Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Guisborough Woods Fell Race 2011

Faced with an afternoon of Carry on Matron, me and the 2 interlopers who have taken up residence in the house over the hol’s decided the better option was to head south in clear skies and mild weather to run the Guisborough Woods Fell Race. It’s a three lapper which is run through woods and forest tracks on the slopes of the northern edge of the North York Moors. I didn’t do it last year (snow, ice) and, from memory, I recall damaging my ankle in 2009 in this 6 mile event when I eventually trogged in 18th.

As we arrived at the rugby club to sign on it was a scene of flash-mobbing with 200 odd other runners chatting patiently in a snaking line up to the top of the rugby club car park. The race which takes in 1200 ft of ascent got underway half an hour later. It’s a race that takes no prisoners if you run hard. It climbs up the forest track then through boggy ground up through the wood, up again up the side of an old quarry appearing at the top where runners can catch their breath for half a mile along the top track before plunging down a steep and often muddy slope through the fir trees with boulders strewn here in poor light under a blanket of pine needles and cones. A nice combination of forest run, heart straining slope and atmospheric technical descent.

There’s a small crowd some years and studs are a must. After the first lap I was around 18th and passed a group of 3 including 2 Hartlepools and a runner who looked familiar. That was enough to spur me onto his heels where I sat for the 2nd lap passing a NYM runner who had pulled out having come adrift on the descent. The familiar runner was, I think, Joe McCready (DFR) who'd beaten me earlier in the month but with no club vest on I wasn't sure. He got away from me a little halfway through the second lap where I found my mind wandering about the quality of the photos that several of the photographers scattered around the course would get and I had to snap back into race mode. I managed to catch him on the first rise of the 3rd lap. At this point as you find yourself dredging the forest floor for reserves and I gave myself the usual silent lecture about being in good shape, having a good record on this run, that I was being chased down – in fact anything that might stop me from thinking I could ease off.
As we started the steep climb we passed a Loftus runner who had pulled up, but he re-commenced behind me and joined us at the top making a group of 3 with me sitting at the back. We had begun to lap a few runners at this point. As we started to run along the wide and firm gravelly track on the top I knew that it was going to be impossible to pass either runner on the downhill unless I had a Harry Potter moment and I knew that I had to get a gap before the start of the descent.
There was a slight lull in the pace and that was the signal to go. I went with around 150m to go to the bankside and knew it was a resolute, reckless but, hopefully, not a futile effort. I heard hard breathing on my shoulder momentarily but on the way down as I pounded out 100% I couldn’t detect anyone near, (not that I stopped to listen or look back) and it was flat out over-striding to the end at the bottom of the track. Not quite top 10 but not bad.

Afterwards I treated my two guests to a J2O at the presentation and three bottles of wine for 1st M45 was a nice surprise from the master of ceremonies DP and his Crimbo wine cellar. Thanks D. We celebrated by going via the car-wash where someone had left 3 minutes still on the machine. Now that was a Christmas gift. Paul Lowe (NYM) won from Bulman and Sanderson (NFR). Cath Williamson of Loftus won the Ladies Race. Piles of photos now on the Esk Valley Club gallery. Results to come.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Ruddy Cheeks

The white snow, icy and crisp lay high and thick like a blanket of snowy down on the Cheviot Hills.  I felt the embrace of the winter queen and her cool kiss on my ruddy cheeks. I heard the pheasants little teeth chattering as they hugged themselves and bobbed up and down to keep their feathery plumage icicle free.  

Strangely, however,  I was nowhere near the Cheviots. Instead I was 30 miles away wandering through the tracks and bridleways of Buckshaw and Coalhouse Wood and over the heathery moorland around Beacon Hill with the lads and lassies chatting about all things Christmassy while gulping in lungfuls of clean, ice cold Northumbrian air. What a glorious 14 miles. I bored everyone stupid with more crazy camera antics as I ran, stopped and ran and it was bang on 2 hours when we got back to base.  It was a lovely run out. 

Getting home,  I re-heated the saucepan of homemade vegetable lentil soup and ladled the piping hot liquor generously into my eager,  hungry bowl and then sprinkled some of the parsley that I picked yesterday into it. As I sat dipping my bread into the broth, I sketched out next years running plan.  It's called Jura on the 26th May...
The Isle of Jura Fell Race is undoubtedly a 'classic' in every sense of the word - being a true test of mountain craft, athleticism and fell running technique. It is one of the toughest challenges in British hill racing.   
Later I might pick up Glen Rosa and Borrowdale or Nevis. and not to forget my burgeoning cycling career which has been smoking patiently on the launchpad. Yep, a couple of audax's or sportives. Sounds good.  So much to do, so little soup.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cheeky Wee Robin

Gym this morning, woods with the daft dog this aft. Get tree and lights up, do garden and fill skip. Wot a life!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Diced Parsnips

Pretty chilly and damp this morning as I found myself running the 7 miles back from Ashington. The pavements were icy, ice, ice baby and armed with my Salomons it made it doubly treacherous. I tried to stay on the grass and roads where possible and was glad to reach the path that runs along the river through Bothal Woods. The Council have gravelled it for most of the way and initially I was critical of this but it was pretty dicey in the mud, so its fast and runnable now for most of the way.

It was grey, grim and atmospheric with hail and sleet. The moss and red copper beach provided some colour and I fannied around for ages trying to get some decent shots. Came back via Lidl where I bought some parsnips and honey which I’ll cook for lunch. I had to tear myself away from all the other ‘excellent’ merchandise in the shop! Honey roast parsnips - sounds good enough to eat. Cooking and eating my own food - how exciting can life get?
I could find myself running back there (to Ashington not Lidl) this afternoon and have already got the hat, gloves and shoes on the radiator. Should make about 14 miles today which is quite good for a Friday.  The mileage always takes a nose dive at this time of year. Not sure what’s occurring this weekend on the running front but should have a houseful for Crimbo so no doubt plenty of chores lie ahead. Better get the Christmas Tree up for starters.
later......dark.cold.bit spooky. got there tho...


Saturday, 10 December 2011

North East Cross Country Champs 2011

That was a slog! Photos up now on the Flickr site. Results from the races at Cramlington at http://www.noeaa-athletics.org.uk/FileUploads/norh_east_xc_results_2011a.pdf

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Hexham Hobble Photos

Glad I did the race at Eskdale rather than the Hexham Hobble, which from these photos look pretty blumin' chilly (Balazs photos on flickr - more at www.flickr.com/photos/71012987@N07/sets/72157628278038065/). The question is 'is a double bubble of the North East XC Champs this Saturday followed by Simonside on the Sunday a bridge too far....'?

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Eskdale Eureka 2011

If there was a league table for odd named fell races, I think the Eskdale Eureka would be up there with some of the best of them. Clashing with the local cross country and the Hexham Hobble, there was still around 100 or so runners who’d made the pilgrimage to Castleton nestled in the North York Moors for the Eureka. This place is my old cycling haunt of the early 80’s and it hadn’t changed a bit.
There was a slow queue snaking its way from Dave Parrys car (race HQ). Although clear and calm, it was barely above freezing and runners in various nylon padded jackets jumped and hugged themselves on the spot to keep the circulation going. It was just about the most exposed spot in this 8 mile fell race (Later when the hail and rain came down it was a less attractive spot for the presentation, but that’s us getting ahead of ourselves)!
As I sat in the car I took some comfort from the fact that, in December, the route should be mostly on tracks and that the start was downhill to a bridge before the slow slog uphill started. I didn’t bother taking off my lycra tights or two layers and hat but I was looking forward to testing my new OMM bum bag...(Ok, I don't get out much)! As we set off I made some goofy faces at the team camera operator.   I found out later that the proper camera had been playing up so the pictures on the Flickr site might be a bit hit'n'miss. Luckily (for me) I was also armed with the phone. I chose my moments well and struck a number of times early on the course with the phone. I find it great as a tool to psyche out those around you – just when they think you’re flat out you slow, grope, point, shoot and no one’s any the wiser. 'What just happened'?
The wooden bridge was as slippy as a forlorn January pavement and it was tip-toe across the soapy planks before working through the field from 20th to around 12th. The next few guys and one gal took a wee bit longer to catch and, in the meantime, I was passed by a runner in white who just ground out a great relentless and steady rhythm which I couldn’t match. He never got very much in front of me, but suffering an apparent relapse of the cold after my trip to St James Park yesterday (without my hat on) my tubes were not giving me 100% and the engine was only giving me eighty. A curse on those tubes.
 I followed the series of shoe soles in front closely but every other step was a two step or swerve, baby step or jump as the narrow and tortuous moorland track was strewn with round and random gritty grey boulders making life interesting for the unprepared.
It was at around 3.5miles that we hit the forestry track, then down through some green pasture, up a mossy bank and through some burnished brittle brown ferns and along a stream bank. Having got to the front of a three-some, I nearly took them across the stream before realising that getting your feet wet wasn’t obligatory. As the wind picked up and the light hail and then rain began, it was further along the bank to cross another wooden bridge and up the nasty, steep and sheltered tarmac road before dropping back left into the valley and going back the way we came.

If you have a downhill start, its a sure thing there’s an uphill finish and I struck out after the last bridge to secure my top 10 finish. It wasn’t pretty but I got there. It took around 63 minutes and I felt my calf pull near the end, so I’ll be nursing that all this week, no doubt. 
 Leaving 40 minutes or so later armed with not one but two bottles of wine, we drove out to Whitby and had lunch at Dunsley Hall. A fantastic tasty main course, sticky toffee pudding and then a pot of tea by the fire as I reclined in leather seats and footstool. I didn’t want to go home. - Results at Eskdale Fell Runners site - photos at the Flickr site. Thanks to the NFR runner who seems to be in two of these 'ere photos (Phil I think)?

Monday, 28 November 2011

Saturday Shopping trip

Took a run out to a flooring shop on Saturday which just happened to be near the local cross country. Arrived just in time to watch the men's race. The course had been altered from the last time I was at Blaydon. I'm not sure if it was the modified course or the 400 strong field that made it such a good visual spectacle but it was an entertaining half hour. Took a few snaps with the phone.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Moving on

I've heard that old cliche countless times before...'all
good things must come to an end' and as the chilly winter weather enfolds
around us it's goodbye to the mild Autumn. I've finished the hefty Game of
Thrones and have moved swiftly on to a novel by Hans Fallada. My good spell of
health has also been dealt a cruel blow as I've succumbed to the lurgy that's
going around. Nose tripping me, bleary and as sprightly as a soggy turnip. Perfect
timing for the sporting double bill I'd arranged with the local cross country
on Saturday and TLI cyclo cross on Sunday. May still do these, but my rasping
bronchial death-rattle will not make me many new friends around the course.
-However, its not all doom and gloom.
The SC Gothic concept has now sprouted wings (ravens wings
actually) and a new blog site and email account is up and running, as is the
natty design from the designers at Velotec - the jerseys are going to take
around 4 weeks to delivery and the quicker I can get the order in the better -
still need to get the club registered at a suitable cycling organisation and
get the membership forms knocked up but that won't take long.
If you're interested click the link to the site

Sunday, 20 November 2011

SC Gothic

Saturday was 4 miles in the woods-the rest of day spent savaging the garden. There's still a lot of leaves and debris on the grass at the back.
This morning I was keen to get out and about.
Seems to have been a fast weekend for running with super fast times at the Abbey Dash and Brampton. So why was I at foggy Durham slogging around the mud with a bike for fifty minutes? Truth is I had already done 8 miles on the road with the lads this morning and Claybank and Livingston were just too far away. So Durham it was with the vicar (bike).

