Friday, 28 December 2012

Staffordshire Moorlands Christmas Cracker 8mi. 16/12/2012.

It's been 4 years since I toed the line on this one. During my non attendance we 'enjoyed' some serious winter conditions that forced the route off The Roaches to a shorter loop around Tittesworth Reservoir. Even then it was a shuffle through deep snow, so I heard. This year it was back to normal - mild, wet and back onto the Roaches ridge. It wasn't raining and the sun was struggling to shine. I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn't in fancy dress otherwise I'd collapse from heat exhaustion. (Well, I did have a Santa hat but that soon came off once the race started.)

Fancy dress is a major theme of this event. There were the Elvis's, Father Christmas's, the Christmas cracker, Christmas pudding, the caveman, the cyclists (!)...... One of the Elvis's had a music machine around his waist that was playing Elvis hits at surprisingly high volume with decent sound quality. The sheep scattered as we ran up the first boggy field with "Love Me Tender" blaring out. He was soon out of earshot ahead as we ran along the road with the Roaches ridge beginning to loom to our right.

We turned sharp right onto the track for the stiff climb up to the ridge. The mist hung low as usual as we toiled across the rocky, technical terrain. Once onto the top it remained sufficiently riddled with trip hazards to necessitate a slowing of pace to maintain some composure. I picked my way carefully along the top to the eventual descent, getting overtaken a little along the way. 'I don't recall it being this long and tortuous', I thought to myself.

The 'easing back' along the top allowed a new lease of life once we descended to the sharp turn left back onto the road. We were now heading for home and the running was easy, at least it would have been had we not been pushing the pace as fast as we dared up to now. More photographers (there had been a few) waited to capture our suffering as we beasted ourselves back to the outward route via tracks and boggy fields to the finish. The road seemed surprisingly devoid of other runners. Was it because they were mostly ahead and I was bringing up the rear?

I didn't spare the effort to check my watch as I skidded my way down the field to the gate/stile in the dip (thank goodness for the hand rail), up the other side and down the hoof-holed, sloping, swilling field to the track. It became a survival blur after that as I ran with Lee Grant of Goyt Valley Striders along the path and across the grass to the finish line at the back of Tittesworth Visitors Centre. Looking at the pictures, Lee and I had run together on and off for most of the race. We got to choose between a bottle of beer or a pair of socks for our efforts. Many thanks to Staffordshire Moorlands Athletics Club for putting on an excellent event once again.

When I checked the time I was gob-smacked. Since 2006 they work out as follows:
2006: 1:13:59
2007: 1:13:45
2008: 1:13:47
2012: 1:10:53.

4th PB in December?! Something really is going right.

The picture below is from Bryan Dale's racephotos, taken on the road back to the finish. Mick Hall Photos also took a good crop.

Picture by Bryan Dale of racephotos.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Parkrun - Runfurther 'Do' - Stockport 10. 08-09/12/2012.

UPDATE 27/12/2012. READ DOWN.

Well, that was a full and memorable weekend, which finished with a third PB within two weekends.What's happening to me?

1. The Woodbank Parkrun on Saturday morning followed the flat, 3-lap top course again due to ice on the tight turns in the lower park. However this time it was lengthened to 5.25km instead of 5.15km. I was still faster, although my PB remains on the hilly 5k course.

2. In the afternoon I ventured over to the dark side over the watershed for the Runfurther party and prize presentation in Ringinglow, which overlooks Sheffield. The drive over the top was decidedly dodgy in the compacted and melting snow.

The proceedings were bijou and very entertaining, with free welcome drinks and dinner. The Norfolk Arms provided the ideal venue. It might look like a pub on the outside but that belies what's inside. It's best described as a quality hotel with homely pub feel - perfect for our celebrations and a good night's sleep afterwards. Well done Karen (I assume) for booking it.

We enjoyed a presentation and discussion on the inaugural Accelerate Big Running Weekend and related subjects. Then we were treated to a presentation by Stuart Walker about his Big Alps Run. This would be his second talk for a Runfurther end-of-year 'Do'.

The Big Alps Run was run in May - June this year. It involved 34 days of running mostly solo. Stuart covered 1,870km, ascended 45,200m and passed through 6 countries from Vienna to Nice. He camped out overnight and carried everything he needed apart from food, which he bought along the way (except on Sundays when everything's shut). It was done in aid of Water For Kids. Here's a brief YouTube video:



Stu, I am in awe.

Time was getting on a bit by now and stomachs were rumbling, so time to eat dinner. Very nice it was too.

Dinner was followed by the main event of the evening - the prize presentation and big announcement (more of which later). Once again we were not let down by our sponsors; some good swag was handed out.

Duncan Harris won in the men's category with a clean sweep of 4000 points for 4 wins.
Helen Skelton did it for the women, finishing just 51 points short of the magic 4000. Unfortunately she wasn't there to receive her prize. Helen, we missed you.
Chris Davies and Karen Nash won in the V50 categories.
Tony Wimbush and Sandra Scott won in the V60s.
The highest points scorers (totals from all events completed) were Mick Plummer and Karen Nash.

Now to the greedy bu**ers who want it all. There were two Grand Slammers this year - Mick Plummer and me. Mick has reminded me every time we have met that it's all my fault that he got dragged into attempting the Slam. I think he liked it really, though twelve Ultras do require some commitment and a few weekends away.

I feel very lucky because I am not fast enough to ever win anything, yet the reward for a Grand Slam somehow seems to outweigh the winners' awards.
We get a nice warm hoodie (much used during recent cold winters) with the year's races listed on the back and a Runfurther logo on the front that sets off the tattoo nicely. ;-) This year's number was a little more lively than of late, coming as it does in a rather vibrant 'electric blue' with orange lining inside.
We also get a personalised certificate with the year's races listed. We get plenty of other stuff as well (Clif Bars, anyone?).

I was surprised to be given an additional award for three Grand Slams completed. The certificate made artistic use of a photo taken on this year's Round Rotherham.

After the awards came the big announcement. The news we'd all been waiting for was that Runfurther lives beyond 2012. Mark Barns, with the assistance on Jon Steel, will take over the reigns. I will likely have more involvement than before as well. It is a big undertaking and we are grateful to Mark and Jon for stepping into the brink. We are also extremely grateful to the initial team for the past seven years:
Mark Hartell, who came up with this brilliant concept in 2006;
Simon Berry for his essential support throughout;
Karen MacDonald most of all for doing everything necessary to hold everything together and keep it going to the handover.

You have provided us with a unique challenge and opened up new horizons for us. You have helped me to remain sane, enthused and fit for the past seven years. I will remain forever in your debt.

Karen - cake - Jen. [Best of luck to Jen in January 2013 when she takes on The Spine Race.]

Here's to Mark B and Runfurther - bring on 2013. Here is the 2013 race series.

I took some pictures during the evening.

