Category Archives: Ian Butler

TrailDog Events – Canicross Running, Chopwell Woods, Sunday, June 16, 2019

5K

Ian Butler

I am presently typing this report while sat at the computer wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, alternating the soles of my feet between a blocks of ice, a ribbed roller, and a stretch band; and whilst glowing with moisture having returned from one of the gruelling track sessions. The pong emanating from my body has even driven away Rosie and Tess, my ever loyal Border Terriers, who prefer to sniff each other’s back sides rather than associate themselves with me at this time.

I sometimes wonder why we do this running and training lark, and so do the dogs. All that effort, managing the pain, followed by some gain.  Whilst I enter a fair number of races I’m never going to be a star runner, nor likely to finish in the top 10, or win a trophy or get a mention in dispatches other than a few sympathetic ‘well dones’ and ‘good efforts’ from fellow competitors.  However, I have a real competitive urge, and so having given this much thought I decided to review my race strategy and see how I could improve on my performance to secure a higher race finishing position. I needed to find a race that best suited my talents.

Then last week my wife Heather found the ideal answer to my needs, the inaugural TRAILDOG running event at Chopwell Woods, to be run on Father’s Day.

The idea of this race is that a runner and his or her race dog run around either a 5 mile or 5k course along the woodland forest trails, against fellow runners and their dogs. This was ideal for me, as our Tess, a young Border Terrier is built for speed, especially when called for her breakfast, tea, or a treat, and I was sure that if we trained properly, then we might be able to secure that podium finish I’ve been after all this time.

The first bit was to test if it was possible for Tess and I to run the distance together without getting in a tangled mess between her, the dog lead and me. So on the week before the race we did two training runs over the full course distance. To be fair, I was the one out of breath, and we ran really well together, with Tess seemingly to have boundless energy. The only problems I found that may have an impact on race day, was her tendency to bark loudly at other dogs, and her need to complete full doggy ablutions a part of the way around the route.

These were issues I would have to deal with on the day, but never before have I done a race with 3 emergency doggy poo bags in the back pocket of my shorts.

On arrival at Chopwell Woods, it was clear that Tess was excited and raring to go, by the height of her leap from the tailgate of our car. We made our way down to registration and confirmed our participation as bona fide Elvet Striders, as I was wearing my club T-Shirt. I was classed in the usual way as MV55, whilst Tess was FTU2 (Female Terrier Under 2 years). I think we were in a class of our own.

The next thing I needed to sort out as a matter of urgency was for Tess to have her second full ablution. If we were to be competitive and do well in this completion, which I was determined to be, then we had to make sure that there would be no time delays on the route. We simply could not drop a second, so we nipped off in to the woods for Tess to clear her system fully.

On our return I got chatting to other competitors in the usual form of human greeting and general chitchat. Nothing controversial was said and it was all very pleasant, For example, I met up with fellow Strider Katie Davison who was running with her dog Fenton, so a strong Strider contingent was committed to the race.

However, on the doggy front, not everything was totally civilised as the dogs tended to take one of two postures with their fellow competitors: –

a)      Friendly approach – shown by the dogs wagging their tails and then sniffing each other’s bits

b)      Unfriendly approach – shown by a general round of barking, yapping, snarling, accompanied by owners shouting ‘Gerrrrroffff”, ‘Get down’ and a generally pulling of leads to split up the fight

I have only previously witnessed such appalling behaviour from competitors at Harrier League races.

I then took Tess to one side to give her a pep talk. For the race she would be on a harness, attached to a lead, and would run alongside me. I told her to ignore other dogs, don’t get involved in any argy bargy, and to concentrate on her run.

In addition, we went around to suss out the opposition. On the human front, there were some clear competitive sorts in club running vests, with top-notch harnesses linking man to beast. They were clearly pretty decent runners who looked the part and experienced to this sort of race. They tended to have the sort of dogs with them that suggested speed and agility. Border Collies and Spaniels were clearly favoured running dogs.

On the other hand, along with the experts there were families running, along with runners in general with a wide variety of dogs.

Tess identified to me that she should have the measure of the Beagle and the Labradors, along with some other lumbering types.

What was clear to the both of us, was that we could do alright in this race, if everything went our way

Effectively there were three races to this event. Firstly the family friendly general walk, then followed by a mass start for the 5-mile and 5K races.

We had elected to do the 5k race, based on the fact that on the previous day I had completed The Haydon 100 Cycle Sportive, covering 65 miles from Haydon Bridge down to Alston and Nent Head. This was a somewhat hilly course, and my legs were empty, therefore the 5-mile route was a non-starter for me. The good thing was that Tess’s legs were full, and she was raring to go, so hope fully she would pull me along.

We made our way to the star line, and after a briefing of sorts we were formally sent on our way. The 5 milers set off straight on to the course, whilst the 5K group performed 400m lap and then back through the starting gate. We were off and running.

We quickly moved to the front of the 5k group as Tess was quickly in to her stride. The two training runs we had done meant that she knew what was expected and got in to her rhythm. There is some research that suggests that dogs love this pack type activity and that it helps them bond better with their owners, and that was clear from her response.

The first kilometre was downhill, and we took advantage of this knowing that my legs were tired from the previous day, and that we needed to get ahead of the pack for when we returned up hill.

We passed some of the 5 milers on the down slope. As we overtook, Tess took a wide berth and basically ignored them, which was great.

After about 1.5k we passed the first ‘doggy slurp station’, but Tess declined any water. Whilst I (sorry, that should be ‘we’) were determined to do well, it was important to make sure Tess was happy and comfortable, therefore she had every opportunity to get a slurp.

We then moved on to a long slow uphill section, which to be honest was no good for my dead legs. We were overtaken by two long legged pointer types and their handlers on the 5-mile route who we had passed previously on the downhill section. Tess only has little legs, and mine were non-functional, but to her credit, she ran ahead and virtually pulled me a long.

We got going again and at the second slurp station she took a quick drink and we were off and running along at a good pace to the final slurp station and then towards the finishing line.

