Race Reports, February 2011

Commondale Clart, NYM, 27th February

5.5M/1000'

Tom Reeves

Tom leaps over the clarts.

It was a fine sunny winter morning as the very large field stood on the road outside the pub in Commondale. There was a large contingent of NFR runners due the race being a northern championship race. This is a short race 5.5 miles with around 600 feet of ascent. Much of the climb was at the start, which certainly got the blood pumping!

This is not called the Commondale clart for no reason! as we headed across across Skelderskew Moor the thick oozy mud sapped the leg muscles. It would seem that the leading runners took a bit of a short cut at checkpoint 4 which led to most of the rest of the fold doing the same! I'm not sure what the upshot of this was as I left before the prizegiving.

This is a really great little race short 'n' sweet covering some great scenic ground.

[Tom and Jan are both in second place in their age groups in the Winter Series. Ed.]
 
 

Grand Prix Race. Mud King/Mud Queen Race.

Glory Days Return!

Harrier League, Wrekenton, 26th February

Mudman & Mudwoman

Striders women repeated their triumphs of a few years ago by finishing first team at Saturday's HL fixture at Wrekenton. Our three 'counters' , Fiona, Keri & Nina, all had fantastic runs and were backed up by six other team mates all doing their best to push the other teams further back - and how they succeeded! Striders were well ahead of second place Durham City and pushed undefeated Heaton into fourth place - well done everyone! Surely this will inspire even more of our women to turn out and help the club to do even better?!

WELL DONE WOR LASSES!!

It was also a fine performance by the men's team with 13 brave boys crossing the finish line, led by Phil Sanderson in 29th place running from the fast pack. James Garland and Ian Thomas had fine HL debuts and it was good to see a young Daglish making a welcome return to the mud. The team matched their best finishing position this season (7th) but the struggle to avoid 'the drop' is not over - we need an even bigger turn out for the remaining two fixtures to ensure 'survival'!

Good turnout for Wrekenton! So much so, I had to stitch two photos together to make this one ...

Results

Men
PosNameClubCatTime
1 JENKIN, Dan Durham City Harriers 36:39
29 SANDERSON, Phil * 39:36
91 GARLAND, James 41:22
122 BENNETT, Mike 42:25
123 REEVES, Thomas 42:29
156 GIBSON, David 43:46
157 THOMAS, Ian 43:48
162 DAVIS, Geoff 44:08
181 ROBERTS, Shaun 45:29
194 WHITE, Conrad 46:09
212 DAGLISH, Graham 47:15
228 HOCKIN, Richard 48:11
234 NESBIT, Dougie 48:32
247 ROBSON, Alistair 50:31
267 ROBSON, Dave 54:13

* Fast pack (+5mins)

274 finishers. Men's Team 7th, Division 2 - 7th overall.

Women
Susan eases past the competition ... apparently.

We haven't had a caption competition for a while - entries to the mailing list. Here's mine:

"Are you finding this a bit muddy, then?" Shaun.

"You'd look a lot better in purple, pet!" Alan Rowell.

PosNameClubCatTime
1 MCMANUS, Claire North Shields Poly 27:30
5 SHENTON, Fiona 29:51
11 PEARSON, Keri * 30:29
13 MASON, Nina 30:33
59 DAVIS, Susan 33:19
75 BARLOW, Stef 34:42
77 YOUNG, Jan 35:00
83 READEY, Claire 35:37
87 TARN, Lindsay 36:46
97 PROCTOR, Angela 39:06

* Medium pack (+2mins)

101 finishers. Women's Team 1st - 3rd overall.

Britain's Worst Fell Race

Kielder Borderer, 20th February

17M 3000' BM

Dougie Nisbet

Dougie I looked at my marathon training schedule and it said '18m at MP plus 30' then I looked at the Fell Running calendar and it offered 'Britain's Worst Fell Race'. 18 miles of steady boredom along the railway lines versus some adventure up in the Kielder Fells. Unsurprisingly I decided on the latter and before long I was standing in Will's caravan outside Kielder Castle filling in the paperwork.

It was a driech day as we huddled round our maps and discussed the route. Even Casper looked unimpressed with the snow and was not his usual vocal self. At the race briefing Will explained that there would be partial suggested route marking at the beginning and the end of the course, but it was pretty much up to us. Get round the checkpoints taking any route we wished. As we began the race, clockwise for the first time, I made sure I knew where Phil James the sweeper was and stuck close to him. I had planned to follow my course from the previous 2009 race, except in reverse, but I got cold feet and decided to just follow the crowd. After a few minutes I began to feel a bit adventurous and eased ahead of the back marker as we jogged steadily up into the forest on good tracks. I patted my belt to ensure my maps were snugly there; they weren't so I ran back sheepishly towards the sweeper who had found them lying on the track. Ten minutes into Britain's Worst Fell Race is not a good time to lose your maps. I eased ahead again and I was feeling warm and fresh and as the minutes passed I found I was really enjoying myself. The track started heading down and I kept my eyes peeled for the forest ride that Will had suggested as the line to take to the first checkpoint.

