Archive for the ‘Event’ Category

It’s been a while… well, two months, I guess.

Saying which, there’s not a vast amount of wild things gone on – I’ve cycled lots, but you knew I was doing that. Lots of miles, just one route.

At the end of October I finished my fifth year of running – five years! It’s been a canny year – after three attempts I finally got to run the Kintyre Way, which was epic, and a truly lovely bit of Scotland – definitely worth a trip and the run is spectacular.

I had my first ever DNF (did not finish) at the end of October, on my favourite run – the Jedburgh Ultra. It was entirely my own fault, I didn’t train enough. I kind of knew I hadn’t, but thought I could fake my way round. I couldn’t. Massive cramp going up the first Eildon that led to something going wrong with my leg and I could barely hobble along. I signed out with the marshal, and slowly walked my way off the hills for an early finish. Gutted at the time, but now I realise it was down to me I see it’s a lesson that I’ve got a bit lazy and should take these things a bit more seriously. A bit less cycling, a bit more running, especially as runs get closer and all should be fine.

I had the norovirus – that was horrid, but it came and went.

I consistently nearly bought a Brompton, but I still can’t quite justify it to myself, I really fancy a cyclocross or gravel bike to take onto the bridleways and tracks, or even to have a go at cyclocross, which looks crackers.

I reckon I’ll have cycled just short of 5,000km by the end of this year, mainly since I started commuting in June. I’m hoping to keep it going as far into the new year as possible, but we’ll see what the weather thinks about that.

Not far to go to 2017, eh, let’s see how that goes…

 

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I read on someone’s blog once that most people read race reports to see how long it took.

5:18

If that was all you came for, then job done. But just in case anyone came for more detail I’m going to plough on with things.

To begin with, I got lucky number 7! I’ve lived in a few houses that were number 7, never on purpose, but it does seem to follow me around a bit. It was’t number 1, which is good – I had number 1 at the very first Trail Outlaws event, the Pieces of Eight at Penshaw Monument, and it felt like a lot to live up to*.

I got my t-shirt, which was pretty exciting – if you read my last post then you know that I doodled the doodle on the front, and to see it in actual real life on actual people was fantastic.


It really was ‘a dark and stormy night’. That much is true. Storm Kate kicked off about half an hour before the race started and tried new and interesting combinations of ‘wet’, ‘extra wet’, ‘windy’ and ‘chilly’ all the way round.

Last year’s Dark Skies was lovely and clear, with sunset, stars and all the stuff you’d have come to a dark skies park for. No so last night. I could have stood in the shower with the lights off in my running gear to fairly accurately experience it**.

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I managed to impress myself by running the first half or thereabouts without resorting to a sneaky walk – good going for me at Kielder, where the only bits that aren’t uphill or downhill are the bits that separate one from the other.

I’ve got a decent idea of the route as far as the dam in my head now, so I kind of knew where I was, I was’t caught out by the hidden one-mile-inlet where you can see the route to the dam in front of you, turn a corner and realise there’s another two miles to go before you get there.

The bit from the dam back to Hawkhirst was a hurt-fest of tired legs, tired brain and cold winds – it’s the second time I’ve ever thought I might be getting hypothermia while out running. I think it was because I walked a little to long on one bit, and my core must have cooled down – breaking into a shuffle-trot seemed to do the trick.

I had gone a bit tech-crazy, and as well as my Fitbit heart monitor I also had my Garmin on the other wrist, but I resisted the urge to look at either. I started playing ‘how many miles is this’ and irritated myself at my inability to figure it out. My phone alarm went off at 9pm, and I apologised to the people around me at that point – no-one wants to be shocked by Big Ben when they’re part way round a reservoir in Northumberland.

I made it through to Leaplish and then the final mile and a bit to Hawkhirst saw me summon up a slightly swifter*** stumble along to the finish line. I could hear someone behind me trying for a sprint finish, and briefly wished they’d explode in flames – after 26.5 miles it’s a bit rich to try and pick up a position or two in the final straight**** – they never quite caught up and I doddered into the finish hut, had my picture taken (I think) just as my glasses steamed up and I lost all vision. I found the finish desk, then a cup of coffee and then a bit of a sit down*****.

