As a youngster, I would get home from School, get changed and go out to play with my pals.
Now I'm older, I get home from work, get changed and go out to play with my pals, but now I call it training.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

So good they named it twice

During these last 15 years or so of being a runner I have many great memories of places I've ran and individual runs I have completed;

  • My debut (and fastest ever) marathon in London 2004  
  • 2009 Boston marathon, 
  • the 2005 Derwentwater 10, 
  • my wins in Langdale Marathon 2007 and in the Lakeland 50mile Ultra 2012 
  • and of course more recently, my Bob Graham Round.

then last week one simple 8 miler sneaked its way onto the list.

I was enjoying a fabulous trip to New Yorks Manhattan island. It was a holiday first and foremost but as almost always, I like to run on holiday, if not quite train properly. 

Having been to the city twice previously, I had only ran there once - in the NYC Marathon, which, was a fantastic experience I will long remember. But it was a poor performance by me that day so doesn't rank so highly in my all time list.

Having grown up seeing the skyscrapers of New York on TV, when I first got there and saw the city skyline from the aeroplane window I was somewhat excited to see it for real. Then we took a cab from the airport and saw very little more until going out onto the balcony of the hotel, when 


Times Square was right there in front of me. Electronic billboards flashing, so many, so bright, they dazzled. And leading away into the distance was Broadway and 7th Ave, lined with high rises.  

I was so excited!

Later, when running the marathon through Brooklyn, I looked across to my left and noted the Manhattan skyline again - The mass of tall buildings  downtown then a bit of a lull as you looked North, until midtown where the Empire State Building stands proudly above all others. North of there  toward the Park and once again the towers are numerous, filling the sky. 

In Manhattan I am the absolute epitome of a tourist. Craning my neck as I gaze upward on every corner, camera clicking away endlessly at yellow taxi cabs and iconic buildings.

But one thing I hadn't done was set foot off the island of Manhattan. And although I had seen the famous bridges from a distance and had been driven below their massive on/off ramps on a bus tour, I knew that more than anything else this trip I wanted to run over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.

Earlier in the holiday I'd been in Chinatown and noted the start of the long ramp up onto the Manhattan Bridge, so I knew exactly where I needed to go to leave Manhattan. And I presumed that once in Brooklyn I would easily locate the 'on' for the Brooklyn bridge to get me back again.

It ended up being the final full day of the holiday when I got to do the run. I had been for one run already, a superb 12 mile tour all the way around the Southern half which saw me finishing as it grew dark - the buildings of Manhattan becoming illuminated one by one to my right as I ran North, whilst to my left was the Hudson with the Jersey shore across the water.  A fantastic run itself, but nothing compared to my Two Bridges run.....

I set off at 0630 to allow better progress through what would be very busy streets if I had waited til later. It had been well below freezing overnight and was not due to raise above zero at all that day. I had a hat and gloves and also my lightweight waterproof but no tights. My legs were very red very quickly.

It was about 3 miles to Canal St in Chinatown. 40 odd streets to cross but luckily only about 2 where I had to wait for traffic before crossing. There were very few people around. The sun hadn't yet shown its face but it was light. This 3 miles was itself was a memorable route as I ran right past the front doors of the Empire State and the Flatiron buildings. New Yorkers were few and far between at this time on a Sunday, and apart from those couple of busy roads it felt a bit like the Will Smith movie where he is the only non zombie person living there. 

Despite being on the pedestrian walkway over Manhattan Bridge, it was an age before I was anywhere near the water it crossed. Looking down through the fence were 3 and 4 story buildings with windows facing the bridge, which if a person should look out of, all they would really see would be a mass of ironwork towering way above them, blocking out the sun. 

Getting onto the bridge proper coincided with my first glimpse of the sun that day. It was to my left through the iron girders of the bridge so was constantly dazzling me then disappearing as I ran on. It was to be a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and scarcely a cloud  - thus, the reflections in the building of downtown Wall St area were blinding as I looked out to my right across the water. 

Then a subway train came over the lower deck which was at the same level as my walkway. It seems almost ridiculous now to talk about it but even this was incredibly exciting at the time. I was awestruck (as well as quite cold) and in my excitement managed to 'video' the passing train without pressing 'record'. oops!

Then I began the second half of the bridge, downhill into Brooklyn. I was leaving Manhattan, on foot, but only briefly.

In Brooklyn it got much colder due to absolutely no sun managing to get between the buildings to light and warm me up. I stopped to check the satnav on my phone and quickly found the pedestrian start point onto the Brooklyn Bridge. 

It curves around gently left until you suddenly get your first glimpse of one of the stone towers that hold the whole thing up. There was a sense of anticipation within me. Would it be as good as I hoped? Would it be everything I expected? or would it be like the Manhattan bridge where you can only see properly in one direction and then only through the wire?

And then I was on it. I was running across the Brooklyn Bridge!

It was absolutely fantastic! Much better the Manhattan Bridge. The walkway was the highest deck with cars passing either side and below. The sides were about waist height, so apart from the suspension wires I had clear views in every direction. The deck was reminiscent of a pier, made of thick planks with some decent sized gaps between them. It felt very old fashioned compared to the utilitarian narrow concrete fenced in access across the Manhattan bridge. 

With still very few people around, perhaps about 4 on the bridge the whole time I was on it, I realised that by propping my phone up on a seat  I could then video myself running. I've no idea how busy it might be in the middle of a typical day, but I don't imagine it would be a wise idea to leave an iPhone in plain sight then run off into the distance.

It was almost a sadness to finally run off the bridge and back into the streets of Manhattan. But it had been incredibly cold, and continually taking off gloves to use the camera meant my hands were close to numb. So it was nice to get running properly again and be warmed a little.

The few miles retracing back to my hotel were still weirdly quiet with just the occasional shopowner setting up. Back in the hotel lobby I must have looked like a crazy Englishman with my bare red legs and short shorts when it was minus whatever outside. But hey, I didn't care, I had just completed a run of my life, had just fulfilled an ambition of the last few years and it had been everything I imagined and much much more.

It may come as a surprise to learn that a through and through Cumbrian fell-loving chap like me could bear to run at all in a city like New York. But much as I love Cumbria, I love running, anywhere. And to be able to do it in such an iconic place, a place I have spent my whole life seeing on TV, films and magazines was just the most amazing thing to be able to do.

Running frees you. Running opens up possibilities.  90mins of running exploring a new place shows you what might take 4-5 hours by walking. Running is so much more than a way to keep fit.

and New York is so much more than a big American City.

The Strava GPS for the run is here

and below is a la'al video I made from my running clips and some photos. (handily, Jay Z and Alicia Keys were sat picnicking on the Brooklyn Bridge when I was there so I asked them to sing that song. He was a bit off with me but she couldn't have been nicer and duly obliged).............

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Brampton to Carlisle race. Recent History (2011 - 2012)

2011. 23rd place 56 min 52 secs.
A full year of injury free running and I was in decent nick once again. I can remember this being a real race between several of us with myself, Chris Neil, Harry Earl, Josh Hebson, Ste Hebb' Plucky, George Thompson etc all being in an early group together. One by one we were spat out with Hebb, Harry and Geo leaving me, Neil and Josh behind. Plucky had fell off the pace much earlier, and then me and Josh traded blows until I eventually got the better of him and narrowly edged Neil to the line.
A great race and surely much to do with a decent result.

Jared Hagos won in 47.51. The fastest winning time since I began running this race in 1998.

2011 result CLICK

2012. 32nd place in 58mins 50 secs.
A good year pre- Brampton. In June I won the Karrimor Trail Marathon then also won the Lakes 50 in July. But at  the end of the summer I suffered an injury, which, didn't stop me running but which hurt an awful lot. Both Achilles tendons suffered after I ran a silly and uncharacteristic  speed session whilst on holiday in August. Back home, one day in September they hurt so much that I stopped running and walked 7 miles home, taking two hours. Handily, it was a nice day weather wise if not in terms of my mood by the time I got home.
I never had to stop running/training, and handily I was ok when running slower and on soft ground so I even won a 50k trail event in October.
I be honest now and say that I have no recollection of the race merely 50 weeks ago. Yet I can remember almost every mile of the 2004 Derwentwater 10.

2012 result CLICK

2013. ??nd place in ??mins ?? secs.
This has been a good year so far, one of the best actually. I completed the Bob Graham Round in June and a couple of marathon under my belt too. Track mile times and my 10 mile training route have been recorded as the fastest I've managed for a year or two so fingers crossed for a good Brampton.
As things stand right now, with 14 days to go to the Brampton to Carlisle race 2013, I think I am in decent shape and I have every confidence of being at least a couple of minutes, and hopefully 3 or 4 inside the hour.


Brampton to Carlisle race. The Wilderness Years (2005-2010)

2005. 21st place 56 minutes 27 secs.
A proper injury finally stopped me in my tracks in 2005. The glory days were behind me and I would never run as fast again. But that didn't stop me trying.....

The injury was with me in March, but I didn't know what it was until May. Until then I had simply been missing lots of running and enduring pain when I did run. The 8 week layoff I was then advised to take to let my injury clear up was at least partly helped by the fact it was by then summertime and I could ride my bike to try to keep fit. The day the 8 weeks was over I had entered 25 mile Time Trial and managed to slip inside the hour by a handful of seconds. Immediately afterwards I ran up Skiddaw in celebration (and painfully hobbled back down as it was really still quite sore).

Once I was back into full running and training mode it was a case of damage limitation and a 56 was a fair result given the previous 6 months of interrupted training. Plucky beat me this year, by two seconds!

Mike Scott took a second victory with 52.22 and in 7th place was a certain Mr R Lightfoot with  53:42. Very good Ricky, but not quite up to my standard yet.

2005 result CLICK

2006. 30th place 57 minutes 08 secs.
My overriding memory of the 2006 race was the competition with Plucky. In the end he beat me by 2 seconds (yes, again).
It's obvious from the result that neither of us was fighting fit at that stage, but we were certainly well matched and ran the entire 10 miles together. In the 2007 London Marathon magazine there is a superb full page colour photo of the two of us running past the pub in Crosby on Eden. We didn't know the photo was to be used and were both delighted to discover it, in London, as we were flicking through the mag' after we had picked it up with our number at the Expo.
Its perhaps no surprise that Plucky outsprinted me. He is a year younger after all. Not so much more to say about 2006.

2006 result CLICK

2007. 35th place 58 minutes 32 secs.
I'm not sure why I didn't do better in 2007 really. It was , after all, the year I ran a 2:43 Dublin marathon and won Langdale marathon. Perhaps those both being in Autumn meant I then eased right off training, or perhaps I had had more illness. Whatever. It was a nondescript result  and would immediately be glossed over if not for the fact that I can also remember this being the year young Graham Milly was keen to do well.....

I said I would do everything I could to help him to a fast time. I remember front running as hard as I could manage whilst ensuring Milly was safely tucked into the group. This was a tactic I knew would see me blow apart and get dropped. That is exactly what happened but Milly got his pb (58.16), so all was good.

Plucky remained very consistent with 56.08 and a certain Mr Marcus Scotney popped up in 10th place with 54.59. Ricky matched exactly my pb of 53.07 this year. So in 2007 the now World Champion was only as fast as Steve Angus (had been 3 years earlier)

2007 result CLICK

2008. 81st place 1hour 4 minutes 5 seconds.
I know exactly what happened in 2008..... I didn't do any training!
Well, I didn't do any training in the week and on a weekend I usually ran about 20 miles.
So when in the April I ran 3hrs and seconds in the London Marathon and decided that if I could run 3hr marathons without training properly I would just settle for that and enjoy all the extra free time not training provided me with.
But then in New York, (2 weeks prior to B2C) I ran to halfway in 1:29:59 but then took 2HOURS to complete the rest of the marathon.

"No Steve, you can't be a 3hr hour marathoner unless you train a bit harder than 20 miles once per week"

It was too late to do anything decent at Brampton and that's why I took so long to run it. I think it must also have been a really slow day for the race because only 33 people beat the hour (its usually about 60-70) and Ricky won in 53:29, which still put him after me in the all time list.
Plucky ran a 57 and Milly a 59

2008 result CLICK

2009. 29th place 53 minutes 3 seconds.

What a year! everyone ran fast. 145 under the hour!
The course was short due to flooding.
The results say it was 0.7 miles short of 10. If this is correct then Plucky and George Thompson ran times equal to sub 55 minutes. With respect to those two - that seems unlikely, so maybe it was actually shorter than 9.3.
In no doubt though is that I ran about 2 mins slower than Plucky, so not a very good run by me.
I had spent the year since B2C 2008 training hard and most importantly, training regularly and had then been pleased to run well inside 3 hours at Boston Marathon. Things were slowly picking back up and I have Milly to thank for training with me almost daily throughout this time.

2009 result CLICK

2010. 103rd place 1hour 4 minute 40 secs
It is probably unfair to include 2010 in a chapter entitled Wilderness Years, because I sustained another injury which saw me forced out for 8 weeks (stress fracture, same injury as 2005 but in other leg this time). And in the same vein it might also be unfair to have included 2005 too. But only the recorded times will be my judge and jury when I am 90 and by then looking back on 60 Bramptons.
I suppose I have actually been very lucky with injury and illness in relation to the B2C in that none of the problems shave stopped me running it.
This years race fell about two weeks after my 8 week layoff had ended. I had resumed running only very gradually and on grass mainly. I'd probably ran 5 times and got up to about 6 miles. Running 10 on tarmac was therefore quite inadvisable really and more than a little bit risky. But by this time I had long since noticed my appearance n the result sheet was a very long consecutive one and I wanted that to continue.
The first 5 miles of the race were fine - running at about 61/62 pace. But then things got tough and I dropped off the pace and struggled home. The injury wasn't exacerbated and I was able to continue my mini comeback.

In 2010 Ricky Lightfoot finally got that monkey off his back and moved ahead of me in the all time list with his 52.08 (3rd). And Graham Milly recorded a superb new pb of 56.53 (17th)

2010 result CLICK

Friday, November 1, 2013

Brampton To Carlisle Race. The Glory years (2002 - 2004)

2002. 18th position in 55mins 05 secs
The 2002 race was another 10 mile pb -thats 5 in a row. Only a little faster than in 2001 but a small nibble off a pb is the best way to do it - leaves you thinking you can take another small nibble off again in the future. Writing this in 2013 I can't recollect anything in particular about the race day itself but I do know that 2002 was the year I really began to make inroads with my running, when I started to get plenty of third and second places in races. And, as Plucky said one day when he saw me outsprinted by a 17yr old... "blimey! if that lad hadn't entered this race YOU would have won!!" Winning races wasn't something I had any experience of. I think I might have been about 8th in a cycle road race in 1996.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the 2002 event was THREE lads running inside 50 minutes.
2002 result CLICK

2003. 14th position in 55mins 46 secs
It had to happen. Nobody can continue getting faster every year, as I had done for the previous 5. The annoying thing was I SHOULD really have done. I was fitter than ever and on target to run a 54 minute Brampton. This is based  on my 56:39 result in the  hilly Derwentwater 10 which always falls 2 weeks prior to Brampton. The DW10 can be reliably considered to be 2 minutes slower than Brampton, so a 54 something seemed reasonable to me - it was 2 mins quicker and would also be a shaving off my pb. But disaster struck. After the DW10 I got a bout of sickness. V & D.  It had all cleared up by the time Brampton came round, but I hadn't trained, had hardly ran really, and had been severely depleted of fluids, bodyweight, and morale during the bad spell.
Although a long 55 was disappointing to me at the time, it was still a 55. Still 5:34 per mile pace. Well up the finishing order.

Notably, and certainly worth more of a mention than in the footnote, Mike Pluckrose ran 57:03!

Plucky had listened to me banging on about minutes per mile pace for several years. He'd seen the success I was enjoying, and had also taken up running a year or two earlier. I had paced him to beat the hour on  a lumpy course based out of Abbeytown and now here he was following in my footsteps, literally!

A few weeks after the 2003 B2C I decided that perhaps I would run a marathon the following year. Scotty had been doing them for a few years and would be training specifically for a marathon. And as we trained together I may as well too. I thought I'd enter one quite close to the London Marathon, but couldn't actually do London, because this was now November and its full by the summer.

Then at Christmas I found out that Border Harriers get given club numbers for their athletes to run London. They had three and only two people wanted one so I got the third....

I was going to run a marathon!!
In London!!!
The London Marathon!!!!

I could easily become side-tracked and spout on ad infinitum about the highs and lows of my 9 years of marathon running. But that would be to digress from this Brampton to Carlisle blog. Suffice to say  that the London Marathon (or more specifically the training I completed in preparation for it) defined the whole of the following year and certainly helped me achieve what I believe  was my ultimate potential, in 2004.

2003 result CLICK

2004. 9th position in 53mins  07secs
Theres a lot to write about the 2004 race - pull up a chair....


Unlike some of the previous (now 15) years of running Brampton to Carlisle 10 mile race, I can remember quite a lot about the 2004 version. The story of 53.07 can be traced back to a winter of marathon training which then culminated in a superb (in my opinion) debut performance exceeding every expectation. After the marathon I found racing to be much harder work than before it. Legs had nothing to offer - even a month afterwards! The summer came and went, and the ideal, cooler running conditions returned and so did the big 2 autumn 10 milers.

Despite feeling off form I had still been trying to race, and certainly training hard. Even so I never imagined I was in shape to run  a short 55 minutes at Derwentwater. But I did. 55:13! I only had to knock 9 seconds off that time on the proven-to-be-2-mins-quicker Brampton course to record a new pb.

