Monday, 9 December 2019

Durham Akeley Heads XC

I have been having some spike issues in recent weeks. It all came to a head a couple of Saturdays ago. The first two local cross country league fixtures were cancelled a month or two back, due to flooding and car park issues. It just didn't stop raining in November. 

With my recent renaissance (is a renaissance not always recent?) in running, I had pushed the boat out and ordered a new pair of fell shoes (see the previous Tinto entry) and doubled up with a pair of Puma spikes. When the spikes arrived they were a little too snug and I needed a half a size up. As the rain teamed down on Saturday morning (for a change), I dropped into the shop in Newcastle to buy a larger pair. I left with a larger pair and a set of 15mm spikes. I wanted 12mm but the staff advised that the sockets were recessed so longer ones would be needed to have the same effect. Long story short, the spikes wouldn’t fully go into one shoe. As I sat flustered in the car in Durham watching the omni-present rain making small streams down the windscreen against a backdrop of a sky that has, in recent months, been nothing other than an anonymous grey, I realised it was going to be my fell shoes. The alternative was to borrow Chef Lindseys. I knew the shoes were neat, but the course was a quagmire and I didn’t think fell shoes would keep me upright, never mind give me enough traction to plough my way ahead.  She’s coming on leaps and bounds and with a squeeze, her shoes might just fit the bill. In the event, I had them off her before she'd crossed the line and even as her socks were still steaming, I laced them up. She had finished 6th in the womens race. Speedy Joe, making a trip south for the weekend was 2nd fastest on the day. She’s also going well. 
Around 500 started. Its a handicap event and I started in the slow group.  
I applied myself throughout the 3 lap affair, slipping around 15 places on the last lap as the faster runners came through. The mud on the low ground was as bad as I remember the Lasswade XC to be all those years ago when I ran that event. I passed one or two runners who I’d never beaten before and eventually finished in 82nd place. I was a team counter and chuffed when I finished. We needed to finish 6 in a team, and we only had 6 runners on the course, so that was a result.  I was in the red for much of the race, but recovered without any drama and with assistance of a towel and a hot tea 10 minutes later from the mobile canteen in the car park. 
I realise that I failed to put my name down for Decembers North East cross country champs, but the daughters are all flying so I can kick back abit and fulfil my role as main driver and jacket holder. The dark destroyer has been giving a masterclass in breaststroke in the army championships, a change from running. She appears to be living the life of a professional athlete.  
In the last three weeks training, I have clocked up around 140 miles, so as long as behave myself, I should be up for another race in a few weeks. Races are a bit sparse at this time of year, but after a 21 mile plod on Wednesday just gone, I might have a wee look at the longer races. Maybe somewhere exotic….like Falkirk or Rotterdam!   The Morpeth 11k race has been cancelled due to a combination of Council bullsh*~ery and risk aversion, so it could be a wee trip to Portobello if that event is on at New Year. Long way to go for 4k, but if I get a car-load it could be a hoot.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

The Town Moor Half

 Picture (North East Marathon Club)
Can you listen to a loop of Def Leppard for an hour and a half? This is the question no one has bothered to ask themselves before now. Why should they? After hearing 'Armageddon it' , 'Photograph' or even the slightly unnerving 'gunter glieben glauten globen' nonsense at the start of 'Rock of Ages', you almost always will have the choice of playing something else.  And if 'Pyromania' is not your bag, you can always turn off your Walkman.
However, for me on a crisp Sunday morning at the start line of the Town Moor half marathon, it was just the job and I raced my way round three and a half of laps of the Newcastle course to an eventual 1:30:10 and 10th place. I admit it wasn't the best field I have ever raced against, but there were 150 of the little cogers and many of them were younger than me. It was a last  minute thing and I paid the £25 entry fee in a resigned and scroogelike fashion for an entry on the line. Tightwad. Given my track record, I should be getting appearance money. The event was organised by the North East Marathon Club.

