New Website, 31st December
The new Elvet Striders website is live and available using the following link. Please visit and bookmark.
This existing site will be accessible for archive/reference but will not be regularly updated.
Spijkenisse Marathon, 18th December
The Spijkenisse marathon is a small annual event which is a one loop course starting and ending at the athletics track in the town of Spijkenisse. This is a small town to the south of Rotterdam, The Netherlands. We stayed in Amsterdam for a long weekend and combined me doing this race with a festive, family mini-break:)
The run was all on cycle paths around a beautiful, bleak, mostly forested, wetland region! (So completely traffic free! Even though the area was cycle-path-tastic there were not loads of non-support cycles on any part of the route, so you were not having to look out for bikes.). It was very flat! Often the cycle path was on a raised embankment between channels of water. The channels of water ranged from narrow to large lake sized areas, colonised by birds and other wildlife. There was little civilisation!
The route was measured and chip timed. There were water stations every 5km and warm black tea and bananas at the later water stations, which I avoided myself but the Dutch seemed very keen on it! All marshals were very friendly and encouraging!
Like a Hardmoors on tarmac! It was low key and very friendly. About 200 entrants in the marathon.
Mainly Dutch but a few from abroad. I arrived by train and metro from Amsterdam and wondered where everyone was!..but I soon saw they were all arriving by bike..of course!
To try and run even pacing at 8 minute miles to finish in 3.30… by myself! So my the ‘Graeme Walton replacement system’ comprised of -all on my right arm-my sports watch, watch and a table written on the back of my hand indicating the times and times elapsed I should be at key distances!
A friendly start, cheered on by all the half marathoners who were starting 15 minutes after us! It started with one lap of the track, and then we were off onto the cycle path into the unknown! Some runners had their friends cycling next to them to support them the whole way:)
The weather was 5 degrees and dry, which was good running conditions it seemed, although in the areas without trees there was quite a strong wind.
I started by positioning myself just ahead of the 3.30 pacer group as I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the km markers. This worked well. I could hear the pacer group chatting away in Dutch in animated voices behind me, so I joined them for a few miles to chat (luckily they were happy to talk in English). I then returned to just ahead of them so I could see the markers again. The first 6 miles felt like we were out for a Sunday morning jog! Should I be running faster? The watch said no. I followed the cycle path through the watery marsh-lands!
Part-way into the route we heard whistles from behind and a motor-bike then a peddle bike went past and then the front runners of the half marathon! That was an impressive sight! The first 5 guys were running as if their shorts were on fire behind them!
Further on, the marathon and half-marathon route separated. There I came across a marshal standing on a small step ladder outside an isolated ivy clad cottage in the middle of no-where. He waved a red flag to the right (marathon route) and a white flat above his head (half marathon straight on). (Red for danger and white for surrender?).
The cycle path continued through beautiful wild lands, a few sheep farms and woods. A guy from Portugal joined me for a bit then dropped back.
From 30km onwards it gradually felt harder and harder! And at 38km onwards I found it really really hard! The last 2 km I could not help dropping pace slightly and the 3.30 pacer group overtook me! I finished in 3.31.
I enjoyed the race and was pleased with how it went. My sports watched showed after I managed to pace myself OK, so this gave me confidence! The 3.30 pacer guy came up to me after and said I took too long drinking water at the water stations, loosing me distance. Good advice for next time 🙂
After the race I went to the communal showers in the sports centre. They were cold! Is this a Dutch thing as the other girls were not batting an eyelid and were a bit amused by my shrieking surprise?!
On the journey back I felt very nauseous, and was nearly sick on the metro and on the beautiful granite flooring of Rotterdam train station!. This was hunger as I only ate 1 jelly baby during the race. A big bowl of chips soon sorted it! Memo for next time: eat chips straight after race!
Angus Tait Hexhamshire Hobble, Allendale Town, 4th December
CM / 10.4 miles / 1243 feet
|1||John Butters||Northumberland Fell Runners||Men Veteren 40-49||1:09:32|
|26||Jason Harding||Men Veteren 40-49||1:21:00|
|29||Karen Robertson||Northumberland Fell Runners||Women Veteran 40-49||1:22:29|
|35||Geoff Davis||Northumberland Fell Runners||Men Veteran 50-59||1:26:06|
|99||Susan Davis||Northumberland Fell Runners||Women Veteran 50-59||1:42:37|
|108||Dougie Nisbet||Men Veteran 50-59||1:44:05|
|127||Melanie Hudson||Women Senior||1:51:20|
|147||Diane Harold||Women Veteran 40-49||2:20:20|
|148||Joanne Porter||Women Veteran 40-49||2:20:21|
Harrier League, Thornley Hall Farm, 26th November
u17 and u20 girls
|position||bib||name||cat||pack||race time||actual time|
|1||301||Isobel Chaudrey (Gateshead Harriers)||FU17||M||19:13||18:08|
|position||bib||name||cat||pack||race time||actual time|
|1||553||Alex Sneddon (Jarrow & Hebburn AC)||Fsen||F||29:13||25:53|
|position||bib||name||cat||pack||race time||actual time|
|1||1723||Sebastian Anthony (Loughborough)||guest||S||36:11||36:11|
Brampton to Carlisle, 20th November
Tamsin Imber ...
Pre raceWell, what a top day for a run! Cold yes, but blue skies and the sun is coming out as we arrive in Brampton. I enter the school and join the throng of club runners-it is buzzing with a cheerful vibe! And it's warm inside! After bumping into a few Striders here and there, I head outside as there is still half an hour before the start-so time for a short warm up around Brampton. Brampton is a pretty village indeed. I find a few quiet side streets to run along. I bump into a man walking his dog and his dog starts to run with me, so I offer to take him to Carlisle :-). Further about the village I spot a few other runners warming up-they are all male and not wearing much-they look like fast runners! Noting the time I head back to base to catch Mr Walton.
The PlanPrior to now I have always ran how I feel. In races this has sometimes worked, and sometimes resulted in 'the Crash' when I have set off far too fast! So today, Graeme has very kindly agreed to run with me using his watch to pace us. So I get to see how it feels like to run a paced run and also to see how to use a watch. We finalise our plan just before the race. We were going to go for 71 minutes with a negative split pacing, but Graeme suggests trying for sub-70 as we seemed comfortable at 6.55min/m on the track for 10minutes on Wednesday ... I'm always up for a challenge ... so why not. We can always drop back to even splits if it doesn't work out.
The StartGraeme and I join the crowd, squashing in behind Stephen and Matt at the start-line. After 'the wait that is before every start' everyone moves forward like at a music gig when someone comes on stage ... and we are off! Down the hill, round the sharp bend and out of Brampton. It's a bit congested. Graeme keeps looking at his watch, and I just follow Graeme!
Mile 1Congested and following Graeme.
Mile 2The sun comes out. Nice views across the fields. Still a bit congested. I am warm now. I angle through a gap in the runners to throw my £4 hoodie that got from the British Heart Foundation charity shop last week to the roadside. (We'll drive back this way and pick it up if it's there, if it's not that's fine).
Mile 3Nice. We are into a steady pace now. I'm enjoying this. A down followed by an up and then onto the smaller road.
Mile 4Running. Nice country road, nice weather, what's not to like? Graeme keeps looking at his watch, he is keeping us in a good steady pace. As we go round a bend I notice 3 girls ahead. Hummm. I wonder if Graeme has noticed? Probably not. I wonder if his watch will notice if I speed up just slightly and creep past them? Hummm, we are not supposed to increase pace until Mile 5.
Mile 5Excellent I can see the mile 5 marker! Ha. I increase pace a bit and get past those girls . Graeme looks at his watch.
Mile 6Graeme looks at his watch.
We have a mile 6 sign and then a 10k (6.2 mile) sign. It confuses me as I have done quite a few half marathons recently and this is half way, I remind myself it is a 10mile race. Graeme now suggests we don't increase pace til after the bridge, hummm maybe we went off too fast for a negative split for my level of fitness, I guess that is the danger of aiming too high. Well, if we can do even split that is ok.
Mile 7This mile was hard. I am not sure why! I just had to grit my teeth through it!
Mile 8This was a good mile. Graeme shouts out that we only need to do 2 more miles at 7 minute pace. Excellent! I can do this. Towards the end of mile 8 Graeme seems to be running faster and faster! Suddenly it feels like a time trial! Is this really still 7 min mile pace? It is uphill, maybe that's why it is hard?. I have also noticed 3 more girls ahead, I get behind them but it's hard to get past as they are running astride. Graeme is urging me on. A quote I read somewhere flits into my head. 'Racing hurts, get over it' that was easy to accept when sitting on the sofa ha ha!, however I'm not stopping now, I try and keep up with Graeme's legs!
At this point it is clear Graeme could run the last bit faster than me, I think he should just go, but he doesn't as he is a Gentleman.
Mile 9I wish I knew where the finish was, then it would be mentally easier I think. But, its only 4 laps of the track I tell myself. Graeme is being very encouraging all the time. Why did they build The Sands so far away? We are now running with 5 ish other guys. My breathing is really loud! so I am pleased there is background traffic noise! Graeme urges me past them, and I try and manage an increase in speed for a bit, but I don't know where the finish is so slow down again. Graeme shouts out it's just round the corner, but I'm not sure which corner he means, there are people in the way! Aghh! And then the path is lined with people and low and behold the finish line is just ahead! Mr Walton is ahead but lets me pass just 1m from the line! What a good sport! ... And ooo it's so good to stop! ..After recovering Graeme checks his watch for one last time-wayhay! 1hr 09 mins! We did it!
Post raceThanks so much Graeme! This was really helpful! Graeme's watch showed that we did even splits. .. ha. It's funny how different a 7 min mile feels at the start compared to at the end! I really enjoyed this race and I would definitely do it again! It's a nice route and a good club event!
... Lucy HerkesBrampton to Carlisle 10m today has been a weird day with a weird run and a mix of emotions… I woke up this morning feeling just quite bleurgh about the day. It was more that I just felt like I couldn’t be bothered to run 10 miles. I just wanted to stay in bed. My legs were tired from the thousands of steps I had walked delivering leaflets this week and my mind was tired because.. Well just because…. But I battled on and got up. Task 1 complete. Task 2 was to actually get ready for the race. Loads of self doubt just kept giving me this mental block. Even down to the smallest things like which gloves to wear and which top and the thought of these things was giving me a sense of dread ! It was weird! I got ready anyway and made it to the bus. Our running club puts on a bus for some of the races and this was one of them. As soon as I got on the bus and saw my friends I felt better. I think it’s being around other people. And when those people are smiley and happy, I think that’s infectious. They build my confidence. Not only around running but all aspects. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many people believe in me. So when I’m asked what’s helped in my recovery I have to say not only running but the friends I have made through running. I’ve only known them maybe 18 months but already they feel like family. We arrived in Carlisle an hour before the race started. Luckily the start was next to a school so we were able to keep warm inside and use the toilet (only 4 times I think this race, it’s getting better!) Anyway, the ‘ideal’ in my head was to keep the race pace at around 9:15 min/miles. I figured that if I could do that, it equates to a 2:01:00 half marathon. My next half marathon is in York in January and it’s totally flat so I was going to try and push for 2 hours. This felt like such a good plan. I ran alone, I wanted to just see what I was capable of. Running alone was good in a way as I was able to focus on what I was doing, but at times it was lonely too and not so good for my motivation!! Anyway, for the 1st 3miles I was running around 9 minute miles. I knew this was faster than what I had planned but I felt good so I kept at it. That was the mistake I made I think. I went off too fast for the first 10k and so after that I really struggled. (I did get a 10k PB!) With me, I never know what goes first, mental strength or physical strength. Or in other words do I become physically tired or mentally tired ? Or does one cause the other and vice versa..? For the last half I really struggled. I can’t even explain what with. My breathing was fine, it wasn’t that. My legs, yes were tired but not overly tired but my mental strength did disappear. All I could hear inside was …
“He’s walking just have a walk!”For some people they say that they can give themselves a boot up the backside and when people pass in a race it motivates them to catch them. But it is the opposite for me. If someone passes I think “well screw it, I’m shit!” It’s like I go into a self-doubting, weak mental frame of mind where my thoughts turn from “this feels good, keep going,” to “you’re shit, just stop.” Once I’m in this mindset I don’t seem to be able to pull myself out. A couple of friends caught me/I caught a couple and that gave me a little boost, enough to get to the end. I just wish my mind was as strong as my legs. I don’t think it’s just me who experiences this though, right? So I finished. My average pace was 9:25 which I was disappointed with but it did teach me what I need to do about pacing for this half marathon in January. I just wish I could get some sort of magic pill that kept my mind strong. Overall I had a great day. Even though I was slightly disappointed in my time, thinking about it, I really beat myself up and criticise myself and I think I need to be kinder. I keep trying to think that I wouldn’t criticise a friend for going slower than hoped for and I would be proud of their achievements. Just wish I could think like this for myself. The day was rounded odd perfectly – dinner, pudding and wine with friends and then a few gins, Xfactor and I’m a celebrity. Not the most healthy food and drink choice but hey ho we all need a treat. Here are my splits from yesterday – they’re hilarious and certainly shows where I went wrong!
“You haven’t made your time anyway so just stop.”
“You are so slow!”
“You won’t do well, you won’t continue, you’re useless, people will be finished and you’re still struggling.”
|1||Nick Swinburn (Morpeth Harriers & AC)||50:18|
|45||Tracy Millmore (Birtley AC)||L||1||58:35|
Wooler Trail Marathon, 20th November
I’d battled with myself as to whether to enter this race for a while then late on Friday afternoon, race organiser Garry Scott posted a video on the Trail Outlaws Facebook page from a very snowy Cheviot summit. By the time the video had finished my mind was made up, I was in and luckily just in time as entries would close very shortly after.
