Archive for June, 2013

Yay! It’s taken a little while, but I’ve finally passed the 10k views mark! Not bad a blog that I started mainly so I could remember what I’d gotten up to.

Also, a guest title for the blog, in honour of my post-ultramarathon knee trouble. Let’s hope I can change it back soon… 🙂

Thanks to anyone who’s taken the trouble to wade through my inappropriate use of punctuation and hopefully you’ve had a giggle or two along the way, I know I have.


And no Pink Floyd jokes so far, so I think we’re doing well…

After a year of what we’ll fancifully call “preparation”, it finally came around. I know, I can’t believe it either. Goodness knows what I’ll have to talk about now…

On Friday morning I packed my bag. Well, bags, as I had a 65 litre overnight bag (that’s a lot of overnight), a 10 litre race pack, a small chest pack to balance me up and a tent. And two hands, which made for some fun. I got the bus to Newcastle, because I like that working-class-hero feeling, off to face down the world and give it my plucky all against the aliens a long run.

Coffee at Starbucks, meet up with my erstwhile running buddy Jon, and then off for the train. There were a remarkable number of people in similarly sporty gear, with similarly huge packs, and a lot of knowing “I know where you’re going” nods.

Over to Carlisle on the train then up to the castle to register. Ooh, it all seemed a bit real now, was I really going to do this? Off to the Travelodge, which was well, we all know what a Travelodge is like, don’t we? Only this wasn’t. A former telephone exchange, I think, with huge windows. I got a wheelchair-friendly room, which was roomy, and had what I am going to call a wet room – that was really nice. What wasn’t so nice was the oven-like temperature from the huge windows and no curtains. Still, I could cool down in my mansion-sized wet room, eh? I cracked the windows open the mandatory maximum 2cm, to stop even a waifish haddock from throwing itself to it’s end, closed the blinds and headed off with Jon for a meal with the Runners’ World forum folk. The restaurant was directing runners upstairs to the room they’d roped off for crazy people, and managed to pick up a couple of people who had wandered in an had no idea they’d been involuntarily added to the party. 🙂

Then to bed, the room being down to a griddle-temperature. Fast forward what felt like five minutes and it was four in the morning and I was wide awake. Get up, unpack, check kit, re-pack. Shower in the warship sized bathroom and then hang about a bit until it was time to set off. I caught up with Jon in reception and we ambled up, both with a huge bag and a tiny pack. We arrived at the castle, watched the Expert one-day runners set off, I discovered the battery on my GoPro camera had run down (guessing it had turned itself on in the bag, grr!) then dropped out overnight bags, met Jon’s friend Cathie. Now we were there and ready to run. Crikey!

This is the nervous bit, you’re ready to go but waiting for the whistle/bell/gun/bulls to get you underway.Luckily it was a jarring klaxon rather than bulls, which was a relief.

And we’re off!

A nice jaunt through the park while we got warmed up, and out through Carlisle towards the hills – it was a joy to get underway after the best part of a year waiting for this to come around. Pack felt good, legs felt good, it wasn’t raining. Brill.

Fifteen lovely miles of running later, and I stumbled into Lannercost Priory, the first Pit Stop. I grabbed a bit of food, said hi to Jon’s family and got my toe stepped on. That really hurt, and I managed to make no actual sound as I silently swore in front of Jon’s family. Sorry Jon’s family, it really did hurt.

Back out of the Priory and it was a mere 17 miles to the end of Day 1 – that’s like half way through the first half, right?

I bumped into CrashBangWallop from the Runners’ World forum, and ambled along having a laugh and switching between walking and running as the mood took us. We were a bit tired, but kept plugging away, over stiles, over cattle grids, over lava fields, well, maybe not the last one so much. At long last the finish tents came into view. Then the track headed off the opposite way. What! Down the hill, along the bottom of the hill and then up, up, up and up the hill to get back. That’s properly taking the mick, giving us a look then making us run around for a bit and up a hill. Finally, back into view of the tents, but it wasn’t over yet, they made us climb over a stile to get there… youch!

Hang on, we’ve done for today? Wow. In a frosty 7:39 as well, which is not bad so far as I know anything, which isn’t much. I was happy with it, though.

Hooked back up with Jon, got our kit, set up our tents, ate some stodgy pasta from the food stall, ate some canny chips from the food stall, had some soup from the food stall. Are you getting the gist yet? A beer in the beer tent then off to bed at about 8pm. Sleepy, sleep, sleep – I actually slept pretty well given I was in a tent in a one-season sleeping bag.

