Category Archives: Colin Blackburn

Camperdown parkrun, Dundee, Saturday, July 28, 2012

Colin Blackburn

Last weekend I struggled through the, essentially, half marathon that is a low tide Coastal Run and this weekend I’m up in Dundee for the Half DRAM (Dundee Running Adventure Marathon) aka the Dundee Half. I was still tired from the previous week’s exertions and far from prepared for tomorrow’s but what else is there to do on a Saturday in Dundee? Well, the sensible option would be to have a lie-in followed by a leisurely breakfast while watching the Olympic Men’s Road Race. Instead I took the sillier option of trying my first ever parkrun, having registered in a fit of madness on the Friday! The park in question is Camperdown Park and is about 4km from where I stay when up in Dundee. It’s a park I’ve orienteered in before – in fact I almost broke my leg in this park a couple of months ago and so I blame this particular park for my current lack of fitness! It’s also the park from which the half marathon will start.

Not being sensible enough to have a bike up in Dundee I decided to jog/walk to the parkrun, which by the time I got across the far side of the park was pretty much 5km. I then sat and rested a bit while watching the race director and other volunteers put up the start/finish and mark the course in the very nice sunshine. A few minutes later another newbie turned up, Joe was based down in Catterick but on leave up in Dundee. He was as clueless as me as to what was happening. As 9:30 approached (remember this is Scotland where an extra half-an-hour in bed is compulsory) 50 or so people had gathered for Camperdown’s 11th parkrun. The RD mentioned that the numbers were down a little as this was the weekend of the five day Tour of Fife. There was then a brief description of the course, a loop which because Camperdown is on a slope would involve a couple of climbs.

A few seconds later we were off along a nice mix of park roads and tracks. The course was very well marked and marshalled with all side paths and tracks being coned off and marshalls looking after all the key junctions. The up and down nature of the course meant that I yo-yoed a little with the woman that I eventually just beat, while Joe was well ahead having gone off with the fast guys. Just short of 25 minutes after starting I crossed the finish line and got my various barcodes scanned. After a brief chat with Joe, who’d enjoyed it as much as I had, I decided to head home. That meant another 5km walk/run (slightly more walking this time!) before putting my feet up to watch the last hours of the disappointing men’s road race. I then nodded off and dreamed of my legs recovering for the next day’s ordeal…

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Wansfell Race, Ambleside, Tuesday, December 27, 2011

AS / 3.4km / 405m

Colin Blackburn

Elfie and I had just spent a wonderful Christmas break in Grasmere. The weather, though, wasn’t so wonderful and so other than eat and drink all we managed to do was a brief walk up to Easedale Tarn. Even that ended with crisps and beer in a Grasmere pub. So come the 27th I really needed a run and discovered that the Wansfell race was ideally timed and situated to fit it in on our way home. It was billed as a 2.5 mile straight up, straight down race. A classic cobweb-blowing-away race. A few Striders had done the race in 2009 when it was also an NFR championship race. That year there was snow. In 2010 there was so much snow the race was cancelled. This year it would be very different following several days of rain. It was still raining on race day.

One casualty of the rain was registration. We parked in the old grammar school car park only to discover that registration would be in the Lakes Runner cafe down in Ambleside. This meant a jog down to register, a walk back up to change and then a jog back down to start! I would be knackered before the off and I’d still have to run back up the road once the race started. I dismissed brief thoughts of hiding behind a tree near the school and joining the pack as it ran past—I did the honest thing and jogged down to the start on the edge of Ambleside.

I didn’t notice anyone I knew personally at the start but I did recognise a few big names: Rob Jebb, Wendy Dodds,… it was going to be fast. The start was a classic small fell race start, “Everyone got a jacket and whistle? Good. GO!” Then it was up that road again! Just after the school the race turns off the road and heads up the paved track to Wansfell Pike. Before long I was walking with the best of them. At this point I was alongside Wendy Dodds but before too long the shouts of “Come on Wendy!” became more distant as even her walking pace proved too much for me. The final few yards to the summit involved a hands and knees scramble though there was probably a sensible path route. There was definitely a sensible path for the first few yards of the descent but my shoes decided that I’d rather go down the wet grassy slope on my backside. Then my backside met the gravel path and came to an abrupt grazed halt! Fortunately, for me, the photographer, who seemed to feel my pain judging from the expression on his face, had failed to get the crucial shot.

The remaining mile back down to the school was a mix of slopes of wet grass, wet leaf litter and wet dead bracken. I tested them all and can confirm that leaf litter is the slippiest. I followed an Ambleside AC runner who zigged off the straight descent, though at one point I thought she might just be heading home. But just as I was getting worried she zagged back toward the school and I think I have her to thank for not spending as much time on my bum as I expected. The last few yards of the race are back on the road to the finish in the school car park. I’m not sure what my time was as I appeared to have stopped my Garmin at some point on the descent though I was definitely close to the back. [Very close to the back in fact, though at least I’m in the results!] The prize ceremony was a bit chaotic as the results sheet succumbed to the rain, though Rob Jebb definitely won.

With a race entry fee of just £1 and the opportunity for lunch in Ambleside (I’d suggest The Apple Pie Cafe & Bakery) I’d recommend this race as a great post-Christmas blast for anyone who happens to be over in this part of the world at this time of year.

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Kielder Marathon, Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Chris Hills 10 in 10

Andrew Thompson …

This race last year was the ‘run at it screaming technique’s finest hour resulting in a sub 4 hour time. After a few poor marathon showings recently I did some hard training for this one and was feeling a bit more confident about the whole thing so though I would give it my all again. It’s funny though how much minutes matter in a race that will last roughly 4 hours but I knew that if I crossed half way in over 1hr 50 I probably wouldn’t go under 4 hours. I crossed in 1.53 and knew it wasn’t going to be this time. New plan was to aim for something respectable and just enjoy the day.

Maggie, Steve Cram and Andrew

That was until 21 miles when a most sporting thing happened- I’d really slowed it down and was just ambling round by then when I got a tap on the shoulder from David Catterick who could easily have gone sailing past. He said he would sponsor me £20 if I beat him. Game on! Off I sped. He was 20 meters behind for the rest of the race but when the legs are tired that is a long way. I was feeling sick and light headed towards the end but to be overtaken wasn’t an option as I would not have been able to muster the energy for a revival. For the first time in a couple of months I actually felt pleased with myself come the end of the race. It was a most sporting thing to do. What a gent!

