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!