Category Archives: Nina Mason

Tour de Helvellyn, Saturday, December 21, 2019

Nina Mason

The route

I had planned for this to be my ‘big one’ for 2019. I entered the race in January thinking I would have nearly a full year to build up the mileage and effort required. I was looking forward to braving the elements, and running in the dark – I find this so much fun. The route is out and back from Askham with a loop ‘round’ Helvellyn

Having completed the Old County Tops with Elaine in May however, I didn’t feel like it was uncharted territory anymore – and I became giddy with excitement in the few days before the event!

I had recced the route a few times in sections. My other prep included squeezing all the kit (a fair bit) and food (ditto) into my rucksack, writing the checkpoints on my hand (so no worrying if my mind got foggy), deciding what time to start, planning when and where to snack (easier for me on ups), and what I might snack on (buying race food was a highlight in the week before!)

The weather was kind on the day – no wind to speak of, and although it might have drizzled on me, I don’t recall proper rain. It was mild too for the time of year. Snow, ice, wind, or rain would have changed the day entirely (though there were small patches of melting snow over Sticks).

The route is on tracks and trails, and there is a small bit of road too. There was no navigation needed, though I was pleased that there were runners around me in the low cloud over Sticks Pass and Grisedale Tarn.

I found it very different to other (shorter) races I have done in the Lakes – I didn’t dare tackle the ups and downs as I would usually (full throttle – though that means different speeds depending on direction) due to the distance. I felt I had to hold myself back a little earlier on – it is so tempting when warmed up to really enjoy the downs! I’ve never had much speed on flatter sections, so a steady plod here felt ok.

I saw mum at Side Farm on the way out – I think I surprised her because she shouted ‘slow down!’ (she was trying to take a photo) but she just got a ‘No way! Have a good day!’ I missed her (or she missed me?) on the way back as I was ahead of schedule. I didn’t look at my watch until I got to Side Farm on the return – I didn’t think there was any need, as I could only go as quick as I could go. When I did look I was pleasantly surprised, and this spurred me on for the ‘home stretch’ (10 miles, but it felt like the home stretch!)

Anyone on Barton Fell as the daylight dwindled may have witnessed the ‘Mason shuffle’ – not quite running speed, but quicker than my walk. And achievable whilst snacking on fizzy, jelly sweets – always a winner for me when getting tired, ‘solid’ food is looking less appetising, and I need an instant hit. I do however feel more research on this may be required, and am always on the lookout for new brands, shapes, or flavours to test, and different hills to eat them on.

I pushed on for the last few miles over the moor, conscious of the clock, overtaking a few people and determined they wouldn’t go past – though knowing I wasn’t necessarily racing them, as everyone chooses their own start time. But the competitive urge is always there, so when I spotted (and I think verbally greeted) the gorse bush on the moor above Askham, I knew it was a downhill mile or so back to the village hall. I pushed hard, had to brake suddenly to get over the cattle grid, grimacing to get the legs running again.

And a dash into the heat and lights of the hall, to be dibbed at the finish. I must have looked wild-eyed (wild-haired? tired? windswept? sugar rush or crash?) as I got a few ‘are you ok?’s and ushered into a chair, vaguely disgruntled that I hadn’t even needed my head torch – both starting and finishing in the half-gloom.

Because of the staggered start times I was washed, changed, and full of soup by the time I saw the other Striders. We shared a few war stories, and then thank goodness for the post-race buzz that allowed me to drive home. Great fun, and already signed up (and hoping for snow) for next year.

Event Website: https://www.nav4.co.uk/tour-de-helvellyn

Results: http://results.opentracking.co.uk/event/tdh2019

Photo courtesy of John Bamber


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Espresso Round, Keswick, Sunday, November 10, 2019

12.3 Miles, 3128 feet.

Nina Mason

So, I had a ‘free weekend’…..what to do? Forecast looked good, maps out…..mmmm.

I decided to go for the Espresso Round with mum. This is the Abraham Tea Round’s shorter and lower alternative. You start and finish at the George Fisher shop in Keswick, and need to touch 4 tops, Catbells, Rowling End, Causey Pike and Barrow (in any order). No racing, no times, no pressure, and (the whole point) you can see the tea shop – the ‘prize’ – from all the tops on the route.

“I can see the tea shop” – Catbells

A little bit of cajoling convinced mum to go for it, it being a bit further than she has run recently. The weather did indeed give us a glorious day – cool to start, but sunny, clear, and just warm enough for mum to get down to short sleeves.

About to start.

The famous grouse was on fine form on Rowling End (I suspect the same cheeky chap that Jules, Nigel, and Mike ran into on their Tea Round), making lots of noise and chasing us along the path.

The famous grouse!

Mum and I jogged and walked at a fairly relaxed pace, stopping often to soak up the views, compare and eat our snacks, take photos, chat to others enjoying the fells. Naturally as we descended Barrow (the final hill) we checked the time, and I quite arbitrarily decided that we needed to finish within 4hrs 20 (despite all the time spent doing said activities without any clock watching). So I told mum to grit her teeth and get stuck in, and made her work for that last mile and a half (including dodging people and dogs in Keswick centre, before racing to the door of the shop and stopping watches at 4.18). I can only assume that every runner sets random targets in exactly the same way, including mid-run…..it’s not just me??

Espresso Round completed.

This is a good route up four very pleasant and slightly different hills, with some easy rocky sections, plenty of runnable bits (if so inclined), and cracking 360-degree views. I can definitely recommend this as a run or walk.

There are no prizes for this Round. But that didn’t matter on the day – all the glory was in spending a wonderful day out together in a fantastic part of the world.

Barrow, the final summit.

Website: https://georgefisher.co.uk/blogs/articles/2019-07-26-george-fisher-espresso-round/

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British Fell Relay Championships (leg 3 – navigation leg), Peak District, Saturday, October 19, 2019

Nigel Heppell and Nina Mason

Photo Courtesy Beau Dog Photography

From Nigel:


A Navigation leg, run as a pair – Geoff Davies and Nigel Heppell were sent away ahead of the mass start by the combined efforts of Graeme W(leg 1) and James G/Paul E(leg2).The map is only handed to us after we are a few hundred metres into the race and tells us that the course is 11.2km long with 520m ascent through 7 checkpoints.

By the time we return we have recorded 14.7km and 727m … but manage to hold on to 170th place out of 242 teams(Overall, Elvet Men are 18th of 38 teams in the V40 category).

The route we chose comprised trods with loose rocks, interminable gritty uphill tracks, precipitous descents through deep heather; thigh-height stream crossings; ascents so steep you could nibble the bilberries direct from the bush just by leaning forward slightly, headlong downhill charges through tussocky grasses hiding foot-sized holes in the ground;- and then it got harder when we reached the boggy bits! I face-planted a couple of times and felt my life-force draining away more than once.

Pleased to get to the last 1/2mile of steep grass followed by mud into the finish – for the first time I find myself in front of Geoff, and it happens to coincide with the only photo of us –not a true reflection of events at all

Nigel beating Geoff

And from Nina:

A stunning setting and good weather greeted us at the fell relays. I ran the navigation (third) leg with Tricia, and had so much fun (more than is usual in a race, for sure!).

After pacing round the ‘handover’ pen waiting to spot Fiona and Elaine running in from leg 2, we were suddenly off, with a sharp climb up out of the woods, collect the map, and set off uphill to the first checkpoint.

Tricia and I made a good team, sharing the lead running (or clambering!) and discussing and agreeing on the nav. I had my compass out a couple of times just to be sure the hills were in the right place, but as visibility was superb it wasn’t really needed on the day. The terrain was mixed, and together we found plenty of mud, streams, vegetation – and some runnable bits too.

We made pretty decent progress round the course, with the exception of one route choice between checkpoints where we thought direct was the best bet. In hindsight it wasn’t. We could see a trod on the far hillside, but had to find (fight) our way through a couple of hundred yards of dense, tall bracken to reach it. As we didn’t have our machetes this slowed us down a little, though made the day particularly memorable! Crawling under the bracken as the easiest way up a steep hill is a new one for me.

A brilliant experience, sharing a race with the best fell runners in the country, and with strong, supportive Striders’ teams. Great fun running with Tricia. A special mention to Adrian for ‘hanging around’ in a muddy field and supporting all day – rewarded (as was I) with a pub meal and a couple of pints. Very well done to the hosts – Dark Peak – for ending the legs with a hugely entertaining downhill (whether running or spectating!) and for organising an unforgettable day.

Nina and Tricia

Website: https://britishfellrelays2019.org.uk/

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Derek Price Memorial Grisedale Horseshoe, Glenridding, Lake District, Saturday, September 7, 2019

AM/16km/9.9m

Nina Mason

Image courtesy of Joseph Twigg

A fabulous, warm, sunny day greeted the runners of this year’s Grisedale Horseshoe.  This year it was one of the English Championship counters, with some of the best fell runners in the country taking part. Start and finish in Glenridding, at the parish hall, where my timing dibber was expertly attached to my wrist at registration; after a thorough kit check and receipt of a free buff at the playing school fields in Patterdale.

