Race Reports, February 2012

Military League North Night Orienteering Championships, Durham, 29th February

Blue 5.7Km

Dougie Nisbet

You know those films where some bloke rips up his betting slip and throws it away in disgust after a poor performance. Well, that's me that is. After crossing the finish, receiving my itemised bill, I gave it a cursory glance already knowing the worst.

"You are currently 35 out of 35 finishers". I like that faint whiff of optimism in 'currently'. Despite crossing the Finish 5 minutes after the courses officially closed, there's still a chance of the EastEnders' theme tune, or some trailing ellipsis. But I know it's really just a big fat full stop. Last.

I've never done a night orienteering event before and the thought of crashing through the undergrowth of Houghall Woods with a head-torch had a strange appeal. This would, I thought, be home turf. I know these woods well. I had rather overlooked the small but vital fact that it would be dark and all the features that I thought I knew would have gone to bed for the night.

I found myself standing next to Geoff Watson at the start and we both were puzzled by the idea of a 'butterfly' control. I'm sure Colin explained it to me once but I needed it explained again. This is where you revisit the same control, several times, during the event, so it effectively counts as several controls.

Within two minutes of starting I realised I'd been a bit naive. This dark thing was a big problem. Normally I can get away with peering through the big magnifier on my compass to read the map, but this was just so not working in the dark. Strange reflections bounced back at me and, thankfully, I'd had the presence of mind to shove some cheap reading glasses in my pocket. They helped, but not much, and then there was the logistical nightmare of trying to wedge reading glasses onto forehead that was already hosting the headtorch. And given that I would be needing the glasses lots and lots and lots of times during the event I predicted some chaotic fumbling over the next couple of hours. I tried to explain all this to Geoff who had started behind me but was already about two controls in front of me, and I couldn't help think what a lame excuse it sounded. Geoff pointed me helpfully to my next control and I stopped moaning and started orienteering.

Things picked up a little and presently I found myself in the corner of one of the security buildings looking for my next control. It was really close. Unfortunately, when I examined the map more carefully, I realised the control and I were separated by, well, the building. This was unfortunate, I thought, or words along these lines, as I sprinted round the irritatingly long rectangular building to get to the Other Side to find the control languishing patiently in what I can only describe as a mocking manner. I half expected it to light a cigarette and give me a sneer as I checked in and moved on.

About half the controls were around the science buildings and then it was on to the woods. This was going to be fun. I was quite optimistic of making up some time here. I was also hopelessly naive and within seconds of entering the dark woodland I realised that orienteering at night is a completely different art form. There's no point searching for features that might be obvious during the day unless they are findable at night. You might be standing just a few metres from the biggest most awesomely obvious ditch you've ever seen and it might have your control, but unless you point your petzl in exactly the right direction you are very likely to miss it.

At some point on the bottom path I recognised Will Horsley and shouted hello. Will hadn't recognised me and thought I might just be some passing nutcase flashing a headtorch in his eyes. "Who's that!" he barked, and after both agreeing that this was all well weird, we both plunged on into our respective glooms.

I found myself getting irrationally irritated by the super-keenos who seemed to have the headlight from an old Ford Escort attached to their foreheads. They looked like some comedy surgeon looking through his magnifying glass and were slightly creepy when they passed on their way to wherever they were going. I was going nowhere fast. Control after control was being doggedly found often with more luck than skill. Eventually I got round the course and found the finish (when Major Spence kindly pointed it out to me), downloaded and got in the car. As if to add insult to injury all the lights in the car park suddenly went out at that precise moment. Everyone's a critic.

Snake Lane 10, Pocklington, 26th February

Kathryn Sygrove

I had wanted to do this 10-miler for a while, but it always fills up very early. It has a reputation of being pretty flat and fast, along country lanes and zig-zagging like a Snake, hence the name. I got in early and was pleased to get a place. Alan Smith and I drove down together and got ready for the start, running round the field and getting warmed up. My legs were already tired from a steady build-up of marathon training, so I wasn;t sure how they would fare. Alan has been injured for a while so had to remember his Ibuprofen on the journey! A bit similar to Brass Monkeys, Pocklington is a bit nearer to Hull, pretty flat, along rural roads. My kinda scene. We were chaperoned through several streets (Pocklington aint big) to the start and waited behind the big inflatable start. Alan suggested I move back from right at the start else I get trampled. I have been there before at Brass Monkeys, so took his advice. We seemed to start well, till a loud horn signalled that the lead car had stalled. Back we went for take two ...

It certainly lived up to its name of taking virtually every turn to the left and winding around a bit further. My legs were to pot for the first 3 miles despite the warm-up and as a slight gradient stretched out ahead, I groaned at having done 15 miles the two days beforehand. Blame Shaun (Roberts) I thought, who suggested I do my longer run on the Friday beforehand, so as not to miss it! Oh well, there I was looking at a pace which would easily let my existing PB slide out of my grasp..at least the views were purdy! But by 4 miles my stubbornness was back, and by 5 miles, I realised I was about on a par with my half-way time to at least equal my 10 mile PB from Brampton last November.

Renewed with liquid and competitive verve, off I sped getting faster and faster along the windy lanes and overtaking lots of people which was a big boost! I was closer to 7.15 min miles, and then - just like Brampton - this piggin hill appeared at 9 miles to drain the last ounce of strength out of my legs. Tough. I was too near the end to give in. I ran like a man possessed to the finish, starting to feel a bit sick. It was hotter and muggier than I had first thought, but a cheer from the left just ahead made me realise that the finishing line was round the corner, just out of sight. Last burst of energy and I was there, over the line and well dehydrated. Thank goodness for copious amounts of liquid which restored my va-va-voom. And I had picked up a new PB - by 44 seconds. I will be back I thought, piggin hill at the end or not. Of course the excitement forced me to purchase one of the teeshirts with my name listed on the back. Alan was delighted with his pottery mug - he collects them - and we both benefitted from the massage afterwards to re-awaken sore and stiff limbs.

All in all, a well-organised small friendly race. In my opinion, well worth the extra bit travel for such an enjoyable half-day out.

Commondale Clart, NYM, 26th February

5.5M

Nigel Heppell

At 5.4 miles, a relatively short fell race in the North York Moors Winter Series. Starts with a brutally steep but thankfully short, road climb NE out of Commondale before turning northwards onto the moor and the traditional home of the 'clart'. Not this year though. After a dry winter, conditions underfoot are 'good'. This means the bogginess is only ankle deep and I see just one runner lose a shoe in the gloop. A steady 2.5km horizontal trudge along the 280m contour is followed by a runnable climb past the Hob On The Hill and a glorious continuous descent on good moorland tracks for the next 2k; a short climb up the side of Thunderbush Moor to meet the road and full speed ahead back into the village. Five runners beat the existing course record.

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Cameron Taylor Esk Valley FC MJ 1 33.54
59 Shaun Roberts MV55 3 45.02
70 Nina Mason F 2 46.08
83 Nigel Heppell MV55 6 47.33
122 Jan Young FV55 2 52.36

163 finishers.

English National XC Championships, Hampstead Heath, London, 25th February

Mudman & Mudwoman

The highlight of the Cross Country year is the National Championships. They are held at a different venue each year with the 2012 event being held in the capital on Hampstead Heath which provides, arguably, not only the best view in / of London but one of the toughest cross country courses anywhere. The 'Nationals' are like a Harrier League fixture on a grand scale - scores of tents, flags, stalls, runners and spectators. The fields are bigger: 650 for the senior women's race and 1,689 for the senior men's, and the starts are a sight to behold, just like a medieval army charging up a hill! Four Striders took part in this year's wonderful spectacle held on a beautiful, sunny spring day. Fiona and Mudwoman ran in the 8km senior women's race while Dave Gibson and myself ran in the 12km senior men's, Mudwoman's brother, and fellow Strider, Stan was there to cheer us on.

Fiona.Geoff.Susan.

After the initial charge up Parliament Hill runners were funnelled into a bit of a bottle neck where there was plenty elbowing and pushing as runners struggled to keep their stride and stay on their feet. The field thinned out a bit further in the race as everyone was challenged by the roller coaster type course. Nonetheless we all made it safely round and everyone was pleased with their run. A great time was had by all! It was a long way to travel but well worth the effort. See you all at the Nationals next year - perhaps we could arrange a Strider's bus?!

Results

Men
PosNameClubCatTime
1 Keith Gerrard Newham & Essex Beagles 35:56
966 David Gibson 51:00
1095 Geoff Davis 52:43

1689 finishers.

Women
PosNameClubCatTime
1 Gemma Steel Charnwood AC 27:06
296 Fiona Shenton 37:03
425 Susan Davis 39:59

650 finishers.

Princes parkrun, Liverpool, 25th February

5K

Carolyn Bray

On a weekend away in Liverpool with friends I somehow found myself drawn to the familiar parkrun! Princes Park is a little park right next to the much larger Sefton Park. It's a perfect spot for Liverpool's parkrun, completely enclosed, pretty quiet early on a Saturday morning and it has wide tarmac perimeter path for all the park runners. The one tiny drawback is that the park's not quite big enough so you must run just under 3 laps to complete the 5K distance; on the other hand, this is great for spectators who can watch you all the way (as you gradually deteriorate!).

It was great to try a different parkrun and be greeted by the same friendly atmosphere and enthusiasm.

High Cup Nick Fell Race, Dufton, 25th February

9M/1500'

Dougie Nisbet

There's a wonderful elegance to this fell race. The long dramatic ascent up High Cup Gill is striking with its snake-like line of runners stretching ahead and behind you as you scramble up over the boulders. Mostly ahead of me to be honest, with just a small bit of tail behind me. The hand-over-hand climb up the last few yards of the Gill is rewarded by a magnificent view and the thought that it is downhill all the way to the finish. As descents go it's a good one as it's all runnable and the distance home seems to be chomped up in no time at all compared to the tough outward journey. I was a shade faster than my previous PB, and rewarded myself with cake, soup, tea, and then some more cake in the village hall afterwards.

CakeCakeCake

Gateshead parkrun, Saltwell Park, 25th February

5K

Zoe Evans

Having not run for over a month thanks to no better reason than cold dark evenings, night shifts and my own laziness, I decided to see if my trusty old trainers still fitted by trying out the new Saltwell Parkrun last week. I dragged a fireman buddy along with me, knowing that even with inappropriate running attire and a football injury, he would still beat me hands down ... such is life. Saltwell Park is an all-round good venue for a parkrun, with car parking and toilet facilities, and an on-site tea room (cake - woop woop!). The organisers were friendly and welcoming (as usual at any Parkrun!) and explained the route and how it all worked, as a lot of people were first timers. A turnout of 57 runners was pretty good for only the second event (not quite epic Durham proportions but pretty good none the less!).

The course is all along tarmac paths, starting at the top of the park near the pavilions, then doing a series of loops down near the lake. Of course on the third and final loop, especially the uphill bit, I wanted to lay down and start whining and eating the grass like a dog with a bad tummy, but on the plus side the loops do have the advantage of being able to gauge your own speed and counting how far there is to go. Had I known I was on track to be the second lady I wouldn't have let 2 runners from Heaton Harriers overtake me at this point, but I was pretty much going as fast as I could! I always love seeing tiny kids screeching things like 'Come on Mummy!!!' to the runners around me, and with that kind of support, how could this lady not overtake me?!

My speedy gonzalez fireman pal had broken free and finished in a cool 22mins with his yellow Donkey Kong t-shirt, and his dodgy knee, and I crossed the line in 24:19 ... Not a PB but happy to be under 25mins. Nice to see a whole range of participants, including club runners, families and dogs crossing the line around me. There are now 4 Parkruns thriving in Tyne and Wear, and a fantastic total of 1101 runners turned up on the morning of 25th Feb (thanks to Emma Detchon for working out this statistic!). There's definitely no excuse for Saturday morning lie-in's anymore!!

Belvoir Challenge, Harby, near Grantham, 25th February

26.3m

Dave Robson

It has been a while, the middle of November was the last time I did a long race. My training since then has been poor, just one long run and that was 15m, so not great preparation for a marathon. I felt that I had to rely on my legs remembering that they had carried me round lots of marathons/ultras last year.

I have done the Belvoir Challenge twice before. In 2009 the ground was firm, but in 2010 it was a mudfest, so I wasn't sure how it would be this year (it turned out to be very firm). I like the event because of the great atmosphere, the route seems to change significantly each year and the checkpoints are usually laden with food. It is also well marked so I didn't use the map for navigation

I drove down to Grantham on Friday night after a very busy week and I was up at seven getting ready. Even so I had to park a fair way from the Race HQ in Harby village. It was good to catch up with about half a dozen runners from fetcheveryone.com who I haven't seen for a while.

I started very slowly on a flat and new section for me up to Granby. At about 10m the shorter route headed back and the 26m runners headed up towards Belvoir Castle. Down to the second checkpoint which I had visited in previous years and then the first big climb out of there. It was quite a warm day and I had overestimated how many clothes I should wear, so I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. The third checkpoint was also familiar and then the slog to the fourth one started. I had done this section before and remembered it well. Parts of it are okay, but it is dull in places. It ends with a big climb up to the village containing the fourth and final checkpoint. It was going to be 8m from there to the finish, so I took on lots of drink and selected from the usual flapjack, scones, brownies, and sandwiches

My legs were now feeling very heavy and the last 8m contained some climbs. It also contained the rusty ladder which goes down a particularly steep bit and then a new very steep descent. Luckily it was only short. There were lots of stiles to climb over in the last 16m, somebody counted thirty and I can well believe that. There was also the odd locked gate and fence to scale.

We got to the top of the Belvoir Escarpment to be greeted by a lovely view across the Vale of Belvoir and Harby, and the finish. However, it had got a bit windy so going across the top was getting harder. The descent was lovely but there was hardly anything left in my legs, my lack of recent long distances was now revealing itself.

I was very pleased to finish, 5hr 23min, and have the free soup and fruit pudding with custard. Then the long drive home and on to the Striders Christmas party which was a great success !

Maddog 10K, Southport, 22nd February

Dougie Nisbet

My second running and the second running of this flat fast 10K. No wind this year, and conditions were right for a PB. I was out to beat my PB from 2011 and by as much as possible. At the half-way point I was well up on my best time and was feeling good so lifted the pace and turned for home.

Dougie and Dog There's a really nice section that runs around the lakes and over a wooden bridge that reminds me of the Parkrun 'noisy' bridge, except that it isn't noisy. It should be though. The last few kilometres in perfect conditions and all the time trying to balance an optimum effort without burning out before the finish.

It wasn't quite there though. 2km to go and I latched on to someone who passed me. He would be my pacer. The gap was widening but he had a slim build and a distinctive gait. In my head a photoshopped a reddish wig and a raucous cackle and suddenly it was game on. I clung on all the way to the finish and my watch showed 46:59. Fairly pleased, but a PB by a smaller amount than I hoped, and, I thought, knowing my luck, the chip time will be 47:01. Sure enough.

Will's Ridiculous Howgills Run, Nr. Sedbergh, 19th February

40M

Will Horsley

Want to see pretty much the entire Howgills in one day? Well, the Harvey Howgill Tops round will lead you to just that. This route involves visiting all the tops of more than 400 metres marked on the Harvey’s map of the Howgills plus one other to make a round number of 40. Yes, it is that silly. I had spotted this some months ago on the gofar website and thought I might have a go … one day. And that day came around sooner than I had expected as by coincidence Nigel was planning a club weekend in the Howgills. My first thought was who else could I rope into such a ridiculous outing and Tom Reeves immediately sprung to mind. Alas, he was not available. I had briefly mentioned potentially doing this run to Nigel, who had taken it as confirmed and from there it began to build a momentum all of its own so that I could not back out without losing considerable face. I had some concerns – firstly, it comes in at about 40 miles perhaps a bit less depending on navigation, secondly it also soaks up 10,000 feet of ascent, and thirdly most of the territory would be new to me and I would have no time to recce. As the date approached other concerns emerged; a persistent cold, the return of a long standing knee injury, general lack of fitness and training for the event, and the weather. I then had a late change of date imposed upon me by Mrs H but this proved most fortuitous as Saturday 18th February proved to be pretty awful even by Howgill standards, and Sunday 19th February, my new date, delivered brilliant weather by anyone’s standards.

After a terrible night’s sleep and a pretty dodgy breakfast I departed Fell End Bunk House at 8am for Cross Keys on the Cautley Road. After an inadvertent detour I set off from my car for Wandale, top #1, at 08:20:00 exactly. I was following the suggested route and direction, which was anticlockwise. Was aiming to complete in 8 to 10 hours, but felt it would be nearer 10. Felt crap even on the first hill and it wasn’t until the third top, Knott (1 – the last top is also called Knott), that I began to get some decent momentum going. I was having GPS problems right from the start and this was a concern as I was counting on this as my primary means of navigation, to verify I was on the right ‘top’ and to record my route and times. I had to give up on the damned thing entirely after Green Bell (top #5) and it now appears dead. So, it was down to me to navigate using an OS 1:50K map print-out.

The Howgills! Fortunately there was not a single cloud in the sky and it was so cold and clear that I could navigate the entire thing by sight. A couple of times I did get my compass out just to check I had the map the right way up. The cold held another advantage; large tracts which would normally be boggy were frozen solid and I could glance across them swiftly and keep my feet dry. Towards the end of the day I did hit a bit more bog, on lower and more sheltered sections, but by then I was beyond caring. Slight cock-up with top #8, Hocksey, after hitting #9 first, Randygill, but reckon that only cost me a few minutes in total. Got to Simon’s Seat, top #16, in 3h30, so I was 30 mins up on my imaginary schedule. One of the problems with OS 1:50K is that useful detail is missing, such as whether a blue line is a stream or a river. A few turned out to be rivers. It’s also not as easy to judge how steep something is; the descent off Langdale Knott, top #14, was very steep. Many of the ascents were also a lot steeper than I had thought. The section out to Rispa Pike and Hare Shaw, tops 19 and 21, was a drag but I consoled myself knowing that I had already taken in my most easterly, northerly and westerly tops now. Blease Fell, top #22, actually the most westerly, was by far the least inspiring place. The top was unmarked so I picked the highest bit of bog around and claimed that. In fact, several of the tops were unmarked, most were marked by pathetic little piles of stones sometimes only four or five in number, but around the Calf, top #31, things got a bit more impressive with trig points, cairns and monuments. On to Uldale Head, #23, was pleasant going and I had done that section quicker than expected, so was feeling confident. Round to Lingshaw, #24, came up nicely but I was now exposed into the stiff and very cold breeze. At Brown Moor, #25, I had to remove a sock (was wearing two pairs) as it had disintegrated and was beginning to cause a blister. Glad I didn’t leave it any longer. The next climb up to Fell Head, #26, was by far the hardest of the day being very cold, steep and on rough ground. I had to pause a few times but I knew that once on the top I would only have one proper hard climb left (Crook, #38, to Sickers Fell, #39). Cobles, #28, was an unwelcome detour off the obvious line and a loss of 100m which promptly had to be regained. Much colder and stronger winds on the hilltop ridge so I changed to a proper waterproof which did the trick (had previously been wearing a pertex windproof). Clouds forming overhead now too but they didn’t look threatening. The hilltop highway from The Calf, #31, to Sedbergh was a welcome relief from tussocks but most of the tops required diversion off this to find yet another small pile of pebbles to claim as a top. Spirits were really high now and I hit Bram Rigg, #32, bang on 7h. Great Dummacks, #33, was also quite a detour, but was onto good paths again and could smell the finish line. The Nab, #36, round to Winder, #37, was tough as it involved a long and steep traverse and the aforementioned injured knee was getting very sore. Crook, #38, which I hit just before 5pm, to Sickers Fell, #39, was much harder than it appeared on the map with the dissecting stream further set in a steep sided gully. Had to head back up the gulley quite some way before I found a good crossing point but the top came up easy. Now it was all downhill via Knott (2), #40, to a bridleway to carry me home. But this was to be the most frustrating part of the day. Firstly, getting onto the bridleway itself was a challenge worthy of Bear Grylls and then once on it I had to contend with an undulating mud-fest churned up by mountain bikers and repeatedly interrupted with gates. Not what you want at the end of a run like this. Progress was slow, jog 10 – walk 10, and that blasted Cross Keys Inn just didn’t seem to be getting any closer. 'Oh how sweet that beer will taste'. [As it happens, Will, the beer would have been entirely absent! The place is a 'Temperance Inn'. Ed. ] Got to car at 17:44:50, total time of 09:24:50 (so we’ll call it 9h25 then). Phew. Changed, topped up with full sugar coke and the remaining uneaten bun (still tasted awful), and off to pub … to find it was closed! The ultimate insult after all of that. Oh well, £5 saved. Back in car, James Brown on the stereo, and 'Hello, what’s this?' A KitKat and a cereal bar under my wiper blades. Nice touch.

Best climb of the day was Yarlside, #11, which delivered quite unexpected drama from reading the map. I consumed six energy gels, a handful of Kendle Mint cake and one and a half small cheese-spread rolls during the whole thing. That’s less than I would normally have for lunch just sitting at a computer all day and perhaps I could work on food consumption if I do another ultra run in the future. I do wonder what these sorts of challenges do to the body; the joints (my knee is very sore), the heart and the kidneys. I only hope the mental benefit outweighs the physical damage.

Although I am an active member of Northumberland Fell Runners, and it is through them I usually end up doing daft things like this, I claim this run for my other club, Elvet Striders, as they are the team which gave me the opportunity and support for this particular challenge. Thanks Elvet!

Compass Sport Cup & Trophy, Gilling Wood, 19th February

Brown Course 8km/310m

Dougie Nisbet

Previously, in Dougie's orienteering adventures ...

(Rewind << Play >|| )

"Still, you live and learn, and I learned a lot today. And I'll be back. And next time, I won't be sodding last!"

Well ho, bloody ho!

It all started so well. Resisting the temptation to sprint away from the start with more speed than skill I'd opted for a scenic and straightforward route choice to the the first control. Found it. Bagged it. Nailed it. Onto to Control 2, no problemo. Onwards and (literally) upwards to the third control ...

A couple of definitions: "map contact" in orienteering means, basically, knowing where you are. On the map. Keeping "map contact" means always knowing where you are, all the time, on the map. "relocating" is something to do when you've lost "map contact". i.e. You're lost. Relocating is all about finding yourself, so to speak; literally, rather than metaphysically.

So when I thought I had map contact on my way to control 3, I didn't really. I tried to convince myself I had, as is often the way, but eventually my tortuous interpretation of the map broke and it was clearly obvious I was not standing in the middle of a red circle next to the large boulder that called itself Control 3. I was standing next to a fence on the top of a cliff. There was a distinct scarcity of boulders and control flags. Relocating is all about running around madly but determinedly looking for a nice straightforward feature or two that will allow you to prod a dot on the map, and see an infinitesimal dot on that dot with a label saying, "You are here.". I've learned a lot of orienteering skills in my events over the last year or two and have steadily and imperceptibly started creeping up the hall of fame so that my position from last is often somewhat more generous than it used to be. And I've learned that, when you get that creeping sensation that you might not be where you think you are, is to never wait or hesitate, to relocate before it's too late, as you may never get another chance.

So, Control 3, and I'm already relocating. Deep Joy. I looked at my watch. 43 Minutes passed. 3 Controls Done. 23 Controls still to go. This was not going to be a good day. I recalled a conversation with Colin in which we'd talked about the feeling of dejection that accompanies early mistakes in a competition and the temptation just to give up and call it a day. It's a difficult thing to recover from.

A not inconsiderable amount of time later I nabbed the last control and jogged to the Finish. Then I had to look at the map again to figure out how to get back to the Start. The last 10 controls had been ok and I'd finally felt I was getting the hang of it, but, on the whole, I was not a happy bunny. Proudly, if somewhat sheepishly, wearing my Northern Navigators top for the first time, I'd only just managed to resist some seriously shouty sweary stuff on many occassions during the event. Frustration is such a crippling emotion. Still, I looked at my watch, and it said 2 hours something. Not good, but not a disaster. Oh hang on, I'm looking at the time of day; not the time since my start at 1118. Oh right, not good. Not good at all.

