Race Reports

High Fells Coquet 38 Ultra - 15th July 2018 - Author: Mark Russell

The idea of doing an ultramarathon is not something I would have even considered a few years back, in fact if anyone had even suggested the idea to me I would have probably laughed in their face & said “Do I look that stupid?“

Fast forward a few years & yes, stupid has become my middle name!

The transition from “I’m not doing more than a 10k run" to “That sounds mental, I’ll give it a bash" only started about a year or
so ago when I realised that (for me) trail running is far more enjoyable than road running. You get natural breaks, gates, hills etc. & it’s compulsory to take a picnic (officially referred to as emergency food).

Anyway, I saw this event on the High Fell Events Facebook page & decided that as far as Ultras go, 38 miles isn’t too crazy, it’s only about 3 half marathons back to back. How hard could it be?

Unlike the usual me, I decided to train properly for this event by running lots of hilly sections & lots of long runs at weekends for months leading up to the event. I even took hydration & nutrition into account & decided to drop a dress size or two!

I had trained & prepared properly & as far as I was aware I was ready to smash the event. I was the first person to enter the event on the day the entries opened, I didn’t want it to sell out. In the weeks leading up to the event, I kept checking the number of entrants, 4 weeks to go & there was 7 of us. Seven!!!!!

What if they were all really quick & I was left at the back by myself in the middle of the Cheviot Hills. The event was self- navigating & I’ve never done anything like that before. Whose stupid idea was this! What I really needed was a running partner for the event but where was I going to find one of those? I had already pestered everyone I know who runs but to no avail.

As luck would have it, 4 weeks before the event, whilst doing the Trail Outlaws Penshaw Half Marathon, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of miles in the company of Jocelyn from Runpeterlee. I recognised her from when their running club hosted an event that I participated in at Derwent Reservoir.  She said that she enjoyed trail running so I said she should join the trail running Facebook group that I set up & she did.

2 weeks after that, I was doing the Cross Fell trail race which I advertised through the same Facebook page, fortunately Karen, Dawn & Jocelyn all agreed to run that with me. It was hot & hilly on that one. Conversations turned to the ultra in 2 weeks time & I tried to convince all 3 of my running partners that day that it would be a good idea for them to join me. Karen had other plans that day, Dawn considered it until she realised that she was elsewhere that day & Jocelyn said she would have a think.

A week later with the promise of Turkish delights, she agreed to run it with me. She had run an ultra before but not one with as much elevation. A couple of days before the event, Katharine bumped into a neighbour of ours, Noel, who does a bit of running & mentioned that I was away at the weekend doing a big long run & he said he liked the sound of that & subsequently entered the event.

All that worrying for nothing, I now had 2 running partners. We could all get lost together! Still only 13 people had entered the event!

The run started in Alwinton & the pub, The Rose & Thistle, had allowed the runners to have exclusive use of their field behind the pub for competitors to camp the night before the event as the start time was 6am. I took my converted Sprinter van to sleep in (I don’t do tents) Noel opted to sleep in his car & Jocelyn used her pop up tent. If only it popped down as easy as popped up it would have been great. After a nice meal in the pub the night before & a couple of pints (for medicinal purposes) we settled down for the night. Alarms were set for 5.20, I always thought that there was only one 5.20 in a day & that was tea time but apparently not!

After a comfortable, quiet night’s sleep (for me anyway) it was time to get up & get sorted for the run. I thought that 40 mins would be enough time to make a cup of tea, sort out the drop bag, sort out the rucksack that I was taking, get ready, use the facilities, brush my teeth and have some breakfast. Apparently I was wrong, 40 mins is nowhere near enough time.
So breakfast was a Penguin cake bar instead of a peanut butter sandwich & I only managed 1 cup of tea.

The runners all gathered around Barry for the final race instructions & briefing, I was last to join them. 4 runners never bothered to show up so this left a field of 9. On the plus side, all I had to do was finish & I would have come in the top 10 of my first ever Ultra!

6am arrived & we were off, well actually 7 minutes past 6, my bad! We hadn’t even gone 20 yards when Jocelyn decided that she needed the loo. Noel & I waited for her, we were going to do this together & not leave anyone behind. The rest of the field, all 6 of them, were out of sight when we set off along the road, at the first junction we turned left to go up the hill, presuming that was the way to go, wrong, we should have headed up the track straight ahead. It was going to be a long day made even longer by 3 numpties that can’t even follow a map!

Fortunately, I had purchased the full O.S. map for my phone & downloaded the route from a GPX file so all we needed to do was follow the dot & keep it on the line. Sounds easy when you say it like that.