I actually ran quite poorly. I set off TOO fast and really struggled the final 2 or 3 miles. The toughest part of the B2C is the 8th mile which includes the long drag up to the the filling station,  but at 7 miles the average pace was still indicating  a sub 52 minute result was on the cards, so to lose over a minute on that pace in the final 3 miles is a sign of poor pace judgement, despite that drag to come.
If any proof were needed to support my statement that this was a poor run by me - Eddie Simpson of Preston beat me by 3 seconds in the DW10, and by about 70 seconds this day.

But hey, they only take your time at the end of the race and that was 53.07. I'm really proud to have ran that time. it was an astonishing amount of time to knock off my pb and its a pb which still stands up very well against some of the top local runners nowadays. In fact, in the B2C since 2004 my time has been beaten by Border Harriers just four times, by two men....
Mike Scott 52.22  (2005)
Mike Scott 52.28 (2006)
James Douglas 50:33 (2010)
James Douglas 51:04 (2011)

In the era of the running boom my time would not have featured anywhere, but I can't help when I was born or that I only took up running after those glory days were over. 53.07 is a very good time for 10 miles. I can't see how I could ever run as fast as that again so I'm milking it for all its worth.

2004 result CLICK

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Brampton to Carlisle Race. The Early Years (1998 - 2001)

The Brampton to Carlisle 10 mile roadrace is coming up very soon. I love it. My favourite race. Why? Probably because it was the first race I did properly (though I had also completed the Cumbrian run in 1994) way back in the late 90s when I was still doing cycle racing as my main discipline/activity. And also because of the 'magic' one hour marker, which, if you can beat, certainly makes for better reading than sixty plus minutes. 'Beating the hour' was especially pertinent to me as a cyclist because sub 1 hour is also seen as a benchmark for 25mile time trial, and one which, it could be argued, takes a similar amount of training/hard work/talent to achieve.

Not an avid record keeper or training diarist save for on this blog, the earliest result I found online for the B2C is from 1998. I have a vague recollection of running 65 minutes, but 1998 I took 62, so perhaps I also ran in 1997?

Anyway, here is the story of my 15 (soon to be 16) consecutive Brampton to Carlisle races, in chronological order, with supporting info where available from my old fuddled memory

1998. 97th position in 1hr 02 mins 08 secs.
The reason for running at all at this time of my life was because it fell in the period following the end of the cycling season. Having been used to training more or less daily for the preceeding year, I did a bit of running of an evening to try to remain fit (cycling wasn't really possible in the dark in this era when EverReady Night Rider lights were about as good as it got for cycling - certainly none of the super systems that are available nowadays which are as bright as a moped headlight).
I cannot remember much about doing the race but I can remember the results were printed in the Evening News the following week and I was especially pleased to have made the top 100 from nearly 450 finishers.
With only 2 and a bit minutes quicker needed to go under 60 I contemplated for the first time the idea of 'beating the hour' in a sport which wasn't even the one I was properly training for and involved in. So I decided that instead of quitting running once cycling started up again in  1999, I would run just once per week, every week, in the hope that it would give me a headstart come October and I would be able to progress to sustaining 10mph.

1998 result CLICK
other notable names on the 1998 result sheet include Dave Farrell in 17th (53:38), Steve Murdoch in 4th (51.21) and Mike Scott in 5th (51.23)

1999.  90th Position in 59 mins 49 secs.
This was huge. This was the big one.  This was hard work. VERY hard work. For many many years I could recall vividly just how hard I tried during this years version of the race. In fact, there are only two other races I can remember being tougher, trying harder, suffering more, (they were my 10k pb and my 55minute result at Derwentwater 10 in 2004)
Prior to the race I had been training a lot more than for previous runs. After the cycling season and my one run per week I had ramped up the training with the primary objective being to run inside 60 mins.  I had enlisted the help of Plucky and I can picture to this day, him riding alongside me going up Stanwix bank at the end of a dark training run telling me how fast I was going. Back then, without any measured routes to run, or GPS available, all I could do was have a cyclist riding longside tell me whether or not I was doing 10mph. I don't even think I had figured out that if I measured out a mile I could return to that place during a run and time it to see if I was on target pace.
On the day of the race Plucky came along too and now and then rode alongside me giving the all important  'current miles per hour' report.
Early on in the race I was ahead of the magic 10mph as witnessed by checking my watch against the mile markers. I remember having about 45 seconds in hand at the most. Then later on I began losing time. I can remember running along past the Linstock roundabout and Plucky telling me I was doing just 9.7 mph. Again and again I forced myself to run harder, faster. Then finally I reached the line - I'd done it! 11 seconds inside the hour. I was elated, I felt like an absolute superhero the next day on  the Border City wheelers Clubrun when people asked why I hadn't been on the Saturday ride.
I know now that having a cyclist help in this manner would be likely to see me DQ'd from a race. But way back in 90th place and with no particular aspirations to get into running properly, my only concern that day was to get the time.
Following the '99 Brampton I went back to my usual bike training and racing. But what I didn't know at the time was that the 2000 season of cycling was to be my last.

1999 result CLICK
Other notable names on the 1999 result include Alan Bowness, 2 places behind me (1:00:06) Stuart Robinson ahead of me in 86th (59:35) and a young Graham Millican taking my 1998 97th spot (1:00:08). Steve Cairns had a great run in 2nd place (49:30).

2000.  29th Position in 58 mins 29 secs.
As in 1999 I ran throughout the cycling season of 2000. I didn't  make the switch to running yet, but I did complete an evening 10k race in the summer and quite easily beat '6 pace' on just my one-run-per-week training (plus obviously my considerable fitness from cycling all the time). So when it came to the end of the cycle races and I again ramped up the run training, I was certainly expecting to beat the hour again and did so with ease. Following the race I was contacted by Border Harriers Road Relays captain about joining the club. It had been noted that if I had been in BH I would have been their 4th finisher in the race. So I joined the orange vest brigade and embarked on a new path that saw me tour the country running track and road

Nothing to do with the B2C but afterwards I decided NOT to continue cycling any longer. I would switch to running full time. 12 years of cycling had been great and I still enjoyed it much of the time. But running was a brand new challenge and also, I seemed to be reasonably good at it.

2000 result CLICK Other notable names on the 2000 result include a win for Steve Cairns (51:48) and Young Graham Millican again narrowly failing to beat the hour in 51st place (1:00:13)

2001.  21st Position in 55 mins 24 secs. 
It was surely guaranteed that I would go faster again at the end of my first full year of run training and racing. I had spent that year slowly increasing just how far and how often I could run. Two days in a row was too much at first - my bones hurt deep inside and I felt rest was vital to let this ease. But eventually I was able to run as often as I wanted. Mostly with my good friend Mike Scott, I was travelling around racing, doing intervals, longer runs etc, and also competing for Border on the track.

I had learned that whilst I could race  my bike twice per week without issue, racing a 10k or longer etc every 7 days was much too much for my body and I would actually get slower. I came to the decision that every 10 days was about right to race. So, a weekend event, then the midweek of the week after, then the weekend 10 days later etc etc.

By B2C though I was obviously well rested and I suspect it must have been a reasonably favourable wind too, because the 5:32 per mile I achieved was quicker than I was doing for 10k races at that time. I don't remember anything about that particular day to be honest. But I  sure  wasn't expecting knock over 3 minutes from my pb of 12 months earlier. A 55 was unthinkable, was never in my sights, but a 55 is what I did. I had somehow or other transformed myself  from  a very average cyclist into a considerably-above-average runner.

2001 result CLICK
In 2001 Mike Scott finally won the Brampton 10 in 50:26

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Blen Seven (Summit of my Life)

Whenever I have climbed up Blencathra via any of the many routes, I would often gaze across to the alternate ridges and perhaps plan to come back down that way, or sometimes even to make a second ascent during the same run.

One day I found myself counting just how many ways there were to go up....

The first and most obvious would have to be the 4 ridges/fells - Scales - Doddick - Halls and Gategill, as, from near or far, these are easy to make out as very obvious lines to take.

Then there's the famous Sharp Edge, and the Western flank of Blease Fell, and finally, the 'back door'  (Glenderamackin valley to the right of sharp Edge then hard Left to  Foule Crag.

So, theres 7 different routes to the top. I'd done them all but one - Gategill. So I went up that way a couple of times in the summer.  I discovered it to be a real tough climb - possibly as steep as any of the rocky ridges, but without much in the way of permanent rock it feels like you should be able to run up - no chance.

Right then. Seven ways to climb Blencathra. Seven ways to get to the summit. My summit.

I'd heard all about a certain Frenchman who was planning to speed climb 7 of the worlds biggest mountains. Kilian Jornets several year long project is named Summits of my Life.

