Sunday, 5 December 2010

Cardington Cracker 2010

It's sometimes hard to put your finger on what makes a great race, but the Cardington Cracker definitely has whatever it takes.

Two hundred or so runners made the journey from near and often much further away to this little Shropshire village to compete (or maybe just take part) over the nine mile or so course that goes up and down the steep-sided turfy hills of The Lawley, Caradoc and Willstone Hill. Some of them doubtless made the trip as a one off because it is an understated classic of the fell running calender. Others I met keep coming back year on year.

Running recollections as follows:

This year's my fourth running of the race and there's snow on the ground with everything pretty much frozen solid.

A whistle blows and we're away through the field, brightly coloured running vests in contrast to the surrounding monochrome. The pre-race chatter is gone as breathing tries to find a rhythm . I get off far too fast and quickly realise as the stronger guys keep regularly passing me that i've set the tone for my race this year and committed myself to being overtaken - a lot.

After a settling-in half mile through fields, we drop down through a larch plantation carpeted with shed orange needles and out into the fields beyond where we get our first sight of The Lawley.

It's a whaleback of a hill: long and steep-sided. We go up in crocodile...

At the top of the climb the landscape suddenly stretches out in all directions. It's uplifting. Patchy snow gathered in hollows and low drifts brings the surroundings into new relief as we set off along the ridge.

As we pick up speed on the descent I realise the studs on the soles of my running shoes are useless because they can't grip into the frozen ground. Feet are sliding all over the place and the guy that I'm alongside goes flying. Follow others off the path and into the tussocks where there's some traction.

Skite through the gateway, down a path and over the cattle grid and onto a short road section. There's a good account of this section of the race on Jim's blog

I lose another place or two going through the fields that link the Lawley and Caradoc. More places go by the by on the track to the sheepfolds before the start of the big climb. Yet more places are conceded when I stop to take some snapshots just before the top.

Al Tye is on the top taking photographs:



Somehow it feels as if the battery has gone a bit flat. I keep getting overtaken by people who it feels like i should be able to keep up with. There's no spring today.

People out sledging stand to one side as we slip slide off the lower slopes of the hill, through the stream and off up the killer track that leads eventually to the Gaer Stones.

Then a series of smaller undulating high points before we drop down steeply off Willstone Hill through dead bracken and badger sets. I manage to run the long incline up to The Wilderness and even overtake someone - temporarily.

As Henry, a veteran of the event, says to me when I'm over the line and got my breath back: it's the kind of race where you've got to go as fast as you can when you can and just concentrate on keeping going the rest of the time.

Hopefully, I'll be trying to put his theory into practice next year - and for years to come yet.

It's a great race. Very well organised and marshalled. It's a varied and challenging route with plenty of fine views to take in when you haven't got to look where you're putting your feet. The cup of soup in the village hall during the prizegiving tastes great and there's the 'Running Bear' shop for any spare bits of kit you might need. Low key and friendly, I can't recommend this race enough.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Worcestershire Beacon Race

We make our way up the earthy path that switchbacks through the autumnal woods and I'm aware, despite the odd runner coming past, of having got away to a good start.

"Be careful at the start to be RIGHT up the front - calling the opening mile a bottleneck would be an insult to bottles," Ed had told me beforehand.

Jamie had said much the same, describing the start as a bit of a stampede as 200 and more runners charge the short distance over the grass of Great Malvern's Rose Bank Gardens and onto the narrow footpath beyond, "I've seen people fall and get trampled," he'd said with glee.

It's a bit alarming, not to say an unaccustomed feeling, therefore, to be in the first five as we race out of the park, elbows jutting.

The 'Race Plan' was simple and based on the principle that a Morris Minor is always at the front of the queue on country lanes.

I lose places steadily until I feel that I can go with the pace. Seem to have the edge on the roadrunners I'm with whenever the gradient dips a bit. After the Woodchester Park, I'm taking the tactical approach, sticking to others and pacing with the group.

As the track breaks out onto the spine of the hills, an overclad walker turns to his mate and says, "Absobloodlylutely mad" as we pass.

The training the Jamie feels like it's paying off. I'm running apace with Dave (Beardie Green Vest Man), short strides but a fast cadence. It's like being in a very low gear on a mountain bike - pedaling like mad, moving slowly but steadily.

The wind on the cloudy top is warm. We're steered past the summit itself, and then I open it up on the grassy descent that follows, arms windmilling, legs somehow keeping pace with gravity. I open up a big gap, but then Beardie Green Vest Man (BGVM) catches me up on the levelling stoney track that contours aound the back of North Hill. We chat intermittantly, taking it in turns to push on. It's hard work. It hurts a lot. He tells me that his half marathon best is 1:20...

But my new approach to training and pushing the pain barrier seems to be helping. On the final level section before the descent to St Anne's Well BGVM and I run side by side: competitive, focussed and in the zone. Spectators clap us by and I'm aware - despite the discomfort - that I'm managing to run with some strength.

The descent that follows is manic and I open up a gap again. Flailing arms, slapping footfalls and all the while looking for the next best spot to jump the drains that cross the path.

Past St Anne's Well and the clapping spectators, down through the earthy zig-zags (staying on route and resisting the temptation to just charge straight down through the wood) and finally back onto tarmac.

"Good running", the marshall says as I drop down through the trees and onto the final home straight. "It's only pain", says the advice of Mike inside my head, and I just concentrate on keeping going as hard as I can. As I cross the line someone says, "That was a strong finish..."

My best also ran result of the season: 51:28 and 16th overall in a field that included a lot of pretty competent runners. It turns out that BGVM (aka Dave) was a MV50 - as ever, there's some room for improvement.