Anyway, back on route & going the right way we were all feeling fine & gently ran up the first hill. We overtook the back marker, he was walking the event anyway. We had the next 2 runners in our sights when I started to feel something dripping down the back of my legs. Previously while running at Kielder, the tube had detached itself from my hydration bladder & dumped all the water out into my rucksack. Surely history wasn’t going to repeat itself. It was a very hot day & water was vital. We stopped, took the bladder out to check for leaks & nothing, possibly this was from the bottle I had on the side but that also wasn’t leaking. We never found out where it was coming from but it stopped. That little episode is now locked in the X-Files.


Walker guy had overtaken us on his relentless marching pace. The next few miles passed without incident, we overtook walker guy & were enjoying trotting along chatting about all sorts. We went passed some log piles which had Egger signage next to them. Noel, who works for Egger was explaining that they would be turned into fitted kitchens etc. This time next week. We followed the track with the log piles for about a mine until we came to a fork in the road, this would be a good time to use my GPS enabled app to follow the right path. I could see the dot (us) but the red line (route) was nowhere to be seen. Bugger! We were so busy listening to Noel & the stories of Egger that we had completely missed the turn off. I reckon we had gone at least half a mile passed it. Never mind it was a nice track back & mainly downhill.

As we got to the actual turn off, a gate leading into a field, we were reacquainted with walker guy. After a discussion about which was right, the modern technology that is GPX files, GPS tracking & live data versus a bloke with a paper map with a random shape on it, he decided that we were on to something & followed us through the gate. The next section was unrunnable, imagine trying to run on large toadstools covered in grass, a bit like a game of Mario brothers but without Donkey Kong. The route was hard to follow through here as there was no defined path but we eventually made it through without losing a life.

This lead onto a lovely road section that followed the route of the stream & twisted & turned through the bottom of the valley that was carved out during the ice age. The sides of the valley were very steep & imposing & we run over several bridges as the road meandered towards the first checkpoint. The checkpoint was manned by 2 women & had a variety of  snacks, sweets & treats. I was going to take some flapjack until the woman said “that’s vegan flapjack". Thanks for the heads up, I’ll give it a miss. Could have made a costly error there!

Leaving the checkpoint we were pointed up a hill towards a man on a quad bike. This was the first of many stupidly steep & long hills that we were to encounter over the next 28 miles. Normally I can yomp up a hill without stopping, not this hill, it went on forever & was relentless in its gradient.  The only positive thing was that we had to come back down this later in the day.

Eventually we got to the man on the quad bike, it was Barry the race organiser with a big smile on his face because he could see the pain on ours. He pointed us in the direction of the next checkpoint which was only 3 miles away. More hills & more toadstools covered in grass & we were atcheckpoint 2. This was the first time we were to see our drop bags. A couple of ham sandwiches, a Turkish delight & a refill of the water later & we were off.

Along the road & then onto the next stupidly steep hill. This is where I started to fear for my safety, Jocelyn had gone quiet, it was my idea to persuade her to do this event as it would be fun. I could tell by the daggers that were coming out of her eyes, that she wasn't having the time of her life!

We run where we could & walked where we couldn’t for the next few miles until we arrived at the turn off point which was marked by a man & his tent. He travelled up the hill the night before & wild camped the night just to marshal the event. Full respect to him. Again we were pointed in the direction of a steep ascent & this was the start of the long out & back of about 15 miles. There was a nice paved section up there which was really nice to run on. More hills & more descents & then we were onto open moors. Noel had gone on slightly ahead of us & followed the track that is the Pennine Way. Guess what? He missed the bloody turn off! To be fair I was the only one with all the maps downloaded that still had battery power so I was
partly responsible for it but if I can apportion blame on someone else fair do's!

Instead of going back to the start of the path, we decided to go cross country as it was almost parallel with where we were. This was again unrunnable with ditches & toadstools trying to trip you up on every step. Back on track & we faced another steep hill but safe in the knowledge that this was the last hill until the checkpoint & turnaround point. There was a long downhill section to the car park & the checkpoint & it was nice to stretch the legs on the way down.

We had all run out of water on that section & the searing heat was showing no signs of relenting. Thankful that they had loads of water for us to re-hydrate on, we took advantage of this & drank loads, had something to eat, refilled out bottles etc. & we were ready for the off. 

Setting off again up the really long hill, my legs decided enough was enough & decided to both cramp up at the same time. I had to stop about 5 times going up that hill to rest & stretch off. We still had the best part of 20 miles to go & I started questioning whether I would be able to make it. I was slowing the others up & started to feel a bit guilty when they kept waiting for me although I was grateful for their support on the way back. I stretched off again at the top of the hill & attempted
to run again. I managed the downhill sections ok but as soon as we came to anything that was even a slight elevation, cramp started to kick in.

Noel suggested that we stopped for a rest at the mountain rescue hut that was just around the corner where we could have some food & hopefully that would help with the cramping. That hut never appeared & Noel come to the conclusion that someone must have moved it. 3 miles later & still no sign of the hut, we stopped at a cairn  for something to eat.  Well I stopped & thankfully my carers did too. I was struggling massively & started to think I had bitten off more than I can chew !

That’s a horrible feeling when you’ve trained hard & really put a lot of effort to prepare both mentally & physically for such an event. I had even gone quiet which is a sign that something is massively wrong. We still had more than a half marathon to go & I was broken. We set off again in pursuit of the fabled hut. It was slow & every step was painful but I had a quiet word with myself & with the encouragement of my teammates I was going to power through this & complete the challenge. Eventually we found the hut, “I didn’t think it was this far away" said Noel. After another rest there & a Penguin cake bar, we were off again & up another bloody hill! Seriously I was getting really p@$$@d off with hills now. They hurt me, even the downhill sections were getting the better of me. Before long we were back on the paved section & I even managed to run (hobble) most of it. This took us towards the man in the tent who pointed us onto the path that lead onto yes, you’ve guessed it, another humongous hill. Only another 4 miles of this torture to the next checkpoint. Most of this section is just a blur as I’ve tried to delete it from my memory apart from somehow we ended at the top of Wyndy Gill, the highest point of the run & we had some photos taken on Russell Cairn. 

Running was now really hard so I decided that the only way I was going to complete the challenge was to walk it. Thankfully there was no cut off times & Barry on his quad bike led the way for us as walker guy had dropped out with an injury & we were last on the hill. There was a nice downhill section off Wyndy Gill that would have been lovely to run. Before too long we were at the checkpoint where the drop bags were. Time for a sit down, re-hydrate & take some nutrition on board. The volunteer first aider gave me a sausage roll. I must have chewed the first bite for 5 minutes before the puff pastry was moist enough to swallow. After drinking the best part of 10 litres of fluid, I was still dehydrated, it was that hot! I gave up with the food & opted to drink loads instead. Only 6 miles to go. I wasn’t going to give up now. Although if it wasn’t for the
support from Jocelyn & Noel, I would have definitely called it a day at this point.

Only 2 big hills to go. The first one was huge, Noel was now in severe pain with a bad calf & I thought Jocelyn was going to stab me, you can take the girl out of Peterlee but you can’t take the Peterlee out of the girl! Once the hill was conquered there was a lovely downhill section towards the last checkpoint, this seemed to go on forever as our speed had slowed to a snails pace, mainly because of me. The next checkpoint wasn’t far away. The same 2 women were manning the checkpoint & had been there all day I felt a bit guilty as they were waiting patiently for us, they had given up their entire Sunday just so a few idiots could prance about the hills in the name of fun!

Safe in the knowledge that there was only one more real hill & 3 miles to go, Noel set off ahead of us & disappeared into the
distance. Jocelyn now had a foot full of blisters & was in serious discomfort. My legs were completely shot so we decided that we would walk the rest. There was a lovely section that went through some ferns that would have been great to run, shame. We approached the last hill, it was fairly steep but not very long compared to the previous thigh burners. Once we got over the brow of the hill we were relieved to see the road that leads to Alwinton & the finish. The final mile or so was all on quiet country roads & I’ve never been so happy to be back on tarmac. Noel was waiting for us at the end & took a photo of us as we approached. I can’t work out if we are both smiling or grimacing.

Barry was waiting at the end with the rest of his family & we got a round of applause off them all. It was then that we heard that an experienced ultra runner who was away recently running in the Alps had retired from the race, it was seriously that tough. That meant that Noel was 5th & Jocelyn & myself were joint 6th. Jocelyn was also the first woman finisher so got presented with a trophy for that too.

In summary, that is without doubt the toughest challenge I have ever faced, would I do it again? Well, stupid is my middle name!

Northumberland Coastal Marathon 1st July 2018 - Author: Ian Brown


There are a number of events held on the coastal paths of Northumberland so its best to say which one this is to avoid any confusion. It’s the one organised by the North East Marathon Club. 

As such, it is a low cost, no frills event supported mostly by a friendly bunch of Marathon enthusiasts. 

The date of the event changes each year to suit the tides and this year was held on 1st July. The concept is simple – start at Alnmouth, run north for 13.1 miles on coastal path (and beach), turn and run back. No mile markers or marshals (except, of course, the guy who stands at Long Nanny Bridge, the half way point, to turn you around). 

There are 3 water stations which the runners pass twice, so 6 opportunities to stock up with water, Jelly Babies and other treats, which is much appreciated. Sunday 1st July was a warm day and I decided to carry my own bottle and have it filled at each water station to make sure I was well hydrated. Well worth the minor inconvenience of carrying a bottle. 

There is no running on road (unlike the 14 mile Coastal Run) although I calculated that there is about 7 miles on wet sand, the rest on the coastal path. The race only attracts about 60 to 70 runners and times can extend to over 5 hours, so the race can accommodate any runner capable of doing an off-road marathon within 6 hours.

