Category Archives: Fun Run

The Spine Challenger, Edale to Hawes, Saturday, January 11, 2020

108 Miles

Stuart Scott

“The Spine Race was definitely something I would never be interested in”

Stuart Scott.

It was approximately 2015 when I first heard about The Montane Spine Race. This beast is a 268 mile race covering the entire Pennine Way, in January. I was intrigued but thought it was just ridiculous, who were these absolute lunatics that even contemplated taking it on? Were they completely insane? Just why would you even want to put yourself through that? The Spine Race was definitely something I would never be interested in, as it seemed a million miles away from anything I would ever be capable of.

Over the two few years I started to compete in bigger and bigger races always wanting to push the boundaries and see just how far I could go.

I was offered a last minute place in The 2018 Spine Challenger, this is the miniature version of The Spine race, known to some race veterans as the baby spine or the fun run. At 108 miles the challenger didn’t seem like much of a fun run to me, I knew I couldn’t take it on last min but it got me thinking as to weather or not I could do it with the right training? The person that offered me the place certainly thought so and the seed was planted.

At the back end of 2018 I finally had the confidence to apply for the 2019 race, the race was sold out by then so I took a waiting list spot. Even at the end of December 2018 I didn’t know for certain if I was running brass monkey or the challenger, I ran brass monkey.

Being self employed I was able to follow The Spine race closely in 2019, I spent nearly the full week cheering various runners on around the course. I got that carried away with everything I even  drove up to Kirk Yetholm to watch Jasmin Paris shatter the course before calling in to cheer another random runner on near Hadrian’s wall, in the dead of the night on my way home, I was truly inspired.

At this point in time I wanted to take on the full spine race, all 268 miles , however my good wife Susan persuaded me it might be a good idea to do the fun run first. I knew doing the challenger first was the most sensible option and with having 3 kids the full spine would also be a massive ask for my wife so the fun run it was.

As the race grew nearer my excitement started to build, I’d missed out on the Lakeland 100, due to a last min injury, and really wanted to smash the challenger to make up for that. I felt great and my coach Margarita Grigoriadi, along with many at Elvet Striders had got me into great condition to do this.

After a request on the Spine facebook page I was kindly offered a lift to the start by Phil Owen, who was on the safety team and Sue Jennings who was also running the challenger. I could not have been happier, I was buzzing and felt so alive, the following day I was not going to be a parent, a taxi driver or a husband, tomorrow I was going to be an ultra runner on one hell of an adventure doing what love.

My race started well, I’m terrible for going off to fast and really wanted to stay with Elaine, she’s a good friend and paces so well, unfortunately for me she was just pushing to hard and I had to let her go, I knew I had to get my pacing right as 108 miles is a long way and I really I didn’t want to mess up this race.

After a few miles I caught Elaine up and we ran together in appalling conditions with rain, fog and really bad visibility, due to concentrating on moving well in the horrendous conditions I neglected to fuel well and this is where my problems started.

New Strider and DFR member Max Wilkinson made a surprise visit to the course and cheered us on not far away from the first checkpoint at Hebdon Bridge, it was great to see someone we knew randomly out there in such tough conditions. When Max left a group of about 4-5 ran together, I knew I needed to take on some food but didn’t want to slow down and risk loosing the pack so I pressed on. As time went by I was getting more and more concerned I needed fuel so I eventually made the decision to eat and lost Elaine and the others.

In big ultra running events if you mess up your nutrition you are done so I knew I had to eat as much as possible at Hebdon Bridge so I tried my best to eat as much as possible and soon felt good again, I was back in the game.

As the miles passed by I was loving every second of it I was doing what I love surrounded by like minded people and knew Elaine was leading the woman’s race everything was great  and I could not be happier.

The miles continued to pass by as the rain, fog and darkness continued. There is not much daylight in January and when you have a long race to do the daylight hours are extremely precious, especially on boggy ground in the fog and rain when you have navigate yourself.

In long ultras the field often becomes very spread out and if you start finding it hard with nobody to be seen as far as the eye can see it really starts to screw with your mind. It was in the early hours of the morning I guess at about 55 miles in on Sunday when my real problems started, I just couldn’t eat. I’ve changed my diet a lot recently and after having had virtually no dairy products for the last couple of months I just couldn’t face my normal race food of Ella’s kitchen and rice pudding.

I was totally by myself and gutted I’d ended up in this situation, I knew any chance I had of racing this event was over and that was a hard pill to swallow as I’d had so much confidence a top ten finish was possible, if everything went well.

I was now in a massive dilemma, I’ve always said I would never quit a race if I’m not injured and have always encouraged other runners to battle on through rough patches, I’ve read many books on ultra running and I know so much of it is about having the correct mindset, staying positive and knowing anything is possible if you just  have the belief it can be done.

The main issues I had were I was currently by myself on a boggy hill in the early hours of the morning on the Pennine way, its early January, I have already covered 55 miles with poor fuelling, I’ve been awake for nearly 24 hours, I’m pissed off I have no chance of a top ten finish and there is 53 miles of the race left. I can DNF very soon and probably be back in Durham fast asleep in a nice warm comfy bed surrounded by my family within a few hours or I can attempt to ‘see out’ another 53 miles of the Pennine way, even writing thus now it seems insane but somehow I was able to convince myself that this was the way forward.

I’d had so many messages of support from friends an family going into this event and as I’d told a few people the time I was hoping for I didn’t want to finish hours and hours behind that without an explanation so I posted on my face book page that unfortunately I was done but I would finish. This meant I now had to.

Within a very short time of posting my message an exceptional ultra runner named John Parkin, I’d met through Bob Graham recce had seen my post, it turns out he lived 5 minutes away from where I was so he got straight into his running gear and came out to say hello and make sure I was OK.  I knew John understood me more than most, as he’s run the UK’s big 3 rounds, and he helped convince me what I was attempting to ‘see out’ was a good idea.

Stuart Battles on.

The next 10 miles took me about 4 and a half hours, I was so frustrated, I kept thinking I’ve run that in just over an hour before this is ridiculous it also dawned on me I would be heading into a second night in yet more fog, wind, bogs, rain and poor visibility. I was also getting a little cold, not really bad or anything but if I’d had extra clothing that wasn’t already soaked through I would definitely have put it on.

I’m not going to lie in saying the next few hours weren’t hell on earth I was just walking along completely and utterly spent, I kept shouting at myself to get a grip, I was seeing things and kept randomly busting into tears I had so long to go but quitting was just not an option for me , I could not believe I actually paid a lot of money to put myself through this living hell.

I would walk for what seemed like at 2-3 miles to see on my gps it was about half a mile I had a long way to go but also knew I could just pull the plug at any time like the 70 plus other runners that did not finish the race.

Every time I came across a supporter, someone from the safety team or mountain rescue I would sort myself out and tell them all was good but mentally I was battered.

The miles slowly very slowly passed by I gained a massive boost when I came across a shop and was able to get some warm food and a coffee. The boost from the warm food and drink got me to a cafe at Malham which left only 34 miles, its funny when you start to think of a marathon a 10k and a bit of a parkrun as the home straight!

Not long after I felt Malham I was intercepted by the Spine media team, I enquired if anyone had won the woman’s race yet and when they said no I continued on my way until  I had a sudden thought. I knew Elaine had the potential to win and last I’d heard she had a good lead so I turned back and asked if I could film a message for the winner as I knew it was definitely going to be Elaine, they laughed and made the clip which later made two episodes of the official spine race summary videos.

As the food from Malham went to work I managed to keep moving forward however I was being extremely lazy using only my gps for navigation and not even bothering to look at my map (I can feel Geoff shacking his head as I write this) in my tired state I started following a blue line instead of the purple one and soon found myself off course. Thankfully this was only minor detour and I did get back on track pretty soon, after having lost a walking pole.

