I’ve had a gentle few months in terms of training, an injury picked up in early November, not helped by a fall in the Wooler Marathon (two months later, the bruising is still there and hurting!). Cross-country proved doable, but running in, or walking in the fells was impossible for a few months, as I could go up fine – but not down!
After a rather sedentary week in Somerset for Christmas, and a number of get-togethers and office parties in the weeks before, the short and not horrendously steep Guisborough Woods race was a good way to get back into fell races, if not actually onto the top of any fells. It is a course of 3 laps around the quarry in Guisborough woods, each lap with around 130m of climb and descent – so after the first, you know exactly what you have to do again, and again… In terms of distance, it is close to cross-country, but requires rather more effort – a worthwhile training exercise for both the up and downhills! It might not be the most scenic of fell races – it’s not a bad view, you just see the same one three times – but is a marked, marshalled course with no exposed summits or kit requirements (on the day I did it – in bad weather this would likely change!) so a good options for anyone off work and looking for something to do between Christmas and New Year (there are junior races too). The lapped course may not be the most exciting, but it does mean that no runner is ever far from the start or help if needed. A bumper turnout of around 200 runners showed lots had this idea!
My time off and reduced training definitely showed, I was significantly slower and in more discomfort in the climbs than usual, but made it round all the same being beaten by sometime Strider Danny Lim – that hasn’t happened before! Well done Danny, I’ll need to work harder next time… At least the weather was kind and sunny, and my knee didn’t show any signs of pain on the descent, which meant I was able to claw back some time and places careering down through the mud, nearly taking out a poor man from DFR on one lap (running down steep mud is easy – stopping quickly is not!). Not long after I finished, Mike Bennett ran in, soon followed by Nina, arms out and clearly enjoying flying down the hill for a final time. We lined up along the finish to cheer Jan in, the final of our ladies team (we came 3rd!) as she let us all know that she had managed to stay on her feet this time, no broken bones!
A trundle back to base at the Rugby Club for the prize giving – including winter series winners from last year, the year before, top 3 male and female finishers in this years race, veteran finishers, junior prizes – I kept asking Nina what the current prize was for, eventually we both lost count – Esk Valley are very generous with their prizes! A final shout of ‘anyone who hasn’t got a prize, and thinks they should have – come and see me!’ and time to go home and wash the mud (and in Nina’s case – blood) off our legs and rest up ready for the Captain Cooks NYD race.
A total of eighteen Striders turned out on a sunny, slightly chilly November morning for the relays, forming the maximum allowed six teams and truly representing the club and Durham. With teams comprised of new members, road, fell and endurance runners young, and slightly less young the diversity of the club was certainly shown, with fantastic performances all around.
Georgie led the senior team (with Gareth and Fiona), to a strong start, coming round to hand over to the second leg near the top of the field, with a cracking time. After a significantly slower, but a somewhat competitive time in the ‘lady leg’ (possibly 80% of the leg two runners were female), Gareth then took over to fly around and bring the team in a commendable 5th place overall.
The team to watch, however, were the V60 athletes, older but seemingly not much slower as Geoff, Roz and Conrad stormed round to bring the team in 2nd place, only narrowly missing out on the win by a few seconds. Special mention must go to the individual performances here – Geoff bringing home the overall fastest V60 times of the day (not bad for a fell runner!), Conrad coming in with the 2nd V60, and Roz taking the 2nd female V60. Something to aspire to for all those in the younger age categories!
And for a second leg account from someone very out of their comfort zone, but who put on a cracking run…
So short runs are not my thing, the feeling of running flat out and close to my limit does not appeal to me. That sick feeling of not being able to breathe nice and deep and my head screaming stop…nope not my thing.
However, I am a fan of team spirit and I love it when striders come together to support each other so I decided to broaden my horizons and go for it. I’m a nervous runner before a race so finding out there were no toilets near the start line did not turn my frown upside down. How bad could this relay be? 1.6 mile of feeling out of breath and on the verge of vomiting… at least it would be over quickly.