I also joined the TLI. That's the organising federation which runs parallel with and is an alternative (sort of) to British Cycling so to speak. So I find that on the basis of me writing out a cheque for £20 just before today's cyclo cross that I'm into next weeks TLI British Cyclo Cross Nationals. Exciting! I've never been last before. Seventh last, yes, but not right at the back.
When filling out the form I put down my club as 'SC Gothic' (sporting club) for some inexplicable reason. It's when these subconscious thoughts, this one of a web -based cycling club, drop out of your head onto paper that ideas take shape, where new clubs and ideas come to fruition and are created. It might be like vc Moulin or Vicious Velo perhaps: or perhaps not. I guess now I better see if I can get some members and some club clothing pdq. Anyone interested? -(just add comments)... The nationals are to be held at Gateshead; which is nice and handy.

Today's race was at Meadowfield where I've ran the North East Cross Country Champs previously so I had an idea of the terrain. Around 100 started and I as ever just grafted in a small gear all the way round. Fell off once and spent most of the second half of the race chasing a Hetton Hawk. Two good muddy hills, a short, steep dodgy drop (they call it the 'technical' bit-pictured) and a mental spiral made of tape that made you dizzy. Finished 55th and pretty good craic for a fiver.

When I got home I lit the Chiminea which I bought early in the summer. I shovelled a pile of old leaves and sticks in there and filled the air and my clothes with that autumnal burnt smoked aroma. Time for a bath.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


I've taken my foot off the gas since Ben Venue and Langdale. I ran out of time last weekend with one thing and another so had to ditch the cyclo cross in Durham which would have been a laugh. It's not the hour it takes to ride the event its the time cleaning everything in sight afterwards that's a drag, not just a case of throwing on the trainers and out. However, the dearth of activity has been mitigated by some short runs through the woods with the mist down and trees throwing leaves at you as you go. Most of the running has been done in late afternoon in poor visibility as I leave it too late (again) and spend half the run stumbling over the hidden roots.

A tin of seasonal Quality Street arrived last week after I took advantage of the store offer. I told myself to put it away and out of sight, but it became strangely opened and full pre-Christmas snacking has been evident. Wrappers scattered all over the joint. I drew a line under it, however, today. Apart from the fact that all the brown, red and purple ones are gone, I got back down the weights. I have to find a new target race to aim for. This worked a treat last time for shaking me out of my flabby condition (both mentally and physically). Nothing like a bit of mental flabbiness. Its the North East Cross Country Champs on the 10th December so that's local and no excuse for me not to run. I think it might be time to try and lay a late claim to a place in the 2011 Rankings. The performances and race choices have conspired to keep me out of the dizzy heights of the top 200 m45's so maybe I'll have to have a go at a road race or two. That's if the cyclo cross doesn't get me first. Nice to have a choice of sports events.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Field Day at Eston

It’s said in Eston that in the 1930’s you could hang your washing out in the morning and, by lunchtime, it could be covered in soot, so was the heavy industry around the Teesside Estuary. Today there was very little wind blowing in off the coast but plenty of heavy industry in the fields and woodland in the Eston foothills.

It was another instalment of the North East Cyclo Cross League. My road mileage has taken a bit of a hit of late. I fancied the Templetown 10 but the cost of diesel has stifled my wanderlust and, instead, it was something abit closer to home (-still, I shoe-horned in a sub 18 minute Parkrun yesterday so all' not lost.

Today’s course was a challenging mix of grass, track and woodland at the Flatts Lane Centre. Thankfully it didn’t have the impossible cambers of last weeks course. Armed with a new yellow Gore top (£10 from Steel's sale yesterday – thank you; kerching!) I was all fired up and belted out 51 minutes of hard cardiac effort in the slippy but mostly grassy conditions. It took a good 22 minutes before I was lapped and I only crashed once, so that’s progress. As I tired towards the end some of the steering became abit 'iffy' and I nearly impaled myself on one of the plastic pegs that holds the route tape, but with a quick adjustment I rode straight through it showing it no mercy. There are no extra points for this anyway.

