Trail Outlaws organises an Urban Trail series of 5 trail races across the summer with Penshaw 10K the last in the series. All of the Trail Outlaw events are really well organised, friendly and you always get a medal and some goodies at the end. They are also well known to be challenging and have a sting in the tail, the 2 Penshaw races being the toughest of the series.
My race day didn’t start well when i saw the forecast for torrential rain and looked out at 6am to see it pouring down. The thought of not turning up crossed my mind many times but I had run all the others in the series so wanted to finish it. My support team (Paul and the boys) refused to come because of the weather so I set off on my own.
The weather was grim. After collecting my number, like most of the other runners I sat in the car with the heaters on trying to find some motivation to get out. Although I had my waterproof on, I was so cold by the time the race started my legs refused to function and it took a couple of miles before I warmed up. The course was challenging but totally off road which I loved.
After starting at the bottom of the hill and running around the Penshaw Monument we flew down over the fields to the the old railway line. Two people running alongside me had already fallen by this time and I hoped I would finish with my ankles intact. The route then headed towards Washington, along the river and then back across the fields. The organisers had to change the finish due to the weather and instead of climbing all the way back to the monument we cut back down to the start, although it wasn’t any easier running down the steps. I bet the course would be quite lovely in the middle of summer, but I could barely see past the rain and at some points the water was up to my knees.
By the time we finished I was just glad it was over, but also quite pleased I had actually turned up. I quickly popped into the visitor centre to get my medal, some cherryade and sweets and then was in the car in dry clothes driving away within two minutes. Quick Costa drive-through stop on the way back to warm up and hot bath when I got home.
You know its been a tough race when you are eating piping hot tomato soup in the bath, with your woolly hat still on.
On the Harriers page Emma Featherstone asked if anybody would be up to do the Princess Challenge which was at Ravenscar on the 31 August. It immediatley caught my attention with the title PRINCESS however I didn’t realise it was 17.5miles!!!
On the site they encouraged you to dress as a princess, wear tutus or tiaras and not just for the ladies. I have never seen as many men in tutus There were 3 distances: 8.5 miles, in the middle 17.5 and the long one which was 31 miles. You also got rewarded with chip butties at the end and they also encouraged you to bring cake as this is shared at the end. Race sold (cake and chip butties).
I have never ever run 17.5 miles in my life!!! but thought I would still like to give it a go as it was off road which I enjoy. This was not a marshaled event, you had check points to show your number. You also had to carry a certain kit and a map (this is something that I have never done before however wasn’t too bad) and my husband bought me a new lightweight Montane running coat so I was in a win win situation.
Race day arrived. Me, Emma Featherstone and Marie Walker were travelling together and meeting Nicki Blackett at the start. We set off at 6.30 in the morning to ensure that we were there and ready in plenty time. They completed a kit check before we started and provided us with a map (Map!! I get lost on our Sunday morning runs round Sedgefield area never mind through woods where I have ever been before).
I got talking to a local man about the course and how anxious I was about running 17.5 miles and what he basically said put me at ease and changed my mindset. The start point was a community centre and that was the centre point; he said just think it is approx 4 miles to the right then back again, then 4 miles to the left then back again….hmm this sounded a lot better then 17.5 miles.
The route was absolutely stunning. There was no pressure on how fast you could run it was so relaxed. We stopped, took some selfies and a few photos of the breath taking views . When we had hills (which there were a fair few) everybody walked up and down to reserve their energy. The only down side, there were no markers on the route. Thank goodness for Emma and her map reading skills. The four of us all stayed together through the run from start to finish which was lovely. Not sure that I would ever do one of these runs on my own due to my very poor navigation skills. We all finished the race within seconds of each other.
I really enjoyed the race and to think I ran that distance I was buzzing. Definitely on the top of my list for next year.
“I’ll get round to it, sorry, it’s been ages!”
That’s my mantra and I’ve been repeating it to Pete King almost daily while he’s been chasing me for a race rundown of Spadeadam Half Marathon. There’s only so long you can say this before it becomes harder and harder to put off…and before Pete becomes less and less understanding, too.
So, where to start?
1. Obligatory trip to Starbucks on the way up? (Check, Ray is like a coffee ninja, knowing where every coffee shop is on the route to races).
2. Logistics all organised so Callum can get to football?
(Check, and he scored too…gutted to have missed that).
3. Training honed to perfection, so I can reach the goal of beating last years’ time? (Erm, no check. Terrible training and nervous about getting round at all let alone beating last year).
