Category Archives: Ultra

Anything over marathon distance on road trail or fell.

Lakeland 100, Friday, July 26, 2019

105 miles/24000 ft climb

Elaine Bisson

My Lakeland 100 journey started at 4am on a Saturday morning in November 2017 as I travelled to the Lakes with Jules to accompany her on her first recce from Coniston to Buttermere. I was quite taken with the excitement and camaraderie surrounding the event. The route, 105miles of Lakeland trails, what’s not to like?! So when a big empty hole appeared after my BG there seemed nothing better to fill it with.

At 9am one September morning I was ready to enter when low and behold the system crashed and my chances faded. Cajoled by friends and my husband who knew I’d had my heart set on it, I got a charity place a week later.

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St Cuthbert’s Way 65 mile Ultra Marathon, Saturday, June 29, 2019

100km/8500ft

Elaine Bisson

Courtesy of Trail Outlaws

It seems fitting that the last thing I read was Kilian Jornet describing his not so victorious Western States Endurance Race. He finishes by saying that ‘you learn little from victories; on the contrary, when things are going badly, when the situation is hard and it’s difficult to get out….that’s when you mature and really learn something about yourself’.
This isn’t my target race, this was my practise run, I made some serious errors of judgement which lost me an enjoyable run, a good race and a podium finish.

I’ve just finished reading an excellent ultra running guide. Ultra running and training have so many more dynamics and difficulties. The training and considerations on race day are far more than for a flat 10k road where pace, clothing and shoe choice are pretty easy. On ultras, aside from the training, which is possibly the easiest bit, the weather is a huge consideration, kit choice, weight of kit, fluid and fuelling and prevention of blisters and chafing and all other horrors that may befall an ultra-runner. One of the main areas of advice from this book was to never enter an ultra unless you are passionate about that specific race. Perhaps this was my first error.

I tapered well, however my planned rest day on Friday went pear shaped as I’d parked my car to drop my son off at school…on a road where drop off is allowed until 9am. I walked back to the car only to realise the key was no longer working, my house keys were locked in the car. The wardens often roam this street, so I set off on a mad sprint to retrieve both sets of keys. Thankfully when I returned, no parking ticket was there and my keys opened the doors.

The next comedy of errors was that I’d downloaded 2018 race instructions ages ago and had somehow muddled them up with 2019 instructions. I arrived on Friday night thinking I had until 22:00 to register at Darnick village hall only to arrive at the hall to shut doors and no one around. Frantic checking of my phone, I eventually found my error and drove back to the headquarters at the rugby pitch, with 10 minutes to spare.
Thankfully Mark Tierney had recommended a lovely B&B a few minutes from the finish. I arrived a little frayed to a wonderful room, with a huge bed, big fluffy pillows and a lovely owner fussing around me eager to help in whatever way possible. She provided a lovely supper and prepared my breakfast ready and waiting in the room fridge. I showered, laid out my kit, got my bottles and bladder sorted and settled down for a good night’s sleep. That is, until the snoring from the guest upstairs began….

I ‘awoke’ early, or at least got out of bed to get ready. We had to arrive to get the bus from the finish at 6:15 to the start on Holy Island at 8. It was a pleasant drive across; I was quite excited seeing the pretty countryside we’d soon be running across. My concern was the heat, already at 6 am I was content in short and t shirt, it was oppressive. 

Courtesy of Trail Outlaws

It was a beautiful start running across the causeway to the mainland. I’d looked at previous split times and had a fair idea of my target times for the checkpoints. Off the causeway it was across fields, through the first cow field of the day where the cows were pretty frisky and kept dashing back and forth, clearly excited to see the stream of runners passing through. Round past the railway line onto the first checkpoint at Fenwick and across the A1. On through the rolling countryside, fields, forests, hills and along tiny overgrown trails. It was really gorgeous.

I’d read a few race reports warning runners the way is not well sign posted in England…too right, I missed a few but going only slightly off track which I quickly remedied. I soon reached Wooler checkpoint, again on time. Here there were ‘more substantial food stuffs available’ and my drop bag. I quickly filled up my fluids and replenished food supplies. Popped my head in to see a very limited, pretty dire array of sustenance. I always look forward to tea,  I was pretty miserable leaving with only a bag of ready salted crisps.

Now along familiar trails. I’d done The McWilliams Round Short last year with Stuart. It was a similarly scorching day, we completed it in a shockingly slow time all due to heat and running out of fluid. That day Stuart had dropped to his knees, scraping across the grass as he’d heard the burbling of a little spring off The Cheviot. He saved us from dehydration with that Cheviot bog water! It was nice to be back. Passing the last of Wooler’s houses a woman poked her head out of her garden gate and told me I was going to bake…thanks for that, 20m in, I’ve already consumed 2L, I am well aware that it is exceedingly hot.

I kept pace with a group of men, chatting to one about Lakeland races for quite some time. As we dropped down into the valley heading to Hethpool, the comparable coolness on the tops made it feel like a furnace. Stopping by a stream I dunked my head in, it felt so good. I left the man behind as he started struggling with the heat. By now I’d caught up with a few 45m runners, they start from Wooler at 1030. The tracks were getting busier again and it was nice to pass time chatting as I went by. Again there were more cow fields complete with the mothers and their calves, always fun to negotiate.

Courtesy of Trail Outlaws

At Hethpool checkpoint there were yet more fizzy drinks, jellied sweets and pretzels, they made my stomach turn.  It was a delight to set my eyes upon melon, I stopped to devour a few slices, topped up my water bottles and on I went (I was consuming 2 litres every 2 hours. It was hot). This next section on to Morebattle was possibly the most challenging but most rewarding isolated terrain with its rolling grassy hills and amazing views for 360°. There is a lovely stile to cross from England into Scotland.

It was only at Kirk Yetholm that my legs really started to hurt from chafing leggings. The gel I’d put on and had kept reapplying to prevent it, was not working, it was just too hot. My skort leggings that I’d thought would be lovely and light in the end were too lose and rough.

Having got a lovely surprise cheer from present and past Striders (the crew!) out to support David, Simon and Bill, I finally caught up with Bill. We had a brief chat before the last of the big ascents, a lovely three peaked climb over Wideopen Hill. By now we were in Scotland and the signs were frequent and hard to miss. I reached the summit to see a lovely grassy descent and looked forward to running down only to feel a blister shear on my heal. I stopped immediately. I had at least 30 miles to go and needed to prevent it getting bigger. I pealed back my sock to reveal an enormous blister. I emptied my first aid kit out and started to dress it. Unfortunately, my blister plaster which had been lying unused in my bag for the last year was now not sticking. I started to wrap tape round it so it wouldn’t shift only to realise I couldn’t rip the tape. And so the whole roll went round and round my ankle. Ready again I was off although I could already feel my other foot complaining. I’d have to go on regardless. By now I was going quickly off all food, it was just so stifling. I started feeling queasy. I’d had enough of my drinks and was just desperate for a cup of tea. 

Courtesy of Trail Outlaws

I can’t say enough how pretty the route is, mostly trails. There are a few road sections but they don’t last long. But by now I was beginning to not enjoy any of it. The heat was incredible, my feet were sore, the skin on my legs was sore. Every step was uncomfortable and the only thing I could think to make it all better was a good cup of tea. On to Morebattle, another ‘major’ checkpoint with bag drops. Again the crew were in force offering support.  The check point was in a pretty, small village hall. My hopes raised, perhaps tea would be here, or a sandwich or three. But again only fizzy pop, water, a few bananas but mostly sweets and crisps. I refilled my bag with my drop bag contents. Pleased I’d packed loads and a good variety. I downed my chocolate milk and was off again up the lane, cursing everything and everyone, why no tea????