By this stage I knew that we were ahead of the rest, and despite my heavy legs we were determined not to let go of our lead, even if it meant that I would have to pick Tess up and sprint with her in my arms over the line. So we pushed on hard and with growing confidence, and thankfully for me Tess was hardly out of breath.   

We came in towards the finish line and to the sound of blaring music crossed the line, much to my and of courses Tess’s delight.

One of the organisers came running up to us shouting’ You’ve won, let me put your medal on’. and then ceremoniously placed a medal over my head. It was like being at the Olympics.  I was also handed a joint ‘doggy bag’ of gifts and prizes for both Tess and I. Rather than getting a trophy, we got a play ball to go on the mantlepiece, a bag of dog treats, a chocolate bar and a can of posh water.

We now waited for the other competitors to come in. The first home in the 5-mile group came charging in at a rate of knots. He was with his Border Collie and was a clear veteran of these events as he had all the gear. I heard him saying that they had to stop for a poo half way around the course. I asked him innocently if he was referring to him or the dog, but the question went unanswered as he was still in the competitive zone. However, it turned out that he travelled all over the north of England competing in these type of events, and made some good recommendations on future events and best fit leads and harnesses if we wanted to repeat our efforts another time. I had achieved my ambition and won a running race as an Elvet Strider. Admittedly, Tess was there and played an integral part in the achievement, but I can now honestly say that I have found my niche where I can compete on equal terms with others.

Pleased as punch we made our way home, imagining the headlines in the sporting pages of the Northern Echo or the congratulations from our peers at our outstanding achievement.

So, on arrival home, much to her delight, Tess’s Mum put our victory photos on various pages of Facebook. The response was outstanding, and to be honest fairly predictable.

450 likes alone came from the Border Terriers Owners Club Facebook Page, accompanied by loads of comments along the line of ‘Arrrrhhhhh – How cute’, ‘Well Done Tess’, ‘Absolutely Brilliant Tess’, How wonderful Tess’, ‘Tess this’, ‘Tess that’ etc. etc.

Little was said about our joint achievement. In fact, I might as well not have been there. In reality, what chance did I have of getting the kudos? Me, a sweaty middle-aged runner with no hair, Tess a cute one-year-old little waggy tail dog!

Honestly, this was a great event and much fun. It can be both a simple family dog walking exercise in the countryside, or it can be as competitive as you wish as the event caters for all types of runners, dog walkers and dog types.

Tess and I will certainly be having a go again!

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D-Day 75th Anniversary Commemorative Run, Druridge Bay, Saturday, June 8, 2019

Half Marathon

Ian Butler

Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s was not all about long hair, flares and discos, and worst of all the Bay City Rollers. For me and the vast majority of my mates it was about ‘The War’, and reliving that through our playtime.

For example, I do remember Christmas 1972, when my dad gave me an empty cardboard box as a present. He said it was an Action Man Deserter…

You see, playing with Action Man (the one with moving hand and scar, not the deserter), or manoeuvring my toy navy around the top of the landing with the theme to 633 Squadron on the record player in the background was pretty standard fare. Escaping from Colditz or watching Dads Army, The Dambusters and The Cruel Sea were required Sunday afternoon entertainment, whilst reading about the exploits of the Commandos on The Raid on St Nazaire in The Victor comic or in Commando books (Still available from WH Smith in Durham Market Place) were our text books to history. 

Whilst this may sound very jingoistic, in our defence I don’t think we could help ourselves in our passion and it really was not our fault. That is because war films, model aircraft, tanks and soldiers were representative of real events, lived by the people around us. My parents, extended family and friends lived through and served this country throughout that conflict.  Therefore, as children we were culturally conditioned through the people around us to have a deep fascination and interest in the Second World War.

I have continued with this interest in all things military to the present day being a member of the Durham Branch of the Western Front Association and the Dads Army Appreciation Society. However, over time I have developed a deeper understanding of conflict, the impact of conflict and in particular the impact upon individuals as participants of war.

Therefore when Saturn Running announced that to coincide with the 75th Anniversary of D-Day that they were organising a commemorative run at Druridge Bay, then I just had to take part and in my way pay homage to an older generation.

The generation that served did not consider they to be victims of war, nor that they were heroes, although I considered them to be my heroes. They rarely mentioned events that they had lived through, events which in many cases stayed with them for life.

My dad for instance was in the RAF, trained for D-Day on Salisbury Plain in order to build temporary allied airfields in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of France. Sadly, for him (he wanted to stay with his mates) and luckily for me, he was struck done with appendicitis and spent that period in hospital. He then went to London as part of a RAF recovery team on V1 and V2 impact sites. Yet his only war story was when he was chased by the police during the blackout for having no lights on his bicycle.
My Uncle Les was a soldier in the Hallamshire Battalion of the Yorks and Lancs Regiment. He was landed in and then evacuated from Norway during the ill fated allied expedition of 1940, served on the garrison of Iceland up to 1942, then returned to Britain to prepare for the future allied liberation of Europe. He landed in France on D Day plus 4, and took part in bitter fighting in the Normandy before the allied breakthrough in the late summer of 1944. His unit was all but wiped out to the extent that he was about to be commissioned as an officer in the field, but was blown up and wounded as his unit entered Holland.  His only war story he would tell us was about wounding himself by dropping a beer barrel on his foot whilst in Holland in preparation for the battalion   VE Day celebration.

This unassuming and quiet generation of heroes left a massive impression on me personally, from that small boy innocently playing at war with his mates, to the more considered and thoughtful adult of today.  Therefore, I just had to take part in the Operation Overlord Commemorative Run as a part of my tribute to that generation.

On the drive up to Druridge Bay the weather was simply awful, with rain tanking it down almost horizontally in a strong northerly wind. So when we arrived at the Country Park we had to dash from the car to the refuge of the visitor centre.

On dashing in to the men’s toilets I came across Paul Smith changing in to a full WW2 soldiers uniform and who was running the event in his own commemorative way. The funny thing is that I have exactly the same uniform at home as a part of my collection. I acquired mine a few years ago when I was working with Oscar winner Catherine Zeta Jones, and Knights of the Realm Sir Tom Courtney and Sir Michael Gambon, amongst others, in that classic 2016 war film, Dads Army – The British Empire Strikes Back. I didn’t actually meet any of the stars, but I was in the final marching scene at the end of the film, and if you look closely you may catch a passing glimpse of me at the back of the parade, marching behind the boy scouts.