Still, I'm back. And time to Download. "Ah, Dougie Nisbet; there have been a few people asking where you are". That'll be Roberta then, several times, no doubt. Walking back to the car I bumped into Roberta who knows that I can be out for a while, and she had not been asking after me. She'd been reading the papers and drinking tea. Back to the car and approaching the NN minibus there's a group of clubmates hanging around the bus. Well that's nice. I wave, they wave back. Nice of them to all be there, waiting for me. Waiting. Oh Please Lord, please don't tell me they've been wondering where I am. Or have gone looking for me ...

"Dougie, you're back! Boris and Barry were worried about you. They've gone looking for you!". The ground resolutely failed to open up and swallow me, so I sheepishly walked back to the car and bumped into Boris; "Dougie, we were concerned about you!". I felt touched and abashed in equal measure. I think the Northern Navigators need to have a chat with my friend Will Horsley, who during Britain's Worst Fell Race, knew I was out there somewhere in the Kielder Fells, and wasn't worried as he knew that I would turn up, sooner or later, even if I was out there all night.

Northern Navigators

Howgills Barn Weekend, Nr. Sedbergh, 17th February

Nigel Heppell

The Fell End bunkhouse turned out to be pretty much as advertised, quite comfortable actually. The accommodation is in two buildings: the Teacher's House with 5 bunks, shower and WC, is recently refurbished and has continuous heating at a low level. The larger Schoolhouse has 4 double bunks plus a single in a separate annex, along with well-equipped galley kitchen, washroom, shower and 2x WC. Once the wood fire is lit and powers up the central heating/hot water, the chill comes off the building quickly. Nina M arrived in the gloomy rain that developed over the afternoon and promptly disappeared for a solo run around the back of Harter Fell. Shaun appeared along with Angela and Sue. That let Louise and myself get out in the darkness for a short and wet headtorch run over towards Murthwaite and Narthwaite. Everyone else stopping in the bunkhouse arrived bit by bit with one or two testing the telephone reception and asking for directions. A glow-stick at the end of the lane helped. We were joined Jan and Tony who were toughing it out in their new Mobilehome and visited by Mel and Dave who were in B&B. Masses of food appeared and was eaten, and then we were visited by members of Howgill Harriers who had been out on one of their howling-at-the-moon night runs - except there was no moon! All good company, and useful inside knowledge about routes/etc.

Elvet Striders in residence at Fell End Bunkhouse.

The weather was pretty wild overnight and into Saturday morning with rain hammering into the windows and a few things bumping around outside but the forecast was for rain to clear by 10am so we stuck to our plan and set off as a group of 12 towards Cautley Spout as an entry point to the hills. By 11am it had stopped raining and we were 1/2 way up the spout when the sun came out. It didn't last very long, and by the time we got to The Calf we were exposed to the full strength of the wind and a much lower air temperature. After a satisfying run along the ridge to the west of Bowderdale we sheltered in a gill and ate lunch before splitting into two groups: one lot carried on ridge-running with a return along the valley floor; the other group took a more direct route due east back to the bunkhouse. The latter route led to previously unseen parts of the Howgills and some steep climbs, helped on by very fine, high-velocity hail that turned Benji's flanks white as he cut across the wind, finishing after 12.5miles and 1000m of ascent. The other group found a simple route out at the head of the valley but had to leave Till and Ulrike to be collected from the Cross Keys Inn after Till developed blisters.

The bridge across the Rawthey near the Cross Keys at the start of the day. You wanna jelly baby?So we would be, err, approximate, err ... oh bugger.Till and Ulrike.Mike and the star of the weekend, Benji.

Saturday evening progressed by watching Sunderland beat Arsenal followed by a splendid meal at the Black Swan Hotel, Ravenstonedale (where we were joined by Will, Dave and Melanie), and was topped off back at base by suitable nightcaps, Tony performing ably on guitar, serenaded by the Karaoke Queen (Sue!), and David's 'contouring blues'.

Dave and Jan on the beach.Nigel 'contouring'. No, he is, honestly ...

Will H crept out quietly at 8am Sunday to begin his epic round of the Harvey Howgill Tops; Nina left to go to work! and Graham departed after breakfast. Till and Tony went off on walks of their own devising, leaving the rest of us, as decided earlier, to go on a gentle run, on the level, of only a few miles length. However, once we had run a few km along the road on this superbly bright and crisp morning, and turned uphill to meet the limestone outcrops that make up the charateristic features of this westernmost edge of the Yorkshire Dales there was no stopping the leaders and a glorious run of 7 miles and 340m ascent just below Wild Boar Fell ensued. After a good hot shower we enjoyed a bacon, egg (home grown) and sausage brunch prepared by our own master chef, and pondered upon Will's progress before packing/cleaning up and heading home.

You can click on each photo to see the original full-sized version.

