Tag Archives: Elaine Bisson

Bob Graham Round, Saturday, May 26, 2018

66miles, 42 Lakeland peaks, 27000ft elevation gain

Elaine Bisson

66miles, 42 Lakeland peaks, 27000ft elevation gain (like climbing Everest)
1 contender (me), 4 navigators (Geoff Davis, Mike Hughes, John Telfer, Steve Birkinshaw) 16 Pacers (Mandy, Katy, Jules, Mike, Jon, Stuart, Scott, Mark, Rob, Fiona, Gibbo, Mike, Penny, Steph, Nigel, Danny), 1 professional cook and road crew (Heather), 1 Road support and bodyguard (Susan), 1 family (husband, 3 children and a dog), stunt driver Katy Walton and sidecar Lesley Charman.

I first heard of the BGR after a run with Katy, shortly after I joined the Club (2014). She had been involved in the club’s Billy Bland challenge (the BGR run as a relay with pairs on each leg) and, having realised my love of hills, had jokingly said I would do it at some point. I’d come home and googled it, marvelling at the extreme challenge. My husband had then bought me the map as a Christmas present.

After London Marathon 2016 I’d had enough of tarmac. I’d been reading…Steve Chilton The Round, Runner by Lizzy Hawker, Feet in the Clouds, Richard Askwith. All fed into my habit and dream. I must admit now, I love the Lakes; it’s been a part of me since I was tiny. I’ve spent my childhood summers walking in sunshine or torrential rain…whatever the weather I loved it, it was like a second home. The only time I would complain was if we were going anywhere steep. I think it grew from my mother’s nervousness but I had a deep fear of heights, one that I have only just conquered.

Having done well at Swaledale Marathon in 2016, I’d offered to help on Mike’s BGR, I did leg 1. I’d taken a photo of him on top of Robinson (the first peak.) From here nearly the whole round is visible and I was in awe of the challenge he had striven to achieve. It felt superhuman. That put my training into perspective; the fells were something else.

On January 21st, 2017, a birthday treat, Geoff, Mike and I went to recce leg 5 of the BGR. It was a beautiful crisp, sunny day with excellent views. Geoff handed me the map and took me through some basic navigation skills. The pair kept looking at their watches on the summits and on top of Great Calva they gave each other a little look and said ‘well, you’ve just managed to hit the peaks within BGR time, how would you feel about training for it? Maybe do it to celebrate your 40th?!’… No need to think, the answer was a definite yes.

July 2017 I supported Scott on his BGR and had been across regularly supporting Geoff with his Joss Naylor Challenge. The love affair and obsession with the lakes was well and truly re-ignited.

Summer last year I’d sent out THE email, the one you spend ages writing, letting everyone know of your intention to attempt it. To ask for help and to set the date. I’d looked at full moon dates and had set this on the BH so there was a possibility of delaying the start if the weather was bad and to coincide with a big moon. I’d spent a while rereading it before my finger, which had spent a long time hovering over the send icon, finally sent it. My cards were on the table, I’d committed to it.

Geoff had given me advice on the build-up to long runs. He has been an authority on all things Bob, giving me advice and support on anything and everything. Between him and my many running books, I wrote myself a training plan. Putting in key runs that I’d need to tick off. I printed off a Bob Wightman BGR schedule so that I knew my times between summits and determined to meet them every time I recced by myself.

Wednesdays quickly became Lakes days. The winter meant shorter recces, limited due to daylight hours and of course the grotty weather. I went across in all sorts, adapting runs to make sure I got the elevation but remained safe. I’d never been able to cover so much ground, to reach so many summits in one go. I’d come home energised and desperate to plan my next trips. It had started monthly, then fortnightly, often Geoff would show me the route then I’d return alone to master it.

I spent hours map reading, marking out routes, practising navigation. The first long runs were Tour of Edinburgh (55km) then Tour de Helvellyn (38miles). I’d done well in both. After these it was a case of hills, miles and mastering the route myself so that I could navigate should I need it. My mileage increased, I cycled my training, building up over 3 weeks then having an easy week. 66miles was the weekly mileage happy goal (that’s what I’d need to run on the day) anything above a bonus, 10,000ft the elevation goal.

Stuart was training as well. We started competing for elevation, recceing together and his support throughout has been amazing. We’ve gone on a journey together, experienced the doubts, the excitement, it’s been quite something.

One of my favourite recces, again of leg 5 was after heavy snowfall, with Geoff, Mike, Jack and John. People were out skiing off Scales fell. The landscape was just beautiful. I’d been trying my best to ease the journey by following in Jack’s footprints. When he realised, he started making giant yeti steps! Somehow I managed to persuade the boys up Great Calva… They agreed on the condition that I lead making the first prints. This might sound easy but Calva is a steep drag anyway, made a million times harder with knee/thigh deep snow. Probably a quarter of the way up I was fading fast and Jack bravely took up the lead. Icicles jangled on the fence line. Never has that trudge been so hard or so memorable. The summit was otherworldly, the thin barbed fence was coated in foot long icicles blasted on by the wind off Skiddaw. It’s fair to say they were pleased I’d persuaded them, just to see it. Another journey home in relative silence as all three boys snored within seconds of Mike setting off.

My first recce of 2018 was a cornerstone. I’d never had such an experience that would make you believe in magic or ghosts or spirits. The snow had fallen but the forecast was good. I’d planned to do an abbreviated leg 5 recce, up Doddick Fell (as long as no ice remained) perhaps down Blease Fell then up to Skiddaw. I’d got to the top path where it zigzags, the path was like an ice rink but I forged on up the steep grass…covered in snow and ice. By the time I’d realised it probably wasn’t so safe I’d gone too far to retreat and it seemed safer to go up.

I reached the top to find myself above the clouds, solitary, it was covered in sheet ice evidence of thaw and refreeze, Blease Fell would be bad to descend. The safest option was to go down onto Mungrisdale. I took my compass out and just as I looked at my map a broken-spectre appeared just where I should be heading. If I hadn’t have read about them I might have been scared, as it was I stood motionless, transfixed by the vision. It seemed to be directing me to safety and I followed. The common was covered in thick fog but I set on a bearing and kept to it until I hit the river Caldew. Up to Great Calva and then onto Skiddaw. My first good day navigating alone in fog and well under target time.

Easter madness heralded the start of my massive ascent figures. I recced all legs, ran up to Arthur’s pike every night from the campsite and charged back down. It was heaven. I felt really strong, distance and ascent figures were huge. I’m pretty sure this is the fortnight that stood me in good stead for the round and it’s thanks to my wonderful husband for supporting and encouraging my training. In the last 10 weeks of training, I’d covered 800miles with 130,000ft of ascent!

One month before I went across with Mike to recce the Scafells, I was nervous. I hadn’t managed to recce this earlier as the gullies had only just cleared of snow. The route between Scafell and Scafell Pike is the biggest headache of the round. You either get a rope set up on Broad Stand (most direct) or you take Lords Rake or the longest is via Foxes Tarn.

Deep Gill/West Wall Traverse/Lords Rake, for me seemed the best of the three but it had been built up to be unpleasant. We’d gone in high winds (the same day Nigel had separately recced leg 5 and had hung onto the rock on Halls fell!). We’d climbed the slope up from Wasdale carpark to touch the peak of Scafell. I’d warned Mike I wouldn’t like it. With a smile and a twinkle in his eye he’d told me, ‘It’s all in your head, now let’s just do it’ and he’d skipped off to the entrance of Deep Gill.

I’d looked down and shook my head and said, I’m not going down there. Somehow Mike encouraged me and quite soon we arrived at Mickledore. I could have jumped for joy I was so pleased. The BGR loop had been sealed. I’d been over the whole route. I felt like I could navigate the whole 66 miles.

3 days later I was across supporting legs 3 + 4 of Stuart’s clockwise round. Even before the day, he’d suggested I do three legs. I’d said I’d see on the day. I’d loved it so much by the time we were at Honister, I was quite fixed on seeing him finish, nothing could stop me. I came home buzzing.

To support someone to reach their goal, particularly when you are training for it and you know just how important it is, is quite special. I’d also ticked off another of my long runs, 3 legs back to back, and felt fresh at the end. Perhaps I really could do it.

A few days later I set up my own secret FB group ‘Elaine’s BGR’. There was much excitement. I was as organised as I could be, I think it distracted me from the enormous challenge I’d set myself. Schedules were tweaked, timing cards made and strung up with pencils, boxes for each leg packed and repacked and labelled with additional fresh food to add. Pacers were assigned to each leg and given jobs (timing cards, kit bag carrier, food/drink bagger, headtorch captain.) I’d even ordered a tracker to make things more fun for my family and easier for my pacers.

I barely slept for the final fortnight, I’d wake regularly and be wide-awake at 5. The butterflies were there almost constantly. I’d tell myself they were flying in formation as Allan would have me think.

The final recce day was surreal. I was still nervous on Halls Fell, Geoff had taken me on it after Stuarts BGR. My legs were fine but I imagined myself at the end of my round, legs wobbling and not managing up the rock. Susan had offered a slow walk up again. The conditions were perfect, dry rock, low wind, and good visibility. We reached the top easily and within time. We’d come across with Geoff and Mike B(recceing leg 4) and David and Mike H (recceing leg 2) it was an amazing day. All these people doing three different recces to help me. Driving home later in the day the car was full of giggles and positive energy. Everyone seemed to will me on, they all had this amazing confidence in me and I came home believing I could actually achieve it.

On the Wednesday before, I met up with my road support Heather and Susan. They were a dream team from start to finish, having helped on previous rounds. I was incredibly lucky to have them both on board.

During the build-up, so that I had a good idea, I’d asked Geoff what weather should I postpone. His reply of ‘high winds, torrential rain’… ‘OK what constitutes high wind?’ (we’ve been out on Robinson when winds forecast 60mph). ‘Anything over 30mph consistently for the whole day’. So the whole week beforehand I was weather spotting, for the whole week it was high winds 40-45mph, increasing in the evening, no let up all day. Geoff said it’s fine, it’ll be fine! I stopped looking at the forecast.

We’d driven across on Friday night, hired a house minutes from the Moot Hall so I could stumble home when the job was done. It was an oversight on my part that it was a three-storey house and not a bungalow.

I spent 30minutes with rising panic as we couldn’t find the code to get in the house. The relief and the tears as we finally got in, I hadn’t realised how stressed I was getting. My poor family have supported me every step, have listened to my tales, looked at my many photos of hills and more hills. Tolerated the piles of sweaty running kit and the lines of laundry. The smelly shoes discarded by the door. The absence at weekends. What they don’t know about ‘The Bob’ is not worth knowing. It’s been quite a love affair and John has been beyond patient with me.