This was a tough race but there were four first timers out there today- Colin, David, Liz and Keri (honorary Strider) who all did very well and looked less knackered than me at the end. For them their next marathon (especially if it is the Town Moor in a couple of weeks) will seem like a walk in the park. Dave finished his 6th marathon in a couple of weeks with a 9 mile sprint finish and Phil O made it look very easy going on his Long Road Back to fitness. The heavens really opened soon after I’d finished so the biggest effort for the day was to my mum and Liz who battled the last hour in the worst of conditions so big well done to all the Striders especially to them.

I am really looking forward to the final race of the challenge now, the Town Moor marathon on the 30th October. I’m having a party at the Avenue pub to celebrate the end of it all from about 6pm onwards and everyone is invited!

…and Colin Blackburn

I'm guessing this is before the race, as they're all looking mildly apprehensive ... apart from Dave, obviously: 'Just the once round, is it?' This was my first marathon but I was not alone, Liz and David C were marathon newbies too. The rest of the Striders were all seasoned marathon and ultra runners, not least Andrew running his 9th marathon of the year raising money in memory of his friend Chris Hills.

I had put the distance training in so felt I could get round, I just wasn’t expecting it to feel as hard as it did. I ran much of the first half with David C and we spent a fair bit of that time overtaking people who had started ahead of us—there were no sign of timed starting areas so we had ended up towards the back. It probably meant we both ran a faster first half than we were expecting to. Around 14 miles I finally lost sight of David and settled down to finish on my own. Up to around 18 or 19 miles I felt okay. Then it started to feel harder!

For the next 7 miles I really struggled and felt like everyone was passing me. I’m sure it wasn’t that bad as I think I was passing people too—although I didn’t realise you could get a bus across the dam wall! Although none of the hills are the sort of thing you find on fell races to describe the course as undulating is to play down just how hilly it is. It was also a fairly driech day all round which didn’t help much—though that may have been better than the heat of the previous weekend.

I finally crossed the line just over 4:20 and was relieved to get my medal, Salomon towel and very nice technical shirt—yes I have loads of More Mile event shirts but this one is definitely very special. There were some lovely women from Waitrose handing out Fairtrade bananas too!

It was great that there was loads of spectator support at various points on the course, especially at the finish, and having encouraging shouts from NFR spectators was great. The organisation this year seemed better than last year’s according to the reports. The buses were plentiful and there was very little waiting—though having to go upstairs on a double-decker having just finished a marathon is plain cruel.

Just after getting changed at the end David and I were approached by a guy from Galloway Harriers who having spotted our hoodies told us that his club members always read our website and he reckoned it was one of the best running club websites around! So, that’s a big thanks to all you lot for writing great reports.

So, will I do another marathon? Well, I’m entered for the Town Moor so at least one more… maybe even a PB!

Liz Lamb adds:

It was my first marathon and I knew that due to a lack of training and because of niggles from my legs and back I wasn’t going to complete it easily. After all, the most I had run in training was about 15 miles before my legs would decide to give in. On the marathon, I ended up walking the last 8 miles and limping the last 4 in wind and wet and feeling so cold, I felt quite despondent crossing the line being unable to run the last bit to the finish.

I made my way down to the marquee to collect my goodies and turned the corner to the best cheering welcome out. Thank you all you Striders, you really lifted my spirits. It’s what makes the Striders unique, you always remember to cheer everyone on even those near the end of the race.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 RICKY LIGHTFOOT M 1 2:35:14
12 JANE MOONEY F 1 3:06:42
349 ANDREW THOMPSON M 4:05:30
357 DAVID CATTERICK M 4:06:19
512 COLIN BLACKBURN M 4:20:47
719 DAVE ROBSON M 4:43:08
989 PHIL OWEN M 5:22:58
1003 MARGARET THOMPSON F 5:26:45
1056 ELIZABETH LAMB F 5:50:06

1108 finishers, which is to say runners who didn’t use the bus.

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Biathlon Course, Glenmore Lodge, Thursday, July 28, 2011

Colin Blackburn

One of the great sports to come out of Nordic skiing in biathlon. This is a mix of cross country skiing and rifle shooting. A typical competition involves five bouts of skiing wrapped around four shooting sessions: two prone, two standing. There are then variants such as sprint and relay. This sport is absolutely huge in countries such as Germany and Austria with their top biathletes getting the sort of attention, and money, that a top footballer might get here in Britain. In Britain biathlon gets very little attention and even less money. It’s very much a sport confined to the military who have the opportunity to shoot and ski. However, that doesn’t mean that ordinary citizens can’t get a feel for the sport here in the UK, and in summer.

There are a couple of places in Britain where you can learn to shoot a biathlon rifle and Glenmore Lodge in the shadow of Cairngorm is one of those. The Lodge offers a wide variety of courses on various outdoor activities throughout the year and this year they added biathlon to their list. They were already home to the Cairngorm Biathlon & Nordic Ski Club and they have a six-lane biathlon range and an extensive rollerski circuit so these courses are a natural addition. The course is given by the indomitable Mike Dixon. Mike’s a six-times Olympian and a fantastically knowledgeable and motivational coach.

So, what form does the course take? Over the four days, it’s residential and includes all meals, you learn shoot and then build your shooting skills. The costs include all equipment hire and the ammunition—I fired around 150 rounds per day over the course. You do this both rested and out-of-breath. Although rollerskiing is integral to the training of biathletes it isn’t a required part of this course, you can opt to rollerski, run or cycle to get out of breath.

Each morning would begin with some classroom activities. These ranged from holding rifle positions, balancing or watching videos of your previous day’s exercises or of professional biathletes.

This would then be followed by some rested shooting at paper targets. This allows you to zero the sights as well as to get some sort of ranking for your precision. After zeroing you can then shoot at the proper metal biathlon targets, five targets in a row that turn from black to white on being hit. In the prone position the target is around the size of a golf ball. Oh, did I not mention that it is 50m away! In the standing position you are given a bit more leeway with saucer-sized target.

Then it is on to the out-of-breath shooting which is dramatically more difficult! It’s very much a case of trying to control your breathing, a few deep breaths followed by a slight exhale and a hold, then a very gentle squeeze of the trigger when the target is central. I chose to run and so a 4–8 minute light jog around some of the Lodge’s trails—think red squirrels and pine martens—would be followed by some shooting. Prone follows the first two runs with standing after the third and fourth runs. So, standing is when you are most tired. I think my record for out-of-breath standing was 2 out of five targets and my record overall was 7 out of 20. The top biathletes rarely miss one out of the 20. There were three people on the course (the maximum allowed is six), me, my friend Chris and Bev who I had previously met rollerskiing, so these sessions were mini-competitions with lots of chocolate as prizes. Bev was the most consistent shooter of the three of us, even managing to hit all five targets on one occasion.

