Thursday, 30 December 2010

Alien landscape

Yesterday. Heading south at lunchtime I drove down the A1 with my running gear in the boot but without the usual paraphernalia of ipod and garmin. I caught glimpses of thickets of white, whispy mist that clung to the low ground around Prestonpans, North Berwick and East Linton and it wasn’t long before I felt powerless to resist the pull of a possible run in a strange and photogenic environment; I turned left into Dunbar and dumped the car off Belhaven Road where I had some privacy to change from shirt and tie to lycra.

There was still snow on the ground, but with the thaw in full swing there was more green than white and I set off initially up and down the flights of coastal concrete stairs, heading along the Coastal Trail that quickly became the John Muir Way. Tacking along the cliffs and across the edge of Winterfield Golf Club, the ground was still hard but the thaw meant that I could choose my path over the crust of icy exposed grass and reeds.

I kept the sand and hoards of daft exercising spaniels on my right and continued west. Not knowing quite where I was going I jogged past little groups of dog walkers and couples. Through thick green damp thickets of Scots Pine the ground was a carpet of pine needles, moss and abandoned cones. I encountered an amorous Labrador called Humphrey who clearly needed to get out more. Why would you call your dog Humphrey.

Appearing out of the trees, I continued onto the flat, soft red silt and reedy clumps and stumps of Belhaven Bay. Driftwood and a corridor of concrete blocks, remnants from the last war. It was empty, open, desolate and beautiful in the mist. I could hear the birds, oystercatchers, curlews and geese competing across the shallow water and grey mudflats of the estuary. As the sands narrowed I caught sight of a lazy heron and the unmistakable metallic blue body of a kingfisher.

I continued up through Salt Green and having run for an hour, I could make out the road noise of the A1 in the distance by then.

I turned south and cut across a couple of fields with Tyninghome House behind me and lopped along some frozen tracks and hedges and past a field crammed with Brussels sprouts resembling a regiment of small perfectly formed green jackets as the sun dipped and the mist dropped back into fields.

I worked my way back through the Plantation and across the Golf Course meeting an older guy, a runner, who wanted to chat about a surfer, collecting driftwood and his life in general but time was getting on.

It was a slow but uplifting adventure. It's good to explore new places.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Have a Good One

Christmas is nearly here and this cross training malarkey is just the job; clearing the drive and road every other day interspersed by pushing the odd car and hauling bags full of milk, bread and lager I’ll never drink a mile and a half up the hill, home. Does this qualify as hill training. I think so.

The ice has sliced through my normally packed training schedule and I am beginning to resemble one of the two plump pigeons that have taken up residence next to the frequently replenished bird table. They’re filling out more every day and are looking increasingly tasty. It’s been a very popular venue for birdlife in recent weeks.
After scrawling some last minute items on a scrap of paper , I took myself down the shops first thing this morning. I stopped and bought some cosmetics. Having paid the young, smiling and heavily made up assistant she gave me a voucher for £2 off hair care products. Having a laugh there, I said.

Having lost my list, I then had to improvise. It was along to the jewellers next. No, not trading in the paltry reserves of family gold, although I may have to resort to this in January when the bank manager calls and starts the conversation ‘ I regret to advise you...’ . Having a mooch amongst the rings and bangles inside the shop, I overheard the girl at the till asking a middle aged bloke shrouded beneath his woolly hat if he was ‘all set’ as she wrapped up his purchase. He replied, manfully, that he was’ just starting’.

I succumbed to the quadraphonic bling onslaught and bought myself a trinket (well, it is Christmas and all those sparkly things, well..who could resist). The lady serving me told me how she intended spending Christmas day. She was going to cook Dijon dill brussels and a nut roast. All that veg. I asked her if she wanted to supplement those dishes with a couple of delicious pigeons. I then did my daily act of random kindness by admitting that she’d undercharged me. I left a wee bit poorer in the pocket but feeling like a saint. It was then to the battery shop to get batteries for my headtorch. Haven’t used it yet. I thought I might need it for looking in those dark places for the unwanted household gold.