I was well wrapped up, but there was very little wind and it was warming up. On the start line I explored the possibility of removing my t shirt which was under my club vest. However, one of the pins that held on my race number was sticking through it and with gloves on and the countdown underway, I abandoned the idea. Six miles later clipping along at 6:45 pace, I was looking to strip off. I was cooking in my own juices, slowly marinating in my trainers, stewing in the heat of my misguided exertions. I was too warm. As I rounded the boating pond and finish line for the second time I dis-robed, losing touch in the ungainly process with a small group in front whom I had been hoping to join since the start. A lad from some fell running outfit came past soon after and also went past the group. I knew it would be curtains for the happy band of four and, right enough, they split soon afterwards. Sad business. The good news for me was that one or two of them started to go backwards and I soon passed them and left them to eat my shorts.
We were running amongst those who had entered the marathon and set off an hour earlier, so it was difficult, nigh on impossible to work out where in the field you were. I thought by mile 10 that I was up to 15th. My pacing was fine. After all it was just another Sunday run; right? I had tucked in behind a lad with a tidy stride at around 8 miles and sat there, slowly dehydrating. At the start of the final lap I tried to be clever and grab 2 cups of juice, rather than 1. The cups were barely half full and I was putting in a bit of effort. I needed some liquid, and soon. However, I miscalculated the grab speed factor and missed the second cup. Not to be put off I stopped and cut back, grabbing a second cup and scrabbling my way back onto the course like a hapless version somewhere between Tommy Cooper and Louis Hamilton. My pacer had put 20 metres into me during this short lived juice debacle. They're already calling it 'juicegate': Me, utterly juiceless; the juicelessmeister. I would spend the next 3 miles or so slogging around trying to catch him as he glided high knee lifting his way around the exhausted marathoners. At mile eleven I had a spot of luck when I caught someone in a red and white club vest. He was more cooked than me. His shorts and vest were soaked. I wondered if he'd had a quick dip in the boating pond with the ducks. I subsequently managed to use him as a wind-shield before taking off and leaving him to smell the coffee. What am I like!? First v50 and as much pepsi as you could drink at the end.
At the finish a woman came up with bags around each wrist. She asked if I was vegan or was a loaded question. Was there a right or wrong answer? Could this be the difference between getting a medal or not? I tentatively replied that 'I could be soon'....I've no idea what the difference in the bag contents were, but I obviously passed the test and enjoyed the sherbet fountain and opal fruits in my post race foamy bath... (I haven't found a use for the Cauliflower yet!)
With the Council and Police driving road racing off the road hereabouts, it looks like this event will continue to grow in popularity. Left the course feeling pretty smug with myself, but in a humble way you understand!  In a humble and vegany way, that is.   

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Tinto: The Fiery One

Tinto. Sounds like a character from a 50's cowboy film. Far too exotic a name to associate with an anonymous heather smothered bulge that looks down on nearby Biggar. Its located somewhere between two Little Chefs off the M74. Apparently it means 'Fiery Hill'.

This late season hill race is a classic and straightforward 'up and down yon big hill' affair, measuring up to around 4.2 miles for the round trip. At 2300 ft, its a little way short of a Munro. A popular race, it is a pre-entry race and the £7 entry fee failed to put off the 240 who had pre-entered. Around 190 runners turned up in the early afternoon on the day. 'What a grey day' as Larry would say. Thankfully, very little wind.

The parking and race HQ had been changed from last year to a nearby farm. As congestion increased with numbers gathering, the car park set within a slurry coated farmyard, began to fill and it was a small miracle of fish and bread that the 120 or so cars all managed to squeeze in. I arrived in good time and formed my own row in front of the barn. I had brought my book, George Douglas's 'Through a Dark Eye', a Chrissie pressie I recall. I had lost interest in Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road' and binned it. Sometimes novels simply fail to hold your attention, regardless of how good the prose is. Douglas's novel started a little naively, but I'm well through it. Its set in the 18th Century.

I had brought my new Salomons as well as my old ones. I hoped to get away with the latter. The flock of turkeys adjacent to the farmyard provided the gobbling soundtrack for the day. Not for long, I mused.

With plenty of time for a warm-up, I cut across the wet field to the start. I clipped up the slowly rising gravel track which forms the early part of the course. I quickly surmised that old shoes with baldy soles would not do in this race. Not at all. A quick jog down confirmed that the path was highly runnable, but covered in gravel, I would need all the traction that I could get. As a result, I jogged back the mile to the car and changed into my new shoes. After all, while its nice to pose around the place with brand new shoes, running up and down hills was the reason I had bought them, and within 5 minutes they were covered in clag from the pock marked field.

I had a quick chat with Des Crowe and stood behind him at the start. Not much weight on the lad and I would be doing well to finish anywhere near him.

We set off at 2pm and there was soon mayhem at the kissing gate and fence around 500m from the start. It was carnage as a mass of souped-up runners looked to get over the fence. I had brought the little Samsung and took a few snaps as I ascended. Peter Simpson (Carnegie) came past early on but I couldn't go with him. Instead, I sat behind a girl from Kilmarnock and grafted up the track of red felsite.  I know this because I've done a bit of geology in my time. The track was a little technical in places with quite a few angular boulders peaking out from the scree and I noted this for the descent. Potential bloody knee conditions if you went down.

