Tag Archives: Paul Evans

The Last Anniversary Waltz Fell Race, Stair Village Hall, Keswick, Saturday, April 21, 2018

11.5 miles, 3600 foot of ascent

Paul Evans

Photo courtesy of Tim SkeltonThis is not just a report about a race. This is a love story. With a race central to it.

I’d first heard of the Anniversary Waltz when, around 14 years ago, a striking photo of a runner approaching the summit of, I think, Robinson, the lush green of the Newlands valley in the background, graced the front cover of The Fellrunner. Over the years, I’d wondered at the unusual name and had got as far as entering a few years ago, only for life to make other plans. This year was different, as it was announced that the race would be run for the final time, due to the death of one of the married couple who have for two decades organised the race; if not now, never.

Race day dawned bright, with the skies over Keswick clear and the road out to Stair village busy with running traffic – it appeared that Jack, Fiona and I were not alone in taking the last opportunity to race here, and we were informed that c600 runners were here for the Waltz, and c300 for the Teenager (the 15m extended version), many north-eastern vests amongst them, as well as a smattering of national-level talent; to all intents and purposes, this felt very much like an unofficial extension to the English Championships.

Registration was busy though efficient, and after watching the Teenager competitors walk up their first hill from the start (Causey Pike), we had a pleasant half-mile or so to the start, an old mining track that cuts below Catbells. A brief, eloquent speech was made about the life and legacy of Steve Cliff, whose marriage to Wynn this commemorated and in whose name the proceeds would be donated to MND research (I presume the pollen count was high, as there was a lot of eye-rubbing going on), and then we were off, shuffling from a position too close to the rear of the pack, slowly picking up speed as we dodged around runners, descending into the valley bottom with Jack on my shoulder and Fiona not far behind.

The first 3 miles were rapid, and felt it, my watch recording the second mile as sub-7min/mile pace, and I quickly began to realise that if we’d lost height in the first three of nearly twelve miles, and the last mile was downhill, then ALL of the 3600′ height gain would have to take place in the next eight miles. This thought occurred as the track turned to grass, Robinson loomed on the right-hand side and it was decision time – take the pain of climbing Robinson now, in order to get it out of the way, or keep up the speed on the gentle track up the valley and then brace for a sharp final ascent? I went for the former, Jack, just ahead of me, for the latter, and we saw each other again at the top, both hurting a little from the quad-straining gradient and the short section of scrambling. From this first summit, Jack loped ahead of me at speed down the grassy flank of Robinson to the path that leads up to Hindscarth, the next peak of the horseshoe. I tailed as rapidly as I could and rather enjoyed the shallow gradient and springy, forgiving ground, not losing him to sight, then slowly regaining on both he and an NFR runner as we climbed again, passing them near the top, along with another 15 or so runners. Hindscarth summited, it was down again to Dale Head, another nice runnable section with a final rocky drag, passing Tim Skelton en route (not in the race, so a rather surprising sighting) before the section I’d been fearing.

I am a terrible descender in rocky terrain. My balance is not great and my eyes water so much that often I can barely see as I go downhill at speed, leading to a lot of falls. My intention had been to come off Dale Head to the south, using the tourist path. However, having realised I was a reasonable way up the field by now and, more importantly, actually a little ahead of Jack, I could not bring myself to be sensible and therefore attempted the direct route to the stream leaving the tarn at the bottom. If memory serves me, the descent was not enjoyable, was faster than I thought possible, still lost me a dozen or two places, probably accounted for the bruised bits I felt the next day and had me at one point on the verge of having to stop to ‘do a Paula.’ Let us move on; love stories do not include that kind of mess.

The hard bit over, and feet refreshed in the clear waters of the rocky stream crossing, the rest of the race passed well, with places regained on the climb to High Spy, no more lost on the gentle descent before Catbells, another handful gained on the steady run up to Catbells and then a grassy descent that hurt the feet as it got steeper and steeper (I was looking forward to running down the natural curve of the hill, only to be pointed sharp left, down the steep bit, by marshals), but gave enough traction to maintain pace sufficient that only a handful of runners came past me again – none of them Jack, who I was convinced was on my shoulder. Down onto the track where we had started, through a farm, onto tarmac and back to the village where the finishing funnel, a stream for foot-washing and a chap with a hosepipe awaited. At the time of writing, results are unpublished, but I think I took around 2:10 and Jack came in a few minutes later, not helped by one of his shoes disintegrating on Catbells and a touch of heat illness. Fiona? She’d started the race as a ‘nice, steady run’ and then felt competitive halfway round, so had spent the back half picking people off one by one, and seemed fairly upbeat.

It has been said that the deaths of those who will be missed deeply, by many, lead to the most enjoyable wakes; this was such a day – a massive field of people who love the hills gathered together for a day simultaneously about life, death and running. The world moves on. This race does not, though was a fitting tribute to a man who loved the area and the sport and a reminder that a day spent in the hills, with friends, is never a day wasted.
Photo Courtesy of Tim Skelton

Edale Skyline, Peak District, Sunday, March 11, 2018

AL / 34km / 1373m

Paul Evans

Plan for 2018, after the running horrors of Jan 16-Oct 17: train hard, do XC and hit the ground running with the long races of Marsden-Edale, Wadsworth and the Skyline, with a view to longer stuff later.

Reality: pick up an Achilles injury after Christmas, miss Capt Cook, run/limp a stinker at Herrington XC when injured (worst performance at HL I can recall), exacerbate injury in the process, miss races and become limited to running no faster than 8min/mile without the troublesome tendon swelling and hurting. Up to this point, with the possible exception of the English XC Championships in London, where I ran slowly but at least got round somehow, 2018 has not been a great deal of fun.