4. Glorious sunny day and perfect running conditions? (Definitely no check. It was “persistently” raining from about mile 5 onwards.)
This is a race that I’ve done a couple of times now and really enjoy. It’s best described as undulating, which is trail run speak for “up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then a bit of flat (0.5m), then up, then down (then stop)”.
As you can see from this screenshot the flat bit comes at about 6 miles, so you’re nicely warmed up when it arrives.
This is an active RAF Base, so simply getting onto the base requires you to register in advance and take ID and it’s an adventure from start off. Following the admin of it all, the Race director (base commander) set us off with the advice that “this is an operational base, which tests weaponry out, so if you see something unusual on the floor as you are running, don’t pick it up”. It is highly unlikely that anyone adds extra weight to themselves, generally, so he clearly knows nothing about runners.
The first mile or so is up the service roads and gives us some nice views of large concrete structures which look like something out of Mad Max (a reference for the kids of today, ha ha). I’m assuming these are for target practice but we are soon steered past them and onto the trails around the base and the rain starts to come down. The rain obviously ruins my chance to win, so I let the speedier runners who cope with rain better than me disappear into the distance and I settle into my run. I chat to a runner from Darlington who I used to work with and we start talking about…you guessed it, running. It’s pure deflection tactics to avoid thinking about running by talking about running, while running.
[By the way, he recommended a half marathon in Seville to me – one for the Grand Prix next year, perhaps? Maybe a bit far to travel, though.]
I’m struggling to remember much of the middle bit of the race – it rained right through until I reached about 13m so I didn’t see much to be fair. I was keeping an eye out for any new technology, perhaps a strike fighter or unmanned drone, but no luck. The run sets you a good challenge as the uphills are enough to keep you working hard but not crazy steep enough that you need crampons and climbing gear. All good, but the problem with that is that you never quite feel that it’s OK to take it easy on a hill, perhaps even to walk one or two.
At about eight miles or so, I pass the second feed station. The first one went by in a blur as I was concentrating on not thinking about running, while running and talking about running with my ex-work mate, who’s long gone up the road by now.
Happy days at eight miles though as they have jelly babies (my all-time favourite jelly sweet) and red cola! Red cola is a trail running staple. Road runners won’t really appreciate the benefits of slightly fizzy red cola in a plastic cup, in the rain. I’m sure I am adding a filling or three to my teeth by doing these trail runs but it’s a small price to pay in my view.
The feed station disappears and my group of three head off upwards (seems like it’s all been upwards) towards the highest point of the race. The marshal sets us off with a happy “last big hill then it’s all down from the top”. My experience is not to believe marshals, who generally lie through their teeth to runners (I know I do when I marshal) but this one turns out to be – almost – right. PS: apart from those at the pointy end, you always end up running in a group on trail runs, another added benefit. Thanks for the help up that hill, whoever you were. Downhill we go and I start to enjoy myself again (I like running downhill), plus I have a sneaky plan for the end of the race.
As we hit the downhill sections, we come across quite a bit of military kit/equipment which I wonder whether they are there for target practice or just careless RAF personnel have forgotten the keys. I have to confess that I didn’t take many photos and I’ve mixed some in from the previous years run here.
I’m blaming the weather and my obsession with being quicker than last year for the rookie photo gaps.
I saved my last burst of (relative) speed for the last mile and know there’s a kicker in the run that anyone running it for the first time won’t have known. I know the secret that those who are doing this for the first time don’t…its actually 14.1 miles not a “traditional” half marathon of 13.2. So I’m chuckling to myself as the 13.2 marker beeps off on peoples watches and they start saying that they should be bloody well done by now but don’t recognise anywhere around them. No-one swears with as much feeling as a trail runner, I think.
I paid a heavy price last year, but am ready for the extra mile this time around. It is my fastest mile – 9.28m per mile. Not quick by any stretch, but OK after 13 miles, I think. It’s quick enough for me to bag at least half a dozen as I sail past them looking at their hurting faces and shaking their watches. I don’t stop to help or offer encouragement, of course.
Last year I did it in 2hrs 39 minutes…this year I’m aiming for 2hrs 30…but I’m cutting it fine so I push on to try and get in under that time.
For the stats fans I came in at 2hrs 31 minutes (and 34 seconds) so not quite but eight minutes quicker isn’t bad, I don’t think. You can do a lot in eight minutes! 🙂
A race I’ve enjoyed in a masochistic sort of way, so if you like climbing hills and descending hills and looking at tanks and rockets…it could be one for you?
Special thanