Category Archives: Kate Macpherson

Hardmoors Princess Challenge, North York Moors, Saturday, August 30, 2014

30 miles

Kate Macpherson

Last Saturday as we drove from Durham towards Whitby and the sunrise turned the North York moors from grey to purple, I wondered what on earth had possessed me to get up ‘mind numbingly early’ (as Anita Dunseith had put it) to go and run for 30 miles. I had never run anything longer than 26.2 on the flat, comfortable tarmac. And here I was about to attempt my first mini-ultra on rolling terrain and coastal paths. I’d always vowed I’d ‘never run a marathon’ and ‘ultra runners are just insane’… and yet I ran the marathon I’d vowed I’d never do and the thought of trying an ultra niggled away at me until the point that I knew I had to at least give it a go.

I’d heard and read about the Hardmoors races and fancied trying one of them so when the Princess Challenge was announced it seemed the perfect way to dip my toe into ultra running. The Princess Challenge is the Hardmoors Charity Run, the proceeds from which go to the local Mountain Rescue. My lovely Dad was rescued in January by Edale Mountain Rescue when he slipped and broke his ankle in three places while out walking in the peak district so this run felt like a good way to say a tiny thank you to those amazing volunteers.

Ready to Go.

We arrived at Ravenscar bright and early and registered. It was nice to see the posse of Striders although Dave Robson’s comment that ‘the last 10 miles are really hard’ wasn’t quite the confidence boost I needed! The race director, Kelly, gave us an incredibly warm welcome which was lovely, it’s really something to be greeted by name by a race director rather than just being an anonymous number in a crowd! After a route briefing from Flip we gathered outside for photos and then, just after 9am we were off. Kath Dodd, a friend and experienced ultra runner had very generously said she’d run with me, normally she’d kick my butt and leave me in her dust!. (By the way Kath, when are you going to join Striders?) Kath and I agreed that Flip’s briefing hadn’t really allayed our fears about getting lost however, route description safely tucked into our race vests (or Jet Pack as my 8-year old likes to call it) we had no choice but to go for it …

The sky was crisp and clear as we set off south along the coast path. The terrain was quite tricky underfoot ( a mix of grass and narrow path) but every now and then we had to slow down to look down at the ocean and say wow! The sun had risen and sparkled off the water and at the risk of sounding cliched it was simply stunning. We then turned off the coastal path and headed back towards Ravenscar Village Hall. The first checkpoint. 8 miles of this run completed. Not really being used to the way these races worked I was surprised that we spent a few minutes hanging about the checkpoint, chatting, using the loo…and drinking cola. I hate coke. I never drink coke. The coke tasted like nectar.

Then off we set again, it was lovely to have the company of fellow Striders Dave Robson and Melanie Hudson as we ran north now on the cinder track towards Robin Hoods Bay. The cinder track was undulating and rocky, but the views down towards the Cleveland Way and the coast were beautiful. Dave and Mel were doing well and pulled ahead (Kath and I were a little worried at this point as we referred to that pair as our ‘Sat Navs’ as they had done the run a few times before. Kath can get lost in her own back garden so without Dave and Mel the navigating was down to me….). However, before we knew it we were heading into Robin Hoods Bay and the next checkpoint. At that point a badger ran into the road and ran along in front of us. Kath and I stopped and looked at each other to make sure we’d both seen it. We couldn’t possibly be hallucinating, I’d heard that ultra runners sometimes experience hallucinations but we hadn’t run far enough to hallucinate. Had we? The guys at the checkpoint didn’t believe us. “ Are you sure? Badgers are quite big you know?” Yeah, thanks for that. The coke tasted just as good at this checkpoint although the fact that Kath can eat Bacon crisps half way through a run still amazes me. Flip very kindly showed us the way back onto the cinder track and we were off and running towards Whitby. This was a lovely downhill run, lots of cyclists and walkers sharing the path and smiling at us as we passed them. We caught up with Dave and Mel again and it was great to have their company for a few chatty miles. I tried to ignore the fact that we were going steadily downhill. There were still over 10 miles to go. It couldn’t all be downhill…

Still smiling, must be an Ultra.

I was just starting to flag a little (Mel and Kath set a cracking pace whilst chatting away merrily!) when a marshall waved at us and said that the next checkpoint was only a couple of hundred metres away. A couple of hundred metres that included some very steep steps down. Ouch! The warm welcome at the checkpoint cheered us up considerably and the person who had decided to supply chunks of watermelon was simply a genius.

