Race Reports, July 2011
Ultra Tour of the Lake District
UTLD 50, 30–31st July
Tom Reeves and Joan Hanson
Tom: This is a fairly new race only 4 years old and was started as a English version of the UTMB. I ran this race last year and despite rather wet conditions enjoyed it.
Camping at the school in Coniston is included in the entry fee and we arrived early enough on the Friday to squeeze a pint of Bluebird bitter in at the pub after the check in. Saturday morning saw us sat in the school hall in Coniston listening to the legend that is Joss Naylor give us a pep talk before we caught the fleet of coaches to take all the runners to the start of the 50 mile route at Dalemain. The sun was shining and everyone was enjoying the warmth although this would change as we all got into the race properly. The race was delayed due to one of the coaches having a bit of bump with a car on the way over which meant potentially more time running in the dark for the majority of us. At 12.25 we were off.
Joan: Lesson 1 - don't ask for entry into sporting events for Christmas - that's why I'm standing in the holding pen at Dalemain. It's hot and I'm feeling rather queezy at the thought of what's ahead of me. My rucsac feels too heavy.
Leg 1 Dalemain to Howtown, 11.2 miles 294m (965ft) ascent
Tom: The 50 miler starts with a 4 mile lap of the Dalemain estate and there were a lot of people going off hell for leather only to be passed later on in the first section which took us via Pooley Bridge to Howtown on the shores on Ullswater. I was looking to do this in about 2 hours at a very steady pace and actually got there in 1hour 46minutes. I grabbed some cake, a banana and topped up my water and was off in less than 5 minutes. I think I paid for my haste over leg 2!
Joan: People sprint past me at the start only to be overtaken as they join an orderly 50 metre queue for a stile - us skinnys can squeeze through small gaps in fences. It really is very very hot. Nice to head away from Dalemain to begin the route proper, heading through Pooley Bridge the walking poles come out for the first hill of the day and I pass Phil Owen who is attempting the 100 mile route. There are fantastic views along Ullswater. Don't fancy much to eat at the first checkpoint but grab a banana to fuel me on the next section which Tom has warned me is the hardest. Oh god if he thinks it's hard...
Leg 2 Howtown to Mardale Head, 9.4 miles 765m (2510ft) ascent
Tom: This leg which goes over the highest point of the course to Mardale Head was my least favourite section last year and it proved to be my least favourite again. This time due to the heat. The climb up out along side Fusedale Beck was ... brutal. I later found out from other runners that this was pretty much the universal view. The heat was pretty intense being the hottest part of the day and the climb is steep and long! There wasn't much respite along the shore of Haweswater either. Mardale Head Checkpoint was manned by the army and there were bags of jelly beans, cola, tea, flapjack and soup and groups of runners flaked out in any available shade.
Joan: Heading up into Fusedale it just seems to get hotter and hotter, there is no respite from either the sun or the ascent. People are starting to flag, usually walking up hills is my strong point - not today, I start to feel decidedly ill and start to wonder whether I will be retiring at the next checkpoint- my head just isn't into it this turns into Lesson 2 - these long distance events are as much about your psychological approach as your physical strength. Thankfully it clouds over as I crest the top of the ridge and hook up with a few others for the descent to Haweswater.
Leg 3 Mardale Head to Kentmere, 6.5 miles 511m (1677ft) ascent
Tom: The steep climb up Gatesgarth Pass was strewn with jelly beans. I was steadily passing people and it's on this section that you can see the competitors who are more or less running your pace. I noticed one or two runners who were better than me on the climbs but not so confident on the descents (I like to work with gravity). Kentmere checkpoint is a bit of a legend supplying great food, fruit smoothies, rice pudding and copious cups of tea and the option of a massage if needed. At 27 miles you are also over half way so it's a bit of a psychological boost. It's also pretty hard to leave with such good food and proper seats!
Joan: I wonder what the sheep will make of all the piles of jelly beans along side the track. The route guide comes out to ensure I get into the Kentmere checkpoint where there is a very enthusiastic welcome, there's a real party atmosphere with balloons and fairy lights. My highlight of this leg was overtaking a couple girls running whilst I was walking. Ha! At Kentmere I see Anna S who has decided to retire, it's very very tempting to join her but there's still daylight and it's cooled right down now so Ambleside is in my sights.
Leg 4 Kentmere to Ambleside, 7.3miles 491m (1611ft) ascent
Tom: On the climb up the Garburn Pass I got talking to the guys who'd been jockeying with me for position over the past 8 miles or so and we more or less ran as a group for the rest of the race. There's a really nice long run down from the top of the pass into Troutbeck and we got up a good head of steam taking turns to run out in front of the group. Arriving into Ambleside was great, there were people all along the road cheering us on and it was such a boost.
Joan: I persuade David and Stephen (who made the mistake of sitting next to me) to join me for 'a bit of a walk' - I really didn't want to be heading into the night sections ahead on my own and we end up sticking together for the rest of the event. There's a lovely sunset as we head down into Troutbeck, with views stretching away over the western fells and the bats are swooping. We arrive in Ambleside just after closing time to a great welcome. Get a text from Tom - he's at the last checkpoint - lucky thing!
Leg 5 Ambleside to Chapel Stile, 5 miles 234m (768ft) ascent
Tom: The next section to Chapel Stile in Langdale is a nice short section and rather pleasant running. The light was starting to fade and we got our head torches out at the checkpoint ready for the night. I later chatted to a 100 miler who swears he saw a sheep eating a banana on the Langdale section.
Joan: Thrilled I'm still going but the feet are starting to feel sore - never thought it would be a pleasure to hit tarmac. At Skelwith Bridge the signpost says Coniston 5 miles, we've got about 12 to go. It's properly dark now, no hint of a moon. I wonder if Tom's finished yet and if he'd be prepared to come and collect me from Chapel Stile - decide probably not and head off again leaving people huddled round the roaring fire at the Chapel Stile checkpoint.
Leg 6 Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite, 7.1 miles 387m (1270ft) ascent
Joan: This one was very hard going, just following the person in front. I am now heartily sick of these stoney uneven Lakeland bridleways. New mental strategy is to tick off the remaining ascents (I'd recce'd this bit). Very very pleased to see Tilberthwaite.
Leg 7 Tilberthwaite to Coniston, 3.5 miles 283m (928ft) ascent
Tom: The final sections to Tilberthwaite and then back to Coniston have a couple of quite hard climbs and feel much longer than they are. Running in the dark is a shame because I've done these sections during the day and the scenery is wonderful. Well to cut a long story short I arrived back at Coniston in 11 hours and 56 minutes with my new running buddy Martin a plumber from Yorkshire. I was shattered and felt pretty sick but pleased to have got in under 12 hours. I was nearly an hour slower than last year but heat is just not my thing and clearly that goes for lots of other runners judging by the drop out rate and the generally slower times.
Joan: Great to know I'm going to finish, tinged with disappointment that I'm a fair bit slower than I'd hoped- the plus side of this is it is getting light as we start the last descent. I finally arrive back in Coniston at about 5.15am. Shattered. Never again. (I think this year I'll ask for perfume or maybe a nice handbag for Christmas) This is a really well organised event - but not to be underestimated, the combination of the distance, ascent/descent, terrain and the weather make this one heck of a challenge. It sold out very quickly this year so if you fancy a go you need to get in quick.
