The JNLC was set up by the veteran fell runner himself in 1990. It is a self organised mountain challenge for veteran runners over 50. So there are no race organisers, no entry fees, no way markers, mile markers or fellow competitors. The time allowed increases with age and runners must be accompanied over the route. At age 60 I had 18 hours. The course crosses the Lake District from Pooley Bridge, on Ullswater, to Joss’ home at Greendale in Wasdale – a distance of around 48 miles involving 17,000’ of ascent across 30 Lakeland peaks including High Street, Fairfield, Bow Fell, Great End, Great Gable, Pillar and Steeple.
I chose to repeat the JNLC to mark my 60th birthday (I had completed the challenge 5 years earlier to celebrate my 55th birthday). An Achilles injury prevented the intended June crossing necessitating a postponement until September. A promising forecast heralded the intended day and a starry sky for the 5am start boded well. My support team on the first leg consisted of Paul Hainsworth, Katherine Davis, David Gibson, Mike Hughes and Aaron Gourley. They were there ready and waiting for me on the dark bridge at Pooley. Head torches were discarded before we reached the first top and dawn arrived as we traversed the grassy tops of Loadpot and Wether Hill. A beautiful blue sky was lit by a huge orange sun as it crept above Cross Fell. Small herds of deer scattered as we danced across the tussocks and stones towards High Street. It was great to be alive and to share this experience with attentive friends.
The sun was well up by the time we reached Kirkstone and its brightness was allowing the late summer fells to appear at their best. Mark Davinson and Mike Bennett joined me for the second leg and their friendly chat made time pass quickly over the screes and on towards Fairfield where an abandoned tent was the only blemish on what was developing into a perfect morning. I descended carefully down the rocky, eroded path towards the base of Seat Sandal as I didn’t want to take a fall this early in the day. The temperature rose making it even more important to drink little and often and my old familiar kit was starting to get very sweaty!
At a bright and sunny Dunmail Raise my road support team was waiting, headed by my wife Susan (another JNLC completer and to whom my most sincere gratitude goes), and including Graham Daglish, Heather Hughes and Jenny Wren. I was pleased to be over half an hour ahead of my sub 16 hour schedule here at the end of leg 2. A change of top and a little too much food consumed and it was off up the forbidding steepness of Steel Fell with my new support team of Scott Gibson, Paul Evans, Penny Browell & Rob Eaton. Scott, as navigator, ensured the best line was taken across one of my least favourite sections to High Raise. Clouds started to develop from here and so the heat was no longer a problem. However, the tops stayed clear and not a drop of rain fell all day. The food and drink consumed at Dumail was lying heavily in my stomach and it was sometime before I could manage anything else. This was disappointing as I like to ‘graze’ and so didn’t feel 100%. We continued to make up minutes here and there on the schedule as we traversed the rockier ground after Rossett Pike. The fells were packed today with holiday makers and charity walkers on the last weekend before the end of the school holidays. Nonetheless there were few people on the descent to Sty Head from Great End and we arrived there 42 minutes ahead of schedule.
There were lots of my supporters here and it was nice to see old fell friends and other friends not known for their ‘fellgoing’ including Stan White, Aileen Scott, Alan Scott, Louise Billcliffe and Wendy Hughes. I was confident now that I would come in well under 18 hours but could I manage a sub 15 hour round? Time would tell. A steady climb up Great Gable was eased by my pacers’ conversations (John Duff, Elaine Bisson, Jack Lee plus Rob and Penny continuing for a second leg). A good line off the rocky top of Gable and fantastic views from Kirk Fell made everything a joy (well almost!). The cloud started to disperse and a welcome warmth returned making the usual slog across Pillar less of a trial. Steeple was fantastic with its lofty views and its heralding of the approaching finish. Some compass work off Haycock helped me find the scree shoot – a rocky escalator to the bottom! No time to empty stones from shoes as that sub 15 hour crossing started to beckon. Only the steepness of Seatallan stood in my way and all those rocky miles already traversed were starting to take their toll. I had to stop a couple of times on the ascent but still got to the top within the scheduled time with the help of encouragement from my excellent pacers and nourishment from Kendal Mint Cake. Perhaps it was on? I still hadn’t fallen all day and managed to maintain this on the steep grassy descent of Seatallan. On reaching the final top of Middle Fell John told me “you’ve 27 minutes to get to the bridge if you want to get under 15 hours – easily doable for a man of your calibre!” And so it proved, as 19 minutes later I was shaking Joss Naylor’s hand on Greendale Bridge and enjoying the plaudits of my friends.
What a fantastic day and what an honour to meet Joss Naylor once again. He was his usual gracious and humble self and happy to talk to anyone in our group. We chatted for some time not just about fell running, for which he retains a deeply felt appreciation, but about midges, house martins, swallows and his dog – which had ‘stolen’ a piece of Susan’s pie much to Joss’ consternation!
These fell challenges make for wonderful weekends but only happen after months of hard training over the fells and much meticulous preparation in terms of gathering a support team, preparing food and drink and devising a logistical time table. This can have its stresses but it also has its benefits in terms of long delightful days over the mountains with like-minded friends including those named above and others who were unable to be there on the day. I am very grateful to you all and hope you enjoyed it as much as you all seemed to do.