The track started descending a bit more steeply and I bounded over the fresh virgin snow in front of me. An alarm bell sounded loudly in my head. If there's one thing I am not used to seeing in fell races it is snow without footprints. A quick handbrake turn and back I sped ignoring GPS and maps and relying on the age old navigation tool of looking for a splodge of mushy footprints. I found the splodge and they headed over a fence and up a tangled forest ride towards the first checkpoint. I was now some way behind the sweeper and my mood had changed from perky to grumpy in a matter of minutes. Up into the cloud and over tutfy ground and soon I was relying on dead-reckoning to intersect with the main track to Deadwater Fell. Once on the track I jogged contentedly up to the checkpoint and three marshalls emerged from the icy cloud like something out of a cold-war spy thriller.

It was decision time. Go or No Go. Visibility was very poor and the next leg was a North-easterly bearing around the curve of ridge of Deadwater Moor towards the second checkpoint at Peel Fell. Even though I was already over an hour into the race I knew in many ways it had barely begun. The really remote stuff lay ahead. And I was at the back. Behind the sweeper. With a nervous but excited check of map, compass and gps, I plunged into the gloom only to immediately bump into a runner coming from the opposite direction. He had decided to retire and headed back to Deadwater Fell to brief the marshalls. I was 1 hour and 10 minutes into the race and he would be the last person I would see for another 2 hours and 40 minutes.

The run along the ridge to Peel Fell was fantastic. I loved the conditions. There was little wind and the recent snow-fall had created beautiful patterns on the rocks all cosily wrapped up in the dense cloud. It was all rather surreal and lonely. I guess it's whatever floats your boat, but I was loving it. I loved the remoteness and solitude and knowing that my navigation and safety were entirely my problem. This is what I'd always imagined fell racing would be like. The Peel Fell checkpoint appeared through the cloud and I turned north-east to follow the footsteps towards the border fence.

Wintery cross Along the fenceline towards the Kielder Stone I ran in Scotland for a while but it didn't make me go any faster so I hopped back into England again.I toyed with the idea of trying to run with one leg in Scotland and one in England, but that would, as they say, have served no useful purpose. Most of the time I simply followed the footsteps along the line of least resistance unaware of the nationality of the soil beneath. The Kielder Stone emerged ominously through the gloom and I continued on my way back into Scotland and up to Haggie Knowe.

The section from here to Knox Knowe is, I think, the toughest part of the course, both mentally and physically. At this point you are at the remotest part of the course and there are no paths or trods. Just heather. Wet, snow-laden, unforgiving, unrunnable, steep heather. On the map the contours look straightforward enough but out there it's just a mischievous series of hidden inlets and false summits beyond which somewhere lies Knox Knowe. I wearily trudged upwards on this energy-sapping climb relying on dead-reckoning and the occasional footprints to be rewarded by the sudden appearance of the cairn dead ahead. 10 miles and 2 hours 50 minutes into the race and I'd reached the furthest away point. Now it was time to go home.

Heading south along the trod to Grey Mares Knowe I met my old nemesis the Carry Burn. Although it was unexpectedly sedate it did seem to remember me and cast its gloomy wand over my mood and for the next mile or so I felt pretty low. It was exposed, lonely, windy, wet, remote and cold, and tiredness was setting in. I vowed that if I ever made it to Kielder Head alive I would retire from the race, give up running and spend the rest of my Sundays watching old black and white movies on TV and drinking tea. It was a squashy slog to the checkpoint then the terrain started descending in a more promising downwardly direction and soon I was warming up again and sliding my way gleefully downwards through the peat towards the checkpoint.

I chatted to the marshalls at Kielder Head and was expecting to be invited to retire. They seemed quite relaxed and when I pressed them on the issue they were happy for me to continue with the race. I asked whether I was currently lying modestly last, comfortably last, or phenomenally last. They tactfully replied that the other runners had bunched up and weren't so far ahead. Not having seen a splash of another runner's vest for hours now I was far from convinced but happy to accept the illusion as it certainly gave me a bit of a boost. I carried on, foregoing the option of cutting the corner to East Kielder as I was more than happy to go the long-way round if it allowed some gentle running on a surface that wasn't squashy. Passing the nadger-numbing spot of the Kielder Burn from yesteryear I gave it a baleful glare and muttered under my breath, this year my pretty one, my undergarments shall remain dry! Presently, 4 and a quarter hours after race start, on a diet of glucose tablets, shot bloks and carb drinks, I found myself at the bottom of the final climb. With my carbonated body bubbling merrily I noisily and windily made my way steadily up towards the Three Pikes, and back into the clouds.

The pebble prize

Back on the tops, into the cold clouds and wind and the weariness grew more intense with every inefficient squelchy footfall. But my spirit was brightened by the thought that it was downhill all the way home. I must confess to feeling extraordinarily uplifted by seeing the first scrap of marker tape hanging from a branch as I started to descend. I still managed to go off-course just a mile from the finish but all roads ultimately led to the castle and soon Will's caravan emerged in the distance. Whether Will was jumping up and down because he was genuinely pleased to see me, knew he wouldn't need to call Mountain Rescue, or could finally go home, I cared not. He seemed even more jubilant to see me finish than I was! A glance at the previous years' times for this event makes me think that, at 5h33m (20.25 miles, 4089feet) I might hold the course record as the slowest ever finisher but I don't care. I had a great race. I loved it.