So, expectations set to ‘low, just get round,’ I found myself being counted into the starting field at the bottom of the Nab, looking up to the dark edges of Kinder scout, seeing snowy streaks and a sky with a few hopeful-looking patches of blue. It was probably best to look upwards, rather than to my sides, as this was an English Championship race, and the quality at ground level was intimidatingly-good. The usual brief pre-amble over, we ran to and then ascended at a shuffle the familiar zig-zags of the Nab then, just for this one year, turned left on summiting Ringing Roger, one of the many high points of the Kinder plateau; yes, reader, this year the Skyline went backwards, thus making it even more unmissable! In practise, this meant that we hit the clart sooner than usual, and spent the first couple of miles round to Grindslow Knoll undulating, bouncing off rocks, getting our feet soaked in the frequent streams and occasional snowdrifts trapped in sheltered cloughs, and generally spreading out a little; for this section and, as it turned out, much of the race I hung onto the familiar vest of a Sunderland Stroller, catching him on every little climb and watching him bounce past me on the downhills.

‘Brown Knoll’ used to be words that sent an involuntary shudder down the spine of many a fell-runner: a relatively featureless morass of peat, sphagnum, trods leading to uncertain places and, crucially in this race, an area in the final third of the traditional Skyline route, thus hitting the unsuspecting runner precisely when they least needed it (see report from 2015). Not without controversy, a route over it has now been paved due to erosion concerns, which meant this was a faster-than-expected, albeit quite dull section, though I remained cautious and gained fewer places than I could have done with a more aggressive approach here, instead starting to attack a little as we left it and began the long succession of ridge-running that would take us all the way to Lose Hill, that Strollers’ vest remaining an aiming point as we passed a few runners beginning to tire. Half-way along we dropped into Mam Nick, our first encounter with tarmac all race, then reduced pace to a hands-on-thighs walk until hitting the top of Mam Tor, start of the section of the race with ALL the views – this year we could see for miles to both north and south. Lose Hill came, was climbed at a plod, and went again in an exhilarating, wet run/slide combination, one done less well than the dozen or so runners I’d beaten on the climb, all of them repaying the favour with interest on the way down; Hope village at the bottom presented our second encounter with tarmac, a second jelly baby and the start of the real test.

Memory: an unreliable thing. I remember from 2015 the entire section from start to Hope, via Whin Hill, as being fairly easy running and likely to present a nice final few miles the other way round. I still remember 2015’s course this way, though the evidence of my split times and recent nociceptor experience disproves it utterly – once I’d trotted over the railway bridge out of Hope the ascent was severe, on wet, bracken-covered peat with little purchase, the Mars bar nauseated me and I was able to manage a shuffling run when the incline slackened towards the top, through the heather and then on the shooting track. That said, the strung-out line of runners ahead did not look healthy and I was able to gain a lot of places, finally leaving behind the Stroller, passing him again after touching the trig and heading the final 5 miles for home. Mystery solved: I remembered little of this stretch as it was relatively dull, 2 miles of an easy trudge along farm tracks, 3 of a steady uphill back to Ringing Roger, livening up as we left grass and got back onto rock and peat, sore feet and knackered proprioception not helping, though more places gained before dibbing for the last time and heading downhill…where 15-20 runners I’d led, slowly, uphill flew past me and hit the finish line just ahead.

Number cut off and water being taken from the jerrycans stacked against the wall, I watched as both the Stroller I’d raced for hours (Adnan Khan, though we did not know it yet, to show me a clean pair of heels one week later at Alnwick’s Harrier League fixture) and another (Ken Maynard) came in, amongst a steady flow of battered bodies; blood both fresh and dried was prominent on many. An hour later, washed in the stream, fed with chilli, rehydrated with tea (Victoria Wilkinson, having just smashed the female record for the race, queuing patiently behind me) and having gained a new injury (thigh strain) to go with the pre-existing one, life felt better.

It would have been better yet had a hundred Kurds not blockaded a railway line and caused a 3-hour wait for the train back to Sheffield but that, reader, is another story…

Tour of Pendle Fell Race 4830′, AL, Barley Village, SW Pennines, Saturday, November 18, 2017

16.8 miles

Paul Evans

‘I’ve not yet done the full course, so back next year it is.’

Photo Courtesy of Phil Donlan

So said I, two years ago, after the Tour was shortened due to inclement weather (for a fell race, this takes a lot), shortly before developing an unhealthy relationship with work for the next year, with far too many hours spent behind a desk and training tailing off somewhat, along with any motivation to run. The extra stone or so, as a result of this inactivity and a love of bacon, was not exactly helpful either.

Instead, let us forward two years, to now, minus 36 hours, when I stood back on the line (actually, tucked somewhere halfway down the field, safely away from the pointy end), ready for the hammer to drop on this compact, punchy East Lancs race: conditions excellent (cold, clear, blustery but no rain), field sizeable (c400) and Strider numbers one (plus an ex-Strider now running for Kirkstall Harriers). I’d had my porridge at a suitably ghastly hour, had found actual toilet paper in the toilets and was full of tea, so all was basically good. Better yet, earlier XC fixtures at Wrekenton and Druridge had even seen the return of something that felt like competitiveness, which boded well.

The race begins with a fairly flat mile on the reservoir track, primarily to permit the field to spread before turning due north up the slopes of Buttock, onto Pendle Hill. This passed quickly, with a degree of mild frustration when trying to pass slower runners, until I reminded myself there was a long way to go and a lot of it would be spent walking; this indeed occurred shortly, with the first climb being a run/walk affair until the contour lines began to space out and permit a steady pace to be achieved up to the trig at CP1, the high point of Pendle Hill (in case you’re wondering, the entire race is essentially an up-down affair of one hill, the hill only being 558m in height). The top was wet but runnable, and the leg down to CP2 was a delight, what with being able to see this year, all of it downhill and none of it steep – 2 miles of pleasure, with only the wet ground at all hazardous (reader, we had bottom/ground interface for the first time when ambition trumped ability in an over-taking attempt), then another easy half mile to CP3, hand-railing another reservoir.

Photo Courtesy of Phil DonlanThe fun was now over, and we needed to climb sharply through slippery mud and bracken, then back onto the
moorland; this was slow, but profitable in terms of places, and I crested ahead of those who’d come past me on the way down. I then saw them again as they flew past me on the infamous ‘Geronimo’ descent, which started slowly, got faster as I gained confidence and finished sliding on my posterior, stopping just short of the stream of Ogden Clough (CP4); this was 2 climbs and descents of a total 6 accomplished, and it was starting to hurt, though the field was beginning to spread and I was gaining one or two more places on each climb or flat section than I was losing. I’d also acquired some blood on my right hand and face (another runner pointed this out), though was unclear how.