Tour of Fife, Day 5
Twisted Chicken Run, Strathmiglo, 31st July
This race was called the 'Twisted' Chicken run. No idea why, I didn't see any chickens and the course wasn't particularly twisty. It was an out and back course, 5m in total. It started in a wheat field on a rough track, went along the bottom edge of the field then turned sharply and steeply uphill. Then out of the field onto a tarmaced cycle route, down then up, into the forest and onto a forest road which climbed for quite a while, then undulated until we came to the turn around point and back the same way. Road shoes were fine for this one.
I had a sore hip from the hard work we had put in on the final stretch of the Chariots Race and I was a bit concerned about it, so we started pretty much at the back. Once we got onto the cycle track I realised it was fine, so we moved up a gear and started to pick people off. We fast walked some of the uphill parts. As we approached the turn around point the leaders came towards us in a group of about five with the yellow jersey seemingly poised to strike. We got to the turn around point in 24min 30sec and then started back. We flew down the hills, nothing to save ourselves for now and came home in 43mins 41sec overall, a big improvement on the first half!
Then there was the food, lots and lots of it (think Snod's Edge and you will get the picture) and the presentations and the long journey home. It was been a wonderful series of events and it has been fun exploring Fife for a week in between the races :-)
James Herriot Trail Run, Castle Bolton, 31st July
This is a lovely race, in a great part of the world ... yes, a couple of big hills, but also a couple of lovely long descents as well. Unfortunately, it's run at a time of year when it can sometimes get really quite warm. Dougie and I had a really bad time one year, having to walk flat sections after blowing up in the heat, and after a bit of a jog before the start I was sweating profusely, which didn't bode well ... it was very muggy and humid, with very little breeze.
Off we went, up the first hill, which goes on a bit, but is more or less runnable until near the top, when I like to have a stroll and get my breath back. I was getting really hot, though, so thought I'd better do what I could to cool down, and so took my vest off, light though it is, and this helped a bit, as did a slight breeze from the west. The optimist in me always imagines the next stretch as being flat, after the initial climb, but it does keep going gently uphill for quite a while. Gorgeous long run downhill next, then the second hill - with another walk - and then the second lovely descent.
The grassy run-in back to Castle Bolton was quite nice, but a glance at the watch showed this wasn't going to be a fast one, and I was well down on previous years. David and Geoff were home in front of me, though both had found it hard going. Susan came in not long afterwards, having what looked to be a much better run than she'd been predicting beforehand, then Dougie, who like me had found it hard work in the humid conditions, though neither of us had actually 'blown up' this time.
Afterwards there was a good hog roast on offer outside the castle, with draught local beers, and entertainment laid on in the form of a falconry display. That, and the new wild boars on show, rounded off a fine event.
|1||Robert J Cole||Newham & Essex Beagles||M||0:51:58|
|12||Louise Brown||Morpeth Harriers||F||1||0:58:16|
|267||Margaret Thompson||FSV +55||1:56:44|
Biathlon Course, Glenmore Lodge, 28–31st July
One of the great sports to come out of Nordic skiing in biathlon. This is a mix of cross country skiing and rifle shooting. A typical competition involves five bouts of skiing wrapped around four shooting sessions: two prone, two standing. There are then variants such as sprint and relay. This sport is absolutely huge in countries such as Germany and Austria with their top biathletes getting the sort of attention, and money, that a top footballer might get here in Britain. In Britain biathlon gets very little attention and even less money. It's very much a sport confined to the military who have the opportunity to shoot and ski. However, that doesn't mean that ordinary citizens can't get a feel for the sport here in the UK, and in summer.
There are a couple of places in Britain where you can learn to shoot a biathlon rifle and Glenmore Lodge in the shadow of Cairngorm is one of those. The Lodge offers a wide variety of courses on various outdoor activities throughout the year and this year they added biathlon to their list. They were already home to the Cairngorm Biathlon & Nordic Ski Club and they have a six-lane biathlon range and an extensive rollerski circuit so these courses are a natural addition. The course is given by the indomitable Mike Dixon. Mike's a six-times Olympian and a fantastically knowledgeable and motivational coach.
So, what form does the course take? Over the four days, it's residential and includes all meals, you learn shoot and then build your shooting skills. The costs include all equipment hire and the ammunition—I fired around 150 rounds per day over the course. You do this both rested and out-of-breath. Although rollerskiing is integral to the training of biathletes it isn't a required part of this course, you can opt to rollerski, run or cycle to get out of breath.
Each morning would begin with some classroom activities. These ranged from holding rifle positions, balancing or watching videos of your previous day's exercises or of professional biathletes.
This would then be followed by some rested shooting at paper targets. This allows you to zero the sights as well as to get some sort of ranking for your precision. After zeroing you can then shoot at the proper metal biathlon targets, five targets in a row that turn from black to white on being hit. In the prone position the target is around the size of a golf ball. Oh, did I not mention that it is 50m away! In the standing position you are given a bit more leeway with saucer-sized target.
Then it is on to the out-of-breath shooting which is dramatically more difficult! It's very much a case of trying to control your breathing, a few deep breaths followed by a slight exhale and a hold, then a very gentle squeeze of the trigger when the target is central. I chose to run and so a 4–8 minute light jog around some of the Lodge's trails—think red squirrels and pine martens—would be followed by some shooting. Prone follows the first two runs with standing after the third and fourth runs. So, standing is when you are most tired. I think my record for out-of-breath standing was 2 out of five targets and my record overall was 7 out of 20. The top biathletes rarely miss one out of the 20. There were three people on the course (the maximum allowed is six), me, my friend Chris and Bev who I had previously met rollerskiing, so these sessions were mini-competitions with lots of chocolate as prizes. Bev was the most consistent shooter of the three of us, even managing to hit all five targets on one occasion.
On this particular course Mike's son Scott was helping out (Mike had a broken rib and so holding a rifle position wasn't easy) and he usually hit 18 when out-of-breath and 20 otherwise. Scott is only 17 and heading out to the Youth Winter Olympics, hopefully he's destined to represent Britain in the Winter Olympics in a few years time. Scott was great to have around as he demonstrated just how to get it right!
The later part of the afternoons were designed to take your mind off of shooting. One day we did a brisk hill walk up Meall a' Bhuachaille (a Corbett), on another I rollerskied up a (very small) section of the ski road. As the courses were residential it was then time to relax over a meal and a pint or two—the bar has some decent Cairngorm beers on draught as well as a wide selection of bottles!
Overall this was a terrific course and I found the shooting very addictive. I'm already looking at trying to do some biathlon on snow this coming season and I'll certainly return to Glenmore next year if I have the chance. I'd wholeheartedly recommend the course to anyone who'd like to spend a few days in a beautiful location doing something a little different. If nothing else comes out of it at least some of Mike's enthusiasm will rub off on you!
Tour of Fife, Day 4
Chariots of Fire Race, St Andrews, 30th July
This was a race I was looking forward to, a race along the sand at St Andrews. We arrived to find a bit of a breeze blowing down the beach, fine for on the way out, but not so good for the way back - it was an out and back course to the end of the beach round the corner a bit, then back the same way. We had been told that we might get our feet wet, so I was expecting we might have to cross a stream.
As we waited in the car park, someone played the Chariots of Fire music which got us in the mood. I have been wearing my Elvet Striders vest for these races and a couple of people who moved up here from the north-east came over to say hello. We were invited to go out running with one of the local clubs if we were still around next week
We started off a bit fast again and after a mile decided that it might be wise to slow down a bit. As we approached the corner we saw the runners cutting off the corner by getting as close to the dunes as possible. This involved running on some very soft sand, which was tough. Once we got round the corner, the runners ahead had moved back on to what appeared to be the firm sand again, but it was what I will call sinking sand, your feet just went down into it and it was very hard running.