I may have to join or start a club before long. Getting home with a bootful of muddy wheeels, tyres and bikeI had thought ahead and borrowed a pressure washer. The bike was clean and ready for more before I could say ‘Where’s the cowbell...?’ (thanks to the team photographer for these images)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Baby Wipes at Whickham Thorns

Baby wipes have their uses. Useful for all sorts. Returning from a weeks’ holiday down south, I found I had some in the car, but today they were well out of their league and the clag that was stuck to all parts of the Ridley called for a small band of riot police with water cannon coupled with a couple of curling team sweepers with industrial strength scrubbing brushes...

Last weekend’s 5 mile road race in Milford, Bournemouth was followed up today with a 7 mile run before I peeled off from the Sunday gang and, faced with the possibility of painting the Hall, I opted for a cyclo cross race at Whickham Thorns, Gateshead. Two weeks earlier I had rode a different course in Gateshead that was bone dry. Not so today.

The race was part of the North East Cyclo Cross league and it was a mud fest. A very enjoyable one. On a hilly course perched halfway down Whickham Bank it was evident early on that there’d be a need for quite a bit of running (with your bike) on the uphill stretches and some proper bike handling skills were required. These, I’m afraid to admit, were sorely lacking in my display. I even hit the deck on the warm up lap and continued this unwelcome attention seeking behaviour throughout the hour long race. With around 60 starting, I was well to the back but before 10 minutes had elapsed there were casualties all over the course, men in muddy lycra leaning over their bikes, pushing tired and emotional aluminium and carbon frames and spooning sludge, grass and worms out of every conceivable crevice. I continued to work around the course at times jumping off deliberately to run or just laughing as I (yet again) picked myself up off the deck. I was passed halfway through by a rider from Malton who I presumed was leading and later a few more but not as many as a fortnight ago.

With a continued high drop out rate I was determined to finish and improve on my 54th place last time and despite going down more often than a racey metaphor, I ground out a ride.
When the bell went after 50 minutes I thanked the race referee for putting me out of my misery, but really it was a blast and I celebrated the last lap by staying upright all the way round the course. In any case I was keen to finish with the sun up there was a danger of me drying out and with the amount of mud on me I could have baked solid.
It took an hour to clean the bike when I got home and I ended up taking the wheels down to the river with a scrubbing brush like something out of the old testament. Much more of this malarkey and I’ll probably have to apply to the Environment Agency for a licence...(Later I found the Baby wipes cowering under the car seat)!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

CXNE Gateshead

I don't think it was nerves but the strawberry bonbons were getting a hammering. If I didn't hold off there'd be none left for the return journey. It’s been 30 years since my last cyclo-cross and today's one hour race at Gateshead Stadium was the first competition the Ridley (or 'the vicar' as I call it) had witnessed. The moth eaten bike gear was exhumed from beneath the bed and with the choice of suitable garments at rock bottom, I was forced to wear the jersey of a club that no longer exists. I had bought a new pair of ivory shoes going cheap earlier in the year. Not the best colour for this muddy, sweat- lashed pursuit. Part of the Cyclo-Cross North East seasons series of events, I don't think I looked too out of place among the garish lycra and fancy gleaming machines, chrome and alloy glinting in the early afternoon sun.

The idea is that you all start together and work your way around the grass course and after an hour or so a bell is rung before the last lap and if you’re not lapped you get a time; if you are lapped you also get a lap number. I was just trying to limit the lap numbers as a goal for the day.
The entry fee was a tenner and being unattached, I had to add an extra 3 quid for a day licence. We got underway and got through the first lap in around 8 and a half minutes. I was nearly at the back but not quite. Moving as smoothly through the gears as a learner driver on his first outing, I was lapped after 17 minutes. Not too bad I thought. I passed a few early on and spent a couple of laps with a rider from the Tyne Fire Service but then he was gone, blown out the back I mused by my raw talent and bike handling finesse. Me and the vicar were going well; better than I had hoped at any rate. Must have been the strawberry bonbons. I might try lemon next time.