On this particular course Mike’s son Scott was helping out (Mike had a broken rib and so holding a rifle position wasn’t easy) and he usually hit 18 when out-of-breath and 20 otherwise. Scott is only 17 and heading out to the Youth Winter Olympics, hopefully he’s destined to represent Britain in the Winter Olympics in a few years time. Scott was great to have around as he demonstrated just how to get it right!

The later part of the afternoons were designed to take your mind off of shooting. One day we did a brisk hill walk up Meall a’ Bhuachaille (a Corbett), on another I rollerskied up a (very small) section of the ski road. As the courses were residential it was then time to relax over a meal and a pint or two—the bar has some decent Cairngorm beers on draught as well as a wide selection of bottles!

Overall this was a terrific course and I found the shooting very addictive. I’m already looking at trying to do some biathlon on snow this coming season and I’ll certainly return to Glenmore next year if I have the chance. I’d wholeheartedly recommend the course to anyone who’d like to spend a few days in a beautiful location doing something a little different. If nothing else comes out of it at least some of Mike’s enthusiasm will rub off on you!

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Saltwell Harriers Fell Race, nr Stanhope, Tuesday, July 5, 2011

BS / 5.5m / 1000'

Colin Blackburn

Grand Prix Race. King/Queen of the Mountain Race.

The relatively dry spring made for yet another variation of this great little fell race in the North Pennines. Nominally a 5.5 mile race with 1000 feet of climb its actual distance is about 6.1 miles and the climb not much more than 830 feet. But as Keith Wood said to Andy Glass in an email, they still use a bit of string and a map to measure the course. That’s Gateshead folk for you. So, a bit longer, a bit less climb and not as boggy under foot as advertised. The one constant though is the dip in the stream.

Mike gets safely across the slippy stuff ... James, Tom and I arrived at the event with a good bit of time in hand, plenty of time to register change and chat to the other Striders out for the run: Mike B, Alister, Jan, Nina, Aaron and Anita. Not nearly as many Striders, or runners overall, as last year which was a shame for such a pleasant evening. Phil O was in attendance but he was sensibly resting his legs and dedicated himself to getting some photos as we approached the final climb. I think he was hoping to get a few people tumbling down the bank!

After the usual pre-race chat from Keith we were off. Tom and James disappeared into the distance while I yo-yoed with Alister and Nina on the climb to the mast. This year’s variation meant a fairly dry fence line run, that meant I could pick up a bit of speed and pass Alister, as well as a dozen other runners, but I couldn’t shake off Nina who seemed tucked in behind me for most of the track along the fence before finally passing me before the drop down to the road. The old wagonway was hard running under foot and it was a relief to drop down the fell on the softer grass. The burn was a little deeper than I expected – about waist deep on me, Tom must have needed Scuba gear! The soggy run along the stream bank is in some way a relief from the first part of the race but you always know that the final track climb is going to be hard so it is a useful rest. And it was hard but I got up there a couple of minutes faster than last year to be cheered over the line by James, Tom, Mike and Nina. We hung around to cheer in Alister, Aaron and Jan before heading off to the Moorhen for the prize giving.

James suggests that perhaps Phil is a bit close to the action. As usual the pub had put on a good spread of food and they had a decent beer on too. Eventually Keith rose to his feet to give the pronouncements. As ever the first prizes went to the women. Karen Robertson (NFR) won the women’s race but Keith wasn’t going to present the prize without mentioning an incident out on the course. As Keith was approaching the burn Karen was close behind. Keith claimed Karen pushed him in the river, he also claimed he had witnesses. Suddenly no-one present remembered seeing anything! Tom says that Keith did quite a good dive. Nina was fourth woman and with Jan and Anita we should have had the women’s team prize but for some reason we didn’t. For the men, James was, I think, in the top 20. The rest of us will have to wait for the Saltwell Harriers results processing system.

Once again this was a cracking race with some great craic in the pub. It exemplifies what is great about a lot of fell races: just park at the road side, pay very little (£4), have a great run in beautiful countryside and then get some free food and loads of prizes. My bottle of beer for a middling finish was very enjoyable. I’ll be back.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Drew Graham Gosforth M 41:02
15 James Garland M 48:12
17 Tom Reeves MV45 48:52
20 Karen Robertson NFR FV40 49:48
32 Michael Bennett MV55 53:47
44 Nina Mason F 56:11
57 Colin Blackburn NFR MV45 58:50
61 Alister Robson M 1:00:24
63 Aaron Gourley M 1:01:15
71 Jan Young FV55 1:04:52
81 Anita Clementson FV40 1:31:44

82 finishers.

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Whitby to Durham Relay, Saturday, June 18, 2011

Geoff Watson…

This year’s charity relay was from Whitby to Durham over 14 stages and 100 miles taking in parts of the Cleveland and Teesdale ways. The charity fundraising this year was in aid of the Prostate cancer charity in memory of Mike Hall.

Striders at the end of the relay

Day 1

An early start on Saturday morning saw the support bus (Dave Shipman’s camper) head south to Whitby. Good time was made and the 0730 arrival gave us enough time for a brew before setting off. The weather was a little damp but calm. There was no wind and the sea was beautifully calm. The first leg was from Whitby to Runswick (7.5 miles). On this leg were Geoff Watson and Mike Bennett and Benji. A quick photo under the whale bones and then the run was off, down the Promenade and then onto the beach to Sands End. Climbing up from Sands End onto the old railway the route snaked along the coast to Kettleness through fields. Benji took great delight in chasing anything he could; pheasant, rabbit, even a hare to which he gave a determined 100 metre pursuit. After Kettleness the route dropped down onto the beach at Runswick. A final push on the steep road out of the bay took saw the end of the leg at the cliff top car park at 0906 (scheduled start 0925)

Here Jan and Nina were ready to take over and they headed off for the next leg to Skinningrove (8.28 miles) 15 minutes ahead on the schedule. The route from here continues along the Cleveland Way passing through Staithes and taking in the climb over Boulby before a steep descent into the village of Skinningrove. Jan & Nina arrived in good time at 10:43 keeping the schedule up (scheduled start 10:58). Jan and Nina then set off back to Runswick to pick the car up.

