Race Rundown: Salomon Skyline Lochaber 80 Ultra, 16th September 2023


Saturday 16th September 2023

Same course, familiar themes, similar outcome, no pork pies.

In various ways, I’m not really built for ultra running. However, I dipped my toe in 2022 at Salomon Skyline Scotland, with the Lochaber 80k. Marketed as a trail race, the course is nevertheless fairly lumpy, involving over 2,400m of climbing, including some sustained ascents such as a 3k slog up to the CIC hut under the towering buttresses near the summit of Ben Nevis.

My initial aim last year was simply to get around the course within the cut-off deadline. My stretch target was 12 hours and I completed the race in 11:08:24, so that itch should have been well and truly scratched. I remember a wave of relief as I finished, but the typical runner’s psyche kicked in within minutes, and I started pondering over whether I could have been a little faster. So, the itch returned and a year later, I was heading back up to Kinlochleven to have another crack at the event. Silly boy.

When I tackled the event in 2022, I used a race vest for the first time, which was ideal for carrying all of the mandatory kit that was required (a fair bit for a long day in the mountains in autumn), plus two pork pies that for some reason I thought would become necessary food. After 58k, I realised that I was never going to eat those and left them at the final support point. Other than that, my race and fuelling strategy (alternating food and gels on the hour, every hour) pretty much went to plan, which was gratifying.

Fast forward to 16th September 2023 and I intended to take a similar approach. On the kit and fuel front, there were two differences. I replaced the two pork pies with one grated cheese sandwich, and I also added the collapsible water cup that I found in a Pier To Pier Race goody bag. As for my race strategy, the first point I kept telling myself was that I was not going to ‘race’ the other participants, but simply focus on beating my own previous performance. I reckoned that I could make up a bit of time in two parts: First, in the section after the first support point at 19k; second, between the second support point at 33k and just before the start of the climb up to the CIC hut at about 50k. Best laid plans and all that.

The race started at 7:00am as the sky started to lighten. The forecast was for a sunny, fairly warm day, and that did worry me a little. I actually don’t mind running in heat, but I perspire a lot and on long runs that has led to bad cramp. As it turned out, the conditions behaved, but the cramp came anyway.

Similar to 2022, I seemed to breeze around the first section, reining myself in occasionally, as I knew what was to come, but generally feeling pretty good. I arrived at the first support point in fine spirits and lying third in the race (but knowing that it was a false position). Last year, the next section was nearly my undoing and I was determined that this wouldn’t happen again. But it did.

I don’t know what it is about that section, which is by no means the toughest in terms of climbing, but it doesn’t like me, and I certainly don’t like it. I ended up slowing down significantly, partly due to the first onset of cramp, but clearly for some other reason too, which I can’t pin down. In those 14k, I conceded four or five places, and felt really rubbish. There’s a nice downhill section in the final few kilometres to the next support point, and I was able to recover a bit of momentum and spirit then, but I have to admit that I was feeling a little disappointed by this stage of the race, concerned about the nagging cramp and not relishing what was ahead.

In 2022, the next section was the crux of my race. By the time I reached the final support point at 57k, I knew that I was going to finish the event and probably faster than my stretch target. On reflection, it was probably the crux this time too, but in a different way.

I set off from the second support point in okay shape, but as soon as I started to pick up pace, the cramp intensified and simply stopped me from sticking to my original plan. There were stretches that felt hillier than I recalled, which I am sure was mainly in my head, but did send me to some dark places at times. However, one tactic that was working involved that little Pier To Pier cup, which I had removed from a pocket in my race vest and was carrying in one hand. In long races, I tend to drink more water in the latter stages, and knew that I would get through the litre that I was carrying in my race vest before the next support point, especially as the temperature was rising. So, being able to simply pause and scoop water from fast running streams as I moved made a big difference, and reduced any anxiety about running out.

The slog up to the CIC hut was every bit as unpleasant as I remembered, with added cramp. You can see the ruddy thing from a couple of miles away, but it never seems to get any closer until you’re almost at the front door. It reminds me of a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (I think). However, I managed it, at which point there’s an almost 180 degree about turn and the route takes runners gently back down part of the glen on the other side, before climbing over the shoulder of a hill and heading across and down to the Ben Nevis visitors’ centre car park, where the support point is located.