English National XC Championships, Alton Towers, 19th February

Mudman & Mudwoman

Five super Striders battled through the rain, sleet and snow on Saturday to arrive at Alton Towers, in the nick of time, to compete in this year's national cross country championships. They found the 'event village' pitched in an ocean of mud with all traces of grass long since obliterated. Nonetheless, the faithful Striders' tent was erected and the 'five' huddled inside and prepared for the mud bath that was to follow. Disappointingly, the womens' course was shortened from 8 to 6km (for safety reasons!) and our three 'brave girls' felt slightly cheated having made the long journey from Striderland. However, they entered the fray in good spirits and battled through the river of goo to the finish.

The mens' course, too, was shortened but they did get to experience the delights of Mount Mud on two of the three laps. After much "blood, sweat, toil and tears" the 'Elvet Two' finished the 10km course.

Results

Men
PosNameClubCatTime
1 Steve Vernon Stockport Harriers & AC 35:11
841 Geoff Davis 53:12
894 David Gibson 54:00

1302 finishers.

Women
PosNameClubCatTime
1 Louise Damen Winchester & District AC 23:49
194 Keri Pearson 31:04
277 Fiona Shenton 32:34
378 Susan Davis 35:38

552 finishers.

Loftus Poultry Run, 13th February

7.8m

Alister Robson

Even though the weather was fowl three Striders made their way down to Loftus for the rearranged Poultry Run, rearranged after the snowmageddon just before Xmas. Perhaps the others chickened out? Never one to duck a challenge, Angela and I drove down and met Shaun at the start.

A slightly shortened course from previous years beckoned because of road works immediately outside the race HQ and usual start, Loftus leisure centre. The start was quite slow as it was off along a residential street, narrowed even further by the cars (many of them race participants) parked on either side. This was to be the last flat stretch for quite some time and the route climbed almost endlessly up and out of the housing estate and out into the country, where you could look back to Saltburn and the sea. There was a drink station about two miles in (although no-one ahead or around me took advantage of it, as far as I could see), and then the route cut along the edge of some fields which were wet and boggy and a bit cut up by the time I got there. (Steep hills and wet mud? Good job we'd been drilled in both by the Mudpeople this week!) There was a slight respite along this, then coming off the mud, for me the toughest part of the course. A long, slow climb up alongside the road which never seemed to end. Elevation Eventually it did and I reached the high point of the course. From here the character of the race changed completely and it was all downhill. You can see by the elevation map that the last three and a bit miles were entirely different from the first four and a bit and I absolutely flew home, and by the time the leisure centre came into view again I wasn't completely goosed and egged on by the crowd I even managed a sprint finish.

Shaun had already completed it, and Angela wasn't in much after me. A nice white long sleeved T shirt awaited all participants, many of whom were in Xmas fancy dress. I wasn't sure about the chaps in Babygrows (From Blackhill Bounders?).

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 BULMAN, James North York Moors MV40 43:42
9 RUTHERFORD, Georgie Darlington Harriers F 49:03
63 ROBERTS, Shaun MV50 58:03
118 ROBSON, Alister M 1:03:35
191 PROCTOR, Angela FV35 1:13:17

249 finishers.

Castleton Beacon, North Yorks Moors, 13th February

8m / 1,100'

Jan Young

Sunday 13 Feb saw old feet, Nigel and I accompanied by virgin fell runner, Rich Hall, off to Castleton to tackle eight soggy miles of heather, stream crossings, boggy bits, ups and downs, Pannierman's Causeways, Castleton Pits, Danby Park Wood. One 1.5k section against the wind was particulaly wearing. Richard commented that it would be a pleasant route if underfoot had been dry! Another silty bucketful of muddy socks and a shoe scrubbing session!

Four more to go in winter series; next instalment, Feb 27th, Commondale Clart, short one this, 5.5ml/600'. Car share anyone?

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Lewis Banton Clowne RR M 60.23
30 Shelli Gordon New Marske Harriers F 71.07
72 Nigel Heppell MV55 85.41
77 Richard Hall MV50 87.37
80 Jan Young FV55 90.18

94 finishers.

Absent Friends Trail Race, Cowpen Bewley Nature Reserve, 13th February

5m

Andy Jordan

It has been a while since I pulled on the purple jersey and did a competitive race and when I looked at the weather forecast I almost didn't bother again today. However, I did force myself to run this one and I'm glad I did ... it was wet, windy and muddy. The kind of terrain that a number of Striders seem to enjoy so I was mildly surprised to be the only one representing the club in a race only 20 minutes from Durham. 145 hardy souls braved the conditions in what was a well-organised race in memory of 'absent friends' and a one minute silence was well respected at the start line. There was one hill of note after a few hundred yards and then it was an undulating (did I mention the mud before) course on paths and grass and mud around the nature reserve. Can't really tell you about the scenery, as it was a day for heads down and looking at where you were putting your feet. I was pleased to make it round without falling over and in an ok time for a cross-country. Definitely one for next year.