3. An early rise was required on Sunday to drive back to Stockport (thankfully all the snow had melted) in time for the Stockport 10. Duncan Harris had a late substitution for this race so I'd given him a lift back to Stockport. After a quick pit stop at home we hopped onto our bikes for the quick ride up to Woodbank Park and the Stockport Harriers athletics track in plenty of time to pick up our numbers and to listen to Tony Audenshaw warm up his commentary over the PA. It was almost a carnival atmosphere with the stalls, the runners milling about and the amplified jollity.

Hundreds of runners were soon gathered on the track to await the 10am send-off. A lone runner dressed head to toe in white ran a lap of the track with an Olympic torch to light a giant rocket. Its firing into the air and loud explosion into a shower of sparks signalled the start of the race. We set off on two laps of the track to thin out the field before we would emerge into the park. Yakety Sax from the Benny Hill show blared out on the PA, which brought a massive grin to my face. Someone standing on my foot and nearly sending me sprawling didn't quell the euphoria within as I pictured Benny and friends running hither and thither at high speed with closing credits scrolling up the screen.

We were blessed with the weather this time. The overnight rain had cleared away (save for a final brief squirt early in the race) and the overnight rise in temperature meant no ice and no fear of slipping for the first time in a good few years. We wound our way back and forth along the roads of the mature housing estate before finally exiting onto the Marple Road for the run down and up past Offerton Sand and Gravel to Bong's Road. The familiar sound of car horns could be heard as drivers became enraged at being inconvenienced for a few minutes. They get worse.

Traffic-free Bong's Road brought relief from the cars and a welcome downhill blast to the River Goyt valley. Barny Crawshaw from Pennine Fell Runners overtook me and I gave chase. We whizzed past everyone else as if they were standing still. We fell runners were easy to spot among the road runners, until we reached the bottom and the flat plod that wound lazily to the Hare and Hounds on Dooley Lane. There would be plenty of uphills from here. The 5-mile halfway marker came shortly after. I pressed the lap button on my watch. 36:07. That's 1:06 faster than my previous best. That augurs well, I thought. Keep plugging away.

The first major climb ensued as we slogged our way up past Chadkirk to the next left turn off the major thoroughfare. Day-glo marshals, who had been guiding and cheering from the outset, were much appreciated now as we had to dig deep to attack the short sharp hills. We wound back and forth through another mature housing estate.

I caught a glimpse of the pear-shaped tower roof of Pear Mill in the valley below. We would run past that mill before our final climb towards the finish. I felt enthused and continued to push, soaking up the encouragement of the marshals and bystanders as I ran. This year we had electronic timing for the first time (electronic 'gubbins' on the back of our number) and our first name was printed beneath our number, UTMB style, so the supporters could call out our names as well. It makes such a difference. Well done Stockport Harriers for that nice touch.

After what always seems like gratuitous to-ing and fro-ing through housing estate, out onto the main road and back into housing estate, we finally emerged onto the main road to pass Pear Mill at the bottom before beginning the ascent of New Zealand Road. I switched off and shuffled to the limit of my engine. James Fairfield overtook me with a slightly faster shuffle. I uttered something with the word "James" in the sentence. He lifted one arm in acknowledgement, too exhausted like me to manage anything more.

The climb to the park finally levelled out to allow a speedier shuffle. Faster runners walking in the opposite direction clutching their goody bags cheered and encouraged we slower runners. I entered the track and turned right for the final half lap to the finish line. Tony, this year with the luxury of electronic notification of new arrivals, dutifully announced and welcomed with great enthusiasm every runner as (s)he appeared on his computer screen. What a slick set-up. I powered my way to the finish line in 75 minutes dead. Looking back through my records, this was a PB by 2.5 minutes in 7 completions of this race. To say I'm delighted would be an understatement. Perhaps I'm not over the hill after all. V50 next year: BRING IT ON!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Gravy Pud fell race 5+mi. 02/12/2012.


This was the second year on the trot for me, with much better conditions with ground just frozen firm. Tintwistle and the surrounding fells looked resplendent in the winter sunshine. We couldn't wish for better.

Some impressive home-made cakes were brought once again to the registration in the Bull's Head pub, earning their bringers free entry into the race. They would get scoffed afterwards by the hungry hordes.

As we gathered for the start I thought what a big turn-out it was. 188 did turn out to be a record. Fellow blogger Andy Fleet introduced himself to me at the start. Good to meet you finally, Andy. Well done with your 5th place finish - pretty good going considering you hadn't run on the fells for a good while.

With slick organisation once again by NorthernBoysLoveGravy, we were sent off up the cobbled track dead on time at 11am. The route follows a brief out-and-back on the track with a big anticlockwise loop at the end, which follows the Pennine Bridleway over Arnfield Low Moor then on to eventually reach the foot of Lees Hill. Here we go off-path straight up the steep grassy flank. Once at the top it's a left turn to pick up the path down to Hollingworth Hall. From there we zigzag our way back and forth through Hollingworth Nature Reserve and past Arnfield Reservoir to rejoin our outward route, where a sharp right takes us back down to the finish.


On the final run-in when I was totally red-lining, an unleashed dog did its best to trip me up, the hooligan. Its owner was close by. The additional adrenalin rush was too much; a feeling of exhausted shock overcame me, forcing me down to a walk. That lost a good few seconds. A few minutes earlier, many more seconds were lost when I had to stop to tie a shoelace - not the quickest of jobs with gloved hands. A PB by 1min 30secs at the end of all that was a pleasant surprise. It was even more pleasant after the PB by 15 seconds the day before on the 5k Parkrun. Two in one weekend? At my age? Whatever next! ;-)


Afterwards we relaxed back in the pub, eating, drinking and applauding the winners in the presentation. Fortunately the pub dog, which gets highly agitated by applause, was ejected early in the proceedings this time.

Since the weather was so nice the camera got a good airing again. Fill your boots: pictures.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Famous Grouse fell race 5.2mi. 25/11/2012.

This steep up-and-downer takes place from the Famous Grouse pub in Birch Vale. The last time I ran it was in 2010, when the day was crisp and sunny and the ground was rock hard with a temperature hovering around minus 10 Celsius. This year we were back to normal; the rain had poured all night and was doing little to obey the forecast that it would be gone by the 11am race start. The ground was swilling wet. I was amazed at the healthy turn-out of runners, given the conditions - 107 all told. Fell runners are a stubborn and hardy breed who don't let cold rain and lashings of mud put them off.

The final burst of cold rain hit us as we gathered at the bottom of the steep track to await our instructions, then right on cue it stopped and the clouds lifted as we slogged our way upwards. I immediately regretted setting off with wind-proof leg cover. We climbed to New Allotments to turn left onto the Bullock Smithy Hike route up to what I know as the Chinley Churn checkpoint. I think they call it Big Stone. We run the path down to Peep o Day then take a sharp left to contour the fell side round to the left. DazTheSlug's shoe gave up the ghost on this bit. Having lost its grip on his foot he was forced to complete the race with his foot hanging out.

