Archive for October, 2013

Well, third last actually, but that lacks a bit of drama.

Also, 9 hours 41 minutes as you’re asking.

Sunday was the Jedburgh Ultra Marathon – 38 miles of fun and frolics in the gentle Scottish Borders.

And some mountains.

Well, more of a volcano, actually.

And some hail.

There was rain too.

Did I mention the wind?

Over the last couple of weeks, the forecast has looked a bit poor or outright dreadful, in varying degrees. On Sunday morning it rained on and off on the drive up from Newcastle, and was drizzling when I arrived in Jedburgh. That was after a 4am start, though luckily the change in the clocks meant it was really a 5am start. Hurrah!

I’m sure most people run these things and have an uneventful if long run. Me, on the other hand, I can’t go past ten miles without coming across a downed UFO or encountering an as yet discovered Geordie tribe. This run contained two nice stories and two weird stories. Because even that is too simple, one story is both nice and weird. Go figure.

The organisation was really good at the start, I headed in to the Jed Thistle Rugby Club, picked up my pack and discovered I was number 38. I had secretly hoped to be number 13, or perhaps a number that looks the same upside down – thereby making me easy to identify if found in a ditch, but no. On reflection, 38 was a great number, as it was exactly the number of miles I would have to run and therefore would come in handy later on when I was a bit ‘confused’ and was trying to figure out how far I had to go.

The usual nervous wandering about and getting ready, a bit of last minute kit kerfuffle and it was ready to go. Off into the High Street and on the ready line. Then off we set, up the A68!


That’s me, shoving me gloves into me pack.

It didn’t take long to get off the main road, and down by the river – the weather was a mix of quite nice and drizzly drizzly but overall not too bad. Across the scariest sloppy rocking bridge in the world (I slipped on the way across and really scared myself) and then into the first climb.

The Scottish Borders are beautiful, it must be said, but knobbly. In a lovely way, but quite. If you go East to West I think you’re alright, but try to go North to South (or South to North) and you’ll be going over some hills, like running up the face of a gigantic hush puppy.

Up the hill, through the woods and past Ancrum, which means nothing if you don’t know the area. I was in a group of four and we managed to take a little detour and back up past the walled garden. Over Lilliardsedge and we’re heading towards Maxton and Checkpoint One.


Looking good so far…

Into Maxton and up to the church, where the fabulous volunteers were waiting for us – I was handed my drop bag as another Marshall took down my number. It started raining while I was putting gels into bag pockets, so waterproof on and off we go. That’s 10 miles down.

Further along the river, and now we come to the first story, and this is a weird one. I often tell a story about how I’m scared of cows. It relates to an incident on St Cuthbert’s Way where a bunch of young bulls chased me into the River Tweed and then stood on the banks, meaning that I had to wade downstream.

Well, the route passed through the same field.

And a report a day or two earlier about ‘Angry Cows’ made me wonder if it was the same field.

Of course it was.

However, this time I was with a few other people and we got through the field OK, though not without the realisation that I would be heading back this way, probably on my own as I was already in the back part of the field.

Further on, through the golf course, up into St Boswells, past the Co-Op and up onto the river again.  The river here mingled with the path in some places – one person fell in and had to retire apparently. Up from the river, over the A68 and on to Rhymers Stone and the base of the Eildon Hills and Checkpoint Two. More shifting around of gels from my second drop bag, and I’m about ready to start up the hill. There are maybe eight or so people behind me at this stage, I figure, but the Marshall tells me a couple of people have dropped out. I can see people heading up the hill in front of me, a kind of visual timeline stretching out of who turned up ahead of who.

The hill was tough. The hill was hard. I am not really fit enough for this size of hill. So much so, that I ended up walking a bit, then stopping to admire the view before heading a bit further up. Walk. Stop. Walk. Stop. And so on… forever. As the winds increase the further up I get.

As I got to the top of the first hill, I could hear strange screaming noises from above. I figure there are maybe kids up there?

Pulling up to the top, past the solitary tree that lives on the summit and there are a couple up there. Here comes story number two, and this one is nice AND weird. The girl ran over to me and above the gale force winds shouted “We’ve just got engaged!”. Then her (now) fiancé produces a camera, can I take their photo. Of all the ultra-runners in all the races, they picked me, which is weird as I’ve done a bit of wedding photography in my time. A Canon camera as well, so he’s got good taste, 50mm f/1.4 lens on it, which is a cracking choice, though he did have all points auto-focus, which isn’t a great idea for portraiture. A couple of photos later, and off I go – the downhill is astoundingly lovely – while I had slogged up the hill, I almost danced down Eildon number one. It was just so nice to be able to keep going.

