Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Thunder Run 2014

For detailed information on this event please visit their website www.tr24.co.uk

Lets cut to the end first, I LOVED IT !

Now that's out of the way, here's a bit about the whole shebang from my view point. I was invited by Twitter pals to join them in a team of 6 last year but had to pull out with a knackered back. Fortunately they invited me back this year.

As is often the case, I gave it little thought in terms of what it would be like to run in an event like this. Run, eat, rest, repeat. I had never done this so there really was no point in trying to guess.

I travelled south on the Friday to arrive at a mammoth campsite, which gave me my first indication of the scale of the event. The temperature was high, which for us Scots is spelled HIGH ! The skipper of the team had arrived early and had reserved lots of camping space for our team and 3 other teams (very much appreciated Mike and Sarah). We basically all knew each other in person or if not through Twitter.

Some of us decided to have a recce run that evening. I'm not sure of the merit of this with the event looming, but it was somehow fitting of how we approached the whole thing: we weren't here to win, but have a great fun weekend with likeminded people. Funnily enough, although taking it slowly, I found it quite tough. I thought the hills were steeper than I expected and the ground quite hard and rutted. This worked in my favour when I ran my 1st real lap as the hills seemed quite gentle and I didn't notice the ground as I was racing.

Friday night was spent chilling with a couple of beers and some food and off to a fairly early bed.
                                                      Ice cream van doing a roaring trade

Sarah is not sure what Mike has just fed her

                                                                Ian and Mike

As if the TR24 wasn't going to be enough, a lot of us went to the nearby Conkers park run, which I'm sure had a record attendance ! I must confess that my last 5k (other than in training) was in 2009 ! After a very slow congested start things opened up and I ran faster than I should have but hey, I was enjoying myself !

To business: our team #teamcrazy was led and organised superbly by the one and only Mike Wells (@mikew30). We had the Gaffer (@mrafletch) on board and three lovely ladies, all of whom are full of life, Catherine (@mrsbedders), Natalie (@spin_queen1) and Tracy (@temott10). Good people. We had our running order and at high noon, off Natalie went in the baking heat.
                                            Solo Martin standing in for Andrew in this pic!

The course is entirely off road, a twisty turny mix of trail and woodland. Some sections are very technical and there's around 400 feet of climb. My 1st lap started around 2.30pm and I ran a decent 6 miler in 52.27. Now the fun started in terms of what to do. I cheered some of the others on but I knew I was due out again around 7.15pm so I ate a bit and tried to nap.
                                                         My 1st lap was a hot one

Lap 2 was a beauty. I haven't raced over this distance for quite some time, so I just "went with the flow" and was delighted how I felt and stopped my watch on 49.59 ! Delighted and surprised. I ate some more and tried to sleep with the estimate that I'd collect the baton from Tracy around 2.10am. It's hard to sleep when you know you have to be awake and ready to race quite soon, but you know you need to. The skipper phoned from his tent 10 yards away at 1.10am to tell we were ahead of schedule and I was up at 1.45am !

Groggily, I got ready, drank a smoothie and headed to the changeover area with my head torch for a lap in the dark. I'd hoped I might get the lap where the sun came up, but that was the Gaffer's privilege.
                                                              Getting dressed at 1.30am

Running in the dark is fun. A lot found this to be their favourite lap. I wouldn't say that but I did enjoy the difference. The time went faster (although it was my slowest lap) as I had little awareness of where I was in the lap. I was literally looking a few steps ahead. At one stage I thought I was going slowly for a gentle downhill until I realised I was actually going uphill ! Lap time 53.46.

I had my best sleep next, all both hours of it ! I woke to find the Gaffer making tea. Very welcome. My last lap was scheduled for 8.10am but brought forward to 7.45am by everyone's speediness. I was very unsure how I would cope with this one. All in all I had run 27 miles so far. However, straight from the changeover I felt OK and passed 2 miles in a decent time. I thought to myself "2 like that? Keep going." After 4 miles I thought "only 2 more to go, keep working son." There's a nasty wee hill just before the finish where lots of people spectate. I got huge encouragement from my team mates there and gave it my all. 48.58 ! So pleased.
                                                       Giving it the beans up the last hill

So for the 1st time ever I enjoyed a cold beer before 9am on a Sunday morning (well two actually !)

The plan had evolved so that we would all run 4 laps and then if anyone wanted to go again, they could. We had plenty of time (you had to start your last lap before midday). Natalie wanted to go again as she had never run 30 miles in 24 hours before and had had lots of injury problems. We ran that lap as a team and I'm so glad I did. It was fun and quite emotional at the finish.

Natalie with her wings on upside down

                                                        Last lap time. 7th run in the kilt

                                                             Tracy looking cool as ever

                                                                          Santa Mike

L-R Mike, Natalie, Tracy, Andrew

Nat's glorious sprint finish

                                                             There were a few tears here

The atmosphere the whole weekend was just so good. Like minded people doing what they love. As I ran in my kilt all weekend, I got lots of support. Bizarrely, my beard got lots of support too. Must be a running thing !