We contour round to the left to eventually hit the final steep climb back up to our outward route. The sun is now shining warmly. From there another friendly marshal directs us sharp right on the downhill back to the finish line. I get a shout-out from ba-ba as I approach the line and he's walking back up, having finished nearly 12 minutes earlier in 3rd place. Well done Nic. I'd like to say that his encouragement helped me to go faster but I was already pushing my luck down that rocky track.

The sloppy muddy conditions resulted in generally slower times than in 2010, with the exception of Tom Jackson, who finished 2nd and was 3:13 faster than in 2010. That is some improvement. Well done Tom.

Christopher Leigh won again, like he did in 2010. Well done that man as well.

Just for the record I was 1:41 slower than in 2010. I'm happy with that.

On the assumption that it would rain during the race I took no pictures this time. Sorry to disappoint. If you want a contrasting perspective with links to pictures, have a look back at the 2010 edition.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Logan's Run - A Kinder Bimble 8mi. 17/11/2012.


This was a special one-off fell race that went up and down the highest peaks that the Kinder Scout area can offer; it covered some ground not normally accessed (with special permission, of course). Common for much fell-running activity around these parts, it was based in the ubiquitous Hayfield Scout HQ and organised by the equally ubiquitous Andy Howie and team. It was designed to provide daytime pleasurable exertion to complement the evening annual FRA 'Do', which this year was held in the Moorside Hotel above Disley (I didn't attend).

Categorised as an 'AM' race according to FRA rules, it was challenging, so times were slow. They were even slower for the unfortunate few who lost track of the flags on the descent from Kinder and the next climb (all off-path, naturally). Some turned left back up towards the plateau and some turned right to follow the stream down the valley.

After our exertions we got to eat soup, bread and loads of home-made cakes back in the scout hut (cakes sold in aid of cancer charity). It was a shame we only had 71 runners when 150 places were available, especially considering the latest overnight downpour had cleared off. Nevertheless, most of the food went anyway and an impressive sum was raised for charity. Fell runners are gut buckets, understandably.

You're lucky because I took quite a few pictures on the way 'round. A brief summary appears below:

Waiting for a latecomer.

A stile.

Into the clag.

Stepping up.

Kinder moonscape.

Another climb.

The marshal's dog looks too clean.

Heading for home to....

....tea and cake.

Job done!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Six Dales Circuit 25+mi. 10/11/2012.


I returned to Biggin Village Hall for an 11th time to take part in one of my LDWA favourites. I was here in 1999 for the inaugural one and I never grow weary of the beautiful Derbyshire Dales.

As usual we runners saw the walkers off at 8am then registered and waited for our start at 9am. Paul Rushworth, spied only recently at Round Rotherham, was there to do his speed thing once again. He had arrived uncharacteristically early with two hours to spare, then he forgot to register so he started late anyway. (As we stood outside at 9am and listened to the informal brief, he looked at my tally and said “I’ve not got one of those” before running inside the hall like a scalded cat. Oh Paul! )

We knew from our route descriptions that we would once again be on the original clockwise route. (There were five years of anticlockwise from 2005 to 2009. Many people including me thought the gradients made it tougher but my three fastest times came from that reverse route.)

We set off up the road, right then left to reach the footpath down to Biggin Dale. It’s not worth taking the footpath across the muddy fields of deep hoof prints to cut the corner. I know because I’ve tried it several times in past years. Biggin Dale (1) is usually very muddy, wet, rocky and slippery. The polished limestone must be treated as if it were ice. It takes quite a lot out of you to keep a run going while constantly adjusting and scanning the ground with eagle eyes to place every footfall safely.

By the time we reach the bottom we turn right for the gentle ascent of Wolfscote Dale (2). I’ve usually blown up by this point from all the effort and have to settle back into a survival shuffle while I wait for my body to recover some composure. This is when I start to get overtaken. Geoff Holburt usually blasts past around now after struggling with the technical descent, but not this year. Where could he be? Injured? I began to worry a little.

Philip Gwilliam caught me up on the zigzag footbridge-crossing to Beresford Dale (3), followed by a barefoot shoe runner (I think he said his name was Ian). Philip soon pulled away on the gentle ascent beside the river while I struck up a brief conversation with Ian. He had been running like this – basically barefoot save for a thin sheet of rubber sole – for two years, so he was well practised in the technique and seemed to be running comfortably.

Waterlogged pastures were crossed, followed by fields that delivered us to CP1 at Hartington, but still no sign of Geoff. I worried some more. Had he injured himself and had to walk back up the first dale to the hall? I shuffled my way onwards with others up the road out of Hartington to the third footpath on the left over the stile. Darren Graham caught me up as we crossed the fields. He was none the worse for his beastly ‘666’ number assignment two weeks earlier at the Snowdonia Marathon. He updated me on Geoff’s predicament – fortunately not injured, just struggling with the underfoot conditions and losing his shoes in the mud.

Once we got onto the easy running of the Tissington Trail, that’s where Geoff finally overtook me. I just about kept him in sight as we cut down to the right off the smooth trail back onto his nemesis once again – lovely muddy fields – for the climb up to the Bull i’ th’ Thorn Hotel. A dogleg right and left across the main road brought us to the long descending track that would eventually bring us via more fields to Monyash and CP2 in the village hall. Geoff had wasted no time inside and was leaving as I arrived. I spent a little more time and searched out a small chunk of sausage roll, which I washed down with some of my Coke supply as I set off down the road in pursuit. Geoff was now out of sight.

At the right turn off the road I caught up with Christine Stratton, who had left on the 8am start and was motoring along very well. Christine is a long-time friendly face on the LDWA events who goes back to when I started in the ‘noughties’. I had already overtaken loads of the early starters and I congratulated her for being well up the field. I’m not sure she believed me.

A grassy, muddy, then rocky descent into Lathkill Dale (4) demanded more care and poise with foot placement. In the interests of personal safety I was forced to walk at times. The brief respite was welcome. Walkers on the path were still happy to stand aside, having surely done so countless times already for those ahead, while I bumbled my way through. I was always happy to offer my thanks in return. They don’t have to do it but they usually do. I think they like to stand and watch, perhaps in hope of a wipe-out, perhaps to watch an athletic little @ss disappearing down the path. Being averse to unnecessary pain I would always hope for the latter. ;-)

CP2 to CP3 is a long stage, most of which should be run but some of which becomes difficult to run as energy levels are getting well used up. On the long drag to Conksbury Bridge and beyond I was catching up with other runners again, two of whom I recognised as Geoff and ‘barefoot Ian’. Then I began to detect a slight drop in energy levels. I looked up and sure enough, they were beginning to pull away already. "Right, gel, right now, and make it snappy". It began to take effect and within a few minutes I was back to catching up. By Bradford Dale (5) I was back with Ian, who was experiencing similar energy issues. ‘It always happens by now’, I tried to reassure him.