Next up is my favourite race of the calender: the Cardington Cracker in Shropshire.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Best fell running birthday present - ever

Oh yesssss!

Woodchester Park race

Late again, the family-harried and tight-lipped dad had risked the safety of the wife and kids in order to make it to the race on time... At 10.01am, his good lady wife levelled a stare laced with wordless fury that said:

"You knew it was going to start at 11."

Bugger: it must have been advertised wrong on the Stroud AC website. Nevermind, the boys enjoyed the extra hour of pre-race build up. And, it was good to catch up with Chris Midge and Ed, as well as meet some other Almost Athletes for the first time.

It's a short trail race - only 7.5m - that repeatedly climbs and descends the wooded sides of of an incised valley near Stroud. It's a lovely event, on this occasion enhanced for me as a family experience.

It's a while now since it happened and I'm writing it up from memory. I wasn't fully fighting fit for it and as soon as the track left the cover of the trees the heat and humidity of the day was strongly felt. I pushed quite hard making use of gravity to speed the descents. I overtook some runners and others overtook me.

I remember the delight of seeing ace Stroud runner Martin Humphries' kids chipping in and marshalling in their yellow vests.

I also remember tanking along as best I could in my own little world and looking over my shoulder to see five other runners all pacing off of me. They all overtook shortly afterwards. It made me realise that a tactical approach is important sometimes.

Anyway, it was a good run and I was pretty knackered be the end. Thought I was the first Almost home but was beat by over a minute by Russell.

Sat with Rach and the boys clapping in the other runners as they came in. They boys did well but their lasting memory of the day seemed to be the big tractor in the next door field.

19th overall. 7th MV40. 57m36s.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Catch up and running reflections

Well it's been a while since I got around to doing the blog.

I've done a couple of races that I still need to write up - the Woodchester Park and the Worcestershire Beacon - and been getting out running with the headtorch now the darker nights are drawing in.

Been going out running with Jamie and Mike whose styles compliment each other very well. At one end of the spectrum there's 'Diesel' Mike with the ability to carry on chugging away mile on mile. At the other end, there's Jamie who's an 'AS' man if ever there was - lightweight, fast but with a tendancy to fade as the distance increases. I'm enjoying their combined enthusiasm for Julian Cope.

We're all fitting our running in around our family committments and there's been more of and emphasis on shorter, more intensive runs as opposed to just going out for a couple of hours and doing a longer undulating circuit. Keeping up with Jamie is - murder.

What I'm begining to appreciate is that both of them have the capacity to really dig deep and push themselves when they want to. For example, Mike can run over a hundred miles in 24 hours or conjure up a balls out sprint in the final stages of a race. Jamie, who is also pretty good at cyclo cross, knows he's not really trying unless he's got, 'an agonising pain' across his back and can 'taste copper' in the back of his throat.

Me - I'm lazy by nature. I'll ease off the gas when it starts to hurt.

But now I think that improving my running performance is less about building physical strength and much more about trying to accept a familiarity with discomfort.

In my imagination, I push the image of a weight. It's the embodyment of the pain barrier. Every time I push it a little further it stays put and my threshold increases...

... in theory

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Templer Way

From Templer Way

This trail follows the route once taken by granite quarried on Dartmoor down to the sea. The eighteen mile route begins at Haytor quarries and follows original granite tramway tracks and a derelict canal to the quays, now a Local Nature Reserve, at Newton Abbot. The trail then follows the southern banks of the Teign estuary (low tide only) to Shaldon, where a short ferry ride takes you across the river to a beach a stones throw from the old piers from where granite was shipped to places like London for the building of the British Museum. Quarried clay was also shipped from here to the potteries in the midlands.

Highly recommended. The route is a contrast of natural and industrial landscapes with some good old fashoned British seaside thrown in at the end.

Another good bit is that it's all downhill!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Tor bagging

From the top car park by Haytor Rocks, I headed south towards Bag Tor before turning west to follow the curving line of an ancient stone wall.

Found a way up throught he gorse to Saddle Tor and then cut back southwest to Rippon Tor - the trig on the top had a refreshingly remote feel to it. Then some compass bearing practice over to Pil Tor.

Again, I learned the lesson of trusting the compass. Having added the magnetic variation, the Pil Tor I was looking at lay in the wrong direction, soon later I realise that I've been looking at the wrong tor and that my original bearing was bang on! The direct line between these tors required a lot of gorse-wading.

Pil Tor to Top Tor, then Bell, Chinkwell and Honeybag Tors. Award meself a Tor for the rocky high point to the north of Hedge Down.

There's a short section of land that's not marked as open access on the map that I now need to cross. A thoughtful landowner has put a gate in the fenceline and then tied it shut and put up a No Walkers sign. I excercise my own right to roam!

Then Hound Tor, Greator Rocks, Holwell Tor and back to Hound Tor to complete a very satisfying circuit.

With a nod to 4Winds, I expose wet, white skinned feet for the final - somewhat effeminate - trot back down the soft turf to the car...

Monday, 23 August 2010

Brecon Beacons fell race

The mangled pile of aluminium should not have been there. The memorial, adorned with poppies, should not have been there. The big cliff up above on the left that kept appearing and then dissapearing into the cloud and wind-driven rain should not have been there. More importantly, the four of us should most definitely not have been there either.

It was the second time that day that I had been 'temporarily misplaced,' as my book on mountain navigation likes to put it. The earlier time had been when, preoccupied by the atrocious weather conditions and concerns about the race, I had looked with a horrible sinking feeling past manicly flapping windscreen wipers at a big green sign that said, 'Newport'.

I'd made it to the start just in time to see a body of runners heading off at speed. Resigned to a solitary run around the first half of the course, I got changed and trotted up to the start where a car full of marshals was just leaving...

The race organiser jumps out:

"Late entry? Name? Sign there. They've just gone. You look like you should be able to catch them," he grins.
"Have you got a map?"
"Yeah, got a map. Did it last year."
"I remember him, give him number 12," a woman's voice from the back seat. He writes 12 on the back of my hand.
"We had a retiral. Someone didn't pass the kit check."
"Have you got full kit?"
"Full kit, yeah," I say.

He points me at a clag-covered lump of landscape and I'm off, running along the top of the Taynont Dam! I'm in the race! No warm up! No nothing!

Buzzing from the reprieve, I push my way up through the soaking head high bracken and brambles and into the field above. A direct line up the edge of the wood and a hop over a fence and I'm on the lower slopes of Tor y Foel with the back markers in sight.

The race route itself covers 19 miles and 4000+ ft ascent. Organised by the Mynydd-du, the circular course takes in the Beacons themselves but also a number of other, less populated hills along the way. It's run in opposite directions year on year. This year was clockwise, and conditions couldn't have been more different from twelve months ago when Mike Wood and I had staggered across tinder peat bogs and burned up in the heat. This year everything was saturated due to the prolonged heavy rain.

... overtake a distinctive-looking runner with an improvised splash guard over his specs, made from a visor from a motor racing helmet...

... overtake a couple more on the monotonous track before the heavens properly open and the rain stair rods down...

...short cut a direct line on a bearing over the tussock and bog of Bryniau Gleision, and make places on others who have been more energy efficient and followed the track...

Self doubt creeps in for the first time as I run alone in the heavy rain and cloud on the featureless moor. It's reasurring to see footprints left by the runners ahead. At the second checkpoint, the trig on Pant y Creigiau, a woman's voice from beneath a drawn-in hood cheerfully says, "Number 12" - I take my hat off to her - literally - for it is a very bad day indeed to be marshalling.

The rain somehow manages to come down even harder as I descend to the road. Without meaning to, I reel in the guy ahead on the forest trail that follows by concentrating on a low gear steady pace. Away over on the hillside to the left, sodden clouds congeal in patches over the conifer plantations.

The roaring peaty brown water beneath the footbridge over the Upper Neuadd reservoir overflow is exhillarating.

The path up the steep hillside to the beginning of the Beacons horseshoe has become a stream. It's a hard climb back up into the cloud.

The grey cairn on the summit of Corn Du develops a blob. The blob waves an arm, and I run up to another inexplicably cheerful marshal. It's the same on Pen y Fan, except that this marshal has brought his dog and is handing out waterlogged bits of banana. The rain stops for a short moment on the climb up to Cribyn and I manage to get the camera out of the plastic bag and take a snap.

So I'm running along with a friendly guy from the Rhonda Valley. He's a keen climber and we're getting on well as we make our way along the Bwlch y Ddwyallt. We find the path off to Waun Rydd and are joined by two other runners who have doubled back - one of whom looks pretty cold in his vest.

I've been here before, albeit in good weather and going in the opposite direction. But I know it's featureless. So I get out the compass and set it to the pre-measured bearing of 117 (i'd done me homework). I sight along it, feel confident, and then follow a path that goes in a different direction. The path becomes a trod and then peters out. And then a pile of mangled aluminium comes into view...

Like sheep, we press on...

Try as I might, I can't make the features that I'm seeing relate to where I know we should be on the map. Luckilly, one of our number has a brain and locates us half a kilometre to the south of where I'm looking - wait for it - beneath a crag and, lo and behold, near a memorial...

Meantime, one guy has already headed off down into the wrong valley. The rest of us head back to the end of the crag and climb back up to the top. Aiming off a little bit, we follow a bearing to a little tarn and pick up the path proper. Drama over.

The rest of the run is nearly all down hill and I start to overtake the same people again! I enjoy the last stages of the race and happily chug over the line with what feels like plently left in the tank.

A great race. I'm sure that it would attract a field of several hundred if held in the Lakes, Peak or Snowdonia. As it was, on this day, there were only 45 of us.

A special thank you is due to the Marshals, who must have really put up with some grim conditions so that we could enjoy our race.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Standish Woodland Chase

It sounds as if someone is setting off a roman candle away down in the valley. This puzzles my fried mind until I separate out the sound from a background of gasping breaths and slapping footfalls and realise that it's actually the mewling cries of buzzards up above the closed leafy canopy above. I'm on the second lap, and it's not going well.

The legs are dulled, my spit (yes, I know it's disgusting) has become adhesively difficult to get rid of and there's a dehydrated throb of a headache beginning to couple-up my temples. I'm losing places and there is not a lot I can do about it.

It had started ok. Any race that runs out from a farm where you queue for registration in a barn with a distinctive backdrop combination of smells - dusty hay, spilled oil and cow shit has go to be ok. Echoey cow sounds from the big metal barn on the other side of the car park and hens scratching around, doing what they do. A hundred and fifty or so runners and a measured approach create a happy atmosphere for this modest race that is run every year in aid of a small school in Gambia.

The course itself begins with a mile or so uphill on the road. It's quite steep and effectively thins out the runners before the main part of the race, which consists of two undulating loops on the trails around Standish Woods. About 9.5 miles in all.

Mike stays apace on the way up the hill, but drops back as the gradient steepens. At the top, on the tracks across the fields to the woody section, I'm mildly concerned to realsie that there's another club member on my shoulder, pacing off me. Toby, it later turns out, is 25 and a fit as you'd expect for someone who's into rowing in a big way.