So forward to Sunday and I left the warmth of my bed and headed up to Wooler for the Wooler Trail Marathon organised by Tim Bateson and Garry Scott of Trail Outlaws. I first met Tim a few years ago on a recce of the Hardmoors 55 and kept in touch ever since as he’s grown Trail Outlaws. I ran their first ever race the Pieces of 8 half marathon, but since then the races have grown to include several ultras and marathons across the north east and Northumberland. Tim’s a great guy and his passion for running and in particular, the Chevy Chase fell race held each summer in Wooler, being the inspiration for this particular race.
Registration was in Wooler YHA and was quick and efficient although I did get there rather early just to be sure. As more runners arrived I spotted Dougie Nisbet who was also running the marathon and had a quick chat before making my way out into the cold for the race safety briefing before we were led over to the start line just over the hill for the race start.
Taking in much of the first part of the Chevy Chase, the Wooler Trail Marathon snakes its way through the valley to the base of the Cheviot before a long climb to the summit. Race day was cold but could have been a lot worse, and thankfully the low temperatures meant that the ground was pretty much frozen solid which made for good running.
Onwards and upwards towards the summit the field of 140+ runners was well stretched now. I’d started from mid-pack and took it easy, running at a pace that felt very comfortable across the undulating trails knowing that if I set off too fast, I’d suffer badly at the end.
As I trudged up the long frozen path to the summit of the Cheviot I passed a few other competitors but was conscious to maintain my pace so that I never felt like I was working too hard as gradient rose above the low cloud line and the perma-frost turned to snow and ice on the ground. Near the summit a hardy marshal was stood to make sure runners were ok and guide us up over the ladder stile and on to the slab path heading to the summit. The summit of Cheviot is big and flat and the low cloud and snow covered floor blurred together to hide any visual cues that helped you identity you were approaching the top. Then after a few minutes of running the large summit cairn came into view. I touched and then was off, following the treacherous slab path of the Pennine Way off the summit and down towards the check point being manned by Phil Owen.
I gained quite a few places on the long downhill as others cautiously made their way down the frozen trail paths. I found it much quicker, and safer, to find a line in the overgrowth, let loose and put faith in my Walshes and balance. It worked and I made good progress and the race now followed the trails of the Pennine Way before heading across the border into Scotland.
A sharp turn brought us off the Pennine Way and back across the border into England onto the St Cuthbert’s Way long distance path. Back on lower ground below the cloud line the scenery was jaw dropping as I took time to savour where I was running.
As the route snaked its way back towards Wooler there were still plenty of twists, turns, climbs and surprises on offer, the trail through a dense wood at around 18 miles being rather inspiring. I was still running well and feeling really good but know these races too well to get carried away - there’s always a sting in the tail on something like this. Because of my very late entry, I’d not noticed that this race was actually 28 miles so on approaching the final climb of the day I had in my mind there were only a few more miles left to go. I made the decision to push on a little as I could see a couple of runners ahead of me that seemed to be slowing so thought I’d try catching them. I made good ground and could feel my heart and lungs really starting to work hard as I picked up the pace and eventually with Wooler in sight, I realised I might have further to go than I thought. The runners I was tracking were soon out of sight as I hit the road for the final mile back to the YHA feeling tired but strong and with a massive smile on my face at the quality of the course I’d just completed.
The finish was inside the hostel, I was given my time - 5hrs40mins finishing in 32nd place. The t-shirt and medal were well earned and the kitchen was stocked with loads of hot soup and bread to help warm up.
This was a fantastic first race with lots of potential to become a real winter classic. I take my hat off to Tim and Scott for devising such a good route.
If it's Good Enough for an Olympian......
Sherman Cup & Davison Shield, 19th November
A bright, cold day saw 25 Striders compete over a gentle x/c course ideal for beginners. This one off cup fixture hosted by the HL tends to attract smaller fields than the league matches themselves but, without the usual pack system, we still saw a men’s field of 379 and a women’s of 286.
Thirteen Strider women lined up to do battle with two times Olympic 1500m finalist Laura Weightman. Louise managed to get closest to her followed by Sarah and Helen and these were our counters for the Women’s Vet team (we had no senior team as no u/35 Striders competed!) As ever though there was plenty of support for them from faces old and new such as Jenny Search running for the first time this season and Jan Young running her millionth x/c supported by daughter Nina, in the race itself, and grand-daughter Leigh on the sidelines. The team received some enthusiastic support from Strider children ringing bells and waving purple and silver wavy things. It was much appreciated.
As a warm up to next Saturday’s crucial league fixture at Thornley, a dozen Strider men chose to compete here today for their club and were rewarded with 13th place in the Vet Team competition. Michael led the team home followed by a determined and grimacing James. Phil Ray was our first non vet home but once again we didn’t have sufficient youngsters to make up a senior team. That didn’t stop Richard Hockin from finishing first v60 home though!