Leg 1 Moot Hall, Keswick – Honister
Robinson, Hindscarth, Dale Head

We left our cottage to arrive at 6:45, the high street already bustling with Market traders and of course my support team. I was feeling nervous, desperate just to start, to stop my stomach doing cartwheels. I climbed the 10 steps to start outside the doors (Stuart had told me it was a lightweights round who started at the base of Moot Hall!) Finally my watch turned 07:00 and we were off. I’d worried I’d miss-pace this section (I was navigating until we met Geoff for the climb onto the fells.) Without my pack I felt as light as a feather, the taper had left me like a coiled spring. I bounced down the lanes, trying my best to keep to a steady pace. My pacers were excited, Katy joined me until Newlands church, Jules, Mandy, Jon and Mike.The sky was blue, lanes full of colour and noise. Lambs now quite large in the fields. The last time I’d been here I’d driven just to remind myself of the rolls of the road. Before that it was reversed chasing down Stuart as he’d sped off on his BGR in the middle of the night, the eyes of the sheep glinting eerily on my headtorch lights.

We dropped down from Littletown to see Geoff waiting. I changed into fell shoes and grabbed my poles, then off up the road accompanied briefly by John who was busy filming snippets of the day.

Up to the house, through the gate and onto the grassy track to the first fell, Robinson. I was all too pleased to leave the road behind. On the steep ascent up to High Snabb, I led and had to wait at the top for pacers to catch me. Geoff had a quiet word, “slow down, you’re going too fast”.

Onto Robinson, my first summit, and amazing views of the legs ahead. I tried not to look around, just focusing on the present and onto the next peak. It would be too daunting to think too far ahead. The wind was pretty strong and deafening, it was hard to talk without shouting at each other. So now the grassy descent before we climb to Hindscarth. My pacers were great, handing me drinks and encouraging me to eat. I touched the cairn and quickly moved on to Dale Head. No stopping. Steph had advised me to just keep moving, keep moving forward and you’ll do it. No pauses for photos, you might need those precious minutes later in the day or tomorrow. So there were no planned breaks until the road stops.

Dale Head is one of my favourite views. Here two of Geoff ’s friends were waiting. Cheering me on. I said a quick hello as I turned and made ready to charge down to Honister. I love this descent it’s pretty grassy and a lovely gradient that you can build up speed. Soon I was running past John who’d walked up to meet us. Then my three, Graeme and Lily were waiting at the bottom. I ran into Honister with cheers and claps. Heather had a chair, tea and honey soaked porridge ready. Susan on duty to keep it quiet.

I guzzled away, feeling fresh and looking forward to leg 2, a firm favourite. Geoff had a word, “pull back, you’re 10minutes up already, just take your time, don’t panic, don’t worry if you lose time, take it steady”. I wasn’t panicking, I felt really good, something in me knew I could do it if only the wind dropped if only the damn wind dropped.

Leg 2 Honister – Wasdale
Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Green Gable, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, Pillar, Steeple, Red Pike, Yewbarrow

Mike was navving, Stuart ready with all my favourite goodies (he knew exactly what I like, having consumed all of my food on his round!) and strong pacers alongside, Scott, Mark and John. I shortened my 10minute stop, eager to move on.

Grey Knotts came quicker than expected, the lovely fresh banter of new pacers carrying me on up the steep rocky ascent. Brandreth was soon reached, the ground had never been so dry. On up to Green gable then down to windy gap (it was all windy) and up Gable. I tripped here, only one of 3 trips but it made me pause and take heed. The wind was really blasting me, Mark tagged alongside trying to shelter me from it. At last, we turned a bend and it eased. There is a bit of scrambling up to the summit, its fun and in no time I was again at the top. Ahead of schedule. I knew the direction off, although invariably I lost the easier route. So I happily followed Mike’s lead. He told me to go steady, watch my feet, no need to go fast, we were ahead. I stuck behind him and soon we were on the pass ready to climb Kirk Fell.

Here John dropped down to Wasdale, he was to navigate leg 3. Stuart and Mark were brilliant, keeping time and asking every half hour what I would like to eat/drink. We made good time over Kirk Fell onto Pillar and then one of my favourites, Steeple. It’s a beautiful little summit that sticks out alone, quick to climb compared to the others on this leg. Mike and Mark accompany me while Stuart and Scott lazed on Scoat Fell (that’s what I did on their rounds!). Onto Red Pike then a swift run down until we hit the bottom of Yewbarrow. We pass a clockwise attempt and wish each other well.

I love the ascent up to Yewbarrow, it crosses scree, huge boulders then winds up through heather and turf until it reaches the wide ridge path and on up to the summit. We made pretty quick progress as the wind had really picked up and we were buffeted and blown all the way along. It was tough going trying to keep upright, particularly crossing the boulder fields. Scott led the way down to Wasdale on a lovely scree run where my legs could rest and we could use the stones to drag us down.

I arrived in a very hot valley, feeling still remarkably fresh. Heather had laid out a beautiful picnic of leek and potato soup, egg sarnies, tomato and crisps and of course hot sweet tea. I gobbled it all while Scott shaded me under a huge umbrella from the hot sun.

Leg 3 Wasdale – Dunmail
Scafell, Scafell Pike, Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End, Esk Pike, Bowfell, Rossett Pike, Pike O’Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Thunacar Knott, High Raise, Sergeant Man, Calf Crag, Steel Fell

Having had a big team on leg 2 this was smaller. John T leading, Rob up from Bath to support, Fiona eager as always to hit the fells (she’d actually only been down to do leg 5 but had stepped up when she’d realised I was short on pacers. Thank god she did!) and Stuart. Sadly Stuart headed back down half way up Scafell, his BGR still in his legs. John T dropped behind and was feeling sick and when we got to Scafell, Fiona asked me what I wanted to do as he was struggling with my pace… Keep on moving was my response. I knew I could navigate most of it really well but was still unsure of the route off Bow Fell (these rocky sections had relatively recently been covered in snow, hampering recces.) Thankfully John got a second wind, just stopping to miss out the tops and by the Langdales he was back to full strength (its much easier just thinking of moving forward and following than the added pressure of navigating).

John led the way into Deep Gill, it was dry underfoot and the wind howled through the gullies. We made good progress until we passed a group on a clockwise round. Stopping to let them pass we then descended. A shout of rock heralded a huge fall of stones and boulders, which narrowly missed John. I looked up cursing, both Rob and Fiona were equally shocked. From then we were pleased to leave the Rake and ascend to Mickledore. It was a relatively quick rocky clamber to Scafell Pike, today heaving with BH tourists.

I was enjoying the company and the different terrain, it’s the rockiest section meaning you really have to concentrate on where to put your feet which helps to pass the time. Peaks are ticked off quickly. Rob, on timing duty, was a great encouragement, so calm and positive that I was moving well and gradually increasing my buffer should I need it. I’ve also become great friends with Fiona, who shares my love of the fells, her happy chatter carrying me along.

Off Ill Crag I start wondering if I have a stone in my shoe from the scree off Lords Rake. We stop briefly at Esk Hause where Susan has walked to meet us (from Wasdale on her way back to Seathwaite.) Low on fluids, we pinch the last of her water supplies as it’s so hot. I stop to remove the stones only to find an enormous blister on the base of my heel. I put my shoes on quickly, not ready to accept that this has happened so early in the round, I then catch Susan’s eye and tell her. She promises she’ll sort it at Dunmail. I move on up Bow Fell, I know the direct line well.

I reach the top with Rob, Fiona and John waiting at the edge where we are to drop down off the face of Bowfell to Rossett Pike. John must have recognised an awkward gait and he persuades me to stop to temporarily deal with the blister. I remove my sock and their three faces drop. I put a blister plaster on (it barely covers it) tighten my laces and am off after John. I ask him warily, this won’t stop me, will it? (I’m scared it’ll continue to shear off) he says its mind over matter, you want this enough, nothing will stop you. Happy with his answer, I follow on. There are midget gems and wine gums offered.

The wind had dropped by Rossett Pike but it’s hot and we are all getting low on fluids. On to Pike-O-Stickle, we use the balcony route used by Langdale fell race. I don’t know this as well but it’s a pretty climb down then I enjoy the climb up to Pike-O-Stickle. They fill their bottles with water from the stream as I continue on. I refuse to drink their ‘bog water’ in case it has ill effects, I’ve a long way to go yet. I start to eat lots of mint cake. I love the scramble up to the summit and I race Rob as Fiona and John wait further up the path to Harrison Stickle.

Up the slow incline to High Raise, spurred on by a sugar rush, I break into a run and am scolded jokingly by Rob. Off Sergeant Man my heel starts to complain, it has a strange sensation of peeling off. It feels like an eternity from here to Dunmail, too concerned with my heel to enjoy it, it’s quite monotonous after the rocky bits. At the top of Steel Fell, I stupidly choose the wrong route down. I stood at the top with Fiona leaning into the wind like an angel, its so strong she’s almost levitating, until sensible head returns and we find John who is waiting at the correct descent. I make slow progress down, my heel is complaining and I’m worried I’ll cause more damage descending at the steep angle. The relief of seeing Steph, sure-headed, sensible strong Steph waiting, is a surprise. I’d thought she was busy but she’s there kitted up ready to support on leg 4. She’s a comfort realising immediately my concerns and bustling me along.

The road crew are like a well-oiled formula-one pit stop. I’m in my chair, wrapped in blankets to keep warm, delicious freshly prepared pasta is waiting along with tea (thanks to Heather who has also fed the pacers.) Susan is ready to sort my foot and has all my clothes ready for the quick change under Mikes modesty towel. It’s just superb. Susan bandages my foot so speedily and efficiently I honestly couldn’t feel that blister for the next two legs (about 26 miles) which is something as it was huge (afterwards I can barely touch it for two days it’s so painful).

I’m back in fresh, dry clothes ready for the night leg, I honestly feel just as I did when I started all those hours, miles and mountains ago. I’m 35 minutes up on my schedule. Seeing my family, my dog, all of my friends who have come to support and some new happy fresh-faced pacers is really brightening my previously dampened spirits. I am still concerned about the wind. It was ferocious and even in the valley, we are buffeted. I ask Geoff again (I know if I stop now I’d still be fit to run in a few weeks) he reassures me it’ll be fine, I’ve put my trust in him, so shrug my anxiety away.

Leg 4 Dunmail – Threlkeld
Seat Sandal, Fairfield, Dollywaggon Pike, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Helvellyn Lower Man, Whiteside, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, Watson Dodd, Great Dodd, Clough Head

I’d looked forward to leg 4, of everyone supporting me. I had run with Geoff the most. I was sure he would get me to Threlkeld as comfortably and as swiftly as he could. He’s also renowned for his navigation skills. I’d also asked David to move onto this leg, I’d recced frequently with him, he’d been superb on Stuart’s and I knew if I was fading his strong, quiet confidence would be a huge boost. I also had Mike, Penny and now Steph. A great team.

On up Seat Sandal, Geoff moved to let me lead, I was feeling a bit queasy, I’d eaten a fair amount at Dunmail and needed to make sure it stayed down. I happily tucked in behind, well used to following Geoff’s gentle steps. As we climbed the wind strengthened, I struggled to move forward and felt like I was pushed sideways. Steph, also struggling by its power, bossed the boys around to protect me from the wind. They did their best and on most of this leg, they were there, even sidestepping to help me through.

Unfortunately, it seemed to come from all angles and was incredibly strong (forecast of 40mph gusts was indeed correct). Off seat sandal my knee started to pull – it’s a fairly steep grassy descent.