We got to the top and I had been passed by a few bodies. It was a slog and I couldn't wait for the trig point. The camera was put away.  With 2 miles of descent in front of me, I revved up immediately, passing some old codger as I got into my over-striding stride. Adrenalin filled, I couldn't wait to make some ground upon the many that had passed me going up and I hammered down the hill in a joint wobbling, ligament shredding descent, passing around 5 or 6 including the Kilmarnock runner. It was a hundred percent stuff. My torso struggled to keep up with my legs.

Near the bottom I could see the finish and passed a dark haired unattached runner, but gravity soon ran out and he came back round me easily with 100 metres or so to go before the finish. I thought I had crept into the top 50, but the results said 64th. Not too far back from Simpson, but Crowe was in a different league.

I was buzzing at the end of the race with my descent and made my way back to the car via the soup and burger gazebo which the farmer had put on.  The sole of my right foot was sore and I expected blood upon removal of my compression socks, but the skin was intact and I think it was the repeated high impact that caused the pain. I resisted the pull of the bright lights of Biggar and made my way back down the M74, pleased with how the vestiges of this years running season was shaping up.

I have been toying with the idea of Largo Law in a fortnight. We spent a week there in March 2014 on holiday and know the hill.  Can I be bothered with the 2 hour drive though?  Can I get rid of this cold? Will it stop raining? So many questions.....

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Manor Water 2019: The Sequel

The Manor Water Hill Race is set within the hills south of Peebles late in the season. The ladies take the £5 entry fee sitting in a horsebox. There are sheep dogs and farmers aplenty at the local trials which shares the field with the runners. Come by. Get down, Shep. 
This year the auburn colours of autumn contrasted with the blue sky and strong low sun. It was unseasonably warm. I was, however, well wrapped up in my ‘tick protection system’ with white compression stockings under black OMM tights and finished off in green Salomon cross shoes. Very la-di-da. It had been 11 years since I last ran this race. Where does the time go? All I remember was that it was longer than I expected, very tussocky and you could get a right good bit of speed up on the descent. The grey cloud was down last time and there was hardly any view.

About 70 runners set off at 1pm after a thorough kit check. Across the road and up into a muddy field, the runners settled into a pecking order of sorts and I skipped past a Northumberland Fell Runner.  I was behind Nicola Duncan (Carnethy), but as we climbed steadily she began to disappear and I settled in behind another Carnethy and an HBT, both a little way ahead. There was a poor track visible through the heather and reedy grass, but it was very soft and wet underfoot and I spent all my effort weaving and cris-crossing across the track looking for dry ground, but it wasn’t anywhere near. It was like changing checkout aisles at the supermarket; whichever one I chose, it was always slower than the one I had just come from. Unexpected peaty clag in bagging area. Exhausting. 

I was passed around 2 miles up by Joe Blackett of High Peak and watched him slowly pull away and join the two runners in front. I knew if I let them go, I would have no chance of catching them on the way back, so tried to dig in as we started to climb the main hill, the Scrape. I adopted a 12 step jog, 12 step walk strategy but that didn’t last and I found myself counting as I ascended. A Moray runner came past and was going well.   

Soon the front runners were coming past and, ironically that lifted my spirits knowing that the turn couldn’t be too far ahead. Messrs Donnelly and Marshall came whizzing past after a couple of younger lads who were leading the charge. I got to the top and began the descent, packing my sweat sodden cap into my bumbag. I could see the Carnethy runner ahead of two others and set about trying to make up for lost time. The scenery was stunning, but my eyes were all down tracking my footing. The track had become more cut up with the passing of the runners behind me and it was a repeat of my ascent as I searched, largely in vain, for the best line skipping left, then right to try and find some purchase on the track back. 
I caught the tall HBT runner and thought that maybe I would sit-in, but I soon realised that I was quicker, his descending a little more deliberate. I cracked on but failed to make any more progress on catching the 2 Carnethys and had to have a  little laugh when a marshall at one of the last turns suggested that the woman in front was ‘catchable’…. ‘Not if you’re breathing out your a*se’ I mused. By the final stretch I had no more ‘go-juice’ and it was only gravity that I was running on by the end. Finished around 15th in 1:35 and about 11 minutes slower than my previous outing – that’s a minute a year slower. Unbeknown to me was that the two runners who had passed me (Dark Peaker joe and Moray man) finished 1st and 2nd V50, so if I'd been a bit quicker and lighter I could've been a contender.
 I had a short chat with Nicola and Joe Blackett over the orange squash, grabbed a bottle of beer and then made a quick exit to the car to change.  My socks were in a right state. I had forgotten to bring some clean bottoms so had to make do with a pair of overalls. I looked the part on my drive south via the chip shop and Greggs for a tea. Don’t say a word!  At least there were no cakes involved.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Rained off