Another great x/c day out was had by all, and it was particularly pleasing to see certain children of Strider parents perform so well in their orange vests. Potential Olympians of the future sharing the stage with an Olympian of today. If x/c is good enough for them then it’s good enough for me too!
|1||852||Carl Avery (Morpeth Harriers & AC||Msen||29:10|
|1||1172||Laura Weightman (Morpeth Harriers & AC)||Fsen||21:29|
Saltergate Gallows, 6th November
BM / 10.6 miles / 1411 feet
This is one of the Esk Valley races which I’d always fancied as it starts in Levisham, a lovely village where I’d been on holiday a few years ago. A few weeks before the race it was announced that this year’s would be run as a memorial to Dave Parry, who had been the face of Esk Valley races for years and had recently very sadly lost his battle with cancer. After hearing this I decided that although I’m cutting down on races, this would be one to put in the diary.
As the day approached the weather forecast was not the best – a part of me was quite pleased though as it had been a while since I’d run a race in bad weather and I do always enjoy the extra challenges it can present. However as we drove down I reminded myself you should be careful what you wish for. The rain was heavy and the winds strong and I started to wonder whether I really wanted to run in this. On arrival the rain kept coming and going – I think I must have changed my mind about whether to wear my waterproof about 5 times but when we lined up at the start and it started to hail I realised I had to face the fact that this was going to be a wet one… There was a decent turnout of Striders to pay their respects to Dave and the cheer when his name was mentioned went on for a good long while as was fitting. It didn’t feel right to be running one of these races without him there to send us off..
But off we went and within a couple of hundred metres I felt terrible. The race starts with a hill and I just felt exhausted straight away. I had hoped to try and stay somewhere near Geoff and Tom but they sped away and out of view within minutes… Once we were off the track and into proper fell racing I started to enjoy myself more. OK it wasn’t going to be my best race ever but I could still make the most of being in this lovely part of the world. The race is a kind of figure of 8 and really has a bit of everything – some fairly steep climbs, nice descents and a reasonable amount of track where you can get a bit of speed. As I settled in I started to pick off a few runners and on a long steady climb I spotted Geoff ahead of me and wondered whether I had it in me to make this the race I pay him back for James Herriot earlier this year. To be fair he had run more than 20 miles in the Lakes the day before but still I’ll take any situation to try and get a victory! So at the top of the hill I did indeed pass him, only for him to get me back on the descent…. At about the 6 mile mark there was a steeper climb through knee deep mud. I smiled to myself as I remembered asking Tom whether he thought it would be muddy and he’d given me a look as if to say “Are you mad?”. This was proper mud, rain, wind and everything and I was loving it! On this climb I managed to pass Geoff again who murmured something about it being all downhill from here. I thought that seemed unlikely since we still had more than 4 miles to go but carried on. (It later turned out Geoff had his watch on km rather than miles and thought the race was nearly over!)
The last part of the race was fairly easy with nothing too steep and less difficult underfoot – although there were some impressive puddles a couple of which had me submerged up to my thighs. As I slowly picked off more runners I spotted Shelli Gordon ahead. For those who don’t know Shelli, she is an amazing runner who wins pretty much all of the Hardmoors races. I tucked in behind her as I didn’t think I had a chance of beating her but as there wasn’t far to go and I still felt good I decided to chance it. Once I was past her I noticed someone else I recognised way ahead of me. With not far to go and a fairly flat last half a mile I thought I should try and catch him. I’ve only ever managed to beat Tom when he fell at Captain Cook’s and it would make my day to manage it today after such a shocking start. However there were still about 6 people between us and a long distance. I started to make ground, passing a couple of people but then he turned and saw me and immediately sped up! I did my best to catch him, passing the remaining 4 or 5 people who separated us and doing my best to sprint the last section back into the village but it was not to be. I did however pick up a prize for third lady and very much enjoyed my cake and tea in the village hall afterwards.
Esk Valley races are always a joy – great atmosphere and for anyone who hasn’t run fell races before they are a perfect introduction. Plus at £5 to enter what’s not to like…
|1||Harry Holmes||York Knavesmire||MO||1||75.02|
|29||Shelli Gordon||New Marske Harriers||FO||2||99.22|
*Nigel Heppell. Two Ps Two Ls. And now an extra S as well. You can never have too many Nigels.
Heaton Harriers Memorial 10K, Newcastle Town Moor, 13th November
When it comes to running, along with many other aspects of my life, I’m a creature of habit.
There are hundreds of great races that take place all over the North of England and further afield and often I check the results, browse the photos and think; I’d love to give that one a go.
However, my race calendar usually consists of 5-6 core races that I always try and enter; everything else has to fit around family life. This event now sits firmly amongst that select bunch. Brass Monkey, London Marathon, Sunderland 5k, Bridges of the Tyne, Clive Cookson 10k, Brampton to Carlisle. What’s the common theme? I’ll give you a clue, it ain’t the scenery.
If the weather is kind (more specifically; the wind) this has everything I could possibly want from an event. It’s a flat, fast course and a well organised, chip-timed race with a competitive field. Small enough to get your toes somewhere near the start line and big enough to provide a bit of competition throughout the field.
The minutes’ silence beforehand provided some stark perspective, a very fitting way of paying respect whilst doing something, running, that epitomises the freedom that our fallen soldiers died for.
The onset of a head cold during the week, coupled with the fact that this wasn’t my 'A race' meant that my expectations weren’t especially high – perhaps a good thing as it is emerged. I knew I was in pretty good shape after a 6-7 week block of heavy training following the Great North Run. This training programme, under the guidance of Allan Seheult, was interspersed only with a couple of cross country races and I still maintain a lot of my road PBs have been earned, in some part, during those slogs around the North East Harrier League.
The race was a dream, and one of those joyously unexpected results that leaves you thinking did I really do that? Finding that precarious balance between speed (all relative) and control is not easy; but on Sunday I had some help. Around 7km into the race, just as I was really starting to tire someone went past my right shoulder looking, it must be said, far more comfortable than I was feeling. For the next mile I didn’t so much as glance at my watch, I knew it wouldn’t make a difference. I shadowed this poor bloke, stride for stride. If only psychologically, it felt like he was doing the work for me. This gave me a real boost before the final km which had to take care of itself, nothing left on the course, no ‘what-ifs’.
Ten seconds with my hands on my knees, a glance at my watch, then a smile. I love running.
And yes, I did beat him in the end.
A journey there and back again.
Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra Marathon, 29th October
38M / 3000ft
The Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra starts in the shadow of the 12th century abbey, and winds along forest tracks, hillsides, country lanes, and various bridges new and old. The route hugs the River Tweed, passing through St Boswells, Melrose, and passing Rhymer’s Stone. Runners are then faced with three extinct volcanoes known as the Eildon Hills which offer panoramic views of the Scottish Borders. A brief passing through the villages of Bowden and Newton St Boswells, before following the Tweed back to the start / finish.
A 04:00 alarm saw me up and ready for 05:00 drive up to Jedburgh, with the tune of Highland Cathedral blasting through my car stereo as I crossed the border, in tribute to my late Grandad Angus. Still dark, I arrived at registration with plenty time to faff around in the car boot and use each of the toilets. It was mild, so I opted for short sleeve, before huddling inside the hall in anticipation for the set off. A quick briefing which suggested runners, "remove headphones when asked, and don't be a dick".
07:45 and we were ushered over to a grassy mound, where the enthusiastic RD’s and a squirrel warmed us up with a YMCA dance routine, runners shuffled their feet feigning any sort of dance, before a countdown, and we were off.
As usual with any long race I was aware of everyone flying off, I was aware not to be hasty, knowing I had up to 8 hours ahead, but still away they sped. Mild concern dragged me with them, but sense prevailed and I knew I’d be seeing a lot of them later.
I was running alone and settled into a gentle pace, it was a beautiful morning, crisp and clear, with fantastic autumnal colours. We were quite packed as we left the road and started onto the single tracks. We passed a newly built bridge after a couple of miles, and I made a note that the next time I crossed the bridge I’d be nearly home.
On we went, open fields allowing the packs to disperse, yet stiles and gates still causing bottlenecks. It wasn’t long before we caught sight of the three peaks of the Eildons, and it was here that the journey there and back again truly started.
I was easing along nicely until Maxton and the cp at 10 miles; this race allows for three drop bags, somewhat excessive maybe for an ultra of this distance, but I thought I’d make use of them nonetheless. I grabbed some peanuts and a snack bar, and topped up with Tailwind, stuffed them in my pack and went on my way.
Before I had chance to eat anything the nausea started, mild panic came over me, I was now only 11 miles in and started to feel sick. I had eaten well all week, my breakfast was as standard to all race days – sweet tea / porridge – so this unsettling feeling came as shock so early on.
Thankfully I had a multipack of Polo’s in my vest pocket, and so popped two into my mouth and let them do their minty thing. Immediate result as the nausea and panic left as quickly as they came.
Onwards, and after 17 miles we arrived at cp2 Rhymer's Stone.
"The Rhymer's Stone marks the spot on which the fabled Eildon Tree once grew. It was under this tree that Thomas the Rhymer took a fateful nap while hunting on the estate of Melrose Abbey. He was awakened by the Queen of Elfland, who he kissed. He then spent seven years with her in the Land of the Elves before returning to his home in Earlston for seven years, then disappearing for good: presumably back to the Land of the Elves."We were now in the shadow of the Eildons. I was warm, but had kept my short sleeve tee on in case the true Scottish weather presented itself, it did not, and just before the first climb I stopped and removed my shirt, just down to a vest.