Come with me across the 21 miles and 9,000ft of the Wasdale Horseshoe Fell Race traversing the roughest and most famous fell country in England. It’s raining, windy and the mist is down to about 1,000ft. The race starts along a runable stony track before switching uphill onto the steep, grassy, tusocky and boggy fell side of Illgill Head. We’re all walking now, because of the steep gradient, and we quickly enter a world of mist and rain. The gradient eases near the summit and a ‘sheep trod’ takes us left of the top and on to the first check point atop of the next fell: Whinn Rigg. Visibility is down to about 20 metres and so there is no possibility of seeing the wonderful view down to Wast Water and across the fells of Lakeland. The first checkpoint is reached after about 45 mins (cut off time 1 hour) and the steep descent begins back to valley level. I start well on the thick grass underfoot but lose places on the steeper, stony, eroded path through the bracken. My well worn knees only allow a certain speed and I’ve no desire to take a fall on a day like this.
We’re now on the only ‘easy’ section of the race which takes us through fields and woods across the wet Wasdale Valley to Greendale – the home of fell running legend Joss Naylor and his wife Mary. They are both there on the bridge giving out orange juice. “Well done lad, how was that?” says Joss to me. “Not too bad” I reply “do you think it’ll fair up today Joss?” He scowls “oh, there’s a lot of low stuff still due to come in”. I thank him and Mary and head off. He’s dead right about the weather of course!
Nonetheless it’s mild as I begin the upward plod back onto the fells and to the next checkpoint of Seatallan (2266ft). I think of taking off the ‘cag’ I’ve been wearing from the start. As if on cue, the rain peps up and the wind increases by a few knots so the cag stays on – for the rest of the race. I cross a stream that’s now in semi-spate. It matters little as I’m already soaked to the skin. The occasional runner comes and goes in the mist although a lady runner stays nearby all the way to the summit of the steep, grassy and boggy hill of Seatallan. Two marshals huddle around the exposed trig point with the wind and rain howling around them (this is why they have cut off times!) I pass over my token, tell them that number 25 has dropped out (as requested to do so by the Greendale marshals), thank them and head off towards Pillar; the next check point and some 4 miles distant.
An easy, grassy descent takes me into a boggy area glorying in the name of ‘Pots of Ashness’. Navigation now becomes a real challenge. With a few other runners I pick up a trod through the thick mist and mire. With careful route finding I know I can avoid climbing the hill of Haycock, and even Scoat Fell, if I get it spot on. Ignoring others that climb up to my left I head onwards on a bearing. I do mange to miss out Haycock but the steep ground pulls me up to Scoat Fell and onto familiar and easily navigable terrain so no matter. Rocky ground is now the norm causing my foot placement to become more measured and my pace to slow. Two runners ahead of me veer off onto a narrow rocky trod that I know avoids a bit of climb so I follow. One of them is uncertain: he turns & shouts his doubts to me. I give the thumbs up and he carries on.
The narrow col between Scoat Fell and Pillar is extremely windy and it’s hard to keep one’s feet. I hold onto the wet rock as I begin yet another steep climb. Other runners are struggling with the conditions and the navigation but I’m confident of the route and just battle on against the elements – at least it’s not cold! The summit of Pillar (2’7ft), the next check point, arrives and I’m around 15 minutes inside the cut off. The marshals have some shelter here so are fairly cheery. I hand over a token, they glance at me, establish I’m fit to carry on and off I go.
It’s a wet, rocky descent from Pillar down to Black Sail Pass and, because of the conditions; I can’t see the easier lines that I know are there. Descending becomes slow, laborious and frustrating. Two runners pass me and I vent my frustrations into the screaming wind! Finally I arrive at the pass and look around in the mist for Susan, who I know should be there, and there she is! She gives a little jump as she’s been waiting for some time and is pleased to see me! I take a drink, tell her I’m ok and head off on the traverse of Kirk Fell. This is one top we don’t have to go over. Some of the runners around me though are unsure of where they are and whether they’re on the correct path (or trod). I re-assure them that they are indeed at Black Sail and that this narrow, rocky trod; on this steep fell side running with water is exactly where they should be!
The traverse is out of the teeth of the gale and gives a little respite although the wet and the rock continue. I calculate that I have 55 minutes to reach the next checkpoint on the top of Great Gable and conclude, as I’m still feeling ok, that it is just about doable. The familiar ground of Beck Head is reached (the col between Gable and Kirk Fell) and the steepest, wettest, rockiest, crapiest climb of the day begins. The route finding through the rock however takes my mind off the conditions and I pass a couple of guys before reaching the top of Gable (2949ft). I’m very pleased on my arrival as I’m 13 minutes inside the cut off and, although there’s still a long way to go, there are no more cut off times to contend with and I’m reasonably confident I’m going to finish!
A couple of other guys are faffing around with bearings but I know the way off and I don’t want to hang around in this gale. Off I go down across the boulders onto the paved bits of path with the wind getting even stronger! On a rare grassy bit, where I’m going reasonably quickly, a big gust nearly sends me crashing into the surrounding rocks. I manage to keep my feet and crouch down until the wind subsides a little and I’m able to move again. I finally reach Sty Head pass where the wind is being funnelled between the massive mountains of Scafell and Gable. I can barely hear myself think let alone hear the comments of one or two walkers who have ventured out today – they just get the thumbs up instead! I seem to be on my own now as I head upwards to Esk Hause the next checkpoint. There are a few streams to cross and they are all raging with white water although I’m never in above my knees so there’re no bother and it’s still fairly mild. Because I can’t be bothered with the faff of extracting map from bum bag I add a couple of hundred meters to the route in finding Esk Hause. No matter, I’m still ok. I force a bar down my neck and press on to Scafell Pike – England’s highest mountain!
