Category Archives: Elaine Bisson

Montane Spine Challenger, Edale To Hawes, Saturday, January 11, 2020

108miles, 17000ft elevation, 60 hours cut off

Elaine Bisson


The Spine Challenger – ‘A non stop 108 mile race between Edale and Hawes…This challenging and technical section of the Pennine Way is a physically and psychologically demanding route that demands concentration, good physical fitness, resolve and respect.’

Where to start? I feel shell shocked, overwhelmed and as if the last few days have all been a very strange dream verging at times on a nightmare! But then I look down at my elephant feet and I realise it was more than just a dream.

I’m standing on the start line of one of Britain’s iconic races, ‘Britain’s second most Brutal race’, absolutely petrified. Frantically trying to open my poles and spot where my family have gone. The start has caught up on me way before I feel ready….

If I take a deep breath, I know that’s not entirely true, my own training plan I have followed to the letter, despite struggling round one of the long runs, The Tour of Helvellyn, with flu…what doesn’t kill you and all that! Strength and conditioning, done. All of my kit has been weighed, checked, packed on training runs and used. Although somehow, I didn’t quite anticipate such a heavy bag, the kit list is huge including sleeping bag and stove, all in all its just shy of 10kg. My big let down is my recceing, I managed two recces, the other planned days were taken over by illness or other commitments. I’ve studied the maps. I know if I take my time, I’ll be fine. I just have to believe.

I travelled down on Friday to get my kit checked and register, a pretty stressful event in itself. The race briefing is the scariest one I’ve ever been to. We are warned about the weather…’gusts that WILL blow you off your feet. Constant rain’. We’ve been told to wear our goggles, too many last year fell victim to wind blindness and had to retire…wind blindness, really????

Registration done, we drive 10 minutes to the cottage I have for one night, my family for the weekend. Aptly called Happy Feet, it’s beautiful and I wish I hadn’t found such a gorgeous one, to make it easier to leave.

Back to the start line, Stuart nudges me, pointing at Jen Scotney, he believes she is my only worry. Standing there, my only worry is whether I’ll make it to the other side!

The valley is gorgeous with the rolling grassy fells flanking its sides, the sun has only just decided to rise, the wind is already making itself known. We wind our way up towards Jacobs Ladder, I know this is where I’ll potentially see my rivals…I’m always good at climbing, even when my legs are shot. I reach the top in first lady position and am briefly interviewed whilst on the run. I tell them I’m looking forward to the adventure…

The landscape becomes increasingly wild and absolutely stunning. Huge boulders everywhere, the sky glowing pink, the wind blowing a hoolie and trying its best to knock me over…which it does, quite a few times. I feel alive! We traverse Kinder Scout, the tiny lights of Glossop still twinkling as the dawn breaks. We make our way to what is surprisingly called Kinder Downfall. It certainly wasn’t falling down today as spray curls upwards soaking everything nearby, myself included. Crossing on to Mill Hill, I’m getting increasingly more confident, absorbed in the moment and the landscape.

Despite a little line of runners leading the way, the man in front has already managed to take 3 wrong turns…whilst on a pretty big trail or flagstone path. I quietly giggle to myself.

On to Bleaklow, the path is quite sheltered, being cut away and almost sunken in the landscape. This does mean I can’t see any other runners, but I’ve got my map. I’m attentive to any other turns, of which there aren’t any, and continue on. Soon enough I’m out of the dip and views stretch across to Torside Reservoir. We circuit the steep side of Torside Clough and descend onto a large track to the first mini Mountain Rescue checkpoint. I spot my family in the car, just arriving on the road, they all stick their heads out and shout ‘we love you, well done!’ It always amazes me how such a brief meeting can cheer you up for miles.

Joined by my daughter

I’m pleased to be offered tea and biscuits which I stop to enjoy, dunking custard creams into my tea. Stuart catches me up, then the second lady. She’s polite but I sense the competitiveness as she refuses any nourishment and quickly disappears along the track. Not long after, I catch and pass her on the way up to Blackchew Head. I feel happier as I manage to increase the lead by gaining more ground on the climbs.

