Yes, it had to happen! Sooner or later actual racing was going to restart, and Martin Stone, well-known to fell-runners and those using SiEntries, was the man to organise it. This 13-mile race was set up as, I think, a bit of a test event, the first fell race since lockdown, and one to be observed by the FRA and others to check out Covid19 security measures. These involved using essentially a time trial format, six runners going off at a time at five minute intervals: 234 runners, taking all morning to get set off. We could choose our start time, and groups of up to six could ask for the same start to have a bit of a mini-race. No water stations, mask on at the registration and finish, and they asked for not too much hanging around before and after the race.
So, how did it go? Well the whole thing was organised superbly, and no one behaved stupidly, as far as I could see. The only people perhaps not socially-distancing enough were the quite large numbers of the general public also in and around Lowther Castle during the event – quite a few in the cafe courtyard – but the organisers had no control of that.
Race-wise, I set off pretty strongly, but had a taster of how the day would go when I found the long 3-mile climb out of Askham very heavy-going. I put it down to the heat at first (20 degrees at 11:00, then getting hotter), but as I kept taking little walks to get my breath back, it dawned on me that giving blood six days earlier was having an effect: I kept going ‘into the red’ far too easily. Once I realised this I could manage it better, and try and keep my effort (and pulse rate) down on the climbs. But it was much harder work on any sort of gradient than it had been just a week earlier.
I’d expected lots more overtaking, and being overtaken, than in a normal race, where runners essentially self-sort till you end up alone. But, though I did see more people, we were still pretty sparse. Nice route – a bit of everything, including lovely soft grass, some tarmac, some stony hard track, a long drag, a very big hill, a bit of bog … and a plodge through a river!
Very pleased to get back to the castle … took about two and a half hours, which was much longer than I’d expected, but it could have been worse in the circumstances.
A good crack! If this is the new normal for racing, it isn’t bad …
I found myself in the unusual position of being able to take a day off at the end of July, so I took my opportunity and booked it. I really wanted to go to the Lakes to run some fells but other commitments meant that a full day trip wasn’t practical, so I started looking a bit closer to home – perhaps the North Yorks Moors or the Yorkshire Dales? I’d never run in the Dales before, so when I came across the Reeth 20k Trail Race and realised it would be about an hour’s drive from home my plan started to take shape.
The weather forecast was scorching, with temperatures due to reach 29C in the afternoon, so I wanted to be finished before it got too hot. I managed a fairly early start, arriving in Reeth just after 8:30 only to find that Friday is market day, with part of the green taken up with the market and a lot of people already parked up. Luckily there was still some space, though, so I parked up and paid £2 into the honesty box for all day parking. After changing my shoes and checking my kit, I was off.
Rather than walk to the normal race start, I decided on a gentle jog in to warm up a bit. I found my way past the chapel and along a back lane to drop down to the river and suspension footbridge. It was deserted as I picked up the race route on the other side and started off at a gentle pace for the first mile or so proper alongside the Swale. At the far end, the path turned away from the river and climbed to the road where I doubled-back for a quarter of a mile, before following the finger-sign pointing me right, up onto the moor and the start of the main climb of the day.
All of the route from here, until reaching this road again, was on clear tracks and very easy to navigate, so much so that I tucked away my map and unconsciously let my Garmin do the work for me (I’d uploaded a copy of the course that I’d found online and checked against the OS map beforehand). Nav beginner mistake number 1! It wasn’t until a little while later when I thought “I don’t know this area and don’t actually know where I am on the map” that I gave myself a virtual cuff around the back of my head and got my act back together. GPS can fail for many reasons and should only ever be a back-up. I worked out where I was along the track from the various features and kept tabs on my position as I went after that.
I’d set off with the intention of running this route in a relatively relaxed way, not treating it as if it were a race, so I was walking the steeper hills (in fact, most of them) and getting moving again on the easier and downhill sections. In reality, I was working reasonably hard, not helped by the heat. I was slathered in factor 50 and turned my cap around to help keep the sun off my neck. I’d drunk a bottle of water with an energy sachet in it on the drive down so I was fairly well hydrated to start and kept taking on water as I went.