Day 2

After Day 1, I was expecting to be unable to walk. However, as the next day dawned and I emerged like a crotchety caterpillar from a pupa that hasn’t quite turned into a butterfly, I felt surprisingly good. A tiny niggle in the knee, but no problem, eh? A few bananas and a coffee later and I was ready to go, waiting for the 8am start.

Off went the runners! I thought Jon was behind me, he thought I was in front, we were both wrong and got separated again. Down the road, up a quite steep tarmac hill and onto a short road to a kissing gate. And a queue to get through the gate to get onto the hill. The hill was big. The hill was steep. The hill had no path. The hill DID have heather. And mud. Did I mention no path? Everyone started making their goat-like way up, and I did likewise, striking forth like a be-shorted goat. You’re not quite getting the image, are you, the hill was like this:


Well, exactly like that – as it’s a photo from the top of the hill.  See the white smudge towards the back? That’s where we started the day. Now somewhere up the hill I twisted my knee. I didn’t really notice it to be honest, but when I started running at the top there was a bit of a niggle, a bit of a sharp pain and a bit of an owie.

Cut to a lot of walking. Every time I tried to run it was a knife of pain through my knee. So I walked. Well, I plodded, as my left foot started to ache as I over-compensated and it did significantly more walking that it’s used to.

There was a village. The village was full of scarecrows. Scarecrows mowing the lawn, Scarecrows up ladders. Scarecrows barbecuing runners. Well, maybe not the last one, but it may have been – it was hard to tell. A bit strange, to be honest.

I stumbled into the Pit Stop at Hexham, wandered around a bit with a spot of food, picked up some water and headed off, walking towards the next stop.

Also the rain. It rained. Quite a bit. With a bit of energy. On the way out of Corbridge it rained harder than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I got soaked on my bottom half, though my top was OK as I was all wrapped up in my waterproof.

It was more than a little frustrating, I had the energy to run, the excitement to run, but every time I tried it my knee felt dreadful.

Through the shacks at Whittle Dean, and I came across four runners with ice-creams. How did that happen? Around the corner and there was an ice cream van!

I had an ice lolly.

It was the nicest ice lolly I’ve ever had.

It did everything an ice lolly should do, at exactly the right moment.

It was possibly my happiest running moment ever.

If the van hadn’t driven off I would have had another.

At Ovingham, someone had stolen the path – it simply disappeared into the river with an arrow pointing down into the water, and another pointing back up at the other side. I started hopefully stepping on stones, realised there was no clear way across and waded. To be honest the freezing wet feet took my mind off my knee.

On we go and I eventually reached the Newburn Pit Stop, just seven miles from the finish. I’m almost done! OK, so I couldn’t stop shivering and the medical lady was looking at me funny, perhaps sizing me up for a stretcher? There was an industrial heater, so I stood in front of that until my bum burnt.

Off I headed again, still chattering in the teeth department. With an added thermal later it faded after a bit and I limped along. Until the signs ran out – in Scotswood it looked like someone had half-inched the arrows. A bit of discussion with a group of runners passing me by and we headed off in what looked like the right way, following cycle route 72. It turns out Hadrian was a busy lad, as this was his Cycle Path. We only need to find his Wendy House and we’ll have the lot.

After about forever I hit the Quayside. The drag down to the finish is a couple of miles, I think, but it felt like an extra marathon. I’m not a competitive chap, but I got worried about people up behind me. I have no idea why, it must have been hunger / tiredness / stupidity.

Eventually, I glimpsed the bridges, and stumbled along until I made it to the Millennium Bridge. Somehow, and I have no idea how, other than the remaining shred of ego I had, and I managed to plod over the bridge at an almost-jog. Into the closing straight, saw my lovely wife with a huge sense of relief and stopped for a kiss. Over the line and we’re done.


Medals all round, well, here’s mine:


And a finish line photo – looking surprisingly chipper. That’ll be a race time of 18:15 then.


Look at them knobbly knees – that takes 69 miles, that does.

Would I do it again? Probably, though I’d like to try other things first.

Knee is sore, but other than that I’m on the mend, I reckon.

I’m happy to say that I think I enjoyed it – I’d like to do it without the knee problem, as I think I could have cut an hour or two if I could have run like I wanted to.

Now for a week off and a bit of a recuperate.

Did I mention I’m an Ultramarathoner now? 🙂

We all get them – at least I assume we do, it seems a bit unfair if some folk are totally unfazed by the looming shadow of the future, but at least most of us get them.

I’m starting to think that the intensity of the jitters is directly connected to the psychological size of the event. I had huge jitters on my first ever race, the 2012 North Tyneside 10k. Yet this year I only had mild butterflies beforehand. At the Kielder Marathon last year I was back and forth to the porta-loo like a yo-yo with jitters.