Through the stream and sharp left, we ran single-file along a narrow, rocky path towards the headwaters, then crossed it again and made a shorter climb that was actually runnable for the second half (another place gained) before dropping gradually, at proper running pace again, to CP5, legs loosening and enjoying the chance to stretch out. Up again to CP6, another left off the top, with yet more descending like a crab/ball/a.n.other thing incapable of running in a straight line on feet, and it was onto the final two climbs, those missed off the bad-weather course of two years ago. Going back onto the top to CP 8 started well, though the horror of concave slopes is that they get harder the closer you get to the top, so the first hundred or so yards were fine, unless you raised your eyes and looked up at the grassy wall in front – the one peppered with dots of colour, all moving slowly upwards. I would say that everyone was suffering by this point, but realistically the winners were nearly home by now, so that would be untrue; the rest of us were firmly in ‘hands-on-thighs’ mode, though I managed to steal a place or two by getting hands-on and essentially crawling upwards, hitting CP 8, embellished with a massive union flag blowing in the wind along with the waterproofs of the well-wrapped marshals.

Photo Courtesy of Phil DonlanI now knew we had half a mile of running on the flat top of Pendle, another descent, a final climb and then home for tea and cake. It played out essentially that way, with me holding my place on the top, dropping a couple on the downhill section (a few little crags on this one, just to keep you on your toes), then working as hard as possible, again with hands-on-grass, on the last uphill, knowing this was the last chance to push for places – in the event, I gained half a dozen or so, and hit CP10 (at the trig passed on the first leg) opening my legs desperate to hold whatever slim advantage had been gained in the last 15 miles. The leg to CP11 was the reverse of the initial leg, but a little to the west – grassy and downhill all the way to Ogden Clough, easy running and probably fun were it not for the competition. It hit me here that I wanted this place, wherever in the field I was, and that the competitive urge largely absent for a long while was back – I would probably not resort to knee-capping other runners to hold my position (this isn’t XC, after all!), but I’d not dismiss the idea out of hand…idle thoughts aside, I had breath in my right ear and the vests of Bowland, Todmorden, Rossendale and some club in red ahead of me, all of them possibly catchable. Some, on the reservoir road that makes up the final mile, were caught, others were not, and some who’d not been in sight initially were chased fruitlessly as I got closer – there was even an approximation of a sprint finish, entirely in vain as I was never going to make up 30 yards on someone who was themselves only 20 yards from the line.

That, then, was that – the line crossed, a ‘well done’ from the time-keeper and handshakes with those in front and behind me for a race hard-fought, whilst drinking from the jerry-cans of water set out for runners. 17 miles done and a category AL race in the bag, for the grand cost of £9. As things stand, writing this on Sunday evening whilst wearing the race T-shirt that the organisers throw in), I don’t actually know my finishing time (3hrs-ish?), nor my position (top half?), but am satisfied they couldn’t have been a lot better on the day in what is always going to be a hard race, no matter the conditions: six times up and six times down a hill that’s not that high sound so much easier than it actually is.

Long Tour of Bradwell, Peak District, Saturday, August 12, 2017

BL / 52.7km / 2200m

Paul Evans

Greased, Taped, Wonky, and ready to goIt’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to spend a Sunday evening sat at a laptop, trying to recall what took place the day before. Probably around two years or so – [ actually just last year! ^DN] the website seems to show nothing from me since November 2015 [<cough!> Paul Evans ^DN]. However, a return to racing with a rejoinder from our webmaster means that what happened must be relayed, for the ever-developing archive of north-eastern running that is our website. Here goes…

0712hrs at Sheffield railway station for a 25 minute ride on a rattling little train, older than I, to Hope. The journey is spent checking bumbag contents, unpacking and adjusting. The only other passengers seem similarly absorbed in their kit, and I assume both are heading for the tour, either long or half, also. We walk the mile or so the Bradwell in amiable silence. The fact that the western edge of the valley is obscured by cloud bodes ill. I consider switching to the half tour, a 17-miler that cuts out the more punchy climbs, then remember I’m returning with a ultra so I don’t HAVE to race it.

0810hrs. Check-in for the race is slick (impressively, EOD are taken as well), laminated maps are issued and a demo is given of the new electronic timing system. Hot brews are offered and received, and the portaloos portable toilets provision is adequate. Kit is re-checked, re-assembled and then adjusted once more, nipples taped and anything that might chafe greased to fairy obscene levels. A decision is made to add to the bumbag a half dozen mini pork pies, on the basis that I’m not really racing, but instead here for a nice day’s running.

0900hrs. Assembly at the village green, in a light rain with overcast skies promising more. No kit check. We set off at an easy pace for the gentle undulation of the first mile or so along a damp, overhung lane, the rumble of the enormous cement works a background note. I’m not impressed to note that my Mudclaws are showing themselves to be awful on wet concrete, having switched to Inov8 after four successive pairs of Walshes disintegrated early in their lives [same here, sadly. ; a gentle downhill sees me skid to one side and hug the fence. Control 1 is found easily (ie. at the point you leave the lane – truly idiot-proof) though it later turns out that my timing gear does not register, despite flashing and beeping. From here a steady run, with occasional walking on the steeper parts, takes us through the quarries that feed the plant below, along a track to CP2 and then down some grassy fields…

…to the abomination that is Cave Dale. For those of you who have not visited Cave Dale, it is a picturesque descent through limestone crags and lush greenery. For tourists, it is delightful. For farmers, it’s a nice place to graze sheep. For runners, it is a steep downhill over loose limestone, polished by water for centuries, today in the rain. It is an axiom of ultra-runner to ‘walk the ups, run the downs.’ I did the opposite, and lost a good number of places to those with a little more poise and balance, only falling twice, which I think a result of sorts. This led into Castleton, pretty as ever, along a minor road to the climb up to Hollins Cross, then straight down a good track, under the railway line and into Edale.

1030hrs. Edale gained, with two of the big climbs over with. Banana and a few peanuts offered along with water, and a small group of us trotted out past the Nag’s Head/Pennine Way start, over the footbridge and up the zig-zags that mark the start and finish of the Edale Skyline fell race; walking only here. About two-thirds of the way up the climb flattens and the ground becomes soggier, helped by the rain that’s picked up a bit. Reaching the plateau I hit my stride, unfortunately making the mistake of enjoying the running too much to notice the trod that leads to CP5, the Druid’s Stone. Heather-bashing needed, then more of the same to regain the edge, followed by what someone following me informs me I’ve ‘picked a great line’ through the rocks and heather tussocks that take us down to runnable fields (I don’t tell him that I descended earlier than intended then made the best of it/pretended I had a plan). A fast downhill mile brings us under the railway again, then it’s over the road and straight up the other side of the valley to Lose Hill, walking pace resumed. I crack open the mini pork pies. I eat one slowly, then realise it is not sitting well; in retrospect, this lack of hunger should have been a warning. Nevertheless, Lose Hill CP6 is gained with a stiff tab to the steps and then a run along the tops, legs feeling less stiff than earlier. The descent is a grassy delight, halted only to call back a handful ahead of me who’ve taken a bad line and are liable to end up a mile or so west of where they need to be. Hope, CP7, is another food/drink station and by this point we’re well-mixed with runners doing the half tour, so it is harder to ascertain who the competition is. If I were being competitive, which I’m not.

The next few legs are fairly easy running, bar a cheeky climb up Whin Hill, with views of Ladybower reservoir, some very enjoyable forest trails and a bit of flat converted railway line taking us to CP9, the cut off for the full tour.

1230hrs. The two races separate, the half tour runners having broken the back of their race and heading home. It feels lonely again. I change pace again to drop down from the line through a couple of fields onto CP10, situated halfway along Bamford Weir, admire the serenity of the ducks paddling through the lilies, then accept I cannot change the fact that a couple of miles of climbing, on road then rocky track, lies between Stanage Edge and I. Strangely, I make up a few places here, my ability to sustain an uphill plod serving me well, gain CP11 and then shuffle-run along Stanage Edge to Burbage Bridge, the sun now out and the views superlative, miles of purple heather to the left and lush valley to the right. CP12 at the roadside sees us fed again, though I’m really not hungry by now, and we descend steadily to Toad’s Mouth, 2 miles of largely downhill easy running…or would be if my left foot were not now hurting with every step. CPs 13, 14 and 15 feature no big climbs, some pretty woodland and Burbage Brook, which is this afternoon rammed with children paddling, fishing and enjoying themselves. How dare they, when some of us are suffering? Some even have snacks they appear to relish eating, rather than 5 uneaten pork pies they cannot face but must carry.

1430hrs. CP15 reached, a lot of water and 4 peanuts forced down and the rest shoved into a pocket. From here, I know I’ve got about 6 miles, an hour, one big, but steady climb and, in the immediate future, one short road climb to go. I and two others who appear also a bit on the tired side climb to the farm track, descend into the woods and then walk-run through terrain that seems more uneven than the map suggests to CP16, at a brook I refill my water bottle from. We then climb slowly to Abney hamlet, take a right up an interminably-long track (the map says only 3/4m, but it feels worse) and then skirt another quarry before dropping down through gorse and mud into Bradwell, for a final half-mile trot along the road. Our threesome has split by now, after all checking that we’re fine, and I come in last of the three after another involuntary trip down the hillside on my bottom.

1545hrs. It is done. Hot brews and soup. Flapjack that takes 15 minutes a square to eat as my mouth does not have sufficient moisture to masticate adequately. Lying on my back in the warm grass, the moist soil fragrant. A walk back to the station and half an hour sat waiting in the sun, finally able to eat again, content, knowing it is all done and that, hurting feet and all, it has been a run to remember. And I might have, despite all good intentions, actually raced the thing. Maybe a little.

Calderdale Way Relay, Sunday, May 15, 2016

Paul Evans


synchronized. Mid-May has been a special time of the year for this club for years: six of them, to be precise, when a particularly brutal winter froze much of northern England and forced Halifax Harriers to move their flagship relay tour of the Calder Valley to a more clement time of year. Those who had the ‘pleasure’ of setting off in the dark on a frozen December morning are unlikely to forget the experience, but the May setting certainly makes the race a little less niche interest, to the point where we were close to being able to field three teams this year; as it was, I had hopes of Elvet A carrying the baton for the first time in two decades, and Elvet B gaining further race route knowledge and having a good run into the bargain.

Things augured well from the beginning, with the day dawning crisp and bright at Heath RFC on the outskirts of Halifax. No last-minute injuries were reported and we had a solid transport plan in place to ensure runners were distributed at the handover points in good time. Better yet, Penny, Nigel and Mandy all had a certain competitive look about them as we lined up in a small park and were set off for the initial scramble around a field, over a wall and into a long climb through the woods, Penny somewhere behind me after she was gracious enough to let me take the pace on my first competitive run since injury. The ascent was unremarkable bar a Barlick FR runner snapping their achilles, the classic triad of ‘gunshot crack, scream and drop’ in evidence, thankfully directly in front of two marshals, and once onto the open moor we made our way past a few pairs we’d been stuck behind on the narrower woodland path, dropping onto the road briefly to the vocal encouragement of Striders before heading down into Ripponden, back up again, round some farmland, then down into the western edge of the same town, this time to climb out through verdant bluebell woods and onto a road section. It was at this point that I realised we might have over-done the aggression in our desire to give Tom and Jon as much time in the bank as we could (also, in honesty, to overtake a pair we’d been playing leapfrog with) and we had a brief walk before heading into the final moorland section, past an old pillbox then onto the long descent into Cragg Vale, idyllic in the sun and with a baying crowd outside the Hinchliffe Arms. Baton was thrust out in the sprint finish, narrowly pipped by the we’d raced for the last 5 miles, and Tom and Jon were gone.

shrewd use of the pavement there.

Once we’d regained breath and seen Mandy and Nigel come in, just missing the mass start at the cut-off time in which Steph and Richard Hall were despatched up the reservoir track to Stoodley Pike and beyond, it was on to Todmorden for Penny to meet with Paul Foster and Nigel with Jan, both doubling up for the short third leg. We weren’t there long before Elvet A thundered down the track to the school having gained more places and time, and set off to Blackshaw Head with high hopes, albeit hopes nearly scuppered by a little care struggling with steep gradients, tight curves and the combined egos of Tom and Jon, who knew they’d run a near-perfect leg. Having made it to the hilltop village with ScottGraeme (A) and Camilla/Dave S (B) off in good time into the wooded valley between Heptonstall and Blackshaw, A’s baton still present, we took advantage of the tea stall set up by the parents of a local school and moved on to the leg 4/5 handover. Alas, this was where the dream ended this year, the time banked on previous legs not quite enough to cope with the very tight cut-off at this point (a cut-off set when this was a winter race and getting runner home early mattered for safety reasons), Mark W/Jack L (A) and Kerry/Sue J (B) all off in the mass start, though the former pair’s strategy of chasing a pair in local vests served them well enough to see them complete the leg in just over an hour (for comparison, the fastest time of the day for this leg was only 8 minutes fewer). As for Elvet B, let’s just say that Kerry has GPS traces of all her runnings of this 7.5m leg and none of them look particularly similar; for the record, this year was a 9m run!

On to the finish at the rugby club for seeing in Mike B/Louise W (Elvet A, both looking fresh from the fast, largely-downhill 10m leg) and Angela/Diane W (Elvet B, less fresh but without last year’s added canal mileage), pie, peas, tea and a brief post-mortem in the sunshine. Conclusions: 1) Great race. We need to do it again. 2) Given the interest we had, Elvet’s A, B and C are distinctly possible next year, A aiming for baton-passing and B/C roughly equivalent teams. 3) There will be recces next year (not overly-fast, for anyone from any team who wishes to join in). Tom and Jon in particular showed the value of knowing a route inside-out and gained us time and places. 4) For all that I enjoyed this race when in December, actually being able to see the Calder Valley helps one appreciate it all the more.

2017, ladies and gents…

English National Cross Country Championships, Donnington, Saturday, February 27, 2016

Paul Evans

This race failed the Scott Watson test of travelling time vs race length, in that he generally insists upon a ration not much greater than 1:1. However, this was the nationals and an exception deserves to be made for the right race, which this most certainly was. Seven Striders were joined by a similar number of DCH runners on their very empty bus, leaving Maiden Castle at just the right time to spy several parkrunners looking a little sheepish when offered a seat, including Rob Everson, late of this parish and running strongly again.

The journey to the East Midlands was unremarkable, the bus roomy and the day bright all the way to Donnington, where we pulled in under the flight path to the airport and next to the famous racetrack, where we found that Geoff Watson had already set up the DCH tent amongst over a hundred others from as far as Morpeth, London, the South West and and the Welsh Borders, and was contemplating turning out for them with less than 100% enthusiasm. Think the usual XC atmosphere, but more so: mass enthusiasm and personal reluctance.

1420hrs came rapidly and we watched Steph and Susan recede into the distance, swallowed by hundreds of other runners as the starting funnel narrowed and the sharp right took them out onto the course proper. The next 40 minutes were unpleasant, nerves increasing despite the knowledge we didn’t even have the numbers to make up a team, then 1500hrs was upon us and, from the pens (13 for Striders, tactically-positioned behind the faster chaps) freedom rang with the shotgun blast and it was time for us to cross the grassy, rutted field to the copse turn and get out there.

The course, with hindsight, was a beauty: one bottleneck of any note for those in the middle of the pack (the turn from the start onto the main course) and a design that allowed spectators to see multiple turns and loops at once from one of several vantage points. It started fast, with a left-hand bend taking us through an uneven turnip field, a little drop off to the right, a sharp left and climb then two descents in succession, one a straight, fast plunge and one a gentle left-hand curve lasting a good 400m. Then the fun stopped: the easy bit was over and the back half of the loop began, with the ground getting wetter, the mud thicker and the overall theme becoming ‘uphill;’ reader, it was here (on the final left-hand curve of lap 1, this one giving the runner the option of ‘direct-but-slow’ or ‘lengthier-but-firmer’) that I realised I’d made the classic XC mistake of letting adrenaline hold me to a pace I could not sustain.

Lap 2 was not fun. Let’s not talk about lap 2, other than to state that a few runners appeared to be having even less fun than me, as they were simply walking off the course with looks that did not indicate a good day. Let’s go to lap 3, where the race stabilised for me, in that I was no longer going backwards and was even regaining a few of the places lost on lap 2) and the end was in sight – literally so, from a couple of points on the course, when my eyes could be taken off the ground. By now, the ground was getting much more churned than it had been earlier, the air was colder and the light was fading a little, but each and every turn was taken with the knowledge it would be the last, the descents were joyful again and the climbs were productive for me in terms of places, every vest seen at NEHL fixtures particularly satisfying. It was something of an anti-climax to find that the finish was long, straight and flat (though very muddy) and that unfortunately a handful of others had a better sprint for the line than I did.

A few minutes later, David Gibson crossed the line, with Geoff, Mike Hughes and Mike Bennett after him, one short of a team yet all, once again, part of a satisfying day’s running. A very quick change was followed by a walk back to the bus, the drone of motorsports still renting the air and the passengers flying a couple of hundred metres above doubtless wondering what was unfolding below them as they came in to land. Back in Durham a couple of hours later, walking up North Road on ‘payday Saturday,’ we pondered if anyone we passed would understand why we’d done what we did that day. We thought that they probably would not. Which is fine, as nor did we. But we had done it, and would do so again in a heartbeat.

Results

men
pos name time
1 Jonathan Hay (ALDERSHOT FARNHAM & DIS) 0:42:09
901 Paul Evans 0:58:49
1206 Dave Gibson 1:03:24
1259 Geoff Davis 1:04:18
1299 Mike Hughes 1:05:02
1417 Michael Bennett 1:07:35

1730 finishers.

women
pos name time
1 Lillian Partridge (ALDERSHOT FARNHAM & DIS) 0:30:35
403 Susan Davis 0:43:02
472 Stephanie Piper 0:44:32

739 finishers.

junior women
pos name time
1 Harriet Knowles-Jones (WARRINGTON A C) 0:21:21
Sally Hughes DNF

129 finishers.

