As soon as I heard about this event I was excited. I’d put so much into the last big challenge. I’d been at a bit of a loose end ever since. This race was my new focus and I wanted to win it.
I’d spent a lot of time over the last year looking at maps and running on hills and wanted to use this to my full advantage. I’d had a look at who was interested in running and knew I wasn’t the fastest but I also knew the massive advantage I could gain by recceing the route well.
I went into full-on stealth mode by switching my Strava account onto private so nobody could see what I was up to; daft I know, as nobody other than me was probably taking it this far, but I was enjoying it. I went out on about 3 recces of the route before I found a line that looked great. It was direct and would save me a big climb, the only problem was, I needed a step ladder.
I was originally planning on using a rope ladder so thought I’d treat my kids to a rope ladder addition to their climbing frame, which I could, then borrow. I could then tie it in place and pull down myself with a bit of string on the night. After testing this method out, it became apparent it wasn’t ideal and I was worried if I committed to this route and couldn’t get up on the rope ladder I’d lose a good few minutes rerouting. I decided I needed a proper ladder and luckily I had an old 12ft set at the side of my garage.
I went down to Whinney Hill roundabout the night before the race and stashed the ladder in a bush before taking a few photos I could then pass on to my partner in crime Elaine Bisson; I also gave her a full brief of what I needed. That was part one of my cunning plan sorted
Part two involved a swim across the river and after a quick up and down the river banks, it became apparent there weren’t many good exit points so I went for a crossing point just by Durham Rowing Club. I didn’t bother having a practice swim and thought I’d leave that one for the night.
Come race night I couldn’t help but chuckle away to myself on the way down to Maiden Castle and I was very relieved to see the ladders were still in place and Elaine was down at the club ready to go, we were both smiling away about it like naughty school kids.
The race set off and I ran as fast as I could across the field and up to the first checkpoint my plan was to get down first, I was sure nobody else would take the route down I had chosen but I didn’t want anyone to follow me and also make use of my secret weapon – the ladders. Elaine had been instructed to move the ladders straight out the way as soon as I was up but if someone was right on my tail that could have been tricky.
I’m pleased to say I made it down first and Elaine had done an excellent job in positioning the ladders, I shot straight-up them then turned to see Elaine running away with them to stash back in the bush. I had a really big smile on my face now and was again chuckling away to myself.
I hit the second checkpoint then headed straight for the Rowing Club. As I ran through the car park, about half a dozen people turned to see where on earth I was heading. I smiled and said don’t worry I’m in a race and then jumped straight into the river. All the rowers on two boats nearby stopped immediately and turned round to see what on earth this madman was doing in the river, I reassured them I wasn’t trying to end my life and made my way to the other side very pleased to see no other runners in sight.
I made a quick ascent to tag the last checkpoint then made my way back down to the river still with no sign of anyone on my tail. As I hit the riverbank I could see Elaine heading towards Maiden Castle, she had been hoping to catch my river crossing but didn’t make it in time. I soon caught Elaine up and was pleased she could confirm nobody else had been passed. It was a short run into Maiden Castle from here and was great to finish the race first, the plan had been a success!
A couple of people were laughing at the end about the fact I was soaked through and had obviously been for a swim. It was great fun to be able to reply ‘the swim was only part of it wait until you hear about the 12ft ladder.’…
This really was one of the most fun and enjoyable races I’ve ever done and the response I’ve had from so many about it has been fantastic, I really can’t wait to see what everyone pulls out the bag next time.
Massive thank you again to everyone involved in organising it and bring on the next one.
Paul O Hara
First 5 to the top of Houghall Steps (STEPS)
1: Stuart Scott
2: Tim Skelton
3: James Garland
4: Michael Littlewood
5: Mark Payne
The Morbihan area of Brittany is a quiet rural area of France, famous for cheese production and the legends of King Arthur. An area riddled with ancient and more modern history. A village where I regularly run through during training is only a few miles from this race and was the site where 4000 Breton Resistance fighters took on the might of the Nazi army in World War 2. They were led by Captain Pierre Marienne who parachuted into the secret base nearby as a member of the Free French SAS. They harassed and tied down the occupying force after D-Day before Captain Marienne was eventually captured executed and laid to rest near Plumelec Church, the same village where my race would finish.