Now Fairfield loomed above us. People had told me beforehand what a trudge, an unnecessary out and back on what normally was a good loop.

However, I had determined not to dread any summit and had tried to think of something I like about each and every climb so that none would feel impossible. I actually quite like Fairfield, its a mixed step and scree climb, over relatively quickly and then a nice easy run back down to the tarn. I’d often used this little loop around the tarn to gain good ascent on really bad weather days. Today, however, there was no let up from the wind from any direction.

Onto the steps of Dollwyaggon, I managed to get a swift and nice rhythm going. I hid behind David, warning that I potentially would be his shadow all the way along. Again we reached the summit easily. The wind really strengthened as we climbed and both David and Mike worked hard to shelter me. They handed me drinks and food at regular intervals so I barely needed to ask. They soon became nicknamed the Mitchell brothers.

Just before Nethermost I got a shock from a really strong gust and was nearly blown over, we stopped and in the middle of a huddle I put more layers on, Mike immediately giving me his jacket to keep me warm. We moved on huddled together to touch Helvellyn.

As the sun started to set, the sky was filled with the most amazing rich colours, I couldn’t help but smile, it’s my favourite place, its where I come to feel alive. I was now looking forward to night falling, for something different. The group tends to close in, everything shrinks. It forces you into the present, so you can’t think too far ahead.

It was dusk as we climbed up to Whiteside. We stopped briefly to get more layers on and get our head torches out. By Raise it was pretty dark, I love the rocky top and its cairn, I could just about make it out against the darkening sky. The sun soon left the sky, ready to return in a few hours, I wondered where I would be when it reappeared. The full moon behind us made it a little brighter and the stars seemed to fill the sky. Had it not been for the wind it would have been stunning.

We kept moving forward, on up Stybarrow Dodd, Geoff commented that I was still moving as fast as I had been on my first peak, Robinson, all those hours ago. After eating a handful (or two) of Mike’s jelly babies I again got a sugar rush and ran quickly over the next peaks. I am reprimanded by Geoff who normally navigates metres ahead. We were fighting to take the lead. It was a great feeling moving through the darkness. All I had to do was move forward and touch the cairns as they were lit up by torchlight.

I’d climbed and ran well on these more gradual peaks but the descent off Clough Head is steep and my knees really started to hurt, slowing my progress. In frustration, I try to pick up the pace but ended up tripping and falling onto my back. I have to say those few seconds were utter bliss, lying on the soft grass staring up at the starry sky as the wind howled around us. If I hadn’t been on a mission I might have stayed just where I was. As it was Mike, who was guiding me down with his bright torch, was worried and I felt I should really get up and move on.

By the time I got back up Geoff’s little red reverse light had almost disappeared and I shouted for him to stop. Soon we were back on a more gradual incline and I could run comfortably again. I hit the small road and started to smile. What was left didn’t feel so big anymore, especially cloaked in darkness. I was really excited by the last leg and somehow knew it was in my grasp if I just kept eating, drinking and moving forward. On the road Danny was waiting, headtorch on and ready to go.

Turning into Threlkeld carpark I was surprised to see my lovely three, all in their pyjamas and dressing gowns munching on popcorn and having the adventure of their life! I had thought they’d be tucked up in bed, but John doesn’t want to miss a second.

Again I was guided to the exceptional pit stop, handed porridge and tea. I still felt strong, excited. My main concern was still the wind. Geoff asked whether I’d be happier going up Doddick, I’d agreed. Happy and full of porridge, I head into the darkness, quickly hugging my family and Steph. Up we go.

Leg 5 Threlkeld – Moot Hall, Keswick
Blencathra, Great Calva, Skiddaw

Out of the carpark, Steve said “let’s just do Halls Fell”, that’s all the persuasion I needed, it’s the quicker route by half a mile and takes us straight to the summit….”ok then”. I’d been looking forward to this, my team were good, experienced. Steve, well he’s a legend in the fell running world, so to have him get up in the middle of the night and navigate me round was quite a treat (thanks to Geoff for organising.) Interestingly Steve ran an anticlockwise BGR route as well.

We went up the road, past the hounds (who were unusually silent). Through the gate and over the nearly dry riverbed. Then we wound our way up the bottom slopes of Halls Fell. I followed Steve’s steps. He asked me if the pace was ok. My response, “Its fine, I just want to go slow up here”, is misconstrued and he thinks its too fast…“no its perfect.” Within no time we were winding our way along the crest, to the right we were buffeted by the wind, to the left we were relatively sheltered.

I was not confident on the rocks, I was now 55 miles in, it was blowing a pretty fierce hoolie and I was worried I would slip or trip over. Fiona had promised to watch out for me and occasionally she gave me a shove or just guided me up over the rocks. Both Nigel and Fiona urged me on. We were at the top before I’d really had a chance to think. There’s a beautiful sunken ring to mark the summit.

I tried to run down the slope and over the scree but my knees were now sore granny knees. I was glad to reach Mungrisdale Common, the gradient is kinder and I could run easily. The tufts of cotton grass were magical in our torchlight. Danny kept telling me I could walk this and still make it back in time. He then said “you only need to run if you want to get under 22 hours”…why wouldn’t I want to get under 22 hours now, I thought and pushed onwards.

We wound our way down to the River Caldew. I crossed carefully, the stones are always sloppy, the cold water, as it soaked to our skin, woke us all up.

Then it’s over the bog, the squelchy, muddy, bog. On up through heather to Great Calva. The chatting and laughter carried me on up to the summit. My headtorch started to cast this beautiful surreal super coloured glow to the grass. I’ve seen it before, it’s gorgeous but made me wonder if my head was still on straight. I ate more Snickers, just in case. Off Calva I tried to run, it’s more of a downhill shuffle…as fast as Nigel can walk. I laughed at myself and asked him to at least pretend to run. I looked forward to the ascent to Skiddaw, my legs were still strong going up. I couldn’t believe there was only one peak left. This of all the legs, I knew like the back of my hand, I’d been over it so much. It was comforting in the darkness to recognise it all. I wondered if we’d get there before sunrise?

We crossed the bog on Hare Crag. For once it was really dry, lovely and soft to run on. I usually panic here by myself, worried I’ll get stuck all alone and die in the bog-like that fell-runner. The sky started to brighten, shades of blue and a hint of orange appeared. I asked Steve how much further, “300/400m” he replied. It’s a long 300m.

The noise of the wind increased as we neared the stile. Clips from the motivational video Stuart had sent, played over and over in my head… Rocky… It’s not how hard you get hit, it’s how hard you get hit and keep moving forward, just keep moving forward… Pain is temporary, it may last for a minute, or an hour….eventually it will subside, if I quit, however, it will last forever…

I was handed drinks and snacks, without asking. I started to hide food in my pocket as I now couldn’t swallow. Fiona reprimanded me for it and encouraged me to gorge on Kendal mint cake…That’s about all I ate on this last leg.

Eventually, we reached the stile and I remember holding on really tightly, the wind was so strong, I was scared I’d be blown off. On nearing the top I asked Steve to stand near me, to make sure I stayed upright. Eventually we all linked arms, the wind was so forceful. We made quite a comical group across to the summit and then dipped down the side to reach the gate. My headtorch was whipped off and Nigel kindly went back, I kept checking to see if he was OK. It was pretty scary up there.

Soon, we reached the path and the strength of the wind decreased. I could actually run here, it’s a nice gradient for most of the way down. Not long at all Keswick was in view and we could see the twinkly lights still glowing orange, a huge moon shone pink and bright above the sleeping village. Up the path came a solitary figure, it was Rob who had got up early to join us for the last few miles. That cheered me up no end. I whooped with glee, I’d touched all 42 peaks, I just needed to get down in one piece, I could even get under 22 hours if only I kept moving. Certainly, at that point, I felt like I was moving well. Its 4.5miles down, I kept checking my watch, frustrated when we hit anything steep as my knees were agony. Over the worst of it and I broke into a run. I tripped on a rock and fell face first. I quite liked the stillness, the excuse to stop, but I picked myself up and moved on.

I asked how much further (I knew myself, but I wanted someone to fib!) Rob replied “about a mile”, Steve said, “it’s a long mile!” Indeed it was.

My knees were by then battered inside and out, I walked 50m then started again. It was beautiful, the view and the gradient is partly my reasoning for going anti-clockwise. I love the run round Lattrigg, over the little bridge to Spooney Lane, through Fitz park, over the footbridge. I walked up the slow incline, desperate to make sure I could run up the final straight. Nearly there. My mind went blank in the town, I couldn’t remember the way. Bustled along, everyone eager to get me there, we quickly reached the carpark.

I saw this car, it looked familiar, swerving into the carpark. It looked like a stunt car, the driver was in an awful rush at that time in the morning. I wondered what the emergency was and then the doors and windows were flung open and I saw/heard (!!) Katy and Lesley. They’d driven across, just to see me finish. I waved at them, not stopping, I couldn’t stop. Fiona led us down the alleyway, onto the High Street, everyone was clapping.

There were a lot of people out at a silly time on Sunday morning. Fiona ran with me all the way until I hit the steps. I actually managed to run up all 10 steps and touched the doors. I stopped and bent over, not really sure what to do with myself. My grin was like a Cheshire cat and I couldn’t stop myself bouncing up and down. I was totally overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it was the end, I didn’t want it to be the end. It had been so good. There were cuddles, smiles, bear hugs, dog licks and many congratulations.

21:44 Geoff said surprised, he showed me his watch to confirm it. I’m not sure he really believed it!

I didn’t really comprehend what had happened, all these people, out all day and all night just to get me around, to see me finish.

I did it, I really did it!

It was absolute magic, each and every step. With the best support, I could ever have hoped for.

The BGR is so much more than just that day. It’s about the friendships forged in all sorts of weather. The sense of being alive, of running miles from anyone and being the tiny solitary dot within the huge mountainous landscape. Of returning to nature, feeling insignificant against it, appreciating weather systems, how it affects the rock, the earth beneath your feet. Learning and developing a great and deep sense of respect for the mountains. Making the right decisions at the right time. Always being safe. Conquering fears, facing them full on. Being able to fill your lungs and your heart and all of your soul. Challenging yourself time and time again. Feeling tired and getting home with the deep exhaustion a day on the fells can only produce. Feeling scared when bad weather closes in, of battling through and returning to the car to flasks of hot sweet tea. Sweaty friends sharing adventures. All having that sense of achievement. The giggles, the laughs, the icy eyebrows and wind buffeted bodies. Being soaked to the skin, numb fingers and toes, wet and soggy bog shoes. Piles upon piles of bog socks and trainers. Packing bags. Maps, maps, maps. The views. Of carrying a bag that weighs a tonne, knowing the lack of it will help you on the day. The happiness and security of coming across fell shoe trod. Learning to seek out the tiny faint trod, or fence post or rock or bit of bog that leads the way. Developing a new vocabulary and using those new words all too frequently (trod, clag, best line. ) Not following paths, seeking out the shortcuts. Checking on the weather, obsessively. Of talking all too frequently of Bob, Bob, Bob……

The BGR it’s just a day on the fells with friends… Well yes, it is, but it is so much more.