After this came very muddy like sand, but at least it was firm under foot. The turn around point consisted of two flags we had to go round in a clockwise direction. The first was up the beach which was fine, but the second was in the sea ! We waded out to about mid calf depth before returning back to the muddy sand, the sinking sand, the soft sand and finally the firm sand again. But this time we had the wind in our faces and the finishing line looked a long way in the distance ...
But we made the 4.04m in 34min 43sec which felt good. There was a cafe in the car park selling chips ! A wonderful way to end the day :-)
Tour of Fife, Day 3
Up Hell Time Trial, near Glenrothes, 29th July
Working out what pace you can sustain over the five races is not easy. Last night's race made this difficult. It was only 1.4m, but it was all uphill on tarmac on a warm evening. There were no flat bits to recover on, just some bits where the gradient was slightly less steep.
The format was different to anything I have done before. Runners were set off in pairs at 30 second intervals with the slower runners largely going early. Spicey and I differed by only a second overall, so we thought we might be set off together, but I was assigned a slot one minute ahead even though I was the one who was one second ahead overall.
Everyone signed in at Falkland car park and they encouraged everyone to pack into as few cars as possible for the drive up to the relay station on East Lomond. Parking was at the top and finish (there was no parking at the bottom) and it was very limited, they packed the cars in very tightly, blocking other runners' cars in - nobody was allowed to leave until the final runner was home.
The drive up revealed what was in store, it was unrelenting After a bit of chat at the top we walked down the hill. I kept an eye on my watch and realised I would only have a one minute wait at the bottom so we jogged the last bit and I should have had a two minute wait. However, they must have been running early and I had missed my slot. The starters were fine about it, I just had to wait until there was a pair where a runner did not show up and there were a few of these. I was a bit unlucky and I had to wait about about four or five minutes (which seemed a lot with pairs leaving every 30 seconds).
So finally I was off and I knew there was no hope of catching the two Fetchies ahead of me. It was going to be guessing a pace I could sustain in this race. No thought today of the two further races to come. My time for the first half was 8min 12 and I finished with 16min 32 so I was pleased with that as I know my climbing speed is pretty poor at the moment. Then it was watching and cheering the faster runners in as they fought their way through the increasing crowd at the top.
There was a great Tour de France feel about this race, the time trial format, cow bells from supporters, some runners in cow masks and cow socks, markings on the road saying how far you had come, the starters dressed in polka dot cycling jerseys and the Tour director dressed as the Devil complete with a large plastic fork and water pistol
Tour of Fife, Day 2
Tarvit Trail Race, near Ceres, 28th July
The second race was described as 'slightly undulating'. Hmm, I think it was a bit more than 'slightly'.
Again a variety of surfaces, tarmac in a private estate (the Hill of Tarvit), bark trails, the edge of fields, woods and a bit of mud :-) Just a lovely course again.
The first four races start at 7.30 in the evening, so by the time we got to the third lap on a cloudy and cool evening, it was getting difficult to see the tree roots in the woods, but we got through without any problems.
Three and a bit laps with a finish on the croquet lawn. The leading man and woman were kitted out in their yellow jerseys today, a nice touch We were lapped by the male leaders, they must found overtaking a bit difficult in places, it was a bit narrow in parts of the course.
Again the plan was to take it easy, but we probably did a bit more than that again! 4.79m on my Garmin in 43min 40sec
Tour of Fife, Day 1
Black Hill Race, Falkland, 27th July
The Tour of Fife is a popular annual event of five short races in five days. The races take place in various parts of Fife and there are different types of races. Also there are new races each year, so this year there are two new races and the final one is going to be a different route, but in the same area as last year. There was an entry limit of 150 and it filled in a couple of days of entries being opened.
There are no prizes or presentations for individual events, it is the overall standings that count. There is a nice momento for the overall event, which we have already received and they have also done the spot prizes (which are good - I won one ). There is also the promise of a great tea after the last event on Sunday. All this for the price of £22!
Day 1 was the 5m Black Hill race, a new race within the grounds of the lovely Falkland Estate. We wanted to take it easy, but we did a bit more than that, so we may be struggling later in the week.... The route was a mixture of tarmac, forest tracks and lovely forest trails. A bit more uphill than I expected. It reminded me very much of the Gibside race, but luckily a bit shorter.
A great route to start with and we came in with a time of 45min 18 sec
Gribdale Gallop, North Yorks Moors, 26th July
7.5M / 1400'
One Striders' vest on a drizzly evening, as low cloud descended on the long queue of runners waiting to pay entries at DP's car. Start - Gribdale car park - steady, steep warmup to Captain Cook's monument, then downhill gradient through woods, before ascending out of Gribdale, heading for Hanging Stone. 'You must touch the stone' instructed Dave. Next ascent, Roseberry Topping - I've learned to love it - went up and down tourist steps - up Little Roseberry's steps, then rattled along Cleveland Way to finish at Gribdale car park. Smiled as descended last steps; enjoyed the all runnable, 'fast at the sharp end' course and felt my racing head was back on, seven weeks after Swaledale!
Hung around for results/prizes and got bottle of wine - Dave gives away spares! Next ascent of the Topping is 23 Aug, straight up and down, 1.5mls, if you want a short 'un.
Durham Trail Race, Chester le Street, 25th July
I was surprised to find that Joanne Richardson and I were the only two Striders at this, the first of the three DCC Trail Races organised this Summer. Along with a friend Nichola we assembled amongst a group of probably around 50 runners on a sports field between the cricket ground and the river at Chester le Street.
Registration was straightforward with no delays - entry on the night only. We then hung around and had the usual nervous discussion about how fit the other runners looked and if we might come last, before a short course briefing. The race got underway about 10 minutes late - I assume they were waiting to see if there were any latecomers? The three of us started pretty much at the back of the field as we headed off along the edge of the sports field and up a tiny incline into a wooded area. Then it was along a path through the trees, out over a stile and onto the flat riverside path which led us back towards the start. The course was well marshalled and they had obviously taken the trouble to ensure the path through the wood was as clear as possible.
As I finished the first lap I saw Joanne had had to pull out due to a pre existing ankle injury, I couldn't see Nichola but I guessed she wasn't far behind me. I plodded on, finally managing to pass a couple of people who were struggling on the warm evening. I went through the finish in a very unremarkable time and collected my goody bag - it contained a bottle of water and vouchers for a free swim and a free gym session at any DCC leisure venue. Not bad if like me you're not a member of a gym.
Overall this was a well organised and enjoyable run, not bad for their first attempt. There was one place where it wasn't clear if we were supposed to run wide by continuing on the path or just run around the marshal. True to form I chose the latter, easier option, which may partially explain why my Garmin measured it as less than 5 km, 3.02 miles to be precise.
On my way home I stopped for petrol and bizarrely managed to sprain my ankle jogging across the forecourt. That meant I couldn't make the second race, at Barnard Castle, but I hope to do the final one on Wednesday 24th August, at Hardwick Park, holidays permitting. It would be nice to see a few more purple vests.
Victorian 10K, Marske, 24th July
Jacquie and I travelled down for this one. We'd both enjoyed the Marske Mermaid 10K (named after the pub it starts from) on Good Friday. We were quite surprised to find that the route was exactly the same so at least we knew early what we were getting, a few hundred metres unwinding out of the housing estate before hitting the coast path north (just after the Redcar Half marathon start), a quick loop and then back finishing on the coast path again. Nice and flat.
Unfortunately conditions although bright were somewhat choppy. Looking at the sea I can certainly see why the organisers of the same day's Sunderland Tri cut out the sea swim and turned it into a duathlon. The wind also made it tough - why is it that the wind you run into is always stronger than the wind when it is on your back? After heading there with high hopes of a 10K PB, that quickly evaportaed just after 5K, I was quite glad to finish safe and sound.
Jacquie, although not up for it at all and grumbling like a dormant volcano all the way there, relaxed and enjoyed it during the race. Prize was a largeish ceramic kind of coaster which was certainly different.
The Victorian part apparently is named after the town and Saltburn's Victorian 150th celebrations.
|1||Michael JEFFERIES||BILLINGHAM MARSH HOUSE||M||33:54|
Musselburgh 10K, 23rd July
This was a lovely race. A flat course, a lovely sunny day with a cooling breeze, you would have thought Phil Owen was there.
Before the start I met up with some old Fetchie friends and I met some new Fetchies. It was all very enjoyable in the sunshine on the playing fields.
The plan for the race was to take it easy and an hour was a very rough target. A lot the route is very close to the Firth of Forth and it was great to look out over that while running.
The first kilometer was covered in 5min 33sec and I continued at that pace for 8k. I had not pushed hard at all, so the pull of the finish meant that I found that I had speeded up when I got to the 9k mark. I came in with a time of 53min 18.
There was a goody bag, water, ice cream and a room full of sandwiches and cakes at the end. I can't recall having ice cream at the end of a race before, but I liked it !
Durham parkrun, 1st Trial Run, 23rd July
On a bright if slightly chilly morning, volunteers, spectators, 27 adult runners, 1 junior and 1 greyhound gathered at Maiden Castle for the 1st trial run of what will soon become the new Durham parkrun. The course and surroundings were appreciated by all those who I spoke to and Dougie took some great photo's to mark the occasion.
The course starts on the running track and consists of an almost full lap of the track, before crossing over to the cricket pitch for a clockwise loop and then crossing the wooden bridge over to the football and rugby pitches for one long loop, then following the riverside path all the way along to Baths bridge, crossing and finishing at the Durham Ox statue just before the bandstand.
Although it's a slight shame that the course doesn't start and finish at the same point, it's only a 10 minute walk or a 5 minute warm up or down run from start to finish and nobody seemed to mind. The results below were taken using a free app on my phone so I hope they're OK!
We'll be running another trial run this Saturday, 30th July hopefully with the official parkrun kit but if not then we'll just run the same fully unofficial trial once again. This will give marshalls and volunteers practise and get other 9am riverbank users used to us being there regularly. Please also don't forget to register first at www.parkrun.com - this is free and only needs to be done once. Durham parkrun will be barcode only from day 1. If you do want to come, to volunteer or run, please let me know so that I know how many people to expect. We don't want to be inundated just yet! I should also point out that Sunderland parkrun still had 83 runners, and at least one Strider ran there for the first time, even with all the Striders who ran at Durham so it doesn't look like we're affecting that too badly thank goodness. As for the official Durham parkrun start date, we hope to start officially in the middle of August assuming we can get all the necessary paperwork etc signed off. Watch this space!
Sunderland 5K, Silksworth, 20th July
Three Striders went over to Sunderland for this presumably all thinking as I did that it would be considerably quicker than the nearby Sunderland parkrun course as it skips the hills that make that such a challenge.
Turns out, I at least was wrong. Starting from the path next to the "turnaround tree" familiar to Sunderland parkrunners the course runs straight down the hill to the little bridge and along and up to where George Harden usually stands and marshalls, at the fork to the big lake. Here it takes the first major deviation splitting instead left, to go alongside the small angling lake (which I didn't know was there before tonight) and eventually popping out on the other side of the bridge as a small loop. Over the bridge and this time a slightly larger loop encompassing the familiar large lake, before again turning down past the angling lake and popping out on the grass at the back of Sainsburys.
Keri, unfortunately taking part in one of her last runs in the purple and green, had a better run than I did, despite nearly being crowded off the path at the start, and despite the ill advised spicy tea she grabbed in a dash before setting off for Sunderland! Luckily that didn't make a reappearance.
Local favourites, Sunderland Harriers and friends Dean Phillips and Dave Savage hared off into the distance and I never got anywhere near catching them. Deano just missed his race target of 20mins by 9 seconds. I'm quite sure he'll do it soon - maybe at Durham parkrun when we get that up and running? Jo came in nicely and and had a battle with David Whitmore of South Shields, eventually just pipping the elder statesman of local athletics to the line.
|1||Nick Swinburn||Morpeth Harriers||M||14.36|
|23||Hester Dix||Blaydon Harriers||F||16.39|
Summer Handicap, Round 4, 20th July
Coastal Run, Beadnell, 17th July
Peter Brooks ...
This was the third time that I have entered this race but, due to injury, I had never managed to reach the start line before. To make sure that I made it this year, I took the conscious decision to take it steady with my running in Spring. My plan for this was to treat it as a long training run for the Kielder marathon in October and I planned to begin running at the start and not to stop running until the finish. I had been told that this was a seriously tough race with large amounts of running on sand and through streams and sea water. For this reason, I decided to wear my oldest pair of running shoes as I knew that I am now drawn to water in a way similar to iron being drawn to magnets.
Andy James organised a coach to pick us up in Durham and drop us off at Beadnell for the start before taking the non-runners halfway for their walk and picking us up in Alnmouth at the finish. We arrived at Beadnell in plenty of time, registered and I went to find a bush to water before making my way to the start.
This race is billed as "Britain's most beautiful race" and standing on Beadnell beach looking across the bay to Dustanburgh Castle I realised why. Someone said that the castle was close to half way in the race and I stood wondering whether or not just to swim across to it but sensibly decided that, as the race isn't a triathlon, it wouldn't be really sportsmanlike to do that (and it would take me considerably longer than running round as well). The race had one of the strangest starts I have known, we were all walking down towards the edge of the water when the horn went off and we were under way. I started off near the back as I wasn't bothered about getting a time, I just wanted to finish without stopping. I knew that, physically, I was more than fit enough to run the entire distance, but in my last two races, I have fallen apart mentally and had to walk for one reason or another so it was a nice, steady plod along the beach through streams of sea water, taking photos and just having a plodge in the pools left by the tide (I did say that I'm strangely drawn to water now didn't I?). Eventually, we were off the beach and onto road, but not for long as we were soon descending onto the next beach.
I decided that, on the second beach, I was going to run as close to the sea as I dared to so I could make the run as short as possible over the sand. I ended up running through ankle-deep water which was absolutely freezing (not a good sign for next week's sea swim triathlon at Newbiggin). After about another 2(ish) miles of beach running, we ended up clambering over boulders to get onto the path around Dunstanburgh castle, this was a welcome break and made the run into Craster very pleasant. The run carried on over trails after Craster where we passed the walkers from the club before a short stretch on road followed by the final two miles on the beach.
Shortly after I finished, the heavens opened and we managed to get drenched before making our way to a local hostelry for a well deserved pint or two.