In 2022, I really enjoyed that part of the run. I was able to get moving well again heading down the glen and as I made the steep descent down the rocky tourist trail to the car park, I was feeling jubilant, as I knew in my heart that I’d broken the back of the race. The contrast was pretty stark this year. My cramp was at its worst and I just couldn’t get going. Then I spotted a group of four or five runners who were still making their way up the other side of the glen to the hut. While they were probably 20 minutes or so behind me at that point, I knew that if they were able to get running properly again in the final section of the race, then they would breeze past me and that there was nothing I could do about it. Regardless of my mantra of not racing against others, this was still dispiriting. And of course, with my overall race strategy in a bit of a mess, I was certain that a faster time than last year was no longer a possibility. Oh, woe was me!

However, as I made way down the lower part of the Ben, I did a bit of arithmetic, and realised that despite everything, I was still a little ahead of schedule compared to last year. That gave me quite the psychological boost and when Catherine and Berry (our hound) were there to welcome me at the support point, I was buoyed a little more – thanks to both! By that time, I had decided that I would definitely carry on to finish the race (it had certainly been in the balance at one point), and after devouring a few salty potatoes that event team volunteers were handing out and laughing when Berry welcomed a friendly marshal by depositing a big poo, I was on my way again.

There’s still a half marathon to complete after that final support point, including about 600m of climbing, much of which is along a fairly dull forest track early on. Like before, I didn’t recall it being so hilly for so long, but I gritted my teeth and pushed on. This was one of those sections where you can look back quite a distance at points to spot any other runners. Despite myself, I did this a few times, and was surprised to not spot anyone. While the long uphill trudge was tough, the cramp did start to properly recede at this point, and once I was back onto narrower trails away from the forest track, I was able to run a bit better. As the kilometres slowly ticked by, I realised that the pace I was maintaining meant that I could still achieve my target.

However, it was going to be tight and at one point I discovered that the distance I had completed didn’t match how much further was actually to go according to the GPX route on my watch (I can’t have been following the blue painted racing line! 😉) and I had one more kilometre to go than I had anticipated. This was galling, but I still reckoned that I could manage, as long as I didn’t slow again. With about six kilometres to go, a younger bloke who was moving very well went past me. Looking back, I couldn’t spot anyone else, but the terrain in that particular section can easily hide folk. While I had promised myself that I wouldn’t race, at this stage I needed to keep pushing anyway, and I figured that a top ten finish might be possible.

After one final – mercifully short – climb, the last three kilometres takes participants downhill through woodland and back into Kinlochleven. It’s all very runnable, though not particularly fast because of the underfoot terrain, and that part of the route is shared with a couple of the other shorter trail races at Skyline Scotland, so I actually started overtaking some people who were towards the back of those fields.

The last kilometre was along the road back into Kinlochleven and the extremely welcome finishing line, which I crossed in ninth place in 11:04:38, just under four minutes faster than in 2022. Marginal gains or lack of pork pie gains. I don’t know which it was, but I was over the moon, first and foremost to have completed the race again, and particularly to have achieved what I set out to do. I can confirm that even many minutes later the ultra itch did not return (and still hasn’t yet), though I did get bitten by a few midges that evening and am still scratching because of that.

Incidentally, I didn’t eat the grated cheese sandwich. It weighed less than the two pork pies, but unlike with them, I did carry it with me for the whole race.

Finally, a big tip of the hat to the Ourea Events team, who organised the Lochaber 80 and the rest of the Skyline Scotland races (and the epic Dragon’s Back Race that Gary Thwaites slayed recently). Everything was impeccably arranged and the volunteers out on the course were brilliant – of course, they will have had even longer days in the mountains than I did.

Would I recommend the Lochaber 80 to anyone else wishing to scratch the ultra itch? Well, it’s a bit pointless, as this year’s was the last event. Skyline Scotland has effectively outgrown its host location and will be moving to another part of Scotland in 2025, after a fallow year. Watch this space – a new ultra trail run opportunity might emerge! In the meantime, I can at least claim to have completed every single one of the editions of this particular race, albeit there were only two.

Chris Lines,

September 2023.

Race Rundown – Lochaber 80 Ultra Trail World Championship Series, 17th September 2022

Those blasted pork pies

An ultra adventure in the Scottish Highlands

by Chris Lines

I’m not a big fan of pork pies. I rarely eat them. In fact, I very rarely eat them. It’s not that I actively dislike them, but they are not high on my list of preferred pastries. So, when I look back and consider that I recently carried four of the ruddy things for 57km, I am led to start questioning some of my choices in life. I carried them, but did not eat any of them. This, I feel, was a tactical error during my participation in the Lochaber 80 Trail Ultra. However, I think it might have been the only tactical error that I made during the event.

