Tag Archives: Mark Warner

British Fell Relay Championships 2018, Grasmere, Saturday, October 20, 2018

Fiona Brannan, Geoff Davis, Jack Lee, Mark Warner, Nigel Heppell, Paul Evans

Leg 1; Mark Warner, solo, 5 miles, 2400 ft

I love running and I love mountains but for some reason, I rarely combine the two, so when Paul Evans put a call out for an Elvet Striders team for the ‘British Fell and Hill Relay Championships‘ in the Lakes, it seemed like an opportunity to combine the two. I had put myself forward for the first leg, as I had to be back in Durham for work later in the day. More experienced members of our team helped check I had the right kit to carry around with me, gave me a map and some last minute fell running tips and before I knew it, we were being herded into the starting pen.

Without having considered a race plan, the gun went off and on a spur of the moment decision; I thought it might be fun to ‘blast’ the first field. Zoom, I was off! Head of the pack – Elvet Striders leading the race! But crikey, before I knew it, I had lactic burning like I’d just raced an 800m on the track. Then we started going up – I’ve never run on anything like it; about 3 miles up – getting steeper all the way. The everlasting incline was no place to be trying to clear the lactic acid, my heart and lungs were on fire. This was not running, as I know it; folks were pulling themselves up the mountain on tufts of grass, or rocks – whatever you could grasp. As the race got higher we entered the clouds and visibility was very poor – I was just trying to keep someone close by as I hadn’t really entertained trying to navigate too, but at some point, I reached the summit and then we were heading down.

Through reading, and some of Geoff’s off-road sessions, I know the theory of running downhill (switch off brain, lean forward, don’t brake) but can I put it into practice? – err, no! The whole way down the mountain, despite trying to relax, I was clearly thinking too much and leaning back and braking – my quads were taking such a hammering (5 days after the race, writing this, I still can’t walk properly) but it certainly was exhilarating. After 3 miles of heart and lung burning going up, this was 2 miles of slipping and sliding my way down.

Back to the starting field after handing over to Jack and Fiona, I managed a brief catch up with the rest of the team and used my token for some hot food and drink before heading home. I had a great day – I love the variety of running, but I always seem to enjoy the day more when it’s a team event or relay, it really brings you together.

Leg 2, Jack Lee and Fiona Brannan, paired, 6,7 miles, 2800 ft

Jack: “So that’s what you call dibbing!”

I have never understood fair weather running. Heat makes me overheat while I find a drizzly, windy and generally just a bit crap day brings out my best. I was probably at close to my best at the relays and still I had no chance of keeping up with Fiona on the downs. (Fiona: I’m not a great fan of the ‘up’ part, but I really, really like the ‘down’…)

Our leg of the relays started with some shouts that Mark had been spotted and a fast run away from the line, only to be quickly assaulted by the fells. Usually, the ascent tires me out but today I just plodded on surprised by how easy it was going. (Fiona: it’s true, I’m not much good at ‘up’) Leg 2 started with the ascent of Great Rigg and then Fairfield from Grasmere, and after that it becomes a bit of a blur.

Fiona and I spent 50 minutes trudging up Fairfield with the occasional jog on the flatter section; it was a bit damp but the effort kept us warm, however, when we got to the top the cold wind cut through my clothing. You could get cold very fast if you stayed still but fortunately after a slower start Fiona had found her legs (Fiona: have I mentioned I don’t like the ‘up’ parts?!) and it was all I could do to keep up with her. The next half an hour was one of the most frenetic (Fiona: I think he means fun and exciting!) of my life. I leapt over rocky escarpments, slid down bog on my backside and waded streams all at a frenzied pace just to keep up. I have never descended so fast and was pushing my limits; quite a few times I placed my foot on muddy paths of steep slopes for my footing to go. I was, after all, in a pair of borrowed shoes, as I had forgotten mine. I owe Nigel my eternal thanks and a beer sometime for the loan of shoes. (Fiona; our split times on this section are somewhat more impressive than the ascent, and we managed to gain around 30 places here so must have been doing something right!)

