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.
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.
After a weekend of no runs at all due to family commitments (mother’s day etc) I was determined to fit in a run at the next available opportunity. I was down in London on Monday and thought there might be just enough time to squeeze in a run before getting the train back, so I packed my running stuff in with the rest of my gear. Once out of the meeting I headed straight back to Kings Cross changed in the loos, dropped my bag at left luggage and then headed up Euston Road and into Regent’s Park. It was noticeable how totally unphased the park wildlife – ducks, geese, squirrels etc were even when running right alongside. Half way around Regent’s Park I diverted up onto Primrose Hill. Though it was hardly Conic Hill in scale and in fact was much more reminiscent of Cow Hill on Newcastle’s Town Moor which is my regular place for an after work run. There were lots of tall buildings visible from the top but it was so grey and clagged in that it was hardly worth a picture (though my phone had ran out of juice anyway). I traversed the back side of Primrose Hill and then returned to complete my circuit of Regents Park. Next an unpleasant and somewhat dangerous section along the busy commuter choked pavements of Baker Street and Edgware Road to Marble Arch and Hyde Park. I was looking forward to the specially formatted bridleways for horses that run the length of the park but found in reality that they were composed of hard compacted sand, very lumpy and generally unpleasant to run on so stuck to grass wherever possible. After the long haul up to Kensington Palace it was back down again towards Hyde Park Corner and in the gathering gloom I headed past Buckingham Palace and into St James’ Park running past horse guards parade (rendevous point after the London Marathon). Finally it was down the Mall and into Green Park coming to a halt outside Green Park tube. It was nearly dark by this time and I didn’t have a lot of time to spare so it was straight into the tube station without any cool down/stretch only to find myself walking like a duck as my right foot started to cramp going down the escalators. I Picked up my luggage and got onto the 19.00 train back with about 5 minutes to spare. 10.22 miles
Time to be upping the mileage a bit more if I am to have a decent chance at the Hoka Highland Fling at the end of April, so it was up to Kielder Reservoir this Sunday.
Kielder is fantastic for me, not so much for the setting and the views (which are fantastic) but for the nature of the trail which is nice and soft and very forgiving on the knees. The Kielder circumnavigation is also perfect for bicycles which meant the rest of the family could accompany me too.
Starting from the Dam we proceeded in a clockwise direction, following the Lakeside route in its entirety apart from cutting over the big peninsular that jutts out after Tower Knowe so as to reduce the total mileage to something that would be manageable. I felt a step up in my ability today as I am nearly down to 12 stone which about 2 or 3 years ago was the limit for me running at all. I had springs in my legs on all the uphills (of which there were more than a few) and despite tiring towards the end, really felt fine and muscles and fueling all felt in sync. I had a large bowl of curried chicken with onions and avocado for breakfast and then only needed one gluten free nakd bar all the way around. Very pleased with how I got on and particularly the knees which were fine. 23 Miles.