Why couldn’t there just be one big hill instead of ten smaller ones, and fog what’s the point in that?

As the darkness fell for the second night the temperature also started to drop, I must have fallen a dozen times in the next couple of hours, shouting, swearing and cursing at the top of my voice I couldn’t wait for this prolonged torture to come to an end I was definitely  going to take up track running as soon as I was finished this God forsaken race.

I called Susan at this point to tell her it was pretty hard and she didn’t sound to surprised. I asked if Elaine had won, she had but my initial happiness for Elaine soon turned to anger as I realised how far I still had to go an how long this was going to take me. I’d planned to run with Elaine for as long and was hoping to finish within a couple of hours of her but see was already finished and I still had a bloody marathon to go how was this even possible??? Susan assured me I was still doing great but I felt like a total failure.

As I plodded on I noticed another head torch coming towards me this was a welcome site and a decided I was going to give it my all to keep up with them. We were heading for Pen-y-Ghent and the other runner was telling me to prepare for the climb but assured me it was fine once we got off the other side. I gave it my absolute all and managed to tail this other runner all the way to the summit, it was such a great feeling to get this section out the way. My legs had managed the uphill fine but I really struggled on the downhill and was soon on my own again.

I was surrounded by thick fog on Pen-y-Ghent and the decent seemed to be taking forever, I was getting frustrated that there were so many hills, what was the point in them? Why couldn’t there just be one big hill instead of ten smaller ones, and fog what’s the point in that? Its just stupid, such a waste of time and so annoying! I prayed as soon as I got a bit lower the visibility would improve and thankful it did, as the lights of Horton in Ribblesdale came into view I was a very happy man.

There was a checkpoint in Horton and I was greeted outside by a member of the Spine team who offered tea, soup and other warm food it was amazing. I’d been awake for about 35 hours at this point and had covered just over 100 miles, it didn’t take much persuasion to take a power nap. The checkpoint team asked  how long I would like to sleep for so I decided on two hours as this would give enough time for my phone and head torch to fully charge and wouldn’t drag the race on for to much longer before I took on the final push.

The two hours flew over and I was slightly confused as I was woken up by my friend Chris Everett, he had driven all the way down just to offer me a bit of moral support. Chris shoved a tea in my hand and more or less told me to get my arse into gear, stop messing about and get on with it, this is exactly what I needed.

I was dressed and raring to go in no time, it really is amazing what two hours sleep can do for you. I put my favourite fearless motivation album onto repeat and had it blasting out from my fully charged phone as I left Chris and the checkpoint I felt determind and very happy to finally be on the home straight, until another 5 miles down the trail when I started shouting and swearing again.

Where is the stupid bloody left hand turn? Why on Gods earth are they spaced out so much? Whats the point in spacing them out so much surly it would be better for everyone if the turns were closer together? All these questions went round and round in my Head as I got more and more frustrated. I’d had my map in my hand continuously since Hordon but as my watches were both dead I had no idea of distance or time covered and every way-mark I had identified seemed to take so long to get to.

I was moving along constantly staring at the ground, the fog was thick I could have been warmer, I was determind not to miss my turn, you could not believe how long a 2 mile journey can seem when never take your gaze off the ground and with every single step you are hoping  the turn is going to be there, would this torture ever end?

Eventually the turns got ticked off one at a time and the end really was in sight. I called Susan to let her know I was nearly finished and I can remember being so, so happy the pain of everything I had been through immediately started to fade.

Mission accomplished.

I could see a headlight in front of me as I came down off the fell, It turned out to be Chris again as he had decided to hang about at the end to see me finish and transport me home, I was so happy to see him.

I didn’t know how I was going to react at the end and half expected to make a fool of myself by crying again but I didn’t, I was just happy, very content and extremely proud of myself for seeing it through. Despite the convincing myself I’d had the worst race ever I was surprised to learn I’d actually finished as 12th male and 16th overall.