The side of the ridge of Laddow Rocks drops precipitously to my right. I’m concerned as with the height we’ve gained the wind has picked up and is again trying its best to push me over the side. I use my sticks to fix me to the ground and feel relief when we finally drop down onto stone slabs. I’m still with Stuart and we chat away, its quite a bleak run towards Wessenden head MR point. Here, we’re told in no uncertain terms to put on our goggles or risk missing the race. I stop briefly to locate them and then I’m off on a wide track to Wessenden. It’s a pleasant downhill run around the reservoirs, then off up a steep muddy trail and across Wessenden Moor. The wind is ferocious now. We are reduced to a walk as we fight to gain ground. It’s blowing big waves across the tiny reservoir. At the A62 junction my family, to my surprise, have stopped again and my daughter has run to meet us. She tells me how cold she is in the wind, as if I don’t know! I get a few brief cuddles, shouts of ‘we love you mum’ and I’m gone. Leaving Stuart behind as he tops up fluids.

It’s strange passing over the M62, all of those people in warm cars, speeding along, miles passing in minutes. While I’m up on the footbridge, being buffeted and threatened by everything mother nature can hurl at me. I’m soon aware that I’ll have to stop as the rain and darkness threatens to fall. When the man in front sees his opportunity, I too stop and get my waterproof trousers and mitts on. I stuff my headtorch into my pocket. Stuart passes, already fully waterproofed and I work hard to catch him up again.

Weather ready

Just before Chelbourn Moor, we drop down to another MR point. Someone is holding the gate open and shouting my name. To my delight I realise it’s Kerry and her daughter, who I’d met at the coaching course. I stop again briefly, hiding in the MR van and have another tea with numerous biscuits until I brace myself and exit, back into the wild. Darkness has engulfed everything and the weather is horrific. I’ve not witnessed anything so scary and I’ve been out in all sorts. Soon we’re submerged into hell. The light from our headtorches bouncing back off the mixture of fog and horizontal rain as it lashes us this way and that. The wind howls and gusts. We can barely stay upright nor see our feet, never mind discern the track we’re supposed to be following. Thankfully we are a party of three and we stick together, one clutching his GPS like his life depends upon it. I keep telling Stuart how scared I am. Stuart then suggests one of us keep our headtorch on and follows the others without their headtorches switched on, allowing the others to see better. It works a treat and we take turns until it improves.

Soon enough it lifts and we’re onto Warland Drain and briefly on water laden flags until the boggy bits before Stoodley Pike. I’m quite excited to be there. I’ve seen it from the valleys but have never run up to it. It’s a welcome sight, even in the rain and gloom.

There’s a light up here and I think its attached to a building until I see it move and realise it’s Max. I cheer up no end. To have ventured out to greet us on a dark, extremely windy and rainy night, means a lot. He’s careful to run behind us so that we can’t be accused of cheating. Soon he turns off back to his car and we head down a good track to Hebden Bridge. By now I’m starting to feel the cold. The bogs have slowed my progress and the wind is strong. I pick up speed on the descent, eager to get warm again. Somewhere along the road, Stuart drops back and I don’t see him again until the checkpoint.

I’ve picked up another runner. We work our way to Hebden Hey, me spotting signs and him check, check, checking against his GPS and map. We make our way up a tiny little lane, rising steeply from Hebden Bridge and wade through the quagmire.

Slightly Soggy!

We pass up a little lane by a house and I’m pleased I have company. The lane is lined with odd gnomes, one of which is a clown and surely would feature in a horror movie. It’s still raining, although not so heavily. Soon we’re on the main road of Slack and drop down steps, ankle deep in mud and debris with a newly formed stream gushing over everything. This is where I’ll have to retrace my steps after the checkpoint. Those new dry socks I’d been so looking forward to will immediately be soaked and covered in mud.

I get a lovely welcome from the volunteers who cheer and clap and quickly and efficiently lead me through. I take my trainers off and they’re labelled and put near a radiator, not that it’ll do much good. My bag is already on a table. It seems surprisingly quiet, there are only a handful or so runners there already. They tell me food is available in a different room. I ask to see a medic. I’ve been religiously applying Vaseline to my back, where I know my pack rubs, but it’s beginning to feel sore. I change into a full set of clean dry clothes. It’s heaven.

Clean, dry and smiling.

I hang my coat near the fire hoping it’ll dry while I’m eating food. In another room, I’m welcomed by the giddy staff cheering me in as first woman. I am offered four different meal options. I opt for a vegetarian pasta then a lovely rice pudding with a heap of strawberry jam. I have two cups of tea then go through to see the medic. She quickly and expertly puts pads and then Ktape across my lower back. She says I’ve probably caught it in time.