Despite it being a bit warm this year, I recorded my best time for this event (3:31:36) which placed me 2nd overall. I would definitely recommend this race to anyone who enjoys low key events in scenic locations along with friendly, like-minded runners.


Tweed Striders Curfew Run 4th July 2018: Author: Richard Heslop

An Ode to Pie & Peas.
 

The Tynedale 10k. My first, and to this date, fastest 10k race ever from back in 2016. I was running sub 25 minute 5K's and was 'persuaded' by she-who-shall-not-be-named-but-everyone-knows-who-it-is-anyway to sign up for a 10k. I wanted 45 minutes or under and was delighted to bring in a time of 42:40 and a slight niggle in my right calf. A week later I managed to turn that niggle into what was eventually diagnosed as a torn muscle and was promptly out for five months. 

Last year, I dropped out of the race literally the day before with nerve damage (right leg again). So 2018, with a marathon in my legs, with a winter of trail and fell running behind me, with the training of two running clubs and a tri club, with probably being in my best running form EVER, surely, surely THIS would be the year I'd beat my time at the Tynedale 10k, maybe even get a sub 40?

No!

No? because I'd booked my holiday that week! But, it was ok, they didn't have the pie and peas, so, that wasn't too bad, right? Then they did have the pie and peas...so...maybe, just maybe, I could drive back from Berwick for it? But, that seemed a bit excessive and silly, so I looked for another event near where I was staying...and found one. 

The Curfew Run, a race around the walls of Berwick, just over a mile, the idea being to beat thirteen chimes of the town hall clock, and organised by Tweed Striders. So I signed up, and felt a bit better about missing out on pie and peas.

A word about Tweed Striders; they're a lovely, friendly running club. I'd trained with them before on an insane beach sprints session and loved it. If you're ever holiday in the Berwick/Tweedmouth area and fancy a run, look them up. They meet, like Stocksfield Striders, on Tuesdays and Thursdays (6:30 and 7:00pm respectively) at The Swan Leisure centre.

Race night arrived, the same night as Tynedale 10k, and I turned up a bit early to pin my number on, take it off, pin it back on, take it off, pin it back, and figure that's as straight as it's going to get. 

There are two parts to the Curfew Run, a family fun run at half seven, then the main run at eight. Both follow the same route, and I admit my jaw dropped a bit when the first kids brought in times of about seven and a half minutes. Everyone was back within around fifteen minutes and I made my way to the start of my race.

I'd been a bit nervous anyway, which I always see as a good thing, means I'm not too cocky, but suddenly I was hit with a wave of anxiety that rocked me. I have walked the race route DOZENS of times, it's one of the first and last things I do when visiting Berwick (my parents have a cottage there) but all knowledge of it merrily skipped and danced out of my mind. I prayed it was well marshalled, I might get lost, and weren't there gates to open?! And a hill? Where was the hill?! And how do you gauge a short race like that? Take off at full tilt, or build up speed slowly?! These confusions were interrupted by pre-race announcements thanking the organisers and sponsors, we all applauded and were then told there was another thirty seconds. Good gods, I hadn't warmed up! Should I have? Do I normally? Five second countdown, the start line dropped, and Billy, I just penked it!

Of course it was well marshalled, of course all the gates had been opened, of course it was impossible to get lost, of course I ran my first kilometer in under four minutes and panicked that I hadn't hit the hill so slowed a bit. The course hill, Bank Hill, is like a less steep version of Beaumont, in that when you think you're at the top, you aren't, there's a little bit more to go. I took three or four other competitors on that hill (hill sprints people - they're invaluable training sessions!) and fully expected them to sail past me again on the flat, but I never saw them again. And I must nearly be at the end, because there's a group of spectators standing by the track, so I start my sprint finish and take another runner...but it isn't the finish, of course it's just a group of people watching. The finish is a bit further on, at which the point the runner I've just shot past, starts his much more sensibly timed sprint, and glides past me.

At the end I laugh, shake his hand, and ask him if he’d mind taking my post-race picture. 


As we're chatting away, his son runs up to excitedly tell him he finished 17th, turns out his wife is marking positions at the finish, and we have a mutual friend in Tweed Striders. Official results won't be out ‘til Saturday (It's Thursday afternoon as I write this, sitting on beach in glorious sunshine), but finishing 18th out of about 150 with a strava time of 8:24, I'm happy with that.

I missed you all, and my extended Prudhoe Plodders and Castle Tri clubfriends, more than I missed the pie and peas. From the photos and results it looks like the Tynedale 10k 2018 was a great event.


At only £6, with a reusable drawstring bag containing a medal, t shirt, and treats, the Curfew Run is fantastic value and brilliantly supported and organised. If you ever get the chance to give it a try, it's definitely worth it, I'd certainly race the bells again.