[I was keeping myself fuelled with Coke and a gel every so often when I felt myself beginning to slow down. That was supplemented by a savoury morsel from checkpoints 2 and 3, washed down by Coke. I have found that too little food results in fuel starvation, while too much causes blood to be diverted away from the muscles to the stomach to digest. The end result is the same: seizing legs that won’t run. In extreme cases I seem to turn to lead from lower back downwards. To consume just enough easily absorbed fuel to keep me running at optimum efficiency is a fine balance that’s difficult to achieve, even after all these years.]

On the out-and-back climb to Middleton I met more Ultra stalwarts of the LDWA scene coming back down – early starters Marla and Christine. Guaranteed 'spots' on the annual Hundred, they are sometimes spied on shorter events too. Quick words of greeting were exchanged as we passed. Ian and I continued up to the top then right to CP3 in Middleton village hall. We'd caught up with Geoff once again. I grabbed a quick tuna sandwich, offered my thanks and returned outside to retrace my steps while trying to wash down the sandwich with Coke. Geoff joined me for the final leg but Ian needed to stop to recharge a little.


Back down the track to Bradford Dale we turned right to continue our journey back to Biggin. From here to the finish, Geoff did a sterling job 'helping me to a PB'. I reassured him of the impossibility of that notion, given that it would require us to run the last 6 miles in well under an hour on tired legs. Nevertheless I gave it all I had, my next mental target as usual being the road section past the Friden works.

Early on the climb through the field of cows I heard it for the first time. I have never heard it this early before. The breeze must have been in exactly the right direction to carry it to us. The characteristic whine of the Friden fan could plainly be heard. I used that steady tone to pull me along, waiting for it to grow louder as we drew closer. It would take a surprisingly long time.

We continued up to the top of the hill and right turn at the top of Long Dale (6). The next descent left was less muddy than in previous years, which seemed strange. At the bottom came the right turn into the linear meadow that would bring us to the road. We caught up with Marla and Christine, who were still looking strong.

Finally out onto the road we turned left up the hill, under the railway bridge and past the sinusoidal sound source. Next target the finish. “Come on Nick” said Geoff. “I'm trying” thought I, “very trying”. I was too far gone to reply audibly. We climbed to the main road and crossed to the final few fields. I welcomed the soft grassy fields after the road trudge and gained on Geoff once again. At the foot of the climb over the disused railway line I remarked to Geoff that I had a minute to equal last year's time. The general consensus was 'no chance'. I made the direct up-and-down crossing while Geoff took the more gentle left and right crossing. We arrived at the other side at the same time and my knees felt it more than his. We raced each other across the final fields and out onto the road back to the village hall.

4:43 was 3 minutes slower than last year and 20 minutes slower than my PB of 2007. Ian finished a little later after fuelling issues (I know he can be faster). What a perfect day. Thanks Geoff and Ian for your company.

Will I be back? Given my past record, what do you think? As long as I'm breathing an' all that......

Here are the pictures.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Snowdonia Marathon. 27/10/2012.

 
This is the only marathon I run. Why?

It’s the beautiful scenery, organisation, camaraderie, friendliness and support. This year for the first time we had our name on our number, UTMB stylie, so supporters called our names as they cheered!

It’s the climbs, descents and off-road bits that take away the drudgery of flat road running.

It’s the hyper-active Runner’s World forum thread that provides entertainment throughout the year.

It's the TV coverage by S4/C that brings the memories flooding back. (This year me and me mate Stu had some considerable exposure near the start line while the anchorman did his piece to camera, ho yes!)

It’s the post-race euphoric party in which Karaoke gets sung (though unfortunately not this year because it was replaced by an aged 4-man ‘Dolly Parton tribute band’ in aid of cheridee). Ooh it was piercing. Put a sock in it.

2012 provided the best weather conditions yet since my first in 2006. The sun shone to make us pleasantly warm (apart from when the cold headwind blew for a while on the exposed back straight of the route). I got to see the tops of the mountains for the first time ever, including the top of Snowdon!

By halfway and with two hours elapsed I knew that I’d be scorching no records, nor the soles of my shoes. A finish time of 4:28 was a marathon PW but at least I suffered no after-effects – which was nice.

I had sensed something special was in store and had taken my camera for the first time on a ‘proper’ marathon. It was special alright with those views. I could say that I was slowed by the snapping but that may just be a little white lie.

This was my 7th consecutive year. God willing I shall return for at least the next three to make it a nice round ten, then take it from there.

Right I’ll shut up and let the pictures do the talking; it was a first and may be the last.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Round Rotherham 50mi. 20/10/2012.

Race 12 of 12 in the 2012 Runfurther series.


Life pressures and business travel to Italy meant virtually no running in the three weeks between Hardmoors 60 and this, save for a couple of 5ks at my local hilly Woodbank Parkrun in the two intervening weekends. Curiously they yielded my two fastest times on that course, the second of which was a PB of 22:47 – well chuffed with that. So I rolled up pre-dawn to the Dearne Valley College on the outskirts of Rotherham knowing that either I’d be well rested and romp home to an easy PB, or I’d be under-trained and have to beast myself mercilessly to a mediocre finish. Those of you with your finger on the pulse probably already know the answer.

The black sky was clear and star-filled and the air was surprisingly mild as we watched the early 6am starters get sent on their way. There would be no frost on the first footbridge this year. Afterwards there was an hour to kill at the runners’ registration in the overheated sports hall. It soon passed as I chatted with so many acquaintances. This event lived up to its reputation once again as being a great running family reunion, probably helped by the fact that it’s the last race in the Runfurther series and quite a few runners were seizing their last chance to bag some points. For me it was just another day in my 'weekend job'. I like my weekend job. It’s my preferred occupation. ;-)

It was good to see Dawn Westrum and Garry Scott for the first time in a long time, within a minute of my arrival. I didn’t know who to greet first. Needless to say Garry waited his turn patiently. ;-) A rarer reunion was with Dark Peak Fell Runner Rachel Findlay-Robinson, last seen in the environs of the Brownlee Olympic Gold Run in August. Another rarity this year was Cat Lawson, on her way back from injury. Good to see you back, Cat.

Before we knew it we were called outside into the mild early dawn to listen to the warnings of mud before being sent on our way at 7am along the roadside footpaths, now illuminated by LEDs. (!) The mist hung low over the first lake as usual. Once again I thought that I should take some pictures but I never do so soon when we are all fresh and ‘putting our foot down’.

Garry caught me up a couple of miles in and commented about me ‘going out with a bang’. Well Garry, it never feels like it at the time but hindsight proves it always to be true. That’s why I never caught you again. I never caught all the others who were overtaking me either. It's just the way it is. I've grown used to it over the past 1.5 decades.

At Elsecar Heritage Centre I spy billowing steam from a steamed-up locomotive for the first time in all the years I’ve run Round Rotherham and Elsecar Skelter. Someone would be in for a treat today. I get my camera out for the first picture on the run. The lens is steamed up from the combination of the cool morning air and my overworked, perspiring torso.

