Category Archives: Ian Spencer

Hadrian’s Wall Half Marathon, Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dougie Nisbet …

If it hadn’t cost 23 quid and involved a new, interesting, off-road and quirky sounding race, I would simply have pressed the big-button on the alarm clock, turned over and gone back to sleep. The curiosity and cost combo were too great, however, and I dragged myself out of bed to the espresso maker and checked the weather forecast. Mindful of my senior-moment the previous day in which I was convinced the Allendale 8 started 30 minutes later than it did, I checked and rechecked the details and soon we were sneering our way past the Metro centre and onwards to Hadrian’s Wall.

Lately I’ve noticed several races taking ‘entries on the day’ for events that were initially thought would be over-subscribed. The Hadrian’s Wall Half Marathon had a limit of 300; as it happened, they got 50. Which is a shame given the great location and potential of this course. Poor publicity, price tag, weather, location? Who knows. We parked next to the campsite and believed the marshall who said it was a ‘slow 20 minute’ walk to the start. I’d bumped into Ian Spencer who was also running but as we headed for the Start, and the minutes ticked by on the improbably long and steep walk we both had to abandon our spouses and jog ahead as the clock ticked towards 10AM.

Ian and Dougie. At 10:08 I exchanged pleasantries with the sweeper (always a good idea in my book!) and grumbled to Ian about my hurty knee. Perhaps it was the thundering road descents in yesterday’s race what done it, but by knee was a bit twingy and I assumed it would loosen and warm up in the first couple of miles. Starting races with a twinge or two that disappear after a few miles is pretty much routine for me.

Away we went on an agreeably squashy and mixed terrain. It reminded me of Swaledale in some respects as it’s truly mixed-terrain with a lot of trail, grass and mud. For a mile or two I was keeping Ian in my sights about a minute ahead and he was providing a good pace marker for me. We were accompanied on stretches by large fearsome looking cattle who bellowed and belched their encouragement, and occasionally just stood in the way looking simultaneously glaikit and malevolent. A few miles in and at the first water station I was running steadily but my performance was nothing amazing. A bit of lethargy had set in and my knee was giving me concern. I walked at the water station and munched a glucose tablet or two, pausing to stretch my knee and, in the process, lose a few places in the field.

Into the forest and a series of short climbs that I tackled without any great enthusiasm and it dawned on me that, in a nutshell, my heart really wasn’t in it. I walked a little and on the next climb, when my knee started complaining again, I paused to consider my options. It’s Swaledale next week, and I really would like to do that. I’d lost a lot of places from walking and stretching. There were still around 8 miles to go. And I had a hurty knee, that was getting hurtier by the mile. It didn’t feel like a “run-through” twinge, it just felt wrong.

There’s a first time for everything and today was to be my first DNF. I turned round and jogged back towards the sweeper. This didn’t take long and I explained to her that I was going to retire and planned to just jog gently back to the start. She was having none of this and immediately produced a space-blanket and got on the radio to St John Ambulance and I heard “We have an injured runner” being passed down the line. I don’t know if the next words were “Man Down! Man Down!” but I was beginning to feel a bit of a fraud and insisted I was an experienced club runner who was just retiring as a precaution. The sweeper waited with me until a medic cycled up and he escorted me back to the sweep car where I was placed gently in the back seat by Paul and Emily. Paul put a jacket around me and a grandad-stylee travel rug over my knees and I felt a right twit. I felt like shouting “I’ve done Britain’s Worst Fell Race, you know!”, but as it turned out, they were right and I was wrong. I “run hot” and was in a singlet with no base layer. I fell into the classic mistake of forgetting that as soon as you stop moving, you cool down, and within minutes I was very grateful for the extra insulation. So if you’re reading this Paul and Emily, thank you for looking after me.

I then had a very interesting ‘behind the scenes’ view of the race as we drove round just behind the sweeper, collecting the signs and talking to the marshalls. At some point I jumped vehicles and got a fast lift back to race HQ with another marshall (thanks John!) at which point I headed for my car only to discover I’d left my car key in Paul and Emily’s car. No matter, I’ll give Roberta a ring. No signal. I thought, if I was Roberta, on a damp drizzly day in the middle of nowhere, what would I do? Where would I be? Sure enough, there she was, in the campsite tea room, where they did a mean bacon and egg roll.