I had a great weekend with great people. However, the people who really deserve the congratulations, admiration and respect are the solo runners. What they put themselves through, I can't begin to imagine. The only one I know personally is Martin (@teamb_o_b) who knocked out 13 laps. He had some low points, as I'm sure he expected, but had the mental strength to carry on. I ran with him in the Edinburgh marathon dressed as clowns, but this guy is no clown. Behind folk like Martin is support. His wife Sue deserves a big mention here: Well done that lady.
                                                                  Solo man Martin

                                                          Sue packed for all weathers

                                                    These solo guys think of everything !

If you have managed to read through this waffle, you'll get the idea that I quite liked it ! You could do worse than give it a go yourself sometime.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Duns Castle woods in pictures

I spend a large part of my running life in these woods. Most days after work I head here and run a few miles. Its the perfect slow down after a hectic day.
I don't really care about the weather, but it is generally nicer when its sunny and summery. However, there are trails that are accessible in winter but too nettley in summer. The ground conditions vary hugely, which I love. These photos attempt to show the variations on offer. They don't do justice to the gradients. The run I took these pics on was 10 miles and had around 1200 feet of climb. Basically any run here will average around 100ft/mile.
I would add that this run took place mid morning on a summer Sunday and I saw one person (a cyclist. No walkers. No runners). Ive no idea why more people don't lap this place up.
In no order, these photos attempt to show the varied running conditions in this wee paradise.
                                                                      The Hen Poo

                                                                   Some clear paths
                                                                  Easy through the trees

Deer Tracks

                                                                      The old quarry road
                                                              Bare coniferous forest floor
                                                               Deciduous woodland

                                                               The Perch Pond
                                       Narrow, twisty trails overgrown at this time of year

                                                           Trails sloping left....

                                                                   .....and right
                                             The Hen Poo from the Bruntons

The most tricky sections aren't worth photographing as they are largely low branches, whin bushes and nettles. If you'd like a tour of my playground, just ask !