No runners around me now but I’m happy with that. I know the route well so the mist is no problem. The wet rocks are a different matter though and I have a few slips and a few scrapes. Nearing the top I catch a few runners up and a couple more appear behind me so, at the summit (3210ft), there’s a queue at the checkpoint! I follow a bearing off the top and descend the rocky, boulder strewn path. The rain and wind continue as I hit the grassy slopes of Lingmell. My foot goes down a hole and I just about stay upright – I curse the conditions. There are a few runners around so it’s a race down the final steep descent. I overtake a couple but a searing pain from cramp grips my leg and they overtake me again. Further down I recover and take a few scalps in the last half mile. I’m feeling ok and the relief on approaching the finish is tangible. Susan’s there to cheer me in and take my photo. I’m moving quickly as I cross the line and have a great sense of achievement on finally finishing.
What a day! 6 hours 27 minutes – a bit slower than 12 years ago but conditions are so much more challenging today. The Wasdale Horseshoe is a race many fell runners aspire to do. It tests your fitness, experience and fell craft to the maximum. Have a go by all means but please, as the FRA requires “you must be confident you are capable of completing any race you enter”!
Described in the ‘blurb’ as a “must do event for any keen fell runner” with a route “covering some of the finest peat bogs in the North Pennines” the Allendale Challenge is 26 miles long with 4,000ft of ascent. From that you’ll realise that this ‘marathon’ is significantly different from ‘the norm’.
This year was its 27th running and my 13th. I’ve always enjoyed the race, always run it on my own and tend to treat it as some weird form of meditation. Gone are the days when I used to run it in around four and a quarter hours with a top ten finish, but with some long days out on the Lakeland fells recently, topped up by regular long off-road runs from home, I was hopeful of running sub 5 hours this year. The weather was dry and fine if a little cool at the start and it remained that way all day. Bad weather usually works to my advantage but as it had been somewhat wet of late those “finest peat bogs” would be in peak condition and so it turned out! Five Striders lined up for the start: me, Mudwoman, Mike Hughes, Mandy and Jules (her first time).
I started steadily along the first two miles or so of road chatting occasionally to one or two fell running club mates. I like to keep my breathing nice and easy during these early miles saving as much energy as possible for the challenges to come and so allowed Mike to forge ahead. Once on the first ‘fell’ section I increased the pace a bit and passed four or five runners before the road resumed and I settled into a steady climb prior to commencing the 12 or so miles of really tough, wet and boggy terrain.
Once on this section it really is ‘game on’ although again my priority was energy preservation – pick the best lines, avoid the deepest bogs (where possible) and keep those jumps across the bogs to a minimum. By doing that I could ensure I had enough energy left for the last gruelling six or seven miles. I managed to run most of this tough section although I had to walk a couple of the ups but took the opportunity to eat and drink when I did. I caught Mike just before half way when he took the opportunity of having a cup of tea at the check point while I just continued on. I was still in a meditative state so let Mike go on alone across the peat hags of Killhope Law – possibly the toughest section of the course. This year they were particularly wet and resembled a peaty, undulating moonscape waiting to trap the unwary and to suck the energy from tired legs. If you allow this to happen ‘you’re doomed’ and running those last miles will seem like purgatory! I know because it’s happened to me – more than once!
The summit of Killhope Law (673m) is about half way and I reached there in three hours reasonably contented (this is a perfect race for achieving a negative split!). Mike was there at the check point and we began the rough & boggy descent together. Conditions under foot eased part way down then became tortuous as large granite chippings, on a land rover track, proved challenging for soaking wet, tired, but as yet unblistered, feet. At the end of the long descent from Killhope the route becomes almost benign for two or three miles and follows a riverside track. Crossing the many stiles proved challenging for stiff legs but so far I was managing to hold the cramp at bay.
Mike and I reached the start of the aptly named ‘Drag’ still together with 6.5 miles to go. The Drag is a four mile long rough track most of which is up hill. This section is responsible for many broken fell runners’ hearts, including my own, and only once have I managed to run the whole thing! I usually get through it by running 50 paces then power walking the next fifty and so on and so on until the gradient eases and running becomes less problematic. I repeated this tactic and took the opportunity to get down a mini pork pie as well (not easy). Mike was content to remain with me in spite of me frequently urging him to ‘press on’. Seeing one or two other runners ahead kept us motivated and we reached the checkpoint at the end of the Drag at the same time as one of these who had been about half a mile ahead of us at the start of the Drag. However, we stopped for tea and he didn’t!
We now turned onto a heathery moorland not as tough as the ‘bogs’ but tough enough after 23 miles! A couple of runners started to ‘come back’ to us including the one from the Drag. As I was closing in on him I heard Mike behind me utter an ‘exclamation’. I knew the cramp had got him as I had been having my own personal battle with it for the last mile or so. As Mike was perfectly safe and in good fettle, apart from cramp, I pressed on overtaking the ‘Drag runner’ plus two others before the moorland gave way to the final mile on the road. And it was here that cramp almost brought me to a halt as I hobbled along with a left foot deformed by pain. The end couldn’t come quick enough and I ‘crossed the line’ in 4hrs 52 mins and 17th place – highly satisfactory. Mike came in a couple of minutes later for a race pb while Jules sauntered round with Tynedale friend Marcus to finish as 3rd woman! Susan and Mandy kept each other company for the whole race finishing together in under 6 hours and in good fettle.