Then I’m back to sort my supplies. I’ve given myself 30 minutes grace and want to use it efficiently. I left myself a checklist on top of my bag so that I wouldn’t forget anything. It’s another 62 miles to the finish, with very little support on route. I happily go through everything and only faff a bit choosing extra layers. I’m told the rain that had been forecast to stop at 2am is now set to stay. I opt for lots of layers, putting on my baselayer, primaloft top, primaloft jacket and Paramo jacket. I stuff another fleece into my bag and get my spare gloves, hat and buff on. I’m ready, sort of. On my way out, feeling refreshed, I pass the second and third women. This gives me a boost, they certainly do not look fresh!

When I go to leave, the interviewer asks who I’m buddying up with for the night. I shrug. He tells me the man I came in with, has only just left. He’s on the Mountain Rescue Team race and would be great for nav and pacing. I try my best to catch up with him. We stay together over Heptonstall Moor. Everything by now is waterlogged. The paving slabs all sit below inches of water. My headtorch creates these amazing waves across the long grass in the bogs, it seems to dart lazers along the stems. It’s quite beautiful.

We weave our way round the Walshaw reservoirs. I’m enjoying his company. We don’t talk too much, but keep each other going at a good pace and on the right track. On toward Withins Height. It’s with huge disappointment that I realise his pace is dropping. He soon tells me he’s struggling with shin splints and urges me to push on. The trail across the moor is reasonable but I soon see a light ahead and try harder to speed up. Just above Ponden I catch up with Gary Chapman. He’s a Spine and Spine Challenger veteran, in fact he’s local, living near Ponden. My luck is in! He knows all of the direct lines across what are now swamp fields and he chats incessantly. It’s lovely company and reassuring that I won’t lose time or waste energy covering any extra miles by getting lost! The rain has by now subsided and I start to think daylight is nearing, only to realise the full moon is lighting up the tracks.

A brief rest.

We stop briefly at Lothersdale MR point. Gary’s club has put on a non-official checkpoint for the last few years, offering food, drink and shelter. His friends are all marshalling and they run up the track taking orders via a walkie talkie, so hot drinks and soup are all ready when we arrive. It’s a first class service and much needed escape from the elements as we’re wrapped in warm blankets and fussed over. Chris soon arrives, although I haven’t met him yet…

Gary had planned a longer stop, but his friends tell us we are unbelievably in 6th and 7th position. I easily persuade him to reduce it significantly. He’s never been so high up or so quick with his splits. Happily, he accompanies me out of the door and up onto mud sucking fields. Each and every field tries it’s best to pull our trainers off whilst simultaneously draining our legs of all energy. I don’t enjoy the next few miles. It’s flat and on a good dry day you could skip over these fields but today every step is a huge effort, pulling against the mud and wading through sodden fields. By now Chris has caught us up.

At Gargrave,  a lovely lady who has driven to Mcdonalds at some silly time in the morning, waits at the roadside with 3 teas for us to enjoy! She’s been busy tracking us through the night and has arrived in perfect time. We happily accept her kind offer and shelter briefly in a bus stop.

I start to feel incredibly tired, its been nearly 16 hours of darkness and it’s starting to take it’s toll. I’m relieved when the sky lightens around Airton. There are a few diversions in place to avoid the worst of the waterlogged fields.

I enjoy the track toward Malham Cove. Leaving the monotonous water drenched fields behind, is a relief. The landscape at last opens up in front of us and is stunning. I do wonder whether someone has been up painting images of sheep onto the face of Malham cove, but keep quiet, quite sure it’s just my sleep fogged brain playing tricks on me. On the steps up to Malham Cove, we leave Gary behind, he’s eager now that we push on. I stay with Chris and follow his lead as he goes across the limestone. Moss and huge cracks, threaten to twist or break our ankles. He slips and falls breaking one of his poles. With our daft route choice, we’ve lost time and arrive back on the Pennine Way only to realise Gary has pushed quite far ahead by taking a higher, easier path.

I start to feel quite cold, my pace has dropped off with the awkward, rock strewn path. I’m getting quite low in spirits (I really wish I’d brought more gin). Thankfully, just before Malham Tarn, Max appears again with his cheery smile despite the inclement weather and my moody face. By the checkpoint I’m really cold and quite concerned. I’m wearing almost everything and look like a Michelin woman. I warm up with a lovely hot chocolate and somehow manage to persuade Chris to join me back on the trail. ‘Let’s get this finished’, I urge. By now he’s 3rd male and desperately wants to cling on to it and I’m still maintaining first lady position. He’s also feeling the cold and getting increasingly fed up. We start to run to warm up on the easier tracks and continue towards the end, run/walking and encouraging each other on. He’s perfect company.