Having a look around to scout out the competition didn’t help, especially when you see the likes of Aly Dixon warming up! I felt like I didn’t belong there, trying to run ‘fast’, when we all know I’m a half marathon runner at heart. Steady plodding and deep breathing is where I’m comfortable.
So… after all the overthinking, miserable face and nerves, I went on to run my fastest ever mile and I didn’t vomit!! It’s not a bad feeling over-taking people one by one and the atmosphere towards the finish was fantastic. The pain was over very quickly but the feeling of accomplishment and improvement remains. I tried something new, I surprised myself and I might have liked it a little. Just a little. I will be back next year and I will be hunting down a new fastest mile PB!!
And from our former captain, road-running extraordinaire…
Norman Woodcock relays from the almost sharp end.
Some people are put off by the fast, flat, tarmac, relays. Not me as it’s everything I love about our sport.
I appreciate other forms of our sport and have taken part in them all. I recognise their value, attraction and training values for sure. You need to do what you love and enjoy, otherwise, you end up doing no running at all. Find your passion for running and commit, that’s the best advice I’ve ever received. 1 week earlier I’d run a sub 2:55 marathon experiment using heart rate, so my expectations pre-run were low.
6 teams were soon formed, with me, George Hebdon and Fiona Brannan in my team. We placed 6th on the day out of over 100+ teams (FB edit – upgraded to 5th in the latest publication of Athletics weekly!). A very impressive performance and a marker in the sand for future teams for sure.
So what was my race like? Stood round in the pen, shot off like a sprinter then into my familiar groove of almost mile pace. I swapped into K pace splits for the short distance, better feedback. I love having people to chase, and I managed to get past a few but left it too late to catch more.
A fantastic experience and the big smiles all round showed that others thought the same too. The team aspect of relays can’t be understated; running can be a solitary sport at times. So we need these days, a reminder that we are a team, a family and a fantastic club.
I love running and I love mountains but for some reason, I rarely combine the two, so when Paul Evans put a call out for an Elvet Striders team for the ‘British Fell and Hill Relay Championships‘ in the Lakes, it seemed like an opportunity to combine the two. I had put myself forward for the first leg, as I had to be back in Durham for work later in the day. More experienced members of our team helped check I had the right kit to carry around with me, gave me a map and some last minute fell running tips and before I knew it, we were being herded into the starting pen.
Without having considered a race plan, the gun went off and on a spur of the moment decision; I thought it might be fun to ‘blast’ the first field. Zoom, I was off! Head of the pack – Elvet Striders leading the race! But crikey, before I knew it, I had lactic burning like I’d just raced an 800m on the track. Then we started going up – I’ve never run on anything like it; about 3 miles up – getting steeper all the way. The everlasting incline was no place to be trying to clear the lactic acid, my heart and lungs were on fire. This was not running, as I know it; folks were pulling themselves up the mountain on tufts of grass, or rocks – whatever you could grasp. As the race got higher we entered the clouds and visibility was very poor – I was just trying to keep someone close by as I hadn’t really entertained trying to navigate too, but at some point, I reached the summit and then we were heading down.
Through reading, and some of Geoff’s off-road sessions, I know the theory of running downhill (switch off brain, lean forward, don’t brake) but can I put it into practice? – err, no! The whole way down the mountain, despite trying to relax, I was clearly thinking too much and leaning back and braking – my quads were taking such a hammering (5 days after the race, writing this, I still can’t walk properly) but it certainly was exhilarating. After 3 miles of heart and lung burning going up, this was 2 miles of slipping and sliding my way down.
Back to the starting field after handing over to Jack and Fiona, I managed a brief catch up with the rest of the team and used my token for some hot food and drink before heading home. I had a great day – I love the variety of running, but I always seem to enjoy the day more when it’s a team event or relay, it really brings you together.
Leg 2, Jack Lee and Fiona Brannan, paired, 6,7 miles, 2800 ft
Jack: “So that’s what you call dibbing!”