Team Durham Charity Run, 12th February

Alister Robson

A much more low key event than previous years, this was in 2008, my first ever competitive race. It was 4 laps of the field, the other side of the river to Maiden Castle, and pretty much the same course as Dave Shipman, Dave Robson and myself ran in the Durham Relays last summer. Some teams had relays to make up the event, and apart from one other runner of about my age and his young son, I think everybody else was a student. I don't think there were any official results or timings (indeed the race numbers were just printed on normal paper, and I wasn't entirely sure whether mine was 6 or 9), but my wife who was watching and shivering thought that Till was in the top 5 or 6. I wasn't but after Sunderland Parkrun earlier that morning I was just happy to get round intact. I made it about 3.36km.

Muddy.

Carnethy '5', 12th February

6.2m / 2,500'

Tom Reeves

The peace before the storm ...

8am on Saturday saw myself, Geoff and Susan Davies, and Graham Daglish heading north for the Carnethy fell race. This was my first time on this race and very much the newcomer given it was Susans 19th time running this race and - wait for it - Geoff's 21st race. They surely deserve a big round of applause for their dedication.

Graham did a sterling job of getting us there in very good time indeed. [ Sterling Job? Sterling Moss, more like. He's mad at the wheel, quite mad ... Ed. ] Thankfully the weather was absolutely perfect and we had plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere at the start. The race itself is fairly short being six miles but what it lacks in distance it makes up for in ascent and descent going over five hills with the biggest saved for the end.

On the final climb I was starting to feel the pace and really needed a boost which came in the form of Geoff catching me up. 21st race or not I wasn't going to let him beat me without a fight so I pushed a bit harder on the long descent through the heather (bloomin hard work) and I pipped him at the post by just a few seconds. I was pleased to get round in under 75 minutes.

It was then back to the school hall where we registered for a school dinner and tea and biscuits. A good day out.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Thomas Owens Shettleston Harriers M 0:50:31
19 Angela Mudge Carnethy HRC FV40 0:57:25
166 Thomas Reeves MV40 1:11:51
173 Geoff Davis NFR MV50 1:12:17
302 Graham Daglish MV50 1:21:40
371 Susan Davis NFR FV50 1:27:25

473 finishers.

Enigma Quadzilla, 10th February

3x26.2

Dave Robson

Dave Robson The 10 marathons on 10 days Windermere runners have to raise a lot of sponsorship money and one way some of them do it is to put on races. The organiser of these four marathons in four days has been doing it for a while now, he has done the last two 10 in 10 events and is doing the next 10 in 10 in May.

Apart from the organiser, there were some focussed runners doing these events. One is aiming to run across the USA, another is planning 60 marathons/ultras this year and another is running all four marathons dragging a tyre behind her. She was out there for 8 hours or more ! She is planning to run one hundred marthons/ultras with the tyre.....

I have done two back to back marathons before and I thought it would be a challenge to try three back to back. I couldn't do four as it was my Dad's 90th on the day of the fourth one.

I used shot blocks, Succeed S!caps and Asda Isotonic berry drink for fuelling. My Goodness Shakes powders for recovery (thanks for telling me about these Denise !) and I slept in compression socks after day 1 and day 2 and ran in them on day 3. They all seemed to work as I didn't get any cramp and I didn't seem to run out of energy.

Day 1

There was a choice of routes to run today - 7 and a bit laps of the lake or a lap and a bit round the lake, an out and back down the Grand Union canal followed by a three quarters lap of the lake.

I chose the latter as we have to do the laps tomorrow. My friend Liz was also doing the canal and wasn't sure of the route and I find it easier to run with someone else so we agreed to run together. We last ran together about ten days ago and in that time she has completed three ultras, she is amazing !

It seemed a fast start and we made it round the lake without any problems. The organiser had dome an excellent job of marking the course with flour, although I heard later that once wet, the geese found in an interesting meal.

I picked up my rucksack from the drinks station at the end of the first lap - the canal route was unsupported and we then moved to the canal towpath which was tarmacked all the way to the turn around point. It was interesting to see all the moored canal boats with their unusual names and the amazingly varied things stored on the roof.

We took it very easy in the rain, it either drizzled or steadily rained all day. Then it was back to the lake, round it in the other direction and to the finish. 5hr 44min. A bath, food and chat followed. It was good to put faces to some more people from Fetcheveryone.com

Day 2

Well I did the 7 laps of the lake today. Before the start it was sunny, but the clouds came over and it rained for about a lap and then my last lap was sunny. Contrary to what I had expected, I enjoyed the laps. I think its seeing so many of the other runners as you lap them or they lap you.

I could see that a time under 4hr 30 was feasible for most of the race, but I had to push hard at the end to get it and I did by 12 seconds ! Cutting it just a little fine. However pushing it when you have another marathon the next day is probably not too wise and I felt very stiff this evening.

