Category Archives: Till Sawala

Edinburgh Marathon 2015, Sunday, May 31, 2015

Till Sawala

Till at the Edinburgh Marathon 2015

Edinburgh is a city where I’ve run in all types of weather; from glorious sunshine in January to downpours in May. This year, for my first Edinburgh Marathon, the forecast looked distinctly like the latter. When the organisers sent out a weather warning the day before, I had all but given up on my target time.

Sunday morning did not look quite as bad; blustery but dry. We had found a B&B right next to the London Road start, so after a short walk to the baggage drop, we still had a bit of time to reflect at home.

The atmosphere of the race began to have its effect, so layer after layer was discarded: first the jacket, then the hat, and even a last minute decision to ditch the long sleeves. I still felt unsure about my pace in the pen and stood quite a way back, but when the time came to cross the start line, I just did not have it in me to run slowly.

The first two kms involved quite a bit of weaving and sprinting, but once we got to Holyrood park, the field had stretched out enough to get into a rhythm. I followed a group of Spaniards who seemed to bring out cheers from every spectator – calling them crowds, even before we left the city limits, would be an exaggeration.

Once we hit the shore, the wind really began to make an impact – it was blowing mostly in our back, but whenever we got to sample the headwind after a turn, we knew we would have a battle on our hands on the way back. 10k were passed in about 41 minutes, and I decided that, if I wanted to have a go at running under 3 hours, I needed to build a cushion up to the turning point, and then hope for the best. I had taken two gels with me, as I knew there would only be water until more than half way – something that the organisers might want to reconsider. When we reached Musselburgh, the road was shared with the half marathon runners going in the opposite direction, and I got the first sight of a purple Striders vest – always a good sign. At this point, most of us must have thought “what a great day for a half marathon”, and we ourselves passed the half marathon mark in around 1:26:30, feeling deceptively fresh.

The turn came just after 28 kms, and immediately, the pace began to slow. I was desperate to find a group to run with, but although my own pace had dropped, everyone around me appeared to struggle even more.

Whenever I had made up the distance to a runner in front, he seemed to slow down to a jog, while every group I spotted far ahead on the road soon dispersed like a Fata Morgana once I got closer. At least battling with the wind, and picking off other runners one by one made the miles go by without too much time to think about what lay ahead.

At 32 km, I finally found a companion, and we traded the lead for about a mile, until he too decided to stay with another runner whom we’d passed, and I tried to press on.

Till crosses the finish line in 2:56:25 at the Edinburgh Marathon 2015

Although my pace had decreased considerably, my Garmin provided some solace – I kept calculating the average pace I would need to run over the remaining distance, and while my splits into the wind were now a good 20 seconds slower than they had been on the way out, the cushion steadily grew. With “only a parkrun to go”, I was confident that I would reach my goal, and allowed myself to slow down just a little bit more – it never got easy, but spurred on by the now growing numbers of spectators, the last miles became almost enjoyable. The organisers had thought up one final obstacle in the form of a finishing straight made out of sheet metal, but that was safely negotiated, and I even managed a smile. No sooner had I crossed the finish line than my legs started to cramp up, but they’d done their job, and I was still glowing about my time.

I remember reading Gareth’s report about his first sub 3 in Edinburgh exactly one year ago, which together with the fast times run by other Striders like Stephen and Simon really made me think that I could do it, too. While you’re out on your own running, and perhaps never more so than during the last part of a marathon, I feel that being part of the Striders makes it as close to a team sport as it can be.

Inspiration doesn’t just come from the “fast lads” though, and thanks must also go to Geoff and Susan whose perseverance finally paid off, ensuring I kept running properly this winter and, not least, Jacqui and Alister, who drove me to my first parkrun, before I even joined the club.


Pos Name Club Cat Cat Pos Time
1 Peter Wanjiur 2:19:36
1 (F) Joan Kigen 2:39:42
82 Till Sawala Elvet Striders 2:56:25
3115 Jane Ives Elvet Striders 4:05:04
4717 Angela Robson Elvet Striders 4:31:41
5660 Brian Bill Ford Elvet Striders 4:51:28
5851 Joanne Porter Elvet Striders 4:56:11

7185 finishers.

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Rennsteiglauf 2013, Germany, Saturday, May 25, 2013

72.7 km / 1950m

Till Sawala

t may not be the most famous or the most glamorous ultra marathon in the world, but the “Rennsteiglauf” over the hills of the Thuringian Forest is certainly Europe’s biggest, with more than 2000 finishers every year. Despite these numbers, it has kept many traditions and quirks that date back to its East German roots, most famously the “Schleim” (literally: slime, a kind of thick porridge) on offer at the various aid stations.