Tour De Helvellyn, Askham, Lake District, Saturday, December 16, 2017

38 miles

Elaine Bisson

This was my big one; I’d been building up to it for months. The Tour of Edinburgh (55km) had been a practise run. Nothing really could prepare me for this day. It was just unbelievable. I’ve been going to the Lakes since I was tiny; it was our only summer holiday destination. We would stay in Glenridding, so I knew a lot of the route. I had also recced it in two parts, Askham to Patterdale once with Geoff and the rest by myself. However, reports of good navigators getting lost on Askham Moor concerned me.

I’d packed my bag and checked it twice (mandatory kit and lots more layers just in case), charged my head torch, marked my map, set my compass for the all-important Askham fell crossing…even borrowed a watch from Stuart who had added the GPS route just in case it went horribly wrong.

I woke at 4 am, ate my breakfast, prepared a few snacks and then sat in my car while it defrosted, wondering when on earth this behaviour became normal. I arrived at Geoff and Susan’s at 5:15. Susan had offered to drive.

We arrived just past 7 to find the hall teaming with runners filling up on breakfast (a lot had camped out on the community centre floor). We registered and were given a race tag that would be scanned at all 8 checkpoints. We had to arrive at Side Farm, Patterdale from 9:30; we weren’t allowed to pass through any earlier. From my last and only recce I’d worked out I should be able to arrive in 1hr50, so wanted to leave at 7:45. Hopefully, the sun would be coming out and if I was lucky, dusk wouldn’t have fallen on my return. This seemed to be Geoff’s plan as well. After a thorough kit check, we scanned our tags and the race was on.

We opened the door to see the sun just kissing the sky, visibility was good, Susan was waiting to cheer us on and we were off up the icy road onto the track, through the gate and onto Askham Moor. It was an amazing morning, you could see over Ullswater, the mist just rising in places, the far-off fells white. There was no wind and weather conditions, apart from the temperature, seemed reasonable.

I kept to a comfortable pace. A sheet of ice covered most of the paths and I had to go pretty slowly to work my way across anyway. On the safer gravel bridleway, I could pick up my speed. I was disappointed as most of this section is on good runnable trails or road so I had wanted to make sure I got these easier miles under my belt, however, the ice slowed progress.

CP1, Martindale Church. There were a lot more runners than I expected. With the staggered start, I’d thought it would be quiet but the trails were relatively busy. On up to Boredale Hause and I passed quite a few as I tucked into my first flapjack of the day.

Running down the hill to Side Farm I grew really frustrated as I slowed on the uneven surface and a few men flew past. With a concerted effort I caught the lady in front only to realise it was Ros, the organiser of the DT series, we exchanged a few greetings and I finally reached CP2, Side Farm, perfectly timed…1hr46!

My card was scanned and the Marshall told me this is where I should look happy as he pointed/directed me towards all the food and drinks set up inside the warm tea room. I was slightly confused, the day had only just begun and I had a considerable amount of miles to cover yet.

I continued on over the cattle grid and into Patterdale, I knew these little valleys so well, I felt happy coming back. I made a sneaky detour up through the Glenridding car park as most runners took the longer route (by a few 100m…every metre counts) up the main road; it gave me such pleasure to arrive on the road ahead of them.

As I started the climb up to Sticks Pass the scenery became increasingly whiter as the ground was covered in more snow. The valley bottom was shrouded in mist and a light rain hung in the air. I stopped to put on my jacket knowing it would get colder as we climbed. I looked up and considered taking a more direct line to the top, but unsure I followed the majority along the zigzag path.

CP3, Trolls Bridge. I’d looked forward to the pass, it’s got a lovely undulating path, which isn’t too strewn with rocks and isn’t so steep that you can’t run most of it. However, today it was covered with a thick layer of snow, in places going up past my knees. I tripped and fell into it quite a few times. It was amusing to try to ‘run’ past people who were out for the day on their skis.

This is obviously a big race day; quite a lot of the well-known fell runners were there. I was bewildered to see a woman pass me then stop to the side of the footprints to pull down her leggings and knickers and happily wee in front of all.

Despite packing all but my kitchen sink I’d forgotten my sunglasses, which would have come in handy. The glare off all the snow was so blinding. I was pleased by the proximity of the other runners and that snow wasn’t still falling, although the mist clung to the valley making visibility quite poor. It would be really easy to go off track and get lost in this unforgiving white landscape.

Finally, I reached the top. Next came the descent down to Thirlspot and CP4. Not as quick as I’d hoped, as the snow was really thick, as I struggled on the steep slippy descent. Katie (2nd fastest female BGR) and Nicky Spinks flew past.
The views down this valley were just beautiful. Snow dusted the lower slopes, the tops were white, the low sun had a reddish glow and a mist danced along Thirlmere. I like the path here that winds along the stone walls, across little becks, the high fells flanking either side.
At Swirls carpark I was feeling tired and cold so stopped briefly at CP5 to fill my mug with hot sweet tea and sipped it as I made my way up onto the forest tracks, pleased to make use of my early Christmas present, a foldable mug!

This is my least favourite stretch, on my recce. I’d found it monotonous and was surprised by the roads that still twisted up the valley. The snow and views were beautiful today though, so I was happily distracted. I was busy following the trainer footprints trying to work out how many people may have passed this way before me. There didn’t seem to be too many, and here and there were the distinct prints of reindeer!

Down to CP6 and then on up Raise Beck. I somehow managed to sink knee-deep in mud…about the only muddy square metre on the whole route, then hauled myself out to immediately skid on ice and land on my bum making my leggings v cold and wet and soaking my gloves. Thank goodness I had also packed my buffalo mitts! This knocked my confidence, as I now had to find a safe route over the beck without falling in. The rocks were either covered in ice or just very slippy. As I floundered about and skidded, nearly landing in the beck, some men who had followed my lead skipped past on the same route and headed on up the hill. I cursed them under my breath for their speed and sure-footedness. It wasn’t long before my spirits were lifted, seeing Santa sitting on a rock wishing us a Merry Christmas, just as Jules had said (I promise I wasn’t hallucinating).

Much to my surprise, Susan was here too, hoping to spot us on route. She laughed when I told her how tough it had been and said Nicky wasn’t too far in front. I found it difficult getting the right line around the tarn, the snow was really thick. I tried to follow the trainer prints but it was slow going. Where it lay thinner I could run but most was a hard slog through thick, thick snow. The stunning views made up for it.

On down the Grisedale valley and I was relieved to see the green slopes now not so far away. I chose completely the wrong route; coming down slowly on the path…I know time and places were lost. But again I found myself in familiar territory. I’d spent one summer trying to get fit with my brother, run-walking between these valleys. I’d gone on my tiny dinghy down the little beck and had been chased by feisty cows through a field. I’d been one of very few who had come here when foot and mouth disease had wiped out tourism and remember dipping my trainers at all the gates. I love this place, so while I was beginning to feel very tired my memories kept me going. The road did feel very hard going despite being predominantly downhill until CP7, back at Side Farm. A supporter gave me a massive cheer and told me to keep going, ‘just keep putting one foot in front of the next’…so that’s exactly what I did and I kept repeating it to myself all the way back.
So now to retrace my steps. I felt quite daunted; I’d already been on my feet far longer than I ever had in a race. I wasn’t looking forward to the trudge up to Boredale Hause. I was flagging. I stopped again, filled my bottles with juice and took another cup of sugary tea up the path.

I’d only been to the top of the Hause once with Geoff. I’d thought there was only one path to follow, unfortunately, it branches and I missed the quicker route, ending up circling around and back on myself. Panic rose as I didn’t remember the path; I was so relieved to find the ruined wall that marked the right route.

Annoyed at myself and tiredness drifting in, I pushed on as hard as I could. I started having to make deals with myself, to run to certain markers and then walk, to set regular snack intervals.

It’s still about 10 miles back; a long way after already completing 28miles. I was keen to reach the moor before sunset though, so this kept me pushing forward.

Martindale CP8 done and only one left to go. I started to keep in time with two men who’d been running together. When they ran I ran, when they walked I did the same. It felt comfortable and it distracted me from my negative thoughts. I kept up with them until the cockpit stone circle. I was determined to keep on Geoff’s shortcut after that.

The paths here scatter crazily across the moor. I knew I could go wrong. However, it wasn’t dark, the fog hadn’t fallen and I could see the trees that marked my way home (this was one of my major fears, getting lost in poor visibility on the moor, so the relief was quite something)!

The men in front took a different line but I fixed on bearings and made my way across the moor until I hit the path I knew well from running up as a kid. I realised I’d picked up quite a few places trusting in his directions.

It was pretty much downhill from now and my legs really ached but the thought of finally being able to stop and sit. I speeded up as much as I could, between the ice, only to have to stop to wait for a tractor to cross the road. Then I saw the sign for the finish and stopped for a second, before turning the handle and opening the door to the community centre, final CP, the journey’s end.

I could barely smile and was close to tears; sheer exhaustion had taken over, what a day. It’s strange how you can keep moving forward but once you stop that’s it, and that was certainly it for me.

I must have looked a state. When changed and cleaned up, I arrived at the small canteen and the lady insisted that I sit down and she would bring me all the soup and tea I fancied. I pulled out my phone to tell John ‘your wife is still alive’! He’d had reservations about my adventure. There was no signal though, so I sat and watched as all the weary runners entered.

It’s quite a sight, seeing all the relief and pride flood through the doors. Most wobbled, not quite in the present; a few grinned from ear to ear. The overriding feelings were of pride, exhaustion and gratitude to arrive safely home after what was quite an epic adventure.

I watched the minutes pass waiting for sight of Susan or Geoff; I was relieved to see Geoff arrive safely back. He’d managed a 15-minute PB in conditions that were tougher than some of his previous 6 races; he was also first in v60 group, by a huge margin of 1 hour 15 minutes.

We shared our stories over our tea and soup until refilled and rehydrated, Susan took us back home.

Can’t quite express my deep satisfaction having raced this event. Even last year I wouldn’t have dreamed of attempting anything like it. My hardest, most memorable race yet, can’t wait to do it again!

[Photographs courtesy of John Bamber, Piers and Hillary Barber and Jim Tinnion]

The Angus Tait Memorial Hexhamshire Hobble, Allendale, Sunday, December 3, 2017

10.6miles, 1000 ft elevation

Elaine Bisson

Most definitely a muddy one

This is just about my perfect race. Although you can pre-enter via post or online, EOD are available for one pound more at £8. It had been on my ever-growing list for quite some time. A FB post suggesting the ground would be firm and ideal for racing convinced me to enter on the day. A few texts to Michael and we were all set.

The race starts at a very sociable 11 am, we didn’t leave Durham until after 9, meaning a Sunday lie in was enjoyed!

Race HQ and parking are at the Allendale Primary School. After a few toilet stops (there was no queue), I had a little warm up with Michael while he took me to the start of the first hill, and pointing upwards warned me what I could see was not the top…not in the slightest.

I had mixed feelings, this was a last minute decision, a Sunday run to top-up my mileage to finish off (for me) a fairly heavy training week. My legs already felt pretty tired. Michael was as giddy as a schoolboy though. This evidently was one of his favourite races and he couldn’t contain his excitement, which was slowly rubbing off! However it’s a race, and I always get nervous before races, no matter what I tell myself beforehand.