Mentally the Spine challenger is by far the hardest running event I have ever completed, as far as racing is concerned it was probably one of my worst ever performances, however as an overall experience I absolutely loved it and will remember this race till the day I die. I am 100% confident I am going to move on from this experience stronger and even more determind than ever before.

I have learnt so much from this race and despite everything I went through I can not wait until the day I kiss the wall at Kirk Yetholm after having completed the Full Spine race, I know this day will come because I know how much I want it and I’m prepared to put in the work to get there. I’ve always believed you should never except limits or listen to other peoples beliefs of what they think you are capable of, you are the only one that truly knows what you are capable of and if you put in the work and believe something is possible it quite often is.

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A Grand Day Out, Pooley Bridge, Sunday, November 10, 2019

40 Miles

Fiona Brannan

I find that in the running community, one of the most commonly talked about topics is shockingly, running.  One of the most frequently asked questions I seem to get is ‘so, what’s next, anything planned?’ to which my usual answer is no, not really.  I don’t often plan events far in advance, and tend to go where the mood strikes me, so here’s a brief insight into ‘What Fiona Did Next’


Many have heard of the Bob Graham Round, who devised a route across 42 Lakeland Fells and was (wait for it) 42 at the time.  Over the years, others (including Geoff) have felt that this is not sufficient and added extra fells on, to mark the passing of their extra years.  A few weeks before my 28th birthday, I decided that 28 sounded just about doable and could be nicely contained into a circuit around Ullswater, beginning and ending at Pooley Bridge.


The original birthday plan had been to complete the Abraham Tea Round with Elaine and Nina, but with Elaine having a bad knee, and Nina sensibly opting for a run out with Jan I set off on a solo mission to count down 28 completely arbitrary summits on a clear, crisp winter morning.

I began with Gowbarrow Fell, before heading up onto the Helvellyn ridge, right along to the High Street ridge, and back along the over Loadpot Hill.  My headtorch went on just before the last summit, Arthur’s Pike and I even passed a few walkers just afterwards who looked like they too had been out for a rather long day.  I stopped into the shop in Pooley Bridge before leaving, and the friendly shopkeeper asked what I’d been up to – I think I looked a bit tired – ‘over to Helvellyn’ – I’m not sure he realised I’d been there on foot!

The whole route took me around 9.5 hours and was around 40 miles, with 11,000 ft of climbing (I think, my watch ran out of battery at about 9 hours and 36 miles somewhere above Ullswater).  Summits included Wainwrights, Hewitts and Birketts (Every Wainwright is a Birkett and a Hewitt, but not every Hewitt and Birkett is a Wainwright…)

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Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra Marathon, Jedburgh, Saturday, October 27, 2018

38 miles

Aaron Gourley

This is a race I’d had my eye on for a number of years but never seemed to get round to entering. This year, with me being home alone as the family went away on holiday, it fell perfectly for me to run the race then have time to get home, changed and be back at the airport to pick them up later that evening.

At 38 miles, Jedburgh 3 Peaks is a pretty serious race – but only in distance. From an organisational point of view, this is as fun as it gets. From the encouragement to wear fancy dress for the opportunity to win a spot prize to the YMCA warm-up ahead of the start, this race is a lot of fun. This is very much like the Hardmoors Princess challenge but with unicorns!

With my alarm set at 4 am, I set off on the long drive up to the Scottish Borders. The morning was cold and the first snow of the winter was falling quite heavily as I drove up the A19, which was a little disconcerting.
Upon arriving at the rugby club in the centre of Jedburgh, it struck me as to just how cold it was going to be, so I immediately put on an extra layer then headed to registration. Before long we were all back outside at the start-line waiting to get going, but not until we were all made to dance the YMCA as part of the pre-race warm up. Such was the silliness that I forgot to set my watch and before I knew it we were off on the long run up the road and out of the town.