Shaun Roberts adds:

Many thanks to Nigel for organising a great weekend in the Howgills! The barn was warm, comfy, well-equipped, with good showers and great views. Excellent runs on both days, and a great night out on Saturday ... and a bloody good crack throughout. Great stuff.

The Beacon Race, Danby, NYM, 12th February

8.5M

Nigel Heppell

Majestic leap over a beck. Just needed a couple of handkerchieves, mind ...
8.5miles, 360m climb on a cool day with traces of snow lying around and about. Starting from a green lane behind the Danby Visitors Centre, over a hill, down into the soggy valley, steady climb up onto moorland to Clitherbeck Farm track, all in the first 2km. A brief section of road then hop, skip and jump over semi-frozen puddles loosely following the route of the Pannierman's Causeway, dropping down into the woods of Danby Park before steady walk back uphill to moorland and return along outward route to Clitherbeck where carry on climbing to Castleton Pits and quarry workings before turning towards home and dropping down steep hillside on loose mud/rock/sodden grass/ice. Some runners are cautious here and zig-zag downwards, others just go for it in a straight line and gain a few places. Back up over the first little hill and down the green lane to finish with great relief at the gate to be lost amongst a crowd of gasping and grimacing runners.

Results

And lo, Shaun's missing Clay Bank East prizes arrive ...
Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Cameron Taylor Esk Valley FC MJ 1 57.14
70 Shaun Roberts MV55 2 78.02
79 Nigel Heppell MV55 3 80.55

130 finishers.

Wadsworth Trog, Hebden Bridge, 11th February

20M

Paul Evans

February 2009, South Pennines: Snow, ice and sleep deprivation combine with some terrible navigation, leading to a deeply unpleasant last few miles of the Trog.

February 2012, South Pennines: The mercury hasn't risen above 0°C for 2 weeks in Hebden Bridge and child number two is going through a sleepless phase. Deja vu.

Actually, not quite - this time the conditions are bad enough that the cheerful lady from CVFR starting the race informs us that the first mile of the race is now changed, due to the sheet ice coating every road, track and rock in the Calder valley. We're also warned (I think, as a last-minute toilet stop has left me at the back of the starting pack) that we probably ought to stay off every path we encounter, should we wish to finish the race with the same number of bones we start with.

Paul picks his way through the frosty bracken.
It would be nice to say that she was exaggerating and the first mile or so wasn't too bad, even if much of it was spent shuffling forwards through the pack, waiting at the bottlenecks created by the many ice-covered stiles on the alternative route and trudging slowly uphill onto the tops. The sun shone intermittently, the breath of 140 runners hung in the still air and shards of frozen grass and heather shattered and flew through the air as runners' ankles gently brushed them. The moors appeared beautiful and dead. That was mile one, probably the slowest mile I've ever raced and, paradoxically, one of the miles I've most enjoyed. From here things got faster, as we climbed further, hit the first checkpoint and started to descend to the Upper Dean reservoir, previously dry and relatively warm feet now getting soaked in one of the rare patches of non-frozen bog, ensuring discomfort for the rest of the race. Straight out of this came a slope I remembered well from three years ago, its incline necessitating simply dropping onto my bottom and sliding downwards until hitting a thick patch of dead bracken by the frozen reservoir. Turning around briefly, I saw that my pursuers were all, voluntarily or not, using the same technique. Next came an uphill drag, a long stretch across some empty moorland (the choice of footing being ice sheets, snow drifts or the odd tussock of grass perched on a peat hag), punctuated only by two road crossings, one of them with chocolate biscuits and orange squash with ice chunks floating in it, and the descent down a flagstone path that could have doubled as the Cresta Run to Top Withens, the ruined farmhouse that inspired Wuthering Heights. Today there were no hordes of literary tourists, just two more smiling marshals from CVFR warning that the 'ground's a bit tricky' on the next stretch and handing out jelly babies.

In warmer weather, the next few miles would be a delight - packhorse roads across gently undulating hills, a drop down to another frozen reservoir, ducks stood disconsolately on the solid ice surface. and the occasional skirting of hill farms, these the only reminder of how close we are to a densely-populated valley. They are, despite the scenery, not a delight - the need to take baby steps all the way along the iron hard, slippy-but-less-slippy-than-the-path mud to the side of the packhorse roads and the frequent slips and falls that occur despite reducing speed and barely taking my eyes off the earth the reasons. It is actually a relief to get back onto the moors again, where the energy-sapping snow-drifts may drain and slow but at least do this to everyone, giving me a chance to catch up places I've lost during the last few miles. Finally I'm back at the first checkpoint, which is also the twelfth, and its here that things actually go wrong, probably as I've had a good few miles of slow, steady running to get here and have made good progress relative to others. Put it this way - if you ever get to a checkpoint, think 'right, I don't need to bother with my map and compass, I've done this race before', remember that the only time you've ever done this race before you'd had two hours sleep per night (maximum, for several months), have barely eaten that morning and were basically hypoglycaemic and probably hypothermic, please ignore these thoughts, get out your compass, take a bearing and run on it. I didn't and it cost me, I'd guess, eight places on what should have been one of the easier sections of the race, a detour taking me through thick heather and snow when relatively easy running along clear paths would have taken me to the final trig point. Once I'd eventually reached said trig point, more tired than I should have been due to my selective memory and a bad decision, these was a final mile to shuffle down farm tracks covered in half-inch-thick ice and fields of deeply-rutted mud, perfectly churned by cows to ankle-breaking depth and then frozen solid for maximum danger before reaching the woodland bridge that held the last clip. One more pull uphill, one of my overtakers reeled back in and a skate across the track back to Old Town Cricket Club and, for the first time in the race, the lap around the pitch gave me the chance to open my legs up and run. It felt good. it felt fast. It was almost certainly a geriatric shuffle, but that wasn't the point. It felt amazing and the sooner it was done, the sooner I got to defrost, shower, prize my fell shoes from my feet, ice-encased laces and all, and shove my face into the vegetable soup, bread, coffee and cake laid on by CVFR.