Tour of Pendle Fell Race, Barley, Lancs, Saturday, November 14, 2015

Shortened course - 14 miles, 2700'

Paul Evans

I’d been warned about this one – admittedly by a man so Yorkshire that he got a little bit nauseous at the thought of this year’s charity relay straying briefly into Lancashire (it didn’t, but was close at times), considers racing in anything other than a vest and very short shorts unseemly and uses Tetley’s Tea as mouthwash. He just didn’t like the location. More importantly, I’d been warned about it by Scott Watson, who rated it as packing a lot of punch for its relatively short distance in the pantheon of ‘long’ fell races and warned that very little time would be spent running on a flat surface.

On the approach, if discounting the squalls of rain intermittently lashing down from the overcast sky, and the fact that the top of Pendle Hill was hidden in the clag, things looked fairly benign, with the race leaving the sanctuary of Barley village hall at 1030 along the metalled reservoir road to the base of the first climb. Over 400 of us had set off on what we were told was a course shortened (to spare the marshalls on the tops too much exposure) by 3 miles, missing out two short but steep climbs and one descent, reducing the 17m course to 14m. However, the running was easy enough to work out that if the first mile was on an fairly level road, and so was the last, this meant that all 2700′ would be packed into a mere 12 miles, meaning over 200′ of climb every mile. Completing that thought occurred at about the same time that things got serious and we turned off the road onto the slopes of Pendle Hill itself for a long leg past the trig point and over to the northern edge. It was wet, unrelenting and at that awkward gradient that is runnable, just, unless you know there’s a lot more to come, so most walked or did as I did and ran a bit then walked a bit, repeatedly, until the slope lessened and we could attack the trig and descend towards CP1. There followed an easy leg to CP2, if the fact that the top of Pendle is really good at retaining water and so was abundant in bog and lacking in grip is discounted – and the fact that a sharp drop to a stream then climb up the other side was thrown in unexpectedly (to those who had not looked at the map fully), with a steady downhill through the mist, followed by a sharp drop to Churn Clough reservoir and a relative rest as we ran along the access track by the water to CP3. By this time the race had settled down, with the leaders off ahead and a long column behind, with my usual pattern of dropping a few places on the descents and gaining more on the tops and climbs established.

The leg to CP4 was short but nasty, a steep climb up a sodden hillside covered in bracken and leaf mould making for inefficient motion, then a brief period on the top followed by all of the altitude lost on the descent to Ogden Clough, a descent apparently known as ‘Geronimo.’ The grass burns on my thighs testify to the fact I abandoned all pride and completed it on by bottom, at speed. From here (CP4) we turned left and followed the stream for a few hundred yards before climbing just as sharply to CP5, only to turn 90′ and drop back to Ashendean Clough, the climb out of which was the scene of Tom’s darker moments on the recent FRA relays and, on revisiting it, I confirm he wasn’t imaginign how long it feels the drag up the greasy, grassy slope felt.

That, however, was largely that – we climbed, we followed a wall through some summer grazing fields, now abandoned and saturated with calf-deep water and then we dropped slowly, then rapidly, to Ogden Clough again, had a relatively easy half mile downhill to the road and then race the last mile for a final couple of places. I finished in 2:16, 30 minutes behind the winner Rob Hope of Pudsey and Bramley, in 82/409 finishers. Emma Bain, John Duff and John Tollitt of NFR were not far behind and during post-race chat Emma confirmed that she’s going to rejoin Striders to run XC, so the day was actually rather productive.

Summary – £9 got you 14 miles of quality, largely-runnable fell-running in a course where the imagination has been used well to ensure that you’re:

a) never bored

b) never entirely oriented

It also got you a t-shirt, which is always a bonus, and the satisfaction of completing a race rightly regarded as a bit of a winter classic. Is it ever going to be a race we take a coach to or tell new runners is a must-do? No. It’s unashamedly niche, but for the fell-runner not quite ready for the Lake District monsters, I’d strongly encourage giving this one a go. For me – I’ve not yet done the full course, so back next year it is.

Cronkley Fell Race, Holwick, Sunday, June 28, 2015

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. King/Queen of the Mountain Race - click flag for more information. BM / 16.9km / 535m

Paul Evans

A humid, damp and overcast Sunday dawned for the latest iteration of this wonderful little race in the hamlet of Holwick, deep in Upper Teesdale. Twenty four other runners, a handful of marshalls and six Striders (four there for love of the race, one because she thought she’d love it and one because he’s got a fight on his hands for the club GP and needed the points) made up the numbers outside the Strathmore Arms for the basic count-off and race briefing, then a very fast three count sent us off, up the road and away.

Paul E. Penny.It comforted me somewhat to find out afterwards that my thoughts on the first couple of miles had been shared by others, though at the time I wasn’t to know that Penny and Graeme had also disliked them; hard track in the mist and a pace pushes a little harder than maybe I’d have chosen to because of the smallness of the field – I’m not someone who enjoys a quick start, but the sight of a slim thread of vets slowing pulling away over the sheep-strewn moorland dragged me forwards faster than intended despite a strong headwind. Lungs burned and thighs ached as we left the track and crossed a flat, boggy area then commenced the ascent up to the first of the cairns that mark what is, for me, where the fun begins in this race, passing a marshall in high visibility jacket, dropping sharply down a grassy bank and through a beck then heading west again towards the climb onto Cronkley Fell plateau itself, by my reckoning in sixth as the third of a trio, a chap from DPFR trailing thirty metres behind. The climb hit hard, runnable mostly so not providing the opportunity to drop to a walk without fear that someone would pull away, and it was here that the chap from DPFR caught and overtook us. As it dragged on, turning north through a rocky gully with a beck several metres drop to our left, I managed to push up to fifth with a steady shuffle, then fourth as we crested onto the wind-dried expanse of the plateau, the Tees far below to our north and the fenced expanses of Warcop training area to the south. By now the mist had cleared, allowing the occasional chance to actually appreciate it all.
Paul F.I held fourth and had brief visions of catching Andy Blackett of DFR in third until we hit the long drop to the Tees, my best efforts down resulting in a couple of slips and the DPFR and Coniston runners coming past. Through the field at the bottom on the hill we raced, into the Tees to get our numbers clipped and pay homage to Samuel, the DFR crocodile (this year having a swim) and then, after a horribly slow exit caused by the stones, polished by centuries of lowing water, resulting in anGraeme. inadvertent dunking to the waist, back out and up the hill, back into sixth.