Thank you, Tweed Striders, you put on one hell of a show.



The “Halve van de Haar” - A Knightly Run around a Noble Castle


2 April 2018, Haarzuilens, the Netherlands - Author: Rinke Vinkenoog

Bamburgh, Alnwick, Raby – the Northumbrians love their castles. But who in our county has ever set foot on the grand estate of Castle “De Haar” in Haarzuilens, far away across the North Sea in the Kingdom of the Netherlands…?

On a grey and wet Easter Monday morning the Vinkenoog-Duim Clan made their way to this picturesque village to tackle the 10 km run. Jelle had injured himself and could not take part, but we kept it in the family by giving his ticket to cousin Martin, once a fearsome marathon runner. Haarzuilens lies on the West side of Utrecht, at the border of my “home turf”, the region where I spent part of my youth. We expected a local run with a handful of participants. Wrong… upon arrival it became clear this was a Big Event. A whole herd of cows had been evacuated to make place for a car park of Herculean size. From there, it turned out to be a 20 minute walk to the actual start! Martin, the sly fox, had come on bike and could park next to the pavilion.

For some reason La Duim left her running shoes in the car. After explaining why this was actually my fault, I was sent back to collect them. Well, at least I could not complain about a lack of warming up… I arrived back just in time. After the usual huddle and shuffle in the starting area there was movement: we were off!

I must stress at this point that we are absolutely not competitive. Running is pleasure for all, and taking part is more important than winning. Every runner is a friend we haven’t met yet, and whether they end in front or behind us is not important. It’s just the way we are. Sandra and I simply don’t care about competition – as long as we can beat each other. The first 5 km were tough. Whatever I tried, I couldn’t shake that little Duim off. 

Maybe I should have added a bit more lead to her running shoes, or slipped a handful of extra pebbles in her pocket…? However, halfway down the race I got into the rhythm and managed to crank up the speed, and finally created some distance between my better half and me. 

Meanwhile, we enjoyed the race. Though near a highly urbanized area, the route contained some jewels of Dutch countryside, and at times was a trip down memory lane. We ran past lovely old farms in low lying meadows, and along dikes bordered by old pollarded willows. It reminded me of the days I used to pollard willows myself, on farms not far from here. In Vleuten, I was tempted to stop at the old Romanesque church to admire the architecture, but the thought of Sandra catching up made this impossible. Along it went, past the medieval castle tower of Den Ham, back unto the castle estate of De Haar.

This vast castle was owned by Baron van Zuylen van Nijvelt van de Haar (how about that for a name – beats “Smith” or “Jones” by a mile or two.) In its heyday, Maria Callas and Coco Chanel were frequent guests here. The last mile actually took us straight through the castle. If Coco’s ghost was watching, I hope she approved of the cacophony of running outfits streaming through the courtyard. I was wearing a subtle, but rather risqué combination of a Navy top (Stocksfield Striders own) combined with azure shorts on ultramarine shoes. Sandra was her usual elegant self, whereas cousin Martin’s textile betrayed the dress sense of the Neanderthaler.

A last forest drive led us into the village of Haarzuilens, where we were first greeted by Jelle and then by the local Hoom-pa band, whose wooden shoes on the brick pavement almost made more noise than their musical attempts. A final sprint, and we were there! Wet, tired but very happy with the day we all agreed this had been a great run. Who knows – next year again…? 




Paris Marathon Report April 8th 2018 - Author: David Leat


I am back safely from the Paris Marathon, my first overseas race, running for Team Kenya which works on Girls Education & Safety and Business Opportunities for Women (see link at the bottom). 

The admin is one of the hardest parts as you have to get a Medical Certificate (£25?), download a ‘convocation’ and take these and your passport to an out of the way Running Expo to get your Race Number before 7 pm on the Saturday evening.

I put my finishing time as 4.15. which was a bit of a mistake. It was a warmish day, getting to about 20C, but I used all the shade I could find, wore a hat, visited all the water stations, water buckets and hoses and managed to stay cool enough. 

The second half was slower, partly because I ran into back of earlier starting groups (you are set off at 15-20 minutes intervals), many of whom were walking – hence the mistake. However I did not hit the ‘wall’, there were lovely cheering crowds, and I finished with what I would call a sprint in 3.49.11.  Very happy with that. 

It is well inside the London Marathon ‘Good for Age’ entry time for 65+, so I will mull that one over.  The medal is very bling. 

Unfortunately my phone had run out of storage and jammed, so you are spared photos.

I would be delighted with any further sponsorship contributions at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/david-leat-oap and you can find details of Team Kenya’s excellent work in Ndhiwa at https://www.teamkenya.org.uk/ , it is an impressive local charity.


Allendale Challenge  – Saturday 7th April 2018 – Author: Mark Russell


Right, let’s get one thing straight, the idea of doing a marathon has never interested me & still doesn’t.