... and Pam Kirkup
'If I ever say I'm thinking of entering the Coastal Run again, please give me a good slap, hard and preferably with a Craster kipper!' Those were my sentiments after yesterday's race.
It's been 11 years since I last took part and I'd forgotten just how tough it was. But then in 2000 I was reasonably fit and managed a respectable time. I'd consulted numerous weather forecasts and the verdict was pretty much the same - gruesome; and since I was likely to be out for a long time, I needed to prepare for 4 seasons!
Having driven through pockets of rain of various strengths the Striders bus arrived in Beadnell to leaden skies but at least it was dry. There seemed to be a certain reluctance to get off the bus so I headed off with Jean Bradley to get my number and join the loo queue - only 20 minutes to wait! The start did seem somewhat bizarre - marshals seemed to be directing us into the sea! "Maybe we have to swim to Dunstanburgh this year," said a Fetchie next to me. But no, the masses headed off along the shore line on quite a long and soggy yomp along the beach. It wasn't too bad underfoot - certainly better than the churned up stuff at The Pier to Pier. I was told to look out for a stream to cross after about half a mile. Which one? There seemed so many.
Once off the beach, there came the more familiar road surface and possibly coastal path? Wishful thinking! In no time at all we were back on a beach; more soggy sand and rivulets to cross. And then came the rocks! Wet, slippery, moss covered, ankle biting and in my case hip twisting rocks. Great! At least I was in good company - surrounded by bodies in various stages of falling over. Eventually, I got up the little bankside and onto the coastal path to Dunstanburgh. No doubt all you fell runners will be wondering how a few metres of beach rocks could cause such angst. I think you had to be there! Afterwards, I realised that by taking the direct line I was the architect of my own down fall - a slight diversion to the right and I could have avoided most of it.
This was the start of a brief bad patch for me. My hip was sore and I felt very uncomfortable. So the section I would normally like the best - coastal path around the golf course and cliff tops, past Dunstanburgh and on into Craster - was slow and painful. I did think of dropping out at Craster but I knew I'd have hated myself.
So on to Boulmer, back on tracks, path, road and one or two steep 'undulations' - only a little bit of beach at the end I thought! "Three more miles," the lady at the drinks station shouted. But then the sky was turning black and over in the west was a flash of lightning and rumble of thunder. As the first splotches of rain fell I was so thankful I had my little red running jacket tied around my waist. In minutes a few drops turned into a torrential downpour. Everything was drenched. Then came the "two miles to go" sign and my heart sank! It was near the steps down to the final section of beach. Two miles of beach! It was horrible - relentless beach stretching out in front of you in a haze of rain and no sign of the finish. "We've got 2 more bays before we see the finish," said a guy running alongside me. "Look out for the church spire."
At last a vague blur of people clustered together came into view - and there was the church spire. This had to be it. As I got nearer I was aware of a figure in purple shouting at me and trying to take my picture. It was Mike Elliott - clearly recently sacked from the News of the World and missing life in the paparazzi! So it was a drenched, dishevelled, puce faced and exhausted Strider who finally arrived at Alnmouth. Back at the bus people were drying off and recovering, wet clothes strewn everywhere. Eventually some of us headed off to the Red Lion for a well-earned pint and their excellent BBQ sausages and burgers. Amazing how quickly you begin to feel better! Others went to the very nice Deli and its caf'e. Some just chilled out on the bus.
Our adventures were not over however. The journey back to Durham was good, the sun had come out and the traffic was running smoothly. Then we came off the motorway and the bus ground to a sudden halt. Broken down and stuck in a lay-by near Carrville. "I've rung the depot, they're sending someone out. It'll be half an hour," said the driver.
As you can imagine, there was a mass exodus from the bus and true Strider team spirit kicked in as family and friends were phoned, lifts arranged and everyone was able to get home or to their cars. "Oh look," said someone as we waited near the Park & Ride, "the bus seems to be leaving!" Funny that! Next day, I'm feeling fine and thinking how much I actually enjoyed the whole day. And you can forget about the Craster kipper - next year, I'll be there!
|1||Ian Harding||Morpeth Harriers||M||1:16:27|
|21||Jane Mooney||Morpeth Harriers||F||1||1:29:56|
|303||Marco van den Bremer||MV40||1:54:55|
Mike and George's 50th parkruns
Sunderland parkrun, Silksworth, 16th July
A great turnout of 10 striders ( plus Kathryn as a volunteer marshall ) were at this 'milestone' Parkrun for Mike Elliott and myself - our 50th Parkrun. The heavy rain at the start of the run did nothing to dampen the party atmosphere of the day.
Mike and I agreed to run round together but neither of us were in racing mode, so PBs were definitely out of the question. This day was more about enjoying the occasion. Kathryn, bless her, also provided the celebration post race cake ( Fairtrade of course ). However the customary coffee and breakfast did not quite go to plan ... Alister was devastated to find MacDonalds was closed for refurbishment, but thankfully the Barnes Hotel provided a decent alternative.
Mike and I now look forward to receiving our commemorative red '50' T shirts courtesy of new sponsors Adidas.
Court Inn Clamber, 13th July
Another successful race night on a gorgeous evening. Many thanks to everyone who helped and took part, including:
Barrie Evans - Starter and Finish Judge
Christine Farnsworth - Judge's recorder
Paul Loftus - Timekeeper
Allan Seheult - Timekeeper's recorder
Dave Robson - Course-marking and shouting "duck!" at the infamous tree
Geoff Watson - Start-marking
David Shipman - Tree marshall and MC at the Court Inn
Mike Elliott, Joan Reeves, Angela Proctor, Pam Kirkup - Registration
Nigel Heppell - Left turn into the woods
Chris Hedley - Left turn at Tonks Hill
Kim Hall - Help with results in the pub.
... but most of all a big thank-you to Pam who masterminded the whole operation once again!
|1||Graham Hunt||Durham City H & AC||M||29.54||Race winner|
|2||Will Horsley||M||30.41||1st M|
|7||Till Sawala||M||33.10||3rd M|
|10||Tom Reeves||M40||34.03||1st Strider M|
|11||Ulrika Leinke||Unattached||F||34.08||1st Lady|
|15||Matt Claydon||M||34.29||spot prize|
|16||Keri Pearson||F||34.58||2nd F|
|26||Fiona Shenton||F50||36.50||1st F50|
|28||Marco Van Den Bremer||M40||36.57|
|46||Nina Mason||F||38.51||1st Strider F|
|61||Jan Young||F50||41.45||3rd F50|
Kilburn Feast, North Yorks Moors, 10th July
I ran this race last year with my colleagues and come in after 62 minutes. My friends had injuries and some a dose of 'wimp out-itus'. I was on my own this year and the thought of 7 miles was filling me with dread. Hammering down the A19 I began to think about race tactics and smashing last year's time. It was not going to be easy. The course is very hilly. Hills and me don't mix! I was not feeling confident and in my rushing to get ready I had not even realised my unfortunate race number.
With only time for a pathetic attempt at a warm up and stretches we lined up ready for the off. As I stood next to the Foresters Arms I remembered one of the key features of this run. It passes some of North Yorkshires best pubs. A temptation I would have to resist.
As the starting hooter we were off and I quickly realised that this race was full of vests representing a massive range of clubs. From Wales to Scotland, from Scarborough to Crook, this race attracts a much wider field than the 300 or so competitors would suggest.