There are four of us: a scrawny muscley guy with a beard who takes a lot of short quick steps, a Vet from the Forest of Dean AC who looks like he's consistently put in hard fast times for the last three decades, the aforementioned fit youth and a balding father of twins (who had considerately woken up their dad at 5.30 that morning). We set a hard pace: 6.30min miles to start off with according to the garmin.

We pace off each other, taking turns to lead the group. We overtake the Bitton Roadrunner ahead, but only because he's stopped to throw up. Then I take a wide line on a corner and slingshot my way into a downhill, taking the Vet with me. The other two seem to fall back as we force onwards. But it's way too fast for me. I know I can't sustain it.

The key point comes after a downhill that I've pushed as hard as I can. In the dip at the bottom and going into the next climb, a Stroud runner comes through and the Vet goes with him. They power away up the hill. There's no way I'm going too.

I run the second lap of the wood with a bloke of rugby player's build. Together we begin to reel in the guy ahead, before I begin to drop away again. The garmin says 7.30 min miles now - and there is most definitely not a spring in my step.

As they clap us up the last climb out of the woods, I know that I must have lost half a dozen places.

Out of the woods the humidity hits and I'm concentrating hard as I push it down the rough stoney track to the road. ("C'mon, you did four miles of this on the Snowdon...")

Then the slappy descent down the tarmac. A Gloucester AC lady comes past, running (as they say) like hot snot. I watch her catch up and then battle it out with the rugby player up ahead.

"Yay, first Almost," shouts Chris's wife Joss and then I gurn the final few hundred yards to the finish to be met by the beaming Vet (Steve) with a cup of water. Toby's in a minute later, Chris a few seconds behind. Ed and Mike about a minute behind again.

Due to poor turn outs by proper running clubs, we won the first team prize! I am dead chuffed because I haven't won anything in a race since I cheated in the egg and spoon, Kirkbride, Cumbria circa '78 (apologies, Mr Aitchison).

Sunday, 25 July 2010

South West Coast Path Slog Blog Pt 3

Heading down the M5, the wipers were already on when test match special broke off for the shipping forecast,

"Lundy: force 6 gusting Force 9" was the message, and heading north for the coast it was easy to see why the squat trees trailed their branches to the prevailing wind.

It was the summer before last when I'd made it to the Hunters' Inn at Heddon Mouth, an impressive steep sided stream valley leading down to the sea. I had arrived at 3pm, fortified myself with beer and scratchings before retracing my steps to arrive back at my car by 1oish and eventually home by 1.30 am. Although I had 48 hours to play with the free time had come at a price: in the spirit of family compromise I had pulled out of the Snowdon mountain race the following weekend. There weren't too many regrets - the Snowdon's a great race, but just a bit crowded for my taste.

Faced with torrential rain, high winds and the prospect of a wild night in a coffin-shaped tent that cost 25 quid, I did what any self-respecting backpacker would have done. I fortified myself with beer and scratchings and enquired after a room for the night.

The next day's ramble was long and memorable on a clear, windy and sunny day interspersed with short heavy showers. I covered 22 miles, passed through the settlements of Coombe Martin, Ilfracombe and (the very charming) Lee before making it to Morte Point, the easternmost bit of this part of the coast.

I wild camped on the peninsular in a sheltered spot with a view from the door of the tent across Rockham Bay to the Bull Point lighthouse (three flashes every ten seconds). The crap tent held up well during the night as the heavy showers continued.

I went for a run the next morning out to the tip of the land and was impressed by the force of the ebbing tide as it passed the point. The onshore wind and waves gave rise to some turbulent waters.

The walk back again was steady and a delight as the sun lowered to the horizon. I will remember a combination of images of yellow gorse flowers contrasting with purple flowering heather, brown grass seed heads - illuminated by the sunlight - dancing and waving together in the gusts above the crumpled silver foil surface of the sea. Surprising a female perigrine on the cliffs above Elwill Bay and hearing her wingtips clap as she flew before turning and coming back past me on the wind to join her mate maybe a quarter of a mile behind.

Before I turned inland for the last time, I sat a long while below Peter's Rock and looked across to the Gower, over to Lundy and back along the series of headlands where I had walked, each set one over another, fading in tone into the distance.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Whacky racers

With a furtive glance he drops down off the path through undergrowth and into a small hollow. Inside the small hollow - or 'depression' as it's known in the game is an orange and white flag with a number on the top. He dibs his dastardly dibber and returns to the path wearing what he imagines to be a 'straight face'.

He realises that he's maybe slightly more competitive than he'd previously thought.

His compadre comes charging back down the path, sweating so hard that his waterproof map is in danger of becoming papier mache-ised.

"... er yeah, it's back there..."

As Muttley would have said:


Mike and I had joined the North Glos Orienteering Club for a free have-a-go session at Crickley Hill. Not exactly a mountain marathon, it was easily enough to expose shortfalls in out navigation skills.

First, I hadn't got me compass out out of the boot of the car because I didn't want to look too keen and second, it took me a while to realise that an orienteering map is a bit like a photographic negative of an OS map. Woods are shown as white whilst open ground is shown as dark. This led to a bit of a kerfuffle with dense scrub when I tried to take a short cut.

The NGOC seemed like a friendly bunch and were far too polite to laugh at how pleased we were with ourselves.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Cotswold Way Relay - Chipping Campden to Stanway

Climbing up out of Chippy we run beside rich green dock leaves and cow parsley, flowers set at crazy angles like spinning plates on sticks. Seventy of us or thereabouts, at the beginning of a day already starting to broil, stringing out along the path that leads up to Dovers Hill where the annual sport of shin kicking takes place.