This, unfortunately, is where I stayed despite nearly catching both the DPFR and Coniston vests ahead of me on the climb whilst Penny and Graeme hurtled past me seconds apart; once on the largely downhill final four miles despite throwing everything I had into regaining lost places the pair of them gradually inched ahead by virtue of great balance and superior speed, though I managed to lose by some distance my own pursuers also. The descents were as exhilarating as ever, the stretch on the track much more enjoyable in reverse, either because it meant that the end was near or because running it downhill, with the sun out, is just nicer, and the last few hundred metres on the road back to the Strathmore Arms seemed over as soon as it began, with a ‘proper’ fell race finish of half a dozen people quietly applauding and a couple of Labradors strangely excited by the pungent runner smell. Graeme and Penny (third lady) weren’t far after, he finally getting ahead of her, Paul Foster next and then Phil and Jan 29th and 30th of 30 runners, he limping and she scooping the FV60 prize.

Paul and Jan. Penny and Graeme.Worrying, vital statistic time: thirty runners, one fifth of them Striders, paid £5 each to race 10.5 of the most scenic miles our county has to offer, with a seriously good pub at the end, making this race barely viable for DFR to organise. If this is the last running of the race then so be it, as it has seen some great running over the years and has been a highlight of the calendar for those who enjoy the hilly stuff in our club. If it is on again, I must urge that anyone who enjoys a nice trail race consider giving this a try as it will not be regretted.

Results

position name club cat time
1 Harry Coates Wallsend Harriers M 1:12:14
25 Karen Robertson NFR F40 1:36:23
6 Paul Evans M 1:29:43
14 Graeme Walton M40 1:38:51
18 Penny Browell F40 1:43:12
24 Paul Foster M60 2:03:37
29 Phil Owen M40 2:14:14
30 Jan Young F60 2:17:44

30 finishers.

The Yomp Mountain Challenge, Kirkby Stephen, Sunday, June 7, 2015

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. Endurance Champion Race - click flag for more information. 23M / 4,000' (with 11.5M and 6.25M options)

Paul Evans

Let’s not pretend otherwise: I adore this race. It’s got the lot: entry on the day, indoor changing, unlimited tea before and after, well-marked, hours of fun on the green and empty Howgills and, very importantly, probably my favourite descent in any race I’ve yet done (the death-stumble down from Ringing Roger at the Skyline does not count, as that was relief as much as pleasure). I grant that it is not a race to everyone’s taste but, for the distance runner wanting to try the fells, I would mark this as the long one to go for.

Sunday morning: the sea of purple showed that either I was not alone or that people were out to bag some GP points in this first outing for the Full Yomp in the club championship; a lot of familiar faces were present, though Joan, Camilla, Debs, Anita and Diane were opting for the half course in order to keep their legs fresh for Swaledale six days later. We talked, stretched, taped and lubed whilst drinking hot tea from proper mugs, our numbers augmented by Steph Scott of NFR but slowly falling as Striders headed out in ones and twos to the starting control, runners on the full course having a window of an hour to set off (making it impossible to judge your position in the field). I watched Danny, Juliet, Sue, Maggie, Christine, Ian, Scott and David go, was suddenly having photos taken with the Half Yompers and then bid all goodbye to begin a long few hours.

To all those considering this race next year, an obligatory warning: this race starts easy, with a downhill to the main road, a flat half mile or so to an old railway bridge and then another mile and a half of gently-undulating concrete farm track luring you in to an unsustainable pace. I felt good here, though checked myself slightly as I overtook a handful of runners and a lot of walkers, maintaining a pace at which I could chat if I had anyone to chat with. The gradients became slightly steeper and the track rougher after crossing the Settle and Carlisle railway tracks then, all of a sudden, the tarmac was gone, to be seen again only at a brief water stop before the contour lines got closer together and Greenlaw Rigg beckoned. I climbed this at a slow run, sped up a little then slowed again on the climb to Little Fell, passing Sue, Maggie and Christine who were running as a group at this stage. The Nab followed in this series of ‘climb, flattish bit, climb again’ and forced me into my first walk of the race which gave chance to admire the drop off the crags and the perfect views in the clear, sunny weather, of the other side of the valley – the intimidating back half of the race. Finally Wild Boar Fell was summited, David and Scott passed on the way (both of them happily chatting, a racing activity they profess to disdain ordinarily), a drop to a boggy hollow completed to soak the feet thoroughly and Swarth fell ascended at a semi-traverse, the anticipation building. THE descent was around the corner.

I dibbed at the electronic box, took the offered cup of water from a marshall asking why so many runners from Durham were there today and began: forward-lean, knees never locked out, gravity doing the work and with arms used for balance. That was the idea, anyway, though I suspect video analysis would show there may be a way to go before I challenge the better descenders.

Nevertheless, the mile of grassy hill down to Aisgill was everything I remembered it to be – soft but not boggy, forgiving of the odd slip and encouraging you to lean in and trust the grip of your shoes. It felt fast and without fear, which is not the case on the rockier stuff at times. It felt incredible. Aisgill gained and the railway and minor road crossed for the only taste of tarmac in over a dozen miles I used the portaloo to offload unnecessary fluid weight, took on more water and hit the farm track alongside the steep, rocky Hell Gill, the clear waters very tempting as the day got warmer. Farmland gave way to moor, track to trod and Hugh Seat, gregory Chapel and High Seat were knocked off in succession, each a little tougher than the last but with frequent water stops to reward the effort. Descent to Tailbridge Road was smooth and fairly quick, High Pike Hill the only relatively minor climb to interrupt it and, after dibbing and taking water again at the road crossing, the near-solitude of the last few miles was no more, as we now joined the Half and Mini Yomp courses, the latter starting from the road which participants had been bussed out to (note: the junior Evanses do not yet know they’re probably doing this next year). Despite the fatigue beginning to creep into my legs at this point, this was really enjoyable, the walk-running family groups clearly having a grand day in comparison to the suffering long course runners; actual smiles were seen. They also, in addition to the copious tape markers and the lone Howgill Harriers runner I was chasing down, served to mark the remainder of the course very clearly, the long line of them snaking gradually to the Nine Standards, though the stones themselves remained out of sight until we were almost on top of them.

