the remoter parts of Southern Scotland and get a friendly, fast and scenic race into the bargain.
Over the past few years, there seems to have been an increase in the add-ons available when booking races. Tech t-shirts, medals, coasters etc…. The Keswick Half Marathon was no different (with t-shirts and slate coasters available) but a “pleasant” surprise was that they included a heatwave for free.
I thoroughly enjoyed last year’s race which I would easily describe as the most scenic and beautiful I’ve ever entered. It is very well organised with registration being held at the rugby club, 1 mile from the start at Portinscale. On paper, this sounds like a right pain but in reality, it adds to the atmosphere and enjoyment of the day. The race is limited to 1000 with some EotD.
As everyone streams along the path flanked by sheep and fields you can see everyone actively relaxing whilst they warm up. I spent the time strolling along with my wife, Jane, whilst Club shirt spotting. There seemed to be an awful lot of our usual XC enemy from the Poly. I knew this was going to be a very different affair but I had my heart set on beating as many of the red/black lot as possible.
The start was held just over Portinscale’s mini Humber Bridge. Many of the Purple Army congregated and nattered before the race with some of the Bob Graham Round support team also in attendance to wish us well on the tarmac. All of a sudden the race director seemed to be counting down from 10 and we were off…. very little warning.
The initial mile winds through the village past a lot of parked cars and supporters. It reminds me a little of the start of the cash-cow that is the Blaydon race.
After we break free from the houses the race follows a lovely road enveloped by trees. It gave us respite from the direct sunshine. My phone had said 21C as we started and it was only going to get hotter. (I hate the heat! I might mention that again later, a few times!).
We passed my friends waving in Swinside and made our way up the first horrid little hit past the adventure centre. From here until mile 10 there was no tree cover. That was it….sun sun sun. I had predicted it so hydrated a lot and covered myself in lots of sun cream.
I know this area like the back of my hand and this is one of the reasons I keep coming back and will probably do so next year. The roads are quiet for the first third of the race. Our Scottish dynamo, Allan, then overtook me at the start of THAT hill on mile 5. By then I’d realised I had totally underestimated how crap I was in the sun and gone off too quickly. I love hills….but not hills with no breeze and in this heat. I was struggling and annoyed with myself already. My head always lets me down in these situations and I knew it was going to be a very tough 8 miles from now on. At the top of the hill, there was a big animal trough with fresh water running into it from a stream….in went my head and arms to try to cool down (I hate being hot!). This provided much respite and I sped up for the next mile.
The views opened up with a stunning vista across the water. The problem now was that every walker in the NW lakes seemed to know this too and there were cars and vans parked all over.
The issue of it being an open road race didn’t really bother me last year but because of the long weekend and sun, everyone seemed to have made their way to the side of Catbells. The sun was belting down now and like a newborn baby, I was struggling to control my temperature. Suddenly I saw a mini waterfall and jumped under it…..then Penny passed. This was on 7 miles. I tried to talk myself into following her for as long as I could but I just didn’t have it in me.
The views around were simply stunning though so I just decided to take them in and plod along as best I could. Originally I had a target of 1:45hrs but this was downgraded to 1:50hrs due to the heat.
As mentioned earlier, the organisation for this race is excellent. In total there were 7 water stations (1 of which was put on last minute by a local hotel). These tables were very much needed and I dread to think what would happen if there were fewer. The smiley volunteers must have been sweltering as they greeted us with the cold water (I have no idea how they managed to keep it thus).
As I crossed the final section from Grange to Keswick I was met by someone shouting “Come on Tim, Penny is just ahead of you!!” I have no idea who it was and we all think it was just some friendly chap who had noticed the purple named vests. It did spur me on and although it wasn’t a fast 3 miles along the road to Keswick, I did manage to feel stronger than the previous year. (Being in shade did help).
The final section took us into the town centre and past all the day visitors.
One helpful local lad stood with a hosepipe squirting us all on the final few hundred yards. At this point, I slowed to run with a couple of fellow runners when I heard them say, “I cannot do this anymore. It’s too hot!”.
Unfortunately, by doing this it allowed one of the red/black enemy to pass me with only 200 yards to go. I left it until about 80 yards and left my new found friends and sprinted to overtake the Poly runner. Luckily I took him with 10 yards to go and finished in a sluggish 1:54:38 (6 mins slower than last year).
I was met by a smiling Stuart Scott some 10 hours after his successful Bob Graham Round! Gareth was also there basking in the glory (and sun) of coming second in an amazing 1:21:19.
This is what I love about the Club….regardless of our individual speeds, successes and pace, we all support each other and wear our purple with pride.
Jane finished in a very respectable 2:37hrs in her first proper race of length as an Elvet Strider, shortly after Anna, Catherine and Andrew.
I’ll be back next year. It’s too pretty a route not to….I just hope I get some drizzle next time. I’d love to think that more Elvet Striders could join us!! It’s a fantastic day out.
Ok, so it’s not for everyone, but I love the Brass Monkey half marathon. As long as my legs are strong enough, and my internet speed is quick enough, I’ll enter this race.
What better way to start the year?
The plan was to head out somewhere near PB pace or a little quicker and see how I felt. Never likely to trouble the lead pack in a highly competitive field this was more about seeing where ‘I’m at’ at the beginning of 2018.
After a fairly frantic start, I settled at the back of the second group, with the front-runners disappearing into the distance with the lead car. There was another break at 5k and I was in or around 15th position with some familiar faces, many from the North East (I was to finish 13th).
I found the first half (the ‘out’ of the out-and-back race) the hardest, I think this was due to the brisk start coupled with a headwind. I actually felt better at 10 miles than I did at 5. I ran from just before halfway with Michael Hedley from Tyne Bridge Harriers, not for the first time over the half marathon distance.
The conditions were good; cold but not freezing, no rain, not too much wind.
It was all there for the taking but in the end, I felt I had a good race, not a great one. This is a race you can achieve something special and I fell just short based on the high standards I set myself. That said, a PB is a PB – you shouldn’t be disappointed with a personal best: it is exactly what it says on the tin.
Also, if you’ve got the time – take the bus with fellow club members to a race this year. I know it’s difficult for people with families etc. to justify the best part of the day out of the house, but it really does make it a social ‘team’ event.