Photograph courtesy of Beau Dog Photography

Eventually, as must happen, the slope became shallower but this just encouraged Fiona to up the pace, so I dug deep and used all the pace I had left just to keep up and after a treacherous descent over the final muddy field (onlookers hoping for exciting slips and falls!) we sprinted in just ahead of fell running legend Angela Mudge and her partner from Carnethy. We tagged Paul and Geoff and our job was done.

Leg 3; Geoff Davis and Paul Evans; paired ca. 6-7 miles, 3000 ft, navigation leg

Having done the fell relays a couple of times before, both times leg 2, 2018 saw me decide to push out of my comfort zone a little and take on leg 3 with the guiding hand of the veteran Geoff D to keep me right and deflect my natural inclination to take route alpha at all opportunities; essentially, I was there to push the pace and to learn, he there to ensure sanity and to guide me in the subtle art of efficient hill running. This played out as follows on a leg of 7 miles and c3000 feet:

Start – CP1: fast start along a lane away from the event field, having been tagged by Fiona and Jack. Easy running on tarmac, then sharp bend upwards to a pair of marshals who hand us our maps of the control locations. A quick glance at the map and it becomes apparent that Geoff’s talents will be of use, as my urges are to go up and over, whilst he takes us nicely up the side of a fast-flowing beck, twisting up the valley over slippery rocks and through bracken to arrive at a stream junction and CP1, other teams arriving and departing rapidly.

CP1-2: the fun starts here, as we exit northeast, traversing up a hill into the low cloud. We follow a sheep trod, and other teams also, then it all becomes very puzzling as we arrive at a tarn that isn’t on the map, but with a saddle that definitely is. We know we’re somewhere around Heron Pike and then, Eureka! Unsurprisingly, the only such body of water on the map is, we realise, where we must be even if we’d been further up the hill, as we’d assumed, and therefore closer to our destination. We lose a good few minutes pondering this, though it turns out, race leaders Keswick lose even more (and, in the process, the overall race). Upwards, over the ridge, downwards, aiming for another stream junction with a sheepfold beyond; I suggest we simply follow the stream to our left and make up for my error with the tarn to an extent by this proving correct, albeit with an element of luck. Dibbed, and done.

CP2-3: easy – take a bearing and follow it, climb gently, descend gently onto a Land-Rover track and the next control, with marshals huddled in a tent.

CP3-4-5-end: easy navigation, but straight up and over, a long line of ant-like figures ascending into the heavens/cloud above us. This gets chilly, and I push the pace fairly hard as we use all limbs to get us up to the very runnable ridgeline, where we make up a few places before contouring around a valley head and then dropping sharply through endless greasy bracken, broken earth and unseen rocks. There are now teams to our left and right, some of them last seen on the climb, some not seen previously. We hit the stream, cross it and then have a choice – up and over or veer round to our left then back right again, adding 300m but taking out the climb. Geoff prefers the latter, so we do it and meet at the next control the teams who entered the water with us: no advantage either way until we then race them downhill on a firm track and realise we have more in our legs, taking out 4-5 further teams. By now the back of the leg is broken and we’re heading home, a little climb taken with aggression and then the final run-in down churned, slippery tracks, CP5 hit, then fields, control on the descent limited and Geoff slipping ahead as I’m just rubbish on this terrain. We re-enter the final field and Geoff’s driving hard and not looking back, knowing I’ll go all-in to catch him again, which I do before we hit the line and tag Nigel. Job done, baton not lost, lessons in the art of navigation on the move gained. Here goes Nigel…

Leg 4; Nigel Heppell, solo, 4.3 miles, 2000 ft

Leg 4 – known as the ‘glory’ leg; also suitable for 16yr olds – I’m well

Standing for several hours in a field on a wet Lakes day while legs 1,2
and 3 take place, I try to keep as much clothing on as possible before
getting down to race kit and entering the holding pen in what I think
should be a reasonably short time before Geoff and Paul appear for the
handover at the end of their navigation leg. Such is the calibre of the
superstars of the fell running world that the loudspeakers let us all
know the relay has actually been won before half the field even set off
on the last leg and there is a 5min call for the mass start. Peering
into the distant murk, I spot the unmistakable gait of an HH top leading
Paul down the final slope and into the funnel and then it’s my turn to go
off up the lane with a grateful lead on the pack behind.

The official route description says it all; narrow lane; cross beck;
path up to tarn; big zig- zags on climb; scenic dash
around tarn; cross wall; stiff ascent of Heron Pike; nothing to see now
as we enter the cloud base shrouding the tops; onto Fairfield Horseshoe
race line; contour below summit of Great Rigg; speedy contouring descent
onto summit of Stone Arthur; exit cloud cover; hair-raising descent down
leg 2 ascent path; and back into the event field.

On the climb up I very soon hear the sounds of the pack gaining
on me; one or two lanky types begin to lope past; then a whole bundle go
through – I guess the fitter club runners who were held back by the late
arrival of their leg3 runners – then I seem to hold my position; ascent
of Heron Pike is just plain hard work; a bit chastened to be steadily
overtaken by what appears to be a classrooms-worth of school children
but then things level off and we get running again. A few of us trade
places once or twice along the contour and then the fun starts as
gravity kicks in. It always amazes me how timid some become on a descent
over rough ground and now it’s my turn to overtake; beyond Stone Arthur
the slope increases dramatically and keeping a foothold is marginal at
best; no way of slowing down without a fall so go for it, trying not to
wipe out runners caught in front; through hole in wall and into final
descent of event field; others say this is really steep and slippery but
it feels quite relaxed after what went before and I again have to expend
energy running into the finish.

For the road runners amongst you, I ran this at a pace of 15min/mile –

For the fell runners, my rate of ascent was a lowly, but fairly steady
60’/min; and my rate of descent was largely 200-220’/min.

[Footnote – The photograph of Jack and Fiona was generously provided by Beau Dog Photography. There is no oblligation but if you would like to make a donation to the Phabkids then please follow the link and give from as little as £2. Thank you https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Lee-and-Sarah ]

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Sunderland City Half Marathon, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, Sunday, May 7, 2017

13.1 miles

Mark Warner

Well, I certainly don’t share the same passion for writing as I do for running, but I really wanted to share this experience, this is draft 4…


2016 wasn’t a great year of running for me, I was injured almost the whole year with repeated calf strains and Achilles tendonitis – I blame it on wearing a pair of spikes for a 3200m time trial in April that I hadn’t worn since university.  After that I continued running in trainers that were too light and not supportive enough for me, thinking that shaving a few grams off my shoes would make all the difference.  Lesson for us all – choose your trainers carefully.  Whilst I wasn’t running, I had a bit more time to look at some future races – trying to give myself something to look forward to.  I already had an entry for the Great North Run (GNR) in September and fancied trying another half marathon and the Sunderland half marathon popped up – I thought why not?  Their advertising slogan was ‘#Paula made me do it’ and Paula Radcliffe was making a guest appearance.  I booked the race but it was several months in advance so I pretty much forgot about it.


In January 2017, I had some orthotics made to try and help with my injuries and started some very gentle running – 49 miles in January, 68 miles in February – prior to this, I’d had trouble walking never mind running.  I got more miles done in March and then increased intensity a little during April – before I knew it, the race was coming up in a couple of weeks and I was actually feeling quite good – may even sneak a few seconds off my PB.


So…race day.  The race was due to start in Sunderland Keel Square at 10.25.  I got up about 7am as I like to leave at least 3 hours after eating before I race (not so fussed for a training run), although I never seem to feel hungry on race day – I get excited like a child at Christmas.


Louise and the kids were coming to watch so we set off about 9am and managed to park In Sunderland easy enough.  Louise and the kids walked to the National Glass Centre where the race passes at about 9 and 12 miles and I jogged to the start.  Runners could leave their bags in a car park, so I dropped mine off and went for a jog through the streets.  The day was also hosting a 3km kids race and a 10k race.  I arrived at the start area where the 10k racers were all lined up and Paula Radcliffe and Aly Dixon were being interviewed over the tannoy.


The 10k race set off and the start area was open for the half marathon – what struck me immediately was how much more personal this felt than the GNR.  I was actually quite near the start line and had a brief chat with Steven Jackson before we lined up.  Well, the gun went bang and we were off – I was hoping to run at a pace of about 6 min 35 secs/mile.  Mindful of Alan’s mantra – ‘don’t go off too fast’.  At the start of any race, it must be the adrenaline, because the running feels effortless – you can run at what feels an easy pace that you just can’t do in training.


Mile 1 was a little loop through the city centre streets.  6 min 24 secs – slow down!


Mile 2 was a larger loop through the city streets – 6 min 26 secs – SLOW DOWN!  The thing was, I had people of all ages and shapes and sizes still shooting past me.


Mile 3 – still looping through the city streets, crowd support was great with lots of people clapping and cheering.  There was a water station with some squeeze sachets but no matter how I tried I couldn’t get a drop out of it, I just had to chuck it.  I had to work a little here but completed the mile in 6 min 32 secs, ok better, try and keep this pace.


Mile’s 4 and 5 – the course is starting to open up a little now with longer straights, slightly undulating and bit windy.  The course keeps switching back on itself so you’ve either got a headwind or a tailwind.  Always more aware of the headwind!  6min 21 secs and 6 min 27 secs – still faster than planned but feeling ok.


So.. it’s around here that things changed.  The generic clapping started being drowned out by the crowds getting really excited.  I could hear it quite a way back at first and then somewhere between 5 and 6 miles Paula Radcliffe (PR) and Aly Dixon (AD) jaunted up by my side looking fresh as can be – they weren’t racing at all, I would like to point out.  Just at this point, I’d been having a bit more success extracting my isotonic drink from its carton than I had the water, but in my excitement sloshed most of it over my right arm – really sticky.


I blurted out ‘what an honour!’ – just couldn’t think of anything else!  And then I just thought, scrap my race plan, just try and hang on to these two for a family photo.  I said – ‘I hope you don’t mind, I think I’ll try and hang on until 9 miles – my family’s there’.  PR replied – ‘We’ll see if we can keep us with you’ (very polite!).


Miles 6, 7, 8 whizzed by – I must have appeared as a random runner in many hundreds of photos, loads of spectators were trying to get a photo of the celebrities.  I was feeling really good, I’d certainly stopped looking at my watch.  PR and AD were messing around using me as a windbreaker when we had a headwind.  AD was giving PR a tour of the sights – well, what sights there are. ( I can say that having been born in Sunderland).  More turns through the city centre and back through Keel Square where the crowds were impressive.  We crossed Wearmouth bridge and AD and PR were asking where my family were and what they were called.  Well at this point I wasn’t gasping too much, so replied ‘They should be just outside the Glass Centre at the riverside, my wife Louise, daughter Ava and son Jude’.


Mile 9 – Mission accomplished, I’d reached my target.  Louise recalls seeing the runners come her way, wow, Paula Radcliffe and there’s Aly Dixon too, and, who’s that?..Mark!  It’s getting harder to impress the kids these days but I think this one worked.