My idea of a marathon is 26.2 miles of constantly pounding the tarmac at a consistent pace for hour after hour with nothing more than the feet of the people in front of you as a view.

I sort of fell into the trap of entering the Allendale Challenge, completely by accident, 2 weeks before the event, when the Thrunton Trail Half Marathon was postponed due to bad weather. I had trained upto the half marathon distance & was really looking forward to the challenge of my first ever trail half marathon. As many of you know, I enjoy trail running because of the “natural breaks” you get (be it a steep hill, a stream crossing, a fence to climb over or a gate to negotiate etc.) I also like the fact that the multi-terrain aspect of trail running is far less boring than road running & part of the essential kit you need to carry is a picnic (although this is officially described as emergency food).

While I was in a bit of a strop about the event being postponed, as fate would have it, a link for the Allendale Challenge popped up on Facebook & in a moment of stupidity I thought it sounded like a good idea.

Anyway, I was now committed to doing the event even though I had never ran anywhere near that distance before in my life. There was no real time to train up to that distance either. The only things I could do to help myself in the 2 weeks running up to race was to lose a bit weight & change the way I looked at the run. I decided to refer to it as “A day out on the fells” rather than a 26 mile run.

One thing that really spurred me on to complete this challenge was the kind offer from Ian Brown to run it with me even though he could easily do it way faster than I could ever dream of so a big thank you goes to Ian for all the support.

Saturday 7th April, race day.

We arrived in Allendale with plenty of time to register, collect your checkpoint card & mingle with fellow runners in the village hall. Nice to see a few people that you already know that are as crazy as you. My rucksack was packed with all the necessary kit, hat, gloves, waterproofs, map, compass, first aid kit, water & more importantly, picnic.

The Allendale Challenge is done as either a walk or a run over the same course with the walkers (about 450 of them) setting off at 8am followed by the runners at 10am (About 150 of us).

I had heard some horror stories about the event but still went into it with an open mind, what’s the worst that could happen. I had seen the elevation profile of the run & decided that a run/walk strategy would be implemented. Run when you can, walk up the hills to conserve energy for later in the run.

All the competitors gathered in the market square for the 10am start & on the dot of 10 we were off. A nice little downhill section to ease the legs in is always a nice start to any run & this was no exception. The short downhill soon turned into a longer uphill road section, not too steep but a nice hill to get the blood flowing & a chance to take the jacket off.

The weather forecast was good for the start of the run but rain was forecast for 12 o’clock so I broke my habit of ignoring advice & took appropriate clothing (shorts are appropriate right !) We soon turned off the road section & headed up a gentle incline on a nice dry track that took us to the first checkpoint, The Chimneys. On the right side of the track is a man made ditch which must have been used to transport something down off the Fells in times gone by. According to the O.S. map it’s an Old Flue & in parts the whole cylindrical sections made out of stone still stand.

Arriving at the first checkpoint we needed to get our cards stamped by the volunteers from the mountain rescue team. This event is a big fund raiser for them & wouldn’t go ahead if they didn’t give up their free time to stand around for hours in the cold for the benefit of the competitors. Full respect & a big thank you to all the volunteers.

After the first checkpoint was a short trail section before turning right onto a short downhill road section. A welcome relief after the climb up to the chimneys. The next section was the first taste of mud but on the entry into the field was also the first bit of snow to run through. Across a muddy field & still going downhill. The pleasure of the mud was short lived & soon we found ourselves on another downhill road section & over a little bridge at Spartywell. 

This was the low point of the run, not because I was suffering from fatigue or anything, but because it was the bottom of the world’s biggest hill & the next section was the climb up to the next checkpoint on the top of Hard Rigg. The start of the climb was on road but this soon turned onto a track that was covered in loose rocks & slippy stones & it went on for as far as the eye could see.  It was impossible to run any of this section so it was a good time to conserve energy & walk. Eventually the checkpoint was in sight & we even managed a little jog in excitement!

By this point we had already caught & passed quite a few of the walkers & there were lots of them marking out the route ahead. The next section was the start of the peat bogs & this is where things got a bit interesting. The fields that we had to cross were soaked in standing water on top of moss & grass intermingled with soft peat bogs. Being the Gung-Ho type of person, I decided rather than carefully negotiate my way around the bogs, I would go route one & hope for the best. It was like playing a game of Russian Roulette. The peat bogs are about 3 feet deep, I found out the hard way.........twice!

By now the rain that was forecast had arrived & brought its friend the wind. It is quite exposed on the top of the fells & I was happy that I brought my big coat. After what seemed an eternity, sinking, crawling, climbing & falling we arrived at the next checkpoint which was also the halfway point of the event. They were serving tea & Jaffa Cakes in the refreshments tent. Either I had died in the peat bogs & gone to heaven or this event knew I was coming!