Perhaps the most interesting moment of the day was when sitting in the tea room, still in my racing kit, Ian walked in. I affected nonchalance and asked him if he hadn’t noticed the point during the race at which I’d overtaken him. His puzzlement lasted the briefest of moments (but it was there!) until he twigged that I couldn’t possibly have overtaken him in a supersonic blur. Worth a try though!

This has all the potential to be a really cracking race and it’s a shame that it didn’t attract more runners than it did. There’s shades of James Herriot and Swaledale in there, and the mixture of track, trail and fell really appealed to me. I watched the back-markers run home in pouring rain on the final straggly descent and felt a pang of envy. There’s a lot of multi-terrain diversity in this course and it pitches a nice balance between trail and fell. I hope it runs again as I’ll certainly be back for more.

… and Ian Spencer

This is a race that deserves to grow and one day reach its ambitious upper limit of 300 runners. Sadly, this day, only 49 finished, which must have been disappointing for the organisers and their chosen charity, Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue.

The organisers went out of their way to ensure a safe and well marshalled event. St. John’s Ambulance were out in force. The course was well chosen and, except for trek to the start and the last mile, the course was well marked, scenic and a pleasure to run. Also, don’t be alarmed, but the mile markers don’t start until mile 5.

The race HQ was at a nice campsite, which included free, hot showers and a tea room. However, the runners email stated ‘please allow 18 minutes to get to the start.’ That turned out to be a wee bit optimistic. True, a fit runner could do that but if any supporters wanted to come and see you off, it would have been better to allow 30 minutes, given that it was up a steep hill. Still, given the small field, they waited for the stragglers. The alternative was to have an uphill start. What’s wrong with that?

It would be better to think of this as a 13.1 mile fell race anyway. The website’s statement that; ‘the only significant climbs being along the wall itself’ was the sort of thing a dyed-in-the-wool fell-runner would say. I really want to do this race again. It is very enjoyable but, next year, I’m going to take the sort of kit that I would always have on a long fell run: full body cover (carried if not worn), whistle, energy drink, phone and possibly a button compass. Even in June, the rain, visibility and temperature can’t be guaranteed.

The only other fly in the ointment is that quite a few people ended up getting lost in the last mile, as well-marked trails gave way to open moor, marked with bits of white tape attached to stakes. I wasn’t alone in wondering whether I’d followed the official course at the end or got mixed up with the course markers from the start. Up to mile 12, I was pretty sure I’d finish in under two hours. I ended up coming in after 2 hours, 9 minutes and 30 seconds. I’ll wear the Garmin next year.

The men’s race was won by Les Smith in 1:34:14. The ladies race was won by Laura Davies in 1:54:41, neither of whom seem to be in a club.

(Visited 26 times, 1 visits today)

Angel View Run, Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ian Spencer

The name is a bit of a give away. This 5m race is around parkland and bits of dual carriageway, a stones throw from the Angel of the North and the Angel View Hotel, the race HQ.

Nice race, shame about the hotel. I’ve seldom met surlier, rude bar staff as in the Angel View. Call me a bluff old traditionalist, if you will, but “will it be something quick, ‘cos I’m very busy” isn’t the kind of opening gambit I would use to a customer looking to buy a drink for himself and his partner. Given the unwanted attention she got from other patrons while I was running, I was left wondering whether the Angel View Hotel is more used to parties of swingers than runners and their families.

Anyway, back to the race. Generally, it’s lovely, scenic (apart from the bit of road) and challenging. There are no namby-pamby frills like mile markers, t-shirts or other mementos (except on the junior race preceding it, where they get a medal). It’s well marshalled and way marked. The only confusion came when, running back to the start from the second loop, I thought I was about to finish when I was told there was another loop up the hill to do. So, the course is more of a clover leaf than a figure-of-eight.

I’ll happily do this next year, so long as I don’t have to set foot in the Angel View Hotel.

(Visited 32 times, 1 visits today)

Belfast City Marathon, Monday, May 2, 2011

Ian Spencer

As I didn’t get into London, I chose Belfast as an alternative, partly because I used to live there, but also because when I last did this race, ten years ago, I liked it a lot. But let’s consider this race on its own merits.

Belfast is a great city. True, it doesn’t have the elegance of Dublin or the endless variety of London but it is intriguing and has a beauty of its own, born of its industrial past. It’s small but still feels like a proper city and the same is true of the marathon.