After a mile or so the route swings out to the river which is followed for another mile or so before crossing a very bouncy bridge which felt as though it was winding up to fling-off anyone who dared try and run across it. The route then meandered its way across fields and tracks and back along the riverside for a few miles, mainly following the St Cuthbert’s Way route. The recent high winds had felled a lot of old trees, which provided obstacles for us to negotiate.

The day was bright and the sky was clear and blue, but there was a bracing wind and it was extremely cold in the shade. I tried to maintain a very steady pace and not get carried away by running too fast on what was a fairly flat and very runnable surface. I’d set myself the goal of completing the race in 8hrs. This was a very comfortable amount of time for the distance but meant I could enjoy the race without overcooking it. Given how badly I’d crashed in my other races this year, this was all about pacing and keeping my heart rate low.

The route was proving to be quite spectacular in the cold late autumn sun and the colours of the leaves added to the overall beauty of the route. The lack of rain over the summer meant sections that would normally have been a quagmire were fairly dry which those veterans of the race around me commented on.

I didn’t stop at the first checkpoint at Maxton Church, but continued my run over fields, along tracks, through plantations and across roads until eventually reaching the second checkpoint at Rhymer’s Stone where I had a drop bag waiting with some supplies such as a milkshake and a few energy bars. I grabbed my bag, stashed my food and drinks and made off as quickly as possible as now, up ahead, were the Eildon Hills which form the 3 peaks in this race.

At the foot of the first, I looked up to see a long line of runners making their way up the side. I joined in the trudge up the steep climb until eventually reaching the summit. Ahead lay the second and third peaks, which got respectively lower. I made my way across them before dropping off the third and circling back around underneath them and into the woods that leads to the third checkpoint at Bowden and the ‘Play Park of Doom’!

Silliness is dished out by the bucket load at Bowden where, following an ambush by someone dressed as a bat (or at least I think that’s what it was), runners are funnelled into the play park where they must negotiate the obstacles which are essentially the climbing frames and slides of a children’s play park.

From Bowden, the route retraces its steps back to the finish and I was running well at this point and really enjoying the race. I was still making good ground on those that had been drawn into running too fast at the start but always conscious not to get carried away.

The run back was pleasant and I arrived back at the final checkpoint at Maxton to grab my last drop bag which had a few treats in to see me through the last 10 miles. I’d been starting to tire in the run back here so I set off at walking pace to try and conserve a little energy. The route, back retraced our steps from the start of the race and before long I was heading back across the bouncy bridge for the final few miles back into town.

I shuffled my way up the road with the finish in sight, which was as lively as it had been when we left. There was music playing and supporters lined the finish funnel to greet runners as they wearily made their way to the finish line.

As I crossed the line I was handed my medal and a goody bag, which was probably one of the best I’ve had in a race – mainly because it contained beer and a fine t-shirt. I’d highly recommend this race to anyone who is looking to step up to ultra-distance but worried about the challenge and the seriousness of the runners. This is a fun race where runners get lots of support in a beautiful part of the world.

Results http://www.kitst.co.uk/jultra2018.html

 

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Lakes Alive Festival – Wolfing down the miles, Friday, September 7, 2018

Jack Lee

I feel that the Elvet Striders have taken part of some odd and wacky events over time but it isn’t often that you get to impersonate a wolf for a weekend, so when Stuart Scott forwarded me an appeal for fell runners to impersonate wolves for the Lakes Alive festival, I applied.

At this point, I never foresaw actually doing the event. And so it was, with a fair bit of trepidation, that I donned my wolf cape and wolf head and set off on the Friday morning.

The event was part of the Lakes alive festival starting at Humphrey Head (the location of the last wolf in Britain) and running to Kendal. Over the space of three days the wolves had a lot to do. The aim of the game was for the public to come and “hunt” the wolves, which essentially involved members of the public trying to photograph the wolves and the wolves being elusive and evasive. The second day, however, involved a staged event where the public were ferried out to Mill Side and had a close encounter with the wolves but I am getting ahead of myself.

