Category Archives: Elaine Bisson

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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The Flower Scar Fell Race, Inter County Fell and Hill Championships, Todmorden, Saturday, May 11, 2019

AM/13.3Km/660m

Elaine Bisson

Courtesy of John Tollitt

In early April I was contacted by the team manager for the North East Counties, John Tollitt. He wanted to know whether I’d be available, if selected, to represent the North East. My reply was pretty speedy, a short and sweet, most definitely. The last time I’d represented the North East I was in my early teens running the 800m and 1500 m. 30 odd years, a few grey hairs and some frown lines later, just to be asked was pretty special.

A few days later it had been confirmed that I had been successful. I’ve a big race coming up, my training plan was quite specific but for this I adapted massively to optimise a good taper and to get some race specific training in. Unfortunately, it was a little far to recce, that would have been the ideal. I spent a lot of time trawling through old race reports and studying my race map. I’d only run in the area when I had done my fell coaching course so I knew the climbs would be steep and that it should be a challenging race. Fortunately, as it was a championship race, the route was flagged for the day, removing a bit of worry.

Courtesy of John Tollitt

Fiona had been selected as well so we travelled down together the car full of nervous energy. We arrived early for kit check and who was to stand behind me but Carl Bell! Then we picked up our numbers and finally our NE vests. Waiting in the toilet queue we were both equally terrified and excited. Fiona had been scouring championship results and kept pointing out previous winners/Salomon/innov8 athletes. It was some line up and to say we were daunted would be an understatement.

We went for a good warm up together across to the start. We had planned to do the first mile or so of the race route but it went straight up a hill, STRAIGHT up….so we decided we’d save our legs and did some laps of the flat grassy field where the race would start. I have never seen so many huge thigh muscles…think of the Hulk (except not green coloured), they must have found it difficult to buy trousers to fit. The warm ups and drills were again something out of a textbook…A skips, B skips, sky high kicks and bounds aplenty, it was quite a sight. These were definitely serious athletes.
The race was open to everyone on the day at a princely fee of £7, but the majority were county teams. I was over the moon to spot a couple of older ladies not wearing county vests who I thought I might be able to beat!

We grouped together with the rest of the North East team. As Fiona chatted to Dawn and Katherine, I quietly took myself away so that I could gather my thoughts, calm my nerves and to make sure I raced my race and wasn’t distracted by people I knew. I kept repeating please don’t be last, please don’t be last in my head…. It was a beautiful sunny warm day, clouds flitting across the sky. The race start was in a leisure centre field, very well sheltered, not that there was any wind.  Lush green grass, shady old trees and well-tended flower beds surrounded us. The steep valley sides, rising sharply out of the valley floor, were covered in trees.

The gun fired and we were off at last, thankful release from the stress of waiting, onwards and upwards. It was an unsurprisingly fast start, I didn’t want to get swept up and dropped after a few miles, so I kept to my pace. It narrowed quickly up some steps where there was the first bottleneck and then it twisted up a small road for a few metres before it turned onto an extremely muddy stepped path climbing up the hillside through a wood. I was desperate to push a bit faster, I’m strong at climbing, but I couldn’t get past on the narrow track. Finally, it turned into a little lane past a few cottages and I could pick up speed again as it dropped slightly downhill across a field and then yet another wait to cross a stile. A few spritely young men vaulted the fence much to a fierce woman’s disapproval who had been waiting in line (she will return later in the tale!)

Courtesy of John Tollitt

Then it was up a stony uneven track flanked by crumbly stone walls and up onto the moors. Still climbing up for the first ascent, every time I thought we’d neared the top another summit appeared just beyond reach. My lovely blond ponytailed running companion stayed firmly in sight. I was always a few paces from her and determined to try to maintain this throughout, on the flats she’d pull away, on the hills, I’d pull her back again.

Courtesy of John Tollitt

The first summit eventually was reached across a muddy grassy hillside. There were highland cows with their young grazing on the top which we had been warned about. I’m not fond of cows so I tucked in neatly next to a much bigger male target! The fierce lady was up to no good again as her man gave her a shove over a boggy section then handed her some gels…Fiona berated her for her naughtiness. I’m glad to say we both passed her soon afterwards as she fell in a bog. We then dropped down the other side through a nice squidgy section and onto a wide gravel track. It wasn’t long before it turned a bend and dropped down onto a lovely technical descent by a stream…I passed a lot of runners who floundered on the rocks. We crossed over a stile and had to duck under some trees as the track led us into a dark forest.

It was really good fun, I loved the varied terrain, each section only lasted a few hundred metres and then it would change again. Finally, the small awkward trod turned onto a main forest track dropping steeply through the wood. I’ve really become fond of ‘falling down hills’ it’s taken a while to switch my brain off enough and much concerted effort, mainly to keep Geoff in reach, but I now love it. This descent quickly turned into another grassy track strewn with stones that skirted round the hill and dropped down onto the valley floor. A short section of tarmac before it quickly rose and merged into a muddy stony track, then over a stile and onto a tiny grassy trod climbing sharply up onto the fell. Off the fell and then too quickly we were retracing our steps back to the finish.

It was pretty much all downhill from now, the absolute perfect race finish. I felt like I shot down the hill only to pass Carl Bell looking as fresh as a daisy doing his cool down up the hill! Onto the grassy field round the circumference and into the finish. Fiona hadn’t finished too far in front and I ran across to congratulate her and to bounce around merrily as we both rejoiced. We were as high as kites realising that we were first and second counters for the North East female team and certainly not last. We had also both beaten the previous female course record…it’s a shame all those other county runners were there!

It’s fair to say that we both absolutely loved it, the amazing opportunity and the race itself. It had it all, £5 entry fee with EOD, really pretty, varied terrain, some lovely steep ascents and matching descents and not much tarmac to bother with, I only wish it had been longer!

Courtesy of John Tollitt

Click here to view results

 

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The Montane Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra Run, Ingram Village Hall, Breamish Valley, Northumberland, Saturday, December 1, 2018

55miles, 95% on trail/fell, 9500ft ascent, 24 hour limit

Elaine Bisson

A 55 m ultra run will test all your abilities as both your body and mind are placed under stress in this unforgiving environment.’