Refreshed by pie and peas and two pints of Guinness I felt quite pleased with my performance after what had been a winter of running marred by a number of injuries. With the longer days upon us and spring fast approaching life was good.
As the majority of people who know me will be aware I unashamedly and vociferously love XC and Saturday’s ‘home’ fixture at Aykley Heads was the best XC race I’ve ever been lucky enough to compete in.
I acknowledge I’m utterly biased but I thought the course was absolutely brilliant. It had everything, even a Grand National style jump that my hubby has christened ‘The Chair’. There were a surprising number of hills crammed into the 2 mile lap; ‘brutal’ is the word I’ve heard repeatedly to describe the course by its competitors; ‘unrelenting’ and ‘a proper cross country course’ are a couple of others.
The initial part on the field was tricky given the large mounds of grass, then we descended quite gradually for a while enjoying the view over the railway and across the valley. Turn left and it was up a surprisingly steep hill to then turn right and along to ‘The Chair’ (a jump Desert Orchid would have felt at home with). Down again, this time VERY muddy and with a great hairpin right turn at the bottom, disappointingly few seem to have fallen here though! A long gradual ascent along the railway then a steeper climb (with you guessed it, mud!).
We turned left on the ascent to more of the thick brown stuff and struggled through the quagmire desperately trying to keep our shoes on until we reached the ‘piece de resistance’ of the course – a short steep descent put in purely for the privilege of running (crawling) back out of it again four seconds later! A true lung buster with the kind of mud XC is renowned for (Mudwoman’s rain dancing has worked wonders this week). After the ascent it was time for recovery back on the divetty (if it’s not a word it should be) field and on to the second lap!
The atmosphere was absolutely brilliant – the tents and banners were out in force and with pride as usual. There was purple and green face paint (war paint or go faster stripes depending on your outlook), the sun was shining, there was loads of mud, friendly marshals, many of them in purple, offering support all the way round, hugs, chats, so many laughs and even some tears.
One of the really great things about XC for me is that there’s competition at every point in the field. From the pointy elbowed whippets at the front to the super enthusiastic springer spaniels in the middle and us strong determined bull mastiffs bringing up the rear (thanks Kerry for the dog analogies), we all have someone we’re keeping an eye on at each fixture to pit ourselves against. Some days you come out on top and others it’s your nemesis who goes home grinning but (usually!) as you cross the line it’s a handshake or a quick hug of ‘well done’ before more hill reps in time for the next fixture.
There are many times in my life I have complained about how easy gents have it compared to us ladies – they can wee standing up, they don’t have crazy hormones to deal with and will never have their whole day’s mood dictated by whether their ‘bum looks big in this’. But, as I was midway through my second lap on Saturday I looked up at the clear blue sky and heaped thanks on the running gods and the wonderful officials at Harrier League that I wouldn’t have to do a third gruelling lap.
I didn’t run any faster than normal, nothing was particularly different to anything I’d normally do but Saturday was one of those days where everything ‘clicked’ and I absolutely loved every step.
I, Anita Dunseith am a XC addict.
… Danny Lim …
Say ‘cross-country’ to me and I get hit with flashbacks of forced running at boarding school with my house-master barking orders from the rear. Yesterday, I was dreading another brutal experience. At the car park entrance, I was greeted by a smiling David Shipman. “You’re not allowed in Danny”. If only he meant it!
Aykley Heads was transformed into a running festival. A city of tents had sprung up and yards of marking tape snaked around the course. I arrived just as the women’s race was under way. Their faces were etched with grim, unsmiling expressions: “Second lap?” I asked a fellow spectator, “no, just the first!” she replied. The ladies were clearly pulling out all the stops. I was inspired (terrified) to see them cross the finish, as if they were about to pass out.
It was a great course with obstacles to challenge the most seasoned runners. There was the “bad step”, a three-foot vertical bank we had to vault up. In true Grand National style, there was “the bench”, though no runners had to be put down yesterday. “Hairpin Corner” saw many a runner take an impromptu mud-bath. And who can forget the “Slide of Death”, where I suicidally sprinted down before slamming into a fellow runner and crashing into the bushes. This was finished off by that final hill, reminiscent of Geoff Davies’ “Burma road” hill sessions. At the finish there was quality male bonding as I dry-retched with Jon Ayres and David Brown, knees on the ground.
But the pain was neutralised by the phenomenal support from spectators and marshals. There seemed to be a cheering Strider at every turn, really it was unbelievable! My name was being called out so much that my fellow competitors asked, “Are you the famous Danny?” For a moment, I felt like Mo Farah as he raced to Olympic gold at London. A wall of purple chanted loudly in unison as I made my final muddy climb to the finish. I was embarrassed by it all but it made the pain all so much more bearable. Thank you all!
Most memorable of all was the hard work made by the small army of volunteers from the club, including parking attendants, marshals and course constructors, many of whom had been there since early morning. You are the unsung heroes of the day. What an honour it is to be part of such a warm and supportive club.
Stephen Jackson, in his XC debut, was the first Strider to storm back home followed closely by Gareth Pritchard. Paul Evans who started in the medium pack, came in at an impressive third place. In the ladies’ race, Penny Browell made a stellar performance, coming home seventeenth, from a medium pack start. She was followed closely by Elaine Bisson and Susan Davis.