Whilst at Skinningrove Dave Robson arrived. Having previous knowledge of the Cleveland Way he offered to guide Mike Bennett and Dave Shipman through Saltburn and Skelton on the next stage to Slapewath whilst the van moved on to the next checkpoint. This next leg was 8.37 miles.

At Slapewath Dave Cattrick arrived but there was no sign of Richard Hall who was his partner for this leg. Dave Robson kindly offered to stand in on this leg over to the hamlet of Kildale. Mike and Dave arrived at 12:24 having had a good run through but losing their way slightly, but time was still in hand with the scheduled start at 12:32. The weather was now becoming more inclement with some heavy bursts of rain. Both Dave’s duly set off for Kilby whilst the van went on to the end of the leg. Here more runners began to arrive with Angela and Nigel for the next leg. Jan and Nina arrived having collected their car from Runswick. The rain continued with occasional showers whilst we waited for the runners. The tea room was a welcome distraction for some of the team. The runners eventually appeared on the hillside descending from Captain Cook’s monument and shortly arrived at the hand over at 14:10 now bang on the schedule. Dave Catterick was continuing whilst Dave Robson stopped. Many thanks to Dave for filling in on this leg.

The next group headed off from Kilby and up the road over the fell heading for Claybank. At Claybank the van parked up at the point were the Cleveland way crosses the road. By now the midgies were beginning to become a nuisance so tea in the van seemed like a great idea. There was certainly plenty to choose from with abundant cake and snacks. Mike’s carrot cake was a hit. As time marched on it seemed that the schedule was going to slip and so it did, however not due to fatigue. There had been some navigational issues on the outward stretch from Kilby that caused the delay. All runners arrived safely with Nigel leading in at 16:15 (scheduled depart 16:02). Nigel and Angela were continuing on accompanied by Kirstin. Dave Catterick now took a well deserved rest having completed 17-18 miles.

The next checkpoint was at Huthwaite, a small hamlet enroute to Scugdale and the start of the cycle leg. On this leg the cyclists included Keith Wesson, Barry Bird, Dave Shipman, Mike Bennett, Paul Gibson and Alan Purvis. Again time was ticking by and concern over the whereabouts of the runners from Claybank grew. Dave Robson had seen them pass through at Carlton Bank, so the they couldn’t be far off. The cyclists were itching to be off as the start time past. The runners eventually arrived at 18:00 (17:17 scheduled depart) and the cyclists headed for Girsby. Keith issued a warning that there should be no attacking in the first mile, however the peacocks in the road put an end to any early breakaways! The ride was over a scenic route along quiet lanes passing through Rounton, Appleton Wiske and Hornby. The riders made good time arriving at Girsby at 19:04 and only 40 minutes over the scheduled time. A good day out!

Those that were staying over now headed for Ingleby Cross and the Blue Bell Inn where there was camping at the back of the pub. The tents went up in the rain, then hot showers and food in a lively pub hosting a 40th birthday party made for a good night. A few pints of the local ‘Slipway’ all round enabled some of us to slip off to sleep quite well despite the rain and revelry. Mike said it didn’t seem long between the party goers leaving and the birds starting singing, but couldn’t say for certain who was late or early!

Day 2

The morning broke with damp, overcast skies. The cloud hung on the tree tops of the firs up on the hillside. Tents were taken down followed by breakfast at the team van at 0745 followed by a swift drive to Girsby for 9am. Geoff Davis appeared from down the track at Girsby. He and Susan had arrived to run alternate legs for the whole day. So at 9am Dave and Jan set off with Susan for Croft on Tees. At Croft Paul Loftus arrived for the next leg. Concern for the runners on the first leg of the day rose as time ticked by. They eventually arrived at 10:29 (scheduled start at 10:07) having had some tricky navigation round the golf course where the Teesdale way disappeared. Paul, Nina and Geoff Davis now set off for Low Coniscliffe and pulled back some time arriving at 11:23 (schedule 11:15).

George Nicholson had arrived and was ready for his leg, the weather seemingly improving with sunny skies. The next leg saw Susan, George and Geoff Watson head for Piercebridge following the winding path of the Tees. The runners arrived at Piercebridge up on the schedule at 12:05 (schedule 12:14) but thoroughly drenched having been caught in a torrential downpour. This seemed to set a weather pattern for the day where it only rained on the legs George was running!

The next leg was perhaps the trickiest of all, being a connecting leg to take the route from the Teesdale way over to Bishop Auckland. The marked paths were permissible but rarely used and therefore impassable in places. Never the less, Mike Bennett and Geoff Davis made a stern effort and ploughed or hacked their way through the fields arriving up at Brusselton at 13:41 (schedule 13:32).

Whilst they had been out running more tea and cake had been consumed, including Susan’s excellent banana cake! On the next leg were George, Susan, Barry Bird and Andy James. There was a nice downhill start along the bridleway then out on to the roads for a urban leg through Bishop. Rain was visible in the distance, so it must surely have been George’s leg! The van moved on to Newton Cap to see them pass through the carpark. Barry stopped here and Mike ran on for a few miles to the finish of the leg at Hunwick Station.

On arrival at Hunwick Dave Robson, Christina, Denise Mason and Colin Blackburn were waiting. The runners arrived at 14:32 (schedule 14:34) and the next group (Dave, Colin, Denise, Christina, Geoff, Mike) swiftly headed off for Langley Moor. The van moved off to catch the runners at Willington and then Brancepeth where Barry Evans joined in. Somewhere on this leg Anna joined in. At Langley Moor a large group assembled for the last 2 miles. The runners arrived at 15:40 (schedule 15:54). The final group of 13 or 14 headed off across the field only to encounter problems getting out of the field. Having tackled this they headed up to the Duke of Wellington and onwards to Prebends Bridge, the Bailey and the end at the Millennium square arriving at 16:14 with 3 minutes in hand. They were accompanied by Phil and Paul on their bikes

There were a few photo’s and everyone then moved on to the Court where Kim joined us for food. Many thanks to David Shipman who again made his van available as the team HQ along the way and invaluable support vehicle. Thanks go to everyone who took part and made the whole thing possible, I’m sure Mike would have been very proud of everyone!