Till, looking forward to his slime.

The start of the race is in Eisenach, birth place of Bach and home of the “Wartburg”, which counts Luther and Goethe among its famous residents. We had other things in mind when we assembled on the market square just before 6 in the morning – chief among them if the weather would hold.

When I’d run this race for the first time last year, I felt ill-prepared, and my only objective was to finish what would be my longest run up to then. This year, confident to make it to the end, my goal was to also run fast. Ulrike and I wished each other good luck at the start, and when the church bells rang to mark the start, we were on our way. After a couple of flat kilometers, the course quickly climbs out of Eisenach to join the “Rennsteig”, the eponymous hiking trail that we would follow for most of the day. Up to the first check point at km 18, it was a gentle but constant climb. My split time of 1:31 meant that I was almost 25 minutes up on last year’s time – clearly, I was running too fast, but it still felt deceptively easy. We reached the first summit of the “Inselberg” at km 25. Having to walk during the steepest sections for the first time, it dawned on me that my early pace might haunt me later. After 3:16, I reached the second checkpoint at km 37, a full 40 minutes up on last year’s time. The marathon was passed after 3:45 minutes, and now the going got considerably tougher. I was not being passed by too many runners, but had to walk repeatedly on the steeper sections, and by km 50, I was beginning to feel dizzy – fortunately, the next aid station was not too far away, and I was able to take on much needed carbohydrates (in the form of the aforementioned “Schleim”). At 55 km, my time was 4:56, 43 minutes ahead of last year.

The toughest part of the course was still ahead, the ascent to the “Grosser Beerberg”, with temperatures just above freezing and patches of snow on the wayside. Last year, after a slow first half, I had been able to pass many struggling runners on this section, but this time, I was struggling myself. When the summit finally came, I had actually lost one minute compared to the split from the previous year, with 5:57 at 64 km. However, the worst was now over, and as the remainder was mostly downhill, I was beginning to make calculations: my goal of 7 hours seemed safe, and 6:45 a distinct possibility. I picked up the pace again and crossed the line in 6:43, some 44 minutes faster than the previous year, good enough for 80th place out of 1788 (male). Ulrike, unfortunately, struggled with the cold weather this time, but still managed to get 38th out of 369 (female). I have a feeling that this wasn’t the last “Rennsteiglauf” for either of us!

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Wensleydale Wander, Leyburn, Saturday, April 6, 2013

22 miles

Dougie Nisbet and Till Sawala

Dougie Nisbet …

The best thing about offering someone a lift to a race is that when the alarm goes off at 5AM, you can’t just think, sod it, I’m going back to sleep. You’ve just got to haul yourself out of bed and try and get excited about whatever it was you entered a week ago that seemed like a good idea at the time. A few cups of coffee later with sun shining with Narnian promise I picked up Till and we were soon trundling down the M1. While chatting about Garmins, GPS, Satnavs and navigation in general, we sailed past the Scotch Corner turn-off, deftly picking up the Catterick one instead. My Satnav was nonplussed at the road closure that greeted us a few miles later, but that issue resolved, it was plain sailing to Leyburn. It was during another GPS chat that, ironically, my Satnav chirpily announced “You have arrived at your destination, your destination is on the right.”. Apparently we’d arrived. We looked around for other runners, of which there were none. No boots, no lekis, no rucksacks. Just a deserted town square. We consulted our maps, paper and digital, and discovered that registration was somewhere back that way. We retraced our route and soon found the large bright signs for the Rotary Club of Wensleydale.

Registration took no time at all and Till went over to examine the maps and check his route. I was pretty sure the run advertised itself as well marshalled and signed, and the rotary gadgie said there were little red arrows to follow, which was good enough for me. He also said there’d be a hot dog stand at the half-way checkpoint – oh yes, ha ha, very droll. With plenty of time to spare we nipped back to the car for coffee and kit chat. I was beginning to regret not bringing shorts as it was beginning to look like being a scorcher, at least, compared to the recent weather. As we headed for the Start I handed Till my spare car key just in case, you know, he happened to get back before me.

Before the off ... The mass start of walkers and runners clattered out of town in a jumble of Lekis, bumbags and rucksacks. The sun and some daffodils were out and it was looking like being a good day. Before long runners thinned out and I jogged on in a world of my own following the frequent little red arrows indicating the route of the Wensleydale Wander. At the half-way checkpoint there it was, sure enough, the hot dog stand. With onions, and nippy sauce too. Lovely. I scoffed it down and jogged on, hoping I wouldn’t be seeing my hot dog again before the finish.