I was stopping periodically to take photos as well. There were some great views across Swaledale; this isn’t the rugged, craggy fells of the Lakes and a bit bleak in places on the tops, but with the mostly clear skies and a bit of distant haze there was plenty of scenery to take in, when it was possible to raise my eyes from the track! I also noted a few local features, like the road crash barriers re-purposed as drainage culverts across the track. There were also childrens’ paddling pools being used to create drinking ponds for either the sheep or grouse, it wasn’t obvious which they were intended for.
And if I spooked one grouse, I upped a hundred, they were almost as common as the sheep. A word of caution for anyone heading up there after the not-so-Glorious Twelfth (of August) – I’m sure a lot of this route will have grouse shoots going on, so better to check before travelling down. There were a lot of other birds around too (none that I got a clear enough view to identify) as well as the ever-present sheep (mostly Swaledales, of course).
The track climbed continuously, with a couple of respites, until a T junction on Whitaside Moor at about 4.2 miles into the race route (4.8 miles for my run). Turning left, the climb continued right up until crossing the fence that runs over High Carl and Gibbon Hill and marks the top of the southern ridge of High Carl. From there, the track enters Apedale (at least, the beck is called Apedale Beck and the track Apedale Road, so I’m calling it Apedale). Here it starts to drop, so I took the chance to open up my stride a little and benefit from gravity. I still needed to be cautious as the surface underfoot in the steeper top section was still pretty stony. It would be very easy to turn an ankle and this is a pretty remote part from which to need rescuing and combined with the pressure it would put on Mountain Rescue due to Covid-19 restrictions I wanted to make sure I avoided that. Further down, where the gradient eased, the surface improved and this was a chance to really get moving, hitting sub-7 minute miles at some points (put in the context of a 15 minute third mile during the climb and getting on for an 11 minute mile average over the whole run, this should give you an idea of how much fun the downhills were!). Another thought going through my mind was not to get too carried away as I knew I had another decent climb to come.
The sign this climb is approaching is reaching Dent’s Houses, which are just the other side of another gate across the track. At the crossroads, a left turn took me almost immediately up towards Greets Hill. Near the top there’s a small quarry (stay to the right, towards the cairn, if you want to avoid the quarry itself) and the fence junction at the top marks the end of the second climb. From here, the bridleway became more grass than stone, which was much more pleasant to run on and allowed a pretty rapid descent to the road across Grinton Moor.
Apart from a farm crew repairing the track early on, this is where I saw my first people of the day, as a couple of cyclists passed slogging their way uphill. I was pleased to still be descending, even if on tarmac for a bit. It wasn’t long (a third of a mile or so) before I was back off onto the bridleways and heading up the valley above Grovebeck Gill. This was a marginal incline – noticeable by this stage (I was 10 miles in) but eminently runnable. The target was the spoil heap and building visible up the valley, at which point the track turned and I was back into downhill mode.
Approaching a complex-looking junction, I quickly re-checked the map – straight on – and continued the descent. Rockier underfoot here, so cautious again. Eventually the track reached a field above the road and this is where I made my first minor nav error, following the bridleway to the right as I hadn’t seen the track branch off left, cutting off the corner. Not to worry, no big deal. Another short stretch of road before a right turn at Harkerside Place which has a footpath signpost to Reeth – nearly home. This is where race signage or marshalling would have helped because the footpath signs get a bit sparse. With a few false starts and a minor detour I eventually got back on the right path and dropped down to the “finishing field”.
I decided that the end of the suspension footbridge would be my finish point – I would have regretted running all the way back up the path to the village. And besides which, the crowds had started to come out – there were kids swimming in the river, people queuing to take photographs of the bridge (no, I’m not kidding), dog walkers…I was just glad I’d set off early!
In the end my route recorded as 13.2 miles with 560m of climb, which included a 0.6 mile warm-up from the village and a couple of small nav errors in the last mile, so 20km / 12.5 miles was pretty much spot on.
The village green was even busier when I got back but after taking a steamed-up “finished!” selfie and a quick change I couldn’t help starting my recovery with a good mix of protein and carbs from the Ice Cream Parlour.
This was a great route with some lovely views of the Dales. It was very quiet despite the glorious weather and with the combination of distance and climb should prove to be a helpful session ahead of some Lakeland runs, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
Fiona Harrington Hughes is very good at talking me into doing races.