It’s just as well the weathers pants. My efforts at assembling the Ridley cyclo-cross frame with old bike parts has failed miserably and my new road bike is suffering from block and chain incompatibility. There's nothing worse, eh?! I admitted defeat as the cyclo cross season passed by like a muddy off-road boat in the night and took both bikes to the shop. They are, it seems, struggling as well. I’m not expecting to get them back before the new year. Apparently the old parts I’ve tried to put on these new fangled super duper frames would be more suited to ‘Bargain Hunt’.

I’m looking forward to the Fife Relays late in late January (if they’re on) and will be heading down the gym before the new year. This snowbound torpor can’t go on. I read its less than 20 weeks to the London marathon. There’s a sobering thought. Have a good one. All the best.

Monday, 20 December 2010

All Hands on Deck

The four musketeers carved out 14 snowy miles yesterday morning up Beacon Hill on the side roads. I went down a clatter on ice coming down one of the hills as I took my attention off the road momentarily. Then more snow arrived as a windy sea fret brought in 4 inches (that's 100mm for all you euro-metric types) during the afternoon. Car bedlam in town. Perversely entertaining (unless you were in a car, that is).
Spent a couple of hours into the evening clearing the road and pushing cars. Some rear wheel drive vehicles were pants in the snow and only good for abandoning.
Managed 4 miles today as the mercury dropped out the bottom end of the thermometer and my knee has a delayed reaction from yesterdays ground-hugging incident.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Saltwell 10k 2010

A small, committed crowd worked their clogs off at Saltwell's annual 10k race today in sub-zero temperatures. There was no chance of anyone overheating and the drinks station seemed to have reverted to serving slush puppies. There should have been a prize for the runner with the most layers on.

Although the Canada Geese were out in force and making a nuisance of themselves it was Morpeth's Johnny Taylor who hammered round the three and a half lap race in Gateshead well ahead of the gaggle of chasing athletes from Birtley, Bingley and other local clubs.
In the women's race I left as the flying Hester Dix of Blaydon neared the finish. She was being closed down by Claire Simpson of Chester Le Street with team mate Angela Hunter third.
Top vet from Pitreavie, Jeff Farqhuar, finished well up.
More photos of the Saltwell 2010 10k - 'click' on Photo collection Link on the right of this blog....

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Ginger Wine

P and A take part in a race. Its a 2 lap race. Both laps are the same distance. The total distance is 2.86 miles. P sets off 5 minutes earlier than A. A's time for the 2nd lap was 8:31. P's total time was 21:54. What was A's time and why was the timekeeper not there to record both times? Write your answer clearly and legibly. Points will be awarded for working out.

As my mind wandered this afternoon, I recalled that the Club handicap was on tonight and sure enough it said so right there on the website. With a forecast of snow tomorrow, I thought it might be an idea to run it as, at this rate, who knows when the race programme will return or where my next race is coming from.

I nipped down the staircase to the draughty and dimly lit wine cellar and selected the Cava over the Rioja to take down for the Secret Santa. I grabbed my ginger wig and jock bonnet (got to start getting used to fancy dress for London you see) and wrapped up the bottle with plenty of sellotape and then jogged the 2 miles to the club house. It was all dark and quiet. I hung around for 5 minutes before P arrived. She had also come armed with a bottle. We had, it seemed, been wrong footed by a late postponement.

No matter. Joined by M, who was also in the dark about the new arrangements and who recently had ran a stormer of a first half marathon at Abingdon, the three of us set off and decided that we'd run the race anyway. It was nice and roomy along the course and no-one complained that I had a ginger wig with bobble bonnet on or got all excited at me for wearing my Ipod. As I ran I caught sight of my shadow a couple of times under the lonely orange glare of the streetlights. It was odd seeing the outline of my head with hair (just like old times!), the bobble above waving randomly and out of sync. M spent both laps on my shoulder, but he'd just been for a big dinner and was happy to cruise round behind me.

When we finished M said he was pleased that I had slowed down a bit on the 2nd lap, but I assured him it wasn't by choice. I suppose it was the headgear. I might have to work on the aero-dynamics. Maybe a smaller bobble or different tartan.