I had no goals other than to get round as quickly as I could. I think due to the number of runners the ladies were started 10 minutes before the men. We set off along the footpath through Gillside campsite, where I had camped the night before. Knowing what was ahead, I didn’t look at the van sat there in the sunshine.

It was a bit of a slog up the tourist path to the wall, and to Hole-in-the-wall (where the men started to catch me). From there it was focus on running as hard as I could towards Red Tarn, and then a hands-on-knees, heart-pounding, breathless ascent straight up the grass to cp1, Catstycam.

My legs felt ludicrously wobbly as I clambered over the rocks of Swirral Edge to cp2. A change of gear to run as hard as possible across Helvellyn, and over the undulating but generally-downhill terrain past Dollywaggon Pike, to the first serious descent to Grisedale Tarn.

The men setting off after worked well for me – when I could hear them coming to pass me I worked hard to stay in front; when the faster guys did (inevitably) pass me I worked hard to stay with them as long as I could. The steep ups and downs created a more level (see what I did there?) playing field for the men and women, with individual strengths showing.

From the tarn it felt like a long jog/walk up St Sunday Crag and cp4 – my legs starting to feel the climbs. I took a moment to look up (when I could take my eyes off the ground in front) – the views were amazing in every direction, a fantastic day to be up the hills.

But then no time to look, as the descent down Blind Cove to the barn (cp5) near Grisedale Beck was crazily steep. Sliding down the gully (sometimes on my bum) and then running down steep grass. I fell here, I thought quite stylishly. I did a shoulder-butt-360 roll and ended up on my feet, slightly dazed but actually feeling that I had bounced off the soft ground. Thank goodness I had missed the boulders strewn about. I got a few ‘are you oks?’ from other runners, obviously replying with a very confident (but not really felt) ‘yes, I’m great thanks!’.

Barn, cp5. Through the beck, delightfully fresh and cool and only shin height. Forcing myself to run along the valley footpath, knowing what is coming and not daring to look up to the left.

Other Striders have written reports about this race, and I think all sum up, in different ways, how this last climb feels. I keep a running diary, with races (and distances and climbs) written in the back. Part of my prep, as well as recceing, is looking at the feet of climb per mile. Of course terrain and weather etc. make every race different, but I like the climb/distance comparison – for me it usually holds true for pace and how much a race hurts.

This race has the most feet/mile of all the races I’ve attempted so far. This last climb looks small on the map. A few hundred metres. The contours look fairly close, but how hard could it be? After the 8 miles or so just completed in the race, it was…..well, polite words don’t sum it up.

So, left turn. Straight up the bank to cp6, up at the wall. My legs were screaming ‘stop, stop moving’. Breathing was ok and I managed to get a couple of jelly babies down. I took to all-fours – glancing up now and then to make sure I was still going in the right general direction, staring at the grass in front, unable to think, as it would have just been ‘stop’, as I hauled myself up with handfuls of grass, trying to take the burden off my legs. It felt very slow. Torturous. I was feeling every hill and mile that I have never trained, and now regret. I think the only thing that was ok was that everyone around was struggling too – not that I wanted them to be in pain, but if they had all looked ok and waltzed up I would have laid down and cried.

And then….the top. A dead rotten sheep. Marshalls telling me to dib, and to climb the wall. Pointing me in the general direction I needed to go as I saw a vest disappear over the edge of the hill. I obviously looked out of it. Wobbly over the wall stile. And then like a switch has been flicked, glorious downhill – some wonderfully boggy, kind on the feet and with really good grip. My legs suddenly feeling ok again. Focussed, running hard. Back on the tourist path we had ascended a couple of hours before, run past the campsite (no looking at the van now!) and back to the hall.

This one was tough (that final climb was unforgettable, and everyone talked about it as we were eating cake at the hall). A great turn out and we were very lucky with fantastic weather. Well organised and great support from the marshals. I loved all of it, even the painful bits. I got my food right (two gels and some jellies). I didn’t carry water knowing I could drink from streams all the way round (which I did, copiously, without any ill effects).

The sharp end, given the field, was sharp, and very impressive. Those that were out longer had a great day for it. I was very happy with my mid-pack position and time.

Sitting in the sunshine in the afternoon now, showered and happy, glass of cider, by the van (cracking campsite btw). Looking at the hills we had conquered.  Feeling tired and very happy.

Please click here for results

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Old Crown Round, Hesket Newmarket, Lake District, Saturday, July 20, 2019

AL/22.4miles/7218feet

Nina Mason

Race start Courtesy of Ian Grimshaw

I had been really excited about this race for a couple of weeks. The race is organised by Northern Fells Running Club, starting and finishing at the Old Crown pub in Hesket Newmarket, with five checkpoints – the summits of some of the fells after which the brewery (based at the pub) has named its beers.

I’d done one recce a few weeks ago, and found some route choices I was happy with, and some that needed improving. A second planned recce was thwarted by my post-Skiddaw Fell Race feet (now healed) but I was still relatively confident with my chosen route. After my disagreement with eating in the Old County Tops, I’d also carefully planned my snacks, and had them stashed where I could grab them easily. I was aiming on getting round (in 6hrs perhaps) and having a good day out.

From the FRA rule book. That’s me told.

I saw Geoff at the start, who rolled his eyes at the fact I’d put my number on my bag (rather than my chest…not enough room with rucksack straps). Anyway, you think that’s bad, wait till you read about my compass.

Kit check and registration complete, 43 runners gathered on the green outside the pub for the pre-race briefing. The sun was shining, and it was fairly warm, though there were a smattering of raindrops as we set off.

There is a mile of road, then from Wood Hall set/flagged routes over fields and then out on to the open fell. A fair amount of running, then a hands on knees climb to CP1 – Carrock Fell. I was quite near the back, but happy to watch a stream of runners ascend ahead of me. Weather still good.

From Carrock the organisers had strongly suggested a route heading towards Round Knott before dropping down to the stream, to avoid the gorse. I’d recced this and knew my way, though the shoulder high bracken near the stream made things fun! Weather and visibility good.

There were three stream crossings to choose from; I had already decided on the first (with a rope) as I wanted to head straight up Bowscale here, rather than nearer Blackhazel Beck (where I had not enjoyed my recce…too tussocky, contoured ground). Again, hands on knees on the steep section, then trudge up, up, up. Check the time – first snack – flapjack.

And then the clouds start to blow over, cutting the visibility to maybe 50yds, and the rain starts. Jacket straight on as I don’t want to get wet and cold. I know I am most of the way up Bowscale, but it’s pathless here so I check the map and do a swift bearing check (compass seemed fine here…. read on). I’d been following a guy in a blue jacket, and now caught him, and we ran together over the pathless ground. We hit the trod coming off Bowscale, and its flatter here, so we both started running towards Blencathra.

Then the steep stony path up to Blencathra. I want to run when I start coming off the top, so I eat again here on the way up – snack two, mini cheese sausage roll. Drink water to help it down. The rain is coming and going, it’s pretty windy, and the clag is thick. I focus on the path in front. Blue jacket is just behind me.

CP2 Blencathra – the marshalls huddled in a tent, and Susan is there too! It’s wonderful to see her, and we have a quick hug and then I’m off, back down to the little pool which for me indicates a left turn down to Cloven Stone. I’ve taken a bearing, and have my compass out to follow….and this is where it goes wrong. My compass needle is swinging around, despite me tapping it, shaking it, and using some rather unladylike harsh language. Every now and then it would settle, and I would confidently start running down the common, and then off it would go again and I’d be reduced to a walk while trying to get it to ‘work’. Blue is still near me in the mist. My compass has become my trusted friend on runs like this – always there, reliable, never lying. I felt lost (emotionally) and let down. What had I done for it to desert me like this, just when I need it? Anyway, I lost track of how long I thought I’d been running downhill, and ended up descending down the valley too early, to the end of Sinen Gill rather than a kilometre or so further north.

So I hit the main track towards Skiddaw House, angry with myself. Blue was with me again, and I explained my error, trying not to sound cross or like I was blaming my tools. Clearly time for snack three – more flapjack.

From Skiddaw House (water available) an easy-to-follow track up Sale How and then Skiddaw. I started to feel pretty weary up here, sick of the mist, and the wind, and my aching legs. I want some proper downhill! It could be hunger. On the final stony climb up to Skiddaw I tucked into snack four – another cheesy sausage roll. It sticks in my throat, but I force it down, knowing how bad I will feel if I don’t eat.

CP3 – Skiddaw. Marshalls sheltering again (it’s pretty wild), pat the trig, and stick with the route I’ve chosen, heading north, and over Bakestall, and follow the fence line to Dash falls. Blue is with me again and I tell him my plan. One alternative (and recommended) route is to follow the BG route over Hare Crag and then up Great Calva, but from my recce I know the path up Little Calva so had already decided to go that way. I tell Blue he’s fine to follow, but not to blame if anything goes wrong, like my descent off Blencathra.