There’s a saddle between the hills, and the Mountain Rescue van was parked up there – the Mountain Rescue lads were a bit of a theme, I ran or ambled past them numerous times and they were always a welcome sight.

Off up my second Eildon, and now longer pauses and shorter climbs – the wind was blowing from the West, and I was on the East slope, so it was a bit of a shock getting out on the top. No newly-engaged folk here, but horizontal hail and a gale.


The Second Eildon

Trying to come off the second one the wind blew my foot away and I nearly went for a tumble – down through the gale and then turn around and back to the third peak – it was still exposed and windy, but not quite as bad, by which I mean I didn’t have to hold my hood on to stop it from blowing off.


A rare blast of sunshine on the Third EIldon

Off the Eildons then, with a little bit of regret to have passed this point in the race, though glad not to have to plod up another mountain.

The next bit was through the fields and woodlands, and into Bowden, where my third story, a nice one, takes place –  my good friend Ian, and his wife Rhona were in Bowden – I’d missed them at Checkpoint Two, but they’d come down here. A quick chat, a photo and a promise to come back in November and off I went, properly buoyed up.

In no short order then, back to Newtown St Boswells and closing the loop around the mountains. From here it’s back the way we came. I can’t remember the time, but I thought it  seemed a bit later than I’d expected. Into my signature walk-plot-walk-plod technique, and back to St Boswells and the golf course, after passing the Co-Op again. The chip shop, alas, was not open, so my £10 emergency money stayed intact.

Next back past the Killer Cows, who failed to rush at me (lulling me into a false sense of security for the next time, clearly) and back to Maxton Church which was also Checkpoint Three. Once again, marvellously staffed, and the Sweeper was there getting ready to follow in the last runners to the cut-off. A promise of being serenaded if I was caught was enough to put a bit of life in my legs, and off I went.


Just after Maxton – that’s eight miles away from the hills – I ran up these… all of them.

As I got further back, it started to get a bit dim, and it wasn’t my eyes but the light just starting to go – luckily I’d picked up my head torch at Checkpoint 3. Back out over Lilliardsedge and past the Mountain Rescue lads. They reckoned there were two behind me, and I started to toy with the idea of being last. I mean, being third last is alright, but being last would have a certain something about it? I hadn’t seen anyone behind me for a while, so I might be last one in ahead of the cut-off? At this point (32 miles out of 38 at the road past Lilliardsedge), I had about an hour and a half to go – that’s fifteen minutes miles, or walking pace.

Down past Ancrum, over the not-so-deathly-slippery bridge and back around towards the home straight towards Jedburgh. Over the main road and past the Mountain Rescue team again – and onto the last couple of miles into town. It was getting properly dark now, so on with the head torch and through the trees. Out onto the main road and it’s literally half a mile past the houses. Cars going along the road started beeping at me – I’m assuming they were saying “Hello! Well done!” rather than “Give it up! You muppet!” and along to the finish with about twenty minutes until cut-off.

I hadn’t expected a big welcome, it was dark and I figured anyone with any sense would have gone home, but there were a good dozen people there who cheered me in – it was the best finish welcome I’ve ever had.



Off to the rugby club.



Ultra feet. (Through socks and shoes, the mud will prevail).

Shower. Definitely shower.

Sorry, I forgot to mention MEDAL. There was a medal. I like a medal.  I would take a photo of the medal, but then I’d need to take the medal off, and that’s not about to happen anytime soon.

In summary, the race was immense, it was brilliant. It was fantastically well organised by Noanie, Angela and the rest – I would recommend this to anyone who wants to do an ultra and doesn’t have a fear of mountains. I would do it again, no doubt. The weather was (charitably described as) changeable, but that’s a British autumn event for you, if you haven’t packed a waterproof you’ve failed the kit list, but you’re also a fool. The mud was thick and gloopy, but not so much as to put you off.

I think I’m getting the hang of in-race fuelling, I used a good dozen gels and some energy chew things, and while they made me feel a bit gloomy at times, they seem to have done the trick. I didn’t become incoherent and babbling, at least no more than my normal state of affairs.

I don’s so much think I took longer than almost everyone else, I more feel like I got my money’s worth from my entry fee in comparison to the people who shot around in five-and-a-bit hours.