We decided to give the Gerry Kearsley winter handicap ago because it was a local race and it was free, we just had to turn up and run. Fiona picked me up at 9 am it was a freezing morning -1 . We found Bishop Middleham Community Centre very easy (easier than we found Temple Park a few weeks ago). We had discussed in the car what times we thought we would do, because I had got a PB at riverside parkrun the day before, I had also done the Brass Monkey half marathon the week before and pushed myself, also it was day 19 of RED January, taking all these into account I put 55 minutes because it was a trail race and I had managed 52.44 at Durham City in the summer. I had a 5 minutes handicap.
It was a very friendly atmosphere in the community centre, Christine from Sedgefield Harriers talked us through the route. It wasn’t a very big turn out, but a few from local clubs, it was mainly Sedgefield Harriers.
The race started at 10 am from just outside the community centre, Fiona set off at 10.03 and I was just 2 minutes after her, my plan was to catch her and stick with her for a nice chat, she had other ideas!
I crept up behind her at about 2.5 mile and shouted “you’re a hard lady to catch” her reply was “go and catch the girl in the pink cap” so I thought ok, I’ll give it ago not thinking that I could catch her.
It was a 2 lap course so once I passed the starting point I knew what was coming. The course was well marshalled who all gave encouragement, I could see the pink cap in the distance she was quite away ahead and I couldn’t seem to close the gap.
I slipped a few times going over the stiles due to the ice, the muddy parts of the course were rock hard due to this. We got onto the old railway lines, it was nice and flat I could still see the pink hat and she wasn’t too far away, the gap was closing but I needed to push a bit more. A Marshall shouted you’re in 2nd place, that give me a lift and I managed to pick up the pace.
The pink cap was getting closer. She was in front of me going through the last field and I got behind her. I knew the last hill was coming, I managed to overtake her going down a short hill and as I hit the bottom of the hill I made my arms go and pushed to the top (last weeks Theatre of Dreams session and hill training came in handy).
I could hear her breathing I knew she was close behind and could overtake at any second. I thought I’m not letting her past.
I had Gemma in my head saying always save a bit for the finish. The finish was just round the corner so I had to dig deep. One last push, but I didn’t know where the finish was.
I turned the corner saw a Marshall and she pointed me to the finish funnel. The girl in the pink cap hadn’t managed to get past me, she was only 2 seconds behind me.
I was 1st! However as it was a handicap I thought I hadn’t won because I knew I wasn’t the fastest. Fiona soon crossed the line followed by the other 2 striders. She was over the moon when she found out I had caught the girl in the pink hat!
I still didn’t think I had properly won, but at the presentation I got presented with a massive plaque (that I get to keep for 6 months and my name will go on), a bottle of Prosecco and a buff.
I had won!
They also did a spot prize and Fiona won a bottle of wine and a buff. We had cleaned up!
We had tea and cake after the race in the community centre. It was a nice friendly race that happens twice a year, the next one is in the summer on a Thursday evening, I would recommend this race because as I have proven you don’t have to be the fastest to WIN.
I had planned for this to be my ‘big one’ for 2019. I entered the race in January thinking I would have nearly a full year to build up the mileage and effort required. I was looking forward to braving the elements, and running in the dark – I find this so much fun. The route is out and back from Askham with a loop ‘round’ Helvellyn
Having completed the Old County Tops with Elaine in May however, I didn’t feel like it was uncharted territory anymore – and I became giddy with excitement in the few days before the event!
I had recced the route a few times in sections. My other prep included squeezing all the kit (a fair bit) and food (ditto) into my rucksack, writing the checkpoints on my hand (so no worrying if my mind got foggy), deciding what time to start, planning when and where to snack (easier for me on ups), and what I might snack on (buying race food was a highlight in the week before!)
The weather was kind on the day – no wind to speak of, and although it might have drizzled on me, I don’t recall proper rain. It was mild too for the time of year. Snow, ice, wind, or rain would have changed the day entirely (though there were small patches of melting snow over Sticks).
The route is on tracks and trails, and there is a small bit of road too. There was no navigation needed, though I was pleased that there were runners around me in the low cloud over Sticks Pass and Grisedale Tarn.
I found it very different to other (shorter) races I have done in the Lakes – I didn’t dare tackle the ups and downs as I would usually (full throttle – though that means different speeds depending on direction) due to the distance. I felt I had to hold myself back a little earlier on – it is so tempting when warmed up to really enjoy the downs! I’ve never had much speed on flatter sections, so a steady plod here felt ok.