The great thing about Saturn Running events is that you basically follow a circuit and cover the ground as many times as you like over a 7 hour period. In this case it has a 6 and a bit mile circuit around the country park and out on to the beach and back. So you could choose what distance you wish to cover, and in this case I aimed for the half marathon distance.

Druridge bay was a perfect location for a WW2 commemorative event, for during the war defences were constructed around the bay as a part of anti-invasion preparations. Defences included scaffolding barriers, anti tank blocks overlooked by pill boxes, behind which were minefields and an anti tank ditch. Thus the place has a  military history and is ideal for a running event.

After the pre-event briefing we all set off on an inland circuit of about 2 miles around the lake. My aim was to complete the half marathon, but with no time in mind I just wanted to get some miles under my belt and enjoy the route.

Although it was still raining and blustery, I found myself just behind the lead group, as many of the ultra distance runners were running at a more conservative pace.

After a lap of the lake we turned on to a service road running due north parallel with the beach, and directly in to a very strong wind, which certainly knocked the pace down a little. As I turned on to the beach I was aware of a runner coming up behind me, and so we ran the beach together with the wind now on our tail. I wanted to run a negative split with my second lap faster than the first, but with the wind and my new companion we were running far too fast on the first lap to achieve this.

He then went on to tell me in great detail about being in the army, being in a covert unit, working with the SF (Special Forces) deep under cover, and  then running faster and harder than the Para’s whilst in training. Now call me a cynic, but his unit couldn’t have been very good at being covert if he was telling me all this. I’m probably doing him an injustice, but at the end of the 2-mile stretch of the beach he said he need to stop for a quick toilet break.  He clearly had not got his pre-race ablutions sorted as we had only just started, plus I have always read that the SAS never stopped for a pee or poo or leave a trace of their presence, and if they did then it was in to a plastic bag, So I expected him to catch up with me again with a doggy poo bag in hand as I plodded back in land in to the teeth of the gale, but I never saw him again. I suppose I will never find out the truth about his military service.

I then made my way back to the start and started my second lap. I met up with a great fella who had come up from Chester and was in to ultras and marathons. He had done the Dragon’s Teeth 3 day ultra race in Wales the previous week, but had pulled out part way around with sore feet. We were going at a good pace, certainly for me, but a part of the way around the lake he started to slow with a hamstring pain. I dropped my pace to keep running with him, but found that I was holding myself back a little.

At this point a stick thin ultra type runner caught up with us and I joined him back on the beach service road and on to the beach its self. This runner turned out to be doing a marathon (plus a little bit more if he felt like it), and was certainly bombing along. It turned out that he was a head coach of the NE Marathon Club, and he provided me with some great ideas for training, and was simply a knowledgeable and friendly runner.

I matched him along the beach, but as we turned yet again in to the wind I could not match his pace. However, what I did notice was that behind me the beach was almost clear and I could not see any runners close behind, therefore I must have been quite away head of many other runners without realising it. I suppose I just got carried away with the chit chat with the other and  lost all thoughts of pace, and just hanged in.

On my own I worked my way back towards the start and over the finishing line in a time just over 1 hour 50 minutes. Whilst it was not a really fast time, I was pleased with the result, especially taking in to account the route, terrain and weather conditions, and the fact that I haven’t run much this year owing to injury. In addition, out of 68 athletes that completed the half marathon that day I finished 4th, which I find completely unbelievable.

I then picked up my commemorative medal, which is one of my favourites as it depicts the scale of D-Day though images and statistics of that day, and is a fitting tribute to the events of 1944.

This was really a good event in my view. Well-organised and very friendly, plus it highlighted that running is not just about the time or the podium finish. It can be a time for reflection and consideration, and in this case an opportunity to pay homage in a small way to a passing generation.

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Observations of an Accidental Cross Country Runner, Druridge Bay & Aykley Heads, Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ian Butler

Not holding hands, but a rolling road block of StridersMany years ago, when I got sent to jail, I didn’t take it at all well. I refused all offers of food and drink, spat and swore at anyone who came near me and burst into tears. That was the last time that I ever played Monopoly with my big sister!

I have always had a very competitive streak, and whilst resorting to tears to gain a win at Monopoly may have shown determination as an 8-year-old, that positive approach to push my self to try and win has stayed with me all my life.

I don’t generally burst into tears now, as a tactic to be used to achieve sporting success, as a general lack of sporting talent and advancing age puts a stop to my unrealistic ambitions. However. I do like to push myself and try new things and the latest outlet for my competitiveness is unbelievably cross-country running and the Harrier league.

For those of you unfamiliar with this pastime, it involves men and women congregating in a wet field in the middle of winter, donning a thin vest with the club name on it, and then running around a series of hills and bogs lined with tape before crossing a finishing line. Some of the more sadistic courses have more mud than others, have heavy rain and gale force winds organised for the day, and include a stream to jump over where crowds of spectators gather to watch some poor runner go headfirst into the mucky bilge. I have it on good authority that next year the powers that be are considering introducing an obstacle to cross while under fire from a machine gun or water cannon.

The basics of the races are that they are divided into men and women’s races. Each race is handicapped, with 3 groups setting off at timed intervals.

The first group off are the normal people or slow group, to go by the official title. Why it’s called the slow group I’m not sure, as looking at the field it seems to have everyone from the carthorses, like me, who plough their way around, to some super fast individuals who run around like whippets. The second group, known as the Middle group, set off a couple of minutes later and in hot pursuit of the slow group. The final group, known as the fast group, consisting of stick thin prime athletes, then set off 2 minutes later in very hot pursuit of the leading groups.

The idea I think is that the handicap system should create a leveller playing field for all, with clubs scoring points by getting their first 4 athletes over the finish line, whilst those, not scoring points are there to generally get in the way of others.