The late great Ronnie Barker retired to Chipping Campden to sell antiques for a hobby. It's a place that is likely to have featured on the lid of many a chocolate box whose richness of heritage - for me - tends boil over into acute tweeness. A place of yellow limestone, thatched roofs and clipped box hedges. You would not be surprised to meet Miss Marple sleuthing among the blooming roses. The shin kicking - to me - speaks of an engaging and mildly anarchic underlying local spirit (and taste for zoider).

It bodes to be a swelterer and I'm relieved to be getting my stage out of the way early. Everyone takes the road instead of the footpath at one point so I feel ok about using my local knowledge to take a direct line along the old drovers lane known as the Mile Drive. I make a few places by doing this before we have to go into single file to cross fields of motionless unripened wheat.

Fall into conversation with Keith a vet 50 from Pewsey Vale and an ex army PT instructor with a marathon best of 2hrs 50 something and we bez down into Broadway from the tower together and then out and up the hill on the other side.

The long sections of track, white and bright, come and go - they're a less inspiring section of this leg. Then I open it up coming down through the dingly dell valley leading into Stanton and overtake the guy ahead. Keith's on my shoulder.

Stanton is just insanely twee.

Through the parkland trees that surround the village of Stanway. Keith seems to have dropped away. There's not much left in the tank as I dig deep and push it along the last short road section to the finish in front of the grandiose gates to the Big House. 1:33:19, 18th overall. Team wise (Almost Ultimates): 28th out of 74.

The Cotswold Way relay is run by Bath AC. The 103 mile route is divided up into 10 sections. It's not a baton-carrying style relay, each leg starts as the lead runner from the previous leg arrives. It's worth doing if only for the pre-race briefing delivered with military precision and well worn but nonetheless funny jokes.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Recent runs

On the back of Eddie's Triumph up to Chippy was a bit scary - especially when he went wide on the way up Fish Hill. We were recceing the first leg of the Cotswold Way relay together and had a great time of it in the heat of a lush English summer's evening. Felt a bit tired by the end.

Another night, the sandy lane loop with Mike - went at it a bit hard but was pleasantly surprised to be able to just about keep up.

Cotswold Way relay this weekend...

Monday, 14 June 2010


A while ago I contacted 'Four Winds', through his blog and he kindly outlined a route for me to try next time I was in Devon.

From the busying car park, I trotted up to Haytor rocks and paused for a while watching a pair of climbers. Heading down to the old quarries I stopped to say hello to impassive ponies. Took an an old tramway for a bit before going off piste to an impressive cairn, distinctive cattle and the unpeopled promontary of Black Hill, where I lingered over the views for a good while.

Dropped down through unfurling bracken stalks to the Becka Brook and then picked up a trod that petered out and came back again further up the slope.

Stopping, starting, pausing. No hurry - taking things in.

Off piste again, I wobbled over a bit of bog then through gorse before taking a look at the quarries of Holwell Tor. Was quite taken with couple of lichen coated cracklines that looked to have good potential for esoteric top roping.

Running out of time, I sped up on the way back over to Haytor and streched me legs on the grassy descent back to the start.

No barefoot running this time...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Cleeve Cuckoo 2010

It's a fine, fine race this one. Only five and a bit miles, but run on the soft turf of Cleeve Hill on an evening after work it's got all the ingredients needed to leave you with that knackered glow of post race buzz. Low key and informal - I like that.

This was my third running of this race, but I was least prepared. The motivation had been taking another nose dive and the fascia band in my right foot was painful; I hadn't dragged myself out for a run for well over a week. Still, any excuse to pop a brufen...

A fast pace south along the top of the scarp, using the gradient to pick up speed when we can. I'm doing some heavy breathing in time to some rhythm or another and my lower legs just feel dull, but as we turn uphill towards the masts I count the runners ahead and realise with surprise that I'm in tenth place.

The stronger guys start coming through soon enough though, but I'm digging-in, trying me best and I overtake a few on the familiar descent down to the wash pool. The climb out the other side from here is quite steep and drawn out higher up and I resort to power walking towards the end in an attempt to gather some breath back.

A few heavy drops fall begin to fall. I could do with a downpour but it's holding off...

Then pick up the pace again. Pissed off about losing places. It feels like an awful speedwork session - that shaky sense that everything is about to flop. Do I like doing this? Right now I'm not sure, but I am convinced all of a sudden that I could run better if I had more upper body strength.

Overtake two on the way up the last hill to the trig. Emit a loud 'uuuuurrrrgh' on the top in response to the way my body's feeling.

Then it's the long turfy descent back to the start and I make a place back only to lose it again almost straight away when we get onto the track. A Gloucester runner over cruises past. I know I won't catch the guys ahead but hammer it as hard as I can anyway.

Over the line and throw myself down on the grass to get down to some serious oxygen absorption.

The pint of guinness and salty crisps hit the spot during the prizegiving and later.

A great evening17th overall. 6th MV40. 36m42s. Last year was 39min ish.

Stop press:
A recent photo by Mike. As you can see, running is not a glamourous hobby!!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Back to it (again)

First run out since getting back from the Lakes. I am lazy. Had decided to have a rest after the PPPs and Mike's run, which in a way more or less added up to two marathons on consecutive weekends, but had begun to climb the walls. Usually I have to negotiate time for running but this morning I was Sent. Bonus.

About nine miles, taking in Shurdington Hill, Crickley Hill and Lecky Hill. A different route again despite the familiar ground. Pottered along, feeling a bit stiff.

Came across some native Black Poplars - fairly rare.

The bluebells and wild garlic were out so I took a picture on the crap argos camera. A deer went crashing off through the trees.

