The last couple of years I had piled on the weight in the lead up to Xmas before knuckling down and losing 2 ½ St or so before the big running events of the year were scheduled. Alas, this year it hadn’t worked out that way as I had stalled at less than 1 ½ St loss. After bending the entry criteria to get into the the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Fell Race I was at the back of the field within a mile and ½ mile behind the next last runner by mile 2. Nearly 1000 people disappeared without trace ! An ignominious end as I quit after coming down off Penyghent without even making the first checkpoint.
At the same time as signing up to the Yorkshire 3 Peaks I had also entered another fell race, The Lairig Ghru. This was a race that had instantly captured my imagination when I read about it a few years ago. Why ? It’s simply that the route through the centre of the Cairngorm Mountains between the towns of Braemar and Aviemore is absolutely iconic with the nearly 27 mile route heading over a pass at 2740 ft with the shortest distance by road nearly 2 ½ times as long.
The key to success at this was beating the cut-off at Derry Lodge approximately 9 miles into the race with a time limit of 1 ½ hrs. I was nervous about this as I would have to run at (my) top speed and it was clear from looking at the map that there was a bit of an incline leading up from Mar Lodge onto the hillside before the path dropped back down into Glen Lui.
So the aim was to run as hard as I could and beat the cut-off. Anything else was a bonus.
After a bit of a delay from the scheduled start at 10.00am caused by the RD calling every runner (c. 400) forward to the start individually (no idea why he did this) we were away and having positioned myself near the back and being rapidly overtaken by all around me I made the mistake of looking behind after about a mile to see 3 runners in red jersey’s pacing out methodically about 50 yards behind. Oh god it’s just me and then the sweeper runners !
I pushed on and from my GPS watch I could see that I was managing a pace of just over 9 minute miles which was just within a pace that would keep me inside the cut-off. After a couple of small rises on the way out of Braemar there was a long downhill down to Victoria bridge where I relished the cushioning of my newly purchased Hoka Mafate Speed 2 shoes.
I knew that I was very fortunate in that it was a chilly 13 degrees with a stiff wind blowing into my face. The number one issue with running when overweight is not the fact of the extra weight itself but the fact that you overheat far more easily to the extent that one’s running slows to a crawl or even gives way to walking as it had during the Edinburgh marathon the month before.
As I walked up the steep bit of track from Mar Lodge I spotted another runner who was also walking and who I had clocked as being about the only other person apart from me who was carrying a bit of extra weight. As the track levelled out he continued to walk whilst I broke into a run and soon I was past. Hooray I’m not last any more. As the track dropped into Glen Lui I could see the trees at the head of the valley, within which Derry Lodge was located. I was still keeping to time and it all seemed good. The only thing was how far into the trees was the lodge ? I had read on someone’s blog it was c.14km and I prayed that was the case as even 14.5km might see me fail to make it through the cut-offs.
I got nearer the trees and just after entering I saw a boarded up building, is that the lodge I wondered, looks a bit small for a lodge, though a bit big for a gatehouse ? I came past it still unsure until around the corner I saw the Landrover and the Marshalls of the first checkpoint. Yabadabadoo I had made it 1 hr 23mins with my GPS watch showing 8.47 miles well under 14km. Absolutely chuffed to bits, I could relax, take my time and just be a total tourist. The sun came out and Iooking around the setting was absolutely stunning. Time for some photos and then off I walked, dawdling across the valley floor. Soon the person I had overtaken came past and I decided I really needed to do some running to keep up, it was after all a fell race !
It was all incredibly scenic and very easy flat running as I approached the crossing over the Luibeg burn.
From seemingly out of nowhere 5 or 6 more runners appeared behind me, including 3 girls in red skirts running together Maybe that’s who I saw behind me when I thought it was the sweepers I thought. The path climbed and soon it began to rain. I stopped to put on my jacket and as I got going again a chap came past and said Are you a walker, then seeing the number attached to my shorts, oh your’re a runner I’d better stay behind you then. Damn. Pride now meant that I needed to stay at least on the heels of the last but one runner and I consoled myself that there was no doubt I needed the training. The path undulated and then dropped down into the Lairig Ghru past Devil’s Point before rising more steeply up through the Pools of Dee and the boulder field. It was now driving rain and a howling wind and I started to get really cold another reason for keeping going as best I could. The boulder field itself turned out to be far less daunting than I had anticipated. It was really quite easy and there were often paths that skirted the worst of it. I realised in retrospect that one of the images I had seen on the web when searching on Lairig Ghru had actually been of the Charlamain Gap a narrow defile enroute to the pass where the boulders were massive and there was no choice but to climb through the middle of them.
I was still keen to take photos, though I couldn’t help feeling inhibited over how long I took as the sweeper runner clearly was there to shepherd the last runner towards the finish rather than hang about while they took photos !