Personally, I think the handicap system should change, as my experience is the fast ones seem to steam past me as if I’m stood still, usually on the first lap of three. My recommendation would be that the middle and fast groups should have to carry weighted rusk sacks and an assault rifle. That would be a fair approach in my view, and at least give me more of a chance of helping out the team.

Previously, I had not run in the harrier league owing to work commitments, plus I was a wuss on wobbly ground from a couple of dodgy ankles caused when I was testing out a pair of Addidas Bambers many years ago. Therefore, when I heard about the cross-country league I decided that I would give it a go, but that I needed both the kit to run securely over rough ground and some guidance from the experts.

The Kit

The kit is basic from what I can tell. All you need is a club vest, (which must be worn during the race) and a pair of simple running shoes designed to disperse and give you grip on mud, water and slime.

The shoes can be picked up quite cheaply from running shops. My pair of cheapo shoes has really given me confidence in mud running, but I still have to look down and really concentrate on the 2 meters in front of me as to where I put my feet.

The Training

I needed to get confidence on the ups and downs of hills and rough ground, and so this year I joined the Monday lunch training sessions presided over by Geoff and Elaine. These sessions I found massively helpful.

Fig 1 – Receiving advice on my race start

The training group tends to consist of like-minded victims, who are generally directed by the Professors of Cross Country to run up or down a hill (Or both) in a set time or for a set distance, in order to gain fitness and improve skill levels on rough ground. Top tips on how to do this without breaking your neck are also freely given. Generally, these sessions turn me into a gastropod, huffing along and giving me a sweaty and slimy stinky sheen.

However, the advice is brilliant, and the benefits are massive, and I have certainly gained benefit from these periods of torture.

The Venues

So far I have done 2 events, Druridge Bay and Aykley Heads.

The experience at both is similar.

On arrival, the first job is to tackle the maze known as the club village and find the club tent. This tented community is a bit like a disorganised scout camp, where you need a compass, map and detailed grid coordinates to find your club abode. Usefully, all the tents look the same, but luckily each club proudly displays their club flag for all to see, so after wondering around for half an hour, you will find the home of Elvet Striders and familiar faces.

Considering that up to 50 plus Striders may attend these races, and use the tent to shelter from the rain and to change into their kit, then the 10ft by 10ft space is no Dr Who Tardis. However, there is room to take your tracky bottoms off and pin your race number to your vest, so it serves a valuable purpose.

Race Tactics

I think I heard Geoff Davis once say in his best Churchillian accent, ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’.

I understand he may also have said the following, ‘ We shall go on to the end. We shall run at Wrenkenton, we shall run at Druridge Bay and Aykley Heads, we shall run with growing confidence and growing strength on the hills and across the streams, we will never surrender’.

So, its very clear to all that there is club pride at stake in our participation in the Harrier League, and that the individual participation is for the greater good of the team and the club. That is one of the great things about Cross Country.

Whether you are the faster or slower runner, what struck me is that this is a team game, with strong support for the runners in each race by fellow Striders, both running or spectating. Therefore, the encouragement is there to push yourself and execute your best race.

I have asked several people about tactics to race execution and the basic top tips I got were: –

  1. At the start, get to the front of the group in order to get a clean break rather than getting bogged down in the crowd. That way, you are ahead and other runners then have to make up ground to pass you.
  2. On a 3 lap race, if you can’t do a reconnaissance and run the route beforehand, then on lap one suss out the lie of the land, but don’t compromise your pace to achieve this. Then once the ground is known, really put in some effort.
  3. If you are a slower runner, your contribution is still valuable for generally getting in the way and in pushing down the position of other teams runners, so don’t give up.
  4. Do not get involved with other clubs runners with any pushing or shoving, cause an Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm, or use any Threatening Words or Behaviour likely to cause Harassment, Alarm or Distress to fellow competitors or spectators. Whilst such a demonstration in the heat of the moment may make you feel better about the sod that just cut you up, in the long term you are likely to be disqualified. Basically, don’t get involved in any ‘Argy Bargy’ and save energy for the race. You can always nip into the car park after the race and let down the car tyres of your chief protagonist.
  5. Keep going to the end, and in the finishing straight try and pass others, and don’t whatever you do allow yourself to be overtaken.
Race Execution
1) Druridge Bay

Standing at the start of my first cross country at Duridge Bay, with my competitive juices boiling, I turned around and found a right Bounder stood next to me. A Blackhill Bounder to be precise by the name of Alex.

Alex is a 20-year-old young whippersnapper. I’m a much much older chap. I used to be his boss at work, and during our conversations about important things, like ‘what did you have for your tea last night?” and ‘what did you do at the weekend?’, it became clear that we had some common ground. We both had done some triathlons, run similar races and followed sports in general, plus we knew many common acquaintances and generally got on well. The only problem was that he was under the great misconception that by virtue of my age that I was some sort of sporting guru and athlete, rather than a bit of an incompetent sporting dabbler.

With that in mind, personal pride was at stake and it was clear that I simply had to beat him around the course.

At Druridge Bay, the ground was quite solid, so as predicted I set off far too fast because I never learn, and because the slow pack is not slow enough, and so I got pulled along with the group. I said to my self, ‘YOU IDIOT’, but I ran the first lap quite well and was able to stick with the pace and determine the lie of the land.

I was also conscious that I was ahead of ‘Whippersnapper ‘, but I was not prepared to turn around and see how far ahead I was, so into the second lap I dug in and started to make some ground on others in the slow group. At the same time, several high-speed medium and fast pack runners passed me in a blur, making me feel great.

Six miles is a good distance for me, as through racing I now know I can keep a decent pace going, and even push on a bit towards the end. On entering the third lap I felt quite good and began to make ground on a couple of others, but there was a group of 3 or 4 runners who I just could not catch. As I accelerated, a little so did they and I simply could not close that 20 to 25-metre gap. However, I was spurred on and remembered the rules I had been told, namely don’t get overtaken, and don’t give up, despite the pain.