Lets get this finished.

Fountains Fell seems a never-ending climb. It’s pleasant and easy enough but the higher we climb the more cold, windy and foggy it gets. I’m trying to orientate myself and chivvy myself on. Desperately searching the skyline for glimpses of Pen-y-ghent, our next big climb. Its hidden in cloud. Dropping down to the road Chris pushes ahead. My knee is beginning to hurt on the descents.

On the road I’m stopped twice. Firstly, offered a tray of cookies and when I decline, saying they look gorgeous but I would struggle to swallow them, the man races back to his car and brings out a handful of gels! A few hundred metres further on, an old man jogs up and asks for a drink order, he then races back to his car and presents me with a lovely sweet coffee. It’s part of The Spine magic, I’m not sure if they realise just how touching these wonderful gestures are. They even know my name as they have been tracking me.

We’ve got this.

Heading up to Pen-y-ghent, Chris has waited to make the climb together. I struggle with tired legs and the wind that is trying to detach us as we scramble/crawl up the rocks with our huge packs. There are a few moments when I fear I’ll be blown off. The other side is even worse, descending on the God-awful slab steps. Chris, again, pulls away.

Surprisingly, Max is again waiting up the lane and he chats briefly trying his best to reassure me that the second lady is not gaining, despite my slower pace. Problem is, I think he’s just being kind. Panic rises as I start to think that after 90 miles of being first, I’m going to drop my position. Arriving at the MR checkpoint, I’ve just about had enough despite the kindness of the staff, who bring me soup and bread. I’m entering into quite a dark place. I sit with Chris, who looks equally crestfallen. Two rather sprightly men pass through and we both think our places are dropping. I urge him to get up and head on out before him.

Leaving for the final push

I spend a while faffing on the road in Horton, my brain is muddled and I can’t make head nor tail of the simple map. The more I look the more I get in a pickle. It is ridiculous, its daylight, the sun has even decided to make a brief appearance, I’m on a large road in Horton. It’s quite obvious where I am and I can’t remember the way nor see it on the map! Thankfully, Chris catches me up, calms me down and I’m back on it. Map in hand, I’m determined not to lose any places by getting lost on this final stretch. I know the route, I’ve covered the ground numerous times before, my confidence is increasing again.

By now, my quads are in agony, my legs work but I have to ignore the pain. I tell myself over and over ‘pain is temporary, victory lasts forever’…something on a motivational video Stuart has filled my head with, although I later realise the ending is somewhat different. I like mine better! It works and I continue to walk the hills and sort of run the flats and downs. Chris is lagging behind until we pass a photographer. He tells Chris he is in fact third male, the other two who had passed were MRT challenger racers. We work together pushing onwards to Cam End. By Cam Road he’s had enough of the panic that has risen in him. He stops to check his tracker. Catching me up he reassures me the second lady is way behind, maybe 4-5 miles. However, he says the next male is about 2 miles away. He calculates and recalculates our pace and time. We move as fast as we can. Unfortunately, I struggle to keep up and its disappointing to see his red jacket pull further away into the increasing darkness. By West Cam Road, I really need to put my headtorch on, but I know if someone is not far behind it might just be the thing they need to give them a spurt of energy. I still don’t believe anyone about my lead over the second woman! I keep it off until a high wall when I’m out of sight. I have to stop again to get my goggles out. The wind has picked up, a few times I’m blown and stumble to the side and my eyes are stinging with its ferocity.

I search and search for the signpost onto the last boggy section to drop across the fields into Hawes. Aaron had warned me before my recce that it was easy to miss, so I’m on high alert not to miss it today. Finding it, I start to panic as there are two tracks and for a minute I can’t remember which one is correct. Taking stock, I calm myself down and choose the right track but take my GPS out just to make sure. I’m too close to risk it now. Soon I see the familiar red jacket again, Chris has waited to run into Hawes with me. He said he’d tried to wait on Cam Road but the wind had been horrendous, so he’d pushed on.