After the welcome break & after snaffling a couple of sandwiches from my picnic we were ready to head on into the next installment of peat bogs. Again these were ridiculously wet & in sections, covered in snow, 2 foot deep in places. The next checkpoint was at Killhope Law & is the highest point of the route at 673 metres. The weather was still not in our favour so we wasted no time in descending the long downhill section towards the next checkpoint at Stag Hill. This section was a mixture of trail & track & it was a welcome relief to be able to run again. As we arrived at the checkpoint, a nice lady in the refreshment tent offered me a cup of tomato soup. They had no bread to dunk in the soup so I improvised with Jaffa Cakes.

The next section was a very nice scenic route along the river to Spartylea & then onto what is known as The Long Drag. Now there are 2 things you need to know about The Long Drag. First of all it’s long, secondly it’s a drag. We were now 20 miles in & I was in unknown territory as far as endurance running goes so even though it wasn’t very steep, I decided that it was best to run/walk this section, picking points to run to then walking for a bit. Repeat that process several times & we were at the next checkpoint at Ladle Well. Another chance for a cup up tea & yes, you’ve guessed it, Jaffa Cakes.

Only the equivalent of parkrun to go. Yes but parkrun isn’t uphill in 3" of mud followed by crossing what resembled a World War One battlefield. After about 1.5 miles of jumping, sliding, crawling & falling in the mud, we eventually caught our first glimpse of civilisation in about 20 miles when we saw a house which was the turning point on the road & the start of the descent into Allendale.  

I never though I would be this happy to run on tarmac after my comments in the first paragraphs but I was. On the way into Allendale, it was a great relief to see my support team (Katharine) waiting at the side of the road to cheer us home.

We ran all the way back to the village hall to check back in at the finish in a time of 6 hours & 30 mins. That might not sound like a very quick time for a marathon but this isn’t your normal marathon. This is an event, a day out on the fells. It has everything that nature can throw at you, hills, mud, snow, peat bogs, hills, rain, wind, water did I mention hills.

All in all this is a fantastic event & I understand that it’s not for everyone but if you ever want to challenge yourself against nature, I can’t imagine there are many events that are as tough as this to do.

Would I do it again? Sign me up now!

Finally I would like to thank Ian Brown for helping me complete this. He is the most patient man I know!


The Duegar Nightcrawl - Saturday 24th February 2018. - Author - Nic Nicholson


When I signed up to this night crawl months ago, I don’t hink I really appreciated what I was letting myself in for. But the panic soon set in. How on earth would a relatively new runner (who could barely get up Hammerite bank without passing out), run 10 miles through the Simonside hills, in the dark and up the equivalent of about 7 Hammerites in the first 4 miles? I
won’t lie, I nearly backed out a few times - but I did it, I survived and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Standing at the starting line, with my borrowed trail pack full of borrowed essentials on my back and with my Strider buddies by my side - my panic thankfully turned to excited energy (and maybe a little hysteria). As we set off - immediately uphill - we were passed by 99 percent of the crowd.  Me and my running buddy, Louise, were pretty much last within 2 minutes of starting. Plodding up the first hill we quickly agreed on our strategy: walk / run when we can on the way up, and make up time
on the way back down. 


The way up was slow going, but largely uneventful. We climbed up a few country lanes, crossed some very muddy fields to get to the 2 mile cheering squad consisting of the lovely Kathryn Russell and pooch. Onward and upward on narrow stone paths and rugged steps, we climbed and levelled, climbed and levelled… and climbed some more.  Although we couldn’t appreciate the views in the dark, the trail of head torches snaking up the hill ahead of us and then the lights of Rothbury down below us was quite an amazing sight. We were slow and steady but took great pride in squeezing past quite a lot of dawdling “runners” who had clearly overcooked the hills. I do think poor Louise, however, was a tad sick of hearing me say “this MUST be the top now”, only to find yet another climb ahead.

It was, unfortunately, at this point I realized that my bargain £6 head torch was not up to the challenge as it faded to a dim glow. But luckily, having laughed at the start about being over prepared with a head torch and a chest torch, I wasn’t plunged into complete darkness. 

So, after passing a lonely but dedicated marshal with a dog and a little speaker sending out spooky noises (the Duegar??), we had finally reached the top! Hoorah! Time to pick up the pace! 

Or maybe not. Time to carefully pick our way down what was a very steep “technical descent” of icy stones and jagged rocks, with the added joy of having to manually point my chest torch downwards to check my footing. But we did have a good giggle when we realised we had reached the dizzying pace of 26 minute miles at this point!