Ultra running is not really my thing and I have no ambition to change that. There are other members of Sedgefield Harriers who excel at covering very long distances with apparent ease and comfort. I doff my cap to them, but don’t intend to join their ranks. The reason for my temporary lapse is linked to the Great North Run. I take part in the world’s largest half marathon every year, but was unable to secure a place for 2022 via the lottery and hadn’t forked out even more money to guarantee a place through Great Run membership. I gratefully accepted a charity place from Durham Wildlife Trust, but it felt a bit cheeky to ask people to sponsor me at an event that I’d participate in anyway. In a moment of weakness, I decided to up the stakes by tackling the treble of a half marathon, full marathon and ultra marathon. Alongside the Great North Run, I knew which event would be the marathon – Kielder Marathon at the start of October. However, I needed to find an autumn ultra.

As it happens, I do some work for the company that organises the Salomon Skyline Scotland weekend, which this year was going to see the addition of some new trail races, including an 80km monster. Without giving myself the time to reconsider, I took the plunge and secured a place on the Lochaber 80, which would also be part of the Spartan Trail Ultra World Championship. I had actually known this, but had forgotten until I noted the names of some others who had entered. Suddenly, I was daunted by more than just the distance and elevation ahead.

Salomon Skyline Scotland is an annual event based up in Kinlochleven in the Scottish Highlands, in the shadow of the Ben Nevis range. The weekend includes a series of skyrunning and trail races, with distances from 5km to 80km. The toughest of these are ultras, in the form of two of the three skyruns, the 52km Ben Nevis Ultra (with 4,000m of ascent) and the 52km Glencoe Skyline (with 4,750m of ascent) – definitely not for me! Alongside the Mamores Stalker 27km Trail Race, the Lochaber 80 made its debut this year. Unlike the two 52km skyruns, the race was designed to be much more ‘runnable’ for most of its distance, with a route that weaved its way through the glens, rather than head to the summits. Nevertheless, there was plenty of technical terrain to tackle (especially in the first 25km), and the significant matter of 2,000m of ascent, including a long slog up the flanks of Ben Nevis at around 50km into the run.

I didn’t enter the event until the end of July, so my training for the Lochaber 80 was limited in its scope. While on holiday, I managed to fit in a 21-mile run with about 220m of ascent, but that was as far as I got in actual running preparation. As race day approached, I felt a bit nervous, but one way or another, it was going to be an adventure in a glorious part of the world, so I was excited too.

In the build up to the event, I was clear in my own mind that my first priority was to complete the 80km within the time limit allowed. The Lochaber 80 was advertised as an ultra with generous cut-off times. The race started at 7:00am and the first cut-off at 19km was 12:00pm. The second at 33km was 2:00pm, the third at 57km was 6:30pm, and participants were required to complete the run by 10:00pm. On the face of it, those times are indeed generous, but 80km is a long way and much of it would be unknown territory for me. However, I did allow myself a more ambitious stretch target, which was to get around in 12 hours. Mrs Lines was good enough to join me for the trip to Scotland and so we set off for the Highlands.

The mandatory kit list for the event was relatively extensive; waterproof jacket and overtrousers, insulated top, extra baselayer, hat and gloves, survival bag, head torch, water bottle/hydration system, whistle, and sufficient food. Ahead of packing everything for the weekend, I popped to a shop for a few bits and bobs and it was there that I spotted the mini pork pies. They promised a succulent filling, all encased in beautiful golden crusty pastry. I’d read plenty of accounts from ultra runners who ended up craving proper comfort food like that during a race, and I knew from my limited experience of longer events in the past that a good old fashioned pork pie or two could prove to be very useful. So, when I lined up nervously early on the morning of Saturday 17th September, I had four of the beggars stuffed into a pocket in my race vest.

A piper sent us on our way at the allotted time, and the racing snakes at the front rapidly disappeared off along the first trail. I focused on getting into the right mindset and rhythm for a very long run, making sure that my pace was comfortably sustainable. The first section presented the most technical underfoot conditions, which was actually helpful in discouraging me from going too fast. I had the route downloaded to my watch, which started counting down the distance from the start (this was not massively helpful from a psychological point of view in the early stages!), but there was no navigation involved, as the entire route was marked by red flags (all of which were removed afterwards, leaving no trace).

