Monday, 30 December 2013


I arranged to see Cassie again tonight. I dressed up for the occasion.
Two pairs of gloves and three layers. Far too much clothing for a mild night. I think my wife has an inkling that something is going on. She has asked to be introduced.

Is that a headtorch or are you just pleased to see me?
Its hard to get away from all the Christmas lights. I actually quite like the bright, sparkly lights, especially the traditional old school coloured ones that adorn every other house. They remind me of dark grey winter nights in Glasgow in the 70's.  The choice was much more limited then and their appearance heralded the holidays and the arrival of Santa.

This year, our house received more than its quota of head torches. It was on my list, but they arrived from all angles on Christmas day morning. So it was with no regret whatsoever that I jettisoned the one I bought in a budget store two years ago. It was cheap, it was loose and it slept around. It made me dizzy on the only occasion I ran with it.

Tonight, as I left the house in the dark for a night run down the Wannie line, a stretch of disused railway line that originally ran from Morpeth via Scots Gap to Reedsmouth and on to the Borders, I wore a new 'torch de cranium'.  It goes by the name of a Petzl Tikka. I had my cap on underneath it and as I ran into the  dark still night, the edge of the visor cast a shadow forming a black rim just below my eyeline. It told my brain I was wearing glasses. I wasn't. Even as clouds of steamy vapour issued from the breathing department, I wanted to wipe the non-existent lenses.

As I cut through the Common beside the local football club ground I thought there was every chance of a few players stopping me to ask if I'd be the fifth floodlight. Those cheeky little lumens dancing all around. I dropped onto the road and then off again into High House Woods and set about working around the 2 mile circuit a couple of times. It was slow but entertaining.

It was during the second circuit that I looked up. The sky had cleared and the stars were out and there she was, Cassieopea. I stopped and turned the torch off for a bit and took in the heavens. Astronomy was not on my list of subjects when I was young. Other than 'the plough', I didn't really take much notice. I bought a book of stars in the local Oxfam shop last year. It's sat on the shelf for months. This month, however, curiosity has got the better of me. Turns out 'the plough' goes by a few other names as well (you'll just have to 'wiki it' like I did).

Considering how much time I spend outside, the night sky remains a mystery.  We should be on first name terms. So, one of next years targets is to get to know some of Cassie's mates a bit better. I might even get a bit familiar with some of them. I should get myself along to Kielder with a telescope. Probably take the bike as well... and maybe my head torch.. perhaps a picnic and a nice bottle of ginger beer.....

Just over seven miles tonight and thirteen yesterday. Modest, but the new addition to the larder of a bottle of Castor oil, will, I hope, make the joints run that bit smoother. I've been pleased with how things have gone this year on the sporting front and with the cycling club picking up momentum, I hope the next 12 months will be eventful in all the right ways....

Next time, read about Orion's Belt and the blue supergiant.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Stolen workouts

I found myself running through Granton the other night. The moon was high and bobulous like the red bobbles on the tree. The rush hour was in full swing. Rather than get stuck in traffic jams, I dumped the car in a posh street and headed out for 3 miles along past Leith before turning at McDonalds. No, I wasn’t tempted, thank you very much.
It was entertaining to have a sneaky peer in the windows of the nice houses down from Trinity Road before the streetscape gave way to a more commercial  and dayglow vista. There were a couple of pubs that looked welcoming (the Starbank being one of them) and there were a couple of fancy restaurants along the way. I spent a little while dodging folk as they busied themselves getting on and off buses or standing peering in shop windows...always the cheapest way to shop! 
Once the festive windows ran out, I made do with snippets of the conversation of passing folk. I told myself I’d remember a few of them, but only the one from the two young men in trenchcoats and beanies stuck...’ but then its economics;  so I lost interest’.  Not an economist then, I mused.
I passed a female runner in pink top and backpack on the other side of the road as I came back through the exotically named Salamander Street. The wind was picking up then, so I was happy to finish and can report that my car was very definitely the dirtiest one in the street.
The busy week has seen me trying to shoe horn in any exercise I can snaffle wherever I am. This culminated on Monday in 20 miles over Plenmeller Hill just past Haltwhistle with over 2000ft of climbing. I was pretty much alone on the road and really enjoyed the workout, especially for the upper body...struggling up the long steep gradients with the odd sparrowhawk for company.  Cold, wild desolate moorland. I don’t know why they didn’t put the climbs around Alston and Haltwhistle in the '100 greatest cycling hill climbs' book, but evidently there are several monster climbs in the area, and I will be frequenting these with alacrity especially as I have work in the area that’ll mean a few return visits.   

Meanwhile while the mileage is suffering, I’m weighing in like a elephant seal whose had too many jaffa cakes, so the purge must go on. It’s the Christmas cyclo cross tomorrow at South Shields and the Morpeth 11k on New Years Day, so a chance to burn off a few of these mince pies I’m wearing. All the best.  


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Up the West

It's been a very lazy week with the bare minimum of mileage and a weekend that would shame a sloth. I had raced twice the weekend before and not wanting to push my luck or break my gnarled body, I spent most of the week without the garmin. It's easy to become obsessed with a bit of kit or, for that matter, with a website like Strava.  I tried to wean myself off both, at least for a while. 

We took off for a long weekend spending Friday in Glasgow and the remainder in  Inveraray. Went for an hours run up to the watchtower before a foamy bath and slap up feed. Sunday was a walk along Glen Kinglas before a stop for soup at the Village Inn, Arrochar.

The garmin free holiday finished last night with a workmanlike 8 miles with the crowd knocking out one and two minute intervals. Felt good at the end and reckon the easy week has had the desired effect. The garmin had made a re-appearance.

Need to decide what's next on the sporting calendar. Anything to keep away from Winterfest! bah, humbug.


Sunday, 24 November 2013

Double Bubble at Woodcock & the XC

I wondered how I would feel last night after my record breaking run at the Norman Woodcock 5 miler in Gosforth. It’s a flat three lapper around the race course and it was a cool and still day. My plan was to carve a sub-30 performance, but secretly I was resigned to creeping a few seconds over the half an hour.
With a few clubmates in attendance and a field of around 130, I felt surprisingly good during the first lap. Morpeth’s Chris Waugh crept up onto my shoulder toward the middle of the lap and then pulled away smoothly during the second lap.  Instead of chasing him, I focused on trying to catch the first lady runner, which proved a good test, but chiefly I tried to maintain an even running pace and technique right to the end.  Crossing the line I had shaved off 20 seconds from my 2007 PB.  Not the fastest 29:22 in the world at v50 but I was elated and, knowing how to party, treated myself and the missus to tea and cake. I also collected a £10 voucher from the Elswick Harriers event at the prize giving.  

Not surprisingly,  I felt fine last night, spending it dancing away into the wee hours at a 50th Birthday. The DJ was the lad who had done my 50th doo, and he was obliging enough to play many of the tunes I had requested at my bash. It’s not every day you spend a continuous 35 minutes on the dance floor.  We even had a Cure and Simple Minds doubler. Jim Kerr on the dancefloor, indeed.
Felt fine this morning. Made carrot and vegetable soup first thing which I think is great for a pre-race meal.  I tossed the veg into the pan.  Aunt Aggie was busy painting her cast iron miniature Crimean war heroes on the table. I suggested she'd be more comfortable on a chair. She looked over and said that I really ought to make the onions sweat first, so I sat them in the corner of the kitchen and gave them a maths test. The addition of yellow split peas was a masterstroke. It won’t be long before I’m on masterchef.     