After a flat run out of the village I looked for people running my pace to hook onto. I was feeling fine at around 6 and a half to 7 minute miles. Then hill number one hit! It's similar in height and steepness to the ones I train on in Northallerton but only now did I realise how much hills slow you down. Head down I ground it out but my legs just didn't want to know. I recovered briefly on the descent and again picked up some speed through the village of Coxwold. Then the long flat bit to hill 2. I struggled again to find my pace and was not helped by the thousands of horse flies buzzing around our sweaty bodies. Hitting hill 2 I actually picked up speed and with pure blood and guts I made it to Byland Abbey and perhaps the hardest part of the race, the last third. It is essentially a long energy-sapping, shallow climb before you get to the last mile and a half. This was as bad as I had remembered and I passed some who had given in and started walking. No way was I giving in. I had been beaten by one of my colleagues last year and was out to smash his time to gain office bragging rights. With the last of the climbs done and dusted it was time to put my foot down. The time was going to be close and my Garmin was telling me I had a mile and a half to go and it's all downhill.
Flat out to the finish I passed the 7 miles mark at full speed. With point 2 of a mile left, the pub came into sight and some people had stopped early before the actual finish line. I had made that mistake before so overtook, much to the annoyance of one runner before he realised his error. I collapsed over the finish and stumbled into the square to receive my prize. No I didn't get onto the winner's podium. I had been promised a pint if I beat my colleagues time from last year of 59 and a half minutes and he was buying! I checked my time of 56.24 and with a smug satisfaction finished my Pint!
Boomer's Run to Breathe 10K, New York, 9th July
When I found out that the New York Road Runners were hosting a 10K in central park, I couldn't resist signing up. The tricky bit was breaking the news to the missus that I would be racing on our holiday! But the promise of a trip to Macy's seemed to ease things.
The course was a circuit through central park and entirely on road. I initially thought that having water stations at every mile was excessive. There were even shower stations every 2 miles. But it was 30 Celsius and I was sweating like a pig. It was a scenic route with the skyscrapers of manhattan overlooking you as you ran.
Because I was recovering from injury, I took things easy. A race is really good fun if you're not trying for a PB! I did all the things I wanted to do like run through the shower stations, dunk water over my head at every mile and take lots of photos. The atmosphere was great. There was a band at the start and bagpipes near the finish. There were many fun runners and I must have passed hundreds of them as they stopped to walk at even the slightest incline. My post-race souvenier was a bagel and T-Shirt.
For a 10K, the entry fee of £21 was pricey. But it was by far the most organised race I had ever seen. There was a row of a hundred portaloos (see photos) at the start. Even though there were nearly 5,000 runners, there was no queue for collecting race numbers or baggage. There was a marshal every 50 meters (I kid you not!). The results of the fastest runners were posted immediately and the prize-giving took place an hour after the start. This was a well-oiled machine. But these guys have been organising the New York Marathon for decades, so are pros.
So, if you are ever in New York & want to race, look up the NYRR website as there is an event every month. My only gripe was that I was listed as living in Durham, USA. And I did register as an Elvet Strider but apparently they didn't recognise this.
Tynedale 10K, Ovingham, 6th July
After the rugged desolation of the previous night above Stanhope, the Tynedale 10k was positively teeming with keen runners hoping to get a PB under the belt. It was good to see the enthusiastic smiles and shaded eyes of Alister and Jacquie on arrival at Ovingham School. This was my first proper 10k and despite slightly heavy legs I felt I was set for a decent run. Ian, Alister and Jacquie all seemed up for PBs and a couple of colleagues, Dave and Louise, were after fast times. Just over 300 runners assembled at the top of the lane in Ovington on what was a very pleasant sunny evening. Getting near the front seemed like a good plan as the first mile, dedicated to George Ogle, the first President of Tynedale Harriers who died last year, was going to be a fast one. It certainly got the legs moving and I clocked 5:26 which was a bit of a shock to the system. I then managed to get into a pack of 6-7 runners who more or less stuck together for the next 2 miles along the road, through Ovingham and into Wylam.
At this point I did look enviously at the pints of the local brew being supped by spectators as we 'rocketed' past the pub and George Stephenson's birthplace (b.1781) - the sacrifices us loco runners make, eh, get it?! Fortunately this was only a fleeting moment of 'hope', and quickly 'diligence' took over again as I stayed focused on the vision of the pies and mushy peas that would be waiting at the end.
After the PH the route turned back along the disused railway line which provided some welcome shade, especially in the tunnel(:-), and a good chance to gauge the pace and breathe deeply before the finish. After a few very short undulations through tree-lined lanes and tracks, the route ran alongside the river Tyne before a fast last mile into the Countryside Park where the crowds willed everyone to finish with a sprint and a smile or grimace!
After finishing it was good to be able to retreat back along the line to shout the rest in, Ian, Alister and Jacquie all getting PBs. A real 'black diamond' of a 10k run and good pies at the end;-) Well recommended for next year!
|1||HARDING, Ian||Morpeth Harriers||M||31:54|
Saltwell Harriers Fell Race, nr Stanhope, 5th July
5.5m 1000' BS
The relatively dry spring made for yet another variation of this great little fell race in the North Pennines. Nominally a 5.5 mile race with 1000 feet of climb its actual distance is about 6.1 miles and the climb not much more than 830 feet. But as Keith Wood said to Andy Glass in an email, they still use a bit of string and a map to measure the course. That's Gateshead folk for you. So, a bit longer, a bit less climb and not as boggy under foot as advertised. The one constant though is the dip in the stream.
James, Tom and I arrived at the event with a good bit of time in hand, plenty of time to register change and chat to the other Striders out for the run: Mike B, Alister, Jan, Nina, Aaron and Anita. Not nearly as many Striders, or runners overall, as last year which was a shame for such a pleasant evening. Phil O was in attendance but he was sensibly resting his legs and dedicated himself to getting some photos as we approached the final climb. I think he was hoping to get a few people tumbling down the bank!
After the usual pre-race chat from Keith we were off. Tom and James disappeared into the distance while I yo-yoed with Alister and Nina on the climb to the mast. This year's variation meant a fairly dry fence line run, that meant I could pick up a bit of speed and pass Alister, as well as a dozen other runners, but I couldn't shake off Nina who seemed tucked in behind me for most of the track along the fence before finally passing me before the drop down to the road. The old wagonway was hard running under foot and it was a relief to drop down the fell on the softer grass. The burn was a little deeper than I expected - about waist deep on me, Tom must have needed Scuba gear! The soggy run along the stream bank is in some way a relief from the first part of the race but you always know that the final track climb is going to be hard so it is a useful rest. And it was hard but I got up there a couple of minutes faster than last year to be cheered over the line by James, Tom, Mike and Nina. We hung around to cheer in Alister, Aaron and Jan before heading off to the Moorhen for the prize giving.
As usual the pub had put on a good spread of food and they had a decent beer on too. Eventually Keith rose to his feet to give the pronouncements. As ever the first prizes went to the women. Karen Robertson (NFR) won the women's race but Keith wasn't going to present the prize without mentioning an incident out on the course. As Keith was approaching the burn Karen was close behind. Keith claimed Karen pushed him in the river, he also claimed he had witnesses. Suddenly no-one present remembered seeing anything! Tom says that Keith did quite a good dive. Nina was fourth woman and with Jan and Anita we should have had the women's team prize but for some reason we didn't. For the men, James was, I think, in the top 20. The rest of us will have to wait for the Saltwell Harriers results processing system.