I am going to try and take it easy tomorrow. There is a choice of laps or the canal tomorrow, but as I did the laps about 75min faster than the canal, I'm going for the laps. I might take the option of the 8.00 start as I have the long drive home tomorrow.

Day 3

I was very stiff last night and I did wonder whether I would be able to run at all today. I didn't sleep particularly well either, but to my surprise I woke to find my legs much better. I had slept in compression socks and maybe that made a difference. But my legs were certainly not as fresh as they were on days 1 and 2, so I decided that sub 5 would be fine and sub 4.45 would be great. I decided to go for the 8.00 start instead of the 10.00 so that most of my drive home would be in daylight.

On day 2 I had played cat and mouse with Sally, a non-Fetchie. She was ahead most of the time and I caught her just before the end. She thought I wanted to overtake her, but I didn't have any intention of going by her, I just wanted to hang on to help me get to under 4hr 30min. She speeded up the closer I got to her and we both got under 4hr 30min with her 1 second ahead

Today she was ahead for the first bit and lap 1, but then we ran about 4 laps together chatting away and it certainly made those laps much much easier However, by the start of lap 6, I was suddenly feeling pretty awful, nothing I could identify, just not in the mood to run as fast as I had been. So I told her to go ahead and I really struggled round lap 6. Having experienced this feeling before, I knew it would not last and at the start of the lap 7, the final lap, I felt much better. I knew there was an outside chance of sub 4.45 and I just ran steadily until one of my timing points (where I knew how long it would take me to get to the finish). Sub 4.45 was still possible, so I put my foot down a bit harder and came in with 4hr 42min. I didn't catch Sally this time, but seeing two Fetchies ahead (they were 10.00 starters so they had no need to speed up) gave me some motivation.

The weather today was grey again at the start but it became a lovely sunny day. The drive home was fine, but I was very, very stiff when I tried to get out of the car. It has been a lovely three days. I have met some interesting and very friendly people and I think I have got through the three races without any serious injury.

I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down

WMOC Ski-O, Sjusjøen, Norway, 4–6th February

Colin Blackburn

Many Striders will be aware that I bang on a bit about orienteering. Some of you will be aware that I have started to bang on a bit about cross country skiing. Well, they are both great sports and I really want other people to share in the joy and excitement of both. Here I get it all out of the way in one article... welcome to the ridiculous, fun world of ski-orienteering!

Me, Rob and Chris - 3/5 of teamgb

Some time last year my friend Chris suggested doing some ski-orienteering. As a middling orienteer and a middling cross country skier I thought a nice low-key event might be worth a try. What I didn't anticipate was that my first ever attempt at the sport would be the World Masters in Norway. Yes Norway, where there are some quite good orienteers and some quite good skiers. Yes, the World Masters. A few weeks later everything was in place and along with four other Brits: Chris, Helen, Rob and Chris, all ski-O virgins, I found myself in Lillehammer wondering what I had got myself in to.

WMOC took place on the back some major championships for younger, fitter and more talented people than me. But that meant it was also a big event: music, commentary, giant display screens with live GPS tracking. It's a small sport so pretty much everybody involved must have been in Sjusjøen.

A few legs from the sprint.

Ski-orienteering maps are similar to MTBO maps, they map the quality of the tracks. Green tracks give some indication of skiability. Thick solid green show properly pisted loipe, the permanent winter trails put in for track skiers. There are then a series of tracks put in specifically for the event: thin solid, dashed and dotted green lines mark increasingly difficult to ski tracks. The trails shown by the dashed lines are skidoo width and only softly pisted. These trails are only limited by the ability of the skidoo driver making them so some of them can be very steep and winding. Tracks marked with a solid black line, small roads, could also be skied if there was enough snow on them, this sometimes gave options to ski through small residential areas. In ski-orienteering you are allowed to ski off-piste if you wish which means that later in the day there may be significant unmapped tracks in some places. You are also allowed to remove your skis and run. This is a completely valid technique that even the top skiers resort to when faced with some hills.

A typical dashed green track

Ski-orienteering is a freestyle event, competitors can ski using classic or skate technique. Most serious skiers skated though a reasonable number, including me, stuck to classic. It's whatever you are most comfortable with - skating is my weaker discipline. On the narrowest trails it is difficult to use a full skating motion so having classic skis can mean less double poling. For me this was a benefit though having shorter skating skis would definitely have been a big advantage for descending and cornering. The one tip I had been given before setting out for Norway was to fit big baskets (the sticky out bit at the bottom of a ski pole) to my poles to limit the poles sinking into the soft snow when off the main tracks. Unfortunately I had no choice but to set off for Norway with the smallest racing baskets imaginable.

The first event on our four day schedule was a training event. This was a self-timed event with short, medium and long options. But first we had to collect our map holders. With both hands needed on the poles a ski-O map is usually placed on a rotatable board which is mounted on a chest harness. The organisers had put some aside for us novices. Once strapped in the whole thing felt a little strange. I was no longer able to see my ski tips in front of me and I worried a bit about what would happen in the event of a face-plant.