At around 14km in, I passed a first casualty, a runner who had stopped for some reason, but he wasn’t in distress and assured me that he was okay. Only 200m or so further along the trail, I met a member of the event support team who was heading back to find him, either alerted by another participant or by the runner himself sending a message. This moment was typical of the organisers’ approach to managing the race and the safety of those taking part – exemplary throughout.

I reached the first support point in about two hours and twenty minutes. I knew that the first cut-off time was very generous, but this still felt great! And I felt really good too, boosted by chatting to the two volunteers there, and the snacks that they had on offer – I helped myself to cheese, potatoes and some crisps, and refilled my water bottle. A fellow runner arrived just after me and then we set off on the next 14km section together.

What followed was really odd. About one kilometre along the trail, my legs started feeling really heavy and my energy level dipped. That coincided with a tussocky, boggy, ill defined section of the route, and at one point I mis-stepped and found myself up to my waist in water and mud for a few seconds. I kept pace with my temporary running companion for a few more kilometres, but still felt lethargic and ushered him on his way. Then I was joined and passed by one of the UK’s leading ultra runners, Elaine Bisson. By now, we were back on a wide gravelly track, heading gently downhill. At one point, Elaine took a tumble just in front of me, but thankfully, she wasn’t hurt and was soon moving ahead of me again. I started to feel a bit better during the last three or four kilometres to the next support point – whether the issue had been physical or psychological or both I don’t know, but I was definitely stronger as I approached another table covered in salty and sweet goodies. Noting that I’d reached the 33km point in about four and a quarter hours cheered me up no end too, as I’d got there even before the cut-off time for the previous support point.

Elaine and the other runner were still there when I arrived, preparing to leave, but I didn’t attempt to set off with them. I took some time to do some faffing and eat some of the cheese sandwiches that were on the table, and some more crisps. Just I was about to set off again, the next runner arrived. I left a couple of minutes ahead of him.

In my mind, I had always considered that the next section of the run would be the crux for me. If I could get to the final support point at 57km in just about one piece and with enough time in the bank, then I was confident that I would be able to drag my body around the final half marathon. Of course, ‘if’ was the operative word, as I was heading into uncharted territory and a sustained climb up to the climbers’ hut beneath the towering buttresses of Ben Nevis. Leaving the second support point, I experienced another dip in energy and mood – the fact that I still had nearly 50km to go probably had something to do with that! A couple of other participants went past me.

With the knowledge that the long ascent to the hut was a little over 10km ahead, I deliberately slowed down, trying to reserve some energy for that specific challenge. And a challenge it was! The path wasn’t particularly steep, but took me steadily (and slowly) uphill for over three kilometres. I could see the hut from a long way off, but it didn’t seem to get any closer until I was a few hundred metres away. My relief at reaching it was matched by my delight at finding a fast running stream close by, where I could refill a bottle.

Then it was an about turn and a welcome gentle downhill on the other side of the glen, followed by another short climb before the long descent to the next support point in the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre car park. It was getting on to mid-afternoon at this point, which presented a new challenge. The path down to the visitor centre is very rocky and not great for running on, but more than that, this seemed to be peak time for folk returning after a morning ascent of the main tourist route up the Ben. It was like the congestion at the start of the Great North Run (sort of)! After a steep, careful descent, the sight of the team at the final support point was very welcome. It wasn’t quite 3:00pm and I was still in one piece.

At this moment, I started to believe that not only would I complete the Lochaber 80, but that I could even achieve my stretch target. But I was careful to not get complacent – after all, there was still more than half a marathon to get through. The team at the support point cheerfully reassured me that much of the final section was very runnable. I joked with them that this was a lovely thought in theory, but unlikely for me in practice. Nevertheless, I got stuck into some final faffing ahead of the last push, aiming to lighten the load and ditch any provisions that I no longer needed. And that takes me back to those pork pies.

I’d carried them for 57km in the belief that they could provide me with vital sustenance at a crucial moment. But now that I’d reached that third support point, I had no appetite for them and I really didn’t see the point in carrying them for another 23km. So I waved them a wistful goodbye, wondering whether they were as tasty as they looked, as I headed along the next trail.

I left that final support point knowing that to complete the run in 12 hours, I had four hours to get to Kinlochleven – by no means rapid for 23km, but this was after already completing almost three half marathons. While I felt relatively okay, the mileage was taking its toll on body and mind. It was time to dig in and keep repeating the mantra ‘run when you can, walk when you have to’.

