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.]
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!