At bang on 17 miles we hit the top of the pass and I could see Aviemore far away in the distance. Woohoo, all downhill from here. The path though was narrow and rocky and I was too tired to muster the nimble mountain goat technique that is needed on this sort of technical trail. As it got lower the path slowly improved and then it was a gentle cruise downhill eventually entering the forest of Rothiemurchus. This was stunningly beautiful and not at all the “flog through the forest” that I had read in someone’s account of the race. Indeed this was Scottish Highland pine forest and couldn’t have been more different to the Conifer Plantations of Northern England that I was used to.
It was now a matter of pushing on and keeping the walking breaks to a minimum. Before too long I was heading up the main street of Aviemore in the rain and the finish to be followed 10 minutes or so later by the sweeper and the other heavy lad.
Time : 6hrs 34mins
Race Route Overlaid on 1:50,000 OS Map 6.2 MB in size
My decision to sign up to the SDW100 was a visceral one, a drawing of a line in the sand. Entries opened 2 weeks after my DNF at the NDW100 and I signed up on my smartphone whilst holed up in a grotty hotel in Ostend at the tail end of a european road trip. One thing was certain I was not going to be DNF’ing the SDW, 110% no way.
Weight wise though things slipped again. In latter years my body has definitely lost the ability to signal to my brain that I am full. As someone who likes nothing better than to graze on food whilst reading the paper after a hard day at work I often would eat my fill, fancy something sweet and then marvel at my ability to eat crackers and cheese one after another until either the crackers or the cheese ran out. Addicted I suppose to the to the taste and the feeling of the food going into my stomach ?!? I don’t know whether pushing ones body to complete these long distances, exacerbates the failure of what I now know as leptin to work the way it should but in any event I started 2016 at 14St 5 ½ lbs back to where I was at the beginning of the previous year.
A good 2 ½ -3 month abstinence from alcohol and eating like a bird left me around the 12 Stone mark as I approached my first event of the year. The Manchester Marathon at the start of April.
The day before the marathon I had felt obliged to buy a new pair of trainers as my current ones were on their way out and had anyway become totally wet through when doing the south manchester parkrun that morning as large parts of the course were ankle deep in muddy water.
As these were really quite expensive (Saucony Triumph ISO 2 @ £135.00 ) I decided to keep a mileage log so that I could better gauge when it was time to move onto a new pair. I have never bothered to do this in the past and as a result whenever I started to feel a niggle I was never quite sure whether it was due to my trainers being worn out. Anyhow, the log does serve to record my training in the lead up to the SDW100. Episodic is the term that comes to mind and it was a good job that I had some events booked in and paid for and so felt duty bound to complete.
At the Windermere Marathon 22.5.16 Not a very flattering photo 10 ½ Stone + 2 Stone Fat !
The day before the race I left work in Newcastle at 3 pm and after nearly 6 hours of driving, pretty much non-stop, I got down to Chilcomb Sports Ground where I registered, put my tent up and then headed out in search of some food. After driving around Winchester fruitlessly in search of a supermarket I finally happened across a giant Tesco’s just next to where I had left the motorway when I first arrived !
Food and drink I struggle with and tonight would be a case in point. It was Friday night, I was really pleased to have got the drive over with, my tent was up and I didn’t have anything to worry about having got my drop bags all sorted before I left South Shields. I really deserved a couple of beers, so I bought some. I bought some nice food too, bagette , coleslaw, cheese, cold meat & houmus. Now I don’t really drink beer with food I drink red wine, so I bought a bottle, a set of plastic cups, and a FT to keep me occupied. After downing my beers I headed back to the sports ground and parked up as it started to get dark. I stayed in the car & dug into the food and wine enjoying myself (it was after all a mini holiday). The last few people around soon went off to bed and I was left alone in the car reading the paper and drinking my wine. It was c.00.30 by the time I had polished off the last of the wine and I went off to my tent setting my alarm for 4 ½ hours time. I am a good sleeper so it was straight off to sleep until woken by my alarm.
Up early, it was good to have an excuse not to have a wash and a shave and I packed away the tent, applied some vaseline to likely chaffing points and handed in my drop bags. As we assembled at the start I spotted someone with the same Highland Fling t-shirt as I was wearing. It would have been rude not to give him the customary ding ding that flingers greet one another with. Him and his mate, like me had no other aim other than to finish within the cut-offs and our paths crossed a number of times along the route.
It was a misty start to the day so I thought at first it would be nice and cool. Coolish it was but with very high humidity. I sweat absolute buckets even in freezing cold weather and before too long I was drenched. I know to take on plenty of salt so I shovelled down an S! Cap every half hour or so or whenever I remembered it had been a while.