This route was my first international race back in 2011. Twenty minutes drive from my French in-laws home, it was long overdue that I show my European credentials and contributed to what was one of the most diverse and challenging races I have ever been involved in.
In 2011 my preparation could not have been worse with weeks in Paris and associated holiday distractions getting squarely in the way of training. This time I was not about to make the same school boy error. This was very much part of the marathon training plan and was on the back of an 11 day run streak.
The concept of the Trois Clochers –the three Steeples, is that you run past the landmarks of the three village churches. Many a direction in France is given via a certain church, whereas in the UK it tends to be given by a certain pub. An amusing and telling cultural difference. This was the 15th year of this particular race and I was more than happy to be involved.
I soon discovered they had changed and lengthened what was already a tricky course. It’s an exceptionally undulating course rising from 80 to 160 metres. This may not sound like a lot but it’s the ups and downs, the associated change of pace and terrain that are the killers. Starting at the beautiful turreted chateau of Callac and down into the village, along a thoroughly hilly 7 km and up to the Church at St Aubin. Running from there the route takes you on an undulating experience through village, field, track and woodland ending at the Plumelec sports centre. This was where previously I had been awarded with my ‘Saucisse frites’ dinner and was I looking forward to repeating that part of the race more than the running itself.
After my registration armed with a certain friendly doctors medical certificate the free bus took us from the number pickup at Plumelec to the start back at the chateau. I knew French races were well organised and popular and this was no exception. With around 250 participants squeezed into the courtyard of 150 year old manor house it was striking to see how the majority of the participants were mostly my age. The younger age group who are normally my torment on every Park Run seemed absent. Not that I had any illusions of winning anything they all looked a dammed sight fitter then me. They were clearly immune to the temptations of salted butter, cheese and baguette. I on the other hand, was not. However this was strictly part of the bigger training plan and I was there to do my best with a focus on the end goal, sausage and chips rather than on a new PB.
Ce Parti. We were off out of the chateau and into some woodland. Happily very soft foliage underfoot to ease my aging knees into. I tried pacing with a few likely looking people and hooked onto some of the older runners from my adoptive French town of Malestroit. However I lost them turning into Callac village on the rise past the first spire. Then the famous sudden drop down and out of the village to the small shrine to the Virgin Mary and up the hill. I wasn’t averse to asking for a bit of divine intervention at this point as I saw the forthcoming climb. It was a generous hill, you know, the type that keeps giving, giving and giving. Just as you thought the generosity would end the hill would give you some more. Finally after about a 2.5 KM things started to level out as we passed the road junction on the approaches to St Aubin.
As I passed through the village I found myself unable to keep pace with 2 grannies. They were very fit grannies clearly from that local village. Only on the slightest of closer inspection of these two characters was it apparent they had dressed to impress in old lady drag outfits complete with pop out boobs. Which they popped out at every occasion!
Climbing again out of the village we took a steady downhill onto a grassy farm track. I looked across the rolling Brittany hills. The sun was descending and the scene picturesque with tiny fields separated by mini woodlands. It was then I realised what goes down will likely go up again. I wasn’t wrong and I didn’t wait long. Twists and turns, grass and gravel, tarmac and torment would it ever end? I was finding it tough going despite weeks of tempo, distance and hill training.
Then on the final rise the church spire of Plumelec rose above the a- maize-ing popcorn fields on either side of me and I waited patiently to be drawn in by the aroma of a barbecue sausage.
1 mile to go! Yet the course hadn’t finished with me yet. The final phase before the village run in was through woodland. However this was like Houghall wood on steroids. Half a mile of twists, turns, jumps, roots, rocks and many other joys before we hit tarmac.
I was happy to pick up some speed rising through the village to the final steeple. Plumelec church was now in view and my thoughts turned briefly to the grave of Captain Pierre Marianne as I sped past the bar where my wife had patiently waited, drink in hand, to snap my photo as I ran by. I turned the corner to the final run in where I sprinted the last 200m with one thought in mind.
Well this is the most exciting race I have ever done! I would highly recommend it!
This is meant to be a helpful account for anyone who has not done it before, as well as a race report.