Sally Hughes made her debut in the fast pack and gave it her all in the women’s U17/U20. But youngest Strider award must go to Zak McGowan in the U13; way to go Zak! Helen Allen, Claire-Louise Wells, Laura Jackson, Stacey Brannan and Karen Hooper also made their first XC appearances, and what a tough start it was!
The senior ladies team put in an excellent performance which saw them promoted to third in Division One. Although the men had improved slightly, we are perched precariously near the bottom of the second divison. In the words of Geoff Davis, XC captain, “things are very tight at the bottom of the table and we’ve got to pull out all the stops to stay afloat!”. So come on then, see you all at the next fixture, it’s all hands to the pump!
… Geoff Davis …
There was a magnificent turn out of current Striders at Saturday’s event but Aykley Heads was also graced by a posse of former, or less active, Striders who were once as familiar a sight at Maiden Castle as Jacquie Robson and Phil Owen are today! They included:
Alan Purvis – the founder of Striders’ website and one of the initiators of the club’s involvement in the Harrier League. Alan was a frequent ‘counter’ in the HL keeping us out of the 3rd Division right up to his late 60s.
Kim Hall – once the queen of triathlon winning many prizes at events in the UK and abroad. Would tour Europe with husband Mike picking up gongs as they went!
Linda McDermott – wonderful Linda – a veteran of the HL when the women’s field was no bigger than the Striders’ committee. Competed in road races all over the place including the Coniston 14.
Peter McDermott – Linda’s other half and a man of many, many marathons. Always happy to help new runners with his vast experience.
Tony Young – Jan’s better half and a top notch runner in his day. Achieved Fast Pack status at the HL, something most of us just dream about, and a keen runner over the fells. A man still missed by all who ran with him.
Pam Kirkup – a now retired teacher and Striders’ secretary for many a year. Kept the club on an even keel while the rest of us were busy running up and down mountains. If she was a stick of rock and you snapped her in two – you’d see the words ELVET STRIDERSrunning right through her!
It was great to see them all – let’s hope we see more of them at other races or Strider events.
… Paul Evans
Flags; tents; chat; inclusion; happy, smiling faces. This, for many, epitomises cross-country and we, as a club, do it well. The best comparison I can give, personally, for the lovely pre-race scene is that of being lulled almost to sleep by the rhythmical beating of rotor blades, knowing that in a matter of minutes the helicopter will flare and you will leave the false comfort of its insides. Every passing minute brings the certainty of pain and the possibility of injury closer. Bowels churn, feet tingle and rituals such as lacing and re-lacing footwear are undertaken to occupy over-active mind and idle hands. As you may have worked out, my feelings for XC are distinctly mixed.
Saturday was a long day, with the anticipation spanning many hours thanks to our hosting of Durham’s first cross-country fixture in over a decade. A true club effort in the car park and around the course saw us provide the vast majority of the volunteers needed to make it happen and, logistically, the day ran smoothly; it did, however, prolong the pre-race agony, as did the delights of seeing the thundering pack of Striders ladies attacking/churning-up the course. The pain etched on their faces did not bode well.
A further two and a half minutes extended the wait further as the male race began; as a medium pack runner I find it impossible to watch the starting pack disappear into the distance without mentally calculating how far they will have gone and how long it will be before even the smallest inroads can be made into them. The time dragged…and then it didn’t. As a slow starter I struggle to keep up with what is always a rapid burst of effort in the first few hundred metres, knowing with my head that 3 x 2.1m = ‘a long way to catch people’ yet feeling with something else that the pack must be stayed with (fellow Striders particularly), even if it goes against the way I run in any other environment.
Aykley Heads is not just any environment and this was not just any day. This was a perfect course, long enough to stretch people, well-watered enough to suck shoes from the ill-prepared, hilly enough to sap legs on the ascents and destroy balance on the downhill and overwhelmingly beautiful, lit by a low, wintry sun. This was a course that beckoned you to attack, whatever your relative strengths, and rewarded you when you did so; both relentless plod and downhill gamble saw me gain places throughout the first lap, eventually catching the first Striders with Jerry Lloyd on my shoulder and Rob Everson somewhere ahead.
Running was exhausting, sustainable only by not thinking about anything other than the next vest in front and Jerry behind, then – shortly into the second lap – ahead. This was not good: the 90-degree downhill turn manned by Sophie saw him pull ahead and on the uphill stretch shortly after, Jacquie’s bellowed shout for him was coming several seconds ahead of that for me. Aggression over ‘The Chair’, down ‘The Mudslide’ and around ‘The Hairpin’ saw us both gain several places with fell shoes proving their uncomfortable worth. However, he remained ahead and pulled further away as we descended to the railway line, up the hill, around the ‘Bad Corner’ and back to the start for the third and final lap.
There was still no sign of Simon, James, Geoff or Rob in front and Gareth and Stephen were clearly flying from the slow pack, but more and more purple vests continued to be caught and passed, one by one, a brief grunt was all the breath that could be spared in encouragement. Danny, Scott, David, Mike, Jon and Graeme were all running well but were peripheral to what was now a very personal run-off, conducted to what seemed to be a solid wall of noise from the spectators with Strider voices loudest amongst them.
Elswick; Tynedale; Gosforth; Blackhill; Crook; Alnwick; Strollers; Birtley; Jarrow: runner by runner, vest by vest, we worked our way around the course, same but different by now, as each turn was all the more treacherous on the last lap of the day. Jerry still led me down to the hairpin, though he was less steady on his feet by now. Unfortunately I was no better and slightly rolled an ankle whilst dancing past a competitor for the privilege of reaching the grabbing tree one position ahead of him. I stayed upright and the dance went on – down to the railway (where Anita drowned out the passing trains), up the drag where I caught and overtook him, then on, up the big climb (which had finally turned some runners into walkers) and into a new contest with Geoff now in sight.