I saw mum at Side Farm on the way out – I think I surprised her because she shouted ‘slow down!’ (she was trying to take a photo) but she just got a ‘No way! Have a good day!’ I missed her (or she missed me?) on the way back as I was ahead of schedule. I didn’t look at my watch until I got to Side Farm on the return – I didn’t think there was any need, as I could only go as quick as I could go. When I did look I was pleasantly surprised, and this spurred me on for the ‘home stretch’ (10 miles, but it felt like the home stretch!)
Anyone on Barton Fell as the daylight dwindled may have witnessed the ‘Mason shuffle’ – not quite running speed, but quicker than my walk. And achievable whilst snacking on fizzy, jelly sweets – always a winner for me when getting tired, ‘solid’ food is looking less appetising, and I need an instant hit. I do however feel more research on this may be required, and am always on the lookout for new brands, shapes, or flavours to test, and different hills to eat them on.
I pushed on for the last few miles over the moor, conscious of the clock, overtaking a few people and determined they wouldn’t go past – though knowing I wasn’t necessarily racing them, as everyone chooses their own start time. But the competitive urge is always there, so when I spotted (and I think verbally greeted) the gorse bush on the moor above Askham, I knew it was a downhill mile or so back to the village hall. I pushed hard, had to brake suddenly to get over the cattle grid, grimacing to get the legs running again.
And a dash into the heat and lights of the hall, to be dibbed at the finish. I must have looked wild-eyed (wild-haired? tired? windswept? sugar rush or crash?) as I got a few ‘are you ok?’s and ushered into a chair, vaguely disgruntled that I hadn’t even needed my head torch – both starting and finishing in the half-gloom.
Because of the staggered start times I was washed, changed, and full of soup by the time I saw the other Striders. We shared a few war stories, and then thank goodness for the post-race buzz that allowed me to drive home. Great fun, and already signed up (and hoping for snow) for next year.
This is an event I do every year, not because I particularly like it (though I do), but because of the four years that this event has taken place I have taken part.
The half marathon this year, as it was last, forms part of a double event where by you can run both the marathon and the half to get a special prize. Unlike in previous years however the full marathon was being ran on the Saturday, with the half taking place on the Sunday. Weather conditions up on the Cheviot, which the full is supposed to go over, took a turn for the worse and their Saturday route became two laps of Sunday’s half route.
Great, what was looking to be an already soggy and boggy course had been churned up even more with the full runners tackling it twice the day before us half runners got set loose on it. Safety first though and the right decision was made for the full runners.
Running this event with me were two of my work colleagues, marvellous I thought to myself, this means I’ll have to put some effort in to beat them.
So onto the run itself. I’ll summarise this very quickly. If you’re not going up hill, you’re going down and on this occasion if you weren’t running in thick mud you were running in a stream. Yes, my shoes went from nice and clean to very dirty multiple times before they joined me in the shower at home.
This really is a great Half Marathon and I’d highly recommend it to anyone.
I’ve been to the Kendal Mountain Festival a few times over the years and always been inspired by the programme of storytelling, films and other presentations. So when I lined up with over 600 other runners on a cold but sunny morning at the start of the festival’s 10k trail race I felt confident in my ability to tackle a challenging course.
We ascended almost continuously over the first two miles, heading out from the centre of Kendal in a south-westerly direction over the substantial rocky limestone escarpment of Helsington Barrows. We then turned north along Scout Scar with the exquisite Lyth Valley down below us to the west, and a panorama of Lake District fells in front of us. The conditions were much easier now, on gentler gradients and short turf, and it didn’t seem long before we turned eastwards towards Kendal with the Howgill and Barbon Fells coming into view beyond. Just to add to the variety of underfoot conditions the final mile of the route included some muddy downhill slopes and back streets with many steep steps, before finishing in the town centre.
How did I feel at the end of the race? Pretty good really – I’d prepared mentally for the first two uphill miles, and once that section was over it was just a case of keeping a rhythm going and concentrating as best I could on running technique.
An exhilarating experience, setting me up nicely for the rest of the festival to enjoy some more stories of exploration and endurance.
This was a last minute decision. We didn’t have any plans for Saturday and a Leeds friend mentioned he was doing a race which didn’t offer either a medal or a T-shirt. To him this was a negative but to me it spelt out being my sort of race! So on an impulse I booked us in.