It was here just before Cessford Castle ruins that I caught up with David and Simon, I passed them on a little lane, continuing my rant about the food and lack of tea. Poor David got an earful as I went past. They were wisely being supported, David started reading off a list of foods I could choose from next time I saw Jill. When I eventually spotted their car and was greeted with ‘how are you, do you need more fluids, can we get you anything else??’ Nicola had a can of gin and tonic, it looked cold, she was floating it in front of my face. That was the first point I thought how nice it would be not to run anymore in this heat. Days like this were meant for short runs then sitting in the sun, drink in hand. A DNF?? Stuart’s motivation video rang in my ears, ‘you didn’t come this far to only come this far’, I pushed this thought aside and mentioned the doughnut. More than happy to help it was quickly found and again anything else?? And despite those dominant thoughts about a DNF, a lift back to Melrose perhaps, a G+T… somehow a ‘No thanks’ came out of my mouth instead. Who was this imposter pushing me to the finish in this horrendous heat??

I have to say that jam doughnut, especially when I got to the jammy half, was absolutely DEVINE! I gobbled it up and licked my fingers not wanting to waste any of the sticky sweet jam and headed on through a wood. The light was now starting to fade, it felt slightly earie, there was no one around and I kept hearing noises that made me jump. I attempted to eat some more food, I know with all the fluids I’d not done well, I felt nauseous and starting slipping into self-pity. There were a few other families out, appearing on road crossings. In particular, there was a couple supporting their son, they must have seen my rapid deterioration from cheery to absolute moroseness. I knew from their faces I must have looked a state. I knew I could quite comfortably run much, much faster, but today my stupid kit and my skin had failed me and every step was agony. I kept counting down the miles and calculating then recalculating and recalculating again how long it might take. My original, perfect race pace was rapidly slipping away and I just wasn’t bothered enough to pull it back. I’d stopped enjoying it. Stopped enjoying running. Stopped enjoying my picnic. I’d stopped enjoying the adventure.

It was here that the 3rd placed woman passed me. She was chirpy and lovely. She chatted away and dragged me along telling me I couldn’t give up on my podium spot now after all of this. I started to forget about everything hurting, I remembered my stash of mint cake, I can always eat mint cake. I started to believe I could keep 4th at bay and keep my podium spot. If only I kept up with this girl. It would be fun again, an adventure and a diversion from my own negative thoughts. We were happily skipping over tree routes down a wooded trail when I heard a shriek behind. I stopped and looked back. A runner had fallen, she wasn’t getting up and she wasn’t responding to my shouts are you alright? So I made my way back to see if she was OK. She’d fallen and landed badly on her hand, shoulder and knee. She was shaken up. It didn’t seem like she had any significant damage but three quarters of the way through her 45m she was worried this may signal the end for her. I stopped with her, located her bandage and made sure she was ok before she urged me on my way.

By this point my life source had disappeared, I was alone again. Back receding into my own dark thoughts and through the darkening lanes. I was trudging through woods where every creak seemed to herald something sinister. And then coming down a country lane I spotted Aaron, I caught up with him and had a brief meltdown. It was clear he was having a tough day too. He told me I’d be ok if I just rested a while at the next checkpoint which was only minutes away. I stopped for a brief rest, a drink of lemonade (more fizzy rubbish!) and more fluid top ups, then as the 4th lady slipped past and stole all hope from my tiny stash still left, I grabbed a banana and got on my way. Perhaps if I just ate this it would take my thoughts off everything hurting and I could catch her up.

Back into woods and I started to feel really weird, I started shivering and felt very sick. I waited a bit to see if Aaron would catch me up but after a few minutes of shivering and trying desperately to eat the banana, I knew I had to get moving again. Then to my surprise I heard a gorgeous American voice drifting through the trees, ‘who is that in a strider vest?’, only to see Ashley. She caught me up before she passed as I struggled to eat the banana. Then it was through a cow field, again, mothers with their calves. I could see Ashley ahead happily jogging by. I have a big fear of cattle so I walked quietly attempting not to draw attention to myself, then one of the calves started getting too interested and I headed quickly for the fence line. To my surprise the girl, Cloey, who had fallen, followed my lead and now we ran together both complaining about cows and dark woods and heat and blisters. She then suggested we should keep together for those last 9 miles. She wasn’t enjoying the dark woods on her own. She was scared now she’d miss a sign in the dim light with fatigue taking over. She was nearly as fed up as me. Her friend who had planned to run with her had dropped out many miles and hours ago, and she too needed company to keep her going. This was just what I needed. Someone to chat to, I wasn’t bothered now whether it was fast, I just needed to get to the end.
Again with the company and the chatter I started to enjoy the views. The wide riverbanks, the meadows, the neatly mown golf courses, the forest trails and tiny tracks. I no longer jumped at every sound through the woods. 

Then the rain came, it had been threatening all day, but despite a few drops and all of our prayers and wishes, nothing substantial fell. As if to say ‘You’d wished for this, well here it is!’ the whole sky fell in. It crashed to the dry earth, too fast to drain, puddles and streams formed everywhere. We were soaked to the skin within seconds, unable to see with the rain dripping in our eyes. 60 miles of relentless dry heat with 5 miles until the finish, now this. We both started to laugh at our misfortune.

Our last climb around the Eildon hills was still substantial but we knew the end would be in sight. As we reached the ridge we saw the most beautiful twinkling pink lights of Melrose, I desperately tried to work out where the finish was. I searched for the path that would surely now lead straight down directly to the finish. But no, the sign pointed up and away along the claggiest clay path you could imagine. Our feet stuck and slipped and slid all the way until we were finally on a grassy track dropping down to Melrose. By now you could feel our relief, our happiness that finally this day would end. On the street we passed Cloey’s husband who ran with us for a few hundred metres then pointed us home. Our journeys end to collect our medals. Then up to the most glorious sight I saw all day…a huge steaming pot of sweet sugary TEA!! I stayed there a while to drink a days’ worth. Lots of tired faces and bodies strewn around.


So now, a few days later, what would I say, what do I think?
It’s a gorgeous route. I love the history of it, the passing from England to Scotland, taking in the places important in the life of St Cuthbert. The instructions clearly state that more food would be provided at Wooler and Morebattle but that your own supply would benefit you. It also suggests having your own crew to support you or even having a friend pace you. I’d definitely recommend it if you can, especially the personal road crew. Or even better, just make a day of it yourself.

I’m disappointed, the heat took its toll in ways I hadn’t thought. My usual good food choices weren’t hitting the spot. My kit choice didn’t come up to scratch. I wish I’d loved it; on a normal nasty British weather day I would have loved it without a doubt. However, it was my practise run and as that it’s been invaluable. A lovely thank you message from Cloey appeared on FB, she wanted to thank me for stopping to help her and to congratulate me on finishing 9th overall, 4th lady and 1st in my age category, V40. To say I wasn’t as s*** as I thought I’d been and to say the teamwork in the end was brilliant.

On a day with a nearly 30 % DNF over both distances, with some very experienced runners among those DNFs, perhaps I’m being slightly hard on myself. I just know the finish could have been different. But I discovered so much about myself, amongst others, my incredible desire for tea and my steadfast determination to finish. In the end a DNF was never going to happen, I would have crawled over the finish line if I’d needed to.
When things f*** up, learn from them, and do better next time!


Official results click here.


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Comrades Marathon, Durban to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Sunday, June 9, 2019

86.83 km [UP run]

Dougie Nisbet

Here we go again!

I’d not intended running Comrades again. Twice is a nice number. You can run Comrades to the end of your days, but you can only get the back-to-back medal once. As a novice, by successfully finishing your first two Comrades. I got that last year, but at a cost. It had been a bad race. I had suffered badly and had a nagging doubt that I’d got things wrong. I’d hoped and believed that I was capable of sub-11 and a bronze medal, and it turned out I wasn’t. It itched.

So when late last year, I mentioned to Roberta that, given the chance, I’d do Comrades again in a blink, I detected a flicker of an eye-roll. Comrades is hard on the supporter. A 55 mile point to point, with no view of the race except the crowded finish. It’s harder on the supporter than the runner. And only a few months earlier I’d vowed never again. Never. Again. Too Hard. Then BA announced a new direct service to Durban and things gathered momentum and I thought, third time lucky. One more try at bronze.

I was a bit late to training, but I was structured and focussed. I hit my racing weight, and on the 9th of June, I was in my pen early, munching on a potato, and chatting to a novice South African lady who was telling me she’d be disappointed with anything over 10 hours. Nice problem to have. Bronze is sub-11, and although I suspected I might not be fast enough, I thought I’d get pretty close. My pacing and race plan was for sub-11.

For anyone planning Comrades there is a lot of good writing on the race. I’ve followed the official coach Lindsey Parry’s training guides but I’m also a big fan of the blogs of Norrie Williamson and Bruce Fordyce. On the whole I run a disciplined race and to a plan. I suffered hugely last year and had been puzzled. In an excellent blog post from March this year, Bruce Fordyce writes about his 1985 Comrades:

It wasn’t easy and flowing. I was toiling. I remember the sickening realisation: “You are not in control of this race.”

That summed up my 2018 Comrades. Many of us have mantras and mind games that keep us going when the going gets tough. And this has become mine. Whenever I feel something is wrong I say this to myself as a warning. Something’s wrong, and a rethink is needed. In a long race, even a slightly faster than planned initial pace can cause disaster further down the line.

Comrades is not flat. And the up-run is very not flat. Average paces are meaningless and I was following the pacing suggested by Norrie Williamson. Practical suggestions on where to be and landmarks along the course. I was on target pretty much until the half-way point, almost to the second

At the Ethembeni School I looked forward to some high-fiving with the kids. I confess to indulging in mild mischief here. There’s loads of ebullient confident kids, but there’s all the shy ones too, and the naked delight on their face when you single them out and go up to them and thank them for watching is fab. One lad was so excited he grasped my fingers and wouldn’t let go. Still, my ‘Ethembeni split’ was only 40 seconds so I wasn’t there as long as it felt, but moments like that are intensely emotional and help put the race in perspective.

The school is 36.5km to go on the up-run, and my pace had slipped a fraction. I refocussed and concentrated and tried to go faster. However, at Cato Ridge, with 30km to go, it had slipped some more. I wasn’t going to get sub-11. I wasn’t going to get bronze. I had a pang of disappointment but I knew I couldn’t go faster and maintain it to the finish. In the endgame you can see many that overstretch themselves only to find themselves overstretched in the grass at the side of the road. In an ultra your race pace is the pace you can maintain for the duration of the ultra. So there was no dramatic change in my pace, I just carried on running at the pace I know I could maintain. I was surprisingly upbeat. I was still in control of the race.

With about 20km to go and on a rare descent my legs were telling me an indignant and incessant tale of woe, but my running economy felt not too bad and my breathing was ok. My legs hurt, but I was ok with that. It was just a case of concentrating on a spot in front and keeping the rhythm moving. Then I became aware of a presence behind me. A bloody bus.

After my initial fascination with the Comrades buses in 2017 I have revised my view somewhat. They can be great. but then again, they can be a pain. Sometimes their pacing is good, and sometimes it’s not. And with the organisers squeezing more entries in each year, the roads are fuller, but not wider. I felt, rather than saw, the bus come up behind me and begin to envelop me. I was irritated but resigned to my fate. Resistance was futile. Soon my biological and technological distinctiveness was added to their own. I was assimilated into the collective. I became part of the bus.

But this wasn’t an official bus. It was smaller, leaner, tighter, and I wasn’t sure who was driving. Must be that tall lanky bloke. Except he disappeared after a few kms and the bus kept going. Then that bloke going for his back-to-back. Very impressive. But then, where did he go? I liked this bus. It had raised my pace a fraction, and I had struggled initially to hang on, but I was ok now. The passengers were quite experienced too, watching out for the cats-eyes and pot-holes and such that can be your undoing in a compact running group. I was also rethinking some of my pacing strategy. On a long steep hill, I usually walk the lot, as I can’t see the point of doing 20 paces running every now again and burning energy. But this was exactly what this driver was doing, and, and, I was quite liking it. In fact, when we hit the last of the Big Five, Polly Shortts, we did a walk-jog strategy that was, well, pretty hard, but I hung on.

By this time I had identified the driver. His name was Dean, and apparently, according to what was written on his Adventist running vest, Jesus was coming soon. Dean was certainly working a few miracles and I decided to try and stay on his bus to the Finish. In these last few kilometres Dean encouraged and cajoled us with a faultless pacing strategy and I found my atheism was more than a little challenged.

As we ran into the stadium we instinctively spread out in a line around our driver and then we were swallowed up in the crowded finish. I looked around for Dean; I wanted to thank him. I wanted to shake his hand. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but this had been a big deal. I normally, and contentedly, run alone. But that bus for the last 20km had been an <ahem>, godsend. I couldn’t see Dean in the crush so I looked at the clock to check my time. 11 hours 40 minutes. 20 minutes spare. Gulp. That had been too close for comfort. Nearly half an hour slower than 2017.

But I was happy. I can’t think what I would’ve done differently. I’d done the training, lost the weight, drunk less beer, rested some more, had a revised plan, had arrived fresh, confident and positive and had gone out to get bronze. And I hadn’t got it. I’d hit my pay grade and wasn’t going to get any further. Time to move on.

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Bob Graham Round, Saturday, June 1, 2019

Mark Davinson (Derwentside AC)

Sometimes setting yourself a challenge seems like a good idea. In spring 2011 I first took up running to get fitter and faster for my 5-a-side football. Mainly so John Calvert and Gary Messer wouldn’t complain as much about the number of late tackles I caught them with. I soon found the running was more about what I could do and less about everyone else. I had always been almost the last one picked at school sports and walked more than ran cross country, but this felt different. Perhaps I was in the wrong game? A year later I had done a marathon, won a club cross country trophy and competed in a few fell races. I decided I was retiring from football while I could still walk and took up running full time.

Fast forward to early 2019. I’ve got a seven year Harrier League race streak (every one since I stopped playing football), with a few near misses for a place in the fast pack, I’ve done a few short ultra-marathons, ran a road half marathon in under 1hr25 and completed every distance from 800m to 10,000m on the track in 2017. To be honest though everything else I have competed in is just a sideshow or a warmup for what life is all about: a day out on the fells.

As a man with a short attention span and little patience the monotony of road running was never going to be my thing and any enthusiasm I had for tarmac quickly dissipated. As a member of a traditional road running club since 2012 I’ve always felt like an outsider, a man on a mission to convert the heathen roadies to the joys of big hills and wild descents. Fell running is simple, get from A-B as fast as possible without getting lost. On the uphill’s put your body under as much stress as you dare, stay on the edge of being oxygen deficient for as long as possible before walking regaining strength and increasing oxygen flow to start running again. My general rule is stop when the runner behind stops, start running again when the runner in front starts running. On the down hills the strategy I use is to move my feet as quickly as possible and be prepared for a loose rock or trip hazard. I’ve always understood injury is potentially just around the corner, but you just need to put that to the back of your mind and be confident.

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Bob Graham Round, Lake District, Friday, May 24, 2019

66 miles

Tricia Everett

The Bob Graham Round; the 66-mile circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the English Lake District within 24 hours.”

For me the Bob Graham Round (BGR) was simple: I love to run and I love being in the mountains. As I started supporting BGRs, in my mind it became less, “If I attempt a BGR” but more of “When will I attempt?” Around November 2018 and within a week of each other these friends independently said to me of the BGR…

“You’ve got to do it,” Stuart Scott
“You’ve got the right mind for it, you can do it,” Kim Loney
“You’ve just got to give up 6 months of your life to it,” James Garland
“You were made for it, just get on with it,” Chris Everett.

About a month later a conversation with my job share partner made me realise I maybe working more in September and I realised that there was a 6 month window in front of me.

I had to attempt.

Elaine Bisson, who has supported me through the whole process, wrote a training plan for me and I stuck to it. From January to April I spent at least one day a week, sometimes more running in the Lakes. For me, this was a real luxury. It became the norm and highlight of my week that I ran in the mountains. Overall my training went well but I started to struggle in April. My children were ill, I inevitably caught their bugs, I was exhausted. My last key training run was a disappointment, so I prioritised getting fully well and resting before the big day.

Leg 1 Keswick to Honister

Standing outside Moot Hall, I felt numb, overwhelmed and not sure what to do! My supporting runners were Mark Davinson who I had trained a lot with in the Lakes, John Donneky and Susan Scott. I was thrilled Susan was there, we have spent countless mornings meeting at 5.30am to run around Houghall Woods with head torches and there was something very reassuring about her presence. It hit 7am and we were off. My sister, Siobhan, and her family were ready and waiting at Newlands Church for a change of shoes. It was a gorgeous run; the sun was shining, we all knew the route well and soon enough we had been up and down Robinson, Hindscarth and Dalehead.

Leg 2 Honister to Wasdale

There was a chair waiting for me at Honister and I ate my porridge quickly, too quickly I was later to find out! Then Elaine Bisson, James Garland and myself set off. Overall, I think this is the leg that I fully enjoyed the most. I had trained on this route a lot with Elaine and it was good to catch up with James. I started to relax, not actually aware of how much tension had been building up. Then I vomited, I had eaten too much too quickly at Honister but I think there was also a release of tension. I had not realised how much stress had built up in planning and organising the BGR, and my anxiety about being the centre of attention. Now, I was on a leg I knew well with the sun shining and in good company my whole body relaxed and I enjoyed the running and the views. Grey Knots, Brandreth, Green Gable and Great Gable soon passed. The route around Kirk Fell, Pillar, Steeple and Red Pike swoops around the Mosedale Valley; it is a gorgeous run that has it all, you can stretch your legs whilst contouring, dodge and balance on rocks whilst descending, get into a rythmn ascending and enjoy the view of the Scafells as a backdrop. Elaine and James were great at keeping me eating and drinking, particularly as I was quickly going off solid food, apart from James’ ginger biscuits! From Yewbarrow we ran into Wasdale over one hour ahead of schedule.

Leg 3 Wasdale to Dunmail

The changeover in Wasdale felt relaxed. Tim Gilkinson, Jake Gilkinson, Chris Everett and Sarah Whitley were doing a brilliant job and I felt well cared for. Tall Paul, Rob Eaton and Penny Browell were ready to go. We had a steady rhythm going up to Scafell, thankfully Penny took photos whilst the sun was shining! As we neared the top I first felt some rain and realised that the visibility was low, it was about 2.30pm on Saturday.  From Scafell, we clambered down and across to Lords Rake to reach Mickledore and then Scafell Pike, which was a lot emptier than usual. I’m not sure exactly when, but conditions had become pretty brutal with low visibility, high rainfall and wind as we were attempting to travel at speed across the rockiest section of the Bob. At one point I attempted to eat and move but instead I fell, or was blown, on the slippy rocks, this was a good wakeup call that more than anything we wanted to stay safe and well.

The harsh weather continued and I knew that it slowed everything down… it made navigation harder, you had to be so much more careful on all the rock and it drained your energy. Tall Paul and Rob Eaton were great at navigating and seemed to keep in high spirits. It was hard conditions but there was still something I loved about being out there. As we went over Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End and Esk Pike it was wet, windy and hard to keep together as we manoeuvred over the rocks in clag. We reached Bowfell, explored Bowfell a bit more and then went on to Rossett Pike. It was a relief to get to Rossett Pike as I knew the ground ahead of us was easier to run on, I also knew that the first section of Leg 3 had cost us a lot of time. At Pike O Stickle, Penny went down into the Langdale Valley. The rain and clag continued, and I was only impressed as Tall and Rob navigated swiftly through Harrison Stickle, Thunacor Knott, High Raise, Sergeant Man, Calf Crag and then Steel Fell. We were a touch behind schedule, but it felt such a triumph to get to Dunmail and I was longing for Heather’s soup!

Leg 4 Dunmail to Threlkeld

Heather’s soup was perfect and after about ten minutes Seat Sandal was calling. I love Leg 4, it has a bit of rock and some good ascents at the start which contrasts to the run across the Dodds where you can stretch your legs and enjoy the undulations. Geoff Davies led the way with Mike Hughes, Fiona Brannan, Chris Little and Kathryn Davies. I knew they all must have been waiting at Dunmail for a good few hours in the rain but they brought such positivity and smiles, it was amazing.  Fiona kept me focused and as my communication decreased I knew Fiona would keep me right and she did just that. It was soon dark with the rain getting heavier, I remember Fairfield, Grisedale Tarn and marching up to Dollywagon Pike. I had been on this leg plenty of times and I knew it well but I’m afraid on this night the peaks merged into one. There was real thick darkness, wind, rain, and there were smiles and encouraging words in abundance. Geoff’s navigating was beyond amazing. He had rain pounding his face in the real thick darkness and yet he kept us on track. We came over Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Lower Man, Whiteside and Raise. After we crossed Sticks Pass and for the first time on my BGR I started to struggle mentally. It was somewhere near 2am and I had been running up and down England’s highest mountains for about 18 or 19 hours and for about 12 of these hours I had been battered by wind and rain in the mist. I actually didn’t know how much more I could take. The support team were brilliant, they carried on feeding me and smiling. I couldn’t see much at all, but I remember warm words and smiles.   The combination of the dark, rain and lights reminded me of a motivational video Stuart Scott sent me the previous day with the word ‘BELIEVE’ in white letters with a black background. It lifted my spirits, and from somewhere I had a quiet whisper in my head telling me, “You can, you can, just one foot in front of the other, keep going,” and that’s what I did I kept going over Stybarrow, Watson, Great Dodd and Clough Head. Coming into Threlkeld my sister Sarah was waiting for me on the corner, she had travelled over from Paris to be there and I knew without a shadow of doubt that she believed in me. I don’t think I managed to say anything to her.

Leg 5 Threlkeld to Moot Hall

Rejuvenated with warm porridge from Heather and refocused after Kim Loney’s prep talk which reminded me that I was good at ascending and could do it. On leaving the Gilkinson’s campervan I asked Tim to pray for me to have strength and speed, I knew he would. As it neared 3am it was time to take on the scramble up Halls Fell and two big climbs with Chris Everett, Jake Gilkinson, Sam Renwick and Fiona Brannan. I knew I had a chance to get to Moot Hall for 7am but it wasn’t guaranteed, it was tight, too tight. I was going to have to work really hard and I couldn’t imagine a better team to do it with. Halls Fell was dripping and it was great to see the sunken ring on the top of Blencathra, but there was no time for pausing so we ran across Mungrisdale Common, tripping over the tufts and straight to the river crossing. It started to become light and I had two big climbs ahead of me. My team were amazing, Chris kept ahead showing the way and avoiding abuse from me(!), whilst Fiona kept checking I was warm and fuelling. Jake was helping Chris, and Sam kept giving me small focused comments that were just what I needed. It was time to climb Great Calva. I’m not sure how Sam and Jake did it but they were so encouraging and positive, yet realistic about the effort that was needed. As we neared the top of Great Calva, I knew that if it was around 5am I could touch the green door of Moot Hall by 7am. Sam told me it was 4.55am. This thrilled me, but I knew I had to be focussed and work really hard. A great descent over the peat from Calva and then up and up to the stile in the fence that marked the beginning of the end of the climb up Skiddaw. I have never been so relieved to see a stile in my life! It was so windy on Skiddaw, but Sam and Jake were there right beside me as the wind bounced me from one of them to the other. I love the run from Skiddaw, and on this day I had to run the undulating descent like I had never run before, over the rocks, through the trees, through the heavy rain and in the streams. As I came through the car park in Keswick I saw Susan and Geoff jump out of their car and my children Caitriona and Charlie with my Mum and Sarah. Caitriona ran through the alley with me to Moot Hall, up the stairs and to the green door of Moot Hall for 6.39am closely followed by Charlie. It was the quickest time I have ever completed that leg. I looked around and was amazed that there were so many friends who had waited in the heavy rain to cheer me in. It was done; the most incredible journey imaginable in 23 hours and 39 minutes.

My BGR was only possible with the support of the following people, who were all amazing and I am very thankful to all of them:

Road Support
Tim Gilkinson, Jake Gilkinson, Chris Everett, Sarah Whitley, Siobhan Whitley, Heather Hughes, Susan Davies

Running Support
Susan Scott, Mark Davinson, John Donneky
Elaine Bisson, James Garland
Tall Paul, Rob Eaton, Penny Browell

Geoff Davies, Mike Hughes, Fiona Brannan, Chris Little, Kathryn Davies
Chris Everett, Jake Gilkinson, Sam Renwick

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Old County Tops Fell Race, Lake District, Saturday, May 18, 2019

Nina Mason

Feeling Ok on Helvellyn (top 1)

I would never have even considered this race – it’s well beyond anything I have previously attempted in terms of distance, climb, and time on feet. But a few weeks prior to the event Elaine got in touch and asked if I would pair up with her. Immensely flattered and yet terrified at the same time, I did a bit of reading, studied the map, and received a couple of encouraging messages suggesting I could do it (thanks – you know who you are) ….and said yes. Elaine said she was happy doing it my pace, she just wanted to complete it and have ‘a good day on the hills’.

The race starts and finishes in Langdale near the New Dungeon Ghyll. You must run in pairs, finish in 12 hours, and there are 8 checkpoints – three of which are the old county ‘tops’ Helvellyn, Scafell Pike, and the Old Man of Coniston. I shared with Elaine a timing plan which would get us to the CPs within the cut offs (one recommended, one mandatory), and see us finish in about 11hr 15.

I was pretty anxious beforehand – I have never recorded a ‘DNF’ and I didn’t want this to be my first. For the first time I was starting a race with no idea whether or not I would get round.

Caption: All competitors get a Harvey course map – I’ve added the big red arrows showing the ‘tops’. Looks easy in 2D!

We had each recce’d a half of the course, and we were fairly confident we would be ok if we needed to navigate (though this might cost us time). On the day we were incredibly lucky with the weather. The forecast rain never appeared, there was no wind, the sun came out a couple of times, but it never got too hot, and the tops were pretty much clear, except for Helvellyn.

I found this event (not unexpectedly!) very tough, and I had a couple of bad patches. The first 15 or so miles (and Helvellyn – top 1 – in the bag) felt ok. But then heading up to Angle Tarn (CP4 and about half way) I was starting to struggle to eat, and psychologically I felt there were a lot of miles in front of me. But, with a bit of internal ‘get a grip Nina, just get to the next checkpoint’ and Elaine telling me quite firmly that my sandwich wouldn’t get eaten if it was still wrapped up, I plodded on.

Heading up to Scafell Pike (top 2) and down the other side over Great Moss and Mosedale I got a second wind, which lasted to the climb up Grey Friar (on our way to Coniston Old Man). My head was ok, my legs were tired but moving (slowly), but my stomach needed a lie down and some kind words. Eating was really difficult here (I know, hard to believe!) so I was nibbling tiny pieces of flapjack and washing it down with water. Elaine, again coming to the rescue, also forced a couple of pieces of mint cake down me. It worked. One of my highlights of the day was getting up to Coniston Old Man (top 3) and knowing we were on the home stretch.

So 30 miles in, and with a good mouthful of a popular brand of tangy, sugar-coated jelly sweets (I have discovered my race food!) I started to feel ‘good’. Even Elaine asked if I was excited as I bounded down the hill (ok, ok, it felt like I was bounding) to the final CP. From there, a ‘victory lap’ of the last 3 or so downhill miles to the finish (catching a couple of pairs on the way!) where I cried like a baby out of sheer relief and thankfulness.

I reckon Elaine had a secret race plan – we obviously travelled my pace, but finished an hour inside my planned time (and I’ll take the extra effort to be finished an hour sooner any day).

Elaine and I starting to believe we have got this – on Coniston Old Man (top 3) – Home stretch!

Elaine was an amazing running partner – for asking me to do this, and for being utterly unselfish – if she ever got frustrated with my pace she never, ever showed it. Most of the race I was following her (though I led a couple of sections and pointed out the odd trod on the bits I’d recce’d) – but she was always checking where I was and checking her pace accordingly. She also offered no ‘sympathy’ (on my instruction, as I wouldn’t have reacted well to this) but just good common sense, pragmatic support all the way round. I don’t think I would have made it round without her, and I feel incredibly thankful that I got the opportunity to do this event with her.

We were both ‘well-chuffed’ for completing this, and also with the additional reward of winning the LV80 category (that’s two lady vet 40s in a pairs event in case you’re thinking we both look really good for our age. Obviously, we do anyway).

Would I do this again? Possibly yes, with more training! It is a fantastic, well-organised event, an excellent (tough!) course, and for £20 per person you get a map, a lot of miles, brilliant support at the CPs, mountains of food at two of them, and food at the finish. Oh, and the famous t-shirt…. only for those that finish the race. A truly limited edition, and Elaine and I are very proud of ours!
Photo Caption: Elaine and I at the finish – Age group prize mugs

The famous t-shirt – only 246 given out this year 🙂
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Cannonball Ultra, Canalathon, Sowerby Bridge, Sunday, March 24, 2019

50 k

Gareth Pritchard

I was gutted I couldn’t do the 100k this year, so dropped down to the 50k as I’ve got a marathon soon… Now that’s something a short distance road runner like myself never imagined I’d say. If you’re wondering exactly how this happened? Hopefully, this small report will shed some light, but the short version.

#poweredbyplants and Heart rate running. This event is awesome, give it a go.

Continue reading Cannonball Ultra, Canalathon
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Hardmoors 55(50), Guisborough,North Yorkshire, Saturday, March 16, 2019

55 miles

Simon Graham

Having run a few marathons in previous years, 2018 became the year of the Ultra. My other (better) half, Jill, decided that we should run Paris Marathon as a training run for the Dukeries 30 miler, which in turn was a warm-up for the St Cuthberts Way 45 miles.

Upon completing St Cuthberts I found myself looking for another challenge. Did I want to ‘just be’ a marathon runner in future? I decided that since I prefer the challenge of off-road to pounding the miles on tarmac racing, after a time, and having felt I had more to give after Cuthberts, that I’d go for it. The Hardmoors 55.

This year the 55 became the 50 to commemorate 50 years of the Cleveland Way (along which the race is run). The route was shortened (to 54 miles) and an extra trip over the summit of Roseberry Topping added for ‘fun’. To make things even more appealing the route this year ran from north to south meaning the big climbs would be in the first 30 miles. The second half is by no means flat.

I spoke with my friend, fellow Strider and Hardmoors 1000 club member Dave Toth about doing this with me and sticking together throughout, as I had no intention of plodding around the moors alone. Dave agreed, and I knew he would keep me right pace-wise. I have a history of going out far too fast and blowing up!

Roll forward months of training and miles and the day arrived.

At 6 am in Durham I opened the front door of the house to discover heavy snow falling from the skies. ‘Great’, I thought, just what we needed!