The Cheviot Goat takes you to ‘the last wild places in England where population count per square mile is the lowest to be had.’ Well if that doesn’t grab your attention, perhaps read Stuart’s 2017 race report! Last year at this time I’d just finished reading it, it was a scary report, particularly those last few miles, but the sense of the immense challenge and satisfaction remained with me. A month or so later entries opened for the 2018 race and with it, a flurry of messages from Stuart… ‘You’re not chicken, are you?’, was the one that really wound me up (think Marty Mcfly!)

And so it was that I stupidly entered. I regretted it the second later. Anyhow, I had the ‘Bob’ to train for and recover from after, so this was a race that gave me nightmares, which strangely excited me and one that I’d rather not face. I was honestly planning NOT to be on the start line. A little more coercion from Stuart and I was out recceing the route. It’s fine, it was just a training run…one that we’d managed well, taking time to map read and successfully navigate until the last 4-miles, when somehow we’d convinced each other that the compass and map, and all logic, was illogical…but then after 30mins of studying the map and the clearly visible landscape, we’d followed the compass and found our way home.

This worried me enormously but yet again a week later I was out at 8:30 pm on that same hill in the dark with Stuart, Sam and Kim ‘mastering’ the last section so I’d be fine come race day. We’d ‘aced’ it, returning to the car at 2 am to return home and collapse on the sofa only to be woken again at 7 am by the kids prodding me!

This running through bogs in the middle of the night lark sure beat my student partying days!

I invested in new kit, good, warm kit. I spread all of my kit options out on the bedroom floor and weighed each piece then decided between items to pack. My kit bag, come race day, needed more than the minimum. I get cold quickly and, if I were to get injured in this race, I’d need them until I was found… which potentially could be a long time.

I got a few messages, most implying I shouldn’t race. The thought of challenging myself trumped the fear and that strange and wonderful excited/nervous/incredibly excited feeling returned that I hadn’t felt since the Bob.

My worries were:
• Will I get lost… well I’d recceed most of the route, the rest appeared fine (+ GPS packed as the last resort.);
• Will I get hypothermia?…so I packed loads of extra layers;
• Will I die in the dark in Hedgehope bog after my head torch has packed in? (spare head torch battery packed, portable battery charger packed, extra head torch packed with extra batteries!).

And so it was, my bag was packed, picnic packed, waterproof map packed and cut to size (200g saved!), drop bag packed with a change of clothes, trainers, extra food and drink. The downside of all this packing, for every eventuality, meant that my bag weighed a tonne.

Friday night I moved out to the spare room and set my alarm for 3 am, Stuart was to pick me up at 3:45, registration was until 5:30 am. Game time, 6 am.

We travelled up listening to motivation clips. Stuart was on an incredible high; he kept repeating ‘Game Time’ in a crazily giddy way. It cheered me up immensely. We registered in the village hall, my beautifully packed clothes had to be unpacked and checked prior to getting my number.

I started to panic, I always do. I look around and convince myself I don’t belong, that all these fit runners will see through my facade and laugh that I’d even attempt it. Stuart said my nervousness reminded him of me pacing around the Moot Hall before the Bob. ‘Game Time’ he kept repeating until it rung in my head. A few trips to the toilet and some fell running legend spotting (secretary of BGR club, Jasmine Paris, Kim Collinson, Carol Morgan, Tom Hollins…), then we gathered on the start line ready for 6 am. It was pitch black and frosty and who was to stand next to me but Jasmin Paris, the only one dressed in the tiniest of shorts. I chatted briefly to her about running and children before we were off and away.

Stuart kept with me here, I was relieved to finally get started and to follow the tracks, loads of people and head torches lighting the way. It seemed that lots flew past as I stopped to climb a stile (and they jumped the gate). I was worried that we were already at the end of the pack. Stuart reassured me that we weren’t. ‘Look back at the top of the ridge and you’ll see all the lights’…I did and it was so pretty, a string of fairy lights stretching across the dark landscape.

We soon hit a flat track and Stuart sped off; I’d thought I’d kept him in range only to realise the pack I thought was Stuart belonged to another runner. I was slightly disheartened as I enjoy his company; I thought that was the last I’d see of him until the end.

It wasn’t long until the sun started to streak the sky with pink and orange. I’d been enjoying myself; I knew this section of the route. It felt wonderful to start the day running through the landscape knowing most people were wrapped up in their beds. I was looking forward to the challenge, to see if I could get myself around. I turned off my head torch as soon as I could, not long before the second checkpoint, trying to save precious battery for later.
The end of the section we’d recceed came too soon; Nagshead Knowe is where we’d cut through the forest to join the second half on our recce. Strange to think how long it would take to reach the Border Ridge when now it was barely half a mile away.

Now onto the first of the bad bogs up Bloodybush Edge. I’m sure Stuart’s ears must have been burning as I cursed him repeatedly. The fog closed in as we climbed and it was pretty unpleasant up there. Down and up to Cushat Law and I spotted a ponytail. I wondered if this belonged to a man or a woman only to realise it was Carol Morgan (winner of the Spine) along with Shelli Gordon (I reckoned these must be 2nd and 3rd ladies) and low and behold my mate, Stuart!

I tagged onto the group and kept with them for quite some time. It was pretty tough underfoot, either bogs or thick heather without much of a trod anywhere.

We soon dropped down out of the mist and you could see for miles over the rolling fells. The tracks became grassier and easier going. I’d tucked myself nicely into a pack and had 2nd and 3rd ladies in clear sight. I started chatting to another runner, he’d marshalled at the DT series and had run the tour last year, we kept together for quite some time. This ultra running was quite sociable!

I was bursting for a wee and with very little cover I dived behind a rock; this is when Stuart, Carol and Shelli sped off. I’d been complaining about my snack choice (I was obsessing with yogurt…reminiscent of Stuart and his rice pudding!). I was having difficulty swallowing anything else; Stuart kindly left me a yoghurt on the track. I was also dreaming of hot sweet tea (always a bad sign, a sign that I’ve had enough.)