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Scafell Pike marathon 2014

I honestly can't remember exactly why I entered this. The most likely answer is that I was enticed by the tag line of "Englands highest trail marathon" after drinking wine.
After running my first marathon in July 2012 (Coniston), I ran another (Keilder) and an ultra (Ennerdale). 2013 saw me run the Northumberland coastal ultra (after which I said my ultra box had been ticked), Edinburgh marathon (road mara ticked - it was awful) and Coniston again.
So to 2014. The lure of the marathon started to bite. There is definitely something about these things that gets under your skin. In January I ran the Hebden 22 (not a mara but a proper hill job) and in March the Grindleford Gallop (21 I think, again a proper job). In between I ran the Osmotherley marathon in the North Yorks moors. I had trained with that in mind and it paid dividends in that I ran a good race and quite surprised myself. I began to realise that I could really do this stuff.
In March I also ran the first leg of the Lakeland 100 from Coniston to Buttermere which is mara distance. This tought me more about the really high, tough fells. The ability to keep driving upwards and forwards is essential.
May saw me run the Howgills marathon in the Yorkshire Dales. This was very different in that the start was basically 2.5 mile walk up to the tops, then long gentle but very technical descent. A road section followed and the last few miles incorporated many many stiles and kissing gates. Good experience, but not my thing really.
All of which leads me to this event which would be my 4th mara of the year and 10th overall. I spent a bit of time in the days before trying to decide on the best kit. There is a mandatory kit list so trying to carry that, be comfortable, right shoes etc all takes some guesswork. The weather forecast looked pretty warm and so it proved to be.
I left home at 5am for the 2.5 hour drive to Keswick, a bit tired, a bit hungry (I find it hard to eat early). I was thinking about kit, about food. Eventually I thought about the race ahead and this delighted me when I realised that I wasn't scared at all by the fact that I was about to run a marathon. Not any marathon either. Maybe I was moving to a new level.
This is not a race report as such so in short:
1) I registered
2) I got dressed
3)I walked to the start
4)I listened to the race briefing standing next to Ricky Lightfoot and the eventual winner. Not because I chose to but because thats where I was standing and I didn't know anybody.
And we're off...safe to say thats the last I saw of Ricky !
5 miles along the shores of Derwent water. It was hot. I was trying to be cautious but its hard. I was running just over 9 min miles. Was that too fast or not? I don't know but I do know lots of people passed me and I was pleased that I had no intention of running their race. I have learned enough to know that the marathon is a personal battle.
We started to go up as was always part of the deal. I don't remember details but it was all good. I was feeling good, not pushing too hard, eating a bit, drinking from every stream I saw (I have a foldable cup that lives in my buff when Im running - best piece of kit I've bought).
After the checkpoint at Styhead things got real. This was the climb to the summit of Scafell Pike. No amount of studying website graphs can tell you about the underfoot conditions. Thinks rocks. The climb seemed relentless. We passed through some cloud which then gave us spectacular views (I never took my camera as I knew I would need all my concentration for the job in hand) but then moved back into cloud. I reached the summit in 3 hours and 25 seconds according to the print out I got at the finish. It was a slight disappointment in that I couldn't see anything and so kept going.
I had formed the opinion, from looking at the graphs and profiles, that at least most of the hard work would be done in the first half of this race. Oops!
As I started to descend, I seriously wondered if this was the race route. Fellow runners were around and some said they knew where they were and this was right. It looked like a quarry explosion to me. Rocks of every size, everywhere. No running, little walking at times. I was both hating and loving the absurdity of my situation.
My next memory is of trying to descend as fast as possible on a fairly steep technical section. I tripped. I can see all these rocks leaping out at me. I'm thinking "rocks, my face, my knees, don't want this". I managed to dive enough to the side to hit the grass. Wrecked my shoulder but no blood !
Around 20 miles I was shot. I wanted to stop, to walk, to sleep, to be injured to give me an excuse to stop. A few runners were in the same place at this time and one said to me something like this is where it becomes a mental thing. I knew that I'm sure, but it was enough to give me the kick up the bum to screw the nut.
He pulled me along, I pulled someone else along and we kept going forward. The 22nd mile is up, as in up. That was so tough. I think I remember seeing a 23 minute mile on my watch. Somewhere going up that section I realised that I was putting one foot in front of the other and I had never stopped doing that. That gave me a huge boost. Once at the top I began to run again (quickly in my mind, slowly in reality) and I started to do some calculations. I reckoned if I worked hard I could sneak under 6 hours. A sub 10 min mile had me right on course. Then the trail got tougher again, twisty, narrow, up, down, round. I reached 26.2 mles on my watch 1 minute over the 6 hours......but I wasn't at the finish !
No option but to keep running. I could see a guy ahead and put him in my sights. You run dude and I'll follow. He slowed right down and stopped. I put my arm round his shoulder and told him that it couldn't be far now. He was shot but responded and we ran the last bit together, finished together, arms raised. 27.5 miles. We'd won nothing but our own victory.
All of a sudden, thats it. Its all over. What had been my whole day, the many lows and very few highs, was gone.
So whats it all about? If I find the answer to that question, I'll retire I think. I walked away from the finish of that race a bit sore but very dazed. I was relieved that the immediate pain had stopped, but at the same time I felt a little sad. The camaraderie I'd experienced in those last few miles, and indeed on the climb up to the top with a lovely lady, was all gone. I felt quite alone.
After getting back to my van, getting changed I headed up the road and had a chance to try to think things through. Immediately I found myself smiling.
The pain had gone, the euphoria hadn't. I realised I had done something pretty cool, and the most satisfying race ever.
Try it, after all whats the worst that can happen? It'll hurt? You'll get over it :-)
Many words, only two photos. One on the way up, one on the way down.

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Cheviot and Hedgehope

I see the Cheviot everyday when I go to work and am ashamed to say that until 2 weeks ago, I'd never been there. This weekend saw my second visit after ascending from Kirk Yetholm. This time I drove to Langleeford, ascended the Cheviot and then Hedgehope. The conditions were fine in that it wasn't cold, wet or windy. However as these photos show, visibility was pitiful for most of the run !

                                                         Looking back as I climbed up

                                                                    Getting murky

Visibility at the top of the Cheviot was 20 yards or so. This photo was taken around 11am in May. It hasn't been filtered or altered in any way. A colour photo too, I should add !

Atop the Cheviot

                                           I started down and loved running this little valley

Soon I realised I'd taken a wrong turn as per…….still the view was awesome, so who cares?

                             I loved the stream and its colours and clarity. Tasted damn good too

The section between the Cheviot and Hedgehope was….er….boggy. Never been in this deep before!

I climbed up to the top of Hedgehope

A steep descent and an undulating section led me back to my start point, where I had a good wash and cool down here.

The stats show 9.6 miles and 2800 feet of climb, but that tells next to nothing of the run. I really really enjoyed that. As in REALLY !

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Coniston to Buttermere : 26.5 miles, 6250 feet of climb, 6200 feet of descent

Few words needed here. Its the first leg of the Lakeland 100. Its very tough, both up and down. Photos are in no order as usual. 
                                                                                                                                                                             Beautiful skies

Jon heading up again

 Old copper mines  I believe

Snow on the tops

Coniston in the distance

So much colour and contrast in the Lakes

Bracken vs Grass

Narrowest bridge ever?

Checking the map

Vicious descents

Light and colour. Love it

Just after a massive descent

Top of the Black Sail Pass

Lush green fields

Tough country on a good day….

Jon at the start

Here we go

Sun, snow, skies

Loving a flat bit

Up we go again

Never seen clearer water

Spring is here. Green=hope