From the Nine Standards the only way is down – both literally and in terms of terrain, as the lush grass and soft earth was replaced by rocky track until we hit road at Fell House, though this allowed a final burst of speed to be attempted on the curves around Hartley Quarry and the view into Kirkby Stephen showed it appearing closer rapidly when seen through the aromatic sun-heated yellow-flowered gorse. Howgills man dropped me here, his approach to gravity clearly better than mine, though he remained in sight as we entered Hartley village over the beck then took the narrow path to the Eden river and Kirkby Stephen. A final effort along the quiet main road and a left turn up to the school, shouted in by Joan (7th lady in the half), Debs(10th), Camilla(9th), Diane(13th) and Anita(12th), and it was all over – second place (3:24:42) showing on the screen in the school hall. Unfortunately, one cup of tea and a very good shower later, two faster runners had come in after me, relegating me to fourth, which was not entirely a surprise and still left a definite sense of contentment as Diane and I drank yet more tea and watched Scott and Danny (31/32nd), Danny and Juliet (61/62nd), Ian (96th) and Sue (129th) run to the finish and take a deserved rest. As I said at the beginning, I do not attempt to hide my liking for this race but it is always useful to re-visit one’s assumptions and challenge them – re-running the Yomp served to re-affirm to me what a great race this is.

Results

Full Yomp
position name club cat time
1 Charlie Lowther Eden Runners M 03:09:33
25 Heidi Dent Howgill Harriers F 03:35:25
4th Paul Evans M 03:24:42
31st Scott Watson M 04:18:49
61st Juliet Percival F 04:50:50
62nd Danny Lim M 04:50:55
96th Ian Spencer M 05:44:42
129th Sue Jennings F 06:34:19
144th Christine Farnsworth FV60 07:26:23

167 finishers.

Half Yomp
position name club cat time
1 Tom Flynn Howgill Harriers M 01:37:26
25 Elizabeth Leason Glossopdale Harriers F 01:52:59
24th Joan Hanson F 02:16:49
26th Camilla Lauren-Maatta F 02:18:34
27th Debra Goddard F 02:19:12
30th Anita Clementson F 02:24:23
33rd Diane Watson F 02:26:26

137 finishers.

Calderdale Relay, Sunday, May 17, 2015

50 miles

Paul Evans

Hats off to Dave Shipman. For years he has organised the annual trek to West Yorkshire, cajoled people into taking on extra legs at the last minute and made it seem as if his last-minute rejigging of running orders and car movements in the pub the night before was basically effortless.

So, imagine my delight when it transpired that for the first time ever Dave’s holiday clashed with the Calderdale relay. I won’t lie: this is a pig of a race to organise teams for and worth it only because it makes for a truly great club weekend, from beer and curry the evening before, whilst plans are still being figured out, through the early morning anxiety about whether those travelling down on the day will show up and if they’ll do so with the requisite numbers of cars, right up until the horn goes and the first leg, set off, round a field and up into the woods above Halifax, seeing the front-runners (CVFR A) separate early into a lead that they never lost.

This year we had two teams out, the aim being to get the baton as far as possible, without Will Horsley to drag some unfortunate as his partner around the first leg. In his place Mike Bennett accompanied me, whilst Mandy D and Nigel H led off for Elvet B, and the leg ran as expected – a steep mixture of track, tarmac and moorland, dipping sharply into Ripponden and then abruptly back upwards again at the halfway point, finishing off with a long climb onto some delightfully bleak moorland and a fast final descent into Cragg Vale, where Penny and Dave Gibson relieved us of the baton in 49th place, 8 minutes before the cut-off and the mass start. Nigel and Mandy didn’t quite make it to the Hinchliffe Arms handover in time, so we saw Camilla and Anita off with twenty or so other batonless pairs and made our way to Todmorden, where the leg 3 runners were making frequent trips to the portaloos™ [I think Sir means, ‘portable toilets’ – Ed.] and watching the frontrunners set off up the hill in the sunshine. For us, the race ended here, Penny and Dave missing the mass start by 30 seconds and being relieved of their baton, Steph Piper and Mike Hughes relieved of a little additional weight before they (as well as Angela G and Paul F) followed Mike and Steph up the long drag through the woods to Blackshaw Head. Here, Penny and I were set off by Mike and Steph, who beat the cut-off with four minutes to spare, sighting Geoff Davies briefly before he collected Mike to head for the next leg. Leg 4 was a glorious as ever, with very little time on the roads, a few unintended diversions when making our way through Heptonstall and surrounding paths, and a lot of miles spent gradually chasing down other pairs on the narrow sheep trods and slippery woodland climbs. All went well until Penny turned an ankle with two miles to go, though she limped in at a run despite a lot of pain, having established that it wasn’t broken and therefore was suitable for her competitive instincts to abuse.

On reaching Wainstalls, at the top of a very long uphill finish from the evocatively-named Jerusalem Farm, we sat out of the wind, waterproofs on and waited, our two legs done, for Jan and Denise to join us, which they did, not last and pushing hard for every place. From there, we made our way to the finish, Nick Jones and Steph P bringing Elvet A in in 61st place and, a while later having added extra miles and scared the organisers somewhat, who had been considering using the MRT), Diane W and Angela G came in for Elvet B, the organisers having been decent enough to keep the finish up for them and dozens of runners, including the winning teams, coming out of the rugby club bar to clap them in.

A great day of running with excellent company, put on by one of England’s oldest athletic clubs, Halifax Harriers: what, apart from the logistics and the fact it seemingly clashes with every other northern race this year, is there not to like? Daring to dream, could we see Elvet C also gaining the prize of the quality slate coasters next year?