It was great to be underway. I really find it inspiring to be on this huge journey across the landscape and had spent a long time looking at maps trying to visualise the route. I am not someone who particularly likes to recce a route even if it was within reasonable driving distance, preferring instead to enjoy the unexpected twists and turns and the only place I had visited on the South Downs Way was Devil’s Dyke many years before. I had decided I would try and photograph as much as I could along the way to record the route and so I did, drawing some rather baffled looks from some of my fellow runners as I fiddled with the autofocus trying to pick out the destinations on the SDW Trail signposts
I was really enjoying the run, and despite some early overheating my body soon managed to sort itself out i.e. regulate itself, and there was a good lot of banter as we made our way over to the QE Country Park checkpoint which marked the end (in my head) of stage 1. The topography was far better than the North Down’s way. There were long stretches of runnable ground but interspersed with enough climbs for one to have a rest and eat some food while walking up. The climbs on the SDW were more undulations along the tops of the downs whereas on the NDW the route did far more up and down the face of the escarpment which often meant steep tiring climbs rather than the chance to have a bit of a rest. The views were stunning too and you could very often see one’s route stretching far into the distance.
I didn’t have anyone meeting me, let alone pacing with me but that meant that I hardly stopped in checkpoints at all. Just grabbing what I needed and then walking off munching. I am not sure if a crew or meeting my family would have actually distracted me from the job in hand.
I talked to a girl coming down from Bignor Hill and she said the next checkpoint was only 3 miles away Fantastic.I thought, Once over the river the approach to some houses was along a secluded path. A few people appeared coming towards me, one in a centurion crew t-shirt. the path emerged onto a lane where directly opposite a couple of runners were sitting down on the verge digging into some food. “Hooray, that didn’t take long we must be here” I thought, I peered into the next driveway looking for the checkpoint but there was nothing there, nor in the next one..As I headed up out of civilisation on the steep path up to Rackham hill, I admonished myself for trusting anothers judgement too easily as there clearly wasn’t going to be a checkpoint any point soon. [though in writing this blog I came to realise that there was a crew checkpoint at High Titten which must have been what she was referring to.]
I got to the half way point at Kithurst Hill and on asking the time was told it was 10 mins to 6. I was chuffed to be under the 12 hour mark for the first 50 miles. A poor chap I had been running with began to violently retch and throw up which sounded dreadful but no one, including the St John’s Ambulance volunteers was in any way sympathetic my own contribution being “at least you’ve managed to miss your shoes”
Along the tops a little longer and then down into Washington where my primary task was to have a poo. This, mainly due to general stiffness, seemed to take for ever and by the time I had come out everyone I had come in with had disappeared and after a quick bowl of bolognaise sauce (no pasta thank you) I was on my own for the haul back onto the ridge. Once on the tops though it was nice and level and it was a pleasure to jog along without any pain or other difficulty.
Shortly before the drop to Botolphs and just past Steyning Bowl were a whole series of pig pens fenced off with a couple of strands of electrified wire. Many of them were careering around in circles crashing into one another and just generally having a mad half hour, maybe a final chase about before the dusk turned to night or maybe they were freaking out at the sight of all these humans coming by at such an ungodly hour.
I was now getting tired and it was really good to get to the Botolphs Checkpoint which though just a table under a canopy on the side of a main road had some really nice home baked stuff which really hit the spot.
Up from Botolophs and it slowly got properly dark and shortly after Truleigh hill I turned on my Headtorch.
This somehow symbolised a new stage in the journey : “The Night Section” and it was if psychologically I had put the previous days efforts behind me and was starting afresh. I saw from far away that people were having a bit of a party up on Devil’s dyke, music was thudding out & what looked like disco lights. I was getting nervous as I approached. “I hope the people attending the rave are not going to see a lone runner as a bit of a target” “ Let’s go and trip the weirdo up etc” As I got right up to them it turned out that it was just a few of the SDW100 runner’s crew & supporters out having a bit of fun with glow sticks and the like whilst they waited for their runners to come through (Devil’s dyke being a crew checkpoint it turned out) It’s funny how the mind magnifies what one sees and imagines after 65 miles of running !
A steep downhill and I was at the Saddlescombe checkpoint. I was really too tired to respond to the volunteers cheerful questions as to how they could help and I somehow sensed that I was failing in my duty to provide the necessary rapport to lift the volunteers in their role of supporting us. I do remember looking around at the strange assortment of farm implements that were lying about and hanging off the ceiling of the olde worlde barn the checkpoint was based in, which was more than a little surreal and rather akin to the film set for an 18th century period drama.