There was a lovely descent down Copper Snout, although the huge black cows made me nervous, especially as we’d been warned that there were mad cows en route that liked to chase people! The descent then changed to a steep grassy ascent onto Shillhope Law. I was running by myself here, navigating was not a problem and soon I was dropping down to the food checkpoint at Barrowburn.

A lovely little stone house welcomed us with a roaring fire, ladies handed us tea and soup and our bags were waiting ready for a quick change and top up of supplies. I’d briefly chatted to Stuart, Shelli and Carol but they’d left perhaps 10 minutes before me. I changed my top half as quickly as possible, talc-ed my feet (and left behind a great pile of talc dust) and changed my trainers. Then, tea in hand, I started out of the door.

I knew about 3-4 miles of tarmac lay ahead. It wound around the River Coquet. There were a few signs on the other side ‘warning danger of death’, ‘do not touch bomb shrapnel it may explode and kill you!’ I kept passing two pairs of runners; they seemed to be supporting each other. Everyone’s thoughts were the same. The hard track reverberated through our bodies; it was tough and boring.

Finally, we headed up to Deel’s Hill. I’d been quite happy navigating around the road. There was absolutely no chance of losing the way, but at the ridgeline, the fog descended and the paths crisscrossed everywhere.

I stopped briefly, pretending to get something out of my bag, but really to sidle myself between the two pairs of runners. I wanted to make sure I didn’t go off track and I didn’t want to use up precious GPS battery power until I really needed it. This did mean my pace slowed.

Finally, I hit the start of the Pennine Way. Happy now that I was on target, I stopped the pair in front just to check with them where I thought I was on the map was actually where I was. In agreement with me, I picked up my speed only to realise one of the pair had been doing exactly the same. He then kept with me, pretty much, all the way to the end. He’d been relying on his GPS, which had failed miserably, so now we were both maps in hand urging each other on. His company was appreciated; he’d started singing and whistling, which in the midst of now sideways rain and really cold biting wind was extremely comforting.

At Lamb Hill Stuart had left a message with the Marshall… ‘I’m sorry’.

I’d asked how much ahead he was, ‘Oh not far. 10 minutes at the most.’ I genuinely thought he was underestimating it to cheer me up.

On up to Windy Gyle and the freezing wind, horrible rain and bog underfoot were really taking its toll. It slowed my pace, which again made me colder. I planned to stop with the marshals, top up my water but more importantly, add on some layers and put my better gloves and hat on. Honestly, I should have stopped before, as, by the time I stopped and switched, even though the marshal had helped as my fingers were now ice cold, I was really feeling cold and was concerned.

As soon as I got moving again I made a concerted effort to pick up my pace and warm myself up. At just the right time, when I was feeling pretty low, through the mist, two men appeared. I was surprised to be greeted by Kevin (Geoff’s friend, who I’d met on JNC recces). It’s funny how these brief meetings can boost your mood.

I continued to push on; worried if I’d slow again I’d really suffer. Thankfully the wind dropped and with the solid paving on this section, my pace increased. The light started to fade on up to the Cheviot.

I knew I wanted to stay without my head torch as long as possible to preserve batteries but I also wanted to get them out before I couldn’t see at all. I bargained with myself that I’d stop at the next checkpoint with the marshals. They came sooner than expected. I stopped and they helped light up my bag. They laughed as I donned my head torch, stuck an extra battery pack in my pocket and then got out my spare head torch. ‘How long are you planning to be out…you’ve only got 11 miles left, you’re on the home straight, you won’t need all of those’.

I’d told them my nightmares of Hedgehope bog in darkness and they continued giggling as I set off towards the summit.

I kept the torch off, as when it was on, the light bounced off the fog and I couldn’t see a thing. I could actually see the stones better in the fading light. A few runners passed me on the out and back, then I saw a light, turned my head to the side so I wasn’t blinded only to hear Stuart’s voice, ‘Elaine?! You legend! Hurry up, the summit’s just there, catch me up and we can do the last bit together!’ I can’t tell you how much that cheered me up, but the summit seemed a long way off.

By the time I got back to the descent, I thought he’d be long gone. I turned on my head torch, now unable to see a thing. However, I was totally disorientated, visibility was so poor; it was at most a few meters. I headed straight for the fence line and was feeling quite scared. I knew the route, I knew I could use the fence as a handrail for the next 4 to 5 miles but I really couldn’t see a thing beyond my feet. Thankfully my companion had waited for me. He knew I’d recceed this section and he had waited to finish it with me.

We made pretty slow progress then hit the bottom. Overexcited, he’d followed another runner who had shot off in the wrong direction towards Langleeford. I’d shouted after him to go back to the fence and thankfully he’d turned back and had kindly stopped again near the horrendous peat hags to help me up the incredibly muddy banks. I can’t tell you enough how wonderful the gesture of someone holding out their hand to haul you out of the bogs feels!

We heard shouting here; I couldn’t make it out at all. But all of a sudden a head torch was facing us and I could hear ‘Elaine I’m waiting for you.’

That was just the thing I needed, my heart lifted and I knew I could finish safely.

The bogs were so saturated I sunk past my knees, far too many times and it was really had to pull against the suction to retrieve my legs again. And so we three became four as another man joined us. We started chatting again and I started feasting on mint cake. Both eased the journey. We even managed to find the lovely bouncy mesh path that we’d stumbled across on one of our recces, saving our legs from the bogs for at least 100m!

Reaching the top of Hedgehope the marshals said the 3rd lady wasn’t far off. I’d really thought they were kidding, a nice way to encourage me.

Descending again we almost went off course…there’s a bit of bog that you naturally head to the right to avoid and if you’re not concentrating you end up heading down the wrong fence line instead of climbing over the stile. We did this on a recce, not far, but enough for us to know immediately our error.

Two lights ahead told us that someone had done just that (from the dot watchers I think it was Shelli). I struggled on the descent, the mist was making visibility really poor and our lights just reflected back on us. We were pretty confident of the route until the crags, trudging through wet and slippy mud and bogs.