… Jan Young

Leg 2, Day 1

Nina and Mum ran 8.2 mls from Runswick Bay to Skinningrove, following coastal Cleveland Way footpath. Warm morning, but heavy mist hanging, couldn’t see ‘owt leaning when over sheer cliffs! Speeded up in last two miles, hoping to keep 15 minutes ahead of schedule and must have looked reasonably impressive as one walker asked, ‘Is there a race on?’ exclaiming !!!!!!! nora when we replied ‘100 mile relay from Whitby to Durham’. I assumed his other indistinguishable comments were encouragement! So pleased my route knowledge and map helped Nigel, Angela and Katrina on their leg. We survived the wet overnight camp and thanks for great company in pub. Already looking forward to next year.

… Nigel Heppell

Leg 5, Day 1

Arrived at the hamlet of Kildale on a cool, dank Saturday afternoon and found a good collection of Striders sheltering in various vehicles and tearoom waiting for leg 4 runners to appear up the lane from Cap’n Cook’s Monument. David Catterick and Dave Robson duly arrived bang on schedule and David C, having already covered 8.4 miles, continued on through the next stage with myself and a slightly injured Angela. After a bit of confusion with the route at the end of the first mile where what appeared on the map to be a simple track but was in reality a tarmac road caused us to veer off uphill and get a good soaking in the long grasses, we regained directional control and climbed out of the valley to reach the escarpment. Excellent views back towards Roseberry Topping, ahead to Clay Bank, and west over the flatlands of the vale, close views of some Golden Plover too. Its all a bit featureless up on the top itself though we did find a Hardmoors 110 self-clip tied to a post at one point. Nice headlong charge downhill to the changeover at Claybank where midges were doing their best to antagonise the support crew.

Leg 6, Day 1

Swopped David C for Kirsten at this point and Angela and I carried on. The girls took the sensible route contouring around the treeline but I had a new pair of shoes to break in for the Saunders MM so I went up over the tops to view the Wainstones and give my feet a bit of a workout. There are quite a few climbs and descents on this route but we managed to meet up at the dips and came into Carlton Bank carpark together where Jan, Nina and Dave R gave cheer. Jan also sent us off on an attractive undulating trail underneath Lordstones that eventually led us through some very boggy woods before spitting us out onto the Cleveland Way again. A steady trot down the lane to Huthwaite where a whole bunch of strangely attired folk sat astride their cycles straining against their brakes ready to make up some of the time we lost on this section. Not the warmest or driest of runs but very satisfying all the same.

… George Nicholson

Leg 10, Day 2

I arrived early at Low Coniscliffe on the Sunday morning for the start of Leg 10. Soon the support ‘convoy’ drove ‘into town’ and before much longer the leg 9’ers arrived on foot. Susan, Geoff W & I set off along the Teesdale Way following the River Bank footpaths heading towards Piercebridge. Susan who had earlier said she preferred running in the rain, soon got what she wished for – BIG TIME . The shower didn’t last long, however the volume of water that fell out the sky in that time more than made up for it’s brevity. We left the river banks briefly as the path went through the hamlet of Carlbury, then returned back down to the riverside again and proceeded in great haste to arrive at the lovely village of Piercebridge for the next hand over. I should have guessed with Susan & Geoff the pace would have been fast, and I only really managed to catch them, and my breath, at the finish. For the record it should be noted that this leg started 5 mins behind schedule and finished 10 mins in front !- say no more… I rested a while before driving north in the sunshine to collect Andy James and return with him to meet up with Barry B. & Susan at Brussleton. The 4 of us due to run leg 12 to Hunwick… and guess what ? it was starting to rain again.

… Andy James

Leg 12, Day 2

Having met a very wet George at Hunwick (he was organized enough to have a change of running clothes!), we traveled to Brussleton to meet up with our fellow runners (Susan and Barry Bird) and the back up team. After waiting anxiously for half an hour for Mike and Geoff – the notoriety of their leg was public knowledge – their 2 figures appeared to much cheering at the top of a hill. I was so looking forward to that long downhill start – but to no avail – it was so muddy that no speed was possible. A very straightforward leg, mostly on road, meant navigation was not an issue so I could concentrate all my energy on keeping up with the goddess of Strider running?! My fellow runners were actually very kind to someone who only trains once a week and we managed to make up some time. The route took us on the West Auckland bypass, along Watling Road and through Bishop town centre (not a pretty sight with all the shuttered shops) and then onto Newton Cap viaduct. Dave, Geoff and team were a welcome sight at the car park then the long railway path to Hunwick. We made it and NO RAIN, despite being with George! Thanks everyone for a great time.

… Colin Blackburn

Leg 13, Day 2

As Elfie and I arrived at the car park at Hunwick Station I was surprised to see just a couple of cars and no compervan. I quickly checked that the cars contained someone I knew before Elfie drove off – you never know what people get up to in remote car parks on a Sunday! Denise, Dave R and Fetchie Christina were sitting out the drizzle in Denise’s car, Denise discovering various things about her car like where the tyre pressures were listed. It was getting close to the changeover time with no sign of the runners or the campervan. Just as I got my phone out to check for emails a fleet of vehicles arrived from one direction and the incoming runners from the other. A very quick change of clothes and we were off. Geoff D, Mike and Benji decided to stay on for another leg (not sure if Benji had any choice) and so the six of us and a dog set off for Langley Moor. At some point Anna jumped out of a bush and joined us! The great thing about only railway lines is that they are flat, this made for a very enjoyable run. In fact it must have been good because I don’t even remember going through Willington.

Leg 14, Day 2

At Langley Moor several of us set off on the final leg into Durham. You’ll have to forgive me for not remembering everyone on this leg but there was Mike E, Keith, Angela, Anna,… and the others! Despite this being the shortest leg it started somewhat hesitantly with some terrible navigating. We all charged across a field full of horses like something from the Wild West. a very steep bank brought us to a stand still. A quick diversion and we found a way down. It turned out to be a mudslide, one that Angela did on her backside. After going under the viaduct we tried to find our way into someone’s back garden before finally finding the stile out of the field and realising we should have stayed high. I blame the map. The rest of the run went smoothly as we trod regular roads and paths through Durham while Phil O did stunts on his bike as he tried to get the odd picture of us in action. We arrived in Millennium Square to the applause of lots of other Striders and after a few photos we decamped to the Court Inn for a well earned pint or two and some food.

(Visited 74 times, 1 visits today)

Allendale 8, Saturday, June 4, 2011

8 miles

Colin Blackburn

Two road races in seven days. I must be ill or something.