Once we'd tested our skis (to get the wax right) we set off for the training event start. The hairiest bit was getting to the start! The start was at the top of the main Alpine ski slope and the only way up there was to use the chair lift. Having never done downhill skiing this was a new experience for me. Getting into a chair lift holding skis and poles and with a map board sticking out at the front is by no means easy. But we all did get to the top without losing or breaking anything. Once at the top we located the start and set off as a group to tackle the short course. Everything was white! - it took me a good while get a feel for where I was, especially as you are unable to keep your thumb on the map. After the first control there was a long descent to the second, it was at this point we realised that a thin solid line wasn't as skiable as we first thought it might be. It was also at this point that I realised the value of taking the skis off! We also all found out how disastrous small baskets were when try to use poles for propulsion. Towards the end of the training event we even did a little street orienteering as we dropped down through a small housing estate, very strange skiing past people's front doors. It was a short but very sharp introduction to what was to come.

Going...Gone!Trying to get upNearly thereUp, now where's my map?

A typical fall, though this is not me!

On the Friday there was the open sprint event, for me this meant just 2 km and 11 controls. Before the event I had been down to the ski shop in Lillehammer and had huge baskets fitted to my poles. For the competitive events we would be using touch-free punching system. The units for this system are about an inch square and worn around the wrist on a Velcro strap. At each control there is a control box, about 6 inches square. Holding the wrist unit within about 60 cm is enough to register, confirmed by a flashing LED. It is possible to ski through a control at speed, though I was rarely travelling at any significant speed.

At the start you have to collect your map and then get it into your map holder within 60 seconds, no mean feat with poles strapped on while balancing on skis. Once the beep went I deferred to the other skiers and paused at the start triangle, even with this cautious start I still messed up the first control. It wasn't until the third control that I got my head around the technique of simply remembering a sequence of turns at junctions: first left, second right, right fork.... The pole baskets worked a treat although my skiing ability was sorely tested on some of the hills. I spent more time getting off my backside than I did skiing. Forty-five minutes later I was done, over three times the winning time on my course.

The weekend brought the masters event proper: Saturday was the long-distance event, which for M50 meant 10 km, while Sunday would be the middle-distance at 6.7 km for my course. For the long-distance event I had two map exchanges. This is partly because the maps sizes are limited by the map holders but also to facilitate looping back without making the map too complex to read. My long course stated 400m of climb and it turned out that almost all of this was in the first part of the course in a killer long leg. Of course with hindsight I could have made the hill easier and even run part of the leg on roads. At the time though I failed to see this option and so this leg really took it out of me. With a late start and a limited amount of time to finish before our bus back to Lillehammer I decided to retire after the second map exchange. Though getting to that exchange was an adventure as I decided to follow an off-piste track that was certainly going where I wanted to go. What I hadn't appreciated was how difficult it was to ski between mature pine trees, I clearly had less ability than whoever made the tracks ahead of me. Luckily I survived to ski another day.

A cautious start

On the final day I was determined to finish the middle-distance race to make some amends for the previous day. The middle-distance race reused some of the sprint area and I was getting to know some of the controls quite well. What I still wasn't doing effectively was thinking ahead. Too often I kept close to the red line rather than looking for the longer routes that avoiding the hills. In foot-O these hills would be nothing but in ski-O they really test your ability to both climb and descend on narrow tracks. Finding longer flatter routes is clearly key if one's skiing ability is limited. At one point I discovered exactly what a dotted track was like due to a slight navigation error. As I decided on the dotted track to get me back on my line I saw two hazard warning signs just before the hill plunged away from me. Needless to say I took my skis off and jogged down what turned out to be a very steep hill with sharp bends and sizable trees. I did finish the race this time though I was still very much last. The rest of the team bubbled around the bottom places in their classes and our combined times weren't going to get any of us near the podium.

I must have fallen more times in these few days than I have in my entire, short, career of XC skiing. But it was fantastic fun and it is probably the craziest sport I have ever taken part in. I'll definitely be looking to find a competition somewhere next season, maybe a smaller one next time - though the 6-day Swiss Ski-O Tour sounds interesting!

Southport Mad Dog, Seaside 10K Run, 6th February

Dougie Nisbet

Dougie and Mad DogThere's something exciting about doing a race that's never been run before and when they give it a name like the "Mad Dog 10K", well it's a no-brainer. My in-laws live in Southport and we're down there a fair bit and I know the place pretty well. The course is flat, really flat, flat fast and a bit of a honey-trap for the PB hunter. The only hills are the footbridges over the lake.

The forecast for Sunday was pretty dismal but it seems that at the last minute the rain decided to head for Newcastle Town Moor and do mischief there leaving Southport with a brief weather window where we were to remain dry albeit a little windswept.

It was chip-timing so there was no need for an unseemly scramble on the start. There were no official road closures but thankfully there were plenty of marshalls and police around, which was handy for the first few kilometres where it would have been a dodgy squeeze trying to keep to the pavements. I was out for a PB and intended to get one but soon had my doubts as we headed south along the coast road into a strong headwind. I was running well and making steady gains but still couldn't hit my target pace for a PB. At the 5km we turned inland and the wind hit us in the back and I stepped on the gas to see how much time I could claw back. I wasn't sure it was possible but I was going to give it a go. This turned out be my favourite bit of the course with quirky turns and twists around Southport's lake and pier and the Finish getting rapidly closer all the time. With the wind thumping me in the back all the way home I was chuffed to see my PB was back on and I was delighted to finish in 47:43.