About seven kilometres into that final leg, as drizzle started to turn to persistent rain, I began to feel a bit light headed and hankered for some substantial food, something like an emergency pork pie for example! In the absence of that option, I had to suffice with an ‘infusion’ of nuts. Thankfully, that did the job, and miraculously, it turned out that even in my knackered state, significant stretches of the last 10km were indeed runnable, albeit at a very reduced pace. Slowly and surely, I could sense that the finishing line was threatening to loom.

I actually enjoyed the last three kilometres, which took runners steadily downhill and back into Kinlochleven. Although my main aim from the start had always been to simply get round, rather than race anyone, by now I was keen to not ship any more places, so pushed as much as I could, and my pace for the final 500 metres was my fastest of the entire run. I even managed something that a generous observer might describe as almost like a sprint finish. The reception for every runner at the end was fantastic, made even more special for me by Catherine being part of it. And as I crossed the line, Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ was blasting out over the PA. Bonus! It turned out that the next runners were only two and three minutes behind me respectively, so that final effort was worth at least two places.

It was the end of a memorable day and a thoroughly rewarding experience. Reflecting on it since, I am pretty happy with how I planned and executed my run. While my pastry tactic didn’t work out, I did manage my nutrition pretty well, setting an alarm on my watch to go off every hour as a reminder to eat, and then obeying that reminder. And when my pace slowed at those moments when I was struggling a bit, or a fellow participant floated past, I didn’t allow myself to worry unduly and just kept plodding on, giving myself the occasional pep talk as I went. Those pep talks were almost all out loud while in splendid isolation. I’m quite content running on my own. In fact, I think that I preferred it to those moments when I had company.

Oh, and one other point. For various reasons, I’m always cautious about recommending running footwear to people, but if you have narrow feet like me, I’d certainly suggest considering Saucony products. I invested in a pair of the brand’s Peregrine 12 trail shoes. If truth be told, I left that purchase a bit too close to the event for comfort and had only worn them twice beforehand, for a parkrun and a Wednesday evening training session. So, that could have become a problem, but they performed brilliantly in terms of grip, traction and comfort up in Scotland. Amazingly, when I removed them after the race – now thoroughly soaked and caked in mud – my feet were entirely blister and blemish free. I was astounded.

I finished the Lochaber 80 in 11 hours, eight minutes and 24 seconds. For some perspective, the winner – Sweden’s Simen Hjalmar Wästlund – was nearly four hours ahead of me. Nevertheless, I was delighted, particularly when I discovered that I’d finished 20th overall and first in the V50-59 category. I still wouldn’t describe myself as an ultra runner, but I’m telling no porky pie when I state that I’ve completed an ultra run in a world championship series. Which is nice.

And if you want to contribute to my fundraising for Durham Wildlife Trust, please head along to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ChrisJLines.

Race Rundown: Kielder Marathon, 13th October 2019

Kielder Marathon Weekend
12th/13th October
Stick to the plan, man

I have taken part in races at the Kielder Marathon weekend every year since the event was launched in 2010. In that time, I have been part of a relay team in all of the Kielder Run-Bike-Runs, usually as part of the ‘Sedgefield Specials’ with Roger Whitehill and cyclist Ian Dunn. In recent years, I’ve also returned to Kielder on the Sunday to tackle the half marathon. I love both events; being part of a team in the run-bike-run is always fun, while the half (added to the weekend about four years ago) follows a challenging, but attractive route that includes parts of the full marathon course.

However, until this year, I had never tackled ‘Britain’s most beautiful marathon’. For the tenth event, I made a late decision to scratch that particular itch and booked a place a few weeks out. On the Saturday, Rog, Ian and I travelled up to Northumberland for our annual date at the Kielder Run-Bike-Run. This year, ours wasn’t the only Sedgefield team in the race. David Bentley, Rob Spink and Mark Raine grabbed third overall with an impressive performance, while we were a respectable fifth. Young guns Ciaran Lines, Tom Hearmon and George Hampson also finished in the top ten. Meanwhile, Tracy Henderson was second overall in the women’s individual race, a place higher than last year’s excellent result. On the same day, Karen Killingley and Jennifer Chaytor completed the Kielder 10K.