By some miracle, as we moved into the last 400m I found myself making ground on the 3 others directly ahead, and as I moved into the final straight I saw that I was closing rapidly. I then sprinted (not really) the last 20 meters, pulled an effort making face, and just as we reached the line they each slowed down allowing me to pass them just before the finish line and take the win in a loud grunting and gasping shout.

Fig 2 – Crossing the line at Druridge Bay

Take it easy and steady-on there lad!’ shouted the man with a clipboard at the finish. I’d got them on the line as directed to do so, and the man called me a lad, so I was happy. Additionally, I had beaten the Whippersnapper.

My competitive juices were well and truly oiled and I looked forward to my next test at Aykley Heads.

2) Aykley Heads

I know the lie of the land very well here, and that was the problem. I know it can be a complete ‘b_ _ _ _ _ _ d of a route, with many ups and downs, grassy molehills, mud and general rough terrain. Therefore, it is a great lung bursting challenge and not one to be missed!!

I followed race tactics as planned, namely, I again went off too fast, but was able to keep a steady pace going. even on the undulating sections after the first mile or so. However, I was very unsure going downhill, on rough ground and my natural instinct to hold back to protect my ankles certainly slowed me down. Unlike others, I simply did not trust my ability and speed downhill; hence I was overtaken on the down sections, whereas on paved surfaces I have much more confidence with speed.

This was really the story of laps 1 and 2 for me.

The most notable aspect of the race was the support given by the marshals and spectators to Striders as we ran around the circuits. It was truly inspiring to have that support. Shouts of ‘Well done Striders’ or ‘Come on Striders’ were heard around the whole course, In addition, shouts of ‘you’re looking good Striders’, although descriptive, certainly did not tell the story of how I felt at the time.

The most curious shout came on the third lap. By this time I was wondering what the heck I was doing here on a Saturday afternoon. But by this time all the faster runners had passed, and I was in a sort of bubble of other similar runners who had gone around together and kind of formed a brotherhood in adversity. This group included a bald-headed bloke in a luminous vest, a Red Kite Runner, and a chap in a red-hooped vest who looked like a bumblebee. In support, I found my self-running alongside fellow Strider Daniel Mitchel and we kind of kept each other supported as we dragged over the undulating sections.

As we ran downhill side by side, a helpful Strider marshal shouted ‘ Stop holding hands and get on with it’. Little did this fellow know that we had applied race tactics and formed a Strider running rolling roadblock, aimed at preventing others from passing, and threatening our faster teammates ahead. This tactic actually worked and kept others at bay for quite a long time until the final leg uphill leg along the railway line.

Then it was an uphill slog over the hill and down through the woods to the final ascent of the finishing climb, which I managed to plod up. Once on top of the hill and on the flat I saw a few of our bubble of runners ahead and somehow managed to overtake them. As I entered the finishing straight, I was really conscious of someone on my inside trying to pass, but I managed to put in a real spurt and hold them off over the finishing line. I felt that I had won the Olympics, and not come in 421st out of 570 finishers.

It’s fair to say that Cross County has met my competitive urges. It’s certainly better than playing Monopoly and running the risk of being sent to jail.

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Vale of York Half Marathon, Sunday, September 9, 2018

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. Endurance Champion Race - click flag for more information.

Ian Butler

Trails and Tribulations – How to be a Very Amateur Athlete

Background

Since joining Striders 3 years ago and getting in to this running lark, I have often questioned my self as to whether I am an athlete or not.

I am often the recipient of letters and emails from various sporting organisations addressed to ‘Dear athlete’, and note on race applications and results lists, that athletes are participating in the same event as my self. But the fact is I just don’t see myself as one of the tribe.

A definition I have found describes an athlete as:

A person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise

However, my experiences this year whilst preparing for and taking part in races hardly demonstrates proficiency in sport, and in reality is more like a long list of complete cock-ups. Having said that, I think with the Vale of York Half Marathon, I am starting to crack it and may be on my way the being a proper athlete. I will now try and explain:

For me, an athlete must have a six pack, muscles in the right places, a square jaw and absence of numerous chins, look the part with all the right gear, and demonstrate excellence in their chosen sport. This goes back to my youth when sporting athletic hero’s looked the part and delivered. People like Brendan Foster, Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell, Kelly Holmes and Alf Tupper were in their prime, and achieving sporting greatness, and are the role models on which I measure what an athlete should be.

I conversely don’t fit in to that mould.

Firstly, my body has a bit of wear and tear, consisting of a series of sporting and work related injuries, held together primarily by scar tissue and lumpy bits. Getting out of bed in a morning, any form of sudden movement, or just walking the short distance from the bed to the loo, is always accompanied by a soft ‘Oooooh’ or “Argghhhhh’ as I manage the aches and pains and delicately try to get things moving. Once I get going, I’m fine, but the getting going gets harder with age.

Secondly, my list of athletic achievements remains short. Admittedly, I was a joint winner at the Maltby Church School wheelbarrow race (1973). I competed in the Inter-house schools cross country (1981), finishing around the back of the field limping in and ending up in hospital having 3 stitches after falling over in the mud at Roche Abbey. I completed the Raby 10k and was awarded a prize, but could not collect it as it was for 3rd finisher in the W60 section having taken a hand me down entry off a friend. I was 32 at the time.

Quite simply, I could not see myself as either athletic or an athlete.

However, things changed a little at the beginning of the year when I retired from work. With more time to focus on training I vowed to improve my running and compete more effectively in races, working to more of my strengths to help improve my fitness.

With very dodgy knees, which are painful in a morning and after longer distance runs, I simply could not risk increasing running mileage. Therefore in addition to the usual weekly runs, I focused on working very hard in spinning classes, 2 sometimes 3 times a week, and cycling in general. This helped me enormously, both aerobically and strength wise, and helped feed my competitive urge when I started to see some improvements.

A failure on my part was not to have a training plan as such. In my mind, if I worked harder, then there should be some improvement. However, as a training aid I have bought a Garmin Run / cycle / swim watch, which I have to admit is brilliant. Apart from trying to run a route, which writes my name on the Garmin Mapping Package, the advantages of the Garmin are many fold. I now know what different running paces feel like rather than second guessing, I can see performance improvement in the stats, I can see what times mates have run and rub it in that they should be faster than me by virtue of age.