A good blast and useful rehearsal should I decide to do the re-arranged race next week.
P and me swapped bottles and I ran back home with a wee blog story fermenting nicely in my head. The wine, a nice rioja, was lovely! Thanks P.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

ice ice baby..

These last few weeks have been a bit stop and start, but more stop. Saying that, I'm not too hung up about not running. Its just a hobby and while I'm a big fan of the snow, I'm no fan of the ice.
I graced the abandoned clubhouse with my presence on Thursday night. It was deserted. I was about to turn around and leave the forlorn lonely shed when a couple of others from the group appeared out of the icy murk. We picked out a route and churned out a prompt 40 minute warm up with another 12 minutes of fast stuff before mincing back down the hill as fresh sparkly ice crystals formed below our feet.

Today was a 14 mile beasting on my todd to the Dyke Neuk Pub on a snow free 'B' Class road and then back on an unclassified road (which was a mistake. Quiet? yes. Ice free? No. Tippy-toeing around like Bambi on some stretches). The hedges were completely free of berries, robbed by the starving bird life. There were few cars on the road though and I felt pretty strong throughout the run, getting round in 1:40.

On the way out I came to the conclusion that there's two sorts of drivers. Those that give you plenty of room and those who think it's their duty to keep the car straight and, by doing so, force you into the verge with half a metre to spare because you're on their side of the road. We love them really.

Anyway, I read on someone's blog that its 20 weeks to the London Marathon, so I suppose I'd better conjure up a battle plan even though I'm threatening to run in a morph suit and casually wave for 26 miles to the masses as I pass all those famous people and places. Perhaps I should arrange for some out-riders.

Aunt Aggie's particularly fired up because she thinks she's coming too. I haven't had the bottle to tell her she's got to stay at home to watch the dog. Thinking about her sitting there in front of the fire watching Downton Abbey with the collie at her feet in her matching morph suit is a bit scary. I didn't know they did morph suits for dogs.

Friday, 3 December 2010


Another first this morning. I think my last blog was a bit premature announcing 'before the thaw'. Out for 8 miles this morning. Even with gloves on, my fingers were 'cauld'. It wis snell cauld. Perishing. I think my ears were numb as well but as I couldn’t feel them I couldn’t be sure of this. It was -10c. The river surface had partly frozen over and there were ducks, seagulls and black geese wrestling each other for the broken water. The geese gave up soon after I passed them and they took off in a slow, laboured flight, presumably going south. I thought it might be warmer where they had come from. They may have come to that conclusion themselves.

The broken snow on the pavements had frozen hard and was badly rutted, so I stuck to the road once away from the path along the river. As I ran it was so cold, I could almost blow smoke rings with my breath and stopped for 10 minutes by a snow drift to carve an attractive ice sculpture. When the snow first fell last week, everyone was diligently clearing the snow each morning from driveways and pavements. But now after a week and plunged into a Baltic state, like the temperature, standards have plummeted and folk are just happy to be able to get out the front door, the back door abandoned days ago. Pity the local fell races have been cancelled. It would have been a laugh. Remember to feed the birds!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Before the Thaw

Day off. Fought my way around another 10 miles this time heading off eastwards for 8 miles through Bothal woods and with 2 road miles added for good measure. It was slow going, deep slush in places. Got caught out around the 5 mile mark in a mini-blizzard when the wind picked up. Nipped back down into the woods. The downfall only lasted for 10 minutes. We are loving the weather; yes?

With absolutely no one in sight I was happy to be pushing through the ankle deep snow to Marillion (Marbles) and Snow Patrol but it was 'War of the Worlds' soundtrack that proved to be bang-on, haunting, the production and Richard Burton's narration as crisp as the new snow as I made my way through the eerily abandoned and transformed alien countryside...'
the chances of anyone running in this are a million to one they said..'
The local hardware shop sold 250 pairs of wellies at the weekend. Thats a result. The only one this weekend around here.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Tales from an igloo

I'm a sucker for the snow and with only another inch added last night I grabbed the thawing fell shoes off the radiator, dug out the camera-phone and stole out into the early morning's snow scape.