A nice run. Good to get out. Funny thing about running: all the racing and training can sometimes detract from the core reasons for doing it in the first place.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Fairfield, St Sunday Crag, Wansfell

Well, it was more like 'Childcare in Shambleside', with snatched moments of unremarkable but very enjoyable 'Fell Action'.

Making the most of a negotiated day, leaving Rach and Ag with the kids, Pete and I walked up over Heron Pike and Great Rigg to Fairfield, and then over St Sunday Crag and down into Patterdale. Pete tucked his trousers into his socks - he meant business. Four seasons in one day - almost - we had bright sunsine to start, some hail on the tops and a few showers on the way down. Looking up Ullswater and across to High Street the light contrasts were dramatic. A couple of pints in the Patterdale Hotel and then the bus back: smashing.

Another evening I had 45mins free, so it was on with the mudclaws and off out back, along a great little footpath and up Wansfell in a still, humid evening. Went up pretty hard and was able to take five mins on the top to take in the sounds of the town floating up from the valley and the still views. I remember the wash of the steamer spreading out across a smooth Windermere. Bombed back down (the runners' shortcuts were easy to follow) and was showered and then out with Pete with enough time for a pint before picking up the takeaway.

A great holiday but, as is always the way with the Lakes, nowhere near long enough.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

24Hr Cotswold Way

Sorry for the late post. Currently in the spiritual home using a wi-fi pub :)

Well he did it! 104 miles in 23:48. A brilliant effort. Haven’t yet worked out how much ascent was involved. It’s academic really.

People talk about BGRs, Ramsay Rounds and PBRs, and I know that this isn't on the same scale, but it is still a fantastic achievement.

We set off from Chipping Campden at 21:00, but had arrived early. Rich was driving the support van, a veteran of amateur athletics over the decades he was wearing a flat cap which contrasted nicely with the Inov8 freebee super etand dart running coat that he'd been given for helping at some ultra event in Keswick. He and I sat in the foyer of a posh hotel him sipping a coffee and holding a conversation with the Polish waitress, me jumpy and exited and with a job to do. Mike’s wife, Kate, and their girls Thea and Scarlet came in after a private moment or two and then the timekeeper (forgot name sorry) turned up and we were set.

"Let's have it, Mike," I said meaning every word. They counted us down quietly, and with minimal fuss we were off, bouncing down the road, feeling fit.

It was my first so-called pacing experience and I was surprised how much there was to think about – running ahead to open gates, making sure he kept eating, getting the drinks quickly sorted at the 10 mile pit stops.

The support was always there on the section that I did. At the Stanton pit stop, as well as Rich in the support van, there was a Dave who’d turned up of his own accord. The same Dave picked us up later at the next road crossing in Stanway, and gave us a good toot of his car horn as we disappeared into the night.

"Who's Dave?"

"Lovely guy. He came up to me in the pub after the club run, shook my hand and said, 'I lost a good mate to CF. I want to give you some money."



It brings a tear to my eye to type it now. I ran ahead to open another gate. There was a job to do. What it took to bring this guy out in the middle of the night to lend his support?

The run went well. I had the compass bearing ready for the long section across fields where we'd gone arwy inthe past. Steady away.

At Cleeve we saw the torches of half a dozen Almosts with the good heart to be out at one in the morning. Unbelievable.

Next day, I was tired after my section and short sleep, but couldn’t believe that he was still going. 24 hours is a very long time to keep running.

Spoke to Mike from a Shambleside pavement.

The section after mine with Duncan went well but for one nav error. Mike stopped for a 12 min power nap at severn springs. Was an hour behind at the next checkpoint but Marek pulled him together well. Nick kept up the good work on the final section - he's a very experienced long-distance runner and must have been the perfect accomplice.

Apparently the last mile and a half came in at 7min mile pace. The adrenaline kicked in. There were loads of other Almosts at the finish.

Everyone happy. Will add some pics at a later date.

John many thanks for contacting Mike and sponsoring!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

24Hr Cotswold Way attempt

A quick post to say that this weekend, Mike's going for the all-in-one attempt with a view to making a new record. I'll be pacing him on the first night section before heading up to the Lakes the morning after.

Further details, sponsorship etc

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Three peaks race

Much more enjoyable run this year. A minute slower than last time but don't think this matters as I did put in a few stops along the way. Dry conditions and quite hot. Took care with my hydration and thankfully there were no cramps to contend with. I seemed to have a fair amount in the tank during the second half of the course. Fuller report to follow:

Friday, 23 April 2010

Three peaks anticipation

After a piled-high plate of beans on toast at the caff, I enjoyed a leisurely potter around Ingleton in the bright spring afternoon sunshine. Knowing that but for that wonderful thing called flexi-time I would have been working made the experience so much the better; coasting along, enjoying the river and irregular symmetry of the walls.

Am currently sat in a layby at Ribblehead looking at the viaduct and how Ingleborough and Whernside seem to be quite a long way apart. Also thinking that PyG is further away still.

The curlews are calling and the skylarks are burbling.

Memories of last year’s race in no particular order:

…running along the top of Whernside and thinking, ‘Great I didn’t get any cramp,’ and then both legs locking up.

…mixing up my hydration drinks powder by eye, so that when I arrived at the Hill Inn I had a ‘thirst quenching’ bottle of syrup for refreshment.

…the long run-in of Ingleborough and the guy in front retching every few steps.

…getting cramp in my knees on the climb up Ingleborough.

…at the finish, being unable to get the dibber off my wrist and a woman snipping it off with scissors.

...seeing Rob Jebb come bombing down PyG when I wasn’t even half way up.

...being given a great bit of advice by another runner on top of PyG – “When you get to the viaduct, you’re only half way…”

...the look of pride on my dad’s face

Conditions are dry but if I even match last year’s time of 4:15 I’ll be happy.