As the first Eildon towered over us, runners, became walkers, bent double; hands on knees, knees on scree. Occasionally pausing in awe at the conical mountain ahead. The track was sloppy, with prints from the lugs of runners sliding in the mud, loose rocks trickled down, and ramblers cheered us on behind the safety of their thermos.
At the first peak we were offered a superb panoramic view of the Scottish borders, and one could not help but smile at the beauty before a technical descent onto the saddle between the first and second Eildon. One or two runners already limping, casualties of the peaks.
The second peak was much the same, Border Search and Rescue Unit sat patiently with their stout dogs; collies that clearly new better than us fools, just waiting to do their jobs. The seriousness of their work apparent as the land rover sat waiting some way up the peaks, of which an unsuspecting number of runners would be treated to a ride in.
Reaching the final peak I realised we were halfway through the adventure; all that was left to do was leave the Eildons unscathed, and begin our journey back again. This filled me with delight, and I was able to play with numbers in my head. I also realised at this point that my target of 8 hours was going to be met as long as I kept moving forward, at reasonable(ish) pace for a further 19 miles.
Where once the field was packed, we were now spread out. As I scrambled down the final descent I began to overtake runners that had flew past me in the first miles. And as much as my pace never quickened, this was to be for the remainder of the race.
I was safely down from the peaks, and started my journey back. I always knew even before the start that once I got to this point I just had a trail race to go, pressure was relieved and I started my solitary venture back. However I was now tired, the Eildons had sapped my legs, and as much as they were still turning, my head wanted a rest, just to lie down in the shadow of the trees amongst the leaves.
I needed a focus, as usual and in times of trouble I don’t always find comfort in the scenery, I needed facts to settle and focus my mind. I decided if I ran to 25 miles, that would give me 13 miles to go, and so from this point I would be able to fathom my ETA.
I’ll point out here (as I can’t recall what happened around this section) that the marshals for this race were the most enthusiastic, friendly, welcoming folk I have ever met, race or otherwise. Every cp I passed through I was made to feel like a Brownlee, the drop bags were handed professionally, and words of encouragement, comfort, and praise were delivered with gusto.
This race does not come without a sense of humour, as we passed through Bowden around 22 miles in, the markers took us up and over a play park, climbing the frame, over a bridge and down a slide, grown men whooping as they slid on their backsides!
Drop bag collected at the final cp, which was Maxton again at 27 miles, I refilled the Tailwind and took a jam piece from my drop bag, a handful of peanuts and a swig of coke. The cp was filled with supporters, applauding as runners fumbled with their overly packed bags. I was aware of half a dozen runners bent double, either through nausea or cramp. Not me though, ten miles to go and I wanted to go home.
This is where it started to go awry, and the enthusiasm started to be replaced with doubt, not that I wouldn’t finish, but the voices in my head just wanted me to stop. They didn’t understand, they tried in vain to make sense of the numbers but nothing they worked out was reassuring. Ten miles? At this pace we may be talking about another 2 hours on the trails. In future this is where I need to improve.
I was aware of cramping up in previous races, so began a routine of peanuts and Polos. This was a strict procedure that got me through the next 8 miles. I would grab a handful of peanuts from my pack, munch them, swill them, swallow them, then take a Polo. Each pattern got me through one mile.
Six miles to go and I hadn’t seen anyone for 4 miles, I saw a runner up ahead who was cramping as he attempted to haul himself over a stile, a brief greeting and vague words of encouragement were shared before he stepped aside and I past stealthily.
Fields, rivers, bridges, forests. All of that happened and it was beautiful, I’m sure it was beautiful as I’d seen it on the way out, it looked different now though. The winding steps, the tree roots, the sound of the river, all started to seem unreal. I started to shout out loud, words not to be repeated.
I past another two runners in the forest, cramp again being the victor as they leaned against trees in attempt to stretch out their demons, an attempt at uttering came out my mouth but we just glanced at each other like forest animals going about their way. No acknowledgement that we were in the same race. Was I even in a race?
As we left the forest I encountered life by way of marshals guiding us across the road. Such a welcome sight, and again the enthusiasm wasn’t wearing thin, these Scots must have a brilliant marshal academy somewhere. I was led to a table with refreshments, water, coke, and sweeties. Such a delight as I wasn’t aware of it being here. I was advised two and a half miles to go, and those words were like Christmas morning.
As I left that small humble table on the side of the road, I began my way up the road. I could see two runners as the road stretched, not running now but mimicking extras from The Walking Dead. I caught up with the runners one at a time, both of them glancing over their shoulders as I crept up behind them, at first attempting to run before admitting defeat and letting me past before turning back onto the trails.
Finally the bridge, the very bridge I had seen at the beginning, still there, still standing, what a sight it was. Less than 2 miles to go, and I picked up my pace. I’m not aware of how it happened but suddenly the trail was wide and ran adjacent to the road, I was a solo runner approaching Jedburgh, and the finish. I glanced behind me just in case I was being hunted, once happy I was alone I began my final mile.
As I approached Jedburgh signs and cars built up, folk milled in and out their houses, I caught view of two figures gazing confusingly into my path. My mother and wife, I had estimated to them I would be finished in 8 hours, but the clock was ticking just after 7 hours so they had wandered from the finish to applaud runners, not expecting to see me just yet.
How fantastic to see them, inside I was jumping and throwing my arms around them, but I knew I still had to finish the thing, so I powered on.
The Abbey came into distance, as did the mound on which we started, cow bells and rattles and applause echoed down the road as I ran up the mound, my name was called out to whoops and whistles, up the mound, across the line, medal, goody bag, done. Finished in 7hrs 15, and position 63rd / 193 from 230 starters.
I stumbled around the place, fiddled with my Garmin, found my supporters, and felt overwhelmed at what had happened.
We crossed the road and into the rugby club, I inspected toe nails (two down), and showered, downed the free beer, and slurped the soup. There was a buzz in the hall as runners staggered about the place, some looking fresher than others, wearing their new race tees and hoodies, or slumped still in their race gear, unable to figure out what to do next.
I said it during the race, after the race, and still say it now; this was the greatest race I have ever ran, indeed the weather helped, but everything from the pre-race information, the atmosphere that built on the Facebook page, the route, the goody bag, to the friendliness and enthusiasm of the marshals and runners, it would take a very dreich day to wash away such a positive atmosphere. I cannot praise this race enough, if you’re looking for a braw day on the trails, then I’ll see you in Jedburgh next year!
Great North Run, 11th September
By chance I happened to be checking my emails one afternoon when one popped up from Jacquie Robson that there might be places available to club members for the Great North Run on a first come first served basis. A very quick reply and I was in.
This would be my first road half marathon since the last time I ran it in 2012 so I was hoping for some sort of improvement. I put a lot of focus into speed training, turning up for Alan’s track sessions when I could but also needed to keep my weekly mileage as high as possible as I would be running the Hardmoors 60 a week after the GNR.
On race day I travelled up to Newcastle with my brother, who’d done all of a bout 5 training runs ahead of this. He was looking to just get from Newcastle to South Shields without being sick. Although there was never any danger of him beating me, I still wanted to put in a good performance over him (brotherly love and all that!).
As we travelled on the Metro to the start I explained the nuances of the course and how he should attack it - don’t charge off like a madman at the start being the main focus of my advice.
Having explained this tactic to my brother, it was down to me to take my own advice, and as the start approached it was hard not to get caught up in the atmosphere. Love it or hate it, there is a really special atmosphere generated at this race.
Once the race started I had no trouble staying at a steady pace, but found it difficult to not weave in and out of people so on occasions I found myself running at a slower pace than I would have liked. But I wasn’t worried about this, I was moving along comfortably and passing over the Tyne Bridge is always a highlight.
Then it was the tough part in my eyes - the climb up the A184 to Heworth and White Mare Pool. This takes me past my office so I know it well. I kept a steady pace and tried not to stumble on people ahead.
As I approached the halfway mark I was still running slightly slower than I would have like but still at a good pace and feeling really comfortable.
As the race progressed towards South Shields it was good to get the support of the crowds and hear the various bands playing.
Miles 10 to 12 are always tough with the steady climb towards the coast, and as I approached the top of the hill just before the roundabout I was greeted with cheers from the Waltons. They gave me a much needed boost but Graham’s shout of "Paul (Swinburne) is just ahead" gave me an incentive to push on.
As I looked up I could see Paul around 200/300 meters ahead so it was my challenge to try and wheel him in before the end. With my mind focused I hit the final mile along the coast feeling exhausted but determined to finish strongly.
The crowds are brilliant along this stretch and really help to push you on. I managed to overhaul Paul and finished with a time of 1:36:54, a good 6 minute improvement on my last outing. It wasn’t quite the 1:35 that I’d have liked but never the less I was happy and with the Hardmoors 60 the following week on my mind, I didn’t go flat out to get it.
After congratulating Paul and letting him know how he’d helped me in the final mile (he gave some excuse about cycling 60 miles the previous day!) I went of to find my wife and daughter and then waited to see if my brother would make it in. I finally spotted him at the 12 mile mark, red faced but looking focused to finish in 2hrs20mins. Not bad for a fat lad (his words).