It’s a wonderful feeling being a team again and seeing those longed-for lights of Hawes. It’s just a shame it seems to take an age to make them any bigger! Chris is still on high alert, he keeps checking behind to see if a light is catching us. We slowly make our way down into Hawes, taking another diversion that has been put in place to avoid the worst of the muddy fields. We gladly follow the road and soon we’re passing through the houses, along the tiny lanes, through a gate and we’re again being interviewed as we make the final push to the finish. I hear cowbells and my daughter appears, mad as a hatter. Chris’ pace increases and increases, somehow I keep up and it’s with relief and extreme happiness that we pass through the finish line together. Unbelievably, I am joint 3rd overall and 1st lady.

We did it!

Afterwards, I sit with my family, Fiona and Max who have come to cheer me in. I eat soup and drink tea, I’m transported to the YHA to shower and clean up (the best shower ever!)I have my photo taken with a trophy, mine will be engraved and sent on. I’m awkwardly interviewed. Then going out of the door I’m told my ‘prize’ is free entry into next year’s Spine Challenger. ‘Oh hell!’, I think.

Over the next few days I eat everything in sight and I’m still hungry. I stumble around, my feet belong to an elephant and I have no shoes that fit. I have managed to survive relatively unscathed, minimal blisters, a few toenails due to fall off, but pretty well considering. I’m totally overwhelmed with the messages I’ve received. I never imagined that while out in the wilderness, at times feeling very alone and scared, that so many people would be watching my tiny dot progress.

Strangely, it doesn’t take me long to start thinking about how I can improve for next year…Britain’s most Brutal certainly is an apt tag line. It has been the biggest adventure and challenge of my running life and yet I did it. I vowed never again…but perhaps ‘never’ is a word I shouldn’t utter!

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Montane Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra, Saturday, December 7, 2019

55 Miles, 11,000ft ascent.

Elaine Bisson

Its just after 6:30 on Saturday evening. It’s dark outside, you can hear the wind howling. I’m sitting in a cosy cafe in Ingram next to John Kelly (amongst others!) A beautiful glass 2nd female trophy is on the table in front of me. I’m sipping on hot, sweet, tea and chatting about Nicky Spinks, Jasmyn Paris, TDS, BGR, Grand Round attempts and Spine training. I’m covered in mud, its smeared all over my clothes, across my face, remnants still linger in my eyes occasionally making everything blurry. My hair is windswept and matted with mud and rain. I have an indent on my forehead from where my headtorch has been pressing for the last few hours. I no doubt stink. I’m tired but extremely happy. It’s a deep sense of satisfaction, one that I’ve craved for months now. This is it, this is what I love and this is why I keep returning.

Its Friday night, I’m standing in my bedroom, clothes strewn across the floor. I’m wondering what bag to take and what clothes to wear. I’m not off  out for a wild night on the town, I’m preparing for a day on the wildest of Northumberland fells.
I seem to have grown horns and quite quickly I get the sense that my family are avoiding me. Occasionally my kids peep in but they rapidly retreat and leave me to it. I go to bed early, hoping to sleep but instead I keeo checking I haven’t missed my alarm. It finally goes off at 2:55. I tiptoe round the house and start my journey at 3:30. Its quiet on the roads until I turn of the A1 towards Ingram. I catch up with a long line of about 10 4x4s, the mountain rescue team on their way to race headquarters before they’re deployed across the fells in the hope they will keep us safe.
At the race briefing I stand next to Nicky Spinks. We are to run the route in reverse, the forecast is for extreme weather conditions, winds now of 40mph, gusts of 60mph, increasing all day to reach 80mph. We are to get the higher more isolated terrain over with first.

The wind gets stronger as we climb, the voices of Carol Morgan and Nicky Spinks  have long since disappeared. I can just about make out the white trig point of Hedgehope hill. There is a string of lights stretching far across the fells. The sun is rising from its sleep, reluctant to awaken amidst the imminent storm, its colours splash across the sky. The bogs glisten  and sparkle as though they are things of wonder. A man, submerged up to his thighs calls for help as another two go to his aid, hauling him from the bog. Our fight against the elements has begun.

The wind strengthens as we climb toward the Cheviot, the fog descends yet despite the ferocious wind, the mountain rescue in red jackets still welcome us and wish us well. It’s hard work running forwards on the slabs to the summit, the wind is blowing us sideways. Reaching the trig I tap it with my hand, I wonder if that’s what everyone does, or do they loop round it or is standing within a metre of it enough?