Having comfortably finished the far tougher Cleveland Survival a few weeks earlier I was, frankly, expecting today to be a bit of a breeze. But as the final miles wound down I really began to feel the distance. The little red arrows just kept on appearing, without end. Finally, after a robust little climb back into Leyburn it was a short jog back to the finish at registration. Not before I had to ask a couple of walkers if I was going the correct way, as I realised I hadn’t actually bothered to check where the finish was and the red arrows had, finally, stopped.

Walking into the dining hall I discovered Till had showered, changed, eaten, and probably regretted not bringing that book to read that I’d suggested. Till finished pretty much dead on 3 hours, third overall on the long course, just beating me by a slim margin of 1hr25m. I had some food and drank lots of tea, and for some time sat in dazed mystification at how this ‘easy’, flattish run had managed to be so much tougher than the same distance Cleveland Survival. I’ll never understand racing.

… Till Sawala

A few days before the race, the organisers ominously announced a change to the route due to “several feet of snow” on the course. However, clear blue skies and sunshine greeted us on the day, so Dougie and I decided to forego the waterproofs – except for the socks, which turned out to be rather handy!

After the start from Leyburn’s market place, nobody seemed too eager to take on the pace, so I found myself in the odd position of leading the field – a nice experience, but in the knowledge that there were some much fitter looking runners behind me, I wondered if I really knew what I was in for. After about a mile or two, the more experienced runners eventually had enough of seeing myself fumble with the various gates and stiles, and I was relieved when someone else took the lead. We crossed the first large field in a group of five, and I was content to slot in near the back of the pack. The route was now mostly on small trails mixed with the occasional paved road or muddy field. I passed the other runners again, except for two who were now running away at the front. Sensibly, I decided not to give chase, but tried to keep them in sight for as long as possible. Once the path became less clear, they disappeared, and I was on my own – the objective now changed to not missing any of the small red arrows that marked the way. The ascent to the one big hill was relatively straightforward, with a stop for drinks about half way up. While the roads near the top were indeed covered in snow, there was usually a narrow path at the side were the running was easy.

The checkpoint at the top was followed by a long road section, which I decided would be my best chance of catching the leaders. I never caught a glimpse of them again, but several fast miles probably ensured that I, too, would not get caught until the finish. Once we left the road again, navigation became a lot trickier – there was often an arrow marking the entrance to a field, but I found myself running around fields a few of times, looking for the next red arrow to mark the exit. At this point, I was glad to have brought my map, although local knowledge would have helped as well. The final seven miles were mostly off-road, and the combination of tired legs, soft ground, and a few more missed red arrows slowed me down quite considerably. Still, I could see Leyburn from a distance, and in the knowledge that my third place was not in jeopardy, I took it easy on the final ascent, finishing just outside of three hours.

At the finish, we were treated to a hot meal, apple cake, tea and coffee, and even a hot shower – all for the price of £10, and with the total proceeds going to charity. For anyone planning to do this, be sure to save some energy for the latter stages, especially if the ground is muddy. The route marking is more than adequate for walkers, but runners have to keep alert – read the description, and don’t forget your map. You’ll probably still get lost once or twice, but as long as you see it as part of the fun, you’ll have a great day!

Fastest Male: Peter Chapman (York) 2:43:15 Fastest Female: Janet Raper (Darlington) 3:46:00 (13th overall)

Striders: Till Sawala 3:00:56 (3rd) Dougie Nisbet: 4:21:28 (32nd)

Finishers (long run, excluding walkers): 49

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Haworth Hobble, South Pennines, Saturday, March 9, 2013

31.7M / 4,396'

Till Sawala

After the forecast promised gusts up to 50 mph, rain and sleet all day, and “nil chance of cloud free summits”, doubts started to creep in. However, a quick phone call to Dave, who was going to pick us up at 5 AM the next morning reassured us that we’d be all right – just pack plenty of layers! So we did, and after trying to match the rather brief route description to our map, we went for an early night. Sure enough, it rained when we woke up, rained when we got in the car, and rained all the way to the start in Haworth at 8 AM, where a surprisingly large and cheerful crowd of runners set out to tackle the 32 mile loop.