The Holly Hustle is a small race with 11k and 22k options (the latter just two laps of the former) with a total maximum competitors of 250. It’s described as a challenging trail race which is a fair description. It was definitely too challenging for some (my road-running friend hated it and dropped out after a lap) and not without its hazards (Tom managed to end up falling head first and damaging his leg and hand) but it is all runnable as long as you don’t mind a lot of mud and rocks and roots to negotiate.
Broadly speaking the lap is a figure of 8 through woods and along the river. Almost all is on muddy tracks apart from a killer hill at the end of the lap which is on tarmac. Notorious for people getting lost I was chuffed with myself for getting round the first half without making any nav errors but on the second lap I had nobody near me (all the one lappers were in the pub!) and I realised it was more complex than it had seemed when I was following other people. There are lots of river crossings and remembering this from the first lap I managed to take the wrong bridge and get myself in a right confusion. I headed back to the last point I recognised and eventually another runner turned up and pointed me in the right direction. He pointed out I should know what I was doing as I’d done it before but he obviously wasn’t aware of my ability to get lost wherever I go… After that point I didn’t see any other runners but did manage to follow the very small pink flags all the way. I finished 4th woman and in under 2 hours, injury-free and pleasantly tired which I was happy with.
I really enjoyed the race and it had a nice relaxed atmosphere. An added bonus was starting and finishing in a pub and free soup at the end. I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of off-road running.
A few years ago I was racing every 2 or 3 weeks, chasing PBs and pushing myself up and down fell races trying desperately to win prizes where I could. I loved it but with a full-time job and three somewhat demanding children it wasn’t something I could keep up. Whilst I’ve not stopped running, I have stopped competing and that combined with getting deeper and deeper into the V40 age range has knocked my pace back.
If I’m honest knowing I was getting slower made me less inclined to race but deep down I knew it was something I still enjoyed so when I spotted the Ennerdale Trail 25k was on a weekend I was free I was keen to give it a go. It’s a race I’ve known other people to enjoy, in a beautiful part of the lake district and organised by High Terrain Events who I know from previous experience put on a good day out.
Once I’d decided to do it next job was to get Tom signed up too… he’s had even longer off racing but with good reason as his knees have been bothering him for some time now after the years of racing up and down mountains and completing stupidly long events. He’s been doing short runs but this was going to be a step up or back in time for him. Also, being a trail race I knew he might find it a bit lacking in mountains and even dull…
Anyway I signed us both up and the forecast promised us good weather so I knew all would be fine. However as we drove over from Eskdale on the morning of the race I realised the forecast was a little off the mark as we drove through incredibly heavy rain which Tom described as “the type of rain which gets you really wet”. Once we got to the race headquarters the rain had calmed a little so maybe we were going to be ok.
The route is a big circuit which starts at one end of Ennerdale water, takes you down beyond the other end to the YHA at Black Sail (the half way point) and then back down the other side of the lake. Nice and straightforward with almost all the climb on the first half according to the elevation profile.
The start was congested and I regretted starting near the back as it was hard to get past people but after a mile or so it thinned out and we were on a wide very runnable track. I enjoyed it but couldn’t help thinking it would be a bit boring and hard underfoot for Tom. The first half continued like this – quite a bit of climbing where I was able to overtake people and the weather was kind was just a bit of rain which soon cleared. I was feeling pretty good and knew I was fairly well up the field as we got to the YHA. I looked at my watch to see I was under an hour and was a little confused. The course record for women was well over 2 hours and surely I’d done the hard half as it was the uphill part?
However as soon we passed the YHA we moved into part 2 which was a very different race. There was a lot of bog to get through to cross the river which was fun but definitely slowed everyone down. Then we briefly returned to the easy wide tracks but with occasional bog to keep things interesting. Then the real fun started. We dropped down to the lakeside and went from path to wet loose rocks. I figured this would just be a short section but how wrong I was… it was so infuriating. The views were stunning but I just couldn’t get any kind of rhythm and I stumbled slightly as I felt someone lurking behind me. I asked her if she wanted to pass me and she said no as she was knackered but as we carried on I had to wave her on as I was getting more and more annoyed with myself for not being able to get going on this tougher terrain.