No dog today. I did the same run I did yesterday with an extra 2 mile loop thrown in toward the end. It only took me around 1:40 for 12 miles mostly down to taking fewer snaps than any speed. I bumped into a couple of NFR guys and stopped for a chat and, later, another runner who spent the mile we ran together extolling the virtues of compression tights.

In the woods the trees were filled with huge blobs of cotton wool and the path was barely discernible but I avoided the deeper stuff and made good progress, scrunching through the snow and stumbling only once going up a cambered bank. By the time I came out of the woods I expected to be running out of a wardrobe. I always fancied Canada but never been there and I wonder if this is what Calgary's like for 5 months of the year.

There was virtually no traffic on the road and I guess I could have gone on for another hour or so. Its been a bit milder here this afternoon, but we'll see what tonight brings. I'll probably go for another long one tomorrow. It's a good workout for the quads.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Welcome to Northumberland 2010

After a week of no running whatsoever, my cabin fever spilled over as I drew the curtains back this morning to reveal another huge dump of snow.
It was all too much and I took off with the dog for a 10 mile 2 hour run through the woods and across the bridleways stopping for a few photos every so often. I think we've got about a foot or so of snow now. The weight of snow had brought down a few boughs in the woods and there was a lot of ducking and diving as I dodged the burdened branches. Today was all snow and I felt like an extra from Ice Station Zebra or Fargo. My feet stayed dry in the Salomon's with a plastic bag sandwiched between 2 pairs of socks and plenty of layers on above and my fingers only started to get cold on the way home.
The A1 was all but deserted and it really was a winter wonderland. The dog's done in and asleep behind the settee already.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Bonjour Mes Pingouins

Brrr...La neige est arrivée. Je regrette que je ne sois pas dans un endroit chaud. Je ne running pas aujourd'hui. Suis-je devenir faible? La plume de ma tante Aggie est dans le jardin.
....Ca plane pour moi.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Claybank West Fell Race 2010

Prolonged rain yesterday. Heavy showers this morning and the thermometer had forgotten to get up. Two degrees as the sleet splattered the windscreen as I parked up on Claybank for the Claybank West Fell Race.

At 9.15am there wasn't too many folk around, but by 10:15am there was a snaking queue outside the organisers car, his mobile office.

Around 150 had turned up for this 4 mile bogfest. To be truthful, it wasn't so much boggy but just plain slippy as the clay that leads up to the Roof of the North York Moors (which was where we were headed) is thin and peppered by loads of cobbles and boulders that lie in wait to ambush you, should you drop your guard. I had donned my bib-tights, an all in one cycling garment that's great in wet, cold conditions. It was also a double glove day.

After advising the gathered chattering throng that it was wet and to check the risk assessment, Dave Parry set us off and it took me a good 5 minutes to get a rhythm going. I just caught a glimpse of Joe Blackett (Dark Peak) and a clutch of NFR's at the top of the first ascent, but then it was a wet trog through the woods where if you lifted your head for a minute to look around, the boulders would have taken your ankles from you.

This time, I made sure I stayed with the big group of 10 which had loosely formed as we headed out west for 2 miles along the top of Broughton Bank. Because of the conditions there were loads of runners with their cagoules and hats on, so identification of who was around you wasn't possible. I knew I was adrift and off the pace from early on though and the group began to inevitably split. This time at least I was somewhere in the middle as it fragmented. We soon turned and headed up the 2 ascents and past Wainstones with its pre-historic carvings, but there was no time to do the time-team-thing. There were a few families out walking and a couple of bored wet lads kindly gave us our positions as we passed them. I was 23rd. Hanging out of the top 20, I tried to up the pace along the paved ridge that's part of the Cleveland Way. With the climbing work out of the way I passed 2 runners (one from Thirsk in road shoes) and, before long, I found myself careering down the soft grey scree slope and onto the tussocky grass before been passed by someone who reminded me of me 2 years ago when I was happy to throw myself down the slopes. It was then back into the woods for the finish at around 36 minutes.

Afterwards, I took a few snaps and then managed to lose my car key, which was careless but par for the course. Those kind folk from the Quakers Club found it for me.
Good bash. This sort of day out makes you feel alive. Will Horsley (NFR) won it from Dan Middlemiss (Loftus) and Jim Mann (DFR) 3rd. Shelley Gordon (New Marske) narrowly beat Charlotte Edge (jnr) from Scarborough and Angharad Owen of Loftus 3rd. Photos already up at Dave Aspins Site (See Link). Results to follow on the Esk Valley site.

Saturday, 20 November 2010


Its been a week of mid-range runs mostly on the road and today I managed a short 3 miler through the woods in the rain and mud. The soles of my fell shoes are getting a bit short of grip and its was like tackling the safari rally with slicks on. They're perched on the radiator getting dry for tomorrow.

The New Balance road shoes have been replaced by a pair of Pegasus's and its taken a few days to adjust to the change. Other than a couple of fell runs though I've no road events planned so no stress. Given the last few months, I'd say I was fully ten-kayed up. Just got to stay in one piece over the next couple of months and start getting back into the gym. I got a free entry to the Edinburgh Half next year, which is nice and I'd like to say it was because I was so fast and impressive, but the club had been given a couple, so it was great to be sent one. Just finished Murakami's book on running. From the cover I was expecting quite a different book altogether and must admit to being not unhappy to move on to some good old historical fiction.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Newcastle Town Moor Memorial 10k 2010

There was a big field today for the Town Moor Memorial 10k.
After a minutes silence the 500 or so athletes and competitors set off in dry, cool weather. The route takes you twice around the Town Moor in Newcastle and there's one long stretch which is very exposed. Today, thankfully, the wind was very light and I felt good for a change during the first lap. Its a flat course and the shouts of support help.

I was using today as a speed session (honest!) before next weeks assault on the Claybank Fell Race, one of my favourite fell runs. I didn't see anyone around me that I knew and I was running without my usual technological baggage of ipods, phone or teas-made. Today I just put my head down and, knowing the route pretty well, tried to get 100% out of my legs, without going anaerobic.

David Daniels (formerly Wallsend) who ran a similar time to me in this years Edinburgh marathon eased past at 5k. He's been clocking some good times recently and I could only manage to sit on his shoulder for a couple of minutes. One of the club officials shouted that I was in the frame for the team prize , but I found it hard to believe considering I was well down the field. The second lap was just a case of grit and determination. I was on my own from 6k and although I got quite close to the lad in front, he pulled away again in the last kilometre.

Finished in 37:37 and around 40th. For some reason this course although flat enough, just doesn't produce fast times for me, having run it in 37:26 in 2004 and 38:12 in 2008; but it wasn't a bad time either and, as I finished, I told myself I couldn't have run any faster today. These things are worth reminding yourself of, just in case after a day or two you convince yourself there was more in the tank.

I did sneak a team prize, but only because the winner, Johnny Taylor (30:54) didn't have his club vest on. More a case of him losing the £10 voucher rather than me winning it. As I didn't take any snaps on the day, I'll have to leave you with a library picture instead. The Results for the Town Moor Memorial 10k are at (Heaton Harriers website)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Guisborough Three Tops Fell Race 2010

I ran the Three Tops Fell Race once before in 2006 and a quick look at my time indicated that 70 minutes or thereabouts would be a half decent performance.
Driving through Nunthorpe the sky was very busy with swathes of smoky low cloud but also gaps of blue sky. There had just been a heavy shower but it was drying up and as I drove along the Bypass I could see the North York Moors and the triangular crag of Roseberry Topping still covered in low white cloud. There was quite a big field assembling at Guisborough Rugby Club and the race started a little late. I got up into the forest near the front but stumbled and fell in a heap like a drunk on a Saturday night.
If you see a runner go down, it's fell running etiquette to ask if the fallen athlete is 'OK?' as you step over him, and two runners asked after me as they passed and I picked myself up and continued up through the slippy needle covered woodland slope, hands on knees.
There were plenty of orange vested Wetherby runners in the top 10 and as we came out of the wood onto the moors I was around 13th.
A York Acorn runner was just behind and every so often his dark shadow crept up on the ground immediately in front of me. The stone paths were very slippy and at least one Durham runner went down clutching his ankle. I asked after him as I passed, and he assured me he was 'fine'.

The low cloud formed a white mist which would have made for some great photos had I had my (proper) camera. Just before the ascent up to Roseberry, I thought my watch had come off, so I stopped and retraced my steps for 20 or 30 seconds before I realised it was caught up in my bumbag.
Two runners including York Acorn passed by as I fannied and dithered around the thick sedge grass. Roseberry was reached and I took it easy coming down, losing a place to a NYM, but I soon caught and passed him before being passed myself on the next climb by a man with a pointy hat (see picture below).
I tracked him to the next checkpoint, back along the trees and then up the last long drag on wet peaty tracks to the final checkpoint. As the landscape opened up I saw a group of seven about 40 seconds up ahead and it would have been nice to catch them , but today that was only in my dreams. I lost pointy-hat through the trees as the route took us down through the last leg of the Guisborough Woods Fell race, only to see him around 5 seconds in front at the bottom. However, by this time two other guys were haring after me and I had enough energy to horse down the last track full-pelt to land in 75 minutes and around 16th.
Didn't wait around for tea and medals and even though this was quite a bit slower than last time, I felt I had a better run and guess the wet conditions added around 2 or 3 minutes for most folk. I haven't seen the results yet but Sanderson of NFR probably won.
(photos already on Dave Aspins site. Results in few days at Esk Valley site)

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


What a quality production the 'Fellrunner' Magazine is. Glossy, well presented and full of results and foties; the Autumn edition came through the letterbox and landed this morning with enough impact for me to mistake it for a tax return. Lost myself in it for an hour at lunchtime. Its all a magazine should be. Flicking through the pages, I noticed that Hawkhill had finished 17th in the British Champs this year (m40 category) and with a bit of further digging, found out I finished 99th in the championships on the basis of the Dollar Hill Run in July. It didn't take me long to figure out that if I do the long and short events next year too, I could reach the dizzy heights of 80th or 70-something.

With that in mind I managed to get out late in the twilight as the sun was setting, for a couple of laps through the woods (I was going to bore you with more photos of leaves and autumn colours, but at 5.30pm, this is what autumn in Britain actually looks like).

As the sun went down, a thick mist rapidly enveloped the trees and on the second lap I couldn't work out whether my eyes were failing or whether I was in a Ridley Scott movie, expecting at any time to be jumped by one of the dark silhouettes that formed as the last of the light expired.

Clagged in mud, I headed home via Lidl's, sporting my fell runner-chic look. This ensures the general public never get too close! Sometimes I get the sympathy look. For the weekends entertainment I was mulling over Lasswade XC or the Three Tops fell race at Stokesley. Think I might do both. God knows, I need the miles, but can I afford the diesel....

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Jedburgh 10k

It was a beautiful day for the Jedburgh Running Festival. Some roads had been closed to traffic, which is never a bad thing (unless you're a driver) and around 900 border sun seekers lined up together next to the old Abbey for the half marathon and 10k.

Even though I'd missed the online entry closing date, the organiser had given me the OK as long as I turned up early to register and so I chilled in the car for an hour or so after registering and before the race, with a miles warm up at 10.30am. We gathered at the war memorial under the shadow of the Abbey. The man said 'go' at 11am, as the other man with the gun stood looking blankly at the mis-firing pistol, and off we went haring through Jedburgh High Street.

At 1km I was feeling good and was working up from around 30th as the course went off the Main Road (A68) and up and up again through a leafy side road. It was very up and down for the first 4k. I kept Portobello's Jarvie in view and there was also 2 Teviotdales and a Moorfoot between us. It was a bit of a re-run from the Norham 10k.
I was, however, flagging a bit between 5 and 6k and although the return leg was down the A68 past Jedforests Ground and along the river near the edge of Town, I lost sight of the little bunch ahead and worked hard for a 37:32 and eventual 12th place. One of the lads from Teviotdale kept stopping and after 4 or 5 seconds rallied and off he went again but I couldn't find the speed to catch him.

The organisation was very good though and I liked the venue and positive vibe around the race. Might have another go next year, although it has to be said that it would have to go some to beat today's weather. Turner beat Hulme in 34 mins at the front end. Not a PB course but a peachey run on a picture-postcard day.