I was back up at Kielder early the following morning for the start of the marathon, along with Gary Thwaites (for his 98th marathon!), Ray Carmichael, Dave Walker and Lisa Darby. I had already decided to not put pressure on myself by targeting a fast time, partly because I had always intended to really push myself in my 11K leg the previous day, partly because I knew it was a tough course, and partly because I hadn’t been training for a marathon. However, I wanted to aim for somewhere between 3:30 and 3:45. Chatting to Gary, Ray and Dave ahead of the start, I established that they had important targets in York the following week, so were planning to run a steady pace, aiming to finish in a little under four hours. I was tempted to join them in that, but decided to stick with my plan and set off with that in mind. This meant that I went out a bit faster than my fellow Harriers, but I soon found myself running in other good company.

The opening few miles were very familiar, following the same route as the first leg of the run-bike-run, and establishing a familiar pattern of undulations and the occasional challenging switchback hill, all in stunning surroundings, even on that dreich day. For regular participants in Kielder Marathon events, there has been an in joke for years about Northumbrian Water’s ‘Steep Incline Ahead’ and ‘Steep Decline Ahead’ signs, which used to appear with alarming frequency along the course (and featured on the finishers’ t-shirts one year). Although those signs are no longer employed as zealously as in the past, they do pop up every so often and are a fairly regular reminder that running around Kielder Water doesn’t involve following a straightforward, flat lakeside path. It’s lumpy up there.

Despite the remoteness of the location, there were spectators out along the route, offering encouragement alongside the ever-brilliant volunteer marshals. I settled into a comfortable pace that I was able to maintain and then moved onto a section of the route that I hadn’t run before, around the north west corner of the reservoir, before heading east along the northern shore. It was during miles seven to 17 that I really started to appreciate just how beautiful the setting is, and that certainly seemed to help me along.

For me, one of the biggest challenges in a marathon relates to nutrition. I can’t digest sucrose or maltose, which really limits my options for energy replacement. I still haven’t found anything that can do the job of a gel, so if I ‘bonk’, then I’m in big trouble as I can’t take anything to give me a quick boost. Earlier this year, I managed to find a Swedish brand called Nick’s that makes genuinely sugar free chocolate and some of the company’s products incorporate seeds and nuts. So, I carried a few of those and maintained a discipline of eating one about every hour during the race, managing to coincide each with the lead up to a water station for washing down the chocolatey goodness. For possibly the first time for me in a marathon, this plan seemed to work as intended and I don’t think that I ever really properly hit the wall. I was certainly knackered towards the end of the run, but that was more due to the fact that I hadn’t run anywhere near the distance since January and my limbs were screaming blue murder.

Anyway, back to the marathon course. I had been warned that one of the tough sections was at around 14 miles. So it proved, with a tasty, sustained switchback climb through the woods. Being prepared for it helped and I worked hard to not work too hard, if that makes sense. After that, I enjoyed (genuinely – look at the uncharacteristic smile in the pic!) several scenic miles heading towards the dam, gradually gaining a few places along the way. I was also caught by a couple of runners, who trotted off ahead of me, but I didn’t try to stay with them like I might have done in a shorter event. Stick to the plan Chris, stick to the plan.

By the time I reached the dam (the only significant flat stretch of the day), I was back on familiar territory, as the marathon was by now sharing a route with the half. Psychologically, this was a double-edged sword. On one hand, I knew what was ahead in the last eight miles and could prepare myself for that. On the other, I therefore also knew that this included a brutal, multiple switchback climb in the 22nd mile, the toughest section of the whole marathon. At least it didn’t come as a surprise!

By this time, the weather had closed in and it was raining steadily, but that didn’t concern me. I reached that crux hill still feeling okay and, crucially, I managed to run from bottom to top without slowing to a walk (even if my pace was barely above a walk, my method of movement was a run and in my mind, that was very important). Once I reached the top without any ‘damage’, I knew that I was going to be okay. Complacency is very dangerous in a marathon and can easily happen when you’re tired and struggling to concentrate, but I kept my head and continued to stick to the plan, eating my last bar of chocolate despite not feeling like I needed to.

The last four miles were tough and my lack of training/marathon conditioning did slow me down a bit, but some of the runners ahead of me were slowing even more and I gained a few places between miles 22 and 25, including one of those who had overtaken me about nine miles earlier. Again, that helped my head. The last mile and 192 yards were actually enjoyable. I caught the other person who had passed me earlier, along with another runner, and even managed to put in a modest sort-of-sprint for the line. I finished in 3:34:39, which was towards the faster end of my target ‘window’, and therefore more than satisfactory. All of the Harriers who were taking part in the 2019 Kielder Marathon finished in times of under four hours, which was great running all round. I think that Lisa got around in just under 3:41, only a week ahead of her brilliant club record in York. Meanwhile, Marie Walker, Ian Hedley, Emma Featherstone and Christine Hearmon also ran well in the Kielder Half Marathon.