We missed the race briefing and joined the runners as they made their way from the school hall, 200m to the start line in a muddy field. I was pretty sure the promise of firm ground was no longer right as the temperature soared and the thaw had well and truly set in.

The gun fired and we were off, splodging over a muddy field until we hit road and then up, for quite some time and quite a few miles. We then turned off onto an equally muddy and puddly trail; it got muddier and muddier until we were attempting to cross the bogs. I’m not fond of bogs, having torn my hamstring and had months off running because of them, so I really grew frustrated with myself for my lack of confidence. The low sun gleaming off all the sloppy mud and puddles made it really difficult to see.

It was such a pleasure to finally feel firm stone trails beneath my feet again and my legs, after their requisite 3-mile warm-up, were finally not aching anymore. I picked up speed and started to catch a few men who had skipped past me as I floundered in the bogs. I started to enjoy myself after that. It was a beautiful day. We turned so the sun was no longer in our eyes and you could see for miles over gorgeous Northumberland moorland. The frustration didn’t end though. Quite soon we were again navigating around boggy puddles along little tracks that you could barely place one foot comfortably, never mind try to run and swiftly get your next foot in front of your other. The thaw had well and truly set in, it was superbly damp and it did seem we were running in small streams. We splashed and soaked our legs for miles upon miles.
Over the worst of it and again we found ourselves flying downhill on road. I’d totally miscalculated, Michael had told me to be ready for the fast long descent. So when quite exhausted and tired I got on the road I thought that was it. I really picked up speed, only to realise the valley curves weren’t quite how I’d remembered Allendale and then with a sunken heart I spotted runners climbing out of the valley bottom up another steep, but shorter ascent. Anyway, I was longing for the promised descent and I realised this must be my last climb.

I gained quite a few places on the hill then we ran on a flattish stony trail until we reached a gate and I was told I was second lady.

I’d entered not really hoping for much. Looking around at the start I’d spotted a few runners that I’d convinced myself would be miles ahead of me, but once I realised my position I threw myself into maintaining it. I set off down this final long descent catching quite a few runners. I felt really strong by this point, I’ve grown to like descending, no, I really love it.

The finish line was in the field where we started. Welcomed in by Michael who had again managed an astonishing 5th place.
I was over the moon to find empty, warm, clean showers to rid my legs of mud and warm up. Tea and cakes were complimentary to runners. I have to say I’ve never seen such a huge selection of cakes, nor have I taken so long in choosing one! We gathered again in the sports hall and welcomed in Tim and Fiona. It was funny to see the faces filling the room. Some bodies covered in blood from knee down (its quite treacherous and you have to keep switched on running over all the rocky paths), others had fallen waist deep in bog and had needed runners to pull them out. I was so pleased to return relatively unscathed and to be 2nd lady.

The prize giving was in the hall, we stayed to collect mine, unfortunately, we had to dash as the second race of the day was on. The most important one, the one where we prove that we weren’t away for too long on a family day…. I just about made that one with minutes to spare!

It’s tough, there are two big climbs, the first being the longest. The terrain and exposure will yield different surprises each year. You can’t beat the organisation, price and wonderful community spirit that an event like this holds. Loved it!

Rat Race Ultra tour of Edinburgh, Sunday, October 22, 2017

55km

Elaine Bisson


This caught my attention as soon as I’d seen an advert on Facebook, a really different race with the additional challenge of a new distance. The event video and description had me hooked from the word go….

“Sets off with a Braveheart charge down the Royal Mile. Weaves through streets, alleyways, onto hills, up crags, past monuments, museums, seats of Royalty, Government and up and down 3000 feet of ascent and descent.”

I love Edinburgh, so a chance to have a guided race around this beautiful city seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Registration was on the Saturday 08:30-10:30 at Murrayfield stadium, the finish line. I’d booked into a hotel minutes from the start beside St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile (so that I didn’t wake all my family up at some ungodly hour to first have my pre-race porridge, then leave v early to get to the start in time!) It’s unusual to get a night away from my kids. Unfortunately, I was far too excited/nervous to fully appreciate the peace. The event organisation was well recommended and the spectator guide was so detailed that even my family were excited to plan their day around supporting me.

I woke early to eat my porridge, the hallowed 2 hrs before the race and arrived at the start at 06:50. The streets were dark, the sun barely touching the sky.
The race starts at 07:30. I was all too pleased to bump into Alex Collins while we were putting our bags on the baggage bus, it seems you can’t do any race without bumping into fellow Striders! By 07:20 we were called to line up before the start….I made a quick dash for the cash point. I’d somehow forgotten the mandatory kit requirement to carry £10 cash.

The place was amazing, barely just gone sunrise. The sky had an orange glow lighting up all those wonderful old buildings and cobbled streets. There was a palpable buzz of excitement. The promise of some excellent adventures ahead.

The start was a bit of a manic race down the Royal Mile. Advice from Jules had me holding back. She’d told me to be sensible, don’t go out too fast and I could look forward to catching them later! All too soon we were heading up past the Scottish Parliament buildings and up the hills and crags of Holyrood Park. The views were amazing but also quite daunting as you could see all across the city to the Pentland Hills…our big climb of the run. Their heads were covered in cloud and loomed ominously over the city.

55km round a city, can it be pretty?

This has got to be one of my absolute favourite runs. The varied terrain, the views, the relative solitude of racing in a large city. After that mad dash down the mile, the people spread out. I was running alongside a group of about 5 men from then until the last check-point…at which point I left them behind as I’d caught sight of a girl!

We passed through 800m long tunnels covered in graffiti, with the sound of our footsteps reverberating off the walls. We climbed up through forest paths, across fields akin to cross-country mud! Past Craigmillar Castle, weaving through and up Blackford Hill past the Royal Observatory. Along canal paths, river paths, by farms, up past the dry ski slope, up, up, up to the three Pentland peaks, with warnings to be mindful of the Highland cows, down past a loch, through a forest and back into the city, around 200m of a sports track….but again it wasn’t long before we left the urban terrain behind and hit the tiny trails that criss-cross throughout the city. Past the zoo, on up Corstorphine hill then down to Newhaven Harbour and onto the waterfronts of Leith. Again back along ‘waterway of Leith’ pathways (there were a lot of these) and up to finish in Murrayfield Stadium. It was quite magnificent. The views, the terrain was so varied it was just exceptional.

I knew it would get hard, I’d never run over a marathon but the absolute pleasure of running through Edinburgh but seeing it in such a different light…we passed through the grounds of the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, ah I just felt lucky to be alive. My legs ached from 27 miles but my spirits were lifted when my little support crew popped up every 10k.  I had no idea of my position through the race. Marshals were encouraging but at no point told me where I was in the field. The start was a mad dash and I hadn’t registered who I was running with. I just concentrated on keeping a comfortable pace that perhaps I could maintain for the distance. My surprise when John turned up at the final checkpoint and said (with surprise in his voice), “You’re doing well…no I really mean you’re doing amazingly well…we think you’re 3rd lady and well up the field. Keep it up and we’ll see you at the stadium.” That was exactly what I needed to keep going for those last 6miles. From being sensible, it was now a race to maintain and keep the fourth lady at bay.

When I finally crossed the last road (there were 20+ quite busy road crossings) and turned down to see the stadium, I let out the biggest cry of joy and startled the nearby runner. The finish was great, trackside in the stadium with our names called over the tannoy and the few supporters (maybe 30)…but who cares when my fab four were there cheering me in.
It’s a long way, it’s quite a battle. Aerobically I felt strong…that was the plan, the terrain and climb does take its toll though and my legs were telling my head to stop. Good job my head is too stubborn to listen!

I loved it, over the moon to finish 13th overall and 3rd lady. It’s pricey but incredibly well signposted and the marshals are all brilliant. I’d highly recommend it…even just to explore a different side of Edinburgh. And my husband told me afterwards, “It’s a real shame you’re not slower as that supporter guide was really lovely and we could have enjoyed a great day out in Edinburgh if we hadn’t have been trying to catch you”!

Dales Trail Series – DT40, Semer Water, last of Dales Trails races, Wednesday, September 27, 2017

26.2miles, 3333ft gain

Elaine Bisson

The DT30 was my first trail race in 2015. I’d entered thinking I’d run round with Jon…a back injury prevented him running on the day. To say I was apprehensive would have been an understatement. I’d only ever run on roads and had never needed a map.

I’d loved it so much I entered the grand slam in 2016 never even imagining I’d come anywhere near the podium finish. I’d had a good battle and was surprisingly close to the winner of the grand slam until an unfortunate incident in a Lakeland bog…not toilet but muddy bog gave me a second degree hamstring tear which I tried my best to ignore and ended up limping and crying and hating every step of the DT40…I’d finished second and so I decided to try my luck again…

So the pressure was on since April 1st 2017 when I actually won the first race of the series the DT20.

To dare to dream…could I really win the series??

Then an ankle injury, tendonitis, niggles on and on so the DT30 was an incredible disappointment. August running was at an all time low with kids off school and an attempt to rest to sort my ankle.. 100 miles I logged, which for anyone who doesn’t know me is quite pitiful. You can imagine my frustration at the lack of running and lack of preparation for this race.

September came, my ankle was again its normal size and no longer painful. My first focus was supporting Geoff on his JNC, then it was upping my miles. So I log my runs, I try to repeat what I’ve done before a good race. My target was to log a 60m week, a fortnight before the DT40. For some reason this has time and again produced good race results. By hook or by crook it was done. My longest run in time was 5 hours in the lakes (12miles but very hilly!), in Durham it was 17m split into a double run day as I just couldn’t face the boredom of running round Durham. Certainly not my ideal long run distance.

And so I find myself yet again on the start line of the DT40 another year older, another year wiser and another year more eager.

The sun appeared and warmed my skin. I’d taken myself off to calm my nerves and run along the river. I’d had a sneaky wee behind a bush and somehow got grass stuck in my knickers. I was injury free, I’d stocked up on 2 months worth of iron…I was pink!! And I was ready. I was going to be sensible. As my husband said, it was mine to lose….not to win. Strong and steady all the way…

The race starts on the shores of Semer water and climbs for a good…well on my watch 40mins until there is a lovely descent until it climbs again for another 6miles. Having run alongside people at Swaledale marathon who had run steadily up Fremington and all other hills….and gone on to beat me by 10 or so minutes while I ran until my legs burned then walked….then ran, I’d decided to try this instead…would it be efficient and less tiring. I took the climbs steadily, calmed my breathing and slowed every time my breathing seemed too heavy. This year I didn’t walk! I kept going, my miles were faster than last years and I felt good. Then the weather turned to my favourite fine drizzle, oh heaven!.

I’m not sure if I mentioned how I hated last year’s race; the disappointment of not even being able to put up a bit of fight for the trophy. I had lost before I’d even started. I’d remembered tarmac…because that’s what hurt most, miles upon miles of the stuff. This race was entirely different. Miles upon miles upon miles of muddy stuff. Beautiful muddy stiff, gorgeous views, clean air and peace and quiet.