Once again this was a cracking race with some great craic in the pub. It exemplifies what is great about a lot of fell races: just park at the road side, pay very little (£4), have a great run in beautiful countryside and then get some free food and loads of prizes. My bottle of beer for a middling finish was very enjoyable. I'll be back.
The Chris Hills 10 in 10
Lakeland Trails Marathon, Coniston, 3rd July
I didn't really know what to expect with this race, I haven't done any of the other Lakeland trail runs before but had heard they were tough. To add a bit to it I decided to take the family with me on our first camping trip. This was where the weekend became harder; my youngest- Lizzy, who is 2, slept the whole car journey and then ate a full 36 pack of jaffa cakes while my back was turned at about 6pm so sleep was not an option until close to midnight. Then she (and by association, me) woke up every hour to have a good cry about things. If anyone saw a zombie in a striders vest at 7.30 am sorry I didn't speak, I was trying to comprehend what had just happened, and what was about to happen! I left a 4 pack of John Smiths in front of the tent next to us with a note saying sorry about the din and trotted to the start.
Coniston is a great place and the sun was red hot even at 9am. I hadn't read in the blurb on the website that they advised runners carry water. I still can't see it now, not sure how everyone else saw it... but I realised I was in for some punishment. I'd done Kielder marathon last year and it was tough. Next to this one it was a walk in the park! The hills... they provided some great views and it was a pleasure to be there but they were relentless, unforgiving and showed no mercy- they just kept on coming!! Obviously I showed no fear and ran at them screaming, as one does, but this time they were just too much and it was never going to end well.
Come the halfway mark there were some great views down into the valley where we had come from and it was good running along the ridge. We had gained a lot of height on the first half and I even entertained the possibility of a negative split, since the second half would surely be downhill right? Wrong! It kept on going, as did the sun. By 16 miles the wheels had come off and the remaining 10 were very tough. I even did a 14 minute mile on one of the uphill bits.
The best bit was where a bridge had been closed suddenly (2 days before the race) so the route had to be diverted to a shallow river crossing at roughly 17 miles. I was so thirsty and hot by this point that I saw it and bellyflopped straight in. It was paradise! But then it was up and back to the grind. The last 10 miles were a mission to finish. It happens, I didn't run well but I did finish and put it down to experience in my ever expanding catalogue of 'how not to run a marathon'. Main lesson this time; don't buy new running shoes and then run a trail race, and do take water if car tyres are melting at 8am. Anyway I really enjoyed the weekend, it's rare to land one as sunny as this in the Lakes and some of the views on this race were magnificent although some of the hills were better suited to mountain goats than trolls like me. It was tough, but if it was easy everyone would do it. Well done to all the Striders, especially to Angela who seems to be trying to find the hardest ones in the calendar to start off her marathon career.
Well done also to my eldest, Poppy, who also did her 1st race- 1/4 mile in 2mins 14. She was probably hampered by her old dad hauling his carcass round the run 20 minutes (and 2 Ciders) after finishing the marathon!
33nd Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon, Chapel Stile, Great Langdale, 2nd July
Nigel Heppell ...
Shaun and I decided to team up for this event back in the depths of winter when entries opened. Come July and the weather was a bit warmer but we were pleased to be going to a central part of the Lakes that was new to me. We were in a 'middling' category, Carrock Fell, the same as last year, which we completed last time in 6hrs day 1, and 5hrs day 2.
Without going into too much gory detail, day 1 was OK for navigation but apart from a bit of running in the first hour, the terrain made the rest of it a long walk - 9 hour's worth. Some issues with paths on the map that just were not there on the ground and some very steep climbs even though we later found we had followed the organiser's optimum route. A couple of hours contouring left each of us with a badly blistered heel.
Overnight camp turned out to be pretty cold but by 7.30am it was warming up. Day 2 started with traditional big ascent to the first checkpoint and mortal agony from heels. Tried every combination known to man to relieve pain but to no avail with feet continually immersed in gritty peat bog.
In the knowledge that day 2 was listed as a similar distance and the same climb as day 1 we made the executive decision to take the direct route back to the event centre from checkpoint 3 and looking at the comments of others there is no doubt this was the right choice under the circumstances. Missing out checkpoints 4-9, it still took us 5 hours to get back.
Its possible you may not see us at the Saltwell Harriers fell race on Tuesday.
... and Shaun Roberts:
Well, this year's Carrock Fell course was a bugger. 106 pairs started Day 1 - 61 finished Day 2. The rate of attrition in the harder classes was even higher. Nigel and I were quite happy to finish mid-pack last year but this time we had a very, very tough course on Day 1, with loads of very steep climbing, lots of tough descending through stony bracken, and worse, lots of "contouring", that went across scree, boulder fields, and interrupting streams, that seemed to end up twisting the ankles over for ages.
The upshot was that we did very little running on Day 1, and took a long time - amazingly we were actually close to the recommended route at all times, but there wasn't much running going on, by us or anyone else. Both of us picked up blisters that despite repeated attempts to patch up, left us both hobbling on Day 2, and we were left the prospect of another horribly long day, but in pain, so we bailed out after taking 3h for CP3. Quite happy to do so in an orderly manner, mind, getting back to the start camp, and also coming in first of the "mp"s!! ["Missed points".]
We were disappointed, but felt somewhat victims of an overly-hard course. But then "you win some you lose some", especially in MMs ...
So we'll be putting this one down to experience.
|Pos||Name||Day One||Day Two||Overall|
|9:11:37||75||4:59:25 mp x6||10:47:19 mp x6|
106 starters, 61 finishers.
The Barrathon, Isle of Barra Half-Marathon, 2nd July
I suppose it's a long way to travel for a half-marathon. You can get half-way round the world in the time it takes to get to Barra. There are quicker ways to get there, but we chose to sail, across the sea, via Coll and Tiree. The 7 hour crossing from Oban was pretty gentle so there was time for Breakfast, kip, lunch, kip, then disembarkation on a balmy evening at Castlebay. It took almost 60 seconds to get through the congestion then we were heading north on the main autobahn the few miles to our accommodation at the Northbay House B&B.
The following day we decided to drive round and recce the race route. The road builders decided that the main A888 ring road around the island should be almost exactly 13.1 miles long, clearly realising that one day sooner or later someone would decide it would make a great half-marathon course. I was puzzled though. From what I could gather legend had it there was a pretty gruesome climb at mile 12, but I thought the hill there was pretty innocuous. I assumed, rather haughtily, that it was because I'm a hardened fell runner and road runner people have different perceptions of what constitutes a 'hill'.
I stopped at Castlebay school to collect my number and was asked for my "SAF number", whatever that is. There were a confused few minutes in which I tried to offer my UKA number, waved my membership card around, and tried to remember how much I'd paid for the race. Had I got a discount? I had no idea. I can rarely remember which races I've entered, never mind how much they cost. My UKA number was eventually written carefully (and rather suspiciously) down and I picked up my number and scarpered.
Believe it or not, Barra is has one of the Independent's top fifty curry houses, the Cafe Kisimul, and it was the obvious place to go for the traditional carb-loading meal the night before the race. Tucking into my white wine and fantastic curry it crossed my mind that this might not end well. Still, tomorrow was absolutely ages away, and I never learn anyway, so why start now. The ferry came in during pudding and a bunch of race-ready types wandered in looking for something healthy. They drank their tap water, checked their Garmins, and chomped their pasta looking very much like the sort of people that spent far too much time standing outside in the rain and not enough time eating chips.