It was pretty good running down here, and then it happened – we dropped out of the cloud, and our whole view ahead was perfectly clear. I love that moment, going from that slightly unpleasant, (but kinda fun), restricted world where visibility is a few yards and sometimes confidence wavers, to suddenly, in a few seconds, having everything visible, the sun shining on the hills ahead, and your route perfectly clear in front. So I shout my wonder and joy to Blue, and filled with energy and confidence I bound down to Dash falls, leaving Blue behind.

From there, a steep and rough trudge up a fence line to Little Calva, then to a pool just north of this, then it’s a good trod up to Knott. My solid food used up (as planned) I have a caffeine gel (it is already past my afternoon coffee time). I’m feeling pretty good.

CP4 – Knott. The going is good from here, runnable grassy trods and a section along the Cumbrian Way. I even manage a slow jog on the uphill’s and pass a couple of guys, stripping my jacket off – it’s warm again. I check behind but I can’t see Blue. On the final climb to High Pike it’s the moment I’ve been waiting for all day – cracking open the tangy, sour, sugar-covered jelly sweets (non-branded today). I eat a handful, smiling at the memory of them saving me on the OCT race, feeling good. I will carry my compass back home, I will apologise to it for swearing, and somehow we will sort out our issues and be besties again.

CP5 – High Pike. Pleased that all of the ‘up’ is behind me, I set off back downhill to Wood Hall, through the intake wall, across a cow-filled field (I shout at a few when they start to look vaguely interested). From Wood Hall I retrace the first mile on the road, but this time it’s all downhill and I race along, and back to the finish on the green at Hesket Newmarket. Brilliant support again from Susan (who had managed to drive to Threlkeld, get up and down Blencathra, and drive back). 

Courtesy of Ian Grimshaw

The winner finished in an eye-watering sub-4hrs. Geoff had another strong performance finishing in 5.27 (despite a fall – I know, mountain goat Geoff! – and a bout of cramp). I just missed the target 6hr mark (a minute and a half over) but happy with that. I had a cracking day out. I’d like to try this one again, perhaps taking some different (probably faster) lines.

This was a tough race that needs experience and navigation skills (even when clear), and certainly benefits from knowing these hills or a thorough recce. The organisers provided some suggested routes, and cake and tea I think at the end (though I didn’t partake, not up for it…. I just needed cool liquids in the immediate aftermath). I would definitely recommend this one.

Anyway….cut to the evening. Sitting at home, clean and warm, with a glass of wine and access to the internet. Searching for ‘compass not working’. And there it is – compass deflection. I think I’ve heard of this. Underwired bra? Errrrrr……no. I wrack my brains. And then I read ‘magnets that fix a water bladder tube to your rucksack’. What an idiot! I’ve only used the bladder a few times, and only when I haven’t had to use my compass. Compass is stored in a pocket, a few inches away from the end of my bladder tube and that pesky magnet. What have I done?? I can only imagine the tutting and shaking of heads of fellow fell-runners. How I have made it this far??

I will, therefore, bow my head in shame, revert to drinking from muddy puddles, and also share my stupidity with you all if it means that someone else benefits…and can find their way when the clag descends. My compass and I are on good terms again, and I’ve promised to look after it well in the future.

 

Click here for results.

 

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Skiddaw Fell Race, Sunday, July 7, 2019

AM/9.6m/3150ft

Nina Mason

Courtesy of Lucy Burnett

This one has been on my list for a few months, and it didn’t disappoint. I stayed over in the Lakes the night before (in my new van J and had a relaxing morning wandering round Keswick and down to the lake. The weather was fabulous, if a little warm for running.

After a proper warm up and mandatory kit check, I bumped into Graeme seconds before the start, and then we were off. The race starts and finishes in Fitz Park, and is as simple as it gets….get up Skiddaw as quick as you can (you must stick to the tourist path), one checkpoint at the summit, then back to the park as fast as possible.

Courtesy of Lucy Burnett

It was run, jog, or trudge on the way up, depending on the incline, and I felt pretty good, catching and passing people most of the way. I’ve started to enjoy these ‘out and backs’ – it’s inspiring and exciting seeing the front runners come hurtling past. The eventual winner had a clear lead as he passed me on the flatter section round Little Man, and a few minutes and runners later Graeme got a massive shout from me – he looked strong on his descent.

Courtesy of Lucy Burnett

After my run across the flat summit to the trig, and a breathless ‘thank you’ to the marshals, I set off on the fantastic descent. I absolutely loved this, trying to hold nothing back even on the steeper sections, running as hard as I could all the way. I got a ‘5th lady well done’ from one of the marshals about half way down, so when I saw the 4th female in front, not going as quick as me on the steep descent, I went for it – running past hard, and then trying to keep it going past the car park near Latrigg and down the final section, determined not to show weakness and look behind.