There was a short uphill and then a descent through Pycombe and across a bridge over the A23. From then on it was a hike up to the turn-off to Jack & Jills. (it was really quite runnable but I just didn’t have it in me to do it.) . There were marshalls at the fork in the trail where there is an out and back to the Jack & Jill Windmill checkpoint, it was good to say hello and feel that there were people looking out for you. Down to the checkpoint I was totally oblivious to the Windmills which I realise now I must have passed about 10 metres away from in the dark. Once at the checkpoint I had a look around, eating a pork pie and subliminally trying to think up a reason for me to dally, but I didn’t have one so on I went.
It was decent terrain for the next few miles and I was running and then having walking breaks every now and then. After getting a bit confused as to the way to go at Ditchling Beacon, this being the meeting point of a fair few paths I was overtaken by a couple of guys who were power marching and annoyingly despite running way ahead of them, my walking breaks were resulting in them nearly catching me up. Humph. Shortly after the right turn off the tops on the way down to the Housedean Farm Checkpoint they passed me and it was time for me to play catch up.
It would have been about 2am when I got to Housedean and the guys manning the checkpoint were definitely in count down mode waiting for the last 25 or so runners (their estimate) that were left on the course to come through and for the cut-off for the checkpoint to be reached so they could pack up and go home. One chap had decided not to continue and was spark out in one of the deck chairs though the guys reckoned everyone else would push on through as at less than 24 miles to go as they usually only got one or two drops here. I can’t quite remember the detail of the conversation but it was clear that there was none of the “you’ve got this in the bag type of comment” which contrasted with my own internal assessment that I was very much going to do this..
I headed off before the two guys that I had followed in, apologising to my feet who were really starting to hurt. “I am so sorry to have to do this to you, but we have 24 miles to go and you just have to support me through this. I’m really sorry I know it’s going to hurt but I promise to make it up to you once I’m done”. I had gone the wrong way though and annoyingly (though gratefully) was shouted back by the two guys I tried to steal a march on and then followed them up onto the tops, where it was apparent that a thick fog had rolled in. The next section was one that we had been warned by RD James Elson as being tricky to navigate and you could see why as the whole hill was hard chalk with a thin grass covering and no discernable path.
As darkenss had fallen I had switched on my phone and bluetoothed to my Garmin GPS receiver stored in my backpack and then opened up my Memory Map App to the GPX route of the race which overlay some 1:25000 OS map squares which I had downloaded of the second half of the route. I had an instant fix on the detailed map and an arrow that tracked my movement. Having absolute certainty of where I was, was a great psychological boost. I didn’t even want to try and keep up with the two I was following, I didn’t need to. There was something almost womb like about my situation, surrounded by a bubble of light reflecting off the fog but feeling absolutely secure in where I was and where I needed to go.
My feet were hurting now though and with nothing to look at the pain slowly magnified and managed to push out any other thoughts. I was having to do anything I could think of to distract myself from the pain. anything at all, even to the extent of… (no I won’t go there). Hours later (or so it felt) I became aware of dawn breaking way in front and this not surprisingly provided a lift. There was a change of terrain too as I dropped steeply off the downs and onto a concrete track that ran perpendicular up to its intersection with the road down to Southease.
Southease took a long time coming, as I had put away my phone once dawn had come up and had forgotten that the checkpoint was well out beyond southease village. Eventually I was there, up and over the railway line and up the short stretch of road to the checkpoint. It was strange to be with people again, runners and checkpoint volunteers after what felt like many hours alone in my own company. Feeling refreshed mentally (from human interaction) and physically (from a bit of food) I headed up onto the tops with a couple of others. Soon though it was straight into thick fog again and my feet really started to dominate my thoughts again. I was trying all sorts of shuffling/ hobbling styles to minimise the pain. It was actually less painful to shuffle than to walk as it was the balls of my feet that were most affected. This next section was definitely my lowest point. It was daylight but there was a thick fog and I was trudging over thin grass overlaying a hard layer of chalk. It was monotonous and just seemed to go on and on and on. I must have lost a fair bit of time here as I really didn’t care.
Eventually though, I was on the final downhill, on absolutely rock hard, concrete like, chalk track into Alfriston village. The checkpoint here is in an old chapel with lots of wood panelling and a reverential almost pious atmosphere. It certainly coincided with a major uplift in my spirits. I was into the last 10 miles and I knew, all it was, was an up and over to Jevington and then another up and over into Eastbourne. I am going to do this..
I power marched up the hill rejuvenated, my feet not hurting at all on the uphill.
Around and down into Jevington. It seemed to take no time. I decided to go up into the Jevington Checkpoint just to have a look around even though it was up some steps and I didn’t really need anything and despite the girl manning the checkpoint who was stood on the road, offering to go and get me anything I wanted. No, I just wanted to have a look in there, my curiosity was back. Mind you, my quads were none too comfortable coming back down those steps !
Along a small stream and then up again, still very easily. Soon I was on the tops and off to my left (not quite where I had imagined it) there was a girl sitting astride the trig point who cheerily pointed the way to the correct path down into Eastbourne.