So, it was a race I had hoped to enter but didn’t get a place in as it fills up very quickly! …but then a few weeks before the race, another Strider offered me their place as they couldn’t do it-sorry for them but very pleased to get a place! So began a rapid preparation … but what was the route? It is not on the Swaledale Outdoor club website. Hummm, there is a description but for someone who likes to know the detail it was a bit too short for me. Luckily I found a trace of the route from someone’s Garmin on the Striders website from a past year-thank-you! You can find this by searching for ‘Swaledale marathon’ in the race reports section. I copied it onto my OS map and was able to mark on the positions of checkpoints and ‘self-clip points’ from the description on the Swaledale Outdoor club website. Closer to the event Jon got hold of a few copies of the route and Elaine photographed them and sent them to me. I can confirm that they were the same as the route I found on the Striders website, so it seems to stay the same each year.
Elaine and I were a bit worried about navigating our way! The weather forecast was thick cloud, fog and mist!! Hummm, Elaine had done a few reccies of the route but not of the middle section. I knew the first bit from walking in Arkengarth dale in years BC (Before Children). It was the unknown middle section of disused mining hushes that was grinding our grapes – didn’t want to end up down a sink hole! ..I was also a bit unsure of the crack..other striders helpfully advised me and showed me the start time and registration times are in the SI entries system race information, but as far as I can see not on the Swaledale Outdoor club website?. There is a compulsory kit list on the Swaledale Outdoor Club website which includes compass and waterproof trousers. And importantly you need to carry a plastic cup to get additional water at checkpoints. Jon advised there is water at all checkpoints and food as well at one checkpoint. Also you get a free meal at the end if you like!
Arriving early doors in the outskirts of the pretty village of Fremlington, everything was very well signposted and organized. A big sign saying “marathon carpark” pointed to the entrance of a large grassy field, within which were lots of cars, runners getting ready and portaloosportable toilets and car park marshals. Registration was a short nip up the road in the Fremlington village Hall, the direction of which was signposted and easy to find. At registration my kit was checked and I was given a small yellow card and piece of string. The lady explained this card would be clipped at each checkpoints by marshals who would also record my race number. The card was labelled with numbers of the checkpoints and then with A, B, C and D. These are the self-clip checkpoints. You literally clip the card with a thing that looks like a staple remover exactly on top of the letter corresponding to the self-clip point. As the race starts and finishes in a different place you cannot leave a bag of warm clothes etc. at the start as they only have the village hall til 10am.
So… we were all crowded in a small field ready to start! The weather was as forecast and actually very warm as well. The race began! With a steep upward climb! There were lovely views across a very green Swaledale. I watched Penny, David and Elaine bound ahead! We soon reached the level of the mist, got to the wall and then we were running along top along Fremlington Edge! This was a grassy, boggy, misty fast section! Nice and soft on the feet! Because of the wall and as people were bunched up in the early stages, navigation was easy at this point. Then, at the end of the edge you go past a large cairn marking the highest point (which was not visible in the mist) and then the path zig-zags down the steep hill – except the runners did not!! I was in a group of guys who had done it before and they confidently charged over the side of the hill and launched themselves down the steep, wet, grassy slopes!! Ha ha this was exhilarating! My bum touched the ground a lot! Mainly on purpose as I didn’t want to fall! Thoroughly enjoyed this bit, found it quite hilarious! A girl running whose name I didn’t get who is from Richmond “ran” this bit with me before zooming ahead!
The route then follows the pretty stony path along the Arkle Beck into Langthwaite village. The girl from Richmond passed me again! (she had stopped in the village to use the public toilet there). It was lovely to be greeted by supporters Rachelle, Allan, and Vics plus kids here. After an undulating minor road section you head up a moorland track towards Great Punchard Gill and Great Punchard Head. This was a steady climb! Up and up and up! Fantastic views below mist level. I was running with two guys at this point. We came to a bit where the path divided, luckily just at mist level so we could see runners ahead. The path literally took two routes, which re-joined further up. We decided to split up to see which was fastest. I and one guy took the track and the other took the grassy zig-zag path. It was exactly 50 :50 ! Then higher up we were in thick mist. The mist kept changing from thick to thin, making it hard to tell how far away things were. There was a steep gully to the left, which in thick mist looked like it was really deep, but when the mist thinned the bottom of the gully was only 30metres or so away! (Hard to tell though as I was also moving). At the top of Great Punchard Gill I heard voices and laughter and as if from no-where a mountain rescue vehicle, 3 jolly mountain rescue men and a marshalled checkpoint appeared! After having my card clipped I headed onwards. The path does a sharp bend and is a narrow peaty/boggy/heather path with a sharp drop to the right. It then turns and heads across the top of open moorland. Another nice run across soft peat and bog. I tried to keep up with the group of confident guys I’d seen earlier but they were going fast and so eventually they were too far ahead to see. There was no one behind me for a bit, until footsteps behind me, it was the girl from Richmond! It turns out she had taken a wrong turn after the last checkpoint and descended steeply quite a way, then had had to climb all the way back up again! She was ok, but disheartened. We ran together for a bit until yet again she zoomed ahead! Then after a while another checkpoint … bring on the banana cake!
The next bit was the ‘moonscape’! The heather moor gave way to a high up rocky, barren area, devoid of all plants and peat! This was the hushes. Old mine building ruins appeared in the mist here and there, piles of rubble and a rusty old metal machine thing with a big wheel on it. Ahead I noticed a small red and white flag in the ground, about 30cm high with supporting rocks around it. It had definitely been planted there. Could this have been put there by a child on a family day out? The mist thinned at that moment and I saw a whole line of them! Waymarks, Wayhay! After that the gravel path was more obvious and led to self-check point A-a wooden stand with clips hanging from it. The path then wound back into grassy, peat area down and down, I saw runners ahead! More steep descents down grassy banks and we were down to Gunnerside Beck. I got a bit lost amongst the little gated fields but not for too long and then the path follows the Beck to Gunnerside where there is a checkpoint. Nice support from locals and others …
The last stint is up and over fields and lowland moors. Where there is an up or a down it is steep! (This is the nature of Swaledale!) A final checkpoint at Surrender Bridge gave me much needed water. After a bit I was unsure of the way and was standing consulting the map when a runner caught me up and confidently pointed to a jumper with a stone on top of it and said the jumper was a waymark! He was right! Ha ha I love this marathon! The last miles are blissfully and painfully on the quads downhill funneling to a walled track where underfoot is stones with a layer of slippery grass on top! Negotiation of this leads to the final self-clip point on a farmers gate, then down and Reeth is there! Wohoooo! The finish is down the hill and round the corner in the Reeth village hall. Lovely to see Strider supporters cheering us at the finish! Afterwards, great to drink a cup of tea. And get a very nice bespoke Swaledale marathon pottery cup!
A fantastic adventure I would love to repeat! I’d like to do it in good weather mind to see more views!
Extract from the book Running My Way by Tamsin Imber with permission from Pitch Publishing.
… Jon Ayres
A year ago I’d crossed the line here with equal measures of Joy and Wonder. I’d broken my goal time, taken a decent chunk off my PB but I was left scratching my head pondering what I could get if I hadn’t cramped up and had to take a forced break during the race to let my legs recover. I’d also watched the Ladies team take the prize in their category and thought it would be a very good thing indeed to encourage the Gents to have a crack at emulating this.
Skip forward a few months to November and a, hopefully, friendly persuasion campaign began as I tried to recruit others into sharing my ideas as to putting teams onto the podium come June 2016.
So to the day,grey skies hid the top of the first climb as the officials started the race, Michael Mason and Steven Jackson quickly disappeared from view as us mere mortals followed them up to the heights of Fremington. Myself, Jack Lee (pressed into action only a week prior to the race) and Elaine Bisson formed a group and tackled the road and then trail to the grassland that would lead us to the ascent.
Jack and I ran well together picking off runners and chatting occasionally,his enthusiasm was infectious and my plan of around 10 min miles saw us heading up Punchards mix of trail,track and bog and reaching half way a fair bit inside this program.As we descended into Gunnerside Jack started to pull away as he fell into a group that I couldn’t keep with on the descent, a quick high five as we crossed paths into the checkpoint at Gunnerside village hall seemed to mark the unspoken thought that as of now it was time to dig in and head home.
A quick glance at my watch as the last major climb began confirmed that a PB was on but there was still work to do to secure this,the long slow haul of besting Gunnerside began. The breaks from slow, tortuous hill climbing via a stumbling jog and slower, tortuous hill climbing via a hands on knees walk became more frequent as the yards up the incline increased I also became aware of pre-cramp pains in my legs and started a feeding frenzy of gels, pork scratchings and water in an attempt to stave them off. All the while as this carried on Jack became nothing but a smaller dot in the distance until eventually he disappeared, unfortunately the pains in my calves and hamstrings did not.