We arrived at Guisborough Sea Cadets at just after 7 am. It was a wet and miserable 4 degrees. Storm Hannah had decided she was going to make an appearance bringing with her 50 mph winds and driving rain. This was at a low level, what on earth was in store for us when we hit the tops of the moors I thought. We started the race in full waterproofs and were to need them all day.

A few minutes delay to the start meant that waterproofs were already coming in useful as we assembled outside of the Sea Cadets in Guisborough. At 8:20 (ish) we were off.

With Dave knowing how to pace these things, I was very careful of not getting swept away in the rush, jogging out of the Sea Cadets and up the hill towards the stile where we would go off-road. Over the stile and through the woods was a good place to start just gently running towards the first big climb of the race, the Tees Link, up to High Cliff Nab, where we would join the Cleveland Way. This was the first real challenge. The Tees Link was a bog fest and staying upright was the challenge. At least the woods provided some shelter from the rain.

And then the wind hit…

At High Cliff Nab, already wet and covered in mud we were greeted by Hannah and her 50mph winds. Undeterred we pressed on towards Roseberry Topping with rain coming at us sideways driven by the fierce winds. Climbing up Roseberry was tough, descending for the first time even tougher. The front runners were already flying down Roseberry for the second time as we went up for the first, the wind not seeming to affect them. These guys are machines I thought.

So, up to the summit of Roseberry Topping, down the other side to the marshals who then told us to simply turn back around and ascend Roseberry again before rejoining the Cleveland Way and heading off to Captain Cooks Monument.

At the summit of Roseberry, we were greeted by a familiar face. My better half Jill (who was acting as support crew for the day) had climbed up from the car park at the bottom to provide some much-needed cheer! I’m not sure who was crazier, me for entering this race, or her for going up there to see me for 20 seconds!

The section from towards Captain Cooks Monument and from there into the checkpoint at Kildale is mainly downhill (apart from the climb to the monument itself) which allowed some actual running to be done but by now after a tough start, I could feel my legs hating the constant force that running downhill puts on them.

Kildale to Clay Bank, from what I can remember of it, is mainly just a huge climb up to the top of the moors followed by a long slog across the exposed moorland. We attempted to run parts of this but the wind and horizontal rain were simply making it all seem rather pointless with little progress being made. It was here, somewhere near Bloworth Crossing, we were passed by someone wearing snow goggles. There had been lots of discussion on Facebook about snow goggles in the days before the race, but I hadn’t actually expected to see someone wearing them! Onwards we plodded, power walking and running, or at least attempting to, towards Clay Bank.

At Clay Bank Checkpoint there was Jill again with coffee and a much-needed food resupply.

Onwards we pressed over the ‘Three sisters’ (even though there’s four of them). Climb up, run a little over the top, descend and repeat three times before coming into Lord Stones Country Park.

At Lord Stones, or what I thought was about the halfway point (turned out to be only 22.5 miles), we met Jill and our friends David and Debbie who has driven down to provide some support. I think the support was as much for Jill, spending the day sat driving from place to place and waiting, as it was for us. A quick change of clothes into a fresh dry kit, a food resupply and again we were off, this time up the ‘fourth’ of the ‘Three Sisters’ Carlton Bank and towards the indoor checkpoint at 31 miles in Osmotherley where I knew there was freshly cooked pizza waiting. Well, there was for me anyway. Vegan Dave could have whatever he wanted, I just looked forward to warm pizza!

Leaving Osmotherley we walked to let the food settle in our stomachs, and since it was uphill to Square Corner it would have been silly to run. The rain seemed to have eased by this point and the wind had died down making the conditions much nicer, or at least it would have had it not simply soaked the ground through so much that what would have been solid, was now just pure mud. We did some ‘Ultra Shuffling’ on the downhill bits we found, but mostly it was power walking uphill to see Jill, David and Debbie again at Square Corner. From Square Corner is another big climb up Black Hambleton hill, fortunately, this is a long and steady climb which was actually somewhat of a relief to me following the previous big steep climbs.

Back on the tops of the moors it was head torch time, and although this section was pretty boring with no scenery (it was dark) it did allow quite a bit of running (shuffling) to be done towards High Paradise Farm and the descent into the disco (yes, they had a disco going on with lights and everything!) checkpoint at Sneck Yate. Straight through this checkpoint and onto Sutton Bank Visitor Centre where once again we met with our amazing support crew, took a few minutes to refuel and pressed on to White Horse.

The Hardmoors Run Director Jon doesn’t like to make things easy, and so rather than simply being allowed to head towards the finish at Helmsley from to top of Sutton Bank, he put in an out and back section to the car park at the bottom of the White Horse. Yes, you go from the top to the bottom and back again climbing loads of stairs along the way. It’s like Roseberry all over again. Once you’re back at the top of the White Horse stairs though you know you’re on the home straight with about 9 miles to go.

From the White Horse to Helmsley is almost all downhill, with no significant climbs left to do. Unfortunately, its also on a lot of grass and tracks which had been turned into what can simply be described as a mudfest by the preceding runners. Thanks for that fast lads (and lasses), as if I wasn’t slow enough I now have to slip and slide my way to the finish!

So, it’s muddy, it’s slippy, it’s dark, I have tired legs and Dave is a power walking machine up any hills. I said its mostly downhill, but not all. I chased him up pretty much every climb on the course.

We pressed on knowing that the end was in sight and that we should just make the cut off of 16 hours. Before we started, and in good condition, I had thoughts of being able to do this in around 14 hours. How wrong was I. The end was in sight though and leaving the mud and hills behind we descended into Helmsley where Jill, David and Debbie had walked to the top of the track at the end of the Cleveland way to meet us and see us to the finish.

Solid ground and tarmac was a delightful sight, but this was a Hardmoors event and it wouldn’t be complete without one last hill to the finish at Helmsley Sports Club. It’s really just a gentle incline that normally I wouldn’t think twice about running up, but this was mile 54 and there was no running up any inclines going on!

We had done it. Finishing in a time of 15 Hours 48 minutes. Dave for his 6th (I think) time, me for my first (and last!) time. Jill, being the amazing support that she was had even got our beers for the finish (She’s a keeper) and boy did they taste good.

What have I learnt, and what’s next?

Well, I have learnt that whilst I have the time to go for long runs on a Sunday morning, what I don’t have the time for is all of the other miles. The back to back long runs, the cross-training that is required for an event of this nature. Running 18 miles on Sunday is all well and good, but doing it again on a Monday after a full day at work, now that’s hard!

What’s next? I have the remainder of the Hardmoors 26.2 Half Marathon series to look forward to. The longest ‘Half’ Marathon is around 17 miles which are comfortable and doable on my planned training schedule of a couple of 10k’s, a parkrun and 10 miles/ hm’s on Sundays. During the long-run training, I’d forgotten just how much fun and enjoyable a 10k (or about an hours run) can actually be and I look forward to enjoying my runs again, not being permanently tired, and being able to get out of bed without aching again.

Oh, and I have also promised to return the favour for Dave Toth and accompany him on the St Cuthberts Way 45 miles. Guess those pain-free mornings are just going to have to wait.

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Tour de Helvellyn, Askham, Lake District, Saturday, December 15, 2018

38 miles (shortened route 27 miles)

Aaron Gourley

The warmth of the village hall was soon forgotten as I headed out the door and into the morning darkness for the start of the Tour de Helvellyn. The weather forecast had been the subject of much debate the previous day on Facebook between the small group of Striders that were due to take part in the race.

. The weather forecast had been the subject of much debate the previous day on Facebook between the small group of Striders that were due to take part in the race.