It was narrow to start off with and I came across 2 or 3 fit young blokes being escorted by their pacer’s who had had the misfortune to suffer from a serious injury of some sort or another and who were stoically inching their way down, hats off to them I thought (and said) and I felt almost guilty for having had such a trouble free journey.
Almost there now and it was a matter of trying to maintain my posture and style (ho ho) as I ran through Eastbourne, motorists tooting their admiration. The rain started to come down heavily, but it wasn’t as far as I thought before I was there… at the turn off for the Sports Centre and the final lap around the track. Through the finish gantry I was given my medal and the guy with the specs who had been out taking photos the day before (who I now realise was Stuart Marsh), got me into position to take a couple of finishing photo’s. I’d done it ! 27 hours 47 minutes.
Post script – After retrieving my finish line drop bag I found a perch on a chair and took off all my gear, getting my towel and some clean clothes out. I left my bag next to my chair and stiffly went off to the showers. It was wonderful to be clean and and I gingerly made my way back to my bag. Of course my seat was taken so I hovered…
Soon enough it was time to get onto the (centurion organised) bus for the journey back to Chilcomb. I managed to get some sleep and woke up as we came to a stop. Into my car and it was a short 15 miles or so down the road to visit my ageing aunt mary who lived in a suburb of Southampton (Portswood). After a brief misunderstanding, having being taken for a parcel delivery man, I was allowed in. Regrettably, despite my best entreaties I was unable to persuade my aunt to go out for some (celebratory) food. instead I had the benefit of Wiltshire Farm foods (i.e. Meals on wheels) and their exemplary finest shepherd’s pie (a gloop of mince, gravy and mashed potato) Fortunately I had had the foresight to stop off for some celebratory beers before arriving which went some way to ease my ravenous appetite. I was off to bed comparatively early @11pm.and with the alarm set for 5.30am I managed to make a work meeting scheduled for 10.00am in Leeds. Back to reality, was all that running just a dream ?
Well this was another run that I had booked quite a while ago and which found me at the starting line at nowhere near a sensible running weight. That said I had done a decent amount of training with quite a few 18,19 & 20 mile runs over the preceeding 6 weeks.
The day before I tipped the scales at 13 Stone 6 pounds. Rather than be discouraged and depressed about my inability to get the weight off, I felt inspired, in awe even of how I have managed to adapt to being an (ultra) fat runner. 3 or so years ago I couldn’t run at all once I got past about 12 Stone 3 pounds, now here I am stepping up to do 26 miles and all on tarmac too !
In the end it was the easiest marathon I have ever done. It helped that it was a nice flat course with plenty to look at and cool too, but really I think I am just used to these sort of distances now so I tapped away one foot in front of another suffering a dip about mile 19 as I got dehydrated but I knew what the problem was and paused at the next two drinks stations to take on lots of liquid and a couple of S! caps and soon I was feeling absolutely fine again. I got around with least effort and pain, ever, though I could not have managed without wearing a backpack with the waist strap in place to support my belly.
There was plenty of gas left in the tank at the end and a real feeling that “the ultrafatrunner” had come of age. A quick change and it was off into centrum to track down some beer.
Signing up for the NDW100 was more than just the act of logging onto the Centurion website and registering for the race. It was a statement, a statement meant for myself as much as anyone else. A motivator to keep losing weight and to knuckle down to the training required to cover 102.5 miles in under 30 hours.
That was the idea anyway. I pored over the maps of the route and read and re-read as many blog posts as I could find. These two from a runner From Sofa to Ultra and his pacer Pacing the Ginger Whinger really highlighted the take no prisoners attitude to mental weakness that is needed to conquer these things.
Unfortunately motivationally, paying £134.00 didn’t work very well in terms of losing weight in fact following my success at the Highland Fling in April it just slowly crept back on climbing back up to near enough 13 Stone just prior to race day. Not good.
As a result I did feel a little bit embarrassed as we gathered for the briefing in Farnham as there seemed to be a much higher proportion of pencil thin, razor sharp focused athletes than I was used to and the event generally had more of a businesslike and elitist feel than say the Lakeland 50/100.
Anyway it was great to get going with a lovely start through mist shrouded meadows before heading up onto the sandstone hills where on occasion ankle deep sand made it nigh on impossible to run even along the flat.
After 10 miles or so I got chatting to another runner who on hearing it was my first 100 miler, complimented me on not going out to fast. I felt a bit of a fraud for not owning up to the fact that it wasn’t good tactics as far as pace went this was as fast as I could run anyway.
There were some wonderful views as we got up onto the escarpments with the sudden appearance of St Martha’s Church and the view from the top especially memorable.