I decided therefore that I would do Summit of my Life. Just the one summit, but I'd go up it 7 times. I wouldn't be going for any speed ascent records. In fact, I would probably stop for a cup of tea.

I devised my 'rules'. Very simply, an ascent was complete once the cement trig point was reached. A descent was complete once a road was reached. The ascents all had to use the main walkers footpaths (no shortcuts) and obviously had to be 7 different ones, but the descents could be any way I liked

How long will this take me then?... was one of my first questions. I knew that I could run up and down the Scales route in 45 minutes - FLAT OUT. I therefore figured that at half that speed (90 minutes) I would be just jogging along, taking it easy, and be able to carry on for several hours.

90 min x7 = 10.5 hours. I therefore based the whole thing on taking 10.5 to 12 hours to complete.

Not wanting to spend any time in the dark and with summer whizzing by I needed to finish by about 8pm so therefore start by about 8am to be sure not to.

So on Saturday 31st August I awoke in my tent in Burns Campsite and ate a hearty breakfast before driving the couple of miles to Threlkeld village where I parked the van up and prepared some bits and bobs in the rear for refreshment later in the challenge. (this was the beauty of this challenge - I could easily touch base several times so there was no requirement to carry lots of gear or enlist people to help me)

Next, I walked from Threlkeld to  Mousthwaite Combe carpark where I stashed some more food and drinks, took off my fleece, and then set off, at 0805, to run up Blencathra  Seven times.

At 0807, Scamp rolled in some utterly disgusting substance (I suspect fox poo or decomposed sheep etc)  - never mind - only another 10 or 12 hours in his stinky company to go!!

The first climb up, (via Glenderamackin and round the back) was the longest in distance, but it was all running so only took 50 odd minutes to reach the Summit of my Life No1. A heavy shower of rain saw me put on full waterproofs, but it was short lived and the rest of the day I made do with just a coat on and off - bare legs were fine. The descent back to my start point was very enjoyable, taking my preferred lines across the fellside rather than using the hard stoney path.

Summit of my Life No2 was via the famous Sharp Edge. Although I had been up this way several times before, I'm not keen on it to be honest and usually only go that way in dry hot conditions. Also, usually stick just to the right of the edge itself. But as I wanted to stick to the walkers routes wherever possible I traversed the absolute pinnacle of the ridge this time.

Scamp struggled a bit, crying when he couldn't see how to get to where I was. But once back with me I made him stay close and guided him exactly where to go. Once we were over the trickiest bit he was off ahead again and looking down on me, waiting for me to catch up. There were a lot of folk climbing up this way, some really struggling to move up/forwards at all, but one young lad of perhaps no more than 10 or 11 appeared completely undaunted as he was guided by his granddad. I think perhaps I am NOT cut out for this merely slightly dangerous stuff.

The Sharp Edge ascent took inside the hour (just) to the summit and I was soon dropping off Scales again, though this time I would swear I was on a completely different fellside as I seemed to hit every hole and dropoff and ended up wishing Id stuck to the path.

During the earlier, runnable bit of No2 my legs felt a bit tired and heavy. Perhaps not surprising given it was less than a week since Id ran the 44 mile GT of Skiddaw Ultra race, but not a good sign, and I was worried about the remaining 5 and a bit ascents yet to do!

Back at the stash I filled my bottle and then set about Summit of my Life No 3. Scales Fell.

There is surely an argument for going straight up onto Scales itself but as I always go first to the top of the Souther/Scales 'dip' before hanging Left onto Scales, that's the way I went. Essentially, the way I had came down twice already, but sticking rigidly to the paths as I climbed.

On this third ascent I started to recognise people I had passed earlier in the day. Even though this was my third, when I mentioned I was going up SEVEN times, even I still found it to be a bit unbelievable myself!

A different descent was welcome. Especially as it was Doddick, my preferred way down on the BGR.
Knowing how to avoid the steepish rocky sections I delighted in passing walkers by ploughing through the heather to the right.

Into the village to the van this time and I changed my top while tomato soup cooked (heated up). Then I was off again, straight back up Doddick Fell. At the lane end where you would go to get to Halls I passed two pensioners looking at their map. I asked if they were going up Halls fell. 'No, Doddick' they said, so I indicated that they should try to keep me in sight as that was the way I was going.

I looked back often once I was on the main climb but I never saw them. No wonder though, I actually met them again at the top of the first little flatter section, perhaps less than a mile from where Id seen them initially - but when I was returning back down!

So now I'm at the van again for a very quick stop. Summit of my Life x4 completed but with two real brutes to climb next.....Halls then Gategill

Halls has a redeeming feature in that its the shortest way from the village to the summit - scarcely even 2 miles. So even though I was obviously tiring now, and without any runnable sections once away from the farm etc, 30 minutes per mile was still well within me, and Summit of my Life No 5 was done and dusted.

I had been looking at my times per up/down and was always gaining a few minutes on 1.5hour (therefore 10.5 hour) pace. Even with the soup stop (8 minutes) I was ahead of that schedule.

Something I was dreading though was the walk up to the Blencathra Centre prior to the final,  Blease Fell ascent. It was almost 2 miles of decent uphill on the tarmac and I knew it might take me 20 to 30 minutes, or more if I was only walking by then.

But then as I cooked up a bacon butty and the remainder of the soup and a cuppa tea, and wandered through the village, past the pubs with customers relaxing in beer gardens, my face and fingers smothered in brown sauce, I realised I'd been somewhat remiss in my planning. After Gategill I didn't need to run back to the village at all, but merely down Blease Fell to the carpark above Blencathra Centre, from where I could U turn and go back up the same way.

This revelation buoyed me somewhat, and I started up Summit of my Life No6, Gategill, with a renewed spring in my step. The spring didn't last long. Gategills angle relieved me of that quite quickly.

Then before long I was atop that section of the mountain and running East for the first time, along the summit plateau to reach the trig. Another first for No6 was taking more than one hour to get there. 65 minutes. This was solely due to having walked through the village from van to the start point. The climb itself was inside 60.

As with many a long distance event or route - once I was coming off the summit for the 6th time I felt like I had the thing in the bag. Felt I was all but done and dusted. A bit like starting leg 5 of the BGR with 7 hours in hand and knowing it would only take well inside 3. But I still had a significant part of the day to do - all the way down then up and down again. As I dropped off the West end, Blease Fell, I met the first person I knew - Keswick based Adventure Photographer and general fell enthusiast Stuart Holmes. Then at the carpark area just above the Blencathra Centre I met Huw and Sarah Massey just as they were finishing a run. I explained what I was doing and that I was almost finished. Sarah grabbed a quick snap of me and Scamp and checked I was OK for drinks & gels etc.

Then I was off again. One to go. Summit of my Life No7. My mood was great now, I knew I was close to the end and nothing was likely to prevent success. I met Stuart again as I climbed Blease Fell and we exchanged a few words. He knew what I was doing (having read it on Twitter), and it felt good to be talking about this big challenge as I was all but finishing it.

Climbing Blease Fell was tough going. A strong wind meant that the zigzag path was alternately headwind then tailwind. Alas, I was too knackered to run even the tailwind occasions and I walked all the way to the ridge. I did then manage to run along the ridge though and as I ran the final 100m or so to that concrete ring for the 7th time I felt many emotions.....

Amazement! I had just climbed Blencathra 7 times! In one day!!
Pleased - to be finishing a long days running/walking
Proud - to be completing something I'd wondered was possible
and also a little bit sad - There are fewer places in the Lakes I prefer to be than atop Blencathra and now I was about to leave her behind after a day long visit.

As I made my way off the summit toward Doddick for the final time I was still well inside 10 hours. It was a slow descent and I finally reached the tarmac and stopped my watch at 10hours 13minutes. Job done.

Back at the campsite I  showered, (myself and (Scamp under a cold tap)) cooked up some pasta for tea, fed Scamp too and very soon after I fell into my sleeping bag  and slept very well until next morning. But while I was busying myself cooking etc I glanced across at the auld lass, in the fading light I could still pick out a couple of ridges and I thought to myself "I went up there today, and up that other one, and another, and another four that you cant even see from here"

And now, every time I drive to or from Keswick I look across as I drive along from one end of the mountain to the other and I look, again at all those routes available to get to the top, and I remind myself that, yes, I really did do them all in one day, one continuous run.

Some people have asked me why I did it? Was I raising money for charity? No. Was I trying to beat some record or other? No.

I did it because I thought of it and wondered if I could do it. So I planned it, tried it, and completed it. I wasn't doing anything else that weekend and Scamp needed a walk anyway.

In the planning stages I heard that there was once a fellrace that went up and down 4 different ridges. And that Colin Valentine once ran up 5 times in 5 hours. But this was my challenge and my rules. I'm not claiming to have now done the biggest or longest or fastest Blencathra based ultra run. I'm just saying that I ran up and down Blencathra those 7 ways and that's how long it took me.