I hadn’t entered this race in advance but decided I’d give it a go if I could blag a lift. Dougie stepped up and offered to collect me en route to the small North Pennine town of Allendale. The day before Dougie had emailed to suggest a pick up time based on how long Google maps said it would take from my place to the race HQ. Leaving at 1pm would be comfortable for the race start at 2:30, it’s not as if we would have to battle through traffic. As we drove across the high Pennine moorland that straddles the counties the weather was perfect for racing. The temperature had dropped since last week, the sun was nicely hidden above a blanket of cloud and there was a light breeze.

Dougie and Colin. Approaching Allendale Town we took the diversion onto one of the high roads, the main road south from the town was closed for the race. Still, there was plenty of time. We dropped down into the busy town—the race is part of the three-day Allendale Fair—and found the school parking. Dougie and I then ambled down into the centre to find registration leaving Roberta in the car expecting us back to change. There were quite a few vested runners on hand to direct us to the church hall in the corner of the market square, in fact there were a lot of runners ready very early. We walked into a surprisingly empty hall with a couple of helpers at the far end. When we said we wanted to register they suggested we needed to get a move on as the race started in 8 minutes, at 2 o’clock! Dougie was convinced this was a joke until about the third time of asking when it sank in. Luckily we were both able, Superman-like, to rip off our clothes revealing our running costumes all ready to run. Maybe it was more Bucks Fizzy? So, with literally sixty seconds to go we took our places on the line after saying a quick hello to the third Strider, Richard. And we were off!

There was no time for a warm up so I was really careful, this week, to take a very steady first mile. This is a very pretty race with some great views. The course heads south out of Allendale Town on the Allenheads Road. Somewhere around Sinderhope the course takes a minor road down into the valley and then back up the other side before returning to the town via The Peth. There are some ups and downs. There are a couple of very steep descents but the organisers had put out excellent signage to warn runners of any hazards. In fact the organisation and marshalling were excellent with two well-staffed drinks stations. The views were beautiful and the moorland birds—curlews, redshank, lapwing and more—filled the air with noise. Though they were of course trying to warn all 139 runners off. I felt a lot better this week than last and managed to keep at a comfortable pace all the way around and really enjoy the running, I think I may have even had negative 4 mile splits. The race finishes with a very sharp climb back into the town. It’s almost sadistic but there is loads of encouragement from the marshalls, the runners who have already finished and the fair-goers. Like Andrew last year I just had to extend low high-fives to the children lining the finish lane.

There was plenty of chance to chat to some of the other runners around the finish and I said hello to a Morpeth Harrier, Marie, who I had only previously met via Facebook. Once Dougie had finished we wandered over to the church hall for the prize giving. Despite what seemed like a very large number of spot prizes we failed to win anything! Still the race entry of £11 included a technical shirt with the wonderful slogan “There are no hills in Allendale, only bumps.” Wandering around the town the fair seemed to have plenty to offer: talent shows, strongman contests and a myriad of stalls. All the local shops and pubs had renamed themselves to a Toy Town theme. This race was excellent but on top of that the whole atmosphere was great and it would be ideal for a family day out.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 DUFFY, Patrick Crook & Distict AC M 45:29
23 MCMANUS, Claire North Shields Poly F 52:14
57 HOCKIN, Richard MV50 59:12
72 BLACKBURN, Colin MV40 1:02:15
87 NISBET, Dougie MV40 1:05:42

139 finishers.

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Raby Castle 10K, Sunday, May 29, 2011

Colin Blackburn

Grand Prix Race. Sprint Champion Race. I hadn’t really planned on doing this race but Elfie and her friend Nic decided to do the 5km run and I came along as support. With a marathon planned for later in the year I thought it would give me an opportunity to get a feel pace and tailor my training a little over the summer. But there was a rider, in over 12 years of running this was to be my debut road race! Okay, perhaps a little more qualification is needed. This was the first road race I have done over a standard distance. As far as running goes, I’ve spent years orienteering and fell running. Neither of those disciplines exposes you to the sort of pacing needed for a 10km, despite it being a typical distance I compete over in the forest or on the fell. In fell racing my pace is dictated by the steepness of the hill (and whether it is up or down!) and the roughness of the terrain. In orienteering trying to navigate and run across brashing-strewn forest floors presents a unique challenge to maintaining pace.

Even with all this in mind I approached the race with my trepidation suppressed by a relatively new Garmin and a cunning plan. I mean, how difficult can it be just to look at my watch and adjust my pace? In addition I had a strategy that went beyond the Garmin. I was going to use Alister as my pacer and see how it went. If I felt good after 5km I’d just turn it up a bit for the second half. I’ll come back to how this all worked out.

We got to Raby Castle quite early as the 5km starts 45 minutes before the 10km. The weather wasn’t looking promising for our planned post-run picnic, it was overcast and breezy to say the least. We walked to the start to find Elfie’s friend Nic and get a feel for where the start and finish were. I bumped into various Striders and then went to see Elfie start her run. The 5km run had lots of children, rugby players in pink wigs and tutus and several members of Village People. And some of those little kids didn’t half hare off, certainly faster than the rugby players.

Just in case anyone needed proof!

I then killed a bit of time worrying about how cold it was and whether I should take a layer off. I finally resolved to strip down to my vest and after a brief warm up it felt like the right decision. The sunshine was starting to break through and other than the wind it was quite warm. With five minutes to go the starters called people up and I found my place in the pack a little behind Alister – he’s not difficult to miss in that hat! A few minutes later there was a whistle and we were off. I did remember to start my watch, something I often forget in the heat of a mass start.

As the pack started to open out I stuck to my plan and kept that dayglo hat in my sights. Then, after not that far, I thought Alister just wasn’t trying hard enough. So I edged ahead and upped my pace a little. I felt comfortable and then the first hill hit me! It’s not like it’s the sort of hill I meet in fell races but it was disturbingly sapping. Not only that but as you rounded the summit you were hit by an almighty wind on what should have been the easy drop down to the farm. Then, at some point, I don’t remember exactly where, I saw a dayglo hat go past. I tried my hardest to hang in there and by 5km I wasn’t that far off Alister. But any thoughts I had to turn it up a bit had evaporated in the heat of the noonday sun.

The second circuit was like the first only harder and without the upbeat start. Alister’s hat disappeared, along with Alister, into the unreachable distance. And as I battled downhill through against wind a second time a cheery John Hutchinson said hello as he breezed past. I dug in and struggled on with the odd person passing my as I failed to keep any sort of pace at all. On the final stretch across the dam I even failed to catch the bloke who was walking and limping badly. The very sight of me seemed to heal his limp and propel him into running for the finish. It felt great to cross the line and despite tipping 48 minutes I can still call it a PB.