In December last year, with little specific training I completed a half marathon for the first time in around 25 years in Sunderland. It killed me, and post race I could hardly walk around, with stiff legs, hips and other bits. However, I had set a marker PB, which I vowed to beat when I next competed in a similar race at some point in 2018, and the VOY Half Marathon was my target.

In the meantime, I had to do more races leading up to VOY to iron out how to do it properly, with out messing up. With that in mind, I have learnt some interesting lessons through competition:

1) Pre Race Food

Running magazines, wise wisdom and other top tips seem to advise that Carb loading is a good idea the night before a race, with a nice pasta dish being a meal of choice.

That’s all well and good, but I have a great recipe for a Chilli and baked bean sausage casserole, which I made the night before the Trail Outlaws Penshaw Monument half Marathon. As hills were expected in this race, I washed the meal down with a bottle of Wainwrights Beer.

The problems started at about 3am with some stomach gurgling.

Having taken appropriate measures I was ok until the moment 20 minutes before the race when I had a distinct need to complete a 100m dash to the toilets. I was pre prepared having taken a role of Andrex™ Best from home, but the main issues was not my ablutions, but the fact I fell off the toilet as the screws holding it to the floor came away and tipped me off. Unbeknown to me, the plumbing from the cistern was now detached, from the toilet, so when I flushed the loo, 10 gallons of water flooded the men’s toilet block. I managed to do some plumbing repairs,, but the cubicle was a mess. I’m sorry if this affected anyone at the time, but I did report it, and it wasn’t my fault, but it was a lesson learned, make sure you eat the right food before a race.

2) Pre Race Ablutions (and Post race ablutions)

The motto is be prepared, and go regularly so that the system is clear.

I thought it was clear on the Gateshead trail 10K at Blaydon, but about a quarter of the way around I had that stomach gurgling again. Whether this was pre race nerves affecting my system or what I’m not sure. The effect was that as the race went on I was running with very tense muscles, and was very close to making a dash to some tree cover to seek relief. Counting down the last kilometres was desperate. However, I eventually managed to get over the line, grabbed my medal and continued at 4-minute mile pace to the toilet cubicles.

That was another lesson learned on my way to being an athlete.

3) Water

This is a real problem for me. Not the fact that I need to take water on board, but how to take water on board at water stations. Race organisers seem to think up different innovative ways to soak me rather than feed water in.

For instance:

  • a) Paper cup – Water split all over the place and trying to drink whilst on the move always ends up with water splashing dribbling down the side of my face
  • b) Water Bottles – Always seem too big, can’t find the opening and I have to tilt my head back, missing my mouth and again dribbling water all over the place
  • c) Water pouches – As used at the Durham 10k. This was a real hard one to master, as I simply could not get the water out whilst running, so gave the damn thing a really good squeeze, resulting in a jet of water in the face and up my nose, missing my mouth completely.

My agreed approach now is that I simply don’t care, and as long as I take water on board, I’m happy.

4) Jelly Babies and other race nutrients

Race organisers like to give out nutritional treats at feeding stations, particularly Jelly babies, which in the right circumstances are great.

Personally, I bite the heads off and chew them, but the dilemma is how many do you take from the box,? And can you select the red berry ones, and ditch the green ones without losing time?

At a Trail Outlaws race I just grabbed a handful as I passed the feeding station, but had too many to eat at once with out feeling sick. Rather than chucking to them away, I decided to keep a few back, only for them to create a horrible sweaty and sticky goo in my hand.

Is it race etiquette to grab a handful, or just take a few selected ones to nibble at?

I have not worked this one out yet, so it’s work in progress..

5) Race Strategy

I’m always being given helpful advice on race strategy. Whether that relates to the pace for the race, (start out slower and finish faster; start out faster and finish slower; just hang in there for grim death), or make sure you get near the front at the start.

The reality is that I fail on race strategy on the day, other than by adopting an approach that I must beat Runner X to the finish line. Runner X being a friend from the dark side, otherwise known as Durham City Harriers.

So far it’s 2 all on the races we have caught up with each other, with me taking the 10k races, and him the half marathons. I tend to start fast and gain a lead, then he gets me as a die close to the finish line

I need some coaching on race strategy.

6) Photographs

This is a completely new concept to participation in sport, both in training and at events.

It never ceases to amaze me that so many photo opportunities exist. The only problem I have, is that I have a great face for radio.

From photos I’ve seen, I seem to manage to pull a tremendous gurning race face, look like a burglars bull dog chewing a wasp, or generally look half dead, even when I’m stationary and not even started the run.

Once I’m up and running, strategically placed photographers always manage to capture me looking as if I’m in the mid throws of collapse, or dealing with trapped wind.

A recent article in Runners World stressed the virtues and benefits of running with a smile, and the evidence of this is everywhere in photos of others, happily running with a happy carefree smile and striking new PBs.

I’m just going to have to smile more when running in order to achieve my goals.

The Race

With these observations in mind, I made my way to Sherburn In Elmet for the VOY, with a view of trying to get a new PB for the distance.

On arrival, the first thing to notice at the race start, was the total absence of Crocodiles, Father Christmases, Dinosaurs, Hen & Stag parties and runners carry fridges on their backs.

What was obvious was the number of club runners sporting their club vests. A smattering of north eastern clubs were represented, but I guess the GNR drew in many from our region. However, the race was dominated by clubs from Yorkshire, such as Steel City Striders, Grimthorpe Harriers, and Royston Vasey ACC. With the promise of a flat fast paced course, the race had clearly attracted many runners intent on going for a good time or PB.

Mayor in foreground with runners behind (Photo © and courtesy John Ashton)
Photo © and courtesy John Ashton

Getting to the start was simple. The only local celebrity available to start the race was the Mayor of Selby, who thanked everyone for coming and set off the race with his air horn.

I’m pleased to say the execution of my plans went well:-

1) Pre race food

Pasta, and no negative after effects.