I have never understood fair weather running. Heat makes me overheat while I find a drizzly, windy and generally just a bit crap day brings out my best. I was probably at close to my best at the relays and still I had no chance of keeping up with Fiona on the downs. (Fiona: I’m not a great fan of the ‘up’ part, but I really, really like the ‘down’…)
Our leg of the relays started with some shouts that Mark had been spotted and a fast run away from the line, only to be quickly assaulted by the fells. Usually, the ascent tires me out but today I just plodded on surprised by how easy it was going. (Fiona: it’s true, I’m not much good at ‘up’) Leg 2 started with the ascent of Great Rigg and then Fairfield from Grasmere, and after that it becomes a bit of a blur.
Fiona and I spent 50 minutes trudging up Fairfield with the occasional jog on the flatter section; it was a bit damp but the effort kept us warm, however, when we got to the top the cold wind cut through my clothing. You could get cold very fast if you stayed still but fortunately after a slower start Fiona had found her legs (Fiona: have I mentioned I don’t like the ‘up’ parts?!) and it was all I could do to keep up with her. The next half an hour was one of the most frenetic (Fiona: I think he means fun and exciting!) of my life. I leapt over rocky escarpments, slid down bog on my backside and waded streams all at a frenzied pace just to keep up. I have never descended so fast and was pushing my limits; quite a few times I placed my foot on muddy paths of steep slopes for my footing to go. I was, after all, in a pair of borrowed shoes, as I had forgotten mine. I owe Nigel my eternal thanks and a beer sometime for the loan of shoes. (Fiona; our split times on this section are somewhat more impressive than the ascent, and we managed to gain around 30 places here so must have been doing something right!)
Eventually, as must happen, the slope became shallower but this just encouraged Fiona to up the pace, so I dug deep and used all the pace I had left just to keep up and after a treacherous descent over the final muddy field (onlookers hoping for exciting slips and falls!) we sprinted in just ahead of fell running legend Angela Mudge and her partner from Carnethy. We tagged Paul and Geoff and our job was done.
Leg 3; Geoff Davis and Paul Evans; paired ca. 6-7 miles, 3000 ft, navigation leg
Having done the fell relays a couple of times before, both times leg 2, 2018 saw me decide to push out of my comfort zone a little and take on leg 3 with the guiding hand of the veteran Geoff D to keep me right and deflect my natural inclination to take route alpha at all opportunities; essentially, I was there to push the pace and to learn, he there to ensure sanity and to guide me in the subtle art of efficient hill running. This played out as follows on a leg of 7 miles and c3000 feet:
Start – CP1: fast start along a lane away from the event field, having been tagged by Fiona and Jack. Easy running on tarmac, then sharp bend upwards to a pair of marshals who hand us our maps of the control locations. A quick glance at the map and it becomes apparent that Geoff’s talents will be of use, as my urges are to go up and over, whilst he takes us nicely up the side of a fast-flowing beck, twisting up the valley over slippery rocks and through bracken to arrive at a stream junction and CP1, other teams arriving and departing rapidly.
CP1-2: the fun starts here, as we exit northeast, traversing up a hill into the low cloud. We follow a sheep trod, and other teams also, then it all becomes very puzzling as we arrive at a tarn that isn’t on the map, but with a saddle that definitely is. We know we’re somewhere around Heron Pike and then, Eureka! Unsurprisingly, the only such body of water on the map is, we realise, where we must be even if we’d been further up the hill, as we’d assumed, and therefore closer to our destination. We lose a good few minutes pondering this, though it turns out, race leaders Keswick lose even more (and, in the process, the overall race). Upwards, over the ridge, downwards, aiming for another stream junction with a sheepfold beyond; I suggest we simply follow the stream to our left and make up for my error with the tarn to an extent by this proving correct, albeit with an element of luck. Dibbed, and done.
CP2-3: easy – take a bearing and follow it, climb gently, descend gently onto a Land-Rover track and the next control, with marshals huddled in a tent.