The next muddy climb up to the woods gave us our first taste of the muddiest conditions since the event was brought forward in 2009 to October. They were more akin to the December conditions we’d become accustomed to. However I didn’t care because we were in for a mild, calm, sunny day – the 4th year in a row of perfect weather.

Like last year, the sun made its first appearance over the horizon after Wentworth as we descended the track with Keppel's Column beckoning on the skyline. It wasn’t long before we were climbing the hill towards that bulbous monolith, steeling ourselves to put on our best face for the first batch of Armada Photography photographers. After that was the quick run down the road, across and down to Checkpoint 1 at Grange Park. The sun still hadn’t quite reached the checkpoint.

The little people in the woods have always captured my attention. This year (finally) I allowed myself enough time to photograph every one. It's a shame that local ne'er-do-wells have decided to modify them with blue spray paint. Still, it'll fade in time, as will they.

 
On the approach to Tinsley, after the diversion (hopefully the last year of this) and before the railway footbridge, the compacted soil/mud single file footpath had been washed away underneath an industrial fence that can best be described as a series of vertical metal shards with serrated edges designed to lacerate flesh. I joined the queue inching our way past the hazard, using the fence for essential support. I heard afterwards that many people cut their hands on it, at least one requiring stitches at the hospital.

We had two ladies from Sweden taking part this year (Maria Jansson and Sandra Lundqvist). Around this point (just before Tinsley) their conversation was drawing my attention because I am not used to hearing spoken Swedish. They ran effortlessly ahead and out of sight to finish over 1 hour 20 minutes ahead of me. There's an impressive example of not slowing down.

In Tinsley on the climb towards the trading estate, with not even 15 miles done and feeling the effects of my earlier exuberance I was forced to take my first walking break. I struck up a conversation with a 6am starter I'd just caught up with as I waited for my body to recover a little from the incessant running up to that point. It always happens here when fitness is lacking. In a good year (2011 and 2009) it doesn't occur until Rother Valley Country Park, where I think it hits most people.

Dick Scroop (amazing MV60) caught me up in the Tinsley Trading Estate. We always enjoy a good tussle on the Ultras, using each other as carrot-and-stick to push ourselves. (It took me almost to the end of the High Peak 40 in September to catch him!) The horses watched intently as the line of runners ran through their field to the road and I got overtaken by Tom Keely.


Checkpoint 2 at Treeton was as sunlit and colourful as ever. I had my first kneel-down here to squeeze the seizure products from my leg muscles. It works for a while. This is the view from that rejuvenating position just in front of the waste bins.


The next stage (don't miss the right turn between the boulders at the top of the hill) brought us eventually to Rother Valley Country Park. I was definitely in survival mode now and waiting for my second wind, which I knew would come. Its strength would depend on my level of fitness. Jo Miles and Alison Brind (more regular carrot-and-stick subjects of mine) had just disappeared into the distance. I had yet to pass through the 20 mile point. I think it was around this point that I caught up with LDWA stalwart Garry Burdin. Now 70 years old he's still as strong as an ox. He walked the full 50 miles in 12:35. Now that’s impressive.

After Rother Valley Country Park I was catching up with a runner who was walking at that moment. I saw him reach down to his right upper leg and I suspected something was wrong. I called him back at the road crossing (he had overshot the left turn up the track and was heading up the road to Norwood) and asked how it was going. ‘ITB injury’ came the answer from Michael Richardson. I offered a low strength (200mg) Ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. Tendons respond well to that. A man of principle, he declined my attempt to lead him astray with drugs. As we chatted it transpired that we both knew another runner from his part of the world. We jogged on together to Checkpoint 3 at Harthill (25 miles), where his family was waiting to support.

As we left CP3 I heard my name called. Dawn was just arriving. She was going well! Michael left his family to join me for the next stage across many finely ploughed fields and past the airfield where the calm, sunny conditions allowed plenty of flying and our best air display yet. A biplane was one of the aircraft doing circuits, while a speedier monoplane was doing high speed low level passes. At some point thereabouts I think I must have gone ahead of Michael.

At Turnerwood before the first level crossing, the householder was out once again with her table of refreshments – much appreciated; thank you, whoever you are. At the climb up to the track crossing I heard a train horn. This would be the first time ever I would have to wait for a train to pass. The delay was minimal before I was able to climb up onto the ballast and cross to the other side.

 She beat the train....

 ....but I didn't.

I made my only navigational error a little later at the golf course where, following my nose I continued ahead on the old route instead of turning right to take the permissive path through the tunnel. A quick backtrack got me and a few others back on route to only lose a minute or two.

I always look forward to checkpoint 4 at Woodsetts (30 miles) because it’s over halfway and I can begin to imagine the finish and let it pull me ever more strongly. It’s also where our drop bags are – cue a major Coke refill. Tea, soup and bread were also enjoyed here. Dawn had caught up with me again by the time I left to hit more multiple field crossings. I caught up with David Cremins, Mark Dalton and Kevin Day as we approached the next small industrial estate. They were taking it easy because they had a 30-mile event in Langdale planned for the next day. I learned from them that, unfortunately Jon Steele had to retire earlier due to his knees rebelling against the onslaught of ultra marathons he’s doing this year. He would also be doing Langdale next day and was saving himself for that. (See, I’m not the only crazy Ultra junkie around here. There are crazier people out there.)

The woods seemed to be going on for ever and I was in shuffling survival mode once again as I tried to keep up with David, Kevin and Mark. Checkpoint 5 at Firbeck finally arrived, where more refuelling was enjoyed in that somewhat over-specified though undeniably smart new village hall – 35 miles done, 15 to go. I wasted minimal time before setting out on the long zigzag section across wide expanses of open fields. Just get your head down and grind out the miles, next mental target Roche Abbey.

My memory is hazy; I can’t be sure but it was around here (or possibly just before Firbeck) that I felt a tap on my back as Michael caught up with me. He had finally succumbed and asked his family for an Ibuprofen at one of the checkpoints. His pain had now vanished and he was transformed, back running strongly again. He was soon out of sight. David and Mark also overtook me and slowly pulled away into the distance to leave me alone once again.

Towards the end of the zigzags I spotted someone ahead who was walking. We runners learn to recognise far-off profiles, and I was recognising Cat. I soon caught up. She was in a world of discomfort I know only too well – i.e. body seizing up from lower back downwards. She blamed lack of training due to her injury. After checking that she was fuelling and hydrating properly, the only thing left was to try to lead her astray as well. She was more desperate and her resolve was weak. Willing to try anything to ease the discomfort and help her to finish, she gratefully accepted my 200mg offering. We shuffled on together towards Roche Abbey (more photographers) and beyond into the woods, where she paused to tap out a message on her Star Trek communicator and I jogged on towards Maltby with Kevin chasing me down once again.

 Head for the church.