Till and Ulrike. The Haworth Hobble can either be run solo or as a team of two, reaching all the checkpoints and the finish together. We jogged up the cobbled road out of Haworth, and along footpaths to the first summit. What followed was a series of fast descents and slow uphills over all kinds of surfaces, trails, roads, fells and fields, and across the occasional stream. We made good progress by capitalising on our relative strengths, with me getting ahead on the climbs, only to be overtaken by Ulrike on the way down. Navigation was easy, as we had always plenty of runners around us, passing the various reservoirs along the Pennine way that we had committed to memory. The weather turned out to be not quite as bad as forecast – there was a mix of sunshine, rain and sleet, but it was only a drizzle for most parts of the day, and the route was quite sheltered from the blustery wind, so we both managed to keep warm. As the field thinned out during the second half of the race, we decided to stick together on the unmarked course – this slowed our pace, but also provided both of us with opportunities to recover. Fortunately, after listening to Dave’s advice, we found the right way down into Todmorden, but after a blistering descent was followed by a steep flight of stairs, Ulrike suffered from cramps. This slightly hampered our ascent to the monument on Stoodley pike, the highest point of the day. However, perhaps aided by the sip of whisky offered at one check point, we managed to catch up with a few runners during the latter stages of the course, and only got slightly off track on two occasions – once just before the finish, which meant that a few of the runners we had passed earlier were already greeting us when we entered the door of the Haworth primary school after 6:10. However, time was not the main objective today, and we were really glad to have finished, and thankful that we had not let the weather forecast deprive us of a great day of running. We warmed up with plenty of tea, cakes, and fantastic vegetable stew, and passed the time until our companions (and drivers) Dave, Darren and Ray finished soon after us.

Some advice for prospective hobblers: While there is no kit check, you would be mad to try this race at the beginning of March without full waterproofs, food, map, and compass (and don’t forget to bring a mug!). Some 40 runners did not complete the course, and with a twisted ankle, you could end up stranded far away from the nearest village. With that in mind, it is a really great race – and at £22 for a team of two, it scores a whopping 21 on the “miles / £ compared to a certain local half marathon index”.

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Pam’s Sunday Social Run, Allensford, Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shaun, Pam and Till

Photo-shoot in the Derwent Valley.

Many thanks to Pam and Paul for organising a great run and walk on Sunday! Twenty or so Striders and guests turned up at the car park in Allensford, which somehow managed to be both icy and slushy … a sign of things to come. Paul Foster lead us along a beck to the west, coming quickly to a bridge for an early photo-shoot, and a view of a waterfall, swollen with melt-water. Then we climbed through fields, then made our way along a country lane in complete flood. Cold freezing feet all round now … luckily the rest of the route wasn’t quite so soggy. As we got onto the C2C to head back east towards Rowley, we had the choice of foot-deep snow to run in, or rutted wet tracks through the stuff – I opted for lots of knee-exercise, for the most part, which kept the feet dry, and the sweat flowing.

Waterfall swollen with meltwater.This stuff was *cold*.

On now to the Hownsgill Viaduct, and great views in bright sunshine for miles. This Victorian edifice is being fitted out with anti-suicide fencing, that to my mind will not improve it’s looks one bit … and, I suspect not deter the more enterprising, get-up-and-go type of suicider anyway! Lovely snowy descent back to the River Derwent and a riverbank return to Allensford. Eight miles, but the best part of two hours running through all the snow. Many thanks, Paul – an epic run in those conditions.

Pam lead a lovely walk in the Derwent Valley at the same time as the run. Then off to the Punch Bowl at Edmondbyers for a great lunch, washed down by a choice of excellent beers.

A Sunday well-spent! Any more Sunday Run possibilities, folks?

… Pam adds:

Kim out and about on her new hips! Twenty runners/walkers turned up on a bright but chilly morning. Sadly the car park proved to be more difficult than the previous day – firm snow had transformed into slippery mounds of very skiddy stuff. But we managed and set off. The river banks were soft, slushy and slippery in parts but the main feature (hazard?) of the day was flooding – of varying depths and difficulty. At one point the bank was being submerged by the rapidly expanding river so we had to dodge around a tree to avoid it. Then there was a dash through a ‘lake’ to cross the stile in a field and finally a farm track which had become a mini stream! Various ‘river crossing’ techniques were applied while others looked on in amazement (amusement?).

However, it was a bright sunny day, the views were spectacular and we just had such a laugh. Eventually we all arrived at the Punch Bowl for an excellent lunch. ‘Man of the Match’ for me was Till who managed to run 19+ miles from Durham straight to the pub – and still arrived before the rest of us! Amazing!