As time went on I started to feel the heat and got through my two 12 oz drinks containers well before I reached Newland’s Corner checkpoint for a refill. The marshals were very attentive and after a good break I headed onto the next section which being largely tree covered was a great relief.
The Chevy, so ably organised by the Wooler Running club was another of the races where I had set a target time, a sub 4 hours for this 20 mile trail run that summited the Cheviot and its near neighbour Hedgehope. Regrettably, though I had managed to lose a few pounds in recent weeks I was nowhere near a weight that would allow me to achieve this. C’est la Vie. More foolishly, I had drunk a bit the night before and was feeling extremely groggy as I drove up to Wooler from South Shields. The registration and walk to the start were marked by torrential (Stair rod) rain which reinforced my fairly subdued mood.
Anyhow off we went, my legs felt like lead and I was praying for the end of the tarmac road c.1 mile ! so that I could start walking. I walked up the grassy slope and kept walking over the top as the dribs and the drabs at the end of the field came past. By the time I got to the first checkpoint there was no question at all that I was bringing up the rear of the field ! I hurried on intent on keeping in sight the tail end of runners ahead. We soon entered thick mist and I slowly developed a bit of a rhythm which took me up to the tailenders and eventually past them. Once we reached the foot of the cheviot proper I just went up it no problem at all climbing past a fair few other competitors on the way. It was a real a peasouper up there about 20 yards visibility if that. Eventually I got to the summit checkpoint and then headed over the fence for the off trail section down to the upper reaches of Langleeford burn. It got really steep and just after I slipped and went down on my back I remembered that I had some overtrousers in my backpack. On with these and then whoosh off I went, flat on my back, whizzing down the hiill. In the thick mist I really had no idea where I was so I took out my phone to check my OS Map App that was bluetoothed to my garmin GPS reciever. An instant fix told me I was off route to the right so headed left and soon found a track of trampled grass where the masses had come down. As I got lower the visibility increased and way off to my right I saw a line of 15-20 people led by someone in a South Shields Harrier Vest. Oh dear. Pleased, I continued to scamper on down, over the burn and up onto the lower slopes of Hedgehope. Unfortunately it was now my turn to go way off route as I blindly followed some other disorientated runners (a la sheep). Whipping out the phone again the OS Map App came to my rescue and I turned 90 degrees and set a determined track up, up and up into the thick mist with 4 or 5 people in my wake. Eventually we made the ridge line fence and thence up to the summit of Hedgehope.
Once off the summit it was a steep descent but half way down the mist thinned and all of a sudden a wonderful green carpet came into view far below. I stopped to take a photo though the pause resulted in acquiring a small throng of flies. On down I went waving my arms around my face, over the moor and up to the next outcrop knowing from previous mishaps that I needed to skirt this well to the right ! Down and across and then up to the next checkpoint at Langlee crags. I was quite enjoying myself….
Of course as I got lower it got hotter and the sun was now beating down. I ran with my hood up, sweating bucketloads and felt my face burning up with the heat. As I wound my way up Hell’s path it got even hotter and in desperation I lay down on a flat bit of grass next to carey burn and totally submerged my head under the freezing water… except the water didn’t feel freezing and though it must have helped I didn’t feel cooled down at all as I resumed my shuffle towards the next checkpoint. Still I was making generally good progress and as has so often been the case in the last few years I felt a hell of a lot stronger towards the end of the race than I did at the start. 5hrs 40mins.
The Blaydon was one of my target races for the year with an objective of coming in under the 40 minute mark for the 5.7 mile course. Alas I had no chance of that as my weight has rebounded since the Hoka Highland Fling and I’m back over 13 Stone. Anyhow no point worrying about that I would just have to do my best. After a lot of hanging about (the race start was delayed about 20 minutes) we were off at a fair old lick. My other half was also taking part and soon zoomed off only for me to catch sight of her again about 150yds ahead held back a bit by the crowds. The biggest issue for me running when substantially overweight is that I tend to get hotter and hotter and this balmy summer’s evening was to be no different. It was taking everything I had to try and keep Lesley in sight my heavy breathing literally blowing a small shower of sweat in front of me as I went along. God I was hot but I’m fairly determined and unless I’m actually dying I am able to keep pushing on. Eventually I managed to catch Lesley (c. Mile 5) long enough to tap her on the arm which caused her to immediately rocket off into the distance with me powerless to keep up. Never she nor me would admit to speeding up/slowing down so I’m not sure what happened. Through to the finish in any event and a couple of minutes after finishing I got a text giving my time as 49:22 Quite chuffed all things considered.
The Pier to Pier is an annual race between South Shields and Roker (Sunderland) piers. The race used to tout itself as being 7.5 miles long, later amended to read about 7 miles long and with the advent of GPS watches has come the knowledge that in fact the course is approximately 6.88 Miles !