What I am claiming though, on behalf of my la'al Border Collie is this...

Scamp is the current canine record holder for running up Blencathra 7 times in one day
Well done Scamp - Blen' 7 record holder

Some stats of the run
Distance - just over 30 miles
Ascent - approx 15000 ft
Time 10hr 12 minutes
GPS trace Click here

I wore Salomon Fellcross 1 on my feet, a Montane Minimus pertex smock to keep me dry and carried a few essentials in the Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin race vest.
I ate bacon roll and tomato soup at the stops, and 9bar on the move.
For drinks it was mostly High5 Zero tabs, plain water, and one very welcome cup of tea.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Not quite like Shirley said

My good pal Stu (Shirley) Stoddart said once I'd done the BGR I would wonder what all the fuss was about. I can see what he means - the round itself didn't seem like the toughest thing I've ever done, but I think that was mainly due to being fed, watered, and generally looked after all the way through it. In my mind the BGR is still a huge thing to do, requiring excessive training, preparation and support organised to the nth degree. Then even with all of those in place the weather can spoil the party so easily.

I'm still as keen as ever on the route too. Perhaps not legs 1 and 2 and 5, but 3 and 4 are still relatively new to me and I want to spend time on them, especially 3 between Langdales to Esk Hause. I'd like to be one of those people who invent new routes, new challenges, but for now I'm more than happy to spend my time covering the established ones again.

Turned out the BG bit me back - I got injured. Probably during it, although it took about 3 weeks for me to realise it was a proper injury and not just a niggle that would go away on its own....

Tibialis Posterior. The muscle/tendon that runs down the inside of your leg then around the ankle bone and under your foot. It is taking forever to get properly fixed. Now 8 weeks. I can run on it now without any real problem but afterwards my whole foot aches in general and up the other side of my leg too. The left foot seems to have lost strength and stability too - on a fell run I find that foot giving way, twisting or slipping at a ratio of 10 to 1 compared to the right (good) foot.

Due to this injury I have NOTHING AT ALL firmly planned for the rest of the summer. I'm just enjoying doing my thing, in the hills, with ma dawg and occasionally some friends.

I did have a wee go at a couple of events lately - lets just say these didnt go well...

The Rydal Round is the fellrace I have done more than any other, and as my foot had been OK for the 5.5 hours of leg 3 the weekend prior, I reckoned this sub 2 hr race would be no problem. It wasnt a problem for my foot.... but the rest of my body wasnt happy. I struggled to run again once Nab Scar had reduced me to walking and by the summit of Fairlfield I had been passed by TWO WOMEN as well as several blokes. Handily, many of them had little idea of the best route from Fairfield back to Ambleside so even though I only trotted myself down I kept getting ahead of some of them. This was little consolation really though - possibly my worst ever race.

Things then got even worse on Saturday for the Lakes 50.....

I felt sure that 50 miles would be TOO far to run on a still healing foot and would surely set it back as bad as ever. So I planned to run FAST to Mardale then walk back. I probably ran TOO FAST considering the heat, but by only about 5 miles or so I was struggling and being passed by runners. I felt so bad that I merely jogged from the Cockpit to Howtown, where I stopped. So in 1 year I went from being first to finish the L50 to being first to quit it!!

On a slightly more positive note I also resumed my track training. Firstly with a single mile (after running there as warm up) in 5.36. Not bad - I honestly thought i would be nearer 6 minutes and struggling at that. A few days later I returned and ran a (admittedly easy) session of 3 x 1 mile.  Proper miles this time, not just the 4 laps. Its only about 1.5 seconds extra to run the 9metres more but still felt good to record 5.36, 5.36, 5.35.

So I am still reasonably fit and reasonably fast. I just need this bloody foot issue to go away and let me get on with things properly.

I just have to keep reminding myself that even if I just spend the rest of the year tootling around doing nothing in particular........   I did the Bob Graham Round in less than 20 hours


Monday, June 10, 2013

Where do I go from here?

So, the Bob Graham Round has been ticked off, what to do next?

Actually, although I have been giving a little thought to that question, I have been giving a lot more thought to how I managed to do the Bob Graham at all, because I never really thought of myself as an endurance athlete.

I had the best possible help, I arranged that help with the sole intention of maximising my chances  of success. The logistical side of a BGR wasnt the bit I enjoyed the most, it was a bit of a pain in the arse at times, but luckily, everyone who offered to  help me came good, sparing any necessary last minute plan changes or people/leg switching. Although I always wanted to do the BG with minimal support, learning the route like the back of my hand then going for it one day with a couple of pals and perhaps someone to drive out to Wasdale with fresh food, I simply never got around to learning it as well as I would have needed to. And I found myself still making glaring errors on supposedly simple bits (like going wrong off Skiddaw just one week before my round).  So instead of my simple plan, or not even doing a Bob at all,  I opted instead for a huge plan, involving some 15 to 20 folk. A plan which would see me taken round those 65 miles without ever needing to give a thought to a map or compass. I only wanted to do this once so doing everything I could to ensure success seemed the best way to attack it.

The plan worked - brilliantly. Not just with navigating to the summits via the best route/lines, but also the best micro choices across ground within those lines - aiming for a  20 metre long grassy section to allow running rather than rock hopping, doubling back slightly from a rocky top to give a preferable off toward the next one. All these little things add up second by second and at the end of the day they count for minutes

The only thing nobody could help me do was run. They could show me the best way, they could encourage me, they could keep me well stocked with food and drinks, and they did all those things wonderfully. But I had to run the distance and ascend the climbs under my own steam. And somehow  I did it.

I didn't just do it though, I nailed it. Nailed to the wall with a six inch iron clout and bloody big hammer. And it'll stay nailed there for the rest of my life.

I am immensely proud of what I did on 1st June 2013. I completed the BGR within the time allowed so I get to join the club, an achievement to be proud of. (I always hoped to beat my target time by at least 16 minutes to get a sub 21hr round), and I ended up with a sub 20hr round, a time not many people manage, so again, proudly done.

But what I'm most proud of is the way I tackled the whole thing. From the to-be-endured endless winter days of deep snow. To the repeated journeys to the lakes week after week including midweek after work in the dark. To the decision to carry on and see it through after the worst of those winter runs when I bailed out and thought it was all too big a thing for me to ever manage. Then on the day itself for the way I used the knowledge and experience of those bad days to allow me to not only endure the bad spells but to push hard through them, safe in the knowledge that not only would the they end soon , but that they were nothing to do with my legs and that I could, and certainly should keep pressing hard on 'the pedals.'

The most amazing thing though, and which I am also proud of is how I somehow showed strength all day long. How I was still climbing so well in my 15th and 16th hours, how I managed to run so fast up to the Moot Hall 19 hours 43 minutes after I had last been there, how I took the initiative to set the pace up Yewbarrow rather than just follow and accept someone else's idea of how hard to climb. How I got on with everything so quickly at the stops - only really staying long enough to cover the essentials and being the one to say ' right we go in 2 minutes' every time.

The physical side is the bit I am struggling to rationalise. I was never a long distance athlete. On a bike I loved to race 10 and 25 mile TTs. Over 50 miles, at a push I could still put in a decent pace, but 100miles? - pathetic! Road racing - 45-60 miles - really enjoyed them - rode strongly - made myself known among the bunch. 80 mile road races? Too far, never  enjoyed, always got dropped and either quit at end of lap of came home in the ever growing back group.

But now I can run for 65 miles and come home in what , if it were a competition, would be a very competitive time? I can race over Scafell Pike in a marathon taking 4.5 hours, beating 100+ people and really, with only mainly International athletes, past and present beating me? I won the Lakes 50 outright? How come?

I think it probably a combination of several things.


The first two on that list take time. I suppose  I have been running marathons for almost 10 years now, and longer distances since 2009 (when I ran 40 miles for fun), the Lakes 50 since 2010,  and Bob Graham style days out since 2007. So perhaps basic hill strength, and running long are now ingrained in my bones. I also think that including one faster road run and one speed session within my weekly BGR training/routine since Christmas helped my body maintain the muscle fibres that otherwise may have been replaced with much slower ones had I only ever trained long and slow in the hills.

Determination - when it matters, I try. I push through and I don't give up. Not so much actually matters nowadays though, I races less often and I've accepted that my PBs are all to remain in the past. Even some races are unimportant and I have no qualms at all or regrets about the marathons I have started but failed to complete.

That final one is key. Enjoyment. I enjoy every minute I spend running - on the track, with Plucky on the country or city roads, and especially in the hills of Cumbria. In fact , in the hills I dont need to be running at all, I can enjoy a day of walking, chatting, taking photos, playing with Scamp, or like the other week just sitting down quietly on top of Blencathra (other mountains are available), looking at the view and thinking.