Only about 3,500 people do the full marathon but about 20,000 enter the 5-leg team relay, so you always feel part of a big city event. The race starts at 9am, outside the magnificent City Hall, built in 1906 as a confident expression of wealth, industrial power and, it has to be said, Imperial Britishness. It then heads out of the city towards Holywood Road and returning via Sydenham, with its loyalist murals and views of the historic Harland and Wolff shipyard, birthplace of the Titanic. It returns to the city, West Belfast and republican murals. As it progresses to the Shankhill the murals may change but the warmth of the reception never does. The people of Belfast seem to regard the marathon as an expression of civic pride which gives the whole day a festive feel.

After a steady climb up the Antrim Road you reach the highest point at about the half way mark. Then you turn a corner to stunning views of Belfast Lough and a nice downhill run. Belfast is not a p.b. course. But do you always want a marathon to be dead flat? As I ran down towards Gideons Green I may not have been particularly fast but I felt as if I was flying, exhilarated in the warm sunshine and carried along by the support. The long flat run along the cycle path by the Lough’s edge is the beginning of quiet miles where few people live. Belfast always had this. Stretches of its industrial and commercial heart which make for a flat course but, by mile 20, you are longing for a bit of support. But after that it comes in by the lorry load as you approach the last relay changeover.

The finish is in the lovely Ormeau Park and our walk back to the hotel took us past a nice Victorian pub, the Hatfield, with ice cold Magners cider demanding my attention. The Hatfield sits on the Lower Ormeau Road, at one time a very republican area. And here is the point. Peace is here to stay. The welcome and friendliness is fantastic, whatever the colour of the flags or kerbstones.

My only criticisms are that there are not enough loos at the start, so a city centre hotel is very useful. Mercifully, there are many to choose from to suit all budgets. Also, the drinks stations serve up water and Poweraid in wee paper cups and, at times, the fantastic volunteers struggled to keep up with demand, on what must have been one of the warmest days of the year.

The men’s race was won, with a new course record, by Jacob Kipkorir of Kenya in 2:14:56. The Ukraine’s Vera Ovcharuk won the women’s race in 2:46:04 but for me the most incredible performance was by the Olympic walker, Colin Griffin, who completed the 26.2 miles in 3 hours, 19 minutes and 28 seconds! What could he do if he ran it?!

Me? I finished in 3:43:45 and enjoyed every minute of it.

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Derwentwater 10, Keswick, Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ian Spencer

In perfect, cool, sunny conditions 585 runners took to the centre of Keswick, only a stone’s throw from pencil museum (yes, really). Then, at 12.00, we set off for a gloriously scenic clockwise route around the lake. I was just getting over the flu so stayed near the back. But if you are keen on getting a good time, it’s worth being near the front. Keswick’s narrow streets make for a bit of a slow start. The race then follows a mostly flat four miles, followed by a steady climb to the races high point a bit after mile six. The rest of the course undulates until the downhill finish. None of this held back Rebecca Robinson (Kendal AC), who set a new women’s course record.

The wonderful weather had one great disadvantage. The course is not traffic free. So, day trippers, in danger of losing the use of their legs, were busy driving round the lake before stopping for sandwiches and to drain the contents of their thermos flasks.

I imagine, anyone who has done the half marathon earlier in the year will prefer that, as it goes around the lake anti-clockwise and you get the hills out of the way in the first half. Still, I’m happy to make both annual events. After all, you can’t really have too many outdoor shops, can you?

(Visited 15 times, 1 visits today)

Dublin Marathon, Monday, October 25, 2010

Ian Spencer

Sometimes less is more. I used to think that nothing could beat the experience of running the London Marathon but Dublin can. I know it’s supposed to be pointless to compare and one should just judge each race on its own merits. But, as a Londoner, Dublin really has become my favourite. This is because, with just over 13,000 entrants, it is all the better for being smaller by giving it an intimacy and easy-going nature. For example, instead of the kraal that you are in on Blackheath, you can just walk to the start on Fitzwilliam Street, have a coffee with your supporter(s) before dropping off your bag, use one of the vast number of loos, take up your place and whoever has come to cheer you on can still see you to give you a wave.

The organisation was faultless with bags of that big city marathon atmosphere both at the registration and on the actual race. This was helped further by the perfect cool and sunny conditions. The Dublin course isn’t flat but its undulations are steady climbs rather than anything severe. It goes through the beautiful Phoenix Park as well as historic sights such as O’Connell St. But what really made it for me was the astonishing warmth and friendliness of the crowds. The amount of sweets, fruit and drinks on offer meant that this is the one marathon where you could actually put weight on and get your five-a-day! It took only a minute to get over the start line. Only once or twice were there pinch-points where the route narrowed; mainly at the end because the Garda are so laid back that they didn’t get spectators to stand on the pavements. Not that it held back either of the winners who both set course records.