It is always a funny feeling going down to the beach that is 200 yds from ones house and joining approximately 1000 other runners who have arrived from all over the North East of England. Probably there is an element of pride in living so close to such a fantastic stretch of coastline.
Anyway off we went with my main objective to finish before my other half who is generally quicker than me over the shorter distances. There were a fair few stretches of lumpy sand as well as congestion at gates etc but I felt really good in just shorts and my Hoka Highland fling top. In no time at all I was approaching Roker pier and the finish. Fortunately I had managed to stay just in front of Lesley who came in a mere 37 seconds after me. A result @ 61 mins exactly.
Well what can I say. I did it. 13 hrs 13 minutes. What a fantastic journey. Over the moon to say the least.
The day started at 4.30 am where a quick look out of the window at our Glasgow West End hotel was enough to see that the rain was sheeting down. My other half and our boy had accompanied me up from South Shields as my good running mate Dave ‘the original fridgeman” Taylor had knackered his knee and had reluctantly had to pull out. The tear to the MCL ligament of his right knee was the exact same injury I had suffered a year before and which had led to me piling on the pounds. Last year we had set out on the Fling and had made slow but steady progress over to Balmaha in about 4 1/2 hours. I had read a lot of the Blog write ups of the Highland Fling before the event which had invariably had a series of stunning views of the Loch taken right on the shoreline. I had blithely assumed therefore that the tough bit of the race was over and we were going to complete it no problem. Surely it couldn’t take more than 1.5-2 hrs to do the three 7 mile chunks that take you up to the Beinglas checkpoint ? Reality hit painfully as this blase attitude led to lots of dawdling and timewasting and then later I was just knackered. In the end I mentally threw in the towel for us both at the Inversnaid checkpoint when I announced loudly that we would never make it to Beinglas in time to beat the cut off – and so it came to pass.
Anyhow, I was back again and determined to finish and at least I was under no illusions as to the nature of the terrain. My plan was to go as quick as I could and just keep going, no stops for photos, minimal stops at checkpoints and just generally no fannying around at all. Off I went and this year was very much in a line of runners for the first 15 miles or so, only on approaching Conic Hill did things thin out a bit. Being a bit lighter I went faster and even ran a bit of a flattish section half way up Conic. I went fairly swiftly down the other side and was soon running into the checkpoint at Balmaha. It was only then that I dared to look at my watch 3hrs 50 mins Yeehaa I’m going do it. I’m going to do it. I said to myself while stuffing in a gluten free wrap filled with feta cheese, ham, pickle, salad and mayonnaise – went down a treat. In no more than 4 mins I was on my way again. I had awful memories of the steep uphills over headlands and promontory’s from last year but it didn’t seem anywhere near as bad as I remembered which gave me a great mental boost. The long track uphill from Rowardennan allowed me to take a breather and once the path became a bit knarly I discovered a new technique for getting going again when reaching a runnable bit. Just start leaning forward and at the point I am going to fall flat on my face just get my foot out to break my fall and then keep going. I was really enjoying the afternoon and had learned to eat even when I didn’t feel hungry. I got into Beinglas at 15.50 a good 1hr 40 mins outside the cutoff. Good Stuff. The next section I found tiring, the path is described as a bit of a roller coaster but really the roller coaster just went higher and higher and the proportion that I felt inclined to run was pathetically small. It was great to go past all the landmarks that I had read about and I was even disappointed to find that Cow poo alley didn’t have any poo on it at all just a ittle bit of mud. Through the gate at the forest above Crianlarich there was a slight miscommunication with the marshalls as I responded with a “You’ll be lucky” to their “It’s time to speed up a bit now” only for it to transpire that they had actually said “Well done you’ve only a wee bit to go now”.
I was flagging going up the ever rising path into the forested hills and started to bitterly curse whoever it was who was responsible for the West Highland Way being routed up such pointlessly stupid and vindictive inclines.
The return to the valley was a welcome relief though my knees hurt too much to run on the tarmac sections though I managed to knock out a decent shuffle on the trail sections. I was under the impression that I still had a way to go when a passerby said the finish is just beyond those trees at which point are heard the strains of the Bagpiper welcoming runners as they approached the finish. I suddenly felt quite overwhelmed and had to make fair bit of effort to suppress any outward signs of emotional weakness but running strong I came around the corner, into the campsite and up the red carpet to the finish.
I have been doing the Allendale a fair few years now, and it is as it says a challenge as much as a run. I had set myself a target of running without stop until the road turned to rocky path on the uphill from Ninebanks and I am pleased to say I managed this without too much difficulty. Onwards and up onto the moors where you always forget quite how squelchy and soft the bogs are until you are actually trying to run across them again. I must admit I was fairly feeble and ran less than I should/could have done but I soon got to Black Hill checkpoint where I was revived by a nice cup of tea, enjoying the short lived relief from the howling wind that the refreshment tent provided. The route over to Killhope seemed much boggier than usual and I pretty much fell in line with the snake of walkers apart from several intense “scuttle runs” that allowed me to overtake here and there.
After Killhope I ran the vast majority of the rest including the drag where I had an little internal conversation with myself “Why not walk this bit it’s not going to matter, No if you don’t run the drag then you are not going to go to the Fling that is final. But I really want to do the fling though… Well then, just run up the drag and don’t stop” So up and up and along the drag I went and though it was not much more than a shuffle it was a least good to have some rhythm on a fairly even surface and I knew that I was keeping going when the majority of other runners (I was with) had given in and this I suppose is the difference between the ultrarunner and the “out for a few hours” type fellrunner.
In other words I had the edge as far as mental strength went ! I carried on to the end, finishing feeling less tired than I have ever done before, though my extra weight meant that I was an 1hr 17 mins outside my personal best crossing the threshold of Allendale village hall in 6hr 13 mins. Quite pleased and though my right knee particularly on any stretches with hard surfaces was quite painful, the pain always seemed transitory rather than indicative of permanent damage. A good result though a reminder of how my natural pace has dropped compared to what it used to be.
It was time for my big run, as part of my training for the Hoka Highland Fling, 35 miles or so following the gloriously scenic Northumberland coast. It looked a superb route and I was really looking forward to the section from Holy Island causeway down to Bamburgh. The St Oswald’s way headed well inland over hills beyond the A1 at this point and there must be a path following the coast I thought, despite nothing being marked on the map, so it would just be a matter of following my nose with the chance to use my OS Map App bluetoothed to a state of the art Garmin GPS Reciever for the first time in earnest.
Things immediately failed to go to plan as I got on the 7.38 to Berwick only to hear the train guard say welcome to the Virgin Cross Country train to Southampton ! After (rather sheepishly) having to explain my mistake to more than a few station/train personnel I eventually arrived at Berwick a little over an hour after I had decanted at Durham. This prompted a little twinge of anxiety as I knew the last train to Newcastle from Alnmouth was at 18.58 so I didn’t have huge amounts of spare time to fanny about.
Steady rain was falling as I started my run over old berwick bridge and worked my way along to spittal and the Northumberland coastal path. Things got increasingly scenic though hardly tranquil as the main east coast line absolutely hugged the coast at this point. Slowly the sky began to clear and I could see Holy Island and Bamburgh castles as small blobs on the horizon and I started to really feel as if I was on an epic journey across the landscape. I was feeling really good and once past Holy island causeway I started my quest into the unknown as I attempted to follow the coastline south. Things went pearshaped fairly quicky though. Huge tussocks replaced any discernable path and then I hit the first of many muddy creeks that dissected the landscape. Up and down looking for places to cross without getting stuck up to my neck I went. This seemed to go on for ever but eventually I got back to reasonably dry land. Knackered ! The next section was lumpy and wet as I traversed the shoreline of Lindisfarne nature reserve, with the sun really starting to beat down at this point. I had a bit of a walk eating my sandwiches and stuffing in some trailmix hoping that I would soon feel better, I didn’t until I finally ate a bag of crisps and almost immediately felt fine. I carried on attemping to run but there was no path as such and it was tiring. Eventually I came to a point where a road intersected the coastline and I decided enough was enough and it was time to take an alternative route.
My Phone and Garmin Reciever worked superbly with my position pinpointed onto a downloaded 1:25k map pretty much instantaneously. The only trouble was that I was losing about 1% of my battery for every 1 minute of use not really what you need for an all dayer out in the sticks.
Much of the next section was totally forgettable as I tried to follow sections of public footpath, getting lost and spending hours running along tarmaced roads, not exactly how I had envisaged things. I eventually circumnavigated Budle Bay and was finally able to enjoy the terrain as I headed up the beach eventually getting into Bamburgh around 3.30pm. 22 Miles.
My plan of getting to Alnmouth and catching the train was in tatters as it was almost the same mileage away again and I didn’t have a clue about the transport options on route. Psychologically I was defeated and so I gave up and tramped around Bamburgh looking for a bus stop. It turned out there was a bus in just over an hour and so even though I could easily have run down to Beadnell or at least Seahouses I didn’t and decided to go to the pub instead. With a minimum spend of £10.00 on a card I managed to force down 3 pints before getting on a bus to Alnwick that pulled in shortly before 6pm. At least there was a connecting bus down to newcastle leaving at 18.12 though it was near enough a two hour trip ! I headed into the next door Morrisons getting a sandwich, 4 mini bottles of red wine and a paper to ease the tedium of my journey. Finally back home to South Shields for 9pm. Feeling more than a little deflated through the haze of alcohol.