Gunnerside was finally beaten, or at least matched, and the levelling of the land allowed for quicker strides to be taken and the last major drop on glorious smooth tarmac into surrender bridge was embraced.The final stretch of the race a PB is on, runners are not so far ahead that they can’t be caught and despite the fleeting shots of cramp I smile and offer my card to the official to be clipped. I’m passed here by a local runner whom I know well, she’ll eventually be 2nd lady home, and I try to match her pace but there’s nothing in the tank that allows the increase: it’s head down now and a march/jog/whatever gets me home and only a few miles of attrition left. A drop in and out of a gorge and I see Elaine Bisson is now on my tail and closing quickly, machismo and panic hit me with equal measure and I lengthen my stride and hope to hold her at bay.
Then as in every other time I’ve raced this event cramp hits, it hurts, really hurts and I try to strectch out my legs. Nothing eases it and the acceptance that the race could be over, PB’s lost with just over two and a half miles to go starts to sink in. A fading of the cramp starts and hope rises anew I can stand, I can walk, I can at least jog time to dig in and run hard for two reasons, I don’t know how long I have until the cramp returns and a few runners have passed me. Fortunately the next couple of miles are mainly down hill and this allows for a good pace (my fastest of the day, maybe the sitdown helped) and that’s it the race is done. Ten minutes are taken from last years run out and despite the enforced break during the race I don’t think I could have run any harder or made any more time up and whilst a hugely improved field from last years race saw me finish further down than 12 months ago I’m content and settled with my efforts.
The ladies of Elvet defend their trophy, Mandy Dawson and Penny Browell who takes second female vet were part of the team that won it last year with Elaine Bisson (third female home)and Tamsin Imber part of the unit this year too.The Male contingent take Third with three debutantes amongst their number,the aforementioned Micheal Mason,Steven Jackson and Jack Lee provide very strong placings as I make up the numbers. Tom Reeves continues a strong year of running since surgery breaking four hours whilst Mike Bennet,Jan, Barabara Dick, Juliet Percival and Camilla are amongst other striders who get to keep a bespoke hand made mug.
Mentions to the families who supported too must be given the Masons,Jacksons,Browells and Bissons were loud and plentiful many of them appearing at various points of the course. Whilst Allan Seheult and Matt Archer gave up their day to offer support and refreshment.This year was very much a team effort and the places whilst won by those out on the course belong to those who backed them too. Sincere thanks to all.
Purple to Pier? Perhaps we need to request a new name for this race; 71 strong, we were a formidable purple army on the beach at South Shields!
I was a lucky late entrant to Pier to Pier and a first timer. Reveille at 0630hrs provided time for some pre-race sustenance, and then on the road to drop our three children off and shatter the Sunday morning tranquillity for the in-laws.
Trained in the model of 5 P’s, I had studied well the many options that would see me navigate the road network, to arrive around 0845hrs at Roker seafront. The excellent execution of Pier to Pier started here, with a marshall stationed on the roundabout, directing cars into the car-park adjacent to Sunderland Yacht Club. Parking was free! A short walk saw me queue for only a few moments with some other eager participants, and having pre-paid for the bus shuttle to the start, a minibus whisked us away, to arrive at the car park adjacent to the South Pier at South Shields.
After a bit of chat with some other early Striders, and some last minute lace adjustment, the remainder of the Purple posse arrived by coach, including my Minister for Home Affairs, who must have enjoyed some respite from the kids (and me!). Having had some debate about the athletic fit of men’s vests (I shall avoid disclosing more!), and after pointing a few folk in the direction of the loo queues, we proceeded onto the beach.
We assembled on the beach for a team photo. This ended up being a series of photos as more and more Striders appeared over the hill, and perhaps the final shot may not have captured the full might of the Purple army? Tactics for a fast start fell to Mike Parker, who advised that the premier racing line would start from the furthest point at/in the water! A race briefing ensued and having confirmed Bill Ford had a satellite fix, we were off!
Across the beach, through the water, through more water towards the Sand Dancer pub, I decided to abort the beach invasion option to re-join the main throng. With feet feeling a kilo heavier from the sand and water, we climbed onto the top, following part of the Sand Dancer route, climbing gradually towards Souter Lighthouse and enjoying the sea views. The path was part gravel, part grass and fairly flat with a couple of interesting choices, resulting in a temporarily split pack at a couple of points (I’m not sure if there was any merit to any particular diversion but my ploy was to follow the fittest looking runner in front of me!). Souter Lighthouse was just past the 5km point and water was served on the grass just past the wall enclosure. Shouts of encouragement emanated from the play area in front of the lighthouse and by the inclusion of, Striders, and Purple I deduced they were familiar supporters but did not delay to acquaint myself further!
Continuing on, we rounded the headland at Whitburn around which point I remember seeing a pier, and looking at my watch which confirmed around 8km. I subsequently realised this was not the pier I was headed for and mentally dealt with the reality that I had a bit more distance to run. Not long after this point, I remember seeing the welcome sight of Allan Seheult on the coastal path in his Striders t-shirt, encouraging us onward.
The finish flags in sight, we passed benches and people eating ice cream, dropping down onto the beach, to traverse the clumps of seaweed which cleared to pretty clear and firm sand for a bit of an increase in heart rate and a sprint finish. I remember hearing Alister Robson shout, keep the arms going and my head told me to also ensure my legs kept going too.
Across the line, I joined those already finished and our supporters to cheer others on. Having managed to snap a decent action shot of Lesley and her flying feet, I then went to claim my race bag. The handcrafted glass finisher ornament was a really nice touch and the contents of the race bag of high quality but in my rush to see the last few Striders home, I missed the free crisps on offer.
We assembled at the promenade nearby for essential rehydration and calorie replenishment activities, marvelling at the light lunch ordered by Kelly Collier (I’m not sure if they provide step-ladders for those burgers but I did notice that Ally Dixon opted for an alternate menu choice). The proximity of our car allowed us to escape without much delay to recover our children, whilst the others waited for the bus return.
I thoroughly enjoyed the scenic aspect of this race and the weather conditions were kind being warm and fairly still. The organisation of the race by Sunderland Strollers was faultless and should provide a template for others to follow. We should all be proud of the camaraderie of our club, which was a great boost throughout the day, and an evident source of encouragement to the many first timers and more experienced participants alike.
I ran 11.1km and my chip time was 1:01:50 – lets see if next year I manage to break 1 hour! I’d recommend Pier to Pier to anyone and road shoes are fine!
Mid-May has been a special time of the year for this club for years: six of them, to be precise, when a particularly brutal winter froze much of northern England and forced Halifax Harriers to move their flagship relay tour of the Calder Valley to a more clement time of year. Those who had the ‘pleasure’ of setting off in the dark on a frozen December morning are unlikely to forget the experience, but the May setting certainly makes the race a little less niche interest, to the point where we were close to being able to field three teams this year; as it was, I had hopes of Elvet A carrying the baton for the first time in two decades, and Elvet B gaining further race route knowledge and having a good run into the bargain.
Things augured well from the beginning, with the day dawning crisp and bright at Heath RFC on the outskirts of Halifax. No last-minute injuries were reported and we had a solid transport plan in place to ensure runners were distributed at the handover points in good time. Better yet, Penny, Nigel and Mandy all had a certain competitive look about them as we lined up in a small park and were set off for the initial scramble around a field, over a wall and into a long climb through the woods, Penny somewhere behind me after she was gracious enough to let me take the pace on my first competitive run since injury. The ascent was unremarkable bar a Barlick FR runner snapping their achilles, the classic triad of ‘gunshot crack, scream and drop’ in evidence, thankfully directly in front of two marshals, and once onto the open moor we made our way past a few pairs we’d been stuck behind on the narrower woodland path, dropping onto the road briefly to the vocal encouragement of Striders before heading down into Ripponden, back up again, round some farmland, then down into the western edge of the same town, this time to climb out through verdant bluebell woods and onto a road section. It was at this point that I realised we might have over-done the aggression in our desire to give Tom and Jon as much time in the bank as we could (also, in honesty, to overtake a pair we’d been playing leapfrog with) and we had a brief walk before heading into the final moorland section, past an old pillbox then onto the long descent into Cragg Vale, idyllic in the sun and with a baying crowd outside the Hinchliffe Arms. Baton was thrust out in the sprint finish, narrowly pipped by the we’d raced for the last 5 miles, and Tom and Jon were gone.