I was convinced she was right there behind me all the way, as I crossed the A66 over the bridge, and raced toward the park. A sneaky peek back as I entered the park showed me I was well clear (thank goodness, my legs had very little left in them), and then all that was needed was an attempt to sprint finish on the grass.

I really enjoyed this race – well organised, brilliant supportive marshals all the way up (and of course down), and on the day we were thoroughly spoiled by glorious weather and views (though not much time to enjoy them). 

Well done to Graeme who had a great race, and seemed to retain healthy feet…see below. I was very pleased with both my time and position, with the added bonus of getting the 3rd women’s prize, as one of the faster women declined her prize as she works for the sponsors.

The only downside…I trashed my feet. I don’t think different shoes would have helped, it must just have been the heat, terrain and my running style. I’ve taken all the skin off the soles of my heels. I even have photos if anyone is interestedJ. I’ve been hobbling around, cross because I can’t run despite feeling great otherwise, walking on tip-toe until they healed (heeled!) enough to weight-bear. I’ll be strapping them up the next time I do this race (which is a strong possibility!).

 

Click here for results

 

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Alwinton 3 Tops fell race, Saturday, June 15, 2019

BL/14.9m

Nina Mason

A wonderful low-key but challenging fell race (also with a kid’s race, a 10k run, and three ‘Alwinton Challenge’ walks) – all to support North of Tyne Mountain Rescue.

There are no cut-offs in this race, and I entered this with no time to chase or expectations – just to enjoy the run out. I persuaded mum to come along as my #1 cheerleader, and for a walk out on the hills. As always, she performed admirably, including fending off some inquisitive bullocks in one of the fields on the return.

The course was marked pretty much all the way round, so I didn’t even need to navigate, and we all got some sunshine, a dry day, and some glorious views of the Cheviots (though plenty of bog underfoot in some sections 😁).

A good day out, and a race I would recommend.

Thanks to the cheery marshalls at the seven checkpoints, and to the ROs for a great race, and the snacks and drinks afterwards

Map courtesy of the Alwinton 3 tops FB page
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Swaledale Marathon, Saturday, June 8, 2019

Nina Mason

Courtesy of Jan Young

Often a popular Striders event, and this year saw 11 of us brave the elements – heavy rain at times, and breezy in places. I didn’t mind the weather (preferable to sunstroke!) though it made it a little miserable for those spectating – thank you to our supporters.

This was my 19th outing, and I was aiming for sub-4hrs (a personal target that over the last few months has grown out of all sensible proportion in my mind) and anxiety had built up over the previous week. I felt ridiculously stressed at the start, and all the way through to Whaw. I started enjoying myself more on the climb up to Punchard – partly because it’s not easy, and the weather became pretty bad here (so I had other things to think about) and also because I shared this section with Robin, who made me run when my legs didn’t want to, and was good company as we headed into a claggy section over the moor. I was seriously thinking at this point that mum had paid him off to pace me, he was so good at pushing me on, and he didn’t seem tired at all.

Courtesy of Jan Young

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the descent into Gunnerside. I got there just after my planned time and I thought 4hrs might still be on, though by this point I had remembered that running should (must) be fun – goals are a good thing, but not if they detract from the pure enjoyment of what we do. The pull up to Blades hurt (as always) and the odd cramp here was also pretty unpleasant, but I always like this section; getting to Surrender Bridge and knowing you’re almost home, you’ve just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I think I remember the weather improving slightly from Gunnerside. Great to see mum and Tony supporting on the stony track back down to Reeth – my favourite finish!

I didn’t quite get that elusive sub-4 but still very happy knocking a minute off my 2011 PB, and enjoying the company of others throughout, and the bogs and the rain!

Some superb performances by Striders – a ‘comfortable’ win (10 mins clear) for Fiona in the ladies race, both Michael and Stuart in the top 10, and some excellent times and positions for others, particularly given the conditions. Well done to all, whether first-timers or Swaledale ‘veterans’ – I hope to see you all there next year

More Striders images click here

PosEnt NoTimeNameClassClub
140803:01Jamie RutherfordMTotley
729203:28Michael MasonMElvet Striders
1017903:33Stuart ScottMElvet Striders
115403:36Fiona BrannanFElvet Striders
3226703:53Barrie KirtleyMElvet Striders
4129304:01Nina MasonFElvet Striders
471204:04Matthew ArcherMElvet Striders
5735304:10Robin ParsonsMElvet Striders
6119004:15Aaron GourleyMElvet Striders
36115508:00Christine FarnsworthF60Elvet Striders
36248608:00Margaret ThompsonF60Elvet Striders
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Helvellyn and the Dodds Fell Race, Sunday, May 26, 2019

AL/24km/1337m

Nina Mason


On Helvellyn

I had pre-entered this race a couple of months ago (before last weekend’s OCT offer), so this was the second weekend in a row in the Lakes, and another trip up Helvellyn. Not that I’m complaining!