And so we come to today – I’m off to run Hadrian’s Wall tomorrow, but staying in Carlisle tonight for the early start. Do I have the jitters? Oh heck, yes.I’ve packed, I had a list, I crossed the things off as they went in. Once they were all in, I took them all back out again and checked them off a second time because I didn’t quite trust myself. They’re all sitting there now in the bag, though I can’t shake the feeling that one traitorous sock or tent peg is hiding somewhere. I may check again, I mean, you would, wouldn’t you?

This run has been a long time coming – I signed up for it last Autumn and while I’ve run a few other races in that time it’s all been building towards this weekend.  And so the jitters are multiplied a thousandfold. It’s built up in my mind to be Rocky and Chariots of Fire all rolled into one. It’s possible I may weep at some point, hopefully at the end from happiness, rather than part way through from pain.

I’m pacing like a caged lion.

I’m nervously checking things.

I’m thinking about things I may have forgotten. (Sunglasses? Check)

I think the best thing might be if I just get the heck underway – maybe the feeling will subside a little, and the nerves about missing the train can begin.

It’s not helping that Twitter is lit up with people packing, jittering and generally doing the same thing I’m doing – well, not all of Twitter I guess, just the peculiar corner I inhabit. Rat Race, who organise the event are posting pictures of the registration desk, the race shop and generally doing nothing to calm me down whatsoever.

It’s possible I  may actually explode with expectation.

It’s fantastic. Long live the jitters!

See you all on the other side. If my legs and my GoPro hold out, there may even be a bit of video…

P.S. So many thanks to everyone who’s sponsored me – I’m over my target now and that will mean a lot as the miles stack up. However, there’s still room for more sponsoring if you feel like it – the link’s at the top there…


Capsule Review: Road ID

Posted: 16/06/2013 in Review, Running, Vegan

RoadIDI run a lot of country roads at the moment, often with no path, track or other escape to the side. I generally figure I’m savvy enough to be safe, but we all know that only holds until something goes wrong, right?

I’ve had a few instances where drivers have been going too fast and come close to me, and a couple of memorable ones where drivers I can only refer to as *arseholes* have deliberately passed as close to me as the can. I have to rely that while they are imbeciles, they are fully in control of their vehicle. Hmm.

I heard about RoadID a little while ago, and now I’m out in the country roads, I thought it was about time I made sure my flattened corpse could be identified and mailed back. You choose your band design (thin, thick, different materials, colours, etc.) and then enter your text – the site gives helpful hints of what to put on each line. There’s the option of a stand-alone set of info, or a one with a phone number to get in contact with RoadID and get any relevant medical details. As my most relevant medical detail is “trainee vegan” and I don’t know my blood group, I went for the unconnected (and thereby no yearly fee) option. I didn’t check whether it works internationally, it’s an American company, but as I already knew I was going for the basic version I didn’t do any more research.

My band has my name, year of birth (but not date!), area I live in, next of kin details, my laughable lack of medical details and a motivational phrase. I think the motivational phrase is going to come in useful – it did on my quick run today when I was contemplating a bit of walking…

Anyhoo, I got a nice e-mail thanking me for my purchase, and details of when it would be expected at the door. A package turned up on Thursday gone, a day early (I think), and there it was, fresh from across the Atlantic.

The basic red version I went for is a webbing strap with a velcro fastening, with the little plaque held on to a mildly elasticated strip, it looks well sturdy, and in taking it out in the woods for a swift five-mile on the trails I barely noticed it was there. You can take the detail plaque off and replace it, or stick it on another band, but it looks like there’s no way it could easily escape in normal use.

All in all, very impressed, and feel psychologically a bit better about running on odd country roads now. Taking it with me to run The Wall next weekend, in case my sugar-depleted body is found somewhere between Carlisle and Newcastle and I’m mistaken for a Roman corpse…

EDIT: The Sport version (the one that I bought) has reflective stitching – didn’t notice that until just now, so extra-safety fun at night… and it’s Vegan!

Appreciate your bed!

Posted: 16/06/2013 in The Wall

Funny to think that a week today I’ll be waking up in a tent, half way through The Wall. Made me appreciate being in my own bed.

Need to get packed…

“Awaa wu went alang Collingwood Street tha’s on the raad to Blaydun..”

And that’s exactly what we did.

Yup, after last year’s Shower-A-Thon™ of a Blaydon Race (which I still enjoyed immensely) I had high hopes that this year could only be better weather. Getting up on Sunday morning, the sky was grey, it looked like it could turn out I was wrong. However, it held off raining, looked a little better, but still overcast. Or, to put it another way, perfect running weather.