I think I’ve tried Gu* gels before – certainly the shape of the pack is familiar. I remember them as being unbelievably thick and very difficult for me to swallow or digest. Clearly, this is not the ringing endorsement that might be hoped for. For preference, I use High 5 gels, as they’re as thin as I can find, sit comfortably in my stomach and seem to do the trick.


In my quest for gels at the weekend, I picked up a pile of my usual High 5’s, was ready to head off to the counter (which would bring it’s own bit of fun if you’ve read the post below) when I noticed a GU Salted Caramel gel. With a picture of a yeti on it. On which basis I bought one, I mean, it’s got a picture of a yeti on it, that alone makes it worth a go, and I’m not totally averse to caramel, apparently.


Today was my last longer run before the ultra, turned out to be around 12 miles, when I’d head out for about 6. Still, it gave me ample time to have a go with the Gu as it were. So, about eight miles in, about to head off up a hill, a little knackered and I thought “it’s now or never”** and tore the packet open. A gentle squeeze and what looked like actual caramel started to ooze out. Hmm, looks like the consistency is the same, but for some reason that makes perfect sense when it’s caramel flavour, as that’s like food, rather than like a drink, you see? It was rather nice, sweet, caramelly goodness. If Augustus Gloop had been looking on, he would have wept in envy, I swear.

I finished it off, feeling like I’d just ram-raided a sweet-shop, and kicked back into running at my go-to ultra-shuffle pace. Hmm, no ill effects, that’s pretty good. A couple of miles further and still no bother – this might be a winner. I even felt mildly energetic, though whether this was from the gel itself of the indulgent taste is up for discussion.

In short, I would recommend these to anyone who like caramel and is prepared to slow down to ingest their gels – I couldn’t have coped with it at a run, I think I would have smothered myself in gel. I might pick up a couple more to stick in my drop bags for the ultra – can’t hurt to add caramel to the tank, eh?

* Not clear on whether it’s ‘Gu’ or ‘GU’, so I’ve used both indiscriminately in order to cover all the bases.

**I could have done it another time, say five minutes later, tomorrow or in 2016, but a bit of drama never goes amiss.

Yes, it’s now less than a week until the Jedburgh Ultra Marathon. I’m properly excited now, and starting to make the final bits of preparation.

A quick trip to a bike shop to pick up some gels on Saturday means I’m now sorted energy-wise. When I dumped the load of sachets on the counter the man raised his eyebrows, thought a while and then asked whether they were all for me. I said yes, he asked if I was taking part in an event. I said yes, the Jedburgh Ultra Marathon, he asked how far, I said 38 miles. He asked what sort of bike, I said no, it’s running. He looked confused and said running? I said yes, and he seemed lost for words. I’m not sure whether it was the thought of the distance, or whether it was just my audacity in buying stuff for a non-bicyce event in a bike shop, but something clearly messed with his brain.

On the subject of gels, this is the first race I’ll have been in that has drop bags. For the uninitiated (which pretty much includes me) a drop bag is a little parcel or marvellousness that waits for you at the race checkpoints. Usually you stick in food and any additional gear you might need (like a head torch for the check point before you start a night section). I think I’ve got to grips with the idea, and I’m going to put a little food parcel of gels an energy bars together for each check point (there are three). Maybe include a sandwich of something for the 18 and 28 mile checkpoints, as I might want something a little more food-like to give me a boost.

I re-packed my first aid kit last night, from the bulky but bomb-proof red pack into a couple of zip-locks. It won’t take up less room, but it’s less bulky, so I can probably slip it in somewhere amongst the other bits and bobs.

One worrisome toenail and we’re not even underway yet. After having it roundly stood on during The Wall, my left big toe has not been quite right – it’s looked like it would come off at some point. However, it’s stubbornly held on for dear life since June. Now, with a few days to go, it’s shearing off across the middle of my toe – no pain. no problem, just slowly tearing across. I’m not helping it, or trying to stop it, just hope it won’t get up to any mischief come the day (hence checking the first aid kit – you never know).

The fund raising is coming alone, I’m two thirds of the way there, with £50 to go. I would have liked to reach the target ahead of the day, but it seems increasingly unlikely. If anyone does want to help out last minute, my Just Giving page is HERE.

I’m raising money for Tourettes Action NE, the local branch of the national charity for Tourettes. I have a friend whose son has Tourettes, and he’s a good bloke who’s very passionate about the charity. I figured that was as good a reason as any, and I don’t think they’re a charity that gets a lot of support, which ticks my box for fundraising for less well known organisations. If you have a quid or two, then why not visit the page, and get in on the action – it’s for a good cause, and as we’ve already established, every pound gets me just a little bit further once the tiredness sets in. If you’re interested in what they do or just want to find out more, Tourettes Action have their site HERE.