A forward lean into the nasty corner descent (knowing he’d be doing the same and letting gravity work for him), a slight over-shoot and up the hill, aware that Geoff, Jerry and an Elswick Harrier were somewhere not far away. Then the final grassy stretch opened up: one right hand turn, with lungs and legs competing but failing to scream louder than the purple horde and it was over!
This was not a nice race. It was a perfect race that demanded all you had and asked for more. It was hard, brutal, elemental running, elegant in its simplicity, treating all who competed equally. Several runners did not finish with falls and sprains demonstrating the risks of this form of running. This was no parkrun or ultra trudge with tea and cake halfway round. Fine margins gained by single runner contests decide Harrier League places and the efforts of both ladies (an outstanding third on the day in the first division) and men (an improved eighth, by a mere 260 points to Elswick’s 263) were just reward for the suffering endured – though we’re still second-bottom in the second division and more will be required if we’re to stay up.
This is a personal account and says nothing of the trials of Helen Allen, Laura Jackson, Karen Hooper, Catherine Smith, Stacey Brannan, Claire-Louise Wells, Stephen Jackson (first male counter) and any other newcomer who picked both the best and worst of XC races in which to make their debuts. It says little of the lovely camaraderie post-race and is not in any way a comprehensive account of a day which will probably prove the best XC fixture of the season in many ways. Finally, it also says nothing of what Jerry Lloyd experienced; Jerry, my thanks for an unforgettable (I hope for you also) 6.3 miles.
It’s a relay based on the five legs of the 24 hour Bob Graham Round (BGR). It involves approximately 28,000ft of climb over 42 Lakeland peaks and covers about 66 miles. It was inspired by Billy Bland’s record for completing the BGR of 13 hours 53 minutes set in 1982. The challenge is open to all teams of at least 10 runners with a minimum of two on each leg. The aim is to get as close to Billy’s record as possible or, as in our case, to get round in less than 24 hours. It can be run at any time in June and, like all the best things in life, it’s free!
Why was it attempted?
I wanted to spend the weekend closest to my birthday with some good friends and arrange something ‘challenging’ for them to do.
Who did it?
The individuals are named below but mainly it was friends from Striders plus others from NFR, Morpeth Harriers and elsewhere – Team Elvet Striders and Friends was born!
Leg 1 Keswick to Honister Navigators: Graham Daglish and Susan Davis Pacers: Rachael Bullock, Juliet Percival and Katy Walton.
An all Striders team set off from Keswick in good weather and high spirits. Rachael, Jules & Katy were having their first experience of a BGR and seemed to love every minute of it, in spite of the strong wind over the tops, and finished comfortably inside the schedule. They can’t wait to come back for more and perhaps one, or more, of them might give the BG a go in the future themselves – I just hope Rachael doesn’t wait till she’s 42! The highlight of this leg for me was at the end when Sarah Walton presented me with a birthday cake (baked by Mum).
Thank you so much – it was delicious!
Leg 2 Honister to Wasdale Navigator: Tom Reeves Pacers: David Gibson and Steph Scott
Fresh from her victory at the ‘Yomp’ last Sunday Steph kindly agreed to spend nearly five hours on the fells with Tom & David! It was just as well she did because the weather really started to ‘pep up’ on the second half of the leg as they traversed some of Lakelands toughest and most attractive mountains (Great Gable, Pillar etc.) Soaked to the skin at the finish they were still able to keep up their non-stop banter on the long drive back round to Keswick – Susan and Rachael were delighted!
Leg 3 Wasdale to Dunmail Navigator: John Telfer Pacer: James Garland
A touch of the trots kept Paul Evans in Durham so it was left to John & James to tackle what is probably the toughest section of the round in the worst weather of the day. I can only imagine what it was like across the rocky desert that is the Sca Fells in that rain and mist – they both deserve a medal! A reward came in the form of clear skies for the latter part of the leg so at least they could enjoy the scenery! Spot on nav, plus incredible determination, saw them round more or less to schedule in 6 and a half hours – fantastic!
Leg 4 Dunmail to Threlkeld Navigator: Kevin Bray Pacers: Mike Hughes, David Hall and Andy Hastie
A late ‘drop out’ meant I had to switch to the last leg and ask Kevin to nav on this section – which is traversed primarily in darkness. Being a veteran of many BGRs, including his own 14 years ago, he never hesitated and recruited a couple of his own henchmen to keep him company (plus our very own Mike H on his first BG). Unfortunately, they were also accompanied by a thick mist on the fell tops. This makes night time nav in the mountains, for over five hours, doubly difficult and finding a small pile of stones marking the flat top of Nethermost Pike or Stybarrow Dodd can be “a sodding nightmare”! Nonetheless, Kevin managed it and ran into the car park at Threlkeld Cricket Club with the words “what a night that was!” just as the first hints of dawn were arriving.