One positive was that I knew Tom would be enjoying it more… but then the thought occurred to me that it could also mean he’d catch me up! I plodded on and as a couple of others passed me I felt quite despondent and wondered if I’d lost my racing bug completely. Eventually we got onto a steep climb which was slowing most people to a walk but I managed to run up and after a short scramble up and down I felt more in my zone. There was then a short run along the final part of the lake – I could see I was closing in on a couple of people who had passed me but all too suddenly I was back at the finish and having a medal thrust over my head. I chatted to a couple of the guys who had passed me on the rocky stuff and before long I saw Tom happily crossing the line.. only a few minutes behind me he seemed to have enjoyed himself although claimed it was a couple of miles longer than he wanted. Results-wise I was nowhere near where I’d like to have been a few years ago but once I’d got over it was pretty happy with 5th lady. I’m not sure if I’ve got my racing bug back or not – time will tell. But for anyone who enjoys trail racing in a beautiful part of the country I heartily recommend the High Terrain Events – well organised and always in beautiful settings.
The growth of ultra marathon running has been nothing short of spectacular in the last few years. If you’ve not tried one, I would encourage you to give it a go – don’t be scared!
But this growth has meant, and this includes races of all distances in general, that they are getting bigger, often more expensive and quite difficult to get a place in. This year’s Hardmoors 55 was a sell out with over 400 people having fun on the North Yorkshire Moors in the deep winter. Bonkers!
Now I’m not complaining (much) but sometimes it’s nice to run a low key, inexpensive, no-frills kind of race and that’s exactly what I found in the Pen-Y-Ghent ultra.
Organised by Ranger Ultras, this race was the baby of two races that day, the other being a 70k race which took in the other two of Yorkshire’s three peaks of which 100 people had signed up to. If you were feeling really mad they offered the 70k runners to the chance to extend to 100k by heading back out from the finish up Great Shunner Fell to Thwaite and back.
The Pen-y-Ghent ultra was a mere 50k heading out along the Pennine Way from the village of Hawes up onto the Cam Road, an old Roman highway, before dropping into Horton-in-Ribblesdale for a loop up and over Pen-y-Ghent and then retrace the route back to Hawes. With just 19 starters it was certainly low key, and the 70k runners heading out an hour before us meant that solitude was almost guaranteed. Running with my long-time running partner in crime, Jen, the first few miles were a sloppy slog up along the Pennine Way to the Cam Road which gave way to expansive views over the Dales and its three peaks in the distance.
A steady plod was the order of the day. I wasn’t here to break any records, just enjoy a nice long day out, so I maintained a nice pace that wouldn’t have me blowing up at any point. It was a nice easy route to follow as I made my way down into Horton where there was a simple check point offering hot drinks and cold pizza. From there I enjoyed the climb up to the summit of Pen-y-Ghent, it was a bit more relaxed than my last visit in the fast and furious 3 Peaks Fell Race a few years ago. At the summit, the lead runner in the 70k race caught me. He looked strong and relaxed as he bolted off down the nice and new looking flagstone steps that lead off the fell. Taking my time has its benefits but soon, as I approached the last checkpoint with around 6 miles to go, the weather turned getting cold and wet and generally miserable, visibility reducing to near nothing. Cold pizza dipped in hot tomato soup cheered me up and is definitely the future of ultra running fuel!
With waterproofs, hat and gloves quickly put on I made my way onwards to the finish back down the even wetter and sloppier tracks of the Pennine Way and back to in Hawes in just over 7hrs. Not fast by any means but a great way to spend a Saturday. I hung around a little to see some of the 70k runners coming in and for one or two of the foolish souls to head back out for another 30k – what’s the matter with these people?
So, if you’re looking for a low key challenge, I’d highly recommend one of Ranger Ultra’s many races.
OK, strap yourself in. I’m turning the Nostalgia dial up to 11.
Back in the day, when I was a lad, we’d often go to visit my grandparents in Peebles. My brother and I would spend weekends playing in Hay Lodge Park, jumpers for goalposts, and exploring the woods along the River Tweed. My grandparents lived in Hay Lodge Cottage, opposite the park gates, where my aunt still lives. As I grew up in Edinburgh I’d still visit Hay Lodge Park, with my student chums, and late at night, we’d sometimes manage to get into Neidpath Tunnel and walk through casting our torches ahead like something out of Scooby Doo. The real challenge was to walk through, alone, without a torch. Larks.
The whole stretch of line here is an engineering marvel, from the tunnel to the viaduct with its amazing skew-arch construction, which was necessary as the bridge crosses the Tweed at an angle. There are stories that suggest that the Royal Train hid in the 600 yard tunnel during WW2 as the King and Queen visited war damage in Clydeside. Great story. Not even sure if I’m bothered about whether it’s true.