So, how about my two point plan? On the first point, it turns out it’s not easy at all! Certainly not at Raby Castle where there are four climbs on the 10 km course. Certainly not on a day when running downhill is against a fierce wind. On the second point, if you are going to use someone as a pacer then don’t go off faster than them on the assumption they are going a bit slow! I.e. don’t underestimate the ability of an experienced road runner such as Alister to get it right. And, pick the right pacer, someone who isn’t faster than you.

Of course there are some plus points. It is a beautiful run with some fantastic views. Oh, and there’s a t-shirt. I’m not sure I’d want to do a road race every week but I might at least try to get a few more PBs… anyone know a nice 10 miler? Half marathon?

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Jon Archer Low Fell M 34.25
6 Rosie Smith DCH F 36.02
43 Fiona Shenton F50 43.51
79 Alister Robson M35 46.23
98 John Hutchinson M55 47.36
105 Colin Blackburn M45 48.13
124 Ian Spencer M50 49.45
134 Richard Hall M50 49.46
226 George Nicholson M60 56.10
232 Karen Chalkley F45 56.36
233 Dave Robson M60 56.42
255 Anita Clements F40 58.43
288 James Nicholson M60 61.42
320 Margaret Thompson F60 69.08

332 finishers

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WMOC Ski-O, Sjusjøen, Norway, Friday, February 4, 2011

Colin Blackburn

I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down

Many Striders will be aware that I bang on a bit about orienteering. Some of you will be aware that I have started to bang on a bit about cross country skiing. Well, they are both great sports and I really want other people to share in the joy and excitement of both. Here I get it all out of the way in one article… welcome to the ridiculous, fun world of ski-orienteering!

Me, Rob and Chris - 3/5 of teamgb
photo courtesy and © Helen Murray

Some time last year my friend Chris suggested doing some ski-orienteering. As a middling orienteer and a middling cross country skier I thought a nice low-key event might be worth a try. What I didn’t anticipate was that my first ever attempt at the sport would be the World Masters in Norway. Yes Norway, where there are some quite good orienteers and some quite good skiers. Yes, the World Masters. A few weeks later everything was in place and along with four other Brits: Chris, Helen, Rob and Chris, all ski-O virgins, I found myself in Lillehammer wondering what I had got myself in to.

WMOC took place on the back some major championships for younger, fitter and more talented people than me. But that meant it was also a big event: music, commentary, giant display screens with live GPS tracking. It’s a small sport so pretty much everybody involved must have been in Sjusjøen.

A few legs from the sprint.Ski-orienteering maps are similar to MTBO maps, they map the quality of the tracks. Green tracks give some indication of skiability. Thick solid green show properly pisted loipe, the permanent winter trails put in for track skiers. There are then a series of tracks put in specifically for the event: thin solid, dashed and dotted green lines mark increasingly difficult to ski tracks. The trails shown by the dashed lines are skidoo width and only softly pisted. These trails are only limited by the ability of the skidoo driver making them so some of them can be very steep and winding. Tracks marked with a solid black line, small roads, could also be skied if there was enough snow on them, this sometimes gave options to ski through small residential areas. In ski-orienteering you are allowed to ski off-piste if you wish which means that later in the day there may be significant unmapped tracks in some places. You are also allowed to remove your skis and run. This is a completely valid technique that even the top skiers resort to when faced with some hills.

A typical dashed green track
photo courtesy and © Helen Murray

Ski-orienteering is a freestyle event, competitors can ski using classic or skate technique. Most serious skiers skated though a reasonable number, including me, stuck to classic. It’s whatever you are most comfortable with – skating is my weaker discipline. On the narrowest trails it is difficult to use a full skating motion so having classic skis can mean less double poling. For me this was a benefit though having shorter skating skis would definitely have been a big advantage for descending and cornering. The one tip I had been given before setting out for Norway was to fit big baskets (the sticky out bit at the bottom of a ski pole) to my poles to limit the poles sinking into the soft snow when off the main tracks. Unfortunately I had no choice but to set off for Norway with the smallest racing baskets imaginable.

The first event on our four day schedule was a training event. This was a self-timed event with short, medium and long options. But first we had to collect our map holders. With both hands needed on the poles a ski-O map is usually placed on a rotatable board which is mounted on a chest harness. The organisers had put some aside for us novices. Once strapped in the whole thing felt a little strange. I was no longer able to see my ski tips in front of me and I worried a bit about what would happen in the event of a face-plant.

Once we’d tested our skis (to get the wax right) we set off for the training event start. The hairiest bit was getting to the start! The start was at the top of the main Alpine ski slope and the only way up there was to use the chair lift. Having never done downhill skiing this was a new experience for me. Getting into a chair lift holding skis and poles and with a map board sticking out at the front is by no means easy. But we all did get to the top without losing or breaking anything. Once at the top we located the start and set off as a group to tackle the short course. Everything was white! – it took me a good while get a feel for where I was, especially as you are unable to keep your thumb on the map. After the first control there was a long descent to the second, it was at this point we realised that a thin solid line wasn’t as skiable as we first thought it might be. It was also at this point that I realised the value of taking the skis off! We also all found out how disastrous small baskets were when try to use poles for propulsion. Towards the end of the training event we even did a little street orienteering as we dropped down through a small housing estate, very strange skiing past people’s front doors. It was a short but very sharp introduction to what was to come.

Going...Gone!Trying to get upNearly thereUp, now where's my map?

A typical fall, though this is not me!
photo courtesy and © Stein Arne Negård

On the Friday there was the open sprint event, for me this meant just 2 km and 11 controls. Before the event I had been down to the ski shop in Lillehammer and had huge baskets fitted to my poles. For the competitive events we would be using touch-free punching system. The units for this system are about an inch square and worn around the wrist on a Velcro strap. At each control there is a control box, about 6 inches square. Holding the wrist unit within about 60 cm is enough to register, confirmed by a flashing LED. It is possible to ski through a control at speed, though I was rarely travelling at any significant speed.

At the start you have to collect your map and then get it into your map holder within 60 seconds, no mean feat with poles strapped on while balancing on skis. Once the beep went I deferred to the other skiers and paused at the start triangle, even with this cautious start I still messed up the first control. It wasn’t until the third control that I got my head around the technique of simply remembering a sequence of turns at junctions: first left, second right, right fork…. The pole baskets worked a treat although my skiing ability was sorely tested on some of the hills. I spent more time getting off my backside than I did skiing. Forty-five minutes later I was done, over three times the winning time on my course.