This race filled up weeks in advance and I'm sure it will become even more popular in the years to come. It is the fastest 10K course I've ever run and with chip timing and space to overtake it's bound to be a hit. There were a few rough edges and I absolutely hated the sharp left-hander just a few yards from the Finish line, but it's a fundamentally sound race and if you want a 10K PB then you could do worse than head to the Southport.

Grand Prix Race. Mud King/Mud Queen Race.

Out on the Wiley, Windy Town Moor

Harrier League, Town Moor, 6th February

Mudman & Mudwoman

Striders didn't quite "roll and fall in green" today, as Kate Bush once wailed, but rather "plodged and sloshed in brown". The Toon Moor was saturated on our arrival with a heavy rain falling from a cloud base you could almost touch. Those areas of the moor that weren't muddy were covered in surface water - EXCELLENT - just how a cross country course should be!

You'd think running in mud was good for you ...

Our brave boys and girls were not deterred and covered themselves with glory as well as mud. The men were first up and eleven striders did battle with the elements and a very long course. No debutants today and the team, mainly made up of old contemptables, were led home by Phil Sanderson (40th position running from the fast pack) with Dave Gibson continuing his welcome return to form. Provisional results show the team finishing above the bottom two in Division 2.

The women had second use of the manicured lawn and seven members of the "Sea of Purple" surged over the course and finished 4th team from 11 - their finest performance so far this season. Keri continued to shine at the front (15th place) with Zoe making a welcome return to the purple tide.

Results

Men
PosNameClubCatTime
1 BUSWELL, William Gosforth Harriers & AC 40:42
40 SANDERSON, Phil * 44:48
92 BENNETT, Mike 46:55
115 DAVIS, Geoff 47:47
122 GIBSON, David 48:06
164 WHITE, Conrad 50:23
174 ROBERTS, Shaun 51:16
209 HOCKIN, Richard 53:48
219 HEPPELL, Nigel 54:35
227 ROBSON, Alister 55:35
253 SPENCER, Ian 60:32
255 ROBSON, Dave 60:58

* Fast pack (+5mins)

269 finishers. Men's Team 9th, Division 2 - now 7th overall.

Women
PosNameClubCatTime
1 MOONEY, Jane Morpeth Harriers & AC 33:17
15 PEARSON, Keri * 35:21
24 SHENTON, Fiona 36:05
30 MASON, Nina 36:28
45 DAVIS, Susan 37:41
47 TOMLINS, Zoe 37:55
50 YOUNG, Jan 38:16
74 PORTER, Joanne 42:23

* Medium pack (+2mins)

83 finishers. Women's Team 4th - now 3rd overall.

I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down

WMOC Ski-O, Sjusjøen, Norway, 4th February

Colin Blackburn

Many Striders will be aware that I bang on a bit about orienteering. Some of you will be aware that I have started to bang on a bit about cross country skiing. Well, they are both great sports and I really want other people to share in the joy and excitement of both. Here I get it all out of the way in one article... welcome to the ridiculous, fun world of ski-orienteering!

Me, Rob and Chris - 3/5 of teamgb

Some time last year my friend Chris suggested doing some ski-orienteering. As a middling orienteer and a middling cross country skier I thought a nice low-key event might be worth a try. What I didn't anticipate was that my first ever attempt at the sport would be the World Masters in Norway. Yes Norway, where there are some quite good orienteers and some quite good skiers. Yes, the World Masters. A few weeks later everything was in place and along with four other Brits: Chris, Helen, Rob and Chris, all ski-O virgins, I found myself in Lillehammer wondering what I had got myself in to.

WMOC took place on the back some major championships for younger, fitter and more talented people than me. But that meant it was also a big event: music, commentary, giant display screens with live GPS tracking. It's a small sport so pretty much everybody involved must have been in Sjusjøen.

A few legs from the sprint.

Ski-orienteering maps are similar to MTBO maps, they map the quality of the tracks. Green tracks give some indication of skiability. Thick solid green show properly pisted loipe, the permanent winter trails put in for track skiers. There are then a series of tracks put in specifically for the event: thin solid, dashed and dotted green lines mark increasingly difficult to ski tracks. The trails shown by the dashed lines are skidoo width and only softly pisted. These trails are only limited by the ability of the skidoo driver making them so some of them can be very steep and winding. Tracks marked with a solid black line, small roads, could also be skied if there was enough snow on them, this sometimes gave options to ski through small residential areas. In ski-orienteering you are allowed to ski off-piste if you wish which means that later in the day there may be significant unmapped tracks in some places. You are also allowed to remove your skis and run. This is a completely valid technique that even the top skiers resort to when faced with some hills.