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All in all a fabulous run – the marshals should get an award for standing around in the rain. The organisation was grand, the people were cool. The medal was a cracking black number with the Plough picked out in tiny crystals – they go right through, so I reckon you can shine a light through. Genius.

To top it all off, five minutes after I got in the car and started heading home the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and the moon came out. Really beautiful, and a few hours later than would have been nice.

I GOT MY PICTURE ON A RACE T-SHIRT – DID I MENTION THAT?

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*I managed to fight that urge and come nowhere near the front.

**I would have also needed someone pointing a wind machine in through the door, but that would be silly, right?

***It’s relative, OK, I think I was clocking 14 minute miles just before and got a 13 minute final mile.

****Other views on sprint finishes at the end of trail marathons in storms are available. But they are wrong.

*****An inherently dangerous thing to do after a long run – there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to get back up.

 

Blaydon Race!

Posted: 06/02/2016 in Event, Running, Uncategorized

I got in!

I might have mentioned that I really like the Blaydon Race; it’s the only road race I really look forward to. It’s got its own song and everything, which is pretty cool in my book.

So, 9 June that’s where I’ll be, toeing the line with everyone else once again.

Get in! Better get out for a bit of a run…

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I don’t want to waffle on for hours about this, as it might stop you from reading all the way to the end, but it could be difficult not to, so bear with me a little. That’s me at the start, by the way, looking like the rainbow love child of Ron Hill and Pan’s People. I quite like this picture of me, it looks like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards and then kidnapped by hippies. That’s the look I aim for on a really long run, I find it scares off any leopards and bears – I have a clean slate in the leopard and bear department. The photo was taken by the remarkably fine Lee Nixon, the Outlaw Photographer.

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That’s the map, well, that’s my map, or drawing I guess, it’s a pretty poor map as maps go, so let’s call it an infographic of the route? That chap in the middle is St Cuthbert, the first British ultra-runner, and some say the person who started the whole ultra-running movement. In-between being pious and fighting vikings, he liked to get out for a bit of a jog. However, he was also a bit of a Forrest Gump character, and found it difficult to stop once he’d found his running mojo. I think we’ve all been there, right?

He set off from his house in Melrose, over the Eildon Hills, hung a left just before reaching Jedburgh and then passed through Kirk Yetholm before heading over the Cheviot Hills (he liked a bit of hill training) to Wooler to re-supply on jelly babies before continuing on to the beach. As luck would have it, he came out at Lindisfarne and skipped over the causeway, discovering that someone had built an abbey there, so he decided to stay for a bit.

Virtually none of that is true, but it’s a grand story that I made up while running St Cuthbert’s Way in the wrong direction. You might ask why the wrong way? Well the thing about causeways is they get a bit damp at times, and the 60-odd people starting would all be finishing hours apart, so better to get the time-critical bit out of the way first and avoid wading.

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And that’s me heading over said causeway – the boxy thing is a refuge in case you get caught out trying to finish an ultra marathon in the right direction and the tide comes in…

As photos are cool, here’s one more, of everyone at the start on Lindisfarne:

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Grand bunch of folk too. I got to see the back of most of them heading off as I headed into my familiar almost-last-tending-to-last place early on.

As far as runs go, this one was a doozy – it really has it all, even a volcano! I don’t think James Bond could come up with finer plot.

You start with a causeway off the island, head across gentle meadows and some fun minor hills on the way to Wooler. The last hill into Wooler is a cracker, just to get you in the mood.

So, that’s me to the first main checkpoint at Wooler Bowls Club, and I’ve already overlooked the fantastic marshalling at the checkpoints on the way to Wooler. The organisation was ace, everything I’ve come to expect from a Trail Outlaws event – seriously, I’d say they’re doing a cracking job of single-handledly turning the North East into an even more stunning venue for some mighty fine running. St Cuthberts Way, the Kielder Dark Skies Marathon and I’m sure the upcoming Sandstone Way Ultra are all immense, even the Penshaw Pieces of Eight half marathon turned out to be a gem of a run in a location I’d never realised was quite so well stocked with trail.