I gawped at my watch briefly after a while and found out I'd been riding for 33 minutes and had passed a few buddies. While I couldn't offer much power in the quad department, my skinny frame and recent trips to the weights seemed to be compensating and I was soon gaining some confidence on the more technical bits. I remembered to slow down where the cameras were, but they kept moving around so not sure if they got my best side.
The course was very dry and there were several tight chicanes to deal with so the upper body was getting as good a workout as the legs. After 48 minutes I heard the bell go for the last lap as the race leader went past the finish line and by that time everyone was all over the circuit; some laps ahead, others laps down. I finished soon afterwards and collapsed on the grass in a heap.

After a chat with someone’s father (or granddad) mostly about the astronomical cost of some of the bits of kit (compared to a cheap pair of trainers, for example) I handed in my number and changed out of my ringing t-shirt and padded shorts. I felt as drained as a load of washing after a 1200 rpm spin, but not half as bad as some of the 10k's I've attempted in the recent past. The shoes and bike were still clean which was a bonus and I’m looking forward to seeing where I finished. It’s a tough workout but enjoyable and one thing’s for sure; you’re never alone for long in a cyclo-cross event.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Langdale Horseshoe Fell Race 2011

£6.50 to enter; £3.50 for a map (so at least I could get lost with confidence) and £2 for parking and a hot pasty at the end. There was only one thing lying between me and that pasty. Fourteen miles and 4000ft of rocky Lake District terrain. The Langdale Horseshoe Fell race was the race I have been training for. As I had raced hard last weekend I drove down past Grasmere and gave myself the day off. At that distance there was going to be time enough to enjoy it.

This was an English Championship counter which explained the appearance of 400 hardened runners. The kit-check was uneventful and off we went at 11a.m. in the drizzle and moody white mist that hung around the peaks like an unwanted friend. I had been pouring over the forecast in the last 48 hours and was dressed for winter, but as we ascended up the farm track and then up through a high steep gully on stone stairs, I was cooking. Beads of sweat dropping from my nose, so the hat and waterproof came off and I pinned the number on my top.
This was my first time at this Lakeland Classic so I had the camera-phone and bored all around me snapping here and there. The mist on the top came and went and somehow it was rockier, infinitely slippier and steeper than I had imagined. My shoes were like skates across some of the boulder fields and only behaved themselves on the coarser grey grit. Am I alone in wondering if the rubber compound on the sole is better in some shoes than others?
I had started working through the lower half of the field and had time to take in the nice views on the rare occasions that they presented themselves. After an hour I looked at the wrist and we had covered a stylish but dilatory 4 miles. The jacket went back on. The hat went on, the hat came off, the jacket came off. Mild behind each peak, windy, misty and cool on the top.
I was with a group of 10 and passed five, but when I looked ahead, there were still around 10 ahead, a bit like a set of Babushka nesting dolls. I suppose there were just so many people on the hill ahead of me. After 2 hours I had done 8 miles, had my second gel and wondered if the winner was in yet. I could smell that pasty from here. I came down on my left hand badly at one point but thankfully it wasn’t my camera hand! There was also an interesting moss bog on route - just for a laugh.
As we passed through the last checkpoint we were coming out of the mist and it was warmer but as the views improved with the sun behind us the camera had steamed up and it was binned for the remainder of the race. We came to a steep rocky scarp and the lads ahead stopped. As I ran up toward them I just caught a glimpse in my peripheral vision of a runner behind on the high ground going sharp right. He had grey hair and was moving confidently so I was off and followed him down a great line off the hill. Passing an injured runner I stopped briefly but help had already been summoned, so I tucked in behind an Arragon Tri runner and came down into the valley and down toward the finish through 3 or 4 kissing gates. Each wooden gate had blood smeared on the top which was alarming but it didn’t stop me passing a Bowland runner just before the end. Competitive streak. Sad, isn’t it!

Just before the pasty fest there was some unpleasantness in the car as my quad cramped but after the obligatory one footed hopping dance and matching facial contortions around the vehicle all was well. It’s a long way to run never mind race and I think the only way to manage some of these knee busters is to just to run them and enjoy them. Finished in 2:58 - 96th. Next time I might manage a beer afterwards.
(Photos in the gallery)