Since 2011, checkpoint 6 at Maltby has arrived a little sooner now that it's in the village hall just after we have gone through the graveyard. We have just under 10 miles to do at this point. In a good year I enjoy chasing other runners down and overtaking from here to the finish, but not this year. I did a bit of overtaking (e.g. David and Mark for the umpteenth time) but I was still getting overtaken as well, or playing cat-and-mouse with others as we swapped places. I had been swapping to and fro with Mick Cochrane for quite some time and he was now my carrot-and-stick subject – my 'competitor' in our little part of the race to help me to push that little bit harder.

Checkpoint 7 at Old Denaby (47+ miles) is always a long time coming. It was a very long time coming this year. The muddy flood in the gateway just before the checkpoint had been covered by sheets of plywood, which were now half submerged. I've never seen it so wet. My personal Coke and food supplies were still healthy so it was a quick hello-and-goodbye for me as I headed out to that left turn down Ferry Boat Lane to the second of our two railway crossings – another train horn and another minor wait. What a coincidence. I’ve never had to stop for a train before and now it happens at both crossings.

For the final 2-3 miles I imagined a lonely run once again, picking off and overtaking other runners and feeling like the hunted. Not so this year. There were more runners about and we were going at around the same speed, give or take the usual to-ing and fro-ing. I had just left Mick behind at the checkpoint but I knew he wasn't far behind.

I was delighted to see that the putrid green floating mat on that dead-end stretch of canal in Swinton was no more. All the litter had gone, the banks were tidied up and swans paddled lazily on the clear water. At the same point my attention was drawn below and to the right by the grunt of multiple engines and the squeals of little tyres on shiny floor. Go-karts were racing around inside an industrial unit while a few spectators looked in through the open doorways.

I heard the voices of other runners closing from behind. On the climb up to the final road crossing, David and Mark overtook me for the final time. Such was their closing speed I joked that I thought they were relay runners. I sensed someone else not too far behind so gave it all I had to avoid another lost place, running the final section up through the rough scrub-land and out onto the path back to the college (ahem – now lit by LEDs).

I followed the tape across the grass and hit the downhill ramp with tunnel vision. It was now too late for the finish line photographers. People cheered from the side but I was barely able to muster an acknowledgement. I wasn’t even wasting effort on an unnecessary thought that might deflect me from that single goal of getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. I collapsed to the ground underneath the gazebo to begin immediate recovery while counting my lucky stars that we didn’t have to continue running round to the back of the hall to the finishing desk like in previous years. Mick came steaming in 16 seconds after me. He really was breathing down my neck.

 Mick.

Cat ‘enjoyed’ (she might argue with that word choice) an impressive comeback, finishing only 5 minutes after me. She maintained she would never have done it without the Ibuprofen. I hope your recovery continues, Cat. It won’t be long before you’re hours ahead of me again.

Cat.

Another beneficiary of the big 'I', Michael had romped home in 9:43:05, having made up over 24 minutes on me after that pat on the back as he passed. The anti-inflammatory properties of even one low-dose Ibuprofen are truly impressive when the reduction in discomfort is so marked. In my experience, complaining muscles and tendons seem to respond well and you don’t (should not) have to pill-pop to get worthwhile relief.

 Michael and his heavy shoes.

My finishing time of 10:07:30 (compared with 9:14:20 in 2010) was all I deserved with the absence of training in the lead-up. Nevertheless it was still a fantastic day. Many thanks once again to the organisers for delighting us with the slick, friendly organisation of this most memorable race. You can rest assured that, as long as I am able I will be back next year for an 8th completion. It will be my first as a V50.

Here are the photos I took.

Well that’s it then, the Runfurther Grand Slam done and dusted, with more events and more parts of the country added to my memory banks thanks to Runfurther. I may not have finished with a final flourish like I did last year but it’s still a Grand Slam. Well done to the other Slammer Mick Plummer. You understand the addiction don’t you, Mick?

RFGS3 glow of success (thanks to Garry Scott for taking the piccie).

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Hardmoors 60. 29/09/2012.

Race 11 of 12 in the 2012 Runfurther series.

Moonrise over the North Sea.

I rolled up in Filey just after 5am to catch the full-sized, luxury, 05:30 double-decker to Guisborough. The 3am rise had been a bit of a shock, and I'd lodged overnight halfway there (thanks for the floor space, David), so the 1.5 hour coach journey to our race start went quickly as I slumbered a little.

Registration and kit check at Guisborough Sea Cadets HQ had a long queue, as did the single toilet. In the end race organiser Jon Steele thoughtfully delayed the start by half an hour to allow the nervous-bowelled ultra runners to finish clogging the bog.

The day was cool and sunny but with the forecast strong wind already making itself felt as we listened to Jon's 10-second (and some with the fractions and decimals thrown in for good measure) countdown to the arbitrary start time of 08:35 or thereabouts. I jogged up the road at an easy pace with the masses while trying to remember the pre-race route-finding instructions. The main one was to follow the Cleveland Way signs. The fiddly bits through the towns I'd work out when I got there. There's no way I could remember them because I had no points of reference; the entire route was new to me so I'd follow the signs, route description and my printed Tracklogs maps as appropriate. In practice that became follow the signs (that always worked), follow other runners (sometimes worked) and follow the route description (oh dear).

[Tracklogs mapping software shows this year's route without navigational blunders to be 63 miles with 10,820 feet of ascent. That's a significant challenge within a 16-hour cut-off by anyone's standards.]

Checkpoint 1 at Highcliff Nab (1.9 miles) involved an out-and-back. The front runners were soon heading back towards us. I was poised with the camera, while the morning chill had long since been counteracted by the by-product of my efforts: I was burning up. I became lazy and promptly tripped over an invisible rock as it stopped my right foot dead. Within a second I was horizontal and skidding along the track, camera bouncing along in the mud a couple of yards ahead and both drink bottles pirouetting after it. Oh poo and multiple choice words to stronger effect. Those around me asked if I was alright. I could stand, so presumably yes. The mishap was soon forgotten, though I did run the remaining 62 miles with two scraped thighs and blood trickles from my right knee. I wasted little time in getting rid of the windproof into my rucksack to banish any further risk of lethargy, and continued the plod towards personal victory (meaning finish to keep Runfurther Grand Slam 3 alive).

Out-and-back to Highcliff Nab.

An unexpected marshal met us at 5 miles to clip our tallies before we crossed the A171 between Slapewath and Charltons. The route through Skelton was not a problem. The brown metal Cleveland Way signs high on the lamp posts stuck out like a sore thumb and were easy to follow. More interesting was our route into Saltburn (yes, I was lazily following other runners). I knew the route description wasn't matching up with our route. Only afterwards did I realise that we turned left and entered the conurbation early, running two sides of a triangle instead of one side along the river valley. Next year I'll make amends (possibly.)

I was captivated by the slim elegance / brick-saving penny-pinching minimalism (take your pick) of the railway viaduct we passed beneath before Saltburn. How it has remained standing with seemingly so little structure I will never know. The engineer who designed it obviously knew his stuff.