The next adventure, after almost missing a turn (I believe a few did actually go in the wrong direction for a while), was what seemed to be a trail/stream towards a forest. We tried pick up the pace but slowed again after I hit the floor with a graceful skid on a patch of thick ice. But once into the forest, we were finally into the type of trail running I was more used to. We had to concentrate to spot the guide flags as by this point we were completely alone. No sign of anyone either in front or behind. It was quite eerie but still strangely enjoyable. Unfortunately I slipped again and landed like a not so graceful sack of spuds this time. I knew I wasn’t really injured but I did need a minute or so to pull myself together, get off the floor, and assess the damage (luckily no more than a badly bruised behind!).  I like to think I am generally quite sure footed, but this definitely brought home the potential risks of trail running, and reinforced the necessity of carrying the emergency kit - just in case.

By this point we had been running and chatting quite merrily by ourselves for quite a while - and I have to admit it is all a bit of a blur. I remember running on roads for a while, searching for flags and doubting our route. I remember spotting a vague light behind us and feeling annoyed that someone may be catching us up (they didn’t!!). And then I remember the lovely marshals at the water station who provided us with words of encouragement and jelly babies.

What I do remember well is the little mini celebration we had at 8.2 miles - my longest distance EVER!!!!! Just before my watch battery died.

As we headed back down the final icy hill towards the end, it became apparent that our cheering squad had quite rightly got sick and gone home! A few hardy volunteers pointed us in the right direction (which was a bit unclear) and cheered us over an anticlimactic finish line.  So we had finished without collapsing on the hills, falling off a cliff, getting lost in the woods or being eaten by a Duegar - and it was great!

After finishing, we joined in with the buzzing atmosphere at the Tomlinson café for a celebratory hot chocolate and slice of cake (we forgot to ask for our free mulled wine…) before heading home.

Overall it was a challenging experience - but at no point did I feel out of my depth. It was well organised with some very dedicated and hardy volunteers / marshals dotted around the course.  I would maybe hope for a few more flags,
better finish line and bigger t-shirts for next year (I had to sweet talk the lovely lady to give me a larger ladies t-shirt after failing miserably to squeeze into the medium I had ordered L). But all in all it left me with a huge sense of achievement and some cracking bruises to be proud of. 

Would I recommend it YES. Will I be doing it again- definitely.

I must give huge kudos to the runners/mountain goats who were able to fly around the course with blistering times – including our very own striders Hezzy, Paul, Mark, and Jo (with the lovely Leila by her side). Credit also to Mr Kelleher (who stepped up to fill a poorly Hollys shoes, who had stepped up, in turn, up to fill an injured Janes shoes) who came an impressive 7th. But biggest shout out goes to Louise. Thanks for getting me round and lighting the way with your head torch. 

Same time next year?


Endurance Life Northumberland Coastal Marathon 24th February 2018 - Author: David Leat

This was planned as part of my training for the Paris Marathon on 8th April – a chance to prove I can run the
distance, as I sometimes doubt it.  In fact it is 27 miles.  For Paris I am running for Team Kenya https://www.teamkenya.org.uk/, a NE charity that works for girls’ education and economic and social
empowerment for women, so any sponsorship very welcome https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/david-leat-oap.

You register at Bamburgh Castle and get transported to Alnwick Castle.  It is a trail race so you have to carry essential items such as drink, hat/buff, phone and money. It was a cold day, with most people in 2-3 layers, including mandatory wind proof jacket. 2 people were running with dogs, including a lady with 2 French ‘Bloodhounds’, who did an unplanned sprint start - the dogs seemed to have found a scent!

‘Take it steady’ is always my mantra, so from a slow start I gradually picked up some places on the section to Alnmouth
(check point 1).  Then it is straight north up the coast to further checkpoints at Howick and Newton.  I always grab some jelly beans, biscuit, banana etc. and a drink as it is so easy to run out of energy, but at the Newton checkpoint (18 miles, so 9 to go) the dunes through Embleton and Low Newton had taken their toll and I wondered if I would finish.  My strategy in such circumstances is to count my steps – it is about 640 left footsteps to a mile.  The other thing I try is chatting to people you catch up, it distracts you and them. 


At Seahouses before the official checkpoint, I stopped for a longer drink, and then topped up at the checkpoint with about 2.5 miles to go. It was mostly windswept hard sand from here. Once back at Bamburgh you have to climb the dunes. 
I was walking up them when the photographer appeared over a dune, so I had to pretend I could still run, before reverting to a hands-on-knees crawl up the last incline and then my imitation of a sprint to the finish line inside the castle.  Elation.  I was given an immediate print out of my time, 4.22.13, less than a minute slower than last year, so I will take that. To get back to the car park you have to head south – straight into the biting cold wind, so I was shivering once I reached the car.  I am so glad we had not been running into the wind.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this event, it is well organized and has great scenery.  There are also half marathon and
ultra-marathon options, but being a trail race you have to accept that times are probably 20-25% slower than a road race. Before and after photos below.


 


Send your reports to David Reed