I can heartily recommend the Kielder Marathon, not for a PB (unless you haven’t run a marathon before!), but certainly for the atmosphere and the amazing scenery, which definitely lives up to the billing. And If you don’t want to tackle the full marathon, there are plenty of other events to choose from over the weekend. Next year’s events will be on 3rd and 4th October. Find out more at www.kieldermarathon.com, and make sure that you have a plan…

Chris Lines.

Race Rundown: North Wales Half Marathon, 4th August 2019

I suspect that Ciaran and I share a ritual with many Harriers. When the Lines mob is planning a holiday, one of the items on the list of priorities is to find a parkrun that is local to wherever we’re staying. Another is to speculatively check whether there happen to be any appealing races in the area while we’re in the vicinity. I should add that this ritual only applies to Ciaran and me, and not the rest of the family!

This year, the parkrun fix was provided by Penrhyn parkrun, which is set in an impressive National Trust property – Penrhyn Castle is an imposing, relatively modern (for a castle) landmark near Bangor. As ever, parkrun was a welcoming and friendly experience and the perfect way to start a weekend.

However, for me, the following day delivered the running highlight of the holiday. I had spotted that the North Wales Half Marathon was taking place during our trip, but hadn’t got round to entering before the online deadline. Luckily, the organisers confirmed that a few places would be available on the day. So, I rocked up in Conwy at 7:30am and managed to secure one of the last numbers.

The race started on the beach at 9:00am (it was being set up when I first arrived) and the first mile was on the sand, which I found to be a little softer and more challenging than the similar surface during the recent Northumberland Coastal Run. Then, we followed a fairly flat route west for four miles, along a tarmac path by the sea. This was great for finding a rhythm and comfortable pace. One guy from Kirkby Milers eased past me, but I picked off a couple of runners who had set off a little too fast. I reckoned that I was placed somewhere in the top 20. At about five miles, we turned, crossed a footbridge and headed into the village of Penmaenmawr (I’m glad that I only had to type that and not pronounce it!). By this time, after taking turns to lead the other for a little while, I had got ahead of the Kirby runner again.

Then the hard work began. A series of longish steady climbs took us towards Sychant Pass and the eighth mile was the crux of the race – a steep and sustained section on road and trail up to Conwy Mountain (a grand name for a modest sized hill really, but a very tough part of the race nonetheless). By this time, I was on my own, but could see about eight runners not far behind me (including Kirkby man and a local runner who seemed to be enjoying himself far too much). I managed to stay ahead of all of them during the final climb, as my delighted expression near the summit testifies.

After that high point, there were some lovely undulating trails, during which runners were rewarded with a fantastic view of Conwy and its majestic castle. I glanced back a couple of times and Kirkby guy and happy Welsh runner were still on my tail. Then, we started the steep descent back into Conwy, which worked well for me. I gained distance on my pursuers and got ahead of another runner who was being cautious during the downhill section.

By the time I got back onto more level ground, I was 10 miles into the race. I was about 150 metres ahead of Kirkby man, who had also got ahead of the guy I passed during the descent, but that lead didn’t feel secure as I was starting to get pretty tired. We headed west for a couple of miles, before turning right and back onto the beach for the final mile. Once again, I found the sand section to be tough and Kirkby man started to gain on me quite quickly, along with the runner who we had both passed during the downhill, who had recovered well. Thankfully, for me, I was able to find enough energy to increase my pace for the last few hundred metres and crossed the line about 50 metres ahead of the other two, in a time of 1:32:14. My watch shows the distance as a little under 13 miles, but it was definitely a harder race than most half marathons that I have completed.

I finished seventh overall (higher than I thought I had, which is always nice!), out of 365 finishers. It was a thoroughly enjoyable race, which was very well marshalled. Miles seven and eight were particularly tough, but that seemed to work in my favour on this occasion, and this was a run during which there were times when I could really appreciate the setting. I didn’t know anyone else who was running and as always in such races, I tried to find someone to match myself against, and aim to beat. The Kirkby runner was that person this time and it was satisfying to win that personal battle.

If you’re ever in North Wales in early August (and assuming the race is run again), I’d certainly recommend the event. More details at www.runwales.com.

Chris Lines.