Leg 5 Threlkeld to Keswick Navigator: Geoff Davis Pacer: Nigel Heppell
Nigel and I had 4 hours 35 minutes to complete the final leg if we were to achieve the overall target of ‘doing the BG’ in under 24 hours. The narrow Hall’s Fell Ridge on Blencathra was dark, misty, wet and greasy but that wasn’t going to slow us down. We were up and over quickly and pressing on to take in Great Calva and the final top – Skiddaw. The larks were singing to herald the dawn and the triumph of Team Striders and Friends as Nigel and I were honoured to bring the team home in 23 hours 18 minutes accompanied by Rachael, Mike Susan & Jules, for the final run in from Latrigg. Phew!!
Can I just say a final word of thanks to all those named above, particularly Susan, for giving up part, or all, of their weekend to indulge my whim! Thanks must also go to Linda Bray, The Walton Family & the Reeves Family (particularly Joan whose birthday it was on Sunday!) for all their help and support. BG or BBC weekends are great; let’s hope there’s many more to come! I suspect that one or two Striders might want to give it a go themselves after putting ‘a toe in the water’ last weekend – we’ll be ready and waiting!
Against our better judgement we decided to break one of our long established principles and run two races in one weekend. If we’re involved in a race there’s only one way we know how to run and that’s to give it 100% from start to finish, aim to be as high up the field as you can and only drop out if someone shoots you! This puts a certain amount of strain on the body and we’ve found over the years that our bodies tend to complain if they are asked to take the strain too often – like twice in two days. But you never learn and after what we thought would be an easy x/c on Saturday we found ourselves heading off to do a shortish fell race on the Sunday! Mike Hughes joined us on the drive north to the Ingram Valley in Northumberland.
There was a record turnout of over 120 for Will Horsley’s Brough Law Fell Race – a worthy reward for all of Will’s efforts. Susan and I had run the race on a number of occasions so we knew what to expect. It starts with a very steep climb and although this is mercifully short it continues with a further long climb only slightly less steep. It only took a few paces uphill for me to realise that I should have stayed at home. My chest seemed to be saying “Oi! You had us doing this yesterday and last Saturday and the Saturday before that and the Saturday before that – enough is enough – slow down or we’re not playing ball!”
What can you do when you’re delivered such an ultimatum? I slowed down. It was galling to see others pass me who normally never do but I could do little about it on that long climb. Things picked up a bit as the climb eased off and I was able to stretch out along the lovely grassy track amid beautiful Cheviot scenery. Runners stopped passing me and I began to pick a few off. There was more ‘technical’ terrain here than at yesterday’s Wallsend x/c with some nice grassy descents – just what I like!
So, all was not lost, and although one or two rivals finished ahead of me I wasn’t too disappointed and I was sure I could shake off the three injury niggles I’d managed to aggravate! Mike wasn’t far behind me and he had enjoyed very much his first fell race in the Cheviots. Susan had a good race as well, in spite of taking a tumble coming downhill near the end and being annoyed by other runners taking short cuts when Will had warned against such tactics before the start of the race.
A good morning out, home in time to see us give the Welsh a good hiding and a relaxing evening with the injuries stretched, rolled & iced. However, no more two race weekends – until the next time!
On New Year’s Day Mudwoman and I switched to fell running mode (as per the last 16 New Year’s Days!) and headed to Rothbury to run ‘Hillforts & Headaches’ (Hillforts ‘cos you run over and finish on an ancient hillfort & headaches ‘cos it’s New Year’s Day!) Anyway, the race is quite short, just three miles, but those miles are practically all up hill and quite steep, with over 1,000’ of climb, earning the race an ‘A’ classification from the FRA.
The whole thing is quite low key with a field of 73 runners assembling outside the Newcastle Arms in the centre of Rothbury for the ‘off’. The pain starts almost immediately with the first hill just across the river from the town. This goes on for about a mile and half and those suffering from ‘headaches’ soon begin to feel the pain. Phil Green (NFR & Heaton) was one of those this year but his form is such that I was still unable to catch him!
It was cold this year (I wore hat and gloves for the whole race) and the mist was down for the last 2-300′ of climb but there’s no real ‘nav’ problems in this race so everyone finished safely, all be it with lungs that were fit to burst! The race was won by ex-Strider Phil Sanderson & Mudwoman and I were pleased with our respective 2nd MV50 & 3RD WV50 places as we were rewarded with two bottles of ‘Hobgoblin’! Unlike most other races this one finishes on top of a hill 3 miles from where you started! However, the downhill trot back to the start is very pleasant and provides a great opportunity to catch up with old friends from fell running.
There’s a danger that this race could be lost if no one steps forward to take over the organisation. We both hope a saviour can be found!
To give Striders a feel for this race I’ll quote from the organiser’s blurb:
“Now in its fourth year, the TdeH has fast become a classic ultra run. Traditionally run on the shortest Saturday in December the route is a tough circuit around Helvellyn starting and finishing at Askham on the edge of the Lakes. The distance is 38 miles with several thousand feet of ascent and descent. The terrain is tough mountain trails and so fell running and navigational skills are essential. Entries are strictly limited to experienced and competent entrants. This is not an event for novice trail runners…!”
Tom Reeves and I like the occasional break from the mud of cross country & this would be our third ‘Tour’. For us the race provides a focus for our winter training and a stern challenge before the Christmas festivities kick in. If you arrive at the start of the ‘Tour’ underprepared then you will suffer – big time! Previous years have served up snow, freezing temperatures, strong winds, rain, hail and darkness but we were still back for more! This year it would be gale force winds that would be our biggest problem supplemented by a hail storm in the middle of the day and heavy rain for the last hour or so of the race.