2) Pre Race Ablutions

Got to the start in good time, and completed without issue.

3) Water

No problems, I just saved the hassle by pouring it over my head.

4) Jelly Babies

Avoided

5) Race Strategy

Got near the front at the start.

I went out far too fast, died at 8 miles as I turned in to the wind, but managed to keep things going and got over the line in a new PB.

Runner X got to the finish line 11 seconds ahead of me after a last ditch overtake, and that’s not got to happen next time.

Having said that I had the moral victory as he is 10 years younger than me, but I wasn’t able to articulate that well to him after the race, plus he wasn’t listening.

6) Photographs

Smiled all the way around, with evidence from the event photo gallery.

Conclusion

Its fair to say that I have learnt my lessons, shown improvement and despite several previous mishaps, have become a little more proficient in this chosen sport. If that makes me an athlete, then I am a happy runner, and role on the XC season.

posbibnamecatcat poschip timegun time
1835Kev Jeffress (Sunderland Harriers & AC)M351/1521:11:481:11:49
3824Stephen JacksonM352/1521:12:001:12:00
32235Chris CallanM3511/1521:19:101:19:12
371012Sarah Lowery (Rotherham Harriers & AC)F351/1111:19:521:19:56
60712Georgie HebdonMSEN20/1931:22:431:22:48
16332Michael AndersonMSEN42/1931:30:031:30:09
379857Fiona JonesF4012/1411:40:311:40:57
429223Ian ButlerM5520/711:42:291:42:43
541948Nick LathamM4566/1561:46:551:47:20
587193David BrowbankM3582/1521:48:261:49:05
675957Marita Le Vaul-GrimwoodF4520/1091:51:231:53:10
719601Simon GrahamM3598/1521:53:121:54:34
7471764Vaughn WilliamsM35101/1521:54:451:55:54
81385Stephanie BarlowF4527/1091:57:261:57:53
8791017Stephen LumsdonM45120/1561:57:521:59:46
9671400Jill RudkinF4050/1412:01:152:02:57
11071621Mark TodmanM35134/1522:07:182:09:37
14421566Julie SwinbankF35100/1112:33:492:35:00

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Adventures in Orienteering – Simply Putting One Foot in Front of the Other?, Aykley Heads & Bolam Lake

Ian Butler

Being creative with Garmin

I was huffing and puffing up a hill at the Gibside Fruit Bowl, in clear pain and feeling knackered, when a mate of mine who was marshalling shouted out “Get on with it!! Running’s easy. Remember its simply about putting one foot in front of the other’.

If only life and running was that simple… and it’s not in my view of the world.

This was brought home to me in the last couple of weeks when I’ve realised that running is definitely not so simple, both in its execution and in the use of all the paraphernalia, which is supposedly designed to make things easier.

Firstly I will cover the gear supposedly designed to make things easier.

In our house of two, we have about 600 pairs of running or outdoor sporting shoes. Ones for road running, ones for the gym, cross country, Outdoor trail shoes for actual trails, outdoor trail shoes for bombing about town, walking boots; and just in case of emergency old pairs of all the above which are kept in the garage. We have not had an emergency yet, but we still keep them.

The point is that to meet our ever-changing running needs each one of these pairs of foot attire represents a greater cost and investment in cumulative design technology than our yearly national contribution to the EU.

For instance, I’m in the market for a pair of new running shoes and I was reading a review in one of the running magazines about one of my preferences. The article had passages like this.

“ A dual density EVA midsole with air units fore and aft provides stability, while a gel heel absorbs shock, but the shoe makes a narrow footprint, a characteristic that typically suits only the biomechanically efficient runner’.

Crikey! I’m not sure if I’m a biometrically efficient runner, but I do know that Neil Armstrong was put on the moon with less science at his disposal.

Having done my research and made my way to the sports shop to buy a pair of runners, the first thing I am asked is ‘ Do you under pronate or overpronate?’

My reply of ‘ Only after 5 pints and a curry’ was not only flippant but also grossly unhelpful and outlined my total ignorance of the complexity of my running needs.

What I should have understood was that the assistant was referring to the natural movement of the foot that occurs during foot landing while running or walking. That this action is composed of three cardinal plane components: subtalar eversion, ankle dorsiflexion, and forefoot abduction, these three distinct motions of the foot occur simultaneously during the pronation phase.

As you can see, it’s dead simple when you are in the know!!

The reality is that the choice of running shoes is seemingly limitless, all scrupulously engineered and biometrically designed to suit all shapes and sizes of runners. Therefore you need the guidance of a shoe guru to keep you right in your purchases, and in my case to keep things simple.

The second aid to simplicity is technology designed not to keep you informed about your training and running, often a great source of entertainment and commonly known as The Garmin, The Fit bit, or simply the running watch.

I just love the write-ups used to entice us into buying these little gems. I read one lately: –

‘The Garmin XT102.5 1S, designed to improve your athletic performance, where knowledge is power, logging your every move and providing a detailed analysis of your bodily functions. Helping you achieve improved super performance, whilst giving continuous readouts during your heart attack, while the Bluetooth connection to your mobile network prompts you to seek medical help when needed,

Technology is great and I love my Garmin, but the hardest part was setting the damn thing up, synching it to my iPad, then linking the data to Strava, which apparently sends prompts to people to like my efforts and give me the thumbs up, or some other gesture as the case may be.

When setting up my device I had to call the Garmin helpline, because I needed to feel totally incompetent by someone much younger than me.

I was stumped by the first question. She needed the serial number.

“Where is it?’ I asked.
‘It’s below the base of the XVS monitor next to the heart rate disequilibrium unit”

I was totally lost and quickly losing the will to live, and showing my complete ignorance of modern technology. Apparently, it was written on the back of the watch, but in letters and numbers so small that I needed a magnifying glass to read it.

My serial number was something like RD1257c6522910976V. Why?….. Never mind…..

Eventually, I got the watch up and running and have great fun with it. I just love the idea of lying perfectly still on the settee and not moving a muscle in order to get my heart rate as low as possible. Or running around a series of football pitches in a vain attempt to write my name using the GPS tracker and mapping function, or running around the village to make a GPS map of every street.