Handily, I enjoy running very hard, climbing big hills very hard, speeding down the other side as quick as I can to then run up another and another. Perhaps theres the key element - What do in my spare time is what I enjoy doing  the most, I do it often and in turn that makes me fitter and  able to do it more often still and for longer. Having a number on my back or a stopwatch ticking makes little difference, its still basically just brilliant fun in gorgeous surroundings.

Is/was my BGR as big a thing as my marathon debut and PB in 2004? That was a huge day in my life. A day I will remember forever and also one on which I surpassed all expectations. I think I need to wait until the BGR is a few years ago until I decide which is better. Or probably I'll not bother at all -two great days in my life (among plenty of others) are just that. TWO great days - no need to have a favourite.

One day I will have to accept I can no longer do what I used to do when I was younger. Perhaps I am already slowing down and approaching that day.... Doesn't feel like it at the moment though - I'm 44 and I'm having the time of my life - I'm still discovering what my body can do - still discovering and finding my way around my beloved Cumbrian mountains - still looking for new challenges - still feeling 24 not 44.

The Bob Graham Round was probably quite hard, but all I can remember is it being a brilliant day out with great friends.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Bob Graham Round. Tick

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sitting and thinking

Without a clear plan of how to spend these last Two weeks up to the day I do my Bob Graham Round, I opted to visit an old friend last night - Miss Blencathra.

Last year and early this year I would beast myself up the shortest possible ascent route, from Mousthwaite Comb carpark to the summit via the walkers path including all zigzags. 

As it seems to be commonly held that you should still do plenty of training in a taper period, just not to exhaustion and certainly easing back on the volume, I figured a blast up my favourite route was in order. After all, it would only take 40-50 minutes to go up and down - so about 3 -4 hours less than what Ive been doing most Wednesday of late.

Strong headwind most of the way up meant I was nowhere near cracking 30 minutes for the 2.2 miles. But 33 and a half is good.

I was originally intent on then flying straight back down to test my descending ability and get a non-stop time from carpark to summit and back again. But it was a lovely clear evening so  at the top I stopped to admire the view a while. 

I found a sheltered spot inbetween the trig point and the top of Gategill - kinda nestled in the bosom of the East/West saddle, high above but looking straight down onto the farm at the valley bottom.

It was a real windy evening but there was no wind to speak of from my sheltered spot - t'auld lass was protecting me, and warmth from the bright shining sun  was felt through my all-to-flimsy-for-sitting-still jacket.

As I looked out, I saw everything at once - all of Lakeland before me in a mass attack on the senses. Near and far, lakes and hills, sky and haze. Almost too much to take in at once, and a scene I had seen time and again. 

Minutes passed and I began to look more closely at what lay before me. 

Closest was Clough Head, looking diminutive compared to its neighbour Gt Dodd, but a slog of a climb nevertheless. I traced back down from  Cloughy the line to the coach road, then the rough field to Newsham House and the road back to the A66.  I'd be running there in a week or so, but in the dark.

As I continued my study of the panorama I realised for the first time that I now know so much more about these hills, this beautiful landscape than I did just a few months ago.

I picked out the Dodds to Helly, they are easy. I also knew exactly where Fairlfield was hiding and Seat Sandal. I could see Dunmail beyond Thirlmere so theres the entrance into Wythburn valley from where me and IWC emerged on the three thousands day. Steel Fell and High Raise then became obvious to me, and though not prominent I knew where the Langdales were - so that must be Esk Pike? Yes, because I can definitely tell thats Great End centre of Styhead and Esk Hause.

I was on a roll - never before had I realised how much detail I could not only see, but put names to, I could visualise exactly a stony path 15 miles away that currently occupied about one ten thousandth of what I could see before me.

Further right - the Scafells - Gable - Kirkfell was an interesting one. Only 8 days since I first set foot on its summit, but thanks to that day I now recognise its flat aspect compared to Gables more rounded  mound. I don't know if Pillar, Steeple etc were within my view but again, I knew where they lay in reference to others. 

Off Gable - Green Gable, a poor cousin of diminutive height, then Brandreth and Grey Knotts scarcely discernible as tops from so far away, but there they were and then the gap to Honister. 

Only 3 more to go - all easily picked out on this glorious evening - a long lens would have allowed closer inspection, perhaps revealed cairns and shelters. But who needs a telephoto when a still head and long stare can reveal so much. 

I didn't look too closely across at Catbells, Sail etc, and Grisedale was behind Gategill fell from here anyway. It was the round I was following. I stood up and there was Skiddaw and Calva behind me, and the concrete ring trig of Blen' herself was a mere 20 metres to my left.

The Bob Graham Round was laid out before me. And I was looking at it for the first time. I'd seen all this many a time - yes I'd picked out Swirral Edge and Gt Gable and Catstye Cam and Catbells and Robinson before. But tonight was different, tonight there was  something else happening on this ugly beautiful mountain. Something new, not to see, but to know. 

I realised right there and then that this was MY LAKELAND, MY CUMBRIA, MY MOUNTAINS and that the Saturday after next was going to be MY DAY. My day to run, to walk, to eat drink and be merry, to fall, to hurt, probably to throw up, almost certainly to cry, to laugh with friends, to be quiet and remember, to recognise and to be lost, to rely on good people who are giving up their time to help me, to do something that afterwards I may wonder, as Stu says, 'what all the fuss was about', but right now is everything.

Something had brought me to this place, this mountain - my favourite in Cumbria - on this night. A place I have already been to countless times before, and that I hope to visit a hundred times again. Blencathra has always been my favourite, and now here she was reaffirming her top billing.  

Next week I will be scarcely registering my umpteenth visit of the year to that cement trig. I'll be there and then gone - heading for slopes of Doddick and the comforting lights of Threlkeld beyond as I approach the end of just the first leg of a day long journey. Somebody will register my being there of course, it should be aroundabout 0100 hours on June 1st. She will be number 3 of 42. But of course, however long I spend away from her, she will always be number 1

Blencathra. A place where I have shared the very best, most amazing, unforgettable, special times with the very best, most amazing unforgettable, special people I have known. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Scafell Pike Trail Marathon

I prefer NOT to get up before 7am ideally, so 6am felt rather early on Sunday. The marathon started at 0830 and there was a 2 mile walk from Keswick to the start at Nichol End Marina.

I thought I had loads of time in hand but forgetting my number and then a last minute visit to the loos in town, I found myself having to jog through Keswick and Portinscale when I would have preferred a leisurely walk.

I arrived at the start one minute after the start time. Luckily the race started about 5 minutes later than scheduled, and anyway, I wouldnt have worried if id started a minute after everyone else - this wasnt exactly Red Start at VLM with a 20 minute slow shuffle through the park gates to cross the timing mat on the start line.

I set off very sedately indeed. I'm guessing there may have been 30 odd lads (& lass) in front of me.  I ran at a pace that felt rather easy. sub 8 minute miling was showing on my GPS as an average, which settled out to more or less 8 pace bang on prior to the first of the climbs.

As we left Grange behind the climb of Castle Crag loomed ahead. I had no intention of walking up the stepped climb, but most of the runners ahead who I could see, were. I passed at least half a dozen  then was running alongside some different people as we continued toward Seatoller.

One of my new companions was Vicky Mousley who I'd met when we both won the Ennerdale Trail 50k Ultra last year. I reckoned that there was unlikely to be any more girls ahead and chatted a while before easing ahead again on the final climb prior to th drop into Seatoller.

At Seatoller and through toward Seathwaite my belongings started to come adrift  from my bumbag. I'd worn my waterproof to jog from Keswick to the start then found I didnt have sufficient room to properly put it away. I jogged even slower on the tarmac section toward Seathwaite as I fiddled on trying to tie my waterproof pants around the waistband of my bumbag, and the same with the arms of my coat. This allowed one or two to pass me back.

At the farm there was a feed station - I shouted out my number and rushed past - leaving behind Vicky and one other who had passed me. Onto Stockley Bridge and the proper climbing began up the steps toward Styhead. I ran (though obviously not particularly fast) up most of the way to Styhead stretcher box and thus passed  several more lads in doing so.

copyright Stuart Holmes

Just before the stretcher box a lad who was running with me said he remembered me from the Lakes 50 last year. Apparently we had chatted during that event so I suggested he must have been well placed. Turns out he'd got 7th place - he didnt ask me how I had finished so, in an extraordinarily unfamiliar fashion for me, I let the subject drop. (for new readers - I won the Lakes 50 last year).

At the stretcher box we dibbed in and I headed off for what I thought was the line to pick up the diagonal path to the corridor route. Unlike the last two recces I'd done recently, despite the thick clag I found the path perfectly and was soon climbing up the other side toward the main corridor path/route.