A typical dashed green track

Ski-orienteering is a freestyle event, competitors can ski using classic or skate technique. Most serious skiers skated though a reasonable number, including me, stuck to classic. It's whatever you are most comfortable with - skating is my weaker discipline. On the narrowest trails it is difficult to use a full skating motion so having classic skis can mean less double poling. For me this was a benefit though having shorter skating skis would definitely have been a big advantage for descending and cornering. The one tip I had been given before setting out for Norway was to fit big baskets (the sticky out bit at the bottom of a ski pole) to my poles to limit the poles sinking into the soft snow when off the main tracks. Unfortunately I had no choice but to set off for Norway with the smallest racing baskets imaginable.

The first event on our four day schedule was a training event. This was a self-timed event with short, medium and long options. But first we had to collect our map holders. With both hands needed on the poles a ski-O map is usually placed on a rotatable board which is mounted on a chest harness. The organisers had put some aside for us novices. Once strapped in the whole thing felt a little strange. I was no longer able to see my ski tips in front of me and I worried a bit about what would happen in the event of a face-plant.

Once we'd tested our skis (to get the wax right) we set off for the training event start. The hairiest bit was getting to the start! The start was at the top of the main Alpine ski slope and the only way up there was to use the chair lift. Having never done downhill skiing this was a new experience for me. Getting into a chair lift holding skis and poles and with a map board sticking out at the front is by no means easy. But we all did get to the top without losing or breaking anything. Once at the top we located the start and set off as a group to tackle the short course. Everything was white! - it took me a good while get a feel for where I was, especially as you are unable to keep your thumb on the map. After the first control there was a long descent to the second, it was at this point we realised that a thin solid line wasn't as skiable as we first thought it might be. It was also at this point that I realised the value of taking the skis off! We also all found out how disastrous small baskets were when try to use poles for propulsion. Towards the end of the training event we even did a little street orienteering as we dropped down through a small housing estate, very strange skiing past people's front doors. It was a short but very sharp introduction to what was to come.

Going...Gone!Trying to get upNearly thereUp, now where's my map?

A typical fall, though this is not me!

On the Friday there was the open sprint event, for me this meant just 2 km and 11 controls. Before the event I had been down to the ski shop in Lillehammer and had huge baskets fitted to my poles. For the competitive events we would be using touch-free punching system. The units for this system are about an inch square and worn around the wrist on a Velcro strap. At each control there is a control box, about 6 inches square. Holding the wrist unit within about 60 cm is enough to register, confirmed by a flashing LED. It is possible to ski through a control at speed, though I was rarely travelling at any significant speed.

At the start you have to collect your map and then get it into your map holder within 60 seconds, no mean feat with poles strapped on while balancing on skis. Once the beep went I deferred to the other skiers and paused at the start triangle, even with this cautious start I still messed up the first control. It wasn't until the third control that I got my head around the technique of simply remembering a sequence of turns at junctions: first left, second right, right fork.... The pole baskets worked a treat although my skiing ability was sorely tested on some of the hills. I spent more time getting off my backside than I did skiing. Forty-five minutes later I was done, over three times the winning time on my course.

The weekend brought the masters event proper: Saturday was the long-distance event, which for M50 meant 10 km, while Sunday would be the middle-distance at 6.7 km for my course. For the long-distance event I had two map exchanges. This is partly because the maps sizes are limited by the map holders but also to facilitate looping back without making the map too complex to read. My long course stated 400m of climb and it turned out that almost all of this was in the first part of the course in a killer long leg. Of course with hindsight I could have made the hill easier and even run part of the leg on roads. At the time though I failed to see this option and so this leg really took it out of me. With a late start and a limited amount of time to finish before our bus back to Lillehammer I decided to retire after the second map exchange. Though getting to that exchange was an adventure as I decided to follow an off-piste track that was certainly going where I wanted to go. What I hadn't appreciated was how difficult it was to ski between mature pine trees, I clearly had less ability than whoever made the tracks ahead of me. Luckily I survived to ski another day.

A cautious start

On the final day I was determined to finish the middle-distance race to make some amends for the previous day. The middle-distance race reused some of the sprint area and I was getting to know some of the controls quite well. What I still wasn't doing effectively was thinking ahead. Too often I kept close to the red line rather than looking for the longer routes that avoiding the hills. In foot-O these hills would be nothing but in ski-O they really test your ability to both climb and descend on narrow tracks. Finding longer flatter routes is clearly key if one's skiing ability is limited. At one point I discovered exactly what a dotted track was like due to a slight navigation error. As I decided on the dotted track to get me back on my line I saw two hazard warning signs just before the hill plunged away from me. Needless to say I took my skis off and jogged down what turned out to be a very steep hill with sharp bends and sizable trees. I did finish the race this time though I was still very much last. The rest of the team bubbled around the bottom places in their classes and our combined times weren't going to get any of us near the podium.

I must have fallen more times in these few days than I have in my entire, short, career of XC skiing. But it was fantastic fun and it is probably the craziest sport I have ever taken part in. I'll definitely be looking to find a competition somewhere next season, maybe a smaller one next time - though the 6-day Swiss Ski-O Tour sounds interesting!