Once we’d regained breath and seen Mandy and Nigel come in, just missing the mass start at the cut-off time in which Steph and Richard Hall were despatched up the reservoir track to Stoodley Pike and beyond, it was on to Todmorden for Penny to meet with Paul Foster and Nigel with Jan, both doubling up for the short third leg. We weren’t there long before Elvet A thundered down the track to the school having gained more places and time, and set off to Blackshaw Head with high hopes, albeit hopes nearly scuppered by a little care struggling with steep gradients, tight curves and the combined egos of Tom and Jon, who knew they’d run a near-perfect leg. Having made it to the hilltop village with ScottGraeme (A) and Camilla/Dave S (B) off in good time into the wooded valley between Heptonstall and Blackshaw, A’s baton still present, we took advantage of the tea stall set up by the parents of a local school and moved on to the leg 4/5 handover. Alas, this was where the dream ended this year, the time banked on previous legs not quite enough to cope with the very tight cut-off at this point (a cut-off set when this was a winter race and getting runner home early mattered for safety reasons), Mark W/Jack L (A) and Kerry/Sue J (B) all off in the mass start, though the former pair’s strategy of chasing a pair in local vests served them well enough to see them complete the leg in just over an hour (for comparison, the fastest time of the day for this leg was only 8 minutes fewer). As for Elvet B, let’s just say that Kerry has GPS traces of all her runnings of this 7.5m leg and none of them look particularly similar; for the record, this year was a 9m run!
On to the finish at the rugby club for seeing in Mike B/Louise W (Elvet A, both looking fresh from the fast, largely-downhill 10m leg) and Angela/Diane W (Elvet B, less fresh but without last year’s added canal mileage), pie, peas, tea and a brief post-mortem in the sunshine. Conclusions: 1) Great race. We need to do it again. 2) Given the interest we had, Elvet’s A, B and C are distinctly possible next year, A aiming for baton-passing and B/C roughly equivalent teams. 3) There will be recces next year (not overly-fast, for anyone from any team who wishes to join in). Tom and Jon in particular showed the value of knowing a route inside-out and gained us time and places. 4) For all that I enjoyed this race when in December, actually being able to see the Calder Valley helps one appreciate it all the more.
With the Hardmoors 60 taking place on the 19th September I needed to do something that would take my mind off it having decided to give it a miss this year. So going completely opposite to hills I went for the Birmingham Canal Canter, a 26 or 18 mile jaunt around the city’s canal network. I was running with Gary Thwaites of Sedgefield Harriers so picked him up on the way down.
Arriving in Birmingham on Friday evening at our accommodation at Ackers Adventure Centre which was included in the total cost of this race (£25) we were plied with pizza and coffee. There was even wine on offer but managed to decline it.
The next morning we awoke to the smell of bacon, mushroom and tomato sandwiches being rustled up for everyone taking part. This was beginning to become an eating challenge too. After breakfast and registration we made our way to the start over the Grand Union Canal armed with a very comprehensive route guide. The sun was shining as we set off at 9:30am (walkers set off at 8:30am).
The first 7miles were tricky to navigate but there were handy little course markers at key turning points to reassure of the direction. The route wound its way along the River Cole, before we finally dropping back on to the canal heading to the first checkpoint which had toast and tea on offer. A fine checkpoint.
Leaving here the next checkpoint appeared after 13miles with more food on offer. The next section took us through the Gas Basin in the centre of Birmingham. It was great to see all the narrowboats lined up along the canal. From here we looped out towards Winson Green Prison where there was a checkpoint (17miles) which was stocked with some fine cakes. The carrot and ginger cake was magnificent. (Did the inmates make it?)
Back into the centre of Birmingham we followed the lock system through the city and out towards Spaghetti Junction. The canal network gives a glimpse of England’s industrial heritage most of which is derelict now and a real shame to see. By 20miles I was starting to flag a little and the many, many little hump bridges were really starting to become a pain. Running beneath the brutal Spaghetti Junction has to one of the highlights of this race, oddly.
Pushing on we finally reached the last checkpoint with 2miles left to run. Before long the finish was in sight and awaiting us was any amount of hot and cold drinks and a delicious baked potato with cheese and beans. It was also a bonus to get a nice hot shower at the end before tackling the long drive home.
This was a fine, well organised race taking in some amazing sights around England’s second city. At £25 for all food, accommodation and race entry (even cheaper if you’re an LDWA member) I can’t recommend this race highly enough and felt I should be giving them some more cash.