I didn't enjoy all of this race, but the good outweighed the bad and most of my problems related to my inexperience in running on ice, along with not having the footwear to do so with confidence. I certainly enjoyed it overall, despite my bruised body feeling like it's been beaten up, and will recommend it to anyone who is prepared to give it the respect it deserves. Particular mentions must be made to the following: CVFR for organising, flagging and marshalling this race, feeding the runners and throwing in a t-shirt, all for £6 per runner - this is, frankly, incredible. To Nicky Spinks, the first lady who, until I went a bit wrong towards the end, I spent several miles pepper-potting and who, following a rather unpleasant fall, paused to stretch out my cramped calf; whatever the female equivalent of gentleman is, she's it. Finally, the runners who are recorded as DNF because they stopped to assist off the hill another runner who had broken his leg. It took them 90 minutes to cover 1.5 miles, many runners further forward having finished the race before they'd made it to a marshal with the casualty, raised the alarm and got the injured runner safely evacuated by ambulance, an effort that puts into perspective even that of the eventual winners.

Grand Prix Race. Mud King/Mud Queen Race.

Harrier League, Wrekenton, 11th February

Jan Young

Arrived 12.20pm to hear Phil S. asking, "Where've you been? We've been here since 12 o'clock." The early birds couldn't wait to solve the tent erecting puzzle, so I left them to it while I went to race HQ to sort numbers. Thank you all. Tent up successfully, though their efforts caused much mirth amongst spectators. It's colour coded. How difficult can it be? Persuaded John Hutch to tackle the flag and a good job he made of it. Excellent turnout, Striders' teams oversubscribed. Phil the Hill, Will and Neil powered through from fast and medium packs to finish in our top six. Fiona came through from medium pack, to finish second Strider to Roz in ladies' race. Thanks for the support from Marco's face painted children, Ian S partner and all Striders who shouted for each other and thanks to the baking team! To MW and MM, we did you proud running and I insisted on refolding the tent after the first attempt. You would not have been impressed, so we tried hospital corners! Hope you approve when you look in the tent bag ...

Great turnout in the circumstances!

Happy Birthday to Stephy B - loyalty is Harrier Leagueing on your birthday! For those still not Harrier Leagueing it's worth it just for the cakes, spectator support and tent training!

Results

Men
PosNameClubCatTime
1 GRIMES, Michael Durham City Harriers 31:38
22 HORSLEY, Will 36:14
80 LLOYD, Jerry 38:09
118 SANDERSON, Phillip 39:00 *F
130 MCCONNELL, Stewart 39:21
140 SLEEMAN, Neil 39:47
184 CLAYDON, Matt 41:05
197 BENNETT, Michael 41:52
269 VAN DER BREMER, Marco 45:01
270 ROBSON, Alister 45:02
273 HALL, Richard 45:09
280 HOCKIN, Richard 45:45
299 YOUNG, Callum 47:48
316 SPENCER, Ian 50:08
321 HUTCHISON, John 51:02
322 NICHOLSON, George 51:26
326 KURUNER, Yusuf 53:12

*M Medium pack - 2m30s handicap.
*F Fast pack - 5m handicap.

331 finishers. Men's team 6th of 10, Division 2.

Another great turnout!
Women
PosNameClubCatTime
1 WILLIAMS, Emma Newcastle Uni 22:54
57 LAYTON, Roz 30:41
80 SHENTON, Fiona 31:39 *M
84 BULLOCK, Rachel 31:55
87 PERCIVAL, Juliet 32:11
95 YOUNG, Jan 32:50
96 BARLOW, Stephanie 33:00
109 LAUREN-MAATTA, Camilla 34:06
110 TARN, Lindsay 34:08
111 READEY, Claire 34:10
115 PROCTOR, Angela 35:12
118 MILLER, Louise 35:27
123 TINDALE, Victoria 35:59
129 JENNINGS, Sue 38:26

*M Medium pack - 2m handicap.

131 finishers. Women's Team 9th of 9, Division 1.