A not-so-quick turnaround at Wooler, and my first chance to try my novel refuel choice, sushi! If you’ve read the last few posts running up to St Cuthbert’s Way, you’ll know I tried a thing or two out, and my key strategy was built around cucumber maki (cucumber rolled in rice and surrounded with seaweed – I hold onto a hope of getting sponsorship from Yo! Sushi one day – when I was buying a shed-load of cucumber maki to take away and explained it was to fuel me through a 100km run they seemed bemused), gluten-free vegan chocolate oaty biscuits and diluted Irn-Bru. First pack of sushi and it felt like a good choice with a spot of soy sauce, they shook hands with my tummy and agreed to all get on.

Out of Wooler and into the second big chunk, and it’s time to introduce some hills. The Cheviots to be exact, and they manage to pack a lot of hill into what looks like a short space on the map. But beautiful, really, really beautiful. Eventually you reach the border between England and Scotland, which looks a bit like this:


Still looking jolly at this point. From the border you get the first view of the Eildon Hills, the volcano you have to scale to get to Melrose on the other side and the finish. From here it looks both small and not that far away. Neither of these facts turn out to be true…

More hills, more hills and then a few more hills just for good measure. There was a bit of woodland in there, with a confusingly vague track through it, but we made it through.

Eventually you reach Scottish civilisation in the form of Kirk Yetholm (or maybe Town Yetholm, I can never remember which is which) the starting point for the Pennine Way.

Along to Morebattle, the next main checkpoint and more sushi. Sushi was still good, as was the Irn-Bru.

There’s a hill, called Wideopen Hill that hides just outside of Morebattle. It’s the mid-point of St Cuthbert’s Way, apparently and also the highest point (there’s a sign to tell you this, I’m not full of St Cuthbert’s Way trivia). The top of it looks like this (complete with sign)…


However, as it’s the highest point, it’s also a crazy long climb, and it’s one of those hills that just looks to keep going. You’ve just congratulating yourself for having reached the summit when another summit appears, and you’ll never guess what’s behind that? Uhuh…

Onwards we go, and we’re half way now, so there’s no point in turning back – on to Bonjedward, and the first hand-powered car-wash in Scotland (as far as I know). We picked up the sweepers here, or maybe they picked us up, that’s probably more like it. You cross the road here and drop down to follow the river then we’re on the back half of the Jedburgh Ultra, the wee church at Maxton, St Boswells, then on to the Eildons.

I haven’t mentioned the time yet – this caper kicked off at 8am in the morning on Saturday. By now it was getting dark, so head torches were the order of the day.

Up, up, up the slope of the Eildons – luckily it was over the saddle – the Jed Ultra goes right up the side of the biggest one, so I was pretty thankful that wasn’t called for. It still felt like quite a climb.

Eventually, and it felt like forever, but the top of the saddle was reached and the first view of Melrose. Just a mega-muddy downhill and a slight direction malfunction and into Melrose itself, and a lone figure in a car which turned out to be Phil Turton, one of the Outlaws-In-Chief and probably the most welcome sight of the day. A stagger to Melrose Abbey to mark our cards (literally) and then the extra mile or so through town to the finish at the village hall.

The light was starting to leak back into the day, the birds were getting their act together and the most amazing 68 mile (that’ll be 100km) adventure was at a close. I reckon I looked OK, all things considered…


Still. Bloody. Smiling.

I think I thanked everyone in the room fairly indiscriminantly and often, I babbled about how fantastic the run was (quite rightly too), then headed back to my tent back on the edge of town to try and get some sleep. I went to sleep wearing my finisher’s medal on, some things are important and should be held on to.

Time? Well, the time at the finish was 4:30am on Sunday, so that’s 20.5 hours on the hoof. There was a lot walking in the second half. A lot of good chat with other runners along the way, which surprised me as I always think I’m a solitary runner, but I honestly think the people was what got me through – the other runners, the marshalls the whole bloomin’ lot – Phil, Tim, Lee, Flip, Tony, just a grand family of people. The Munros too – Helen and John, who I know more from the Scottish ultra scene, so a lovely surprise to see here – Helen seemed to be at every checkpoint in her role as the Angel of Chivvying to try and make sure there was a minimum of Messing On. John, along with Dave Hetherington as the Grim Sweepers from Bonjedward onwards to the end, always with a subtle suggestion of “mebbes run a bit, it’s downhill after all”.

Would I do it again? For sure, but I think it would only work if I could find the time to properly train for it, which is tricky. All the core work with Chris at NUCAS has paid off, but I hadn’t put the miles in to be honest, and I think it showed. One for the future perhaps, more shorter ultras first. I did feel bad about finishing after the official 18.5 hour cut-off, the marshalls and everyone involved have given up their time and I don’t like the idea I’m keeping them up.

Speaking of marshalls and the Trail Outlaws, I did have a thought as I was stumbling through Melrose that those hi-vis jackets would look minty with a logo on, something to continue the fab cowboy theme, sort of like this…


If you’re going to be an outlaw, best be a Trail Outlaw.

Best. Race. Ever.

This was my third go at the George Ogle Memorial Race – just a short hop from home and taking in the bottom of the Derwent Valley. It’s a nice tight run, six compact miles up the Derwent Walk and the trails around, and a great family feel with the local clubs well represented.

I felt so much better running it than in earlier years, I think the core training with Chris at NUCAS has paid off, with my newly discovered (but as yet still unseen) core.

The rain stopped just before the start and held off in a glorious window of running-ness, and I managed to pull off a new personal best on the course. No walking, either, though I still blame last year’s plodding down to ill-advised crisp eating on the afternoon before.

The time? Well, 46:18, and here’s a shot of me coming into the finish taken by Chris Haswell, (hellfirex on flickr).

If there’s one thing the British are good at, it’s eccentricity. We’re so good at it we would be able to export it, if only the rest of the world got what it’s all about.

One of the key bits of our national oddness is tradition of the the village show – where else can you find horse trials, dog obedience, humorous vegetables, country crafts, a parade of tractors, agricultural supplies and cut-price Tweed (not that I own any Tweed, being vegan and all). And fell racing, don’t forget the fell racing.

Fell racing originates in the idea that the fit young folk of the village should like nothing better than running up to the highest hill about the village then descending as limb-disjointingly quickly as can be achieved in order to be judged maddest fool at the show. It goes without saying that it was invented before TV, which explains why the field of runners are not the green-limbed youths of the village in the main, but a more veteran and philosophical crowd.

The Europeans have recently caught on that it might be a bit of a lark to do this, but christened it the much more respectably named “sky running”. But don’t let that fool you, it’s probably just as barking.

So, to Thropton, the third show I’ve been to this year and the only one I’ve run at. Thropton Show holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons.

  1. I used to live along the road from Thropton at Elsdon and quite liked it thank you.
  2. I ran my first fell race at Thropton last year and it remains the maddest race I’ve ever taken part in, beating any ultra, any Christmas-pudding run and all the stupid “let’s see what happens when I eat x while running” experiments.
  3. I know one of the organisers, Mary, who I work with and her husband, Ian, who I also used to work with.
  4. This year, my friend Mike brought along the region’s only mobile bell-tower for a display of campanology. See, eccentric, I told you – none of the other shows had a bell-tower and I can only suggest it was a mighty addition to an already quintessentially British affair.
  5. I got to have a go on the bell-tower – it’s pretty difficult, you know, I was fairly rubbish, but left with a new-found respect for bell ringers everywhere.
  6. The quality of mud in the bogs of Simonside is unparalleled in any other murky quagmire I’ve ever found myself wading through. Proper clag, they should be proud.
  7. There was also Cumberland Wrestling – that looks bizarre too, I mean, you do it in your socks, what’s that about? Brilliant!

I arrived at the show, dumped the car in the adjacent field (without thoughts of getting it out again later, some things can wait) and headed into the show field. Finding the registration cabin I handed over my £2 and in time-honoured fashion pretended to read the safety guidance before signing my name on the sheet. I suspect the guidance is a bit like small print in a contract, if I look hard enough I’ve probably just signed away my spleen for posterity.

An amble about before the kick off unearthed Mike and his bell-tower, looking mighty fine and a chap I was sure I must know – I recognised him, but then it was time to toe the line. Hang on, he’s running too – it’s Stephen, right? I wandered over and said hello to Stephen, looking decidedly more trim and sportier than when I’d last seen him, which must be four or five years ago I guess, when I used to live here. I walked up Simonside with Stephen and some folk on an organised wander at a time when our paths had crossed due to locality and a shared interest in photography and geocaching. It was great to catch up briefly and then we were off!

Mike grabbed a shot:

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If you look closely I’m left of the centre, yellow vest with green band and an orange long-sleeve underneath. If that doesn’t help, I’m the one smiling like an idiot.

This year I was ready for the river crossing at the end of the road, it really is only ankle deep (ish) but just as cold as I remember. Splosh, splash, splash, out the other side and you’re heading up the gentle incline of a well-cropped field. Up to the top gate and out onto the road.

It gets steeper.

And steeper.

And then a bit more.

Up the deceptively steep road past Great Tosson (still my candidate for best named place in Northumberland) and through a farm yard. Turn left, through someone’s garden and up onto the hill itself (sorry, but it turns out that the bit before this was the gentle foothill before the real work begins). A bit of walking as the first bit of grass is actually a series of steps cut into the hillside then it starts to level off as you hit the trees. Along the edge and the views are good – then into the trees and a narrow track cutting up through the wood.

Since last year there’s clearly been a bit of logging going on in the woods – there were large bare areas with stumps and ma-hooo-sive tire tracks. The path gets steeper, and rockier – proper boulder pathway and I always worry about slipping on the damp rocks and somehow, inexplicably, killing myself. It isn’t enough of a worry, or sufficiently likely to happen that I’ve given it much thought, and the roister-doister trail running alter ego doesn’t like to admit to worrying about anything so mundane, so on I plod. A bit slower now, and with a bit of a walk when it gets too uneven to run (or maybe when I’m a bit pooped, you know).

One of the things I remember from last year the bit where you break out of the trees and can see the stony massif of the crags above you. It was a bit of a revelation last year, and it didn’t disappoint this year either. Big, rocky, stony, bouldery – they really need a good few more adjectives to cover the marvellousness of the crags.

Along the fire road, and then the slow walk up the twisty ascent to the top of the crags. I got overtaken by a few people going up here, I really need to work on my hills, and I think Jedburgh will be a bit of a slog up the volcano. Eventually, nearly to the top, and one of the marshals asked how it was going. “I’ll be better once I’m up there on the top” – he replied that it was hard on the way down, but I wasn’t fooled – I know where my worst weaknesses lie, and they’re up the hill.

The view from the top of the crags if fantastic – last year I took a camera, but this year I was travelling light, so no shots. It’s so worth the trip up there, a marvellous panorama around Northumberland. I may have stopped for a moment, or at least bumbled along slowly, and there was no way it was because I was tired, Scout’s honour…

Part way along the crags you turn down to a fissure and then, for want of a better word, scramble or perhaps climb all the way back down – the mud between the rocks was thick, wet and had already been churned up by 50-60 runners. A bit of skidding, but I only had one mishap, wedging my foot against a sharp rock, but no-one was hurt, thank goodness. The mud got thicker, the pools a little deeper and through the heather back to the woods.

It’s worth pausing here for a moment before the descent through the woods, and asking you to consider the effect of trees that hold a lot of moisture in the ground, overhead cover that means the water doesn’t evaporate off and years of decomposing needles and leaves to fuel the creation of darkly perfumed uber-mud. Maybe churn the ground up a bit with planting in order to form deep pools and lethal slopes down which to careen. That sounds about right.