Then its back the way we came, passing people precariously, neither wanting to leave the safety of the slabs to step into bog. Nicky isn’t far behind, she is the only one not to smile, not to wish me well. I wonder how many metres I can keep up this charade of being first female?

The border ridge is magnificent in its wild windswept beauty. Dropping down beneath the fog the views stretch up to Scotland and over England. Rolling hills for miles around, uninhabited countryside. Isolated. Unforgiving. The ground beneath our feet also wants to reclaim its ownership, to deny the presence of humans.  Complacently, I attempt to step on a slab that has sunk deep beneath the bog. The sensation of plunging out of control, sinking into the bog is worse than the drop on Tower of Terror. My breath is taken away as mud splats in my face, eyes, all over my clothes. I have to grab the nearest slab to pull and crawl out. I can’t see properly for miles, bog swimming around my eyes. I have nothing clean to wipe it off and I seem only to make it worse.

17miles, I showed Nicky the way for 17m until that bog unnerved me and slowed my progress. Then she’s past. Max gestures for me to jump on board the ’Nicky train’. I just about keep them in sight until I stop at Blindburn and the Marshalls help me to wash the bog from my eyes and clean up a bit!
5miles of road, I’m loving it,I can actually see again and the smell of tea is keeping me going. I hated this section last year but after my battle with the bog I’m pleased to land on safe hard ground. Its not long when I reach the little stone building. A Marshall giddy as can be says ‘you’re second lady, not far behind Nicky Spinks, you’re doing amazingly, miles in front of everyone’. Now that’s why it’s quieter, I’m doing better than last year, far better. I turn another bend and my eyes lock on Nicky’s, I sense the dread as she spots me. I have to say, that look was the best part of the day. I may not have had a chance of beating her, but I made her wonder whether I could!

I quickly sort my bag. I’m impressed with my own organisation skills , my drop bag is efficient and I spend minutes refuelling. I carry a soup and bread up the hill , not willing to lose any time. Max assures me he’ll catch me up, which he does, very quickly. From here on in the weather worsens and worsens. We form a group of three, Max, Al and I. Perhaps I could have gone faster but I’m not convinced I remember the way and I know there is a huge area of bog not far off. I HATE bogs. What idforgotten was just how much bog. Its never ending, the wind is now shooting rain at us horizontally, the fog has descended again. The ground is treacherous, threatening to swallow us up if we take a wrong step. It seems to go on forever and when I stupidly think we’re nearing the track,I spot a runner in front missing what I thought was the trail and heading straight up over more bog infested land. It’s a place you wouldn’t venture out of choice, there is nothing beautiful about it. Miles of Bogland, like its been a war zone…the front line of a war zone with craters and human traps everywhere.

I cheer myself up with a now frozen Snickers. It’s a pleasant surprise how tasty and easy to swallow a frozen Snickers is!

Reaching the track I virtually jump for joy, then Max does a funny dance and shouts at Al to hurry up. We see him shrink to half his height as he plummits into bog, metres from safety.
A three again we’re heartened by the solid ground. 10miles left, seems like loose change. Its relatively more ‘pleasant’ down in the valley, I can actually feel my fingers again and hear.

Darkness falls, I like it. It obscures what is coming and somehow because of the need to concentrate, the miles pass quicker. We’re enjoying ourselves too much that we miss a turn, I quickly notice  our mistake and its not too long to backtrack.
Only now am I bothered about maintaining my position. I push on, unwilling to allow another female to skip past. At some point I no longer hear their voices or see their torches. I can’t see well or move fast enough, everything is cloaked in a veil of fog. I’m desperate to reach the finish, counting down the miles on my watch, they seem to take forever. Then through a gate I recognise, another, then lights ahead…not of a headtorch but of a building. I pick up speed, I’m so excited, I have a grin from ear to ear. I round the bend up the path and that’s it. Its done.

I’m back into safety, into warmth and comfort and company. My adventure is over, and yet now, I wish it wasn’t….

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Lakeland 100, Friday, July 26, 2019

105 miles/24000 ft climb

Elaine Bisson

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

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

Continue reading Lakeland 100
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St Cuthbert’s Way 65 mile Ultra Marathon, Saturday, June 29, 2019

100km/8500ft

Elaine Bisson

Courtesy of Trail Outlaws

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Trail Outlaws

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Trail Outlaws

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

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

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

Courtesy of Trail Outlaws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Official results click here.


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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.

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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.

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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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