On up to the final checkpoint and someone stuck their head out of the tent to welcome us by. Stuart was convinced by now that Shelli was close; he thought we’d passed the man she’d been running with. Anyway, we had more pressing concerns, getting us safely across the last moorland home.

At the crags we’d agreed we would head for the sheepfold then the fence, taking bearings and using our map and compass only. The fence led us straight to the house at Reavelyhill and from there it was easy going. However, between the now 6 of us, we had 3 working GPS units all directing us the same way…odds that all 3 would fail were low so we settled in with this group and slowly we crossed the last moor, on to Reavelyhill.

From the house, it’s an easy run across a grassy path through a gate and up over a stile, across a few farmers fields and onto the road back to Ingram.

Now we were 4 again, urging each other on. I struggled on the road, I’d really had enough but soon there were finish signs. We had to wind back on ourselves and this switch back annoyed me. Stuart was giddy with excitement though and he kept shouting at me to hurry up. He slowed and said, ‘Right let’s get this exactly right so that we cross the finish line together’.

We had our group photo taken, Stuart who had got me into all this boggy madness, Paul who had virtually accompanied me on the final half and another Paul who had joined us at Hedgehope.

It really is wonderful the camaraderie and support from strangers that you receive in these races. I’m proud to have finished 4th; the top three ladies are pretty talented (Jasmin Paris, Carol Morgan and Shelli Gordon).

Into the cafe and a chair was pulled out for me, hot soup and buttered bread brought over. As I happily tucked in Stuart had headed off to another part of the cafe. It was reasonably busy so I thought he’d just sneaked in on another table. After filling my belly I thought I best find him, as he was my taxi home.

Now I won’t divulge the entire story, as I wasn’t party to it, suffice to say I would have been giggling endlessly. I was to find Stuart wrapped in a mountain rescue jacket, a girls scarf, and a blanket with hot water bottles on his feet and hands. His clothes and contents of his bag were strewn all over the place. I do believe from his tale that some of the runners enjoyed quite an unexpected sight amidst their soup and bread! Relieved he was well, we had a few cups of tea and lemonade and we were off home, phoning our spouses to let them know we were in fact still alive and well and would bless them with our company shortly.

So The Goat, it certainly lived up to expectations and that buzz I was missing has certainly returned. Someone said, in the middle of the run, about the law of diminishing returns and how the input becomes ever greater…I believe I may have just started on this path. I am also wondering whether it would be wise to block Stuart from all future correspondence, otherwise, I’ll be on the start line of the Barkley Marathons before too long!

In all seriousness though, it is a well-organised and planned event. However, it should not be attempted as a first ultra and certainly not without good experience on mountains in all weather and self-sufficiency in these wild places. I’d also advise recce-ing the route. A GPS is good as a backup but can’t be relied upon solely. If you did go off track (it is not waymarked until the last 100m) and then got injured, it could be a long time until you were found.

I finished in 13hrs 43 minutes and was relieved to be away from the elements. Some of the runners were out for the full 24 hours! To be out in those conditions, and I know it could have been a lot worse, would not be fun. So … enter with caution.

(Visited 212 times, 2 visits today)

Wasdale ‘Horseshoe’, Lake District, Saturday, July 14, 2018

AL / 34km / 2750m

Elaine Bisson

Courtesy of Stephen Wilson

The Wasdale Fell Race claims to be one of the toughest fell races and I was soon to realise just how tough.

Since my BGR I’d tried not to lose fitness but unfortunately, recovery has taken its time and it was only last week that my body and my knees were feeling anywhere near as strong. I was eager to get a fell race under my belt though, having hardly raced all year.

I had planned to recce the whole route a few weeks ago, but parking at Seathwaite and meeting the race route at Esk Hause at a steady pace had only got me as far as Greendale. With 6 hours already on the clock and a fair way to go, I’d sensibly headed back to the car. This did mean that the only section I hadn’t recced was that between Greendale, on up to Seatallan and then onto Scoat Fell. Unfortunately, it was also the part I was most likely to lose my way, as there are very few paths/trods.

It’s a 3-hour drive; thankfully it doesn’t start until 11 am. Parking is in a field behind the National Trust car park at Wasdale. I arrived at a field packed with camper vans and extremely lean, mean and fit runners, mostly male…there were a handful of female runners. A board stood beside the registration HQ (a van) declaring that this race was not for novices. GPS devices should not be needed (you should be confident with map and compass). Cut off times were strict. Now, this was something I’d never factored in. The cut-off times were pretty tight. I knew for a fact on my recce I hadn’t even reached the first checkpoint within cut off, let alone the others. The weather forecast was for fog early on, then sunshine from 4. I could already see that Pillar, Gable and the Scafells were hiding in the clouds. Too late to worry; I was here now. Time to test myself.

I got my number; my dibber was tied to my wrist. We were assembled for a quick race briefing. Standing there, swallowed up by my fear, a female runner congratulated me, ‘well done’ she said. As I looked at her puzzled, she started chuntering on about how she was impressed. I looked so glamorous for a fell race. She loved my skort and thought my attire was very well put together. She then started garbling on about how she loves red lipstick and that’s she’s never found one that stays put during races. This is when I switched off entirely and resolved to run as fast and as far away from this lady as possible!

And then it was on. Through the gate and up, up, up and up some more. I was keen to keep as much in the tank as I could. There is little let-up in the whole race. The last 4 miles are just as hard if not harder than the first four and all the bits in the middle.

Finally hitting the top of Illgill Head there’s a lovely runnable section towards Whin Rigg. I kept a good pace along here enjoying the cloud cover and the views. I reached the first checkpoint with only 10 minutes to spare. Not as much as I’d hoped. As I started to descend to Greendale, the initial bit is nice and grassy. My poor trainer choice already had me skidding on the dry trod, then it steepened and I was really like Bambi on ice. I couldn’t believe I’d left my Innov8s at home. Runners streamed past and I cursed myself for my poor preparation. On this part alone, I fell on my bum at least 5 times.