When I could, I raised my head and looked at the views. The fields, the lovely river paths, the hills, splashing across streams, through puddles, navigating boggy paths, tiny forests, my favourite tiny trails that roll through the fields, I enjoyed every step. I remembered at mile 11 last year when I’d looked at Jon broken, every step hurt and I was close to tears…this year I could run, well and comfortably. It was a true joy. Marshalls knew me from previous races and spurred me on, “you have to smash it this year!”, fellow runners encouraged and laughed at slips and slides.

I was scared I’d hit the wall, my miles had been meagre. There was no wall. With 5 miles to go, Robbie, who had navigated me through Punchard on my first Swaledale marathon was marshalling, he told me how well I was running, top 15 Elaine, very well done. That meant the second placed lady would have to get minus 10 to beat me…that trophy was coming home with me. The absolute glee I can’t tell you, the puddles I sought to splash in…the mud that caked my legs, childish glee! Even the ginormous bull who glared at me whilst I pranced through his field couldn’t frighten me. And when I hit the final 250m of road, I was grinning from ear to ear and close to tears, then I saw the finish and Sarah (previous winner, major rival but above all fab friend) raised her hands and cheered and started to cry…and then her husband too ( race organiser) and of course me. Well , I said after the DT20 I wanted to bottle up the feeling and do it again. .. and that’s what I did, running my heart out to bring that trophy home…my most hard earned and prized of all.

Afterwards I dunk in Semer water, clean off my legs, change and settle down with fellow runners while we tuck into soup, tea and cakes. We swop stories, giggle and cheer home the other runners.

This series is what first took me onto trails, to realise how much I love off road running and hills. I’ve made friends and memories that I will never forget.

 

Dales Trail Series DT30km, Muker, Upper Swaledale, Saturday, July 15, 2017

30km

Elaine Bisson

Photo courtesy of Foxglove photography

This is in the series of my A races this year and is my favourite of the three. Just under 20miles following trails, bridleways and bog! It starts in a field next to the River Swale in Muker following the river along past Keld before it really starts to climb through Stonesdale Moor (where the bog really wobbles) up to the Tan Hill. From here it drops back down to Keld along the Pennine way before it climbs again to the second summit just above Swinners Gill (aka Runners Hell). From here there is a fast runnable section down to the hay fields of Muker before you go through the gates of hell (about ten of them) which are absolute torture after the long descent, you only build up enough speed until you have to stop to open another gate and if you’re being chased the bang of the gates sounds like a death knell!

I travelled down with Jon and a car full (no really) a car full of soup…enough to feed the three hundred runners. We were both in poor spirits and it took a while before we started our usual joking. We register in the barn, chat to marshals and runners (many of whom have done previous series.) From here there is about a mile walk to the start. I’ve given up slightly, poor prep…I’d spent the last week recovering from supporting on Scotts BGR and struggling with tiredness. I recognise some speedy ladies and realise I’m well off the prizes today. But then there is always the second lady in Grand Slam who is giving me daggers!
Photo courtesy of Foxglove photography

For the first three miles said 2nd GS lady sits right on my shoulder until I give up and let her past. My heart sinks while I watch her disappear into the distance but it’s not long until I realise I’m gaining ground again and when we hit the climb up to the Tan Hill I pull up and away from her.  By now I’m running again with Jon. Glad of the company and the funny chat. Also glad to have someone to give me a bit of a nudge…which I really needed. When we hit the road (only 400m worth) we can both barely be bothered to run. I remember saying come on its flat, it’s tarmac and we up the pace. I know this should be where we can gain some places on the descent down to Keld but the wind is right against us and visibility is poor and underfoot is splodgy.

Photo courtesy of Foxglove photography

We eventually pick up speed down a lovely sheltered track and hit the turn up to Swinners Gill. I feel a bit queasy by now, it really was a bad race day! Anyway I’m looking forward to Swinners Gill. The climb isn’t too long and it’s a bit technical which I’ve come to like. It’s not long before we reach the last gravel trail and a fastish descent back to the meadows of Muker. I’ve tricked myself to believe there are 12 gates to pass through, so when the countdown is still going and we reach the final little hill before the finish we are both over the moon.

I’m 3 minutes slower than last year and 4th lady but all things considered it wasn’t too bad a run…I do know I’m  capable of much better with better prep so I’ve a feeling I will return to this. We wander back to race HQ to collect our t-shirts and go separate ways. The lovely campsite showers await and I spend a while scrubbing off mud and enjoying the clean warm water. Then it’s back to the barns to enjoy the soup, cakes and tea and welcome in other runners.

I wasn’t sure whether to log a race report, it certainly wasn’t my best race but it remains one of my favourite trail races. I had a great time despite feeling a bit rotten and it goes to show what a difference good company can make…and of course running somewhere you love. I have also retained my number one spot in the Grand Slam and have gained quite a lead on the second lady. I now look forward to the final of the three. There is work to be done and certainly good tapering but I’m determined to do it right!

Willow Miner Trail Race, Houghall Campus, East Durham College, Wednesday, July 5, 2017

5.3 miles

Elaine Bisson …

The Inaugural Willow Miner Trail Race …

 

5.3m, 438 feet elevation gain.

I had somehow fallen into running this race. Michael couldn’t run, he suggested I have his number, a few texts and emails later and it seemed I was in the running.

I had a few reservations. It was THE strider race of the year…the pressure would be on. It wasn’t in my plan, there were events on the horizon that I wanted to concentrate on. My last few races had been reasonable but had left me disappointed. My race head was at an all time low. I was recovering from an injury and didn’t want to aggravate it again. Oh, the list, how it goes on!

Anyway, I arrived at registration slightly later than planned…it didn’t matter, I had resolved to use it as a good training run, nothing more. If I started after the gun, all the better. Hopeful faces greeted me and I dismissed their optimism with, I’m not racing, I cant be bothered!

At the start I met a very bouncy excitable Rachelle, she attempted to lift my glum mood…and failed.

We all assembled on the lush grass before the start line, after a race briefing and a minute silence to remember Alan Purvis, we were off across the race track which was laid out in front of us. I was running at an easy pace, I watched gleefully as the fast group fought to gain good ground and disappeared into the woods. Now I could relax, I was just going to enjoy this. However, it wasn’t long before I got stuck behind a woman who decided to walk and then block my path through the woods, feeling frustrated, I picked up pace and started picking off people. This was fun, the pressure had all gone…disappeared into the distance. As I speeded up, I started to target runners to catch up, it became a bit of a game. I’m not entirely sure when the game became a race, probably when I caught sight of those that I’d thought had long gone. Susan’s encouragement of “at the moment, your 4th” really got me, it’s what I needed. The little shove to move up the ranks.

As one of Geoff’s guinea pigs during his Fell Coaching Training, I knew every hill possible on this course, and had suffered on EVERY hill, whether that be running hard up or down. This race then felt familiar and even the big hill up to the willow miner…was now doable. By then Penny was in my sights, then 2nd lady. I clung on to her, waiting for my move. I thought it would come on one of the hills in the woods, unfortunately it was much later. We ended up hurtling onto the grass track to the finish neck and neck. Every time I tried to increase speed, she would match it. Many thoughts whizzed through my mind, the overriding was how much I wanted to reach that finish line before her. With time running out and the line fast approaching, I gave one more push and finally pulled in front, one stride ahead and there it was, the white line. It was exhilarating and totally unexpected. Second lady, first strider lady for the third year.

So about the race…Its a beautiful route, showcasing 5.3miles of our amazing training ground. It is tough, with many undulations, fast downhill sections and long drags back up. It is extremely well marked (even tree routes are highlighted green), marshalled and supported by our wonderful club. For £11 you can ‘enjoy’ this brute, quench your thirst on water and coffee sachets at the end. Then drink some more, fill your belly and share trauma stories with fellow club mates at The Court Inn. What better way to celebrate Elvet Striders?

… Kay Cairns …

You’ve heard from the 1st Strider Lady now how about the last?…

I had toyed with the idea of entering the Clamber for the last couple of years, always deciding against it at the last minute. I was tempted again this year with the re-vamped Willow Miner Trail Race, I’d heard it was a toughie and got the impression it was only for ‘serious runners’ but when I looked into it I was assured there were no cut off times and everyone was welcome to take part… I decided it was probably for the best if I gave it a miss, it was the night before my son’s Birthday and I’m usually pretty busy blowing up balloons and wrapping presents! Then about 2 weeks before the race a notification popped up on the Striders Facebook page – Mike Parker couldn’t do the race due to injury – and against my better judgement I said I’d take it… I had already agreed to buy the T-shirt after all!

Leading up to the big night I had been hit with a head cold and my training was abandoned, I managed a couple of miles here and there but I felt utterly defeated. I was only 2 weeks in to my GNR training and I had already hit a brick wall! I was starting to feel a little better the week of the WMTR, I went out for 3 miles on Monday and I wasn’t too bad. I knew I was going to take part on the night but I wasn’t feeling fit, the night before I had a nightmare about the race (I can’t remember specifics but I think I forgot my watch, my number, went to the wrong race… you get the gist) and I was nervous all day thinking about it.

In reality I arrived in good time and collected my number “ah 22, that’s my Birthday” maybe it was meant to be! When I arrived on the field with all the other runners from so many different clubs it really did feel special; but I was alone, my usual running buddies were all marshalling (how sensible) so I was forced to do a real warm up! Usually we would start to warm up and get distracted with talk of cake…

When the race started I stayed at the back, I knew I would be the unofficial tail-runner and I’d come to terms with that fact. Before we’d even left the field I saw another woman turn back, telling her friends she was ok but she wouldn’t be running. Just 1 mile in I could see I was falling back even further than I had expected, but I kept going… up the steep steps at Houghall Woods then I was keeping a steady pace on the flat but I couldn’t see a soul in front.

Almost 2 miles in, I was already fighting my own demons and trying to keep my breathing in check (after still being in recovery mode from my head cold) then out of nowhere a guy walking in the opposite direction said to me “you want to go faster than that, you’re last” – and just like that I felt everything. The pain, the fear, the doubt, the anger, the defeat …I couldn’t breathe, I was fighting back tears. I tried to tell myself it didn’t matter, of course I was last, who cares! I was never in it for the win – if I was I wouldn’t bother getting out of bed! I’m not built for winning, for speed! Then I could see the next marshal point, Kate and Katharine, so friendly and encouraging – just as much for me as they were for the 1st runners along the route – and I broke down and hugged Katharine, not sure if I could even carry on.

I’m not sure how long I was there, I don’t think I fully explained myself at the time but it was clear I might not continue. Then I thought about my club, and the T-shirt I was wearing, it had been modified to not only show the club logo but also to promote my role as Mental Health Ambassador and #runandtalk was emblazoned on the back. This role means a lot to me. It isn’t just about letting people know it’s ok to talk and that running can improve your mental wellbeing – it’s about setting goals for yourself that push you out of your comfort zone, it’s about running and talking (to yourself sometimes) and being that positive voice inside that pushes you further than you ever thought possible.

If I was going to continue to be that voice for others then I had to step up and be that voice for myself. I was going to finish this race.