Come on legs – do your stuff!!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Recent runs

Last Sunday

Took the map and mostly tried to avoid any footpaths I'd previously been on. A tundle of a run with lots of stops to enjoy the different views on a glorious spring early morning. Wood anenomies were just beginning to raise their fragile heads.

The surreal view of a Narnia-like roof above the hedges. A bandstand in a field. It could only be polo.

Lambs. I closed my eyes and listened to their calls in the warmth of the sunlight. Just great

Tuesday eve

Met up with Mike for a trot out from Lecky Hill. Off the familiar footpaths again, seeing where the map took us. Ran with my old Petzl Zoom headtorch which was about as much use as a candle in a jam jar. Mike's Cotswold Way attempt taking shape. A brisk run, about 7min miling...

Thurs eve
Up to Lecky hill for 'Hills'. Again, keep off the main paths. Follow the trods. In the zone.

Saturday aft/eve
Ran out from my house down yet another new footpath and zigzagged through a housing estate. Headed up towards the Crippetts and found a small fishing lake along the way, which was a bonus.

Edward Wilson (buddy of Scott of the Antarctic) used to visit the Crippetts in his day and there are some nice watercolours of his in the local gallery. An exclusive spot to this day, the only views I could glean from the re-routed footpath were of Victorian pitched roofs.

And then to a real gem. Shurdington Hill a little visited, gorse and turf-capped point on the scarp. The views are the expansive.

I contoured around the side of the scarp following a bridleway that rapidly got diverted back onto the main drag higher up. It pisses me off just how many landowners seem to 'allow' rights of way to lapse.

Excercising my right to roam, following the map carefully and ready for an altercation, I climbed fences that took me into dilapidated territory. An old '50s van loaded with crap gradually collapsing into the brambles. A static caravan, windows broken. The contents of a home stacked in a sideless van tilted to one side. Nature and time in the ascendancy.

Over another fence where there should be a stile. A derelict farmhouse, water pissing out into the garden from the upstairs overflow into the back garden. There's a light on. Mr Todd's place - Tommy Brock inside crashed out with his boots on.

Wound my way around to Brockworth eventually.

Made my way back up the road to home with the phone tuned in to a le Carre play on the radio. About 3.5 hours. Couldn't be bothered to stay out for longer...

Some concern about my endurance levels for the PPPs...

Monday, 12 April 2010

Poetry please...

Found this in an aromatic hardback with a faded spine...

'Climbing Suilven' by Norman MacCaig

I nod and nod to my own shadow and thrust
A mountain down and down.
Between my feet a loch shines in the brown,
Its silver paper crinkled and edged with rust.
My lungs say, No;
But down and down this treadmill hill must go.

Parishes dwindle. But my parish is
This stone, that tuft, this stone
And the cramped quarters of my flesh and bone.
I claw that tall horizon down to this;
And suddenly
My shadow jumps huge miles away from me.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Recent runs

Tuesday night
On top of Cleeve Hill, the blown hail forms countless white lines through the headtorch beams. The wind of this sudden storm is strong enough to empty puddles. Running into the wind I am in low gear; on my toes and making small steady steps. My forehead aches with the cold and it feels as if mother nature has put the end of my John Thomas in a vice and is mercilessly applying the pressure. A different noise by my ear, a straining flag, and I realise that two pairs of mudclaws have just made their way across a sodden green - oops.

The evening had begun with fine views across to the Black Mountains, dramatic areas of fiery light in the windswept landscape. The wind moaned in through the masts and, later, the sagging wires between the pylons.

I took photographs, but it now looks as if the crap argos camera has finally packed up, unable to cope with the wet. I've put it in the airing cupboard - see if it gets better...

Eight and a half miles with hills.

Thursday night - hour and half of hill reps

I pick up a stone as a counter and begin to run up to the top of lecky hill. The air is sodden. Through the trees I can see the linear outline of the Malverns. There is birdsong. I see yellowhammers.

Up and down. Up and down. Each time carrying a stone to stop me from losing count. The light fades and the town below begins to light up with pinpricks of neon glow that to my tired mind seem to connect with the flowering gorse.

Showers come and go and when the line of stones at the top number twelve, I go home for my tea.

Saturday night - Chipping Campden to Cleeve 24.5 miles.

I remember wet clay - lots of it. The ground was at run off. We were surrounded by sodden air.

This was Mike and I rehearsing for his all-in-one Cotswold Way attempt. It is coming up the first weekend in May. Special dispensation has been granted by the missis to enable me to help out by pacing the first section - we'll be going on holiday a day late!!

Six glowing green points in the night become a ewe and her lambs. At the Broadway tower, I reflect with surprise at how normal it feels to be doing this. Other side of Broadway we lose the path but quickly realise our mistake. Move on. Steady away.

An old oak recently blown over, its rootplate totally cooked and decayed.

Through the impossibly twee village of Stanton, the smell of woodsmoke and the cosy sight of warm rooms through lit windows.

Hot cross bun at Stanway and my legs are feeling less springy. Walk up through the sloppy clart and into the cloud as the temperature drops away.

I get an insight into the dynamic of long-distance family drives in Mike's family when he begins the game of:

"Name me five new romantic bands.." There's bugger all visibility, a couple of metres at best.

"Duran, Spandau, Blue Rondo a la Turk, erm.... Ok: 5 motown artists..."

We squelch down the fields and into Winchcombe. Water is running off across the track in many places. The pubs have been shut an hour. I eat a banana by the war memorial.

Out through the other side and up the filthiest quagmire of an apology for a field that I have ever been in. People will move to the country and buy too many horses...

I go in over my knees and treat the night to all the profanities I can muster up. Mike falls over and joins in. We're laughing like idiots.