It’s all great fun before you even start to try to analyse all the data that gets recorded. Apparently, I have a great VO2 Max and fall within the top 5% of people for my age group, but when it comes to my FTP (I haven’t a clue what it means) I have moved from Fair to Good with a reading of 2.82, and clearly could do better.

You see, running is supposedly simple, buts its clearly not when it comes to technology. Neither is it in its execution in my view, as highlighted in my recent participation in Orienteering.

Now I’ve done a fair bit or Orienteering over the years, and during the Christmas break, I participated in 2 different events, neither of which proved to be simple.

Firstly to set the scene, I think it’s important to acknowledge that some participants come from a different clan of the running fraternity to the most popular events I usually run in. This is highlighted on arrival at the car park and a look at the cars that regular participants have a preference for. Citroen Berlingo’s, Peugeot Partner’s and Fiat Doblo’s or similar cars of a practical nature and square design are very prevalent, often beige or grey in colour.

Also, regulars run in a style of running kit that is practical for running in or through spikey bushes and dense undergrowth. This encompasses a leg gaiter protector around the lower legs known as bramble bashers, and then loads of very durable running trousers and long sleeved running tops. This gear is not for the fashionistas, and comes usually in the most horrible colour combinations imaginable, and was designed primarily with the Victorian gentleman or lady explorer in mind.

The basic principles of orienteering are that you have a map of the course, a compass, a topographical description of the numbered control points located on the map, and an electronic dibber to record your presence at each checkpoint.

The two basic types of events are: –

1) Score Events

• Competitors visit as many controls as possible within a time limit.
• There is usually a mass start (rather than staggered).
• Controls may have different point values depending on the difficulty to locate.
• There is a point penalty for each minute late over the time limit
• T he competitor with the most points in the fastest time is the winner.

2) Timed Events

• Competitors are given a time slot to start
• All control points are visited in a set order
• The competitor with the fastest time wins

At each race venue, there will be routes of varying difficulty and length to choose from; therefore it’s a good way to lose the whole family if you so wish.

You can do these events on your own, but also you can pair up with a friend or relative to make up a team. If you do these races with your wife, husband or partner, then be prepared to have a really good argument about half way round, usually about navigation and the best way to read a map, or whether to navigate by instinct or compass. You will just have to work out from experience what is the best way for you to compete in the least stressful way.

It should be fairly straight forward to run this event. However, reading the maps takes some getting used to, both in terms of coming to terms with the scale where you may cover the ground quite quickly on the map, and then interpreting what you actually see for it to make sense. For example, the open ground is shaded on the map, whilst woodland is clear and unshaded.

The next difficulty is that each control point is usually cunningly hidden on a topographical feature. Each map usually includes a table listing each control point together with a series of symbols to describe what that feature is and where on this feature the control is located, For example, separate symbols may show the control to be at a flight of steps, at the top, on the eastern side.

The problem is that there are dozens of different symbols to learn and understand, including narrow marsh, a small depression, rentrant, pit, thicket etc. It all gets very complex if you allow it to get to you. My basic approach to this is to just make my way to the vicinity of where I think a control point is, and then run around like a headless chicken until I fall over it.

Again it’s not simple, and this point is emphasised with some of the language used to describe some features. My favourite is a ‘linear thicket’. To most people, this is a hedge, as in ‘I’m going to cut the hedge as it needs trimming’. I certainly don’t say, ‘Today, I’m going to cut my linear thicket’.

This Christmas I completed in two very traditional annual events: –


1) Aykley Heads – Score Event – Boxing day (1 Hour Time Limit)

This was pretty straight forward for me, based on the fact I know the venue very well, I could read the map easily and basically knew all the paths and shortcuts without having to use the compass I did not take with me.

Running on instinct rather than with a plan, the control points were located across the County Hall and Aykley Heads site, covering the ground across to the railway line. Taking a counter-clockwise route, I got to 31 control points out of 35. The only problem was that the proximity reader held on my finger failed to register 5 control points, meaning that there was no record of my visit to those points.

Thus, whilst this was a great run out, and the navigation was relatively straight forward to execute, modern technology failed me and made a simple task very hard.


2) Bolam Lake, Northumberland – Timed Event

Getting lost at Bolam Lake

We do this every year and it is always a great one to do. The area covered is much smaller than Aykley Heads, but the terrain is much more difficult to navigate. Forget about linear thickets and open ground. Think of dense jungle and lost tribes. The control points are set in sequence across the park, with some points requiring a good long run to cross between, whilst others are much closer together, but well and truly hidden and requiring proper navigation to get to.

Having done this event on many occasions, I know the ground and can read the map; so seeing where to go to get to each control point, in turn, is straight forward. The hard part is that some of the controls are placed in deep marshes in the middle of thick evergreen forest. The purists will dodge off on a compass bearing and measure out the distance to hit perfectly the control point. I will rely on counting out drainage ditches on the map, and then turn off paths to find the control in the forest. At Bolam Lake, I once come across some members of the infamous lost ‘Wherethehellarewe Tribe’, so you can understand how thick the vegetation is.

The reality is this is no 7.30minute mile pace race. It’s more like wandering around in circles, jumping across ditches, falling into ditches, in search of control points, at 15-minute mile pace. This point is emphasised on my Garmin tracker, which records my taken route that seems to wonder like a lost spider across the screen.

Its tough, and it can be dangerous, and as I tried to run through an evergreen tree to make it to a known path I virtually impaled my left hip on a broken low hanging branch. Completing a self assessment triage, I established that although I had drawn blood, I didn’t need an immediate medical rescue and evacuation by the Great North Air Ambulance Service, and so I was able to continue and make it to the end in a reasonable time placing me in the middle of the field (Note – not the middle of A FIELD, but THE FIELD, my navigation is not that bad).

Finally, running, in theory, can be very simple and should be about putting one foot in front of the other. The reality is that equipment; technology and races such as orienteering events can be very complex and at times incomprehensible. However such complexity simply gives added value and infinite variety to the sport we love.

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