At Greendale there’s a very short trail leading across the valley bottom, the route here was taped. I nearly took myself out on a gate whose hinges had stuck fast, leaving a tiny gap to squeeze through. Then there’s a path along the river before it winds through fields. I passed a man lounging in the shade of a tree only to realise that it was Joss Naylor ‘ well-done lass’ he calls as I run past, the biggest grin appearing on my face.

Then it’s onto unknown territory as we make the climb up the base of Middle Fell, through waist-high bracken, across the stream and on up the unending grassy slopes of Seatallan. Geoff hates this hill, I can see why. It’s so monotonous, made even worse by the fog that is closing in as we rise. I listen intently to the men behind, consumed with their splits, they start me worrying again about cut-offs and one says he missed it last year. Scared I’m in bad company I push on a bit faster. I want to finish comfortably.

Eventually, I reach the top, 20 minutes within time. I pause briefly to check my bearing and then head off towards Scoat Fell. By now I seem to have joined a group who are running at a similar pace. It doesn’t change until the climb to Great Gable. They descend again faster than me. I’m still worried about my knees, which took one hell of a battering on my BGR, and my slippy trainers are not helping matters. I work hard to catch them up on the relatively flat grass (its known as Pots of Ashness) and I’m relieved this usually boggy section is today, as dry as a bone. Then it’s a climb again on an unholy uncomfortable camber where I find my ankles are bending at a ridiculous angle. Through some rocks, at the base of Gowder Crag, until we hit Scoat Fell.

I know the route now and am happy to have reached familiar territory again. I’ve been running with another woman since the start. Its quite foggy, visibility is down to at most 5 metres. It’s comforting running alongside someone else. We encourage each other on and share our supplies of sweets. There’s again a climb onto Pillar. I know it well and can take myself directly to the cairn. We pause at the checkpoint then I quickly get my bearings for the descent. It’s not long really until the path becomes visible and it’s easy going, sometimes across rocks/ boulders but it soon breaks into a lovely little trod onto Black Sail Pass. I trip far too many times, not used to my wide cushioned trainers on this uneven surface. Again the group pulls away and I am chasing again until we start the ascent to Gable. I drop down off the side of Kirk Fell. I haven’t gone on this route but I know where it should be. I must look confident as a man following asks me the way. I’m pleased, as now the clouds have cleared; we can see the little line of runners leading the way. I start to chat and I’m with this man virtually until the end. It’s really getting hot now and my pack is much lighter since I’ve been drinking most of my supplies.

I don’t like Gable, it’s a great big mound of rock and I’ve never been up or down it the same time twice. It’s here I start to pass a few runners. I’m definitely stronger on the ascents. I quite enjoy the climb; I’ve taken a daft route and end up needing to use my hands to pull myself up over the huge boulders. It’s a pleasant change from running.

Quite soon we’ve reached the top (now only 15minutes to spare) and my companion tells me that this is now the home straight, no more cutoffs…woohoo I can finish after all! The man persuades me to follow him on his quicker route, which turns into a nice scree run where I can let my legs recover. We reach the stretcher box then it’s on up past Sprinkling Tarn. All the inflows and outflows are pretty dry today. Runners are starting to slow, the heat making it hard work and all those miles/hills taking their toll.

I start to pass quite a few. A lovely change from the rest of the race where I’ve felt like the last, desperately hanging on. I tuck into my last Snickers, grab a handful of jelly sweets at Esk Hause checkpoint and I feel pretty strong now. The views are stunning, I know I can complete it and I’m slowly picking off other runners.

I like the huge boulder hopping near Ill Crag and make reasonable progress up to Scafell Pike. Then it’s downhill at last, although I’m not looking forward to it. It’s steep with rocky sections. We both smile as we hit the soft grass of Lingmell and it’s a nice flattish grassy run until we hit the corner and it steepens again. It’s also very slippy with small sections of gravel. We pass two walkers heading down on their bums, I’m pleased… it’s not long ago since that would have been my preferred choice of descent. Today, however, I’m attempting to run as fast as my knees and trainers will allow. My companion falls on his bum a few times. I somehow stay upright but am far slower than I’d have liked.

Relieved not to be last, I skip through the field, through the gate and am encouraged to the finish line by fresh-faced finishers (they’ve probably been there for hours).

I chat with a few other runners who have shared some of my journey. The overriding feeling is that it was tough…I’m surprised just how tough. Without a doubt its the toughest race I’ve done. My friend, who I met from the DT series, a really good trail runner, failed to reach Seatallan checkpoint.

I’m proud to have finished. I know it wasn’t my best run, but it’s one hell of a race attracting some of the best fell runners the country has to offer (Jasmin Paris is, yet again, first lady). I try not to be too disappointed but I know I’ll really have to up my game before my next attempt.

(Visited 18 times, 1 visits today)

Bob Graham Round, Saturday, May 26, 2018

66miles, 42 Lakeland peaks, 27000ft elevation gain

Elaine Bisson

66miles, 42 Lakeland peaks, 27000ft elevation gain (like climbing Everest)
1 contender (me), 4 navigators (Geoff Davis, Mike Hughes, John Telfer, Steve Birkinshaw) 16 Pacers (Mandy, Katy, Jules, Mike, Jon, Stuart, Scott, Mark, Rob, Fiona, Gibbo, Mike, Penny, Steph, Nigel, Danny), 1 professional cook and road crew (Heather), 1 Road support and bodyguard (Susan), 1 family (husband, 3 children and a dog), stunt driver Katy Walton and sidecar Lesley Charman.

I first heard of the BGR after a run with Katy, shortly after I joined the Club (2014). She had been involved in the club’s Billy Bland challenge (the BGR run as a relay with pairs on each leg) and, having realised my love of hills, had jokingly said I would do it at some point. I’d come home and googled it, marvelling at the extreme challenge. My husband had then bought me the map as a Christmas present.