With Storm Deirdre bringing winds in excess of 60 miles per hour and wind chill down to around minus 10 degrees, the day was certainly looking to be a challenging adventure. Thrown into the mix were freezing rain, a rare occurrence in the UK, and snow for later in the day to further add to the hazards we’d face. The weather brought the dilemma of what kit to start the race in and what to carry in addition. I opted to start out light and add layers as the day went on meaning I’d be carrying a fairly heavy pack.

I arrived at Askham Village hall in good time to register and prepare ahead of the race which I’d decided to start at around 7:30 am. Getting out of the car it was immediate how cold it was going to be and headed straight to the hall to register. Upon entering I happened to notice a small handwritten note which read that the route was to be shortened by around 12 miles, cutting out the loop around Helvellyn due to the weather.

At registration, this was confirmed and although I was slightly disappointed, I was relieved that I wouldn’t be out in the mountains for as long as I’d thought. This also meant I could ditch a small amount of the extra kit I was carrying and lighten up my pack a little. As I did so, Elaine, Geoff and Juliet turned up to register.

Out on the open moor, it was starting to get light as I moved at a steady pace having set off at 7:45 am. The wind was blowing but nowhere near as strong as expected and, despite the initial shock of the cold, I was happy with the number of layers I had on. The first few miles cross Askham Moor are pretty straightforward to navigate. I ran with a girl from Penrith and we chatted as we steadily made our way towards Howtown.

The ground was quite hard underfoot and there was the odd patch of ice but nothing too treacherous. At Howtown there’s a choice of routes you can take to get to the first checkpoint at Martindale Church – either continue straight across the trail and arrive at the back of the church, or cut down past the adventure centre and run up the road to the church. It’s noted that the road is the quicker of the two and is the route I took on my previous running of this race. Today, opted for the trail.

Checking in at Martindale Church, I moved swiftly through to the next section which is a long road run up the valley to the start of Boredale Hause. From here the route climbs to the col which then leads to the village of Patterdale on the other side. The next checkpoint is at Side Farm at the foot of the pass on the edge of Patterdale but you cannot pass through until this opens at 9:30 am so timing your run is vital. This meant that there were a lot of runners on this section as I arrived just after the opening of the checkpoint.

Inside I grabbed a few treats then made off for the next section through Glenridding and up towards our turn around point at Swart Beck Footbridge, just below Sticks Pass. The weather was still ok on this side of the valley but the howl of the wind could be heard and every now and again there’d be a strong gust that would take you by surprise. Still taking my time, I ran into Glenridding and up past the Traveller Rest pub to the Greenside for the start of the steep climb up to Swart Beck. The route climbs steeply here, often the need to use all fours to make progress. It was getting colder and the wind was stronger as I made my way up. For the very short moment I dared lift my head I spotted Elaine making light work of the descent having already been to the checkpoint and turnaround point. The girl is a machine and had passed me somewhere on the route as I knew she’d started after me.

I eventually got to the point where that path levelled off and made my way across to the checkpoint before turning around and making my way back. On the way back I passed Geoff who has been running immensely strong this year and again, I knew had started after me so was making good time. It was now a battle to try and stay ahead of him.

The run back off was taken with caution as the ground was covered in loose rocks. I slipped and pulled a muscle in my left shoulder, nothing serious but was quite painful at the time. Retracing my steps back through Glenridding to Side Farm, I enjoyed the run in the shelter of the valley. I checked in at Side Farm and took a moment to grab a nice hot cup of tea and a biscuit. Rather than wasting time, I set off with my tea (you have to bring your own mug if you want a drink), as I left Geoff came running in, he was closing the gap on me.

I made my way up the steep climb back up to Boredale with my tea which seemed to be retaining its heat a bit too well. The climb was slow and laborious but eventually, I reached the top, stashed my now empty cup and made for the long descent back to Martindale Church. At the foot of the pass, I went to open a farm gate but a gust of wind howled in and trapped me, I had to wait until it eased to get myself free. I ran/walked up the road eventually arriving back at the church. I checked in and decided to head back across the trail rather than take to road route through Howtown.

The wind was picking up and my body temperature was dropping as was my pace. I was feeling really tired all of a sudden and running was becoming difficult. The ground was getting icier heading back to Askham and the tracks were becoming more hazardous. Hopping the tracks and ice was energy sapping and because of this I misjudged a jump and ended up flat on my back. I lay for a bit as I slowly tried to comprehend what I’d just done before trying to get up which was much more difficult than it should have been.

It was now raining but it didn’t seem too heavy. This was freezing rain however and I was now soaked and very cold. With about a mile and a half to go, I decided to just keep moving and get back to the finish as quickly as possible. Eventually, I made it back and was so glad to be warm. Elaine was already relaxing and Geoff was back getting changed. He’d managed to pass my due to route choice at Martindale Church, I’d taken the high road, he’d taken the low.

In all, I’d enjoyed this race but was pretty relieved that it had been shortened – even though it was still a 27-mile race. I made hard work of it as I seem to have with all my races in 2018 but it was a good experience again. The journey home was just as eventfully however as the A66 had been closed meaning a diversion up the M6 and across the A69 was needed to get home.

2018 Results

PosNo.NameClubCategoryTime Taken
1251Jim MannDurham Fell RunnersM05:42:46
5126Katie Kaars SijpesteijnNorth Leeds Fell Runners1st F06:16:53
12236Scott WatsonMV5006:41:57
96115Mike HughesMV4008:42:02
9755Geoff DavisMV5008:43:12
11985Aaron GourleyM09:06:35
138172Juliet PercivalFV4009:24:58
13856Mandy DawsonFV4009:24:58

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Tour De Helvellyn, Askham, Lake District, Saturday, December 16, 2017

38 miles

Elaine Bisson

This was my big one; I’d been building up to it for months. The Tour of Edinburgh (55km) had been a practise run. Nothing really could prepare me for this day. It was just unbelievable. I’ve been going to the Lakes since I was tiny; it was our only summer holiday destination. We would stay in Glenridding, so I knew a lot of the route. I had also recced it in two parts, Askham to Patterdale once with Geoff and the rest by myself. However, reports of good navigators getting lost on Askham Moor concerned me.

I’d packed my bag and checked it twice (mandatory kit and lots more layers just in case), charged my head torch, marked my map, set my compass for the all-important Askham fell crossing…even borrowed a watch from Stuart who had added the GPS route just in case it went horribly wrong.

I woke at 4 am, ate my breakfast, prepared a few snacks and then sat in my car while it defrosted, wondering when on earth this behaviour became normal. I arrived at Geoff and Susan’s at 5:15. Susan had offered to drive.

We arrived just past 7 to find the hall teaming with runners filling up on breakfast (a lot had camped out on the community centre floor). We registered and were given a race tag that would be scanned at all 8 checkpoints. We had to arrive at Side Farm, Patterdale from 9:30; we weren’t allowed to pass through any earlier. From my last and only recce I’d worked out I should be able to arrive in 1hr50, so wanted to leave at 7:45. Hopefully, the sun would be coming out and if I was lucky, dusk wouldn’t have fallen on my return. This seemed to be Geoff’s plan as well. After a thorough kit check, we scanned our tags and the race was on.

We opened the door to see the sun just kissing the sky, visibility was good, Susan was waiting to cheer us on and we were off up the icy road onto the track, through the gate and onto Askham Moor. It was an amazing morning, you could see over Ullswater, the mist just rising in places, the far-off fells white. There was no wind and weather conditions, apart from the temperature, seemed reasonable.

I kept to a comfortable pace. A sheet of ice covered most of the paths and I had to go pretty slowly to work my way across anyway. On the safer gravel bridleway, I could pick up my speed. I was disappointed as most of this section is on good runnable trails or road so I had wanted to make sure I got these easier miles under my belt, however, the ice slowed progress.

CP1, Martindale Church. There were a lot more runners than I expected. With the staggered start, I’d thought it would be quiet but the trails were relatively busy. On up to Boredale Hause and I passed quite a few as I tucked into my first flapjack of the day.