From where they came I've no idea but I was suddenly joined by about 5 lads running right behind me.
One asked if I was confident of my current heading. I was very confident but said 'yeah more or less, I think'. Very soon after we got to the steep part that is unusually red rock. I knew (from making the error with Sparky a few months ago) that immediately above this you need to go 90 degrees left/up and NOT continue ahead (which is also a quite well defined path). I ensured they all went the right way (as I'd fell to the rear of the group when I stopped for a pee so wasn't leading)

These lads were doing a lot of walking - I was keen to run unless it felt impossible to do so, so I edged past them one by one and by the time I got to the big steppy thing with the arrow scraped into the rock, I was alone again. Don't know exactly how or why but just prior to reaching the intersection with path up from Wasdale I was joined by a couple more again. This is the last pull onto the summit and is well marked with cairns. I prefer to walk up the slabbed section as even on this damp day they seemed to give better traction (or less slippage) than the loose stuff.

By the top there was just me and one other lad from Bath AC. We'd been chatting a bit and he was concerned about the distance having only ran for 2 hrs in recent training. I was pleased to hear this as I felt confident i'd be fine for 5 or more if need be. We also got told off Joe (summit marshal) that we were 7th and 8th in the event. I was well chuffed to learn this - I thought I was still in perhaps 10-15th. I must have passed more than I realised and of course some may have taken less than optimal lines. I later learned that Howard Seal set off up Gt Gable, and Carl Bell was way below the corridor route and heard voices from above him which told him he needed to get higher. Also, much later, when I was running back from Esk Hause toward Styhead there was one fella running TOWARD me.

The terrain from Scafell Pike to Esk Hause is piggin awful underfoot until the final downhill which has nice grassy lines just off to the side of the stoney path. The Bath lad had moved ahead of me on the section over the huge boulders but then I caught him again on the good descent - I think he was possibly running with compass and map to check he was correct whereas I was blasting along knowing very well I was going the right way. We chatted again briefly at Esk Hause shelter then made a left for Styhead.

This mainly downhill path past Sprinkling Tarn is again quite stoney, but often with grassy banks to its side which help you run a little smoother (just need to watch out for the narrow but deep channels). Styhead again and then down along the river back toward Stockley Bridge. The Bath lad was just behind me but said he was going to stop at the WC in Seathwaite.

So at the feed/checkpoint I took a quick swig of water and headed into the fields toward the main road. Near the road I was briefly confused when a sign saying footpath pointed Right, and tape stuck on posts appeared to be directing Left. I followed the tape but soon realised it wasnt race tape at all but electricity warning tape.

As I neared a farm the dogs were going crazy barking at my approach. Farm workers could just be heard above the din but I couldnt tell what they were shouting. Either 'get orrfff my larrnd" or "no lad, back the other way" Later I learned they would have been offering their help and not the former as the farm belonged to Billy Blands cousin.

 I only lost about a minute or so here. Stupid of me to mistake the yellow tape for the red Salomon race tape, but you dont always think straight when you're racing along.

a few fields ticked by and I was in Rosthwaite with the decent climb up towards Watendlath to follow. At this point I started to catch the 21k runners who were almost all walking up the big steps. I had dreaded this section and reckoned Id be too tired to run any of it. My average  pace had improved over the previous few miles from approx 10:50 min/mile at Esk Hause, to 10:32 now at Rosthwaite. I reckoned that if I could lose it to just 11 pace by the top then I would pick up sufficient on the downhill to Ashness Bridge to come home within 11s and therefore beat the 5 hours I originally thought I might take for the 26.2 miles.

I was able to run most of the way up out of Rosthwaite however, and by the time I dropped into Watendlath the pace was still in the eleven thirties. Off the trail and a few hundred metres of tarmac downhill also helped the average before I headed up onto the final section of trail that would take me up  the fell then to the woods in front of Walla Crag.

I'd been passing the half marathoners steadily, often asking if they'd move aside to let me past on singletrack sections , or if I could get through a gate in front of them. Everybody obliged OK, though I wondered if some were unaware I was in the marathon and NOT their race and were thinking me a bit cheeky.  The further up the field I progressed, the harder it was to catch and pass the fitter runners. In the final section on the Lake edge woods I took an age to catch one lady runner and felt I had to pick up my pace again to stay ahead as we both sensed the finish looming.

Prior to  the finish I noted my GPS said Id already done a marathon in about 4hr 30mins - well inside my pre-race prediction.

At 27.2 miles I crossed the line  and dibbed in for 7th place. I had caught no more marathoners but nor had I been caught myself. I think I ran well - a very easy start followed by steady running/walking only when really absolutely necessary, and a real decent effort in the last 8-10 miles of  flatter & smoother terrain.

You perhaps cant help but think that a marathon that goes up Scafell Pike must be the toughest race you could ever do. It's not though. Nothing like it. Proper fellraces are MUCH harder with their elevation per mile and pathless routes to be navigated. But IT IS an iconic event - racing to the top of England, over marathon distance (plus a mile) and I'm very pleased to have ran the inaugural race. I'm also really pleased to have ran ANOTHER marathon in Cumbria (along with Langdale, Karrimor and Windermere).

Thanks are due to Ian at HiTerrain Events and his team of helpers for putting on a superb race. And congrats to young @RickyLightfoot for his win in 3hrs 43 mins.

Rickys 56 minutes beating of me sounds a lot - indeed if I took 56 minutes longer than him in a road marathon I'd be a bit disappointed (presuming he could do 2:15-2:20 and I would expect to beat 3hours if not 2:50) but as a percentage its probably about right.

So now for a bit of an easier time of things while this next 2 weeks passes and my BGR comes around. Waiting for the presentation I was chatting to Billy Bland who had some great little pearls of wisdom and tips for the BGR. (for anyone reading this who doesn't know much about fell running - Billy Bland completed the Bob Graham Round in 1982 in a record time of 13hours 53 minutes (most people who attempt the round FAIL to complete it within the 24 hours allowed))


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Titles are overrated

Following that long day in the fells I allowed myself an easy couple of days....

I rode my bike over Honister then Newlands passes. It was raining heavily and quite cold and windy - pretty much the key factors in my decision to quit cycling, now 13 years ago. Incidentally, that's now longer as a runner than I spent cycling. Seems like only yesterday I used to lie in bed of a night with  a horrible ache in my legs and slowly built up from 3 to 4 to eventually 6 or 7 runs per week. Best decision I ever made though, and I bet still have many thousands of pounds I would have spent on bike gear if not for the switch. This was a pitifully slow bike ride - I wasnt putting any effort in but 14mph for 21 miles is rather pathetic - even given the two massive climbs. (get me likening my bike ride to someone who lives at the bottom of Alp Duez but works at the top and doesnt have a car and does have a phobia of public transport but likes to ride a bike)

After the bike ride I had a mooch around the lake edge near Theatre by the Lake and along a mile or so toward Grange. The rain had eased but still occasional showers and much warmer made this a really  lovely walk. Scamp swam in Derwentwater - a first for him. I think I may keep notes and get him to swim in as many Lake District meres, Lakes and Waters as possible. Or maybe not - i cant even be arsed bothered to keep note of the Wainwrights I bag.

No more cycling this week but good run training, kicking off with my track session of 4x1600metres (AKA 4 x mile reps). It was a warm sunny day and this continued into the evening, so a vest was worn for the first time this year outside of racing and Majorca. I usually speed up a lot on rep 2 so was quite excited to record 5:37 for rep 1. Only 1 second faster though -5:36. I then put in a considered effort and was rewarded with a 5:30. Then finally a 5:32 which felt like merely cruising. This is the second time I have felt great and been running my best near the end of the session. I might try for 5 x mile next week.

A(nother) race too - Dockray Hartside. About 6 miles and 2000 feet. I thought I may do quite well in this but I should have known better. As we set off up a very steep tarmac road for almost a mile I was quite astonished by  how many lads were ahead of me - surely  I should be doing well on the road section? I was also aware that the heavy breathing behind me sounded female and indeed as we left the road to begin the fellrunning I was merely a couple of metres of the leading lady. Luckily she never passed me, although I didnt do owt special at all in the race, coming in about 20th I think (cant find results yet - not 24 hrs since race finish). I suppose theres a good reason I don't do so well in  race that lasted under one hour - 'cos I never run in the fells for any less than about 3 hours and its many a long week since I've ran up Blencathra as fast as I can then practiced my descending by timing myself down as well as up. Horses for courses as they say - and my next course is as long as I'm ever likely to travel.

Plucky fell of his bike (again) and has sore ribs so cant run with me at present. Daz has a knee injury so cant run at all. Those facts were the reason I did track on Tuesday (when I would usually have met up for a run with the leads), so tonight should perhaps have been the 10 mile road run. But I figured that the 55 minute race was akin to that session so tonight I travelled through to Gelt and spent 65 mins running incredibly slowly, stopping often, enjoying what I think was possibly the warmest day of the year.

Yep, summer is coming, but like Ronnie O'Sullivan - blink and you'll miss him/it

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Days like these...