All I remember about the rest of the race is, well, the marshals! Yes there were hills, there was pain, and there was a Willow Miner along the way I believe. But the marshals were all amazing – smiling, beaming faces, supportive cheers, many bending the truth about how many hills were left, but all so genuinely happy to be there supporting every single runner.

Thank you Striders for having me, for supporting me, and for letting me be last.

That’s all folks! See you all next year!

 

Results

BibFirst NameLast NameCatClubTimePoscatposprize
75StephenJacksonMSENElvet Striders32.28111msen
76MikeJefferiesMSENRichmond & Zetland Harriers32.38222msen
48LiamEmmettMSENJarrow & Hebburn AC33.21333msen
56JonathanGilroyMSENJarrow & Hebburn AC34.3844
88MichaelLittlewoodMVET40Elvet Striders35.47511mvet40
149MarkWarnerMSENElvet Striders36.1765fasterstrider not in cat
47KevinEmmettMVET50Jarrow & Hebburn AC36.35711mvet50
142GaryThwaitesMVET40Sedgefield Harriers36.54822mvet40
158LiamWintripMSEN37.0596
54JamesGarlandMVET40Elvet Striders37.121033mvet40
66PeterHarrisonMVET40Durham City Harriers & AC37.141143mvet40
12MartinBlenkinsoppMVET40Sunderland Harriers & AC37.27125
131AlexSneddonFSENJarrow & Hebburn AC37.281311fsen
159PaulWintripMSENRun Peterlee37.46147
40StevenDicksonMVET4037.49156
152PaulWeirMVET40Durham City Harriers & AC37.55167
91BrianMartinMVET60Quakers Running Club38.161711mvet60
7GaryBaileyMVET40Run Peterlee38.25188
37MarkDavinsonMVET40Derwentside AC38.59199
108NickNewbyMVET40Birtley AC39.022010
84JamesLeeMVET40Elvet Striders39.32111
18DavidBrownMSENElvet Striders39.38228
120ThomasReevesMVET50Elvet Striders39.522322mvet50
145DavidWalkerMVET50Sedgefield Harriers40.032433mvet50
125StuartScottMSENElvet Striders40.222510
70LeeHetheringtonMVET40South Shields Harriers & AC40.272612
65GaryHargraveMVET40Sunderland Strollers40.412713
25DanielCarneyMSENElvet Striders40.472811
10ElaineBissonFSENElvet Striders40.52922fsen
16PennyBrowellFVET4040.53011fvet40
71GeoffHewitsonMVET50Crook & District AC40.56314
41LeeDrummondMVET40Birtley AC41.093214
112DarrenParksMVET40Jarrow & Hebburn AC41.253315
135JohnSutcliffeMSENNorth Shields Polytechnic Club41.263412
141MichaelThorntonMVET50Jarrow & Hebburn AC41.27355
153DaleWilkinsonMVET50Sunderland Strollers41.48366
74TamsinImberFVET40Elvet Striders41.543722fvet40
21NickButchartMVET40Washington Running Club41.563816
52SteveForemanMVET40Sedgefield Harriers42.023917
24RaymondCarmichaelMVET40Sedgefield Harriers42.094018
31ChrisClarkeMSENWashington Running Club42.424113
103RobertMorrisMVET40Sunderland Strollers42.494219
134MarkSunleyMVET50Run Peterlee42.52437
97AllanMcmanusMSENSunderland Harriers & AC42.544414
28PaulCartwrightMSENRun Peterlee43.034515
36VikkiCottonFSENSunderland Harriers & AC43.054633fsen
148LouiseWarnerFSENElvet Striders43.07474fasterstrider not in cat
29NeillCassonMSENBirtley AC43.364816
20PaulBurnMVET5043.51498
157StephenWinshipMVET50Elvet Striders43.52509
133ChrisSumsionMVET50Tyne Bridge Harriers43.545110
34PhilipConnorMSENElvet Striders445217
86MalcolmLeeceMVET40Jarrow & Hebburn AC44.015320
6BrianBailesMVET50Birtley AC44.125411
55SimonGentMSENNorth Shields Polytechnic Club44.145518
44CatherineEatonFSENTyne Bridge Harriers44.22565
90BarryMarleeMVET40Sunderland Harriers & AC44.315721
105LouiseMortonFSENElvet Striders44.32586
115RichardPodmoreMSENElvet Striders44.365919
79EJohnstonFSENTyne Bridge Harriers45.14607
50AnthonyErskineMVET40Sunderland Harriers & AC45.26122
9MichaelBirdMVET50Hunwick Harriers45.336212
85Paul LeeLeeMVET50Sedgefield Harriers45.396313
101PeterMilburnMVET50Aycliffe Running Club46.296414
53DavidFrancisMVET40Birtley AC46.376523
33MartinColbornMVET40Run Peterlee46.386624
87SuzanneLewis-DaleFSENNorth Shields Polytechnic Club46.39678
138MalcolmSygroveMVET50Elvet Striders46.456815
121ShaunRobertsMVET60Elvet Striders476922mvet60
27KevinCarraharMVET50Sunderland Harriers & AC47.067016
127JudithShottonFVET50Sunderland Harriers & AC47.147111fvet50
82BrettLambertMVET40Aycliffe Running Club47.247225
81JaniceKellyFVET4047.297333fvet40
147GillianWallaceFVET40South Shields Harriers & AC47.4744
45ChrisEdwardsMSENElvet Striders48.167520
107JoanneNewbyFVET40Birtley AC48.25765
35KatherineConwayFSENWashington Running Club48.38779
110NatashaNewsonFSENNorth Shields Polytechnic Club48.47810
77LauraJenningsFSENElvet Striders48.437911
150RosieWarnettFSENSedgefield Harriers48.448012
15DavidBrowbankMSENElvet Striders48.458121
58SimonGrahamMSENTeam Coco48.518222
160StephanieYoungFVET50Birtley AC49.048322fvet50
137KathrynSygroveFVET50Elvet Striders49.118433fvet50
136RichardSutcliffeMVET4049.118526
43AndrewEatonMSENTyne Bridge Harriers49.218623
73BrianHurstMVET40Jarrow & Hebburn AC49.268727
104AdamMortonMSEN49.38824
94RachelleMASONFSENElvet Striders49.398913
126JennySearchFVET40Elvet Striders49.45906
68ChristineHearmonFVET50Sedgefield Harriers49.46914
67PeterHartMVET40Elvet Striders49.489228
14JillBridgesFSENRun Peterlee49.539314
32NicoleClarkeFSENWashington Running Club50.019415
57TracyGlaisterFVET40Sedgefield Harriers50.03957
102SusanMilburnFVET50Aycliffe Running Club50.11965
69IanHedleyMSEN50.179725
146MarieWalkerFVET40Sedgefield Harriers50.27988
13AdamBridgesMSENRun Peterlee50.499926
62MaritaGrimwoodFVET40Elvet Striders50.561009
17AlexBrownMVET40Elvet Striders5110129
11ChloeBlackFSENElvet Striders51.0410216
118JaneRannsFSENElvet Striders51.0410317
59BobGrattonMVET50Sedgefield Harriers51.0610417
113DebPennickFSENRichmond & Zetland Harriers51.0710518
132IanSpencerMVET50Elvet Striders51.1310618
154JocelynWilkinsonFSENRun Peterlee52.1510719
5PhilipAtkinsonMVET40Birtley AC52.1510830
1EmmaAldersonFSENElvet Striders52.2510920
143LauraToddFSENRun Peterlee52.3511021
3LloydAshbyMVET40Crook & District AC52.5511131
129AlanSmithMVET70Elvet Striders53.2811211mvet70
83GaryLaveryMVET40Run Peterlee53.3211332
92PaulMartinMVET4053.5711433
123JillRudkinFVET40Elvet Striders54.1311510
51SarahFawcettFVET50Elvet Striders54.151166
117AshleyPrice-SabateFVET50Elvet Striders54.581177
93SandraMartinFVET50Quakers Running Club55.051189
156SarahWilsonFVET50Quakers Running Club55.5311910
122DavidRoundMVET50Sedgefield Harriers56.212019
100KarenMettersFVET40Elvet Striders56.3112111
49TraceyEmmettFVET40Jarrow & Hebburn AC56.4212212
42AndrewDunlopMVET40Elvet Striders56.5812334
4SamAskeyFVET40Elvet Striders57.0312413
116JudithPorterFVET60Aycliffe Running Club57.1912511fvet60
98DebbieMcRoryFVET50Sunderland Harriers & AC59.5512611
39ZoeDewdney ParsonsFSENElvet Striders59.5612722
64DenisHargraveMVET70Sunderland Strollers61.2312822mvet70
60SandraGreenerFVET40Elvet Striders62.1812914
46JanetEllisFVET50Elvet Striders62.213012
139LauraTedstoneFVET40Sunderland66.4113115
22KayCairnsFSENElvet Striders73.5213223

Helvellyn and the Dodds Fell Race, Threlkeld, Cumbria, Sunday, May 28, 2017

AL / 24km /1337m

Elaine Bisson

So I’d stupidly made a deal with myself, if I didn’t run as I hoped at Windermere marathon and could walk down the stairs the next day, I would enter this race. I didn’t run the race I hoped, my ankle had been causing bother, I could walk. I spent the week icing my swollen ankle and rolling my calf…all fun and games to convince my husband this idea was perfectly reasonable!

I packed my bag with full compulsory fell kit and had had a wonderful sleep. This race doesn’t start until 12, I could almost lie in (we have three kids) and still have breakfast and drive the two hours to the race headquarters at Threlkeld cricket club. I knew what was in store having recced this with Geoff and Susan the previous summer. Susan had then suggested that I try the race at which time I’d thought her quite mad, especially as I’d spent a considerable time attempting to come down Clough Head, how a year changes you!

Having registered I returned to hide in my car and stare up at Clough head, then covered in cloud. My second deal was simple, if visibility was poor I’d not run the race but do a training run in the lakes. I rechecked the mountain weather forecast which declared with utmost certainty that all tops would be clear by early afternoon affording spectacular views. Not convinced and chilled by the wind I put on my long sleeved top and returned to the cricket ground to have a few laps warm up.

With ten minutes to spare we all sidled to the start, all kits were checked and a race briefing was held. The only thing I remember as panic rises in my chest “visibility is poor, up to 50m at most, keep maps and compasses to hand. Remember if you come off Clough head too early you’ll come a cropper”.

And so there is Tarmac, about a mile,my ankle no longer likes Tarmac, I could feel the limp coming until open fell and up to Clough Head. It’s steep, there are little foot holds like rungs on a ladder. It’s important to get in the right group early on, I find myself going off piste to cut round slower people. At the top wisps of cloud drift down until it’s full on clag. First checkpoint (there are seven…four out three back, Clough Head, Great Dodd, Raise, Helvellyn) in the bag then I try my best to hang onto the men who were all in fell runner club vests. At times they disappearear and I blindly search for those lithe people rather than starting to follow the walkers heavily laden with kit and clothes. There’s a short section everyone skips around Stybarrow Dodd on a sheer grass drop. It’s grass, there’s a bit of a trod. But yikes I’m far too slow and again they leave me for dust. By Raise, the sky has cleared and I’m sweltering, slowing I take off my long sleeved top then set off again.