So, into the woods and into the mud. It was ankle deep, calf deep, in one place knee deep, it was lovely. It stank, it stuck to shoes, it tanned the leg – honestly, if I was a poet I’d write a poem to that mud.

It was also like the worst ice you’ve even inched across, every step an uncertain future.

You just can’t take it easy, or you’d be there all day. Crash on, cross fingers and hope to die. Well, not literally.

Then, after a while we come to Church Rock, a local landmark in the woods, a huge monolith sunk into the side of a near-vertical hillside and here we go down the side of it on an almost-path that falls alway below you, coated in the Teflon-mud.

At the bottom I realised Stephen was behind me, and we ran for a while chatting – through the woods and back out to the farm yard, running and chatting, it was like being in the middle of an ultra-marathon, only the desperate attempts to force feed ourselves were missing.

Back down the road, which was becoming less steep with each step and I made a bit of a break for it, madly hoping to beat my time from last year where I came in around 1:20 for the just-short-of-7-mile route. That was in much drier conditions, but you can hope, right?

I went back over the bridge rather than the river, mainly because everyone else in front was going that way – the guy behind me opted for the river and finished in front of me – he came over for a chat at the end – I don’t really mind about the time, but I really enjoyed the river the first time, so I was a bit gutted. The legality of heading back through the river is still not something I’m clear on, I’ve got a feeling you’re supposed to head over the bridge, but I’m not sure.

Back along the bottom of the field and up into the finish and the marvellous folk at the show were hanging by to clap and cheer – I ran past Mike, who nabbed another photo…

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A grand time, a few minutes slower than the year before, but that doesn’t really matter. Got my breath back, drank a bottle of water Mary kindly brought over and then wandered around talking to folk I knew – Mary, Ian, Fiona, Stephen (a different Stephen), Mike and had a bag of chips and a go of the bell-tower after watching the wrestling. How could the day be any more cosy and eccentric? Perhaps a steam-powered time machine?

This year was the 99th Thropton Show, which means next year is likely to be something special. I’ll be there, I reckon, which gives me a whole year to practise the hills. Why don’t you come, we can wallow together…

Bring on the mud!

 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered a lovely bit of fun in running. When you receive your number, sometimes, just sometimes, you get a magic number. Now, 1 is clearly a magic number, as is 13 or a nice round figure like 100. However, the Ditch-Number is pay-dirt for an ultra run. But what is a Ditch-Number?

Imagine the scene; you’ve been running for many hours, you’re tired, a bit confused and not as steady on your pins as you would usually be. It’s probably raining, it’s Britain after all, and there’s not a day you can guarantee you won’t get rain. Unless it’s snowing.

You stumble a little, veer to the side and through your misty carb-starved eyes you fail to notice you’re going off the path. Slip, trip, whoops, plump.

You’re in a ditch.

It’s wet.

You’re upside down.

After a certain amount of running this feels like a safe and comfy place to be, so perhaps you need a little snooze.

Eventually another runner or a marshall or the sweeper will find you, and at this point the Ditch-Number comes into its own.

You see, a Ditch-Number is any number that reads the same upside down that it does the right way up. No chance you’ll be mistaken for Mr Scoggins from Wayward Heath* and sent to some la-di-dah private hospital**.

So, the holy litany of Ditch-Numbers is this:

1, 8, 11, 69, 96, 101, 111, 181 and so on***.

I had the pleasure of running The Wall in 2013 with 101, and I’m running the Jedburgh Ultra in 11 this year, then the Jedburgh Half Marathon the day after with number 8.

C’mon, you want a Ditch-Number, don’t you?

I knew it…

*Apologies to Mr Scoggins, you’re likely a good five miles ahead of me, and you probably don’t want people to think you’re the inverted snoozer, do you?

**Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just that when they find out I’m not Mr Scoggins they’ll throw me back in the ditch.

***I may have missed one, five or two hundred in there – I started thinking through the numbers and got a bit tired.