CP3-4-5-end: easy navigation, but straight up and over, a long line of ant-like figures ascending into the heavens/cloud above us. This gets chilly, and I push the pace fairly hard as we use all limbs to get us up to the very runnable ridgeline, where we make up a few places before contouring around a valley head and then dropping sharply through endless greasy bracken, broken earth and unseen rocks. There are now teams to our left and right, some of them last seen on the climb, some not seen previously. We hit the stream, cross it and then have a choice – up and over or veer round to our left then back right again, adding 300m but taking out the climb. Geoff prefers the latter, so we do it and meet at the next control the teams who entered the water with us: no advantage either way until we then race them downhill on a firm track and realise we have more in our legs, taking out 4-5 further teams. By now the back of the leg is broken and we’re heading home, a little climb taken with aggression and then the final run-in down churned, slippery tracks, CP5 hit, then fields, control on the descent limited and Geoff slipping ahead as I’m just rubbish on this terrain. We re-enter the final field and Geoff’s driving hard and not looking back, knowing I’ll go all-in to catch him again, which I do before we hit the line and tag Nigel. Job done, baton not lost, lessons in the art of navigation on the move gained. Here goes Nigel…
Leg 4; Nigel Heppell, solo, 4.3 miles, 2000 ft
Leg 4 – known as the ‘glory’ leg; also suitable for 16yr olds – I’m well
Standing for several hours in a field on a wet Lakes day while legs 1,2
and 3 take place, I try to keep as much clothing on as possible before
getting down to race kit and entering the holding pen in what I think
should be a reasonably short time before Geoff and Paul appear for the
handover at the end of their navigation leg. Such is the calibre of the
superstars of the fell running world that the loudspeakers let us all
know the relay has actually been won before half the field even set off
on the last leg and there is a 5min call for the mass start. Peering
into the distant murk, I spot the unmistakable gait of an HH top leading
Paul down the final slope and into the funnel and then it’s my turn to go
off up the lane with a grateful lead on the pack behind.
The official route description says it all; narrow lane; cross beck;
path up to tarn; big zig- zags on climb; scenic dash
around tarn; cross wall; stiff ascent of Heron Pike; nothing to see now
as we enter the cloud base shrouding the tops; onto Fairfield Horseshoe
race line; contour below summit of Great Rigg; speedy contouring descent
onto summit of Stone Arthur; exit cloud cover; hair-raising descent down
leg 2 ascent path; and back into the event field.
On the climb up I very soon hear the sounds of the pack gaining
on me; one or two lanky types begin to lope past; then a whole bundle go
through – I guess the fitter club runners who were held back by the late
arrival of their leg3 runners – then I seem to hold my position; ascent
of Heron Pike is just plain hard work; a bit chastened to be steadily
overtaken by what appears to be a classrooms-worth of school children
but then things level off and we get running again. A few of us trade
places once or twice along the contour and then the fun starts as
gravity kicks in. It always amazes me how timid some become on a descent
over rough ground and now it’s my turn to overtake; beyond Stone Arthur
the slope increases dramatically and keeping a foothold is marginal at
best; no way of slowing down without a fall so go for it, trying not to
wipe out runners caught in front; through hole in wall and into final
descent of event field; others say this is really steep and slippery but
it feels quite relaxed after what went before and I again have to expend
energy running into the finish.
For the road runners amongst you, I ran this at a pace of 15min/mile –
For the fell runners, my rate of ascent was a lowly, but fairly steady
60’/min; and my rate of descent was largely 200-220’/min.
[Footnote – The photograph of Jack and Fiona was generously provided by Beau Dog Photography. There is no oblligation but if you would like to make a donation to the Phabkids then please follow the link and give from as little as £2. Thank you https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Lee-and-Sarah ]
After a spring of chasing Elaine Bisson around the fells in preparation for her Bob Graham Round, pacing on her and Stuart’s rounds and completing a few local fell races, I thought I might move up to the big league and try a Lake District Race. The Grisedale horseshoe starts in Glenridding and takes in Catstycam, Helvellyn and St Sunday crag; by far not the biggest, longest or hardest route the Lakes has to offer but a sure step up from the North York Moors and the Esk Valley Summer Series.