The young un’ had said she was intending to have a run-out at the local Cross Country event at Monkton, South Shields at lunchtime and I thought I might have a run out as well. I drove the jalope southward to where it seemed like the whole of the North East running community had turned out. A huge 550 turned out in the men’s field. It meant that the course was well churned up before I got going, setting off in the medium pack (it’s a handicap event, see.)  It was pretty funky galloping past some of the slower guys at the back, but the juvenile bravado soon wore off and, after 20 minutes things were slowing, and progress was slower than waiting for a filling at the dentists. Finished mid table.  I was sure glad I’d had a big bowl of soup before setting off from the house. Those split peas did the job.
Getting back into the house, I had to have a pre-bath shower to get rid of the clag.  It seems we’ve now also got a collection of small Bavarian Grenadiers on the mantelpiece. Photos of the Woodcock road race 2013 and the womens cross country at Jarrow are up in the Gallery. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Get your seven a day

I'm telling you it was wet tonight. Really wet. Driving rain, leaves swirling, wind whooshing, empty streets and me wrapped up like a loon and going through the motions to make up my mileage. I had a bit of Simple Minds, Frankie and Journey on the ipod. Out running with Jim Kerr indeed.

I'll do pretty much anything to avoid running around the town in the dark. I nipped out yesterday for seven through the woods at 4pm. It was still light when I set off. I passed top ex-top vet Rob Hall of Blyth some way along through the track and said 'Hi'. The stretch in the woods lasts about three miles, then its a short section of road that kicks up and then it across the fields for two miles. As I'm trying to do seven a day, I've taken to adding on a couple of lengths of 'rights of way' paths that cut over the railway and through the local Industrial Estate to make it my lucky number. The route is sheltered and, as the sun goes down, its got a great atmosphere as the soda lights from the various business compounds cuts through the narrow corridor of trees and hedges, casting impossible shadows and strobing the path at various points. There was very little left of the snow flurries from the morning.

Saturdays looking like a 5 mile road race in Newcastle followed by a cross country on Sunday. Not going to win the club grand prix but at least I'll go down fighting.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Durham CXNE: Bang Tidy

The question is ‘ can you still race with a puncture?’  Well, its unlikely, but if its cyclo-cross, you’ve got as good a chance as any. My 2013-2014 cyclo season started with a bang. Literally. I dug the bike out of the stables where it had been 'over-summering' and gave it a cursory check over. This was at 8am on a bleary Saturday Morning. I was due to set off for regional event at Durham at 9am. The 'vicar' (rhyming slang for the Ridley; vicar of Dibley..) looked fine and just as I’d left it last February. I loaded it into the motor and by 10am I was parked up and unloading in Durham.
The course was busy and the weather very fine. After putting the wheels on, I went to pump up the tyres, but found one of the valves had snapped. No bother. I had another tube in the car and bags of time. Trouble was the tube was for a road tyre (23mm) rather than for a chunky cross tyre (35mm). I fitted the slimline tube and pumped it up to the max so that the pump was wheezing when I disconnected it. The physics, however, doesn’t work and the tyre was still soft even though I believed the tube inside was groaning like a pair of Jabba the Hutts trousers; gasping and about to go ‘ping’.
I rode gently around the course and set about tightening the brake cables. Once done, I considered the machine was rideable as long as I went steady. Having paid my £12, I gathered on the line with the vets, women and juniors and before you could say ‘get a grip on yourself’ we were off and I was exchanging pleasantries to my Gothic clubmate as we watched the hardcore crossers snake off ahead.

Each lap of the University sports ground was around 8 minutes to get around, and after a couple of laps I was getting back into the swing of things and passing people (men mostly) with glib satisfaction. However, the glekit smile was soon wiped off my chops when over the gravel the front tyre, which had been doing very well up to now, went ‘bang’ and that was that. I walked the bike over the top of the course, back to the car and grabbed the camera and snapped away. It did look like a laugh from the sidelines and there were a few faces I recognised from fell running, notably Donnelly and NFR’s Robertson.  Its' just such a good aerobic workout. 
Afterwards it was a natter with the lads and a tikka roll and cuppa. Nipped into the bike shop later on the way back and bought two new tubes (the right size this time).  Also stroked a carbon framed Trek which had my name on it. But restraint was required.

Nipped out for a 7 mile run later in the afternoon, cause I felt the was some residual energy left. After a steady 11 mile run this morning, there seems less energy about and with an early start tomorrow, it’s off to bed.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Claybank Fell Race 2013

I arrived early in Teesside for the Claybank Fell race. Very early. I pottered around the leafy lanes in the car listening to Classic FM. Mellow on this remembrance day. Aled Jones was on. He thanked listeners for their requests and said 'it would be good to hear from you too'. If that was the case, I thought, he should be on Radio 2. I laughed at the sheer stupidity of me. 
There was a raw, early winter frost, but the sky was clear and the day crisp and still. I drove through Great Ayton on the way to the start. It was just waking up. It was everything middle England should be in November; Woman in hat and coat, on the drive scraping ice off the windscreen and blowing into her fingers; Dog with ball, man with paper; child on a bike; woman peering into the car mirror and squeezing a spot on her chin.

I parked up close to the Clay bank car park and joined the short queue to get my number from the fell-meister Dave Parry. I asked for safety pins and he said there were some in the back, but that I wasn't to go into the boot. It was heaving with wine. Money changed hands and I warmed up over the hill at the back. There were around ninety at the start.  After a short lecture on the FRA rules, we were off.

It had been a while since I'd raced around the Moors and didn't recognise many of the runners and riders. I dropped into 18th position once the climb along the side of the wood levelled off and I pushed on to try and pick up some places on the rocky trail. 

As we hit the first of two climbs, I was in with 2 or 3 runners and was aware of a North Shields Poly on my shoulder. He passed me on the way up. I convinced myself that I had to stay with him, but he had 4 or 5 seconds over the top. It was cold as we hit the flagstones across the moor and it was eyes down to ensure there was no slipping. No time for taking in the splendid view.  I was pleased I wore my cheap woolly gloves.

I was passed by one or two some way along the ridge, but tucked in and soon we were five and all together. We descended into the dip between the climbs in the heather, avoiding the icy steps and I dropped to the back.

The second climb was a stiff walk, and I found some energy at the top to pass a couple and spider my way clumsily through the rocks on the crag. Shields was away again. Good he was on the ascents (said Yoda later), but I wasn't finished yet and we caught up again.

The trail drops steeply left before the finish and three of us continued to the rocky steps. There is, however, a short cut that we missed. It drops down sooner across the shale scree. As I followed Shields, picking our way down the frosty steps, we spied simultaneously two cutting down early, long striding and making 50 metres on us. That was enough to set off my last-ditch  'shit or bust' booster rocket, my very own Hydron Collidor. My small ring of superconducting magnets throbbed and I shot past Shields, horsing after the two runners. One was a North York Moorer, the other of uncertain allegiance.

We entered the woods and the final 300 metres which is a steep, pine needle strewned track.  I was beyond 'full-on', eyeballs out and trying to salvage yet another last ditch finish. The legs were out ahead and my backside was trailing so far behind my legs, I looked like a bad impression of Max Wall.

While one got away just ahead, NYM man gave in with 50 metres to go and I galloped into the pen, feeling completely spent.

Discreet wretch and then up to change after a quick blether with Alnwicks Bruce Crombie.
Why can't I just play backgammon and read the papers....? First M50. Good event, this.
(Photos by Ms Brown. Esk Valley)

Friday, 1 November 2013


Since being pipped at the post at the recent Gibside race (see last entry) I've been trying to get out more in the morning. In truth, its not just a reaction to defeat but also to avoid spending endless dark nights running around the town. True, we've now got a spanking new track up at the local high school, but running 20 laps around lane two can get quite monotonous. Yesterday mornings exercise was a 12 mile purge through the lanes, but today I get a lie-in and will aim for eight to ten miles later this afternoon.

Halloween was quiet last night. Wannabee coach to the stars and slug whisperer, Aunt Aggie, said we had had two visitors when I had been out shopping. As she didn't have any sweeties, she apparently hid under the stairs. I found her still there fingering an old copy of Tractor Weekly wearing a headtorch when I returned. There was only one more little group later in the evening who had an average age of 4 and were mightily excited about wandering around the streets. A sweetie fest. So we have a bowl full of zingy sugar coated sweeties and individually wrapped fruitellas, but this morning I found Aggie has been helping herself to the bowl with the evidence discarded around the kitchen.

As I made coffee first thing, I asked her what she thought my next event should be. As she sat with hairnet on and plasticine effigy in hand (not sure who she's working her Northumbrian voodoo on today?) she tried to form an answer, but a mouthful of chewy sweets conspired against her and her choppers fell out onto the table. That shut her up.

Before 'teethgate',  I thought I heard her mumble Brampton-Carlisle. That would be good but I'm also in the mood for a trail or fell race and a bit of cross country. Best to do these races before the health and safety police ban them. Clay Bank West on the 10th is a cert. Then there's the cyclo cross. Choices...Choices. I'll have a trawl through the calendar and see what's occurring.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Gibside Trail Race 2013: A tough workout.

I’m not sure why I haven’t entertained the Gibside Trail Race before today in my past catalogue of races. It’s not too far away, held in stately grounds and is always popular with the punters, seemingly fully booked up in advance well before the day itself. 

The Gibside notion took me a fortnight ago and I emailed the organisers, Blackhill Bounders to see if they could squeeze a small, bald one like me into the burgeoning field. They replied that there was space if I got my entry (and £14 fees) in sharpish, which I did.  A national trust property, the palatial is perched on the north facing side of a steep hill, the name of which I’ve no idea, not being local.  It’s a proper steep hill though, but it’s a only a trail race, so how hard can it be? Can’t be too tough otherwise it wouldn’t draw in both club runners and joe public alike in such numbers.
I woke this morning with earache after 35 sodden miles on the bike yesterday morning with my old mentor who doesn’t do ‘slow’ .  During the ride, I spent the two hours trying to reserve some energy for the run. Mentor was bemused when I hauled him off his racer at Capheaton to sample the delights of the tea room, enchanting staff and roaring fire. His words...’never stopped for tea and cake before on a training ride’. He even took photos. 

Today, armed with my Salomons, I drove the thirty minutes south and parked up just outside the Estate. The blurb that came with the race number said the course ‘wasn’t flat’. It was 6 miles long. I don’t recall a mention of 300m of climbing.
I was aiming for something around 40 minutes.  I spied Jones of South Shields, but not many others in the crowd by the walled garden. Was it a secret garden?  Around 420 set off over the gravel and we soon climbed a little before descending back toward the Main Hall. We hit a short stretch of wet grass and I thought ‘this looks promising’... I like a bit of wet grass and soft ground, but it soon ran out back onto gravel after a sharp little pull and we careered westward. There was a posse of Low Fellers and CoalField Triers just ahead with a gap of around 5 or 6 seconds and with a slight breeze, I felt I should be in there to grab a bit of shelter. But it took around half a mile as we hit the first of 3 major climbs through the woods to catch them, and that was as the group fragmented under the searching, grumpy  gradient.  Going up, Sir?’ ... I wouldn’t say it was tough, but the lungs and legs had decided that they were conscientious objectors, formed a pact and were looking for the first opportunity to get out of the firing line. The climb just kept going and it took all of my breakfast generated energy to get to the top. I saw Redman (Sunderland ) a little way ahead, but had no illusions of catching him.

After a short stretch of ridge, it was up again and I caught a tall, long striding Teesdale runner, certainly a vet, and McAlister of Heaton. He was looking strong and as a marshall shouted ‘all downhill now’, we both opened up and hoofed it down along the track, trying to get the best line and not overdo it.
It wasn’t ‘all downhill now’, of course, and the track  kicked back up and my good work was undone as the three I’d passed a minute ago came past, one by one, in turn. It was then down along the river as I passed a Sheffield Uni. runner who looked like he’d also believed the marshall’s well intentioned comment. 

McAlister had got away in front, but I heard the predatory footfall of a long striding runner behind. He was breathing hard, but not so close that I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. But he was close.....too close.
I held Teesdale off up the last climb where the marshalls at the top assured us this was the last climb and we came round out of the woods to the long flat, finishing straight and a cameraman. I didn’t manage a smile.  Long strider was on my shoulder and I let him make his move with 120 to go. He kicked and I cut left to right and we began to open up, but he wasn’t having any of it and with fifty to go we were full pelt. I was thinking at this point that I maybe shouldn’t have had the cake yesterday nor the late night on Friday. Did that slab of Capheaton fruit cake make the difference...must have done and with ten to go, I was still at his heels but failed to pass him, and I capitulated.  

I didn’t wait for the prizes, but as it was, he turned out to be my competition in the M50 class, and I ended up missing out by a second (45 minutes).  In fairness, he worked as hard as me and was breathing harder at the end, so I shouldn’t be disappointed. Next time maybe....
This age thing makes everything just that bit tougher.  More running, less cake required.  
Results at Well done to Blackhill. Good bash and nice T shirt.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Claybank Hill Climb, NY Moors

Cleveland Wheelers Hill Climb at Claybank. Another hard day at the office, but today I got the photo-copier to work, so to speak.

I've squeezed in a few miles this week on the bike and as this was the last one I've entered, I took two bikes down to leafy Great Broughton on the edge of the North York Moors. It was an experiment to see if my performance on my big geared condor would out-do the recent rides on the other condor with a wider range.

The field was a mighty 60 riders bathed in early morning sunshine. It was unusually warm. I was off at 9.11am. I spent many a gasping ride up Claybank having been to school in the early 80's a stonethrow's away. I didn't think it was easy to get up then, and today was no different. At the start the rider behind me said she liked my gear. Riding for Gothic, you occasionally get this sort of thing, but I didn't know if she was trying to play with my mind.

There was a long slow drag to start with, maybe half a mile, before the road lifted a little and we began to hit the scarp, and as it kicked up, I caught a gent of older years ahead of me. There was a couple of folk here and there and as I began to toil, the low gears I would have looked for weren't there, so I was forced to grind out what I could on a bigger gear. There was a good group a little way on but nobody was shouting for me in that group; then another group further up, and they were more vocal. I had accelerated a little thinking they were at the end, but it was a false dawn and then as I swept past, I saw the finish another 80 metres up the hill. Summoned up all the energy I could find and gave it big licks over the finish line where there was a good crowd.  It was a cracking morning and I would have liked to ride on for another while, but nipped back and stopped at the sports club in the village, the event HQ, to have tea and cakes and a slice of results. and quite pleased to see I'd beaten a few who I've finished behind over the last 3 weeks, so maybe the bigger gear is the way to go. With no more events planned, we'll have to wait for next year. Next, back to fell racing as Manor Water looks tasty.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Ferryhill Two Stage Hill Climb, Bolam

The common book of cycling prayer has a nice quote. It goes something like... 'a hill-climber's life is short and full of woe. He cometh up in a small gear and is cut down like a flower when the results are published'.... The shortest event in the cycling time trial calendar, hill climbing is probably only for the hard core. It's an adventure in anaerobic suffering. It might last 3 or 8 minutes but rarely longer.

Its naïve to think you can jump sports without putting in the hours, but as long as you don't take things too seriously, its possible to get involved without making a fool of yourself. Unlike the running world, where you can rock up to most events and enter on the day, the cycling powers of B have determined that you have to pre-enter this type of race. I've had to commit therefore to a number of events well in advance of knowing how good or otherwise things might go.

Last week was a short hill climb in Northumberland. It was a day after I had panned myself at a fell run and it went poorly I suppose. Today I found myself warming up on a mile climb south of West Auckland in County Durham. It was two stage hill climb time trial. The first hill was at 11am and a second climb of a different hill was scheduled for 1pm. Riders set off at one minute intervals.

I rode 3 miles down to the start with a lad from Manchester and had a good natter. As I was fourth off, I checked out the hill, riding up it once and then went back down and lined up. The objective was not to feel as bad as I felt last week. As the lactic builds and you force yourself up-gradient its an effort to keep a smooth rhythm.  Its a battle between you and the hill and you have to conquer it without parking up and waiting for the bus or grabbing the next riders jersey for a tug as they fly by. 

The first hill, Brussleton Bank, was a mile long with a steep incline in the middle. The tarmac surfacing was poor and it was twisty-turny. I grafted up and up and looked for an even cadence but to no avail and finished just under 6 minutes. As I sucked in the air, I wondered if I could have run it quicker. 'No' is the answer.  I was lying 19th as the results were posted back at the Countryman pub, the HQ for the event in Bolam.  I had a piece of flapjack and reclined in the car working out my strategy for Stage 2. It was easy... 'Go faster'.

The pub car park was beginning to fill up as I got back on the bike and rode down toward Ingleton village. Normal folk going for their roast.  I felt hungry as the smell of hot food filled the air. 

The second hill was long with a sharp climb about a quarter of the way up, but from then on, the gradients were forgiving with two long easy straights ahead. We also had a tailwind and the tarmac was smooth. I felt stronger and more confident as I wellied my way to the finish. My time for a similar distance was about the same and I finished 18th. 

One of the side effects of this sort of exertion is a dry cough, not dissimilar to what you get when you run 200 or 400m, and there was plenty of it as the event drew to a close with the presentation from Ferryhill Wheelers. The season is short, but this sort of affair is a nice change from the usual pavement pounding.     


Sunday, 22 September 2013

GS Metro Hill Climb 2013

Super Sunday followed Satisfactory Saturday. The GS Metro hill climb on Hedley on the Hill was todays target. Its been a good few years since I entered a fully fledged open cycle road race, but this was the nearest I will probably come this year to racing on the road. The fifty quid I rashly splashed out for a British Cycling road licence in March was probably premature. Never mind.

The Metro event is actually a short time trial. There were 40 runners and riders and it was just over a mile, all uphill, with gradients of between 6 and 12 percent or degrees (I never quite know what the measurement is); all I know is that the air gets thinner as your heart rate hits the roof, moves up to the attic and bursts out of the chimney stack with soot all over its face.

I was off number 7 and with both other v50's ahead of me, I had no idea how I'd do. Yesterday's exertion probably counted for something. As it was, the hill wasn't too severe and it took me 6m:20secs to get from start to finish with a little band of supporters shouting near the top to gee you up. Finished 10 seconds down from the winner of the category and 1 second ahead of the other rider, so I didn't disgrace myself. My official photographer even got an all action snap as proof of forward (and not sideways) motion. By the end I was breathing out my 'ears' (re-arrange letters for the truth) and finished, letting the bike roll on for a good 300 yards gulping in huge lungworms of  Northumberland air.
Look in next week for another stalling performance.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Simonside Fell Race 2013: Thropton Show

Target one this month was the Simonside Fell Race. A six mile race through fields, forest and crags and 1200ft of climb, its an autumnal extravaganza that forms part of the Thropton Country Show.  You can be sure of a good crowd at the end. They gather on either side of the finishing tape to watch these 'fell running types' murder themselves trying to shave seconds and places off the years previous performance.  I was one of those 'fell running types'.

It's one of the North East Fell Running Championship counters this year, and with two wins out of two in the old mans category, I didn’t want to relinquish my miserly stranglehold on this lucrative competition...I think there’s a medal at the end. The competition to date has been from Burn of Durham Fell Runners and Smith of Saltwell. There were a few incomers though and seeing Morgan Donnelly sitting on the grass as I entered the show ground, I thought it would be an interesting field. 

Me and the missus had, earlier in the day, entered some of the shows other competitions. She had submitted lemon curd, plum jam, chocolate cake and scones for scrutiny. I had collected 8 photos from around the house and put them in. One or two were from last years trip to Paris and Amiens and I thought they had a chance in their particular category.    

Back to the fell race, and I only managed to get to the line in time, fannying around the car putting on my number.  I took the ipod, but as it transpired, I didn’t need it.

Around a hundred runners set off and we made our way past the Cross Keys Pub and then through the wide, shallow Coquet. I had started steady and made my way slowly up the climb through the fields and up to Great Tosson. I passed Burn and then spied NFR's Scott Gibson and a Pudsey and Bramley runner ahead. As the gradient steepened south of Tosson Farm I tucked in behind the tall, rangey NFR runner,  providing a steady pace up through the forest. In doing so we passed Pudsey's Mcintosh but he didn’t drop back and as we exited the forest and made our way up the vertical gritstone staircase through the crags of High Point, he was still there. 

There is a short trot across the top of the ridge then it all back down again and it didn’t take Pudsey man anytime to show his superior descending skill and overhaul both of us. He ploughed on with intent and a lengthening stride back into the woods.