It was warm enough that I stuck to shorts and my trusty Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club vest combo to head into toon* for the start. It’s fun wandering around town, seeing lots of other folks with numbers pinned, milling about. A few folk asked when it started, one wished me good luck and hoped I’d win… 🙂

As 2:30pm rolled around, I made my way down through the Bigg Market to the start – and it was just then that the skies opened. No, not like last year where it rained, here it was lovely warm sunshine. I also remembered the bottle of suntan lotion I’ve not bothered using when I left, because it looked a bit grey…


3pm came, 3pm went – everyone was a bit edgy, 3pm is the start time, right? Then at 7 minutes past, the bell rang, then all the church bells rang and off we went! For the first time the race had chip timing, so you could tell where the start line was – GPS go, and away!

Given the upcoming Wall, and my ongoing wonky ankle, I was trying to take it easy (or so I thought), just having a little jaunt out on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Actually, it was quite remarkably sunny, and runners were heading into the shade whenever a bit came up. Much like last year, where the rivers crossing the road made people head for the pavement, at a couple of points I had most of the road to myself as everyone else bunched onto the pavement to get out of the sun.

Somewhere along Scotswood Road I ran past Tony the Fridge. The clue’s in the name – Tony is a bit of a North East legend, and he’s been at more races I’ve run than not, carrying a fridge on his back to raise money. He used to have a standard white fridge, but I think he’s gone a bit up-market and now has a spiffy orange Smeg fridge. It certainly looks a bit more aerodynamic, even if it also looks a bit heavier. Given that this was a good couple of miles into the race shows you that he goes at a fair old lick, even with a fridge. Reckon he could win it if he was ever allowed to take it off.

There were a lot more supporters out this year than last, and there’s nowt quite like having someone cheer or clap to keep you going – kids have got into the habit of holding out their hands for a high-five.

Over the Scotswood Bridge, which didn’t seem like the huge hill it did last year*** and onto the Other Side of the River. That’s the run into Blaydon, after a whistle stop tour of the Chain Bridge Industrial Estate, of course. And another bridge over the dual carriageway.

Into the town**** and a quick dog-leg before heading up to the playing fields. A few last-sprint-push runners came past, but I was busy with my run, not theirs, so I didn’t pay much attention. Over the line and there we go, stop the ol’ GPS and see what it says.



That’s about one second longer than I would have liked, to be honest.

Of course, my chip time will likely be slightly different, right, but can’t see it would be any less.

Hey ho, pick up my back (didn’t see a veggie option this year, so it was a ham sandwich) and off to pick up my t-shirt – couldn’t find the Geordie Food tent either, so no pickled onion.

Whoa! That’s a bright t-shirt that is. No need of a head torch with that on.


I think that could be Geordie Ridley in the picture there, who wrote the song. Though I could be properly wrong.

Then, a quick nip back on the bus to Toon (see, we’re getting the hang of this now) to pick up the car and then drive home.

Later, when the timings went up, I had a look, not that I’m bothered about my time or anything…


Uh-huh, sub-50, and like doing just the right amount of work to pass your exams, it was about as close as it could have been. 🙂

Rock on!


*That’s Newcastle for those not in the know – back in the day, when I first heard a crowd of Newcastle United football fans calling “Toon Army”** I misheard and though they were shouting “tsunami!”. Oh how I laughed, after running the length of Northumberland Street, worried about the advancing mega-wave.

**Well, there’s a lot of them, and they’re from the Toon, so why not?

***Thank you High Spen, I have learned from your hills.

****Not the Toon, this is Blaydon, not Newcastle we’re talking about now.

Yup, Blaydon Race tomorrow, and I’m pretty excited – the Blaydon Race was the second proper race I ever ran, back in 2012, so it’s only the second opportunity I’ve had to compare what’s changed in the course of a year. On the 8th June last year, I was a little apprehensive, quite excited, getting over a long term niggling injury. So, to sum it up, nothing at all has changed one bit. Hmm…

Well, perhaps that’s not quite true – last year the thought of running the Blaydon Race at just short of 10k was a bit daunting – would I make it, would I stop, was I going to need to walk? Whereas this year it’s more of a lovely jaunt out in the (fingers crossed) sun. In fact, I’m thinking about running home to High Spen after finishing, as 6 miles doesn’t really get me anywhere in terms of training.

Speaking of training, that’s two weeks to go until The Wall now – I’m putting the last bits of kit together, confusing myself over what/whether to get a stove, and otherwise messing about. Put my tent up today, which after ten years in the loft looks mighty good – no idea how it’ll fare if it rains, but think I’ve not got time to re-proof it. Checked out my similarly aged Therm-a-Rest to find it still holds air. All looking good so far.