And then it was into Whitby. The sun was shining and Whitby was heaving with tourists. Many of whom seemed bemused to see sweaty runners wearing bizarre jet packs weaving in and out of them. “Is it a sponsored walk love?”….”yeah, well, sort of!”. Mark Dunseith had caught up with us at this point and he decided he’d stop for an ice cream. This was the moment I realised I was loving this run. How many other races have you done where it’s perfectly acceptable to stop for an ice cream? We climbed the 199 steps to Whitby Abbey, heeding Flip’s warning not make friends with any black dogs. I also tried not to make friends with the slightly tipsy bloke who offered me “£35 quid for your backpack love, you’ve only got chocolate in it”. When I declined (and pointed out there wasn’t any chocolate. Like there would be chocolate after 20 miles!) I had to spend the rest of the climb up the steps explaining why and what we were doing. Fortunately although he rather liked my jet pack, he was less enamored with the idea of joining us as we ran off again along the cleveland way at the top of the steps.

Mind the Gap. Now we were heading homewards. 10 miles to go. I’d be entering unknown territory and tried to stay mentally calm. Inside I was having a bit of a wobble, would I be strong enough to finish this run? The coastal path back to Ravenscar was beautiful, the sun was shining and the cliffs rose in sharp definition against the sea. But oh the steps! So many steps, down into the ‘holes’ and back out again. Periods of exhilarating running along flattish paths only to be greeted with more steps. At 22 miles I hit the wall and my legs decided to call it a day. I’ve never experienced that before. “But its flat, I should be running” I whined to Kath. In her wisdom she just said “eat something”. One marmite and almond butter sandwich later and everything seemed a little brighter. Maybe I was strong enough, maybe I could complete this run. We started laughing at the steps, joking and chatting with the walkers we passed and thanking the lovely ladies who cheered us on with “you go girls”. We passed 26.2 miles and I felt a little overwhelmed. The furthest I’ve ever run in my life and I’m loving it. The last few miles pulled steadily uphill but we were getting there. And then the final few metres of the run, turn right past the church and there was the village hall. As we walked in everyone clapped which overwhelmed me all over again! Then we were handed the best and blingiest medal I’ve ever seen in my life. And then I got to sit down and eat my own body weight in pizza and drink 10 cups of tea.

My aim had been to finish the run and finish smiling. I did both! It was an amazing experience, the Hardmoors organisation, welcome and camaraderie is legendary and I can confirm its all true. Such a generous and encouraging group of people, even to newbies like me. If you want to run in a beautiful part of our country, meet some fabulous people, challenge yourself to do something you’d never believe you can do and get to eat as much cake as you like then get yourself signed up for a Hardmoors event. I’m just off to check out their race calendar for the rest of the year….


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Lambton 10K, nr Chester-le-Street, Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kate Macpherson

Given the grim weather, I nearly turned over in bed and ignored the alarm on Sunday morning but as a friend was picking me up for the Lambton 10k I couldn’t really get out of it. We arrived early and parked in a very muddy field, collected our race numbers (it was pretty obvious that a fair few people had been sensible and ignored their alarms as there was still a large pile of unclaimed race numbers in the marquee!) and then sat back in the car looking at the lashing rain and wondering if we really were mad…

The guys on the Sweatshop stand told us not to bother with our trail shoes as the race organisers had re-routed the course due to the muddy conditions and the race was going to be run over the estate roads and tracks rather than the fields. So at 10am, 185 runners ambled to the start and lined up in a fairly haphazard fashion and off we went. I was quite surprised (given my bad attitude at the beginning!) to find myself really enjoying myself. The course was a figure of 8 through the (usually private) Lambton Estate. It’s a mixed terrain event; we wound through wooded areas (on a really hot day these would be a real plus), right by the back door of the main house, along pretty river paths and on tracks around sheep fields. It had stopped raining and it was pretty warm, so it was great just to stretch out and enjoy running in such a beautiful part of the county that many people don’t get to see. A field of handsome highland cattle seemed a little surprised to see so many people belting past them. There were two fairly tough uphill sections (at least I only remember two!) but the last couple of K are flat then downhill which is always a bonus. I don’t think this is a PB course but if you fancy a fun off-road 10k with a bit of a challenge then this is one to try (saying that, I did take nearly 2 minutes off my Cragside 10k time which is similar terrain so I was rather chuffed! I am slowly chipping away at the race times). Many of those who had taken part last year said this year’s course was way better than last so hopefully the organisers will take note for the future. The course was really well marshaled by very friendly and encouraging stewards, there was plenty of water at half way and at the end. The rather wonderful WI ladies were doing a roaring trade in bacon butties, scones and cake both before and after the run, so thanks are due to them for turning out on such a grim day. A cotton t-shirt, mars bar and £10 sweatshop voucher seemed reasonable for a fairly low entry fee. Oh – and I have to mention that Lambton has the best portaloos I’ve ever been in! Flushing loos, hot water and posh hand cream…I suppose running on a private estate has to come with some extras…

(One slight niggle – a number of runners were not particularly happy about being asked to raise £20 charity sponsorship in addition to the entry fee. The organisers weren’t pushy about it if people didn’t bring any extra but the general feeling seemed to be that for such a small event, fundraising should be voluntary…no comment either way from me but just to be aware if you enter next year.)

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Edinburgh Half Marathon, Sunday, May 27, 2012

Kate Macpherson

So thanks to Kathryn Sygrove setting me a challenge last summer, I found myself in the starting pen for the Edinburgh Half Marathon last Sunday. It’s been a very long time since I’ve run a half. About 10 years. And before last September I hadn’t really run for about 7 years. So I was feeling a bit nervous to say the least!

And then there was the weather. All my long training runs had been done in rain, mud, wind, sleet, fog, more sleet, a bit of ice and oh yeah, more rain. So the glorious sunshine and soaring temperatures last week added to my nerves. No matter, the training had been done and I was going to run this half however long it took me.

Speedy Sygrove headed off to her front pen and I was delighted to meet up with fellow Strider Carole Reid in my pen. The atmosphere was absolutely great, lots of laughter and and a real sense of anticipation. There were runners from all over the world, I heard French, Italian, German, saw various scandinavian t-shirts and even a group from a Mexican running club. People in the pen chatted about everything and nothing, willing the gun to go at 8am so we could get on with it!

Once we got going we had a job to hold back and stay steady, the Edinburgh Half is renown for having a fast start and lots of runners do the race for a PB. I had the mantra of ‘don’t go out to fast’ going around and around in my head. Carole and I were careful not to get dragged along and just tried to settle into the first few miles into Queen’s Park, beneath Arthur’s Seat. I was just relieved we weren’t running UP Arthur’s Seat! We headed out towards Leith Links and then along the coast path towards Musselburgh. The atmosphere was fantastic, lots of supporters cheering us on, a fab group of drummers and plenty of water stations (I think Carole though I was mad to dump bottles of water over my head…until she tried it!).

I hadn’t really run with Carole prior to this race but we seemed to keep a steady pace together and it was certainly nice to have the company! We got to 10k quite comfortably and I was surprised by how good I was feeling. The tough bit of the race was mile 9 to mile 11. Here runners go out all the way through Musselburgh and turn around at mile 11 to come back down the same road into Musselburgh and the finish. It was a bit disheartening seeing runners coming down the road towards us who were nearly finished! And by now the sun was really hot and we were running with our faces into the sun with no respite and no shade. Kate and Kathryn feeling the heat.I was willing mile 11 to appear and it always seemed to be around one more bend.

However, once we had made the turn at mile 11, we got a different perspective…we were now heading home and streams of other runners were still coming towards us heading up to the turn. It was a good feeling! As I said to Carole, it didn’t look like we were going to be last! A very welcome shower at around mile 12 gave Carole an extra burst of energy and off she went on a homeward sprint with me cheering ‘you go girl’ to her back. I just kept reminding myself that I really could finish this. Kathryn yelling and cheering like mad on the side of the road with about 100 metres to go gave me a final boost (she had finished well before!) and I was absolutely delighted to cross the line with a PB of 2.08 (and some interesting tan lines…). I was just grinning like a mad woman at the end, delighted to be able to call myself a ‘half-marathoner’ again.

I’d recommend Edinburgh for the great atmosphere, the crowds and the fast course. For those of us used to running Durham hills it’s a dream. So here’s to next year and maybe another PB!

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