I upped the pace and tried to stick with him, but through the twists and turns he was making metres at a time. We quickly picked up Alnwick runner Jo Gascoine Owen, winner of the Hawskhead trail race who had been well up the road in the ascent with clubmate Bruce Crombie.  Not long after, as the reeds and ferns covered the slippy surfaces, I went down like a sack of sheet, but was straight back up and still only around 20 metres behind Pudsey. I was working at max though, but happy to stay at that distance leaving the man ahead to spend vital seconds finding the best route and in one or two places, looking desperately for the marker tape.  As we came out of the forest he went left instead of right, but soon realised his error and tucked in behind me as we came back down through Tosson, passing me again just before the river crossing. We were elbow to elbow coming along the road but I couldn’t match his acceleration as we entered the showground and he finished comfortably ahead.

I had a good wretch afterwards. This seems to be a new feature of recent hard runs and not at all to be encouraged.  Still, it was a top ten finish and there were a couple of bottles of Becks for 1st vet 50, so a good if tough afternoon in the hills.

Happy to report a first and a third in the photograph competition as well. No prizes though for the jams and cakes. Can't have it all, eh?

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Teespride Review

I've been doon the big smoke to see the young 'un competing at the world aquathlon championships (well...proud parents prerogative). A 1km swim and a 5k run. Watching all the coming and going made me want to be 30 years younger.  Looking through the photos I took, I thought this one was a laugh (Giant hand pushes in flagpole...not my hand).
Alas,it was over all too quickly and I'm now sat here on the train coming north from London.  My wallets empty and its begun to rain out the window, so we must be going north...
Not one to waste time blogging, I have time as we sit waiting for a train ahead to get itself sorted out, to critically review my performance at last weekends Teespride 10k. Let me start by saying that I could have gone faster and finished stronger toward the end where my pace dropped off from sub-six to six eleven for the last mile.  I say I could have gone faster, but that was really just in my head. My legs and lungs were working at max, little sacks of fleshy bellows sucking in the clean Middlesbrough air! I spent time trying to fend off those johnny-come-lately Teesside based vets who had the cheek to come past in the last mile. Before that, I was moving well over the flat course, the breathing not too laboured.
The Council had closed the road, so it was a stress free, car free circuit that wound its way out of Acklam and down Marton Road. I think we passed Clairville stadium in the final stages, although I couldn’t find the spare energy to turn my head right to see if they’ve pulled it down to erect more houses.  Waste of a perfectly good athletics facility with velodrome.

It was a proper big event with chip timing and a field just short of two thousand.  The sun was out and hardly a drop of wind.  The event was well supported with crowds at junctions and a few had dug out their deck chairs and were sitting on the pavement or at the bottom of their drives. The course kept runners away from the more industrial hinterlands so we didn’t quite get the full ‘Boro' experience.  The bands who were playing music around the course added a cosmopolitan air to the whole affair. The course was fast but not quite fast enough for a sub 37. A goodie bag at the end with a T- shirt, medal and a Frisbee which I threw away.... 
Not sure what's on this weekend. Need to have a look at the racing calendar.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Round 1 - Hexham 800m

Last night was round one in the super vet medley-mash-up combining track racing, road racing and fell running. Round one was last night's 800m at the track in Hexham, the other events being the Teesside 10k next week and Simonside Fell Race later in September. My calves don't know what the hell's going on. If you don't tell them, then I won't either. When I last checked, the last 800m I ran was in 2007 when I delivered an anonymous 2min:20secs. This time around I was in the C race, and got round the two lapper in surprise, surprise.. 2:20secs.  Given that it was as fast as I could manage, I should be quite happy really.  Finished mid-table.
Anyway, good news on next weeks Teesside extravaganza....the cyclo-cross that potentially clashed with the 10k is only 5 miles away, so might be able to do both.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013


I've got my work cut out for me in the next fortnight.
During a trip down town I made a trip to the bank and then moseyed around, shuffling aimlessly from shop window to shop window; Its cheaper that way. Occasionally I catch my reflection in the window and smile back.....Sometimes I wave.

My shopping partner.... Margaret; lets call her 'M' for now... decided to pick up a few things in the bakers and when we met up, her arms were full of paper bags.
'I got you a Cornish pasty' she said.
I thanked her for this, taking it from her and, as we sauntered back to the car in the late afternoon sunshine, I began to sample the contents of this tasty parcel of pastry. I remember seeing a green pea in the brown mix, but not much else I could recognise. Before I knew it, it was gone.

The sun was still out when we got back home.
Aunt Aggie was outside in the garden already, being busy with something.
I said hello and sat on the warm slabs that make up our wee patio in front of my new arrivals, some lush fern plants in pots that I was given. 
As I dozed, I imagined I heard the kettle go on and before I knew it,  I was presented with a mug of tea and an iced cream finger (cake, in other words). You won't find this in any of your fancy training manuals, I can tell you.

The accumulated combined carbohydrate and sugar rush must have taken effect rapidly and before it was five to five and you had time to shout 'crackerjack', I had found the laptop and entered the Tynedale Harriers 800m on Thursday night. The last time I did one of these in earnest was maybe 5 years ago.  The way I look at it, it's a 400m race, but double the length and double the lactic, but not necessarily double the speed.

As if this wasn't enough, I found I had also signed up on-line for the TeesPride 10k on the 8th. It's in Teesside strangely enough. That's why its called the TeesPride. The local cyclo-cross league starts that day and I was intending to make a go of it this year, but the 'British Bakeoff' effect clearly has put these early season plans in doubt.  This is the second clash I've come across. The Simonside Fell Race is on later in September on the same weekend as the Dumfries Half. What to do? 

As the sugar levels dissipated, my sugar goggles began to fall away and I began to feel anxious. I couldn't stop myself confessing and spilled the beans to Aunt Aggie as she sat reading to one of the new Ferns in the back, speaking in prosaic, hushed and loving tones to it while listening to Franz Ferdinand in her over-sized Sennheisers.  When I'd finished telling her of my impetuosity, she just gave me a quizzical look, shrugged but continued with her reading.  Anyway, I presume the volume was too high and she didn't hear a word I said.
I think she was reading Coleridge. His reported forays into the psychedelic seems to have piqued her interest.  Despite her periodic wavering in support of the Indie rockers, she has been a stalwart of the garden, so I came away with no help from the worlds oldest proponent of evaporated milk with everything.  

So not much time to prepare for this poorly conceived onslaught of racing.

Refusing to be put off, I made an early start, tagging on two laps of the local track at the end of my 5 mile run with Mick in the early evening. Let's call him 'M' also. My illusions of getting near to sixty seconds for 400m looked well adrift and unconvincing as I struggled to crack seventy seconds for both laps. However, the Achilles stayed intact so there was some good news. 
Will Ally manage to better his PB on Thursday?.....Will he get a good lane draw and will Aunt Aggie  remember to pre-order the new FF album and what did Kubla Khan decree in his pleasure dome? Only time will tell......

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Inertia on the achilles front

Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its motion.  Its a fundamental principle of physics, apparently.  Our young physics teacher, Mr Burnett, made a brave, but doomed effort to convey this conceptual gobbledygook to me all those years ago. My grey matter was having its own little inertia soiree around that time, swanning around a cerebral drawing room in a paisley patterned smoking jacket, fat cigar in hand, having hung signs over both my eyes and ears saying ' out to lunch'.  