Fast forward 40 years and things have changed a little. Hay Lodge Park now has a parkrun, and the tunnel is open to the public. It’s normally unlit, but for one day, the tunnel is lit for the Tweed Tunnel Run.
I first heard about the run when I saw that Colin Blackburn had ran it previously. It looked a hoot. Three courses to choose from; 20km, 10km, and 4km. I signed up and put it in the diary.
The weather wasn’t looking great for the run, which was a bit of a shame. There’s a lot of autumn colour and contrasts and a ray or two of sunshine would’ve made for stunning conditions with the Tweed running high after all the rain. The Start was an intriguing affair. Like many races there was the problem of bottlenecks early on, especially with narrow wet rocky rough paths within the first kilometre. The organisers tackled this in an interesting way; every runner was set off individually, with the fast guys off first. It reminded me of these scenes you see of people taking a parachute jump; the starter would tap a competitor, say GO, then the next one would move forward, and a few seconds later (4 I think), the process was repeated. They allow half an hour to get all the 20km runners away, then it’s time for the 10km runners.
I’d seeded myself near the back of the pack and it was about 10 minutes before I finally got going. Even so, it became apparent to me pretty quickly that this was not going to be a quick race. I was full of a big tea from the previous evening, and I was beginning to suspect my field research into the relative merits of Clipper IPA vs Broughton Pale Ale had perhaps, on the whole, been a little too extensive. I settled down into a comfortable pace that seemed to be slightly slower than everyone else’s, meaning that I was steadily overtaken on the narrow paths.
On my feet I was wearing a pair of reliable and comfortable but worn Saucony Nomad trail shoes that had served me well. But the recent rain meant the paths were muddy and slippy. The route is mostly trail with occasional track and short sections of road, but even so, if it’s as wet as this next year I’ll wear a shoe with a more aggressive sole.
The route itself was wonderful. I thought I knew the area pretty well but the race took us upriver and across bridges and along paths I never knew existed. I loved the contrasts. I love woodland paths but this was all mixed in with tracks and riverside and open hillside, with twists and turns so you were never quite sure what was coming next.
Having done a few ultras I thought a 20km trail run would be pretty easy and I was surprised when we got to the 10km marker and got that ‘only half-way’ feeling. But I wasn’t pushing hard and I was happy to run easy and enjoy the views. One advantage of non-standard distance races on mixed terrain is there’s no benchmark. So I felt no pressure to go faster, as frankly, what was the point?
We were led onto open hillside and an exposed climb round Cademuir to the highest point of the course where the views of Peebles and the valleys made me stop and stare for a bit. Then there was some fun descending down slippy paths where again I felt the lack of traction in my shoes. It wasn’t downhill all the way though with a few kick-ups here and there, before the feed point and the turn into South Park Wood and the approach to the tunnel.
This bit of the race was a series of flashbacks, probably mostly imagined, as the last time I’d played in these woods was a long time ago, usually involving convoluted plot adaptations of Swiss Family Robinson. Still, every now and then I’d see a familiar path or feature and it was curious to see how much had changed, and how much hadn’t.
The routes converged and split a few times, and on the final descent to the tunnel there was a bit of congestion. There were no obvious problems as far as I could see though, and I guess if I was a bit faster, I’d be in front of the pinch points. I quite like these mixed-pace runs that you often see with LDWA events where the runners catch the walkers and there’s a lovely big melting pot of runners and walkers all out doing their own thing on their own terms.
The approach to the tunnel was quite a thing. Quite theatrical as it got closer, and then 674 yards until daylight again. I liked it. I wasn’t sure I would as I thought it might be a bit cheesy, but I think they got it just right. There were walkers and runners in the tunnel but I jogged through and enjoyed the surrealism, knowing that I’d be back for seconds later.
One of the great things about this event is that after the races are over there’s a 3.5km walk that you can sign up for that takes in a loop over the viaduct then back through the tunnel. This means the day can be a family affair as the runner has time to get back, finish, then go out on the walk again.
I set out with Roberta on the walk, retracing bits of the run route, and this time with plenty of time to enjoy the tunnel again.
I’ve already signed up for 2020. If you fancy a taster of what to expect, and to see some more, ahem, professional quality video of 2019, have a look at the Tweedlove video below. And I’m not just saying that because I make a brief appearance (1:34 since you ask).