After London Marathon 2016 I’d had enough of tarmac. I’d been reading…Steve Chilton The Round, Runner by Lizzy Hawker, Feet in the Clouds, Richard Askwith. All fed into my habit and dream. I must admit now, I love the Lakes; it’s been a part of me since I was tiny. I’ve spent my childhood summers walking in sunshine or torrential rain…whatever the weather I loved it, it was like a second home. The only time I would complain was if we were going anywhere steep. I think it grew from my mother’s nervousness but I had a deep fear of heights, one that I have only just conquered.

Having done well at Swaledale Marathon in 2016, I’d offered to help on Mike’s BGR, I did leg 1. I’d taken a photo of him on top of Robinson (the first peak.) From here nearly the whole round is visible and I was in awe of the challenge he had striven to achieve. It felt superhuman. That put my training into perspective; the fells were something else.

On January 21st, 2017, a birthday treat, Geoff, Mike and I went to recce leg 5 of the BGR … Continue reading Bob Graham Round

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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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The Angus Tait Memorial Hexhamshire Hobble, Allendale, Sunday, December 3, 2017

10.6miles, 1000 ft elevation

Elaine Bisson

Most definitely a muddy one

This is just about my perfect race. Although you can pre-enter via post or online, EOD are available for one pound more at £8. It had been on my ever-growing list for quite some time. A FB post suggesting the ground would be firm and ideal for racing convinced me to enter on the day. A few texts to Michael and we were all set.

The race starts at a very sociable 11 am, we didn’t leave Durham until after 9, meaning a Sunday lie in was enjoyed!

Race HQ and parking are at the Allendale Primary School. After a few toilet stops (there was no queue), I had a little warm up with Michael while he took me to the start of the first hill, and pointing upwards warned me what I could see was not the top…not in the slightest.

I had mixed feelings, this was a last minute decision, a Sunday run to top-up my mileage to finish off (for me) a fairly heavy training week. My legs already felt pretty tired. Michael was as giddy as a schoolboy though. This evidently was one of his favourite races and he couldn’t contain his excitement, which was slowly rubbing off! However it’s a race, and I always get nervous before races, no matter what I tell myself beforehand.

We missed the race briefing and joined the runners as they made their way from the school hall, 200m to the start line in a muddy field. I was pretty sure the promise of firm ground was no longer right as the temperature soared and the thaw had well and truly set in.

The gun fired and we were off, splodging over a muddy field until we hit road and then up, for quite some time and quite a few miles. We then turned off onto an equally muddy and puddly trail; it got muddier and muddier until we were attempting to cross the bogs. I’m not fond of bogs, having torn my hamstring and had months off running because of them, so I really grew frustrated with myself for my lack of confidence. The low sun gleaming off all the sloppy mud and puddles made it really difficult to see.

It was such a pleasure to finally feel firm stone trails beneath my feet again and my legs, after their requisite 3-mile warm-up, were finally not aching anymore. I picked up speed and started to catch a few men who had skipped past me as I floundered in the bogs. I started to enjoy myself after that. It was a beautiful day. We turned so the sun was no longer in our eyes and you could see for miles over gorgeous Northumberland moorland. The frustration didn’t end though. Quite soon we were again navigating around boggy puddles along little tracks that you could barely place one foot comfortably, never mind try to run and swiftly get your next foot in front of your other. The thaw had well and truly set in, it was superbly damp and it did seem we were running in small streams. We splashed and soaked our legs for miles upon miles.
Over the worst of it and again we found ourselves flying downhill on road. I’d totally miscalculated, Michael had told me to be ready for the fast long descent. So when quite exhausted and tired I got on the road I thought that was it. I really picked up speed, only to realise the valley curves weren’t quite how I’d remembered Allendale and then with a sunken heart I spotted runners climbing out of the valley bottom up another steep, but shorter ascent. Anyway, I was longing for the promised descent and I realised this must be my last climb.

I gained quite a few places on the hill then we ran on a flattish stony trail until we reached a gate and I was told I was second lady.

I’d entered not really hoping for much. Looking around at the start I’d spotted a few runners that I’d convinced myself would be miles ahead of me, but once I realised my position I threw myself into maintaining it. I set off down this final long descent catching quite a few runners. I felt really strong by this point, I’ve grown to like descending, no, I really love it.

The finish line was in the field where we started. Welcomed in by Michael who had again managed an astonishing 5th place.
I was over the moon to find empty, warm, clean showers to rid my legs of mud and warm up. Tea and cakes were complimentary to runners. I have to say I’ve never seen such a huge selection of cakes, nor have I taken so long in choosing one! We gathered again in the sports hall and welcomed in Tim and Fiona. It was funny to see the faces filling the room. Some bodies covered in blood from knee down (its quite treacherous and you have to keep switched on running over all the rocky paths), others had fallen waist deep in bog and had needed runners to pull them out. I was so pleased to return relatively unscathed and to be 2nd lady.

The prize giving was in the hall, we stayed to collect mine, unfortunately, we had to dash as the second race of the day was on. The most important one, the one where we prove that we weren’t away for too long on a family day…. I just about made that one with minutes to spare!

It’s tough, there are two big climbs, the first being the longest. The terrain and exposure will yield different surprises each year. You can’t beat the organisation, price and wonderful community spirit that an event like this holds. Loved it!

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Rat Race Ultra tour of Edinburgh, Sunday, October 22, 2017

55km

Elaine Bisson


This caught my attention as soon as I’d seen an advert on Facebook, a really different race with the additional challenge of a new distance. The event video and description had me hooked from the word go….

“Sets off with a Braveheart charge down the Royal Mile. Weaves through streets, alleyways, onto hills, up crags, past monuments, museums, seats of Royalty, Government and up and down 3000 feet of ascent and descent.”

I love Edinburgh, so a chance to have a guided race around this beautiful city seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Registration was on the Saturday 08:30-10:30 at Murrayfield stadium, the finish line. I’d booked into a hotel minutes from the start beside St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile (so that I didn’t wake all my family up at some ungodly hour to first have my pre-race porridge, then leave v early to get to the start in time!) It’s unusual to get a night away from my kids. Unfortunately, I was far too excited/nervous to fully appreciate the peace. The event organisation was well recommended and the spectator guide was so detailed that even my family were excited to plan their day around supporting me.