My plans to compete in the Tour De Trossachs this weekend were dashed by the rain. But my eagerness got me as far as Dunbar at 8:30am before I pulled the car into a layby to check with the organiser whether it was on. She apologised but said the course was flooded. She reckons this is her last year of organising the renowned event. Lets hope someone in the Glasgow Ivy (or is it Nightingale) picks up the cudgels for next year.  I turned the car round and drove back down the water swept A1 and spent the rest of the day doing very little except watching the rain come down and being in awe of Callum Hawkin's run at Doha. Inspired, I admit that I did nip out just after lunch for 6 miles, but the rain continued and I got back soaked.
However, the weekend wasn't a complete washout. The clan and I got ourselves to Blyth Links on the Saturday morning for the Parkrun. It's frequently windy being on the sea front (well at least the once or twice I've ran it). However, it was unusually calm and around 150 of us banged around the two and a half lapper in what was a break in this weekends wetfest. I tracked the dark destroyer for the final lap but couldn't reel her in and settled for an acceptable 20:00 (14th) for 5km. Thats 77% age adjusted so still looking for about 3% or 4% performance. Certainly better than the 21 minute that was Sunderland back in July. I managed to pick up a couple of bites somehow - sand flies I think.
I ground out another 30 mile training week, so will attempt to increase it to 40 something this week. With the bikes largely being put away for the oncoming winter, I am concentrating on Manor Water next Saturday with perhaps Brampton Carlisle in November. Not sure,  but its nice to be in position to consider entering a few races again, even if I'm well off my old pace.  This time I'll try to get there in good time rather than the late start I was forced to endure back in 2008.  It'll be interesting if I can get anywhere close to the 1:24 I did back then. 
The Condor should be back next week from the bike framebuilders in Leeds where I dropped it off for a respray last month. I have some new bits to put on it for next year. It'll be like riding a new bike at half the cost.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Penchrise Hill Race

Since returning from our week in Perthshire, I have knocked out a 30 mile training week and the pace has been rising daily. My weight has remained about the same, but I am definitely getting some form back, amazing myself the other day by finding myself running on the my toes up the local bank back to the house. 
With no plans at the weekend, I decided to give the Penchrise hill race a go. It's organised by Keith Murray and held just south of Hawick. I was one of the first to arrive at the former now derelict army camp and the modest field began to assemble in the grey drizzle. There was a 5k and an 8k. 
I noticed one lad rubbing some ointment on his legs. I kept my OMM tights on as I know assume that there are hoards of ticks in the grass keen to jump on for a free ride and a wander up your legs to discover a dark sweaty crevice to bury themselves in for a quiet bit of r&r bloodfeasting. I’ve always had a strong aversion to these nasty bastids. Their lifestyle fills me with horror. Not a fan.
The Two Breweries had been the day before and I wondered if this would impact the number of entrants. I warmed up over the first mile of the course and was relieved that it seemed highly runnable. There were about 28 runners assembled and we set off at 11am. I had clocked Brian Marshall and a couple of Moorfooters in the crowd but having been absent from the hill running scene for a good while, I didn’t recognise many others. 
I had a steady first mile before tagging in with a group of 3 runners. Darin Dougal was just ahead, but my priority was to stay with these 3 as we finished the slow ascent and turned to begin the short steep climb to the sheep pens. I was last at the top of the hill but still in touch and, catching my breath, I hammered my way down the hill, catching one lad and aiming for the other two. It took me a mile or so to catch them just as they were splitting and I tagged onto the young Heaton runner who was going well. I stuck to him like a limpet and tried to keep out of the wind. We cranked up the pace over the final mile which was run in around 6min:10sec and we still had enough juice for a full out sprint along the track to the finish and delight of the small crowd at the finish line. The munching highland cows just looked on, perplexed. Heaton lad won by a short head, but I had a good go at him and was very happy with the outcome and other than a slight pain in my hip as a result of overstriding, I was all in one piece. 
A quick chat with the Moorfoots about lack of form ensued as I changed into dry clothes and was rewarded for my 2nd O50 with a bottle of Hobgoblin.
I thanked Keith after the presentation and made my way back south of the border with a plan to return to the club training nights and have another crack at Manor Water in a fortnight.