Race Rundown: Kieran Maxwell Memorial Open 3000m, 7th April 2019

“…its not about you joggers who go round and round and round

I always used to be more daunted by a 3,000m on the track than a road half marathon. Theres nowhere to hide on the track you can feel exposed, with all of your athletic shortcomings on display for anyone to see and judge. I also used to find the experience oddly claustrophobic. Hmm, Im not really giving track and field the big sellhere am I?

The truth is that I am a convert, but the above paragraph is my attempt to avoid being that most annoying type of person the atheist turned holier than thou evangelist, or the reverse for that matter. So now that I have got that out of the way, I will unashamedly eulogise about running on the track!

Its a great experience and whats more, it has helped me improve my performances on the road. The discipline of getting into a rhythm and consistent pace on the track can have a significant impact elsewhere. In 2018, after running distances from 1,500m to 10,000m on the track during the summer, I managed to set new PBs at both 5K and 10K on the road, having struggled to get close to my previous bests for several years. A coincidence? Of course not.

Were really fortunate that there is a well-established calendar of track and field events in the North East, and I particularly recommend the NYSD series over the summer, which this year will all be held at Middlesbrough Sports Village. You can register in advance, but you can also enter on the night, and they are extremely welcoming events that give anyone the opportunity to have a go at track and field without feeling like theyre in the crucible of competition. Thats not to say that the meetings are not competitive, just that the focus is as much on participation as it is on performance, and in that environment, its much less daunting. Last year, as well as racing on the track, I had a go at long jump, triple jump, discus, shot and high jump (think less Fosbury Flopand more Lines Lateral Leap’ – note the crucial problem with the latter!).

Another great aspect of the NYSD series is that its open to people of all ages. Track and field is a vital element of any young athletes development, so I have been trying to get my oldest son Ciaran along to as many meetings as possible its a bonus that I can participate too. The traditional outdoor season curtain raiser used to be the Anne Marie Readshaw event at Shildon, but that no longer takes place and in the last two years, the baton has been passed to the Kieran Maxwell Memorial Open, held in memory of an inspirational young man who I was fortunate enough to meet on a couple of occasions. Like the NYSD events, anyone could take part, though all registration was in advance and the event filled up quite quickly.

Ciaran and I both tackled the 3,000m, which was held in a single heat that attracted a mixed field of junior and senior men, and one lady. As I lined up, I realised that some pretty speedy young men had decided that this would be a great opener for their seasons. I was already reconciled to being towards the back of the field, but identified my own battles with a couple of the other vets, with Ciaran, and versus my time of 10:35 from the same event in 2018.

For those who dont know, the Linesy sub-text to all of this is the countdown to the (inevitable) moment when Ciaran (who will turn 16 in July) gets officially faster than his old man. Hes been getting very close in recent months, but hasnt quite managed that at 5K or other longer distances. In the immediate lead up to Sundays race, I predicted to a few folk that this could be the moment, but I was determined that Ciaran would have to work hard for it.

Back to the race. We set off and I kept close order with Ciaranfor about 200m. Then he scampered off up the track with a group and I was detached. I ran most of the race in splendid isolation, some way behind Ciaran and several young whippersnappers, but ahead of a few of the other older runners. My hope was that Ciaran had gone off far too fast and that I would gradually make ground on him. It didnt happen and while seven and a half laps can feel like a long way, its not really, so theres not a great deal of time to claw back a significant gap. The overall winner of the race was New Marskes Dean Newton (in a rapid time of 8:52), who I am relieved to admit was the only person who lapped me. I crossed the line in 10:24, 11 seconds faster than at the same event last year (but a little behind my PB of 10:16). I don’t think that I could have gone any quicker on the day.

As for Ciaran, well he was a minute faster than last year, finishing in 9:58, so not only did he comfortably beat me, but he also blitzed my PB. I call that pretty definitive. I am genuinely delighted for him (really!). Im also glad that hes had to work hard to get ahead of me in the Lines pecking order at one distance, because thats how it should be, and I will now redouble my efforts to stay ahead of him at other distances. ?

Finally, once again, I highly recommend that junior and senior Harriers have a go at track and field. Its fun, competitive, accessible, and can definitely help you improve in other aspects of your athletics. You can find full details of the NYSD series here and theres also a well established series for veterans called the North East Masters full details here. If you really want to challenge yourself (and put yourself out there), theres also the NECAA North East Track and Field Championships on 11th and 12th May see details here.

The results from this years Kieran Maxwell Memorial Open can be found at www.kieranmaxwellopen.co.uk.

Thanks to Karen Harland (Dean Newtons mum) for the photos.

Chris Lines.