I woke early to eat my porridge, the hallowed 2 hrs before the race and arrived at the start at 06:50. The streets were dark, the sun barely touching the sky.
The race starts at 07:30. I was all too pleased to bump into Alex Collins while we were putting our bags on the baggage bus, it seems you can’t do any race without bumping into fellow Striders! By 07:20 we were called to line up before the start….I made a quick dash for the cash point. I’d somehow forgotten the mandatory kit requirement to carry £10 cash.

The place was amazing, barely just gone sunrise. The sky had an orange glow lighting up all those wonderful old buildings and cobbled streets. There was a palpable buzz of excitement. The promise of some excellent adventures ahead.

The start was a bit of a manic race down the Royal Mile. Advice from Jules had me holding back. She’d told me to be sensible, don’t go out too fast and I could look forward to catching them later! All too soon we were heading up past the Scottish Parliament buildings and up the hills and crags of Holyrood Park. The views were amazing but also quite daunting as you could see all across the city to the Pentland Hills…our big climb of the run. Their heads were covered in cloud and loomed ominously over the city.

55km round a city, can it be pretty?

This has got to be one of my absolute favourite runs. The varied terrain, the views, the relative solitude of racing in a large city. After that mad dash down the mile, the people spread out. I was running alongside a group of about 5 men from then until the last check-point…at which point I left them behind as I’d caught sight of a girl!

We passed through 800m long tunnels covered in graffiti, with the sound of our footsteps reverberating off the walls. We climbed up through forest paths, across fields akin to cross-country mud! Past Craigmillar Castle, weaving through and up Blackford Hill past the Royal Observatory. Along canal paths, river paths, by farms, up past the dry ski slope, up, up, up to the three Pentland peaks, with warnings to be mindful of the Highland cows, down past a loch, through a forest and back into the city, around 200m of a sports track….but again it wasn’t long before we left the urban terrain behind and hit the tiny trails that criss-cross throughout the city. Past the zoo, on up Corstorphine hill then down to Newhaven Harbour and onto the waterfronts of Leith. Again back along ‘waterway of Leith’ pathways (there were a lot of these) and up to finish in Murrayfield Stadium. It was quite magnificent. The views, the terrain was so varied it was just exceptional.

I knew it would get hard, I’d never run over a marathon but the absolute pleasure of running through Edinburgh but seeing it in such a different light…we passed through the grounds of the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, ah I just felt lucky to be alive. My legs ached from 27 miles but my spirits were lifted when my little support crew popped up every 10k.  I had no idea of my position through the race. Marshals were encouraging but at no point told me where I was in the field. The start was a mad dash and I hadn’t registered who I was running with. I just concentrated on keeping a comfortable pace that perhaps I could maintain for the distance. My surprise when John turned up at the final checkpoint and said (with surprise in his voice), “You’re doing well…no I really mean you’re doing amazingly well…we think you’re 3rd lady and well up the field. Keep it up and we’ll see you at the stadium.” That was exactly what I needed to keep going for those last 6miles. From being sensible, it was now a race to maintain and keep the fourth lady at bay.

When I finally crossed the last road (there were 20+ quite busy road crossings) and turned down to see the stadium, I let out the biggest cry of joy and startled the nearby runner. The finish was great, trackside in the stadium with our names called over the tannoy and the few supporters (maybe 30)…but who cares when my fab four were there cheering me in.
It’s a long way, it’s quite a battle. Aerobically I felt strong…that was the plan, the terrain and climb does take its toll though and my legs were telling my head to stop. Good job my head is too stubborn to listen!

I loved it, over the moon to finish 13th overall and 3rd lady. It’s pricey but incredibly well signposted and the marshals are all brilliant. I’d highly recommend it…even just to explore a different side of Edinburgh. And my husband told me afterwards, “It’s a real shame you’re not slower as that supporter guide was really lovely and we could have enjoyed a great day out in Edinburgh if we hadn’t have been trying to catch you”!

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Dales Trail Series – DT40, Semer Water, last of Dales Trails races, Wednesday, September 27, 2017

26.2miles, 3333ft gain

Elaine Bisson

The DT30 was my first trail race in 2015. I’d entered thinking I’d run round with Jon…a back injury prevented him running on the day. To say I was apprehensive would have been an understatement. I’d only ever run on roads and had never needed a map.

I’d loved it so much I entered the grand slam in 2016 never even imagining I’d come anywhere near the podium finish. I’d had a good battle and was surprisingly close to the winner of the grand slam until an unfortunate incident in a Lakeland bog…not toilet but muddy bog gave me a second degree hamstring tear which I tried my best to ignore and ended up limping and crying and hating every step of the DT40…I’d finished second and so I decided to try my luck again…

So the pressure was on since April 1st 2017 when I actually won the first race of the series the DT20.

To dare to dream…could I really win the series??

Then an ankle injury, tendonitis, niggles on and on so the DT30 was an incredible disappointment. August running was at an all time low with kids off school and an attempt to rest to sort my ankle.. 100 miles I logged, which for anyone who doesn’t know me is quite pitiful. You can imagine my frustration at the lack of running and lack of preparation for this race.

September came, my ankle was again its normal size and no longer painful. My first focus was supporting Geoff on his JNC, then it was upping my miles. So I log my runs, I try to repeat what I’ve done before a good race. My target was to log a 60m week, a fortnight before the DT40. For some reason this has time and again produced good race results. By hook or by crook it was done. My longest run in time was 5 hours in the lakes (12miles but very hilly!), in Durham it was 17m split into a double run day as I just couldn’t face the boredom of running round Durham. Certainly not my ideal long run distance.

And so I find myself yet again on the start line of the DT40 another year older, another year wiser and another year more eager.