I’d just like to thank everyone who braved the conditions for what was a really enjoyable day.

… and Till Sawala:

The Striders social run, combined with a Sunday lunch in Edmundbyers, looked like an excellent opportunity for a long run into previously uncharted territories.

After the thawing and freezing of the past few days had turned the soft snow cover on the railway lines into an icy obstacle course, I decided to swap the trail shoes for a pair of normal running shoes, and hit the roads instead. I left Durham heading east on the A691, through Witton Gilbert and towards Lanchester. The cycle lane turned out to be impassable, and the right side of the road littered with puddles and running water, so I kept to the left side – not recommended on a weekday, but on this Sunday morning, there was very little in the way of traffic (perhaps Andy Murray had something to do with it?). In Lanchester, I left the A road, and after a short detour, turned left onto quiet Newbiggin Lane. I crossed the railway line, only to confirm my earlier decision, and headed straight west. On the climb towards Humber Hill Lane, the going got considerably more difficult, as water was streaming down towards me. However, reaching the crest, I was more than compensated for wet feet by spectacular views of the snow covered countryside.

No end of melt-water about ... I turned right when I reached Longedge Lane, and right again to join the A68 towards Castleside. From here, the road descended steeply towards Allensford and the River Derwent, only to rise again equally steeply on the other side. I took the climb very slowly, navigating frequent puddles and looking out for occasional cars. Upon spotting the Derwent Reservoir in the distance, I took a left turn at Caterway Heads, onto the B6278. Another fast descent was followed by a gradual climb towards Edmundbyers, where I quickly spotted the Fruit Bowl [ Very close! Ed. ], and was soon joined by other Striders. A well-deserved pint or two, and delicious (vegetarian) lunch in great company followed. Special thanks go to Shaun, who lent me a warm fleece, to Pam who organised the event, and to Jan who gave me a lift back to Durham! For the record: 32.5 km (19.6 mi) with 486 m (1594 ft) climbed in 2:46.

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Munich Marathon, Sunday, October 14, 2012

Till Sawala

Two weeks after the Oktoberfest, the streets of Munich are once again full of people: runners for the 27th edition of the Munich Marathon, which also doubled this year as the German championship. Ulrike (not a Strider, but known to some as winner of last year’s Court Inn Clamber) and I arrived in Munich on Saturday evening, and after dinner of pasta at a friend’s home, we called it an early night. Cycling through the fresh morning air to the start in the Olympic park, we knew that conditions would be good: cool, little wind and clear skies with now sign of rain. After picking up our numbers and checking in our bags, we rushed towards the first starting pen, just in time.

A traditional musketeer salute sent us on our way, and soon Ulrike was ahead and out of sight. While I held back on the first few kilometres, I soon picked up the pace – I was aiming for 3:10 hours to secure a place in London, but by the time we entered the Englischer Garten near the 5 km mark, I was already about half a minute up on my plan. The sunshine had brought out plenty of spectators, and the running felt easy.

I caught up with Ulrike around the 15 km mark, just as we crossed the river to start the only significant climb of the day. We exchanged a few words of encouragement, but I felt good enough to press on, crossing the halfway point at 1:33, two minutes ahead of schedule. From there on, the course lead through more industrial areas with fewer spectators, but I continued to feel alright and was able to tick of the miles. At around 30k, we descended towards the river once more, and soon were running up the Tal towards the famous Marienplatz with plenty of crowds to cheer us on. I had no time for sightseeing, as the road narrowed through a number of sharp turns, before we crossed Marienplatz for the second time. Shortly after this, the early pace made itself felt, and as the temperature rose, the running first became harder, and then slower. It had been three years to the day since my debut marathon on the same course, and I had not run another marathon since – in my first attempt, the second half had felt much easier, but I had also been running at a slower pace.

By the time we reached the 35 km mark, every slight climb felt like a steep hill, and although I was still passing runners, my split times had slowed by almost 20 seconds. Luckily, at km 38, I caught a glimpse of the Olympic Tower, and once we entered the Olympic Park, I knew I would hit my goal if I just managed to keep running to the finish line. The final kilometres seemed to stretch, before we finally entered the stadium through the Marathon gate. I managed to pick up the pace once more for the final 200 metres, to cross the line just as the clock overhead ticked past 3:09 – a hard earned PB. Ulrike came in just a couple of minutes behind me, in a time that would have put her 26th in the German championship.

We celebrated in style – with Bretzn and plenty of (alcohol-free) Weissbier.

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