On the drive over I saw most kinds of weather and arriving at Threlkeld Cricket Club (race registration) it was raining quite hard. The hills were shrouded in cloud and it all looked pretty grim. I checked in, got my number, then sat in the car, staring at Clough Head (what was visible) feeling a bit glum and wondering if this was a good idea. 

 


Pre-race view of Clough Head from the car


The route is out and back, with three checkpoints on the way out, then Helvellyn, then the same three on the way back. I’d recced the route once – near Helvellyn you pretty much follow the tourist path over Raise, White Side, and up to the summit, but across the Dodds I was a little worried about navigation in the cloud. Even the race map tells us that ‘navigation can be a problem…the Dodds have monstrous ‘cock up’ potential’. Yikes.

I got my bag ready (debating whether to set off wearing my jacket – in the end a mistake) and headed for the mandatory kit check and the start. The rain had eased, but it was still a bit damp, and my lack of warm-up (sssshh, don’t tell Coach) left me feeling a little cool and miserable on the start line. I was relieved to see Dawn from DFR, a friendly face!

Then off, up the road for about a kilometre, across boggy ground, and up Clough Head. The jacket had to come off pretty quickly as I started to heat up. Despite reading previous race reports recommending getting in the right group, I wasn’t, and picked my way past people up the rough grass (leaving others with the ‘steps’). Climbing up here I wasn’t feeling into it at all, not sure how this was going to go, as we all entered the clouds.

Clough Head was wild – blowing a hoolie, dense clag. I tried to keep the small line of runners in front of me in sight, the wind made it so disorientating. But then as we dropped down before Great Dodd it cleared, and I could see for miles. It was such a relief and I started to feel better, even uttering a couple of ‘wows’ at the view.

The rest of the race was a mix of clag, then clearing to give amazing views. The wind however was relentless, nearly blowing me off my feet a few times. I had cheered up immensely by Great Dodd and started to really enjoy things after that. The front runners started to pass me (heading back) as I got to Raise, and most of them got a ‘well done’, except where the wind just whipped the words out of my mouth! Helvellyn looked spectacular emerging out of the cloud, though it was blowing over again as I got up there. The marshals got a big ‘thank you’ and then I was laughing as I rounded the trig point with another runner, and the wind was suddenly intense in our faces. Although my hands were numb, the rest of me felt warm enough. I decided I didn’t want to slow down to put on more clothes, thinking I could only get warmer as I started to descend again.

My new OCT ‘neck tube’ earned its keep, most of the time up over my nose to keep to wind off my face and ears (I hate it blowing in my ears). I felt much stronger on the way back, passing people and working hard on both the downhills and the pull ups.

I almost missed the CP on Great Dodd on the return – a group contoured the summit and I started to follow as they disappeared in the cloud, then I realised I had hit a path which seemed familiar, so I stopped, trying to see through the clag. I doubled back up the hill and was literally only 50 yards away from the cairn but didn’t see it until almost on top of it.

The rain started hard as I hit Clough Head (still claggy, and very, very windy), and then that horrible descent. My language was foul as I slithered, tripped, fell down the steep slope, the driving rain coming down sideways, blowing streams of water off my nose and chin, unable to see, hear, or think.

I worked hard across the bog, and (a little surprisingly) caught Karen from NFR as we hit the road. We decided to run in together (not normally my thing, but at the time there felt good reasons) and so crossed the finish line together. Good to see Dawn at the finish – she’d had another good run today, finishing second lady.

This is a great race – good organisation, a fair bit of climbing, but some good runnable bits, and I know the weather isn’t always as bad! Having said that, despite a bit of a gloomy start I really enjoyed the day – it was wild, wet and windy, and I absolutely loved being out in (at times) fairly appalling conditions. It just goes to show how good running can be for body and mind, whatever you enjoy!

Well done to the organisers and the marshals at the CPs, out in it for hours – thank you!