Stuck firmly in my brain, somewhere in-between London marathon 2004, the Lakes 50 2012, my 55 minute run at Derwentwater 10, and my first ever race win, at Langholm Doctors Run, are the great days I've spent running long in the fells with friends.

Among those best remembered are,
the first time I ran the Derwent Watershed (aka Borrowdale Watershed) with Iain Kelly,
Pete Beers BGR leg 3 with Dale and Karl,
the Four 3000s with Ian Charters,
Xmas on the fells 2009 Fairfield Horseshoe in deep snow taking 4hours!!
Stustods BGR leg 3 with Stu and Iain (slippyhands) Kelly

And I like to think that last Saturdays run will make it into that same category of fondly remembered days out - only time will tell, but it was certainly a fantastic day.....

Craig Smith is to help me on my BGR - he's doing leg 2, over the Dodds and Helly etc. After spending a day in his company,  I know I'll be in good hands.
I hadnt known Craig prior to the TWA race a week earlier, he was one of those lads who you see all the time but don't know their name.

Craig suggested we begin our day at 0730! Thats a bit on the early side for me, I am famously lazy and disorganised so I opted to drive through to the lakes on Friday night and sleep in the van so as to be an hour or so nearer. Penrith Stu asked WTF I bothered doing the overnight thing when I live so close? Well, apart from the minor time saving I already mentioned I'd say.. Why not? Its great fun and not at all cold once inside a decent sleeping bag. As I drove out of the city in the last hour of sunlight I noticed that a lot more fresh snow had been dumped on the fells since I'd last been up. As I drove from Bothel to Keswick the Skiddaw massif loomed in front of me looking quite spectacular with its pure white cap against an ever darkening, but still blue from the glorious cloudless day, sky.

At the location I chose as my 'campsite' I wandered around for 10 mins with Scamp in the last remaining light. Across Thirlmere the skyline was jutted with trees sticking up into the night, the silence was awe inspiring despite the torrent of Helvellyn Gill merely 50 yds away. Scamp took the front seat of the van and I settled down for what was a surprisingly good sleep - only a few raindrops about 5am stirring me awake.

Before I drove up to meet Craig I popped along to Wythburn church and left some water and food in a stash for later. At 730 I was parked at Keswick, but still not sorted out re my pack, clothing etc etc. We got off at 0737hrs - jogging at a relaxed sub 10 min miling along the railway line to Threlkeld.

It was a chilly morning and I was wearing a fleece over my base layer and compression top. As we climbed Clough Head I got warm, but as our altitude became more significant I felt the chill wind and was pleased to be wearing as much. I hadnt bothered to time the climb to Clough Head, this wasnt a BGR day, and anyway, I'm pretty sure we smashed the 59 mins allowed as we were on our way toward Calfhow in what seemed no time at all.

Gt Dodd was invisible. We were not fussed about climbing it anyway, and contoured the path to the RHS which gives a natural line South past the other Dodds and on towards Sticks Pass, Raise and eventually Helvellyn. Craig had put on an extra layer and I did too at Sticks Pass - it was seriously breezy and therefore cold but the great thing was knowing that although still early, we were almost at the highest point of the day and would soon be enjoying views, sun, less wind and much more warmth.

Coming off Helly toward Wythburn we took a while to stop here and there as Craig was keen to learn of the best way down for the forthcoming Old Counties Tops race. At the Southern junction of the back-o-Thirlmere road I grabbed the stash and tucked into a pasta pot as we walked.

To this point we had taken just over 3 hours to cover almost 14 miles. Craig reckoned on it being 22/23/24 miles altogether and with the highest climbing done, we agreed that it may be another 2 hours to go. I had been keeping an eye on the average pace all day long. After the early sub 10 pace it had steadily dropped to nearer 4mph (15min milling), which, in BGR terms is about right for a run so 'short'

A crappy involved section before we got to Harrop Tarn slowed us down and we eventually opted to climb over one of the huge deer fences to gain a much better path on the other side. Then we were climbing  up and over the boggy ground past Blea Tarn toward Watendlath. Dropping down toward Watendlath we opted not to go all the way to the village itself but swing across left a bit to join the path out that leads to Rosthwaite.

The run down into Rosthwaite was speedy, real good running ground. Lots of walkers knocking about there too. Then a flurry of what (even though they were all walking at the time) were clearly runners. It was Ian Mulvey of Hi Terrain events leading (I presume) a recce of the Borrowdale trail race route. Moments later, in Rosthwaite, Craig stopped at a car window to chat to the driver who he knew. As he told me who he'd been speaking to I realised it was the dad of Adam who I had recently been to Majorca with on Appleby Stu's training camp.

Before we left Rosthwaite Craig stopped again to chat to a farmer he knew as he skinned a dead lamb (apparently they put the skin onto another lamb which is at risk of non survival, then the ewe of the dead one thinks its hers and looks after it. Everyone happy, (with possible exception of the dead fella).

Id been glancing at my GPS and noted we  had been bringing the average back to nearer 15min/mile but the stops in Rosthwaite had let it slip again to 15:40. Climbing up toward the base of Dalehead/High Spy we lost yet more average but then saw steady gains all the way back to Keswick.

Climbing High Spy we were on the same ground as the previous week in the TWA. In TWA this was about 11 miles into the day, this time it was about 21 miles in, and this time I felt much better too, still full of running. This is most likely explained by the fact that the TWA was a race and also much more ascent per mile  (approx 480 feet per mile for the whole TWA race compared to 300 feet per mile by the end of this run).

I felt so good that as we approached the col between Maiden Moor and our final climb of the day, Catbells, I asked Craig if if he thought we could run up it. He said no so I tried to. I'm sure I could have ran all the way to the final rocky bit but Craig was walking so i waited for him.

All that was left to do was drop off the back of Catbells, along the track to Mrs Tiddywinkles Cottage (I have no idea - I think Craig is into romantic fiction) then along tracks to the marina, Portinscale and finally across a couple of fields into Keswick.

We stopped at the police station in the town and I realised then why Craig wanted an early start - he must be on some kind of tag and needs to report in at a certain time every day. Summat like that anyway.

Craig said this route is called the Northwest Frontier. I've never heard of that before but shall forever now call it that anyway.

Final stats of the day can be seen here. And can be summarised as;
28 miles in 6hrs 33 mins (4.3mph) with 8500ft of ascent

Cheers Craig

Monday, April 29, 2013


The day after Talkin Tarn Du' I had an easy cycle ride of 20 odd miles. Incredibly windy though! So much so that conversation was difficult. Luckily, nobody had owt interesting to say anyway.

Then Tuesday arrived, and another race to run!!

Keswick Acs Round the Houses is one of my favourite road events. Ive been doing it for 13 years or so (though not continuously). It's now been extended in distance to make it an actual 10k. Unfortunately this makes it rather easy to know when you have ran a crap time - previously you needed a calculator to work out what your time meant over the 5.3 mile course.

Beforehand, I was chatting to Sam Ware about my hoped for result. I said I'd be disappointed if I didnt beat 6 minute miling.

I was disappointed!

My time of 37:12 is exactly 6 minute milling.

Perhaps the slowest 10k I've ever done, but understandably so I think, as I wasn't really letting my body recover from the rigours I was putting it through. Theres a good reason for that - it's to get used to having to keep going on tired legs and body - BGR training.

The day after the 10k I was off work and drove through to the Lakes intent on a decent long day in the fells. The weather was poor though - even just as high as Kirkstone Pass the visibility was scarcely 50 metres. I know I should be getting out there and doing it whatever the weather, but I've recently been struggling to enjoy much of my BGR training and I figured a better option would be to run the low level route from Ambleside to Coniston as used in the Lakes 50 Ultra.

It was really nice to be on this route again almost 9 months since I won the race. My pace was dire though - I was running slower than I had done in the race itself with 30+  miles in my legs. With a noon start and something I really wanted to get back to Carlisle for later, I had a maximum of 6 hours running time available. (late start due to site visit in Winderemere for work purposes). But  as I neared Coniston I realised that I would struggle to do the full route back again in time. Then on the final climb up from Tilberthwaite I also realised I was much too knackered to too. (too to toot - is a train coming?)

In Coniston I stopped the clock and enjoyed a few miles walking, eating my lunch in the sunshine. Alongside the busy main road between Consiton and Ambleside runs a series of trail routes, which were much more pleasant than keeping tight at the side of the road.

At Skelwith I resumed jogging, and at Chesters Cafe I climbed the steep road hill to regain the 50 route, in reverse, over the fellside to the Under Loughrigg road, where I had parked.
23 miles in 4hrs 45mins, a bit shorter than Id planned but a really enjoyable run wi ma dawg.

On the Thursday I felt tired all day, and didn't train at all. I didnt train on Friday either, because I had spoken to Craig Smith and arranged a big day in the fells with an early start, on Saturday....