Bricks must have been expensive 'back in them days'.

At checkpoint 2 (Saltburn-by-the-Sea, 9.9miles) I was greeted like a long lost friend by Pat Mullins. Great to see you Pat, and thank you for volunteering for us. Get well from your injuries and I hope to be seeing you back in the events next year. Osmotherley Phoenix in July. Engrave it in your diary!

Saltburn is where we hit the coast and turned right. Now out of the woods and into the open I was expecting the wind to be a hindrance from our right, but it seemed to be more from behind and an assistance for most of the time. I appreciated our good fortune.

Shortly after Saltburn the single track railway makes a big loop around Warsett Hill and joins us above the coastal cliffs for a short while. It takes its leave again adjacent to something that can best be described as a giant Romany earring with extra dangly bits. What, why, how, etc. Enlightenment is eagerly awaited.


Staithes in the bright autumn sunshine was simply breathtaking. My camera, fortunately having landed softly enough 20 miles ago, was pressed into action.

Staithes.

I caught up with personal trainer extraordinaire and Hardmoors 110 conqueror Henry Morris at checkpoint 3 (Runswick Bay, 21.8 miles), where a much-needed refuelling session was taking place. I took the opportunity for my first kneeling for a minute to drive the blood and lactic acid out of the leg muscles (it was on the gravelly entrance to the carpark but who cares about minor skin punctures when there are major muscles to be told who's boss). I bounced up with renewed vigour and joined Henry for the crossing of the beach. Biomechanical (foot) issues were causing him problems and slowing him down to a walk. (Sadly they caused him to retire and miss his Hardmoors Grand Slam.) We chatted for a while until, with permission and with keen energy surging to the leggies for the time being, I jogged on ahead towards the stream ravine-cum-footpath, which earlier in the week would have been a raging torrent during those three days of incessant deluge. The next flight of steps awaited our faint-inducing efforts.

Henry climbs the steps from Runswick Bay.

Checkpoint 4 (Sandsend, 26.7 miles) was a luxurious 5 miles away (only) and was approached via an old railway track bed, which our path joined just after it emerged from a blanked-off tunnel. The final stepped descent to the concrete terrace provided welcome relief as different leg muscles were pressed into energetic use. Here was my first drop bag. Bring on 0.7 – 1.1 litres of full sugar Coke fuel supply to keep the fire burning. Ken Wyles and Mark Dalton, among others, were enthusiastic volunteers here, complete with sun glasses to shield the glare, not from my grinning teeth but from the warming October sunshine! The sandwiches and pork pies in my drop bag were decidedly tepid but I survived to tell the tale.

After Sandsend we had the delights of Whitby, its whale jaw arch and its crowded streets of aimless browsers and inebriated wanderers with their slurred conversation. There were two of us at this point, weaving our way as quickly as we dared without making bodily contact. One was heard to comment to another: “Oh, he must be a walker”. How very dare you. We were wearing running numbers and we couldn't run because you were blocking our passage. I thank you. In my case at least the passage-blocking allowed brief respite from the effort so the 'running', such as it was, could recommence for a while.

The exit from Whitby involved the climb of the ancient steps to the church and the ruins of the Benedictine Abbey beyond. More extreme effort, and again I was captivated. I had never been here before and the brightly sunlight history before my eyes simply blew me away. It looked attractive now in the sunshine, but in less ideal (more usual?) conditions it makes a perfect Dracula setting. Indeed, this place was the inspiration for the Dracula stories.

Whale jaw arch with Whitby Abbey across the valley.

From Whitby onwards I found myself mostly alone. I continued along the cliff-top path past the fog horn station, which is now disused. I learned afterwards from someone who camped at the nearby campsite many years ago that the ground used to vibrate when it sounded. Shortly after that came the lighthouse. The long, lonely two-hour drag from there to the next checkpoint brought an interesting foliated arch along the way.

I enjoyed my first experience of Robin Hood's Bay – an impressively quaint, old settlement squeezed into the coastal valley. I should have taken pictures but I was feeling strong to make good progress and I needed to concentrate on the route description for the micro navigation: “.....take the second narrow street on the right (Albion Street)”. I came to Albion Road and continued in search of Albion Street. A kindly member of the public, who seemed to know what I was up to, pointed me back to Albion Road: “You need to go up there”. I thanked him before climbing up the lane then stone steps to the left between the ancient dwellings built into the hillside with their raised walkways, access steps and multi level entrances.

The path was now twisting and turning more through woods and up and down ravines, so instead of following my nose I kept more of an eye on the route description with no indication of distances within. This is when I really began to flounder, mind muddled with doubt. Am I there yet? Is this the feature I'm supposed to be looking for?
I floundered a little in the dank woods leaving Robin Hood's Bay.
Upon descending to Boggle Hole I turned right up the track without first crossing the footbridge. The fact that it wasn't a road made me turn back. I got caught by the next runners.
The trail descends once again to sea level at Stoupe Beck....”. Is this it? It's not sea level though; we're at least 20' elevation.
On approaching Ravenscar a drainage ravine turns the trail away from the cliff top....”. Boy, this is taking a long time. I can see a bit of a valley coming up. Perhaps that's it? No. I can see buildings on the skyline. Perhaps that's Ravenscar. They're not getting any closer. Ah, another inlet coming up. Is that it? No! I shuffled on in hope, waiting for the next dashing.

I had resorted to rationing my water. At 14 miles this was the longest stage so far through the hottest part of the day and I had underestimated how much water I would need. Half a litre of water and half a litre of Coke was not enough. Perhaps that was the reason for my muddled thoughts. A fellow runner saved the day by donating some of the contents of his bladder (that would be the water bag in his backpack, in case you were concerned) as we climbed through the woods before Ravenscar. I didn't get his name but, whoever you are, thank you. You halted a minor meltdown.

The afternoon was drawing on and it was getting cool by the time I arrived at checkpoint 5 (Ravenscar, 40.8 miles). It was nice and warm in the village hall. “The cold will hit when I re-emerge”, I thought to myself. I really needed to recover and refuel here, just like on a Hundred, so I spent 20 minutes restocking my supplies from my drop bag (more sandwiches, more water and Coke to bring the essential fuelling of low pH brown liquid up to 1.6 litres). A cup of tea and a cup of soup to wash down my sandwich saw me fit to venture back out into the cold evening air. The sun was nearly setting. I rolled the sleeves of my base layer down for the first time since 9am and put Buff around neck to keep the chill at bay. I was soon too warm so Buff moved back to wrist, where it remained until the end.

Ravenscar Village Hall as I leave.

The event from here was magical as I ran my way along the cliff-top path in peaceful solitude, watched the sun set, watched the owls swooping across the fields at dusk, saw a stoat just escape my feet into the undergrowth to the left (I must have been gliding along effortlessly at the time), felt the wind drop (an unimaginable bonus because it took away the chill), saw the moon rise over the North Sea (see top picture) and heard the seals moaning (almost like whale song) out to sea way below me to the left.