Boredom is one manifestation of inertia. Apathy another. Much as I'd like to expand in detail about this phenomenon, cleverly dovetailing physics principles with running philosophy, I cant be a*sed. That's a good example. So, to cut to the quick, I will summarise Ally's first law of inertia thus:
The inertia acting on a body or mass is proportional to the amount of anticipated spend at the shops.
As always there is an exception to the rule. 
The first law of inertia is void where expenditure is on bike or running stuff'.

I put in some decent but not exceptional mileage last week. The recurring injury, inflammation of my achilles tendons is my achilles heal. They respond better to cycling than running, but best respond to inertia.

I've sat them down and threatened torture....stretching them on the stretching table, using 'the wheel' or even hanging them over the kerb of a busy road, but they refuse to submit. I've stopped short of the bringing in the inquisition as no one expects them. The surprise might be too great. Yesterday was the first day they (the achilles) have reverted to their previous occupations as bit part players in my sporting life. I've told them often enough how very important they are to the cause, but they're not big talkers. With a seed of hope taking root, I was able to push on a bit in last nights 9 mile road session.  If they behave themselves we might get some progress and a race or two might be in order. I can't stand the anticipation.   

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Angel Sportive 2013

We were eating up the road as I sat behind man mountain. I introduced myself as I came up beside him and he said he was Rob. Rob from York. Having set off at the crack of nearly dawn in the Wiggle Angel Sportive, we were making up a bit of a dream team.  This substantial framed athlete in front of me was taking most of the wind, most of the time. He ate up the little and big groups we caught and duly spat them out. I took a breath at 12 miles and peered at my garmin. It announced 19.2 mph. Keeping this up was going to be a tall order.
There was a light shower just before the start of this 80 mile cycling sportive (other distances are available) and, after a moment of mild brain activity, I changed from the short sleeved top to my tracksuit. God knows why. Did I really think I was going to be cold or it was going to be that showery?
As we turned north from Scots Gap I was simmering nicely. I was certainly making inroads into my Robinsons mango flavoured squash.
It seemed like the pace was also taking its toll on Rob from York and he slowed slightly as the inclines became more regular and challenging.  Given my slight frame and knowing the terrain, I moved on into the side wind and made good progress to Rothbury.
I was beginning to wonder where the drink station was when I saw the banner and flag on the left in what looked like an old church yard in Thropton.   I filled up, took on some flapjack and saddled up. The road splits about 2 miles on and it looked like most of the field present were completing the longer 94 mile route. This left me on my own with no one in sight and no one to chase up Bilsmoor, one of the biggest climbs on the day. As it was, I ploughed on and enjoyed the little event signs along the road which implored 'don't give up now' and  'nearly there'...I thought in my sportive, I would have signs that said 'come on, pedal harder you loser' and ' this is what too much flap jack does for you'! Not PC, I'm sure.
As I came into the sleepy hollow of Elsdon, the route joins up with the shorter route (65 miles) and at last there were suddenly more riders on the road ahead. 
The pull out of Otterburn and up toward Bellingham was predictably tough but had to be done. Thankfully, with a blustery headwind I was feeling a little cooler. It was a relief to turn east at Donkleyhead, where a very respectable tailwind was waiting for us. However, I began to cook again under my stylish SC Gothic top. I took on another bottle of water at the drinks station in Bellingham and was pleased to make good progress up the climb out of the valley and then up to Redesdale.
With 15 miles to go, there was a reasonable chance that I could crack 17mph for the overall ride, and it was simply a case of grafting to the finish on my local roads. Pleased to finish in 4:43 for 81 miles. All I could think about was a cool pint of lager tops but settled for my free cup of coffee. Enjoyed the challenge. Could have been quicker if I'd found a group to work with.
Three cereal bars, 2 slices of flapjack and 3 litres of drink. Wonder how Rob from York got on....? 

Saturday, 27 July 2013


Still getting over the excitement of this years Sunderland 5k road race.
If the London marathon is the Rio Carnival, then this event could be the Pamplona bull run. It certainly seemed like that as over 300 eager athletes spilled over the sides of the pavement in the park at Ryhope with eager dribbling anticipation of a pb.
There’s not many fun runners for this event. It was hot and humid, but little wind. Its an eyeballs out event and no mistake. With 750m of downhill from the  start, its a race that’s garnered a reputation for a fast time. The start was marred by a runner who took a tumble but the field soon stretched out along the tree lined boulevard I found myself behind my young ‘un for the first kilometre. This is a new experience. However, wisdom over youth soon prevailed, order soon restored and I pushed on and caught up with Alison Dargie of Elswick. The event’s so short and the field tight on this two lapper that there’s no time to do anything else but pan yourself. We passed a few ahead and before I knew it, we were passing the 3k mark. I vied for the front position from time to time over the next kilometre but there were runners all around me; darting left and right like fireflies, looking for the gap, for the edge. I was on the highway to the danger zone. With the finish line looming,  Dargie put her triathlon training to good use and got a few metres ahead.  I was happy to finish strongly in a heat induced lather. 
Quickest I’ve ran a 5k in a couple of years so pleased with the result.  I’ll need to go some to catch the 1st M50 though, Bracken, who had finished in 15:47. Even if they fired me from a catapult at the start and gave me a copy of the fortean times, some caffeine tablets and a small blue tardis, I still wouldn't catch him. He was probably sipping a pina colada and enjoying the samba music by the time I crossed the line.  

In the meantime I’ve been foraging in the wee garden daily as the hot weather’s brought the fruit out. The tatties are flowering, so could be potatoes for the next fortnight now that I’ve exhausted the rasps and strawbs.  Not sure what to run this weekend, but for today its the bike.  Some sexy sportive is calling to me next week, so best get some miles in.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Beaconhill Fell Race - Don't stop till you get enough

As I sat close in behind a speedy runner from Tynedale Harriers, resplendent in his all black gear, I tried to concentrate. I tried hard even as the beads of sweat trickled down my cheeks.
His pace was just beyond my limit as we began the short ascent through the pine forest near the halfway mark of last nights Beaconhill Fell Race at Rothbury. I felt my breathing struggle. The legs were not responding.  He was getting away (again)....

My mind was somewhere else. All I could think of as hoards of flies swarmed around my sweat-laden bandana in the summer heat was Michael Jacksons 'blame it on the boogie'. As I tried to jettison the tune lodged doggedly somewhere in the acoustic cavern of my psyche, it morphed to something else. The heat was really getting to me.

As he pulled away on the short climb back up to the ridge, it was for the second time in the 6 mile fell race that he had 20 seconds on me. He was even catching a tall NFR runner ahead. As I watched him go, I turned and looked back only to see Saltwell's Smith not far behind.

However, I wasn't done yet. 
Having given the flies the heave-ho as I ran along the dry-as-sticks sandstone track, I also passed the NFR runner and was still in the chase.  A very hot pursuit.