Although, €70 is a bit steep for some I felt that I got more than value for money. An unforgettable weekend.


Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Moses Kangogo Kibet Kenya M 2:09:07
3109 Ian Spencer M45 283 3:45:12

10,700 finishers

(Visited 23 times, 1 visits today)

Ray Harrison 10k, Billingham, Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ian Spencer

It started warm and got warmer. A glorious Sunday morning and three striders made it to Billingham Synthonia (eh?) FC for a very well organised 10k. On the face of it, a pretty flat course comprising two loops—one of 3k and another of 7k. You couldn’t call it scenic, being mostly around industrial sites in a state of long term decline (much like myself). However, there was a good atmosphere of a well-established running club-fest. The long gentle incline from 7–9k into a head-wind took it out of quite a few people. The water at the end was very welcome, unlike the fact that I was beaten by a man dressed as a packet of McCoy’s crisps—one of the sponsors.


Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Philip Wylie Blaydon Harriers M 31:36
28 Tracy Waller Hartlepool Burn Road F35 38:52
122 Ian Spencer M40 47:27
125 Alister Robson M 47:50
171 Ian Graham F50 51:41

265 finishers.

(Visited 27 times, 1 visits today)

Clive Cookson 10k, Whitley Bay, Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ian Spencer

Everywhere has one of these, or at least should have; a nice, flat, two-lap 10k race which is well organised, marshalled and supported by club runners. Most of the race is on tarmac but a bit of it is on gravelly paths, however not enough to stop it potentially being a p.b. course. Although it’s not completely traffic-free, there weren’t enough cars to worry about. The flies caused more problems as it was a warm, humid evening. Changing and parking facilities are good in the new school. Some showers would have been nice but I don’t suppose you can have everything. The best bit, though, was the stylish technical tee-shirt and a book (a history of the Great North Run) in the goody bag, either one of which was equal to the entry fee. Not only that, I won a spot prize – a pair of socks. Haile Gebrselassie, eat your heart out!


Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 DAWSON, Michael Morpeth Harriers & AC M 1 33:25
19 MOONEY, Jane Morpeth Harriers & AC F 1 37:19
150 Ian Spencer 49:04
152 Alistair Robson 49:25

213 finishers.

(Visited 25 times, 1 visits today)

Ravenscar Coastal Half Marathon, Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ian Spencer

I ran this race and it was fantastic! It really is a must-do event and deserves to grow and grow. It is in a very good cause: Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue. It is also very beautiful and great fun with a nice ultra-friendly atmosphere.

It’s tough, though. In a way, calling it a half marathon gives no clue to the nature of the thing. It reminds me of The Beast in Dorset; an endurance event rather than a race at a classic distance. The first part is along cliff-top tracks which are undulating but not too demanding. There are outstanding views of the fabulous North Yorkshire coast. Then, you do some serious oh-my-god-I’m-going-break my-leg down hills. This is followed by some real hands-on-your-knees type up hills.

At about the half-way mark you are on the return leg, along the very welcome break of a disused railway line. No spectacular views but lovely and traffic free all the same. Much of this is a very gentle uphill so it’s a relief to be back on the cliffs.

Ravenscar is minuscule! So, there is no problem finding the race HQ in the church hall. The organisation was very good but some more marshals out on the course might not have gone amiss. I think a couple of runners went off-piste, as it were. God knows how; as the route seemed pretty clear to me. I did wonder, though, what would have happened if someone had got an injury out there in the wilds? It could have been a couple of miles to get help. In bad weather the race might have been quite hazardous. I wonder whether it might almost be better to treat it like a fell race and ask runners to take a phone and waterproofs if the weather was likely to be bad. Fortunately, the conditions were perfect. The drinks stations were great but the toilets were not as there was just one sit-down for the men and ladies loo broke down at some point.

I love this sort of race. Someone just shouts ‘go!’ at the start and there is no tat such as a t-shirt at the end just nice tea and flapjacks. My time? I hoped you wouldn’t ask. Err … unofficially, 2 hours, 10 minutes and some seconds. But it was hard. Really. But I will definitely do this one again next year.

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