Training-wise, I’ve got a six or so mile run today after dropping the car of for its service, then maybe a shorter run sometime later in the week, but that’s it – I’m officially tapering, which means “saving myself for the big day”. I also interpreted “tapering” to mean “eat more chips”, so it’s a fun experience, even if I’m in danger of not fitting into my vest.

My running club, the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club, is 125 years old today. How cool is that?

Hope that doesn’t mean we have to buy all the other runners cake, like when it’s your birthday at work… you wouldn’t want it anyway, would you, what with that strict athletic diet and all?

OK, perhaps not the pithiest title I’ve ever come up with, but then today wasn’t a pithy run.

Today was a gut-bucket huge-a-thon monster of a run, or at least for me.

Let me explain, gentle reader, in three weeks it’s the Jedburgh Ultra Marathon – 38 miles of goodness with an added volcano thrown in for good measure (no, really).

Because that’s a bit of a tall ask for me, I figured there should be training. However, training isn’t one of my strong cards, so I’ve stuck with the good old “run a bit further, eh?” approach, it’s done me fair-to-middlin’ to date. Heck, I even went a bit wild and tried a spot of fartlek training the other week.

I’ve been thinking one last stupid-long run would be good before what I am laughingly going to refer to as “tapering” – the process whereby proper athletes recharge their batteries ahead of the big day. I intend to use my tapering to let my pseudo-muscles turn back to jelly, which I shall call “wibbling” rather than tapering.

Anyhow, in a scientifically driven process* I’d decided that Hexham was the place. About 16 miles and then back again for 32 miles-ish in total. That’s not bad, eh? No, that’s ridiculous – what on earth was I thinking? That’s a good ten miles over my current longest run, which is strictly bad news. Apparently.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to let a thing like sense get in my way, so out the door I headed at 10am. Rather than heading down to the River Tyne, then up somehow, I’d decided to head along the top of the hill that forms the south side of the valley, drop down at Stocksfield and then up to Hexham.

It was a good plan.

From the top of the hill, let’s call it the ridge, I could see down into the valleys on both sides – the sun was out, it was mint.


So, along the ridge and then down into what we’ll call the technical part of the course, as in there were some turns to take, and I could easily** go wrong.

And you know what, I only went (pretty much) the right way. Down to the train station at Stocksfield and onto the main road to Hexham – with the realisation that I’m a bit tired, and still have nine miles to go on the outward leg.

It’s a long and boring road – hang on, isn’t that a song? See how my mind wanders even thinking about it? No path for most of it, so I’m running along the white line at the edge of the road – thank goodness I had my RoadID with me in case I got squished.

To cut to the chase, I made it to Hexham, and headed to the Hexham Tans veggie cafe. And what I found might surprise you.


It was closed.

In a turn of events not dissimilar to other plans***, it had all gone a little wrong.

It turned out that pretty much all of Hexham was closed. I did eventually find the lovely Deli 4 that had Earl Grey and a vegan shortbread.

Small break over, and off I headed, employing my walk/run technique whereby I run when I feel like it and walk when I don’t. It’s not a bad approach, though as the run continues it tends to get a bit more walk and a bit less run.

I ran out of water just before Stocksfield, but figure I could get more in the little shop. Only it had shut – what kind of shop shuts early on a Sunday? Well, this one.

Seven miles to go and no water. Not a good position after 25 miles.

Oh, and the hill. The hill out of Stocksfield takes me back onto the top of the ridge. Best walk it then don’t want to sweat too much. For ages, it’s a biggie with a switchback.

Hang on, I’ve got an IsoGel – it’s like a regular gel but watered down, so you can take it without water. Eventually I hit the top, take the gel and feel a bit better.

Back along the ridge, down to Chopwell and home we go – ran back down the hill, which felt good.

In total, about six and a half hours – that means another three and a half for the extra six miles and the volcano. That should be OK?

Also, drop bags for the checkpoints – never used ’em before so I’ll have to figure out how they work and the figure out what to put in ’em.

*As in I know there’s a nice cafe there with veggie food.

**If there’s a right way and a wrong way, guess which way I’ll go? I’d be the last lemming, shouting “which way to the cliff?”.

***I was intending to discover cheese deposits on the moon, but it turns out I’m lactose intolerant. Tch.