Running down the hill to Side Farm I grew really frustrated as I slowed on the uneven surface and a few men flew past. With a concerted effort I caught the lady in front only to realise it was Ros, the organiser of the DT series, we exchanged a few greetings and I finally reached CP2, Side Farm, perfectly timed…1hr46!

My card was scanned and the Marshall told me this is where I should look happy as he pointed/directed me towards all the food and drinks set up inside the warm tea room. I was slightly confused, the day had only just begun and I had a considerable amount of miles to cover yet.

I continued on over the cattle grid and into Patterdale, I knew these little valleys so well, I felt happy coming back. I made a sneaky detour up through the Glenridding car park as most runners took the longer route (by a few 100m…every metre counts) up the main road; it gave me such pleasure to arrive on the road ahead of them.

As I started the climb up to Sticks Pass the scenery became increasingly whiter as the ground was covered in more snow. The valley bottom was shrouded in mist and a light rain hung in the air. I stopped to put on my jacket knowing it would get colder as we climbed. I looked up and considered taking a more direct line to the top, but unsure I followed the majority along the zigzag path.

CP3, Trolls Bridge. I’d looked forward to the pass, it’s got a lovely undulating path, which isn’t too strewn with rocks and isn’t so steep that you can’t run most of it. However, today it was covered with a thick layer of snow, in places going up past my knees. I tripped and fell into it quite a few times. It was amusing to try to ‘run’ past people who were out for the day on their skis.

This is obviously a big race day; quite a lot of the well-known fell runners were there. I was bewildered to see a woman pass me then stop to the side of the footprints to pull down her leggings and knickers and happily wee in front of all.

Despite packing all but my kitchen sink I’d forgotten my sunglasses, which would have come in handy. The glare off all the snow was so blinding. I was pleased by the proximity of the other runners and that snow wasn’t still falling, although the mist clung to the valley making visibility quite poor. It would be really easy to go off track and get lost in this unforgiving white landscape.

Finally, I reached the top. Next came the descent down to Thirlspot and CP4. Not as quick as I’d hoped, as the snow was really thick, as I struggled on the steep slippy descent. Katie (2nd fastest female BGR) and Nicky Spinks flew past.
The views down this valley were just beautiful. Snow dusted the lower slopes, the tops were white, the low sun had a reddish glow and a mist danced along Thirlmere. I like the path here that winds along the stone walls, across little becks, the high fells flanking either side.
At Swirls carpark I was feeling tired and cold so stopped briefly at CP5 to fill my mug with hot sweet tea and sipped it as I made my way up onto the forest tracks, pleased to make use of my early Christmas present, a foldable mug!

This is my least favourite stretch, on my recce. I’d found it monotonous and was surprised by the roads that still twisted up the valley. The snow and views were beautiful today though, so I was happily distracted. I was busy following the trainer footprints trying to work out how many people may have passed this way before me. There didn’t seem to be too many, and here and there were the distinct prints of reindeer!

Down to CP6 and then on up Raise Beck. I somehow managed to sink knee-deep in mud…about the only muddy square metre on the whole route, then hauled myself out to immediately skid on ice and land on my bum making my leggings v cold and wet and soaking my gloves. Thank goodness I had also packed my buffalo mitts! This knocked my confidence, as I now had to find a safe route over the beck without falling in. The rocks were either covered in ice or just very slippy. As I floundered about and skidded, nearly landing in the beck, some men who had followed my lead skipped past on the same route and headed on up the hill. I cursed them under my breath for their speed and sure-footedness. It wasn’t long before my spirits were lifted, seeing Santa sitting on a rock wishing us a Merry Christmas, just as Jules had said (I promise I wasn’t hallucinating).

Much to my surprise, Susan was here too, hoping to spot us on route. She laughed when I told her how tough it had been and said Nicky wasn’t too far in front. I found it difficult getting the right line around the tarn, the snow was really thick. I tried to follow the trainer prints but it was slow going. Where it lay thinner I could run but most was a hard slog through thick, thick snow. The stunning views made up for it.

On down the Grisedale valley and I was relieved to see the green slopes now not so far away. I chose completely the wrong route; coming down slowly on the path…I know time and places were lost. But again I found myself in familiar territory. I’d spent one summer trying to get fit with my brother, run-walking between these valleys. I’d gone on my tiny dinghy down the little beck and had been chased by feisty cows through a field. I’d been one of very few who had come here when foot and mouth disease had wiped out tourism and remember dipping my trainers at all the gates. I love this place, so while I was beginning to feel very tired my memories kept me going. The road did feel very hard going despite being predominantly downhill until CP7, back at Side Farm. A supporter gave me a massive cheer and told me to keep going, ‘just keep putting one foot in front of the next’…so that’s exactly what I did and I kept repeating it to myself all the way back.
So now to retrace my steps. I felt quite daunted; I’d already been on my feet far longer than I ever had in a race. I wasn’t looking forward to the trudge up to Boredale Hause. I was flagging. I stopped again, filled my bottles with juice and took another cup of sugary tea up the path.

I’d only been to the top of the Hause once with Geoff. I’d thought there was only one path to follow, unfortunately, it branches and I missed the quicker route, ending up circling around and back on myself. Panic rose as I didn’t remember the path; I was so relieved to find the ruined wall that marked the right route.

Annoyed at myself and tiredness drifting in, I pushed on as hard as I could. I started having to make deals with myself, to run to certain markers and then walk, to set regular snack intervals.

It’s still about 10 miles back; a long way after already completing 28miles. I was keen to reach the moor before sunset though, so this kept me pushing forward.

Martindale CP8 done and only one left to go. I started to keep in time with two men who’d been running together. When they ran I ran, when they walked I did the same. It felt comfortable and it distracted me from my negative thoughts. I kept up with them until the cockpit stone circle. I was determined to keep on Geoff’s shortcut after that.

The paths here scatter crazily across the moor. I knew I could go wrong. However, it wasn’t dark, the fog hadn’t fallen and I could see the trees that marked my way home (this was one of my major fears, getting lost in poor visibility on the moor, so the relief was quite something)!

The men in front took a different line but I fixed on bearings and made my way across the moor until I hit the path I knew well from running up as a kid. I realised I’d picked up quite a few places trusting in his directions.

It was pretty much downhill from now and my legs really ached but the thought of finally being able to stop and sit. I speeded up as much as I could, between the ice, only to have to stop to wait for a tractor to cross the road. Then I saw the sign for the finish and stopped for a second, before turning the handle and opening the door to the community centre, final CP, the journey’s end.

I could barely smile and was close to tears; sheer exhaustion had taken over, what a day. It’s strange how you can keep moving forward but once you stop that’s it, and that was certainly it for me.

I must have looked a state. When changed and cleaned up, I arrived at the small canteen and the lady insisted that I sit down and she would bring me all the soup and tea I fancied. I pulled out my phone to tell John ‘your wife is still alive’! He’d had reservations about my adventure. There was no signal though, so I sat and watched as all the weary runners entered.

It’s quite a sight, seeing all the relief and pride flood through the doors. Most wobbled, not quite in the present; a few grinned from ear to ear. The overriding feelings were of pride, exhaustion and gratitude to arrive safely home after what was quite an epic adventure.

I watched the minutes pass waiting for sight of Susan or Geoff; I was relieved to see Geoff arrive safely back. He’d managed a 15-minute PB in conditions that were tougher than some of his previous 6 races; he was also first in v60 group, by a huge margin of 1 hour 15 minutes.

We shared our stories over our tea and soup until refilled and rehydrated, Susan took us back home.

Can’t quite express my deep satisfaction having raced this event. Even last year I wouldn’t have dreamed of attempting anything like it. My hardest, most memorable race yet, can’t wait to do it again!

[Photographs courtesy of John Bamber, Piers and Hillary Barber and Jim Tinnion]

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