Anyway getting back on track, at 8 am on Friday the 7th of September, myself and three other fell runners from Sheffield set off from Humphrey Head, making the excursion through Allithwaite, Cartmel and Lindale over the space of the day. Each time we saw humans we skulked and hid in the shadows, but not well enough that they didn’t get a sighting. This, combined with howling on hilltops and relative gentle progress, marked a relatively casual first day, which ended in a bunkhouse in Mill Side eating good food and drinking a couple of beers with the trackers turned off.

The next day was focussed on the exhibition events where members of the public were ferried out to Mill Side for two events; one in the morning and the second in the afternoon. Early in the morning, the wolf pack set off for an hour or so run, over Whitbarrow where at approximately 11.30am we emerged from mists on the top and howled while visible to the people sheltering in the hide below. We then set off leaping rocks and pieces of broken limestone pavement and throwing ourselves down a steep slope to appear fifteen minutes later around a staged “kill” (in reality a deerskin and head). We approached carefully checking for danger while rubbing scent onto a couple of trees and getting our legs torn to pieces by brambles. Then after a while feasting on deer, all our heads went up in unison and we scampered off into the undergrowth. Only to reappear in the afternoon to go through it all again.

It was after this second performance that my time as a wolf came to an end and after some dinner, I got a lift back to Kendal to spend some time with my brother and father. The next day, however, I decided that the hunted would become the hunter. Not many people had been actively hunting the wolves during the first few days so after a coffee in Kendal I donned my running kit and grabbed my phone and the hunt began. The game platform was composed of a website with a live tracking display of the wolves’ locations, but to access this you had to share your location and I knew from experience as a wolf that if a hunter got within 200m then the wolves would be pinged an alert.

The wolves at this time were on Scout Scar and from my cunning and the route map, I had accidentally kept, I figured out I could cut them off as they circled Kendal from the west. I legged it up Underbarrow roads and waited near the top, but a game of cat and mouse ensued.

The wolves dodging other hunters repeatedly cut up and down the hillside meaning I kept overshooting or dropping short with only a few long distance sightings. I decided to relocate to the Kendal golf course where, hiding behind a wall lying fully prone, I got some photographs of the wolves passing. After a bit of a chase, we then met down in Kendal and I joined them for a final jog to the main staging point of the Lakes Alive festival. We were accompanied by a group of kids dressed up in wolf costumes of their own. All that was left after that was to wolf down some biscuits and a cup of coffee provided, then I left the pack and set off as a lone wolf.

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Hexham 5k Fun Run, Hexham, Northumberland, Sunday, July 16, 2017

Celeste Veitch

 

I’d enjoyed last year’s Hexham 5k fun run so I felt compelled to support the organisers in their quest to secure enough attendance to route the run through Hexham’s town centre. The council agreed the request and with full road closures for the run, the 5k started 5 minutes before the half marathon from in front of the Queen’s Hall Art Centre. With pleasant weather and a fine view of the Abbey we set off, the HM runners and spectators cheered us from the start line.

Fifty runners followed the path down Hallgate bank and onto Wentworth Place, past the visitor and leisure centres onto the main road to the A69. If you don’t know Hexham this start was entirely downhill and the momentum along with the supporters propelled us along nicely. At this point the course goes over the bridge and drops down along Ferry Road. The course continues along the road where it crosses over the A69 and turns around just before Corchester Lane returning on the same route until a left turn onto Sandhoe takes you to the finish line and a handsome medal of the Abbey.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m not the Strider’s fastest runner but with the support, the downhill momentum and aid of Anna Seeley’s HM training sessions I’d managed to knock 3.05 minutes off my PB. The first place 5k runner came in at 20.42. I’m looking forward to Hexham 2018.

Results available here

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