The weekend brought the masters event proper: Saturday was the long-distance event, which for M50 meant 10 km, while Sunday would be the middle-distance at 6.7 km for my course. For the long-distance event I had two map exchanges. This is partly because the maps sizes are limited by the map holders but also to facilitate looping back without making the map too complex to read. My long course stated 400m of climb and it turned out that almost all of this was in the first part of the course in a killer long leg. Of course with hindsight I could have made the hill easier and even run part of the leg on roads. At the time though I failed to see this option and so this leg really took it out of me. With a late start and a limited amount of time to finish before our bus back to Lillehammer I decided to retire after the second map exchange. Though getting to that exchange was an adventure as I decided to follow an off-piste track that was certainly going where I wanted to go. What I hadn’t appreciated was how difficult it was to ski between mature pine trees, I clearly had less ability than whoever made the tracks ahead of me. Luckily I survived to ski another day.

A cautious start
photo courtesy and © Stein Arne Negård

On the final day I was determined to finish the middle-distance race to make some amends for the previous day. The middle-distance race reused some of the sprint area and I was getting to know some of the controls quite well. What I still wasn’t doing effectively was thinking ahead. Too often I kept close to the red line rather than looking for the longer routes that avoiding the hills. In foot-O these hills would be nothing but in ski-O they really test your ability to both climb and descend on narrow tracks. Finding longer flatter routes is clearly key if one’s skiing ability is limited. At one point I discovered exactly what a dotted track was like due to a slight navigation error. As I decided on the dotted track to get me back on my line I saw two hazard warning signs just before the hill plunged away from me. Needless to say I took my skis off and jogged down what turned out to be a very steep hill with sharp bends and sizable trees. I did finish the race this time though I was still very much last. The rest of the team bubbled around the bottom places in their classes and our combined times weren’t going to get any of us near the podium.

I must have fallen more times in these few days than I have in my entire, short, career of XC skiing. But it was fantastic fun and it is probably the craziest sport I have ever taken part in. I’ll definitely be looking to find a competition somewhere next season, maybe a smaller one next time – though the 6-day Swiss Ski-O Tour sounds interesting!

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Pustertaler Ski Marathon, Toblach, Italy, Sunday, January 16, 2011

42km Classic

Colin Blackburn

In a desperate attempt to avoid running the rescheduled Hobble and Cairns races I decided there was no alternative but to escape to Austria for a week. It was a repeat of last year, a week of training followed by a second crack at the Pustertaler ski marathon. A week before I was due to depart I got an email from Alan Eason, the coach out there, saying that it was -15 and I should pack some cold weather gear. So with a ski bag full of Smartwool and down gilets I set off to Obertilliach via the Gatwick Travelodge. After a short flight to Salzburg and a very long train journey to Lienz (it should have been Sillian but a connecting train was late) I finally arrived in the beautiful village of Obertilliach. I had decided to make a holiday of it and stay in the same family-run hotel as last year, half board with free cake buffet every afternoon! This year the hotel had a brand-new ski storage room with a waxing table, vital for ski preparation, and no one else was using it. I had it all to myself.

Kickturning
photo courtesy and © Mary Wray

Dagmar, me and Jo try kick turns

Two days later the Polish biathlon development squad moved into the hotel. Suddenly the waxing room wasn’t so accessible. Serious skiers have to wax half a dozen skis every evening. There were a dozen biathletes. That’s over 70 skis to wax! I wasn’t in with a chance of getting into the room to wax my solitary pair. It was interesting to see serious athletes at breakfast every morning. They were just kids. They messed around and joked. They argued over silly things. They got all huffy, in Polish. But when they trained they didn’t half train! A few days into my training we stopped to watch the biathlon competition. These young lads and lasses were seriously pushing themselves skiing and then managing to hit five targets while trying to regain their breath. And after that they have to ski 5km again. I think it was the most exciting sporting event I have ever seen live. It was also interesting to see how popular biathlon is here. The bigger competition up the road in Rupholding was covered on no less that three TV channels on the hotel television. The top guys and gals are treated like superstars and earn serious money.

Colin with ice-creams
photo courtesy and © Mary Wray

Anyway, back to my much more mediocre skiing. The weather had been -15 but the day I arrived it shot up to around zero. That meant the snow was interesting. For the next few days I spent time with a great bunch of people all with different experiences on snow and different sports off-snow. We spent time skating, diagonal striding, going up hill, going down hill and even falling over now and then. After six days of drills and lovely woodland loops, expertly taught and led by Alan and Mary, I was as ready as I’d ever be. This year I had decided to do just one race so on the Saturday, the day of the 28km freestyle race, I went into Toblach in Italy to watch the rest of our group race. I did ski a few leisurely kilometres with Mary, another person sitting out the first race, but followed that with pizza and ice cream. There is a seriously good hot chocolate and ice-cream cafe in Toblach, well worth the air fare alone.

On the Sunday I travelled for a second day over the border to Toblach but this time wearing my sleek lycra race suit, it must surely trim a few seconds off and it isn’t as seventies as some of the suits on display. The weather was very nice but as it was around zero and expected to warm through the day waxing the skis was potentially challenging. The night before I had found a gap in the Poles’ waxing session and managed to iron on a couple of layers of klister onto my skis as advised by Alan, an experienced waxing technician for some national ski teams as well as a top class coach. Klister is a very sticky liquid wax which is good for ice and warmish snow. It seemed to do the trick as I managed to get around the whole marathon without to much slipping. Any slips were probably my technique rather than my waxing. The course was generally very good but the few hundred skiers ahead of me had at places, on the steeper descents, swept all the snow aside with their snow ploughs. This left a base of ice between two banks of snow, not the greatest surface to descend on. I managed most drops but did come a cropper once, just once, which is not bad for me.

As I got close to the finish I realised I was a bit quicker than last year and managed to cross the line 23 minutes up on last year’s time in around 3:47. I think this was down to improved technique rather than fitness, now if I can only get fit for my next race I might do even better. At the finish I was presented with a third seriously over-sized Pustertaler medal. And after the last of our group finished we headed to the sports centre for a well earned meal: pasta, beer and cake! I may not do the Pustertaler next year but I’ll certainly be back to tackle another marathon and wouldn’t you know it the Dolomitenlauf takes place in the beautiful village of Obertilliach. As one famous Austrian once said, “I’ll be back!”

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