In the distance I saw lights, some coloured and rotating; must be a funfair, probably Scarborough. Winding in and out of the inlets they took their time in getting closer. I saw a head torch pointing in my direction and closing. It was Mick Cooper out waiting for wife Jacqueline (he had been supporting her along the way). Apart from Mick's, there had been no other head torches behind or in front since nightfall. I was well and truly alone.

I descended to 'civilisation' and knew to keep the sea on my left. However now I would need the route description again because Cleveland Way signs are not to be seen around these parts. I had not had a chance to properly commit the map route to memory beforehand so I sat cross-legged on the promenade to adjust my A4 sheets to show the Scarborough portion of the route and concentrated on the route description once again. With the following instructions swirling around my head I continued running somewhat hesitantly, though feeling physically strong and ready to maintain the lead I had built up on those chasing me (according to Mick around half an hour).

Descend the steps and cross the footbridge over Scalby Beck, turn left, and follow the North Bay Promenade to reach the northern end of Scarborough. Follow the road side path right.” I thought we had to turn left to head for the southern end of Scarborough so that was what I was doing, but with niggling doubt.

Continue on the seaside road past the former swimming pool.” How far? What does it look like? Should I have turned right after all?

I continued through the bright lights (though not as bright as I had been expecting) and out the other side into comparative darkness. I must have gone wrong. Concerned that I would have to backtrack all that good running I had done along the promenade I sat cross-legged once again to call Jon for directions. He passed me over to a very nice lady who knew her stuff. I was still on track! She gave me additional instructions about passing the harbour and the old Victorian spa building. With thanks and counting my lucky stars I continued through the roadworks and temporary one-way section to emerge into the real bright lights of Scarborough. Bingo!

I continued running out the other side of the neon while looking for the Victorian spa. I never found it, but how could I when it's dark and I don't know what it looks like? I got shouted at from a fast-moving 4-wheeled boom box with sewer pipe for exhaust and what sounded like a large rent in its silencer. The words “Follow the road side path right” were still knocking around in my mind. It hadn't applied so far so perhaps that instruction was still waiting to be used. When a roadside pavement appeared on the right-hand side of the road I crossed dutifully. I passed an old circular building on the right, which turned out to be a museum rather than the elusive spa. The road veered uphill to the right under a railway bridge. I remember the helpful lady mentioning a bridge. I must be right then. I crossed a roundabout and knew we had to fork right at some point up to the checkpoint. Had I passed it already? I seemed to be going out of town and saw a footpath rising to the right into the darkness. I didn't trust it. The cross-legged seating position was adopted once again while I called base a second time. Now I had gone off route, big time. I hung up and cursed times ten. Piggin' route description my arse!

I ran back down to the sea front to continue following my nose into the dimly lit unknown. I had now been caught by Jacqui with Mick and some other of my pursuers. I felt angry and frustrated at all the time I had squandered, especially when I could have done it justice at this point with some strong running. I ran ahead once again with vigour, but soon gave up because I didn't know where I was going. I needed my pursuers who had reconnoitred the route to show the way.

As it turned out, all we had to do was run along the sea front for as far as we could go without descending the slipway to the beach, then take the only path right uphill to the checkpoint. If the route description could have said this without the eloquent detail that led us into a false sense of security while telling a tenth of the story, there wouldn't have been a problem. So, for anyone considering doing this event, ignore the route description. Just follow the Cleveland Way signs, and when you reach Scarborough, run along the sea front until you can go no further. It'll take a while.

We arrived at checkpoint 6 (Scarborough, 53.6 miles), which had run out of water. Luckily I still had enough to last the final 9.2 miles. Here was my final drop bag so I was able to bring the essential brown acid, caffeine and sugar fuelling quotient up to 2.1 litres. I scoffed another of my sandwiches to add substance to the fire.

We set off back into the darkness and single-track Cleveland Way. I was still feeling strong and went ahead. Foolish mistake. I hit a caravan park and went round in circles until the others caught up to point the way along the nicely mown strip (I hadn't wanted to trespass). From there I ran on Coke while waiting, almost in vain, for Filey Brigg to arrive. My pursuers were never far behind. Mick's head torch was spied ahead as he came up the cliff-top path to meet Jacqui.

Finally I reached the fingerpost, left to Filey Brigg and right to Filey. We would turn right. Mick kindly led the way across the green to the steps down to the beach. The tide was out so we ran across the rock-strewn sand to the slipway up to the promenade, while Mick fell back to run with Jacqui to the finish.

I ran alone along the front to the 'paddling pool' and the reflective jacketed marshal to get the final clip and instructions to Martin's Ravine. I overtook a couple more as I ran the track up the ravine, left to the golf club and right further than I expected to the main road. I turned right uphill on the main road, still running. I glanced behind me. There were no torches in sight. I looked upwards and saw a sky full of stars. The air was cool and calm and I was about to finish another ultra challenge. I felt fulfilled once again.

I turned left into the school and a round of applause in the school hall. Tea and food was followed by luxurious slumber in the sports hall, during which the wind rose once again, the cloud rolled in and the rain fell. Someone tell me we weren't lucky.

After clearing up on Sunday morning, many of us went down the road to the local cafĂ© for a slap-up breakfast. The camaraderie of that final fuelling event put the cap on a fantastic weekend. Thank you Jon and team. I want to return with the benefit of some route knowledge to do it justice. If I do and with my luck, you will be guaranteed nice weather.

Here are the pictures I took.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Marsden to Edale walk 23mi. 22/09/2012.

I have the Long Distance Walkers Association to thank for opening up the world of weekly challenge events in countryside I would never have visited otherwise. The LDWA is where I started in 1996 and it is where I will finish. Sandwiched in the middle will have been a good run (plod?) of more competitive running events.


This year is the 40th anniversary of the LDWA. Local groups put on special walks to celebrate the occasion. This one was South Manchester group's offering. I had heard a lot about Marsden to Edale but had never set foot on one inch of its route, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to be shown the way by our leader John Knight without the pressure of having to run or compete. Good rail links at both ends made it easy to do the linear route without transport worries.

The day began with the first frost of the autumn and continued in sunlit vein with crystal clear views. My fear of major bogs proved unjustified. It was amazing and novel to view a distant Woodhead Pass from grassy moorland instead of view moors assumed to be riddled with bog monster death traps from the warm coccoon of a car on the Woodhead Pass.

We enjoyed roadside support for water refills at two points from Avril and Jean (essential as it turned out in view of our ten and three quarter hour outing). We had good conversation along the way and saw a spectacular sunset from atop Kinder Scout before descending to Edale at nightfall. Soup and sandwiches, organised by Quentin Blagg and paid for from group funds, were laid on at the Nag's Head. We had just under an hour to down that before continuing down the chill, moonlit lane to Edale station for our train home.

John Knight wrote a good account of the day here.

My pictures tell the story of another beautiful day in the English countryside (I cannot believe our luck with the weather).