Mile 10 – Although I’d only planned to try and keep up to this point, I was having way too much fun to drop off.  This mile was quite flat, right next to the River Wear, the route wiggled through the marina where there were some sharp turns.  On one of these turns PR bumped right into me, she quipped ‘sorry, never have been able to corner’ before making some jokes about Aly’s lower centre of gravity and cornering skills.  I was still feeling great, until we opened onto the sea front, then BLAST, there was this huge headwind.  I must have dropped back straight away as PR said ‘are you struggling?’, I mumbled ‘just a little’, suddenly feeling like I was struggling a lot.  She said, ‘tuck in behind me, I won’t be much of a windbreaker but I’ll be better than Aly’.  I graciously took the opportunity and followed her step for step.  Soon we turned into Roker Park and out of the wind.  This had its own tests with some sharp turns and steep park paths – again very well spectated here.  But another mile down.


Mile 11 – Now if you’ve paced well, you should be in for an easy run home.  From here you’re on the road, wind behind you and heading to the finish.  I had not paced well, yet was loving every stride, and now had the aim of a family photo opportunity at mile 12.  I was digging deep here, my feet were burning, my breathing was really laboured, my heart felt like it was jumping out my chest and I could feel my running form turning to rubber.  PR and AD could see I was struggling yet they were both really encouraging me to hang on.  PR was passing me water from the fuelling station – still couldn’t get a drop out! As mile 12 was approaching, I was working so hard yet falling back inch by inch and then before I knew it there was a few meters between us.  Throughout the whole route there were 2 men on bikes with yellow ‘event crew’ jackets.  As I dropped off the pace, PR shouted to one of them to drop back with me and help me.  He did, and I don’t know how he did it, but by following his bike and his calm words I was back in line – just in time for passing the family.  PR whooped ‘Come on give him a cheer’ as I ran past.  This gave me a real rush of adrenaline and suddenly I felt great…for all of 5 seconds.


Mile 12 – I had exceeded my physical capacity by now and despite more encouragement from both PR and AD, I dropped off, unable to offer a word of thanks.  I just thought, wow what a run. I looked at my watch for the first time in 6 miles and realised even if I walked the last mile, I had a PB.  I settled into a comfortable pace and just enjoyed the last stretch – last road and over the Wearmouth bridge with a sign that said 400m to go.  A few runners went past me but I really didn’t care – talk about ‘runner’s high’.


Mile 13/finish – I turn right after Wearmouth Bridge and could see the finish line ahead.  Hang on – who’s running towards me?  Paula Radcliffe and Aly Dixon – absolute dream!  ‘Come on!’, ‘Sprint finish!’ they’re shouting as they turn around and run with me to the line.  I’m feeling like I could run the course again now!  I cross the line – before I now it I’m getting a hug from Paula and then a hug from Aly (I’m thinking I’ll never wash again!).  I got my chance to thank them and said how unforgettable it had been.  Aly said did you get a PB?  I replied – yes, by nearly 5 minutes!  Average pace 6mins 22secs!


I walked away – just couldn’t’ believe it!  Got some water, got my medal, got my T-shirt and goody bag and couldn’t wait to tell anyone I could what had happened – so here it is!


I’m writing this nearly 1 week later and still haven’t stopped smiling.  Running – good for the body, mind and soul!  My only concern is – how do I top this?!


Postscript: It isn’t every day we add quotes from Olympians, but our Chairman bumped into Aly at the recent Pier to Pier race, and we’re very grateful for what followed!


“Many congratulations Mark for your personal best but also for the spirit and camaraderie and determination that you showed during the race. It was a pleasure and a privilege to share the run with you and to see your delight at achieving your personal best. I wish you the very best of luck in your future racing and thank you for sharing your race and thoughts so eloquently. Paula xx”

“Big congratulations on your PB. It was a pleasure to run with you. Sorry for bullying you in the last few miles but after running so well for so long we weren’t going to let you slip back so close to the finish!  I think the post I found on Instagram sums it up nicely!! Thank you for sharing your race report, reading it puts me right back into the race. Good luck for your upcoming races. Aly xx”

Click here for Elvet Striders results.


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