This out leg I try to keep pace with those around me,the ups seem almost too comfortable but I want to ensure I have enough left in the tank to get back, especially with last week’s marathon still lingering in my legs. It is a breathtaking place to be, the views are incredible.

The sun blisters down and beats on our backs. It is busy coming up Helvellyn Lower Man, trying to pass the many walkers out and keeping out of the way of the fast runners on their way home..that is a thing of beauty to behold lots of extremely fit runners skipping seemingly effortlessly across the rocks.

Helvellyn in the bag I decide to work harder now, I start to really enjoy myself, my ankle on this soft ground isn’t causing as much bother as I’d thought. By then I’ve fallen in with two men, we chat on the ups and I seem to pull them up, they in turn force me to run faster on the descents.

Now back to Clough head, the descent is grassy but extremely steep. By halfway I’ve really got frustrated with myself, I manage to catch one person but a fair few fly past me, I curse myself for my slowness. Then finally the slope lessens and I am able to stretch out my legs it feels glorious and onto the the final downhill stretch on tarmac. I reach the end elated, I’ve done it. Something last year I don’t think I would have dreamed of going near. I’ve finished 7th lass (as all marshals and runners refer to me) 61st overall. My time 3:09 is reasonable. My ankle isn’t complaining too much. The princely fee of £7 does not afford a race Tshirt or medal but it does give a sense of pride, the most spectacular day out and includes in the cost a fabulous picnic buffet…for runners 2 sandwiches, tomato, 1 cake and a tea or coffee. I fill my napkin and enjoy my picnic on the grassy field looking up to Clough Head deeply satisfied.

I’d done it, perhaps not done it justice, but done it all the same. I knew that the me of last year would be incredibly proud if not slightly gobsmacked. I’ll definitely return to this and give it all I’ve got, it’s a beautiful brute of a race, there’s quite a bit of technical work I need to crack before then though…more days in the lakes then!!!

Results available here

The Cheviot and Hedgehope Pendulum Fell Race 2017, Langleeford, Northumberland, Sunday, April 30, 2017

11 miles

Elaine Bisson

A toss up between a long road run round durham on my tod or a race on the fells…well I think you know what wins. Slightly spur of the moment, we were visiting John’s family on Monday so my brownie points were in the bag! I bought a map of the area and tried my best to get my head round what this race was…from Langleeford, straight up a huge hill (Cheviot), straight back down, then straight back up another slightly less huge hill (Hedgehope) and straight back down. The map contours looked grim, hey ho nothing to lose.
I spent the evening faffing with my bag, big bag, little bag, how many layers, water, emergency food, minimum or maximum fell kit? My favourite leggings were stuck in our broken washing machine, I hand washed them and spent a good while hair drying them dry. Oh Lordy, I was a bit nervous.
I arrived at Geoff and Susan’s house bright and early ready for a lovely drive. It was a beautiful spring morning, the sky was blue, the gorse was in full bloom. Chatting along the way took my mind off the task ahead until we turned a bend in the road and there it was, the Cheviot, head slightly covered by cloud. This was a whole different race.
Registration was on the day for the bargain price of £5. As the wind picked up, numbers were scattered in the grass and I started to wonder what on earth I was doing here. The fellow competitors were nothing like I’d seen before. All ages, all extremely lean and fit. I felt out of my depth.
After the weirdest race briefing held along to very loud music (Geoff assured me this was not commonplace) we were off. A tiny stretch of flat Tarmac until the path bends off to the right then up, up, up, up, up, up, up to the very top of the Cheviot. I felt pretty sluggish, my calves and shins were screaming, I now realised the need for a proper warm up. I ran bits, walked (fast) most. A lady came along side me and “complimented”me on my amazing walk…as I laughed she replied “no you’re amazing at walking”, then that was her gone tootling off up the hill. Not for long though, as actually, I am pretty good at walking up hills and by the top I was first lady. We did a funny run round the cairn then it was a downhill dash. As I climbed over the stile I was glad to be holding on tightly as I was at risk of being blown right off the top, I was also pleased to see Susan (at least they’d know where I might have been blown to!)
I tried to convince myself the wind was blowing me in the right direction and tried my best to get down. Not long after the stile two women sped past me, I worked hard to keep them within 100metres. As I hit the bottom bridge before the second of the climbs up Hedgehope, I realised my shoe lace was undone, by then I’d half given up. I wasn’t good at descending and whatever effort I put in to getting up would be inconsequential when these two overtook me on the down. Anyway shoelace triple knotted, I got up and got on. However, over the first stile, there they were, 40m ahead, a quick run past them and they were gone. By then my legs felt like my own good running legs again and I thought if I keep this up, I could just about break enough distance so there’s no chance they can catch me.
Geoff had long since disappeared off Cheviot but If I squinted hard, I could just about spot a tiny purple and green NFR vest with his recognisable effortless skip. I fixed on that minuscule dot and tried my best to make it as big as I could get before the descent…Geoff leaves me for dust on descents. This hill was a lot steeper than the first. After not too long that tiny purple and green dot became a very large Geoff. I passed him and laughed, “there’s no way I can run down this”.
I reached the top, touched the wooden post (which seemed to be the thing to do) then put all my effort into running downhill…not as easy as it sounds. My brain hasn’t hurt so much in a race, always thinking where to place your next foot, how far to reach out or not, is that going to sink if I step on it, how do I miss that rock… I did expect Geoff to whizz past and was over the moon when I looked and saw that he hadn’t gained that much and that the two women were now tiny dots. My watch kept flashing brief paces reaching 5.30 min/mile, it was so much fun I can’t tell you.  Finally I reached that  little stile then back over the wooden bridge and the tiny finish with the organiser shouting, “well done first lady, amazing time.” I was giddy with excitement.
Geoff arrived soon afterwards, effortlessly gliding into the finish, he’d knocked 40minutes off last year’s time (very grim conditions) and I believe it was a personal best by 5 minutes. Not long and  Susan came in too looking very strong and winning her age group and a spot prize.
We picked up our complimentary chocolate bars/jelly beans and water, then it was time for the presentations.
It was cheap.  Everyone was incredibly encouraging as we passed each other on the ups and downs. It was the toughest 11miles I’ve ever tried to race. It had beautiful views and I will have to return so I can appreciate them. I loved every minute.
I do recommend this with caution.  They are two bloody big hills to climb (3550ft)  Apart from the wind, conditions today were perfect, not too cold, lovely bouncy, springy, dry peat. If wet underfoot this could be my idea of bog hell and I can appreciate how the weather could be horrendous.
Credit for photos to Vicki Deritis of Northumberland Fell Runners.
Full results are available here

DT20, Reeth, Saturday, April 1, 2017

20km

Elaine Bisson

I hugged Sarah last year’s rival (this year on timing duty) she looked me straight in the eyes and said “Go on, you’re going to win this.” I wasn’t so sure, I think I could match last year’s time…

It was a beautiful spring morning, I’d kept myself to myself, calmed down, enjoyed a good 2 mile warm up along the river. I was ready as I’d ever be. I’d started to train differently. My miles had risen dramatically but most of those were fun off road long distances. I’d actually recced this a fair few times, it was pretty and challenging. I’d been to the track to monitor progress and my speed was back but who knows. My husband had told me to enjoy it, that there was always someone who would turn up and be faster than me…that had irked me no end. How bloody rude and what if today was the day I turned up??

I’d been reading lots too, inspirational books for the love of running…seriously just loving running (but usually the author was extremely talented!) I’d filled my head with mantras and quotes to use when it started to hurt. I determined to push hard all the way, no let up, to run like I’d never run before, as if it were my last.

I looked around, lots of eager runners, I marked out two women, standing alone in their own thoughts, like me, sh** I thought, and there they are, They’ve turned up.

 

After a short race briefing we were counted down and off. Straight across a field, through a rather deep muddy and stinky puddle then up the other side. I pushed hard until my legs started to burn, a bit further and then I could walk hooray! There is a long first climb up to Fremington Edge. I kept my head down and worked hard, whenever feeling came back in my legs I’d run a bit until they started to burn, then walk, then run. Eventually we reached the top gate, runners from previous years were marshalling, I knew them, they gave me (and everyone else) a huge cheer and shake of bells “well done first lady, looking strong”, wow, I wonder how long that will last.

I knew it had taken me a while to break into a good pace last year but I determined to reach that pace faster, whether my legs liked it or not. I started to overtake quite a lot of men. I felt strong. Then I heard the welcome friendly Yorkshire voice “hey up, I’m back!” My running buddy who is well known to be an extremely good pacer and motivator, Jon Ayres, was back.

Through lots of practise I’d got far better at descending, switching off my brain, as soon as we hit grass I was gone and Jon was trailing behind. A few sub 6s thrown in, it was exhilarating, this was fun. Then we hit the bridge and everything started to sway, a few seconds of panic that I was going to collapse then I realised the bridge was actually swaying not my head, phew…time to push on.

Jon looked around, “are you ok, you’re running like you’re possessed” Thats  the point I thought, run like it’s your last! And so we kept pushing on and on, if my legs were screaming I’d walk, have a sip, a gel, as soon as they weren’t I’d run again. The welcome checking of Jon ‘are you alright’ every now and again and confirmation, yes actually I am, let’s move this up a gear.

Up to Calver, it’s a cheeky one with a false summit, even when I told myself it’s not the top, I still was tricked. Then Jon started looking anxious, kept checking over his shoulder, kept saying come on let’s go for this. Only coming off Calver did I realise why, a girl was coming and her friends were timing me to tell her the distance between us. The clap of thunder overhead marked the start of the storm, 1.5miles to go, a good downhill…no f***ing way is this going to happen. We flew off Calver, one of the marshals shouted “f***ing brilliant, you’ve got this”, 1.5miles left and the adrenaline had kicked in, flight or fight? I was going to do both. We caught quite a few on the descent then I knew there was a short reprieve when we could walk, then it was sprinting ALL the way. As we cornered a bend a flash came…I thought a camera lens, nope lightning then immediately afterwards thunder…best run faster then! It was awesome. Never have I run like fury, I looked at the last few fields, about half mile now, we picked up our pace more to storm through the last field, they’re not allowed to catch me now!

I saw the clock and was shocked at the time, I saw Sarah’s face beaming, I’d bloody well done it, First lady from the start, first lady at the end, 5minutes quicker than last year and I still had an itching for more. One massive hug from Jon who had sneakily got me by a second. I’m not sure either of us has ever raced like that. I raced like it was my last and it was amazing! If only I could bottle up that feeling…I’ll just have to do it again!

We cheered in a few friends, picked up our Tshirts, complimentary tea and cake then I had to head home before presentations to pick up my boy. Jon, who had joked ALL the way round that he was First Lady kindly picked up my prize.

Not much I can say about these. I’ve made some amazing friends from previous years, the same smiling faces turn up time and again. It’s brilliantly organised. They’re in Yorkshire, but somehow found a way into my heart, I absolutely love them. Tough but well worth it.