The competition took a sharp right and set off up the last steep climb of the day, a scramble up the gritstone face through the heather to the top of Simonside. He disappeared from view. But it's easier to chase than lead, at least in my book. I think (pitifully) that it was the fact that he had some grey hair and I guessed he might be my V50 competition that I didn't give in.  Over the climb is the ridge and as we both ran along the sandstone slabs along the Simonside ridge, he was coming back. He slowed a little as the paving gave way to rough track on a short descent that required either some 'technical' skills or just being 'abit mental'. In my small armoury of blunt, fell running weapons, that means announcing 'f+*# it' and launching myself down over the boulders and cobbles with arms waving wondering which teeth I might break first if I went down.

I caught him sooner than I would have thought possible and then sat in as we continued over more flattish paving and steps. However I took a different route going down a short drop and hit the front and had no option then but to crack on at full blast across to Dove Crag and down to Lordenshaw Car Park. What a blidy effort for an old man.
Finished 6th and collected a modest bottle of wine for my trouble.  He wasn't even in my category it transpired. Still, got under the hour and waited for the young 'un to come in before we took off back home.  By that time my head was full of 'Don't stop till you get enough....' OOOW.
Thanks to M for the photos and NFR for the race.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Cronkley Fell Race, Durham

It wasn’t until I woke on Sunday morning that I decided to run Cronkley. First time for me. A straight out and back fell race of 10.5miles and 1700ft of ascent over the Yorkshire Dales in Teesdale. It starts at the Strathmore Arms, 3 miles up a dead end near Middleton in Teesdale but set in a beautiful craggy limestone landscape with short cropped grass and gravel tracks.
There were fifty who started and running 5 miles straight into a stiff headwind, it was a grind. I tried to initiate a bit of work and take turns peeling off with a couple of runners, but this failed miserably and predictably, so I ploughed on and soon we were all strung out along the moor. The wind was so strong I felt my cheeks billowing and stretching like I was on a roller coaster or maybe going through a worm hole in a star trek film.
After the coarse gravel track it was onto a boggy stretch with thick reedy grass and we had to pick our way over a couple of rocky streams. I managed to get pretty close to the runner ahead as we climbed up onto Cronkley Crags, but let him slip away on the sometimes rocky descent to the turn at the River Tees. My number had blown off so I decided to stick it in my bumbag rather than run with it in hand. I crossed the river, wading unsteadily over the slippy boulders which lined the river bed. The marshall with the clip had a good laugh on the other side. As I turned I was shocked to see 3 others right behind me and also already coming at me through the brown peaty water. I had thought, mistakenly, that I might have had a gap. Obviously not the case. drat. 
I took off back up the climb to the Crags, but decided to walk and thought if I got passed...well, good luck to them. One of the three was Graham Burns of Durham Fell Runners and my V50 competition. I was passed halfway up by the young Elvet runner and then at the top a rangey Pudsey runner came by. No sign of the DFR dangerman though.
With a strong tailwind, I was hanging on in behind Elvet and as Pudsey came past with his big strides, I decided he was going to get us home quicker, and off I went. I was running behind him so fast that I could hardly keep up with my legs and was furiously scanning every step to make sure I avoided the grey boulders poking their angular heads through the short grass.
With around 2 miles to go, Pudsey moved on and I never got back to him. My speed dropped. I teetered dangerously  on a boulder in the stream and almost lost my foot down a rabbit hole, but was soon on the unforgiving gravel track and it was up along Ore Carr and then down to Holwick Crag and the finish. I allowed myself a quick look back near the finish and there was no one in sight. Crossed in 1:28 (8th) and after having a light hearted moan to the organiser about the gratuitous river crossing at the 5 mile mark, thanked him and left, having a lunch to attend to back up the road.  
Some great photos on display at Results at the DFR site. Absolutely wiped out last night.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Weetslade Relays 2013

Rocked up at Lockey Park on the edge of Newcastle for the Weestlade Relays. Limited to around 60 teams consisting of a senior, a vet and a woman runner, this event is set around the refurbished colliery spoil heap at Wideopen. The heap has been landscaped and looked pleasing bathed in a late evening sunburst.

We arrived early and nosed around. I helped myself to a cup of polystyrene coffee. Soon, the throngs arrived and we got our numbers. I was running with fast vet Phil W and my young 'un. Keep it in the family, eh! After a lengthy talk on the line, a compact posse took off across the field, then out along the flat, grey gravel track lined by Hawthorn and Blackthorn. It was the old rail line and wagonway before that. The field began to stretch out and there were plenty ahead of me. After cutting through a buttercup meadow we climbed up the mound and I got passed two runners, but on the way back along the 2.5 mile route, I couldn't reel in the South Shields and Tynebridge runners ahead. I was going well though, and back on the fields where the cheering crowds were, I snatched a further place before crossing the line where I made a series of distorted faces as I tried to gulp in lung-fulls of clean, Tyneside air. 
Grabbed my top and did another 4 miles around the course shouting at the other runners from the club as they made their way around the route. Good fun and, as with all relays, with added randomness. We finished 13th which was very respectable. The presentation was prompt and printed results issued super quick time. Good Work Claremont.
With Cronkley Fell Race in County Durham at the Weekend, its going to have been a busy June.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Windy Gyle Fell Race...with added history

When Auntie Aggie asked casually over the breakfast table if I was running today's Windy Gyle Fell Race, I stared into my ricicles and, after a pause, I looked up and mumbled
'probably' through a mouthful of half crunched, sugar frosted puffed wheat.
'You best get on then, fat boy', she added nodding to the clock above the cooker. Its never been the same since it melted when she had a misguided effort to cook by fondu. Mini Armageddon with cheese.
I've had most of the week off and only just got back, nursing a tight hamstring. After a little telephone diplomacy, another two sturdy competitors had been identified and I packed the car and took off up the road with my two passengers.  This fell race is set in the rolling Cheviots in the height of summer. Its mostly on grass, but has short stretches of rough track and tarmac as well.

Around 70 turned out in warm sunshine to sign up. The sky was very busy though, threatening and soon the heavens opened just before the start.  I saw Fred Smith of Saltwell up at the front as we ascended the first climb and having covered around 3km, I passed him and aimed for his team mate who was ahead with a NFR runner. I hooked up with them at Murder Cleugh, the site of an infamous murder in 1610, and then it was onwards to Windy Gyle and the cairn, near the site of an iron age fort and meeting place for the border wardens to settle their differences.

Around the halfway mark, NFR man had put in some distance but I was still with Saltwell man. As I tagged behind him I noticed his ironman tat on his calf.
I concluded that he wasn't going to be any sort of pushover.  As it was, it didn't matter. With the long descent looming, he pushed on, on a short rise and before long there was ten or twelve seconds between us. The descent was stunning and all easily runnable and punctuated with styles and it didn't seem like 8.5 miles before the cars and the gurgling Coquet came into view. With no one behind me, I stepped gingerly over the last style at Trow Road beside a former drovers inn at Slymefoot. 

I crossed the line in around 1:09 and grabbed the camera to fire off a couple of shots before the rain came down in rods and I took shelter in the car. It looked like most of the field got caught in the torrential downpour. One runner was heard to say afterwards 'it was revitalizing'. 

Having now ran this three times, I think this is probably one of my favourite fell races. With a bottle of beer for first in category, we returned to base having taken in some beautiful and isolated Northumbrian countryside and a little of the Borders history. Quality.

