Race Reports

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