Normally I would forego breakfast and go easy on the coffee on the morning of a race, but our hosts wouldn't hear of it and I didn't put up any resistance. My 'regular' breakfast including a massive caffetiere of coffee was placed in front of me. For the second time in as many days I thought, this might not end well.
All roads (actually the only road) led to Castlebay and I had a full carload of hitch-hikers by the time we had gone a couple of miles. On the way I asked a nervous looking Linda how she thought she might do. She claimed to be a 'fun runner' so I immediately went into patronising old-timer club runner mode, giving her the benefits of my experience. When she said her her fastest half-marathon was 1:42 I thought this must be some interpretation of the expression 'fun runner' that I was previously unaware of. It was during out chat about the hill at mile 12 that I finally twigged one very important thing about the race. There's only one road, so it's practically impossible to get lost, unless if perhaps, like me, you were under the impression the route ran anti-clockwise, when in fact it runs clockwise. Well that could have been embarrassing. We crossed over the big hill at Heabhal (I conceded it was, indeed, quite a cracker) and dropped into Castlebay. Roberta took a photo of me with my new chums Rich, Joanne and Linda, then we all drifted away to the start.
The police closed for the road for the start of the race to a non-existent queue of traffic and we were soon belting our way (clockwise) down the hill on a fine balmy morning on our tour of the island. Linda and I were both aiming for 2 hours and for about, oh I dunno, almost half a mile I was using her as a marker. But she was looking pretty comfortable and I was getting coffee and curry flashbacks so I took it easy and she soon vanished. By mile four I was feeling hot and bothered and full of coffee. Barra is not, shall we say, a generously forested island. It is not helped by having the Atlantic Ocean constantly in your eye-line and the sound of crashing waves on the rocks nearby. You see the sea, you need a pee, and what you need is a tree. An incongruously abandoned container lorry appeared in a lay-by and I gratefully dashed behind it and found it unsurprisingly busy.
Presently the world looked a better place and I could concentrate on running and actually enjoy the sound of the sea. I was running comfortably and making good time and thought I'd easily get under 2 hours. It would all depend on how the hills behaved in the latter part of the race.
Our hosts had promised to be at the side of the road to cheer me on as I ran past the guest-house and they were true to their word. As I approached, Mary shrieked "There's Dougie!" and started clapping and jumping up and down. I must say this takes customer care to a whole new level. I stormed past grinning and waving and after a few hundred metres when I assumed they'd stopped watching I slowed right down again and got my breath back.
The big hill at Heabhal (pronounced, appropriately enough as "Heavall") was hot and tough. I'd had a reasonably comfortable race but on the final climb I could see my sub-2-hour slipping away and I buckled down and concentrated on the climb. Not a chance. By the time I crested the real summit after a series of false summits I was looking at over 2 hours unless I could claw it back on the descent into Castlebay.
The final couple of miles down to the finish were quite classy. The Castle and Bay (the clue's in the name) looked great and the descent was steep but runnable without having to hold back. A really nice run in, apart from a nasty little hill before the final home stretch. Every one of the 227 finishers was cheered in by the commentator with a "Welcome Back!", which was a nice touch. I met up with Linda (the "fun runner") afterwards and she was pretty chuffed to get 1:49.
Times were good with the winner finished in 1:15 which, given the hills, is pretty brisk. The whole event is run by volunteers and all the money goes into the island and its charities. I would quite like to do it again in better shape and with a more positive attitude. It's obviously a long way to go for a race (although if you fly from Glasgow Airport you can get there surprisingly quickly) but it's such a lovely place and the whole event has a great relaxed but excited buzz to it. Well worth wrapping a holiday around. Registration opens in January. You need to get in early as it's limited to 250 runners and it fills up very quickly. Let's have a few more Striders there brandishing their English Athletics cards!
Sedbergh School Sports Day Fell Race, 1st July
I have a good friend living in Sedbergh and go over to run the Howgills when I can. This one tied in nicely with the Coniston Marathon and a planned recce of the last 11 Miles of the Lakeland 100/50. I really like the town and its small community. Every year the town (and throughout the year) holds various events to raise money for the local primary school and their projects. The Sunday also saw one of the best road races around. The Lune Valley and Howgils 10M race. This little gem organised by the town football club again with all the money going to the school is just down the road from the more famous Dent race and is just wonderful. Better than Dent (tougher hills , better views and cheaper ) in my opinion and more low key. Look out for it next year. This little fell race was part of a good old fashioned sports day. Three legged race, potato race (bean bags not potatoes though) wheel barrow races - you get the picture. We entered them all. Well there was prize money. The potato race winner got £3-00!
After that fun the junior fell races started with the various age groups going higher and higher up the fell. Then it was the seniors. If I thought for a moment that with all the relaxed fun this would be easy then as soon as we were off I knew different. The vast majority of the field were Howgill Harriers, including Karl who won Cronkney Fell so easily last week, and they shot off. Obviously club pride was at stake here. I'd like to think my legs were still a tad stiff from the previous night's 10 mile loop (or was it the potato race ) as I watched most fly off down the short stretch of tarmac to the foot of the Knot and not my lack of fitness (or inherent slowness) holding me back. Soon as I got there I realised they were all trying to get a place on the hill as its hard to overtake in the bracken.
Heck it was steep. Hands on knees all the way up. Well I got to the top I looked back to see my mate Kev not far behind and trying to catch me but not that many after him. I asked the Marshals at he top what hill this was and was told in that lovely Dales/Cumbrian (Sedbergh really is on the border) accent 'This isn't a hill lad , that is' and pointed to the next summit 'the Sickle'. More slog up and finally down, straight down in parts. Almost vertical. That's OK because I love that. Soon passed a couple of the old or infirm and back to the sports field with Kev close behind, gutted because we missed the egg throwing competition. Have to be quicker next year.
Black Rock 5, Kinghorn, Fife, 1st July
This has been a race that I have always fancied doing and I have sometimes found that if you have very high expectations of something, then it can be a bit of a let down, but this run certainly didn't fall into that category. I knew that the race was an out and back on sand to a rock and that I was likely to get wet. What I hadn't expected was that part if the race was through the hilly town (on the south coast of Fife looking towards Edinburgh) and that most of the town would turn out to watch. I also hadn't realised that the finish was the most uphill finish I have ever seen and that we got a bottle of beer in the goody bag (along with water and a banana). It was also probably the latest starting time for a race that I had ever done - 8.00 pm in order to take place at low tide.
The start was uphill and crowded (800 entrants) and I started at the back as I was intending to take this one very easy. A piper sent us off. After a flat section we descended to the beach. People were standing outside pubs and their houses cheering us on. Across some very soft sand and into the first water section. Then off across the hard sand towards the black rock, avoiding the many jellyfish. There were several shallow water sections and the sand was sometimes uneven because of the effect of the waves. Once we got to the back of the black rock (with another piper playing on it) the water got considerably deeper and there was a one hundred yard section of knee deep water ! Then it was back on the beach heading back towards the town.
At this point my resolve to take it easy went out of the window and I started to speed up. I crossed the soft sand and ran hard up into the village and then plunged down to the start. There was then a sharp turn and the very steep uphill finish - the organisers were struggling to cope at the finish because as soon as people crossed the line they would stop and create a backlog.
I bumped into a couple of runners from Low Fell who had also come north for this race and they seemed as impressed by it as I was. My time was 40min 28sec, I think I will need to come back to get that under 40min!