The sun appeared and warmed my skin. I’d taken myself off to calm my nerves and run along the river. I’d had a sneaky wee behind a bush and somehow got grass stuck in my knickers. I was injury free, I’d stocked up on 2 months worth of iron…I was pink!! And I was ready. I was going to be sensible. As my husband said, it was mine to lose….not to win. Strong and steady all the way…

The race starts on the shores of Semer water and climbs for a good…well on my watch 40mins until there is a lovely descent until it climbs again for another 6miles. Having run alongside people at Swaledale marathon who had run steadily up Fremington and all other hills….and gone on to beat me by 10 or so minutes while I ran until my legs burned then walked….then ran, I’d decided to try this instead…would it be efficient and less tiring. I took the climbs steadily, calmed my breathing and slowed every time my breathing seemed too heavy. This year I didn’t walk! I kept going, my miles were faster than last years and I felt good. Then the weather turned to my favourite fine drizzle, oh heaven!.

I’m not sure if I mentioned how I hated last year’s race; the disappointment of not even being able to put up a bit of fight for the trophy. I had lost before I’d even started. I’d remembered tarmac…because that’s what hurt most, miles upon miles of the stuff. This race was entirely different. Miles upon miles upon miles of muddy stuff. Beautiful muddy stiff, gorgeous views, clean air and peace and quiet.

When I could, I raised my head and looked at the views. The fields, the lovely river paths, the hills, splashing across streams, through puddles, navigating boggy paths, tiny forests, my favourite tiny trails that roll through the fields, I enjoyed every step. I remembered at mile 11 last year when I’d looked at Jon broken, every step hurt and I was close to tears…this year I could run, well and comfortably. It was a true joy. Marshalls knew me from previous races and spurred me on, “you have to smash it this year!”, fellow runners encouraged and laughed at slips and slides.

I was scared I’d hit the wall, my miles had been meagre. There was no wall. With 5 miles to go, Robbie, who had navigated me through Punchard on my first Swaledale marathon was marshalling, he told me how well I was running, top 15 Elaine, very well done. That meant the second placed lady would have to get minus 10 to beat me…that trophy was coming home with me. The absolute glee I can’t tell you, the puddles I sought to splash in…the mud that caked my legs, childish glee! Even the ginormous bull who glared at me whilst I pranced through his field couldn’t frighten me. And when I hit the final 250m of road, I was grinning from ear to ear and close to tears, then I saw the finish and Sarah (previous winner, major rival but above all fab friend) raised her hands and cheered and started to cry…and then her husband too ( race organiser) and of course me. Well , I said after the DT20 I wanted to bottle up the feeling and do it again. .. and that’s what I did, running my heart out to bring that trophy home…my most hard earned and prized of all.

Afterwards I dunk in Semer water, clean off my legs, change and settle down with fellow runners while we tuck into soup, tea and cakes. We swop stories, giggle and cheer home the other runners.

This series is what first took me onto trails, to realise how much I love off road running and hills. I’ve made friends and memories that I will never forget.

 

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Dales Trail Series DT30km, Muker, Upper Swaledale, Saturday, July 15, 2017

30km

Elaine Bisson

Photo courtesy of Foxglove photography

This is in the series of my A races this year and is my favourite of the three. Just under 20miles following trails, bridleways and bog! It starts in a field next to the River Swale in Muker following the river along past Keld before it really starts to climb through Stonesdale Moor (where the bog really wobbles) up to the Tan Hill. From here it drops back down to Keld along the Pennine way before it climbs again to the second summit just above Swinners Gill (aka Runners Hell). From here there is a fast runnable section down to the hay fields of Muker before you go through the gates of hell (about ten of them) which are absolute torture after the long descent, you only build up enough speed until you have to stop to open another gate and if you’re being chased the bang of the gates sounds like a death knell!

I travelled down with Jon and a car full (no really) a car full of soup…enough to feed the three hundred runners. We were both in poor spirits and it took a while before we started our usual joking. We register in the barn, chat to marshals and runners (many of whom have done previous series.) From here there is about a mile walk to the start. I’ve given up slightly, poor prep…I’d spent the last week recovering from supporting on Scotts BGR and struggling with tiredness. I recognise some speedy ladies and realise I’m well off the prizes today. But then there is always the second lady in Grand Slam who is giving me daggers!

Photo courtesy of Foxglove photography

For the first three miles said 2nd GS lady sits right on my shoulder until I give up and let her past. My heart sinks while I watch her disappear into the distance but it’s not long until I realise I’m gaining ground again and when we hit the climb up to the Tan Hill I pull up and away from her.  By now I’m running again with Jon. Glad of the company and the funny chat. Also glad to have someone to give me a bit of a nudge…which I really needed. When we hit the road (only 400m worth) we can both barely be bothered to run. I remember saying come on its flat, it’s tarmac and we up the pace. I know this should be where we can gain some places on the descent down to Keld but the wind is right against us and visibility is poor and underfoot is splodgy.

Photo courtesy of Foxglove photography

We eventually pick up speed down a lovely sheltered track and hit the turn up to Swinners Gill. I feel a bit queasy by now, it really was a bad race day! Anyway I’m looking forward to Swinners Gill. The climb isn’t too long and it’s a bit technical which I’ve come to like. It’s not long before we reach the last gravel trail and a fastish descent back to the meadows of Muker. I’ve tricked myself to believe there are 12 gates to pass through, so when the countdown is still going and we reach the final little hill before the finish we are both over the moon.

I’m 3 minutes slower than last year and 4th lady but all things considered it wasn’t too bad a run…I do know I’m  capable of much better with better prep so I’ve a feeling I will return to this. We wander back to race HQ to collect our t-shirts and go separate ways. The lovely campsite showers await and I spend a while scrubbing off mud and enjoying the clean warm water. Then it’s back to the barns to enjoy the soup, cakes and tea and welcome in other runners.

I wasn’t sure whether to log a race report, it certainly wasn’t my best race but it remains one of my favourite trail races. I had a great time despite feeling a bit rotten and it goes to show what a difference good company can make…and of course running somewhere you love. I have also retained my number one spot in the Grand Slam and have gained quite a lead on the second lady. I now look forward to the final of the three. There is work to be done and certainly good tapering but I’m determined to do it right!
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