It is not a difficult route to navigate and I know the area quite well, but I like to be confident of the route and what to expect on race day, as generally, by the time the map comes out, chances of a good placing are gone. I took Jack and headed over a few weeks before; whilst he had a fantastic time I complained all the way to the top of Catstycam about how steep, or grassy, or hilly, or hard work it was… just about anything I could think of, I moaned about. We took a map and loaded the route on to my fancy new Garmin watch and found that we used the map plenty, and the GPS track not much!
On race day, I picked up Geoff and Stuart who were also taking part, and Sam who fancied a day out in the fells. Registration and kit check took place in the village hall, before nervously hanging around outside watching lots of tough looking, mostly male, runners warming up along the track where the race started.
Off we went, the first half-mile or so is a fairly flat track past the campsite which helped to settle into a decent position for the climb, and being faster on the flat bits, I found a decent place and expected to be overtaken on the climb, so didn’t worry too much when people passed me. Nearing the top of Birkhouse Moor, Stuart and two ladies overtook; I kept the same pace, knowing that there was a nice runnable section coming up before the next ascent to Catstycam. I caught one lady and had Stuart in view as we started on up Catstycam on what seemed to be the worst way up to me – straight up the side through the long grass. Is the path a hundred feet away really that much slower? I saw Stuart ahead using his hands as well as his feet on the ground – that’s how steep it was! I kept reminding myself that I was here voluntarily (why??) and that the climbing would have to stop eventually. The top was in cloud and rather windy, I shouted my number at the marshals and headed off to Swirral edge, to the lovely rocks that are much easier to negotiate!
Up and over the top of Helvellyn, then follow the BG route to Grisedale Tarn, easy enough – except coming off Dollywaggon I decided that the people ahead of me heading down sooner than I expected must have known something I didn’t and followed them for a while. Turns out they came off too soon and I was once again negotiating that boggy tufty grass that makes up most of the fells, while Stuart sped past over to the left on the actual descent, laughing at my poor route choice (I had caught him up somewhere along the top). Past the marshals at the tarn and I overtook Stuart once again as with a shout he fell waist deep into a bog/stream/river.
I had caught the lady in front on the descent and having warmed up nicely by now, stuck on her shoulder on the run-up to St Sunday Crag. The climb was much less steep and therefore more enjoyable than the previous climbs. I thought she might be fading a little so didn’t worry too much about overtaking yet and waited until the summit checkpoint before heading off down a nice rocky path. She and a few others followed – I’m not sure they thought much of my route choice as they dropped back quite quickly. The long descent through Blind Cove into Patterdale is lovely and a few runners commented that I seemed to be having too much fun as I slid down through scree, mud, bog and plenty sheep muck. Through a field at the bottom to an audience of huge cows, a splash through the river at the bottom and onwards towards the last hill, nearly home!
I think Patterdale is one of my favourite dales, it’s very pretty and apart from race day, always appears to be deserted. I commented as much to the man running next to me and he just looked at me like I was mad, perhaps I am.
The final climb back up to the Helvellyn tourist path is brutal, and not so short – a definite ‘hands-on-floor’ ascent. I counted the steps until I got to around 700 before losing count, and was still nowhere near the top. However, I didn’t seem to be losing any places and everybody else was struggling in a similar fashion. One man cried out when he realised we had only reached a false summit; I reassured him that it really wasn’t far now!
Trying to muster up a run along the easier parts, we finally reached the last checkpoint and the start of the descent. Some friendly runners told me to enjoy the run back down; there was no need to rush as the next lady was still back in Patterdale somewhere. Someone opened a gate for me when I couldn’t work out what side the hinges were on and ushered me through. When we got to the bottom track there was a shout along the lines of ‘go on lass, go get the rest of them!’, and back to the village hall, sweaty handshakes all round and lots of tea and sandwiches.
Stuart came in sometime later, followed by Geoff and we waited around for the prizes – wine and chocolate (Aldi special!) for the category winners, first fell race, a lady whose birthday it was and the children of some runners! It’s a generous sport, and a challenging few hours out for the grand price of £5 and on the day entry.