At the road at the bottom of Belas Knap Mike changes his headtorch batteries (i don't have any spares). The new batteries are flat by the time we get half way up the next hill so we run on with one beam.

"Hey Bungalow Bill, what did you kill Bungalow Bill...?" My thought processes are in a loop.

Run past the deserted barn and surprise some stoners. Pick up the Gallops. Down through the wood, slip-sliding our way. Mike falls on his arse.

And then back to Mike's, into the van to pick up my car in Chipping Campden. Home at 2.30 and crashed out in my sleeping bag on the sofa so's not to wake up the family.

A good adventure, and necessary miles in the legs for the 3 peaks. Home improvements the following day were fuelled by ibuprofen and a couple of stong coffees!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cleevewold 2010

Was disappointed not to be able to run in this race this year. Well, disappointed is a bit of an understatement. I'd been laid low with a mystery illness that might have had something to do with eating some past-sell-by date pate. Half a stone lighter, I was in no fit state to have a go so I gave my number to Nick and felt sorry for myself.

On the day I took the boys out to spectate and really enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed it so much from my viewpoint on top of Cleeve Hill that I raced round to watch everyone later in the course below Belas Knap.

I had a go at doing an Al Tye - and now have a much better appreciation of what a good job he does (to see Al's website, follow the link under 'Well worth a look' over on the RHS.

So: illness, apathy and general lack of motivation on the running front.

On Saturday, I shuddered a slow three miles up and down the road outside our house, sweating and generally having to put in a lot of effort. On sunday, I switched on my funky new Garmin thingy and ran for an hour (6.5m). Tonight I'll join Mike for a brisk one around the top of Cleev Hill.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


Peter and Rob did Corination Street last week. Five and a half hours of cold, showers and hanging belays. Well done!

Always wanted to do this route but now, post kids, am sure I will never again have the balls to try.

Paddy power

Men wearing high viz and helmets were erecting some kind of high pylon things on the hill under the glare of floodlights as Mike and I headed up Cleeve for a 'brisk' ten miler.

Legs felt strong but heavy and in need of a rest. The stars were so clear in the cold night sky...

"What're they doing?"

"Don't know, but it's a right ****ing eyesore. If it was up to me I'd get my chainsaw and cut the lot down..."

Let me explain:

Every year approximately half the population of Eire pop over to watch some flea bitten nags run around in a big circle, occasionally jumping over some artificial hedges. They drink a lot, spend a lot and generally have a great, if somewhat alcomessy, time. I quite like the shoggle that their arrival gives to the town. The races: a legacy of the days when there was serious competition between spa towns to draw in the punters. Nowadays there is no spa but the races remain.

St Patrick's day coincides with the event. During the day, I'd bumped into Chris (a man proud of his Irish heritage) who'd sourced Irish crisps ('Tayto') and bonafide "orange lemonade" (now there's an oxymoron). The crisps were good.

...up the hill we go breathing hard, working hard.

Mike's saying little which is uncharacteristic. I'm putting this down to his recent run with Nick whose good nature and humour can contain a degree of brevity.

I rabbit on about watching Eddie Izzard's marathon running tour of the UK on the i-player. For me, it has to be the most inspirational high profile account of a runner's journey. He had a cause to champion and heartfelt memories to reconcile himself with. No training to speak of, just immovable determination and a little bit of help from his back up team: 1% fitness, 99% mental strength.

We run over to the gate to the butterfly meadow reserve and then cut accross the common and descend to the sheep dip. Head on past the farm near Postlip Hall, looking out for the sheepdogs that can roam untethered, looking in on the cows and enjoying the sweet smell of the sileage.

Over the stream and up the climb. Pass a stable where I hunt unsuccessfuly for a tap to get a drink.

Up the zig zag climb and onto the top again.

We push it hard all the way. Every time I start daydreaming, Mike begins to draw ahead.

A good brisk run... Drove home listening to 5Live broadcasting from a pub not two minutes away.

Then, the next day, the mobile rings.

"Those pylons? They've only gone and put a great big ****ing sign that says, Paddy Power."

Sunday, 14 March 2010


With Mike upping his mileage for his Cotswold Way ultra attempt and myself conscious of the need to listen to my body, I decided to pass on the very early start he had planned and head out on my own.

Mike and Nick, an accomplished ultra runner himself, were heading south on the Cotswold Way. I decided to head northwards and meet up with them.

Left the house at six and made the old familiar way up to the top of Lecky Hill. It promised to be a good day - bands of cloud like raised eyebrows in the dawn sky - it was good to be out.

Spring was springing and it felt good to be out alone, poddling along listening to the birdsong: magpie chattering away, wood pigeon cooing warmth into the first rays of sunshine, robins, blackbird. Spring: like a sigh of relief. And about bloody time too..

At the trig, the rump of a deer disapparing into the scrub echoed the white backsides of the bunnies. There were Yellowhammers: I took a pic on the crap argos camera.

I had been hoping to meet Mike and Nick after about an hour and a half so that I could turn round and run back with them, but here they were already... They'd met up at 5.30 and had covered getting on for ten miles. In contrast to my dawdling, they were looking keen, fit and driven. We stopped to catch up for a bit and then went on our ways.

I ran on for another twenty mins or so and then turned round and headed back (meeting up with the guys again).

Was back home for 8.30 and a busy day...

...Not as busy as Mike who, after his early morning marathon, spent the rest of the day shifting mixed cement up the incline of his back garden. I went round to borrow a wheelbarrow at 6.30 and he was still going strong; albeit with a jaded look about him.

Sunday's training involved digging a big hole in the back garden and barrowing everything out.