It was still dark when we set off from the start at our chosen time of 07.30. We were slightly amused to see the head torch lights of the ‘underprepared’ scattered all over Askham Moor as we got into our stride. Tom and I know the Moor fairly well so we were across quite quickly accompanied by two Tynedale Ladies (Steph Scott & Bev Redfern) and someone Tom had met whilst out BG recceing (Mark Pearson). The only problem was that we were running into the teeth of a south westerly gale! Having such a wind in your face for over four hours tends to sap the energy somewhat and by half way we were both fairly ‘pooped’. However, we were still together, although we’d lost the Ladies but not Mark.
During that ‘first half’ the wind had brought us to a near standstill as we crossed the mountain pass of Boredale Hause and recent rains had flooded the fields around Patterdale which meant we had to wade through knee deep, freezing water to get across (the swans seemed to be enjoying it!). Furthermore, as we approached Glenridding, I heard a deep rumble of thunder which seemed to come from Helvellyn itself and within a couple of minutes we were running through rain and hail that was just sheeting down! To add to all this, the ground was absolutely saturated and the steep descent from Sticks Pass had been an uncomfortable slippery slide, although I did manage to stay upright – just!
At the start of the ‘second half’, as we passed Grisedale Tarn, the wind was now behind us, and instead of barring our way, it threatened to send flying onto our faces across the rough, rocky path. None the less we pressed on and things got a little easier as the gradient became less steep and the surface more forgiving as we approached Patterdale for the second time. After a further wade through the flooded fields and a wave to the swans we stopped at the check point for a quick cup of tea and ginger biscuit.
We were now into the final quarter of the race. Although Tom and I were always ‘in touch’ during this section we didn’t run together much or exchange many words. After 30 miles you really need to dig deep and call upon your own reserves of fitness and determination to carry on. As dusk started to close in, and the rain began to fall by the bucket load, driven on by the still strong wind thankfully now at our backs, Askham Moor finally appeared after more than 8 hours, 35 miles and countless gallons of rain since we’d crossed it that morning. Tom drew level with me, spoke some encouraging words, and pressed on. I knew his two young sons would make his life hell if he didn’t finish ahead of me!
It was nearly dark now but I could just about manage to see without my torch to navigate back across the moor and muster up the energy to pass a couple of competitors on the final run back to the starting point in Askham village. What a day! I’d finished in 8 hours 51 minutes – much quicker than I thought I would have managed when I was half way round and only 3-4 minutes slower than last year when conditions were considerably better. Tom had come in a couple of minutes ahead of me and Mark about 5 minutes behind. We were all pleased with our performances and delighted to have finally finished such a gruelling and punishing event. If only someone could bottle that feeling – they’d make a fortune!
Me, Susan and Laura travelled to the Cheviots on Sunday to run up and down Northumberland’s highest hill – The Cheviot. This was Laura’s first ‘proper’ fell race and it was held in very challenging conditions (v.wet underfoot, a very strong wind and heavy showers) and, on the advice of the mountain rescue team, the race had to be shortened as a result (from 6 to 4 miles). Laura finished 3rd woman and ran a very brave race. She was none the worse for her experience and, after the race in Wooler, she enjoyed a hot chocolate piled high with marshmallows! Susan finished 2nd woman and I scrapped a top ten place. It’s a while since a managed that – I can recommend retirement!!
I felt confident before Saturday’s Howtown Fell Race having completed the ‘Joss’ just 8 weeks or so ago and having done well in a couple of recent ‘short’ fell races. My only concern was that I always struggle in long summer fell races – something to do with my internal cooling system. But with a litre of water in my sack and a peaked buff on my head I set off with race conditions, described elsewhere by ‘Old Cheviot’ as, “made for pleasant running”. I even chose what turned out to be a pretty good route onto Loadpot Hill and had Old Cheviot in my sights moving onto High Raise. I lost him on the descent off Rampsgill Head but still felt reasonably ok if a bit hot.
However, these things creep up slowly and as I approached Angle Tarn other runners started to pass me. By the time I got to Boardale Hause the needle was in the red and I felt decidedly dodgy! When Steph and Dave Wiseman caught me I was considering jacking it in, thinking I’d never make the climb up Place Fell. “Pleasant running” conditions were proving far too hot for me but I sat down, took a long drink, ate a couple of bars and thought “What would Jessica Ennis do?” The answer: carry on! So I started the slow ascent onto Place Fell. I was surprised to see Joe Faulkner marshalling at the top and took encouragement from his comment: “I’ve seen you looking better”. My descent off the top was equally slow and I was unable to respond to Peter Reed’s demand to stay with him. I tried to cling to Denise Tunstall (not literally) as she went by but all to no avail. A ford came as welcome relief as I stood in it for a couple of minutes, washing myself down and soaking my buffs in the cool waters.
A brief slosh along a road took me to the base of the final climb – Hallin Fell. I could see Denise, Peter and some of my other conquerors toiling up a bracken covered slope. That was the last thing I needed but I remembered that there was a bracken free way that went up from Martindale church. So off I went up the road to the church and turned up the broad grassy swathe to the top of Hallin Fell. Denise, Peter and a number of others were now a lot closer and although I was still in a bad way I felt I was moving a little easier. Peter took a naff route off and Denise was a little tentative on her descent so off I went and managed to trot the last mile to the finish taking some consolation from clawing back a few places at the end.
But why do I never learn? Perhaps I’ll take notice of my own rules in future and ‘never do a long race in August’ – even if conditions “make for pleasant running”!!