PositionNo.NameGenderAge CatClubTime
129Brennan TownshendMOpenKeswick AC2:07:58
2645Sophie NoonFOpenCumberland Fell Runners2:51:36
7319Nina MasonFV40Elvet Striders3:16:46
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Old County Tops Fell Race, Lake District, Saturday, May 18, 2019

Nina Mason

Feeling Ok on Helvellyn (top 1)

I would never have even considered this race – it’s well beyond anything I have previously attempted in terms of distance, climb, and time on feet. But a few weeks prior to the event Elaine got in touch and asked if I would pair up with her. Immensely flattered and yet terrified at the same time, I did a bit of reading, studied the map, and received a couple of encouraging messages suggesting I could do it (thanks – you know who you are) ….and said yes. Elaine said she was happy doing it my pace, she just wanted to complete it and have ‘a good day on the hills’.

The race starts and finishes in Langdale near the New Dungeon Ghyll. You must run in pairs, finish in 12 hours, and there are 8 checkpoints – three of which are the old county ‘tops’ Helvellyn, Scafell Pike, and the Old Man of Coniston. I shared with Elaine a timing plan which would get us to the CPs within the cut offs (one recommended, one mandatory), and see us finish in about 11hr 15.

I was pretty anxious beforehand – I have never recorded a ‘DNF’ and I didn’t want this to be my first. For the first time I was starting a race with no idea whether or not I would get round.

Caption: All competitors get a Harvey course map – I’ve added the big red arrows showing the ‘tops’. Looks easy in 2D!

We had each recce’d a half of the course, and we were fairly confident we would be ok if we needed to navigate (though this might cost us time). On the day we were incredibly lucky with the weather. The forecast rain never appeared, there was no wind, the sun came out a couple of times, but it never got too hot, and the tops were pretty much clear, except for Helvellyn.

I found this event (not unexpectedly!) very tough, and I had a couple of bad patches. The first 15 or so miles (and Helvellyn – top 1 – in the bag) felt ok. But then heading up to Angle Tarn (CP4 and about half way) I was starting to struggle to eat, and psychologically I felt there were a lot of miles in front of me. But, with a bit of internal ‘get a grip Nina, just get to the next checkpoint’ and Elaine telling me quite firmly that my sandwich wouldn’t get eaten if it was still wrapped up, I plodded on.

Heading up to Scafell Pike (top 2) and down the other side over Great Moss and Mosedale I got a second wind, which lasted to the climb up Grey Friar (on our way to Coniston Old Man). My head was ok, my legs were tired but moving (slowly), but my stomach needed a lie down and some kind words. Eating was really difficult here (I know, hard to believe!) so I was nibbling tiny pieces of flapjack and washing it down with water. Elaine, again coming to the rescue, also forced a couple of pieces of mint cake down me. It worked. One of my highlights of the day was getting up to Coniston Old Man (top 3) and knowing we were on the home stretch.

So 30 miles in, and with a good mouthful of a popular brand of tangy, sugar-coated jelly sweets (I have discovered my race food!) I started to feel ‘good’. Even Elaine asked if I was excited as I bounded down the hill (ok, ok, it felt like I was bounding) to the final CP. From there, a ‘victory lap’ of the last 3 or so downhill miles to the finish (catching a couple of pairs on the way!) where I cried like a baby out of sheer relief and thankfulness.

I reckon Elaine had a secret race plan – we obviously travelled my pace, but finished an hour inside my planned time (and I’ll take the extra effort to be finished an hour sooner any day).

Elaine and I starting to believe we have got this – on Coniston Old Man (top 3) – Home stretch!

Elaine was an amazing running partner – for asking me to do this, and for being utterly unselfish – if she ever got frustrated with my pace she never, ever showed it. Most of the race I was following her (though I led a couple of sections and pointed out the odd trod on the bits I’d recce’d) – but she was always checking where I was and checking her pace accordingly. She also offered no ‘sympathy’ (on my instruction, as I wouldn’t have reacted well to this) but just good common sense, pragmatic support all the way round. I don’t think I would have made it round without her, and I feel incredibly thankful that I got the opportunity to do this event with her.

We were both ‘well-chuffed’ for completing this, and also with the additional reward of winning the LV80 category (that’s two lady vet 40s in a pairs event in case you’re thinking we both look really good for our age. Obviously, we do anyway).

Would I do this again? Possibly yes, with more training! It is a fantastic, well-organised event, an excellent (tough!) course, and for £20 per person you get a map, a lot of miles, brilliant support at the CPs, mountains of food at two of them, and food at the finish. Oh, and the famous t-shirt…. only for those that finish the race. A truly limited edition, and Elaine and I are very proud of ours!
Photo Caption: Elaine and I at the finish – Age group prize mugs

The famous t-shirt – only 246 given out this year 🙂
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