Monday, 10 June 2013

On Safari: The Alwinton Fell Race 2013

I ran the Alwinton Fell Race on Saturday. It was a 14 mile, 2500ft safari in the sun baked Cheviots. I had made it my target to run this. I didn't agonise over the distance or the terrain. Never gave my knee trouble a thought over the last few weeks. Just assumed I would run it and get through it. Didn't count on the heat though. The last fell race was in Fife all those months the snow.

 The 'Alwinton' is a race that's suffered in the last few years, clashing with other races, but it used to pull in a very respectable field. This year, Traprain was on, north of the border, and the Blaydon was on the following day, so it did well, this year, to pull in about forty runners.

The prizes are hand-crafted mugs. They're worth the £6 entry and pasting yourself all over the hills for (if you're, in any way, in contention).  Too often prizes are forgettable.  I shouldn't carp really. I'm not a pot hunter.

I've ran this twice previously. The first time I got well lost with another lad while up with the front runners. This year, I was slower but surer of the route. One or two runners floundered around me momentarily as forest tracks split or markers were less than obvious, but I ran with an air of nonchalance casually pointing left here, right my sweat soaked orange bandana....It would have been nice if I could have ran a bit quicker,  though.

Keith Cooper organises this to coincide with a walk that takes in the course and so there's no shortage of folk on the route or Mountain Rescue volunteers manning the various

With the sky a deep blue and the sun beating down and pushing up the mercury into the 70's, I made sure I stopped for a proper drink at every water stop. I even stopped at the stream on the way back. I ran on the way out with a lad from Moorfoot. Its up and up along the grassy Clenell Street and then onto rough gravel tracks along the side of the woods northward. After around 5 miles it takes an east turn onto the heather and hummocky grass. It' blidy hard work. The peat was crusty but with a soft centre and I lost my footing frequently and spent plenty energy trying to pick my way along the best line I could find up Bloodybush Edge and Cushat Law.  By the turn,  the Moorfoot lad had pulled well ahead and I had been caught by unattached Mr Spanner. We yo-yo'd for a while and made good speed down the forest track off the hills.  I'd felt my hamstring tighten down the backside of the Law and knew not to push too hard, given that 2 hours is as long a run as I can manage in the hills without beginning to cramp.

The coarse cobbly, scorched and angular surface was hell on the soles, but it didn't last too long. I told unattached I was stopping for a drink from the stream. He ran on. When I started again, he had pulled a little way ahead, but up the last rise, his progress stuttered a little as he was unsure of the route, but he didn't let me get close enough to give him proper directions...there was a lot of mid distance shouting and pointing. I'd run ahead, then he'd start to run, ensuring he kept his distance. Once he realised he could see the village, he took off like a hare. I was happy to let him go. Young and eager.

Crossing the line I sat in the stream for a good while. Later, I celebrated with a shandy and won myself a nice mug for 1st in category.  Legs suffering from a bad case of Doms this morning though.  Nice event. Stunning views.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The sweet smell of the Tysoe Windmill 10k

My strategy of training in the woods midweek, and looking out obscure weekend village races paid off on Saturday. I found myself in leafy Warwickshire on Saturday morning following work commitments the previous day. Having bargained hard for a complimentary 2 hour spell of Wi-Fi at the hotel the previous evening, I googled the race calendar and located the Tysoe Windmill multi-terrain 10k. Tysoe is a tidy Midlands village, snuggled up between Banbury and Stratford upon Avon. Complete with thatched roofs and sculptured lawns.

The race involved an out-an-back course that took in Windmill Hill and stretches of road, farmers fields, woods and farms tracks.  I had banged out 9 miles on Thursday and a steady but hot 7 miles on the Friday night around Nuneaton, so I was keen, but not rested as I arrived on the Saturday morning in bright sunshine to the village green.  The sky was a deep blue and the foliage heavy and lush green.

I parked up beside the tennis court and watched the cars trickle in. There seemed plenty of villagers walking to the little marquee, set up as registration.  A raven sauntered along the grass, listening for worms, oblivious to the villages annual sporting highlight.

I signed up and had some banter with an older gent who talked me around the course. There seemed more marshalls than competitors as the 10 a.m. start beckoned. I warmed up around the green and soon there were a handful of like-minded folk doing the same thing. At ten, around forty of us were off and I settled in,  a little way back from the front runners.

After about a kilometre, I had moved up to 4th and the course veered left through a kissing gate and up through a field to the windmill. It was heavy going, but passing two, I could see the front runner coming back and, at the top of the hill, I caught him as he broke into a walk. A real give-away. I carried on over the ridge and through some trees and fired on down the hill. I lengthened my stride and just put my head down.

After a further mile after a long road stretch, before coming off onto a farmers track, I felt some anxiety about being caught and told myself 2nd or 3rd would be fine... very respectable, even. I hadn't even won it and I was worrying about it.

I was waved on by a few marshalls and then began the ascent back up the backside of Windmill Hill. As I came through the kissing gate I listened keenly to hear the 'clank' behind me from the next runner but it never came.  After stopping to check the route with a marshall, I made it back to the village and took top honours crossing the line in 45.20 stretching my spindly arms out like I had just won the Olympics. It ended up 6.5 miles in length with 500ft of ascent.

Celebrated with a cup cake and tea. If there was a race that justified getting my new Salomons dirty, then this result went along way to satisfying the criteria. I may retire now, and write my memoirs....
Alwinton fell race on Saturday. Chance of more medals.  Hope there's a good crowd there.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Clive Cookson 10k

It was like taking the kids to the seaside. Having decided late on that I would nip doon tha coast  to run the Clive Cookson 10k at Monkseaton, I reached for the kit drawer under the bed and pulled the drawer out. The club top and shorts were at the front and positively jumped out. You could hear them shouting 'me, me, me..'.  I pulled on the vest and caught myself in the mirror. 'Mmmm, carrying pound or two extra. No matter', I thought, 'might do me good to haul the supplementary 'fatage' round this flat two lapper'.  Does that make me a flapper?

There was a good crowd gathering as we signed up inside the new lego school, a great example of a post-modern donut. No doubt it's won a prize.

It was cool and there was a breeze that kicked up as black clouds built and built.  It was soon time for the off.  I moved on and out with 300 others, keeping myself well out of the jostling. Staying out of trouble, I clipped along at a uneventful pace across the gravel track and then down the main road along with two or three others as we came to the end of the first lap. There was still another 5k to go. I tried to maintain focus but struggled a little through the housing estate and watched the little group split and move ahead at the 7k mark. Trying to keep some technique, I slowed and watched 4 come past in the last 2k but held it together across the line.

Not wearing a watch and without my Garmin. I reckoned it was a late 36 minutes which in my book (and mildly bloated state) was a cause for celebration. I duly celebrated with what is described as a 'dry boak'...the stomachs way of saying 'wtf just happened...'.

At least it had stayed mostly dry. Had a quick warm down but didn't wait for the presentation. On the drive home the temperature was around five degrees and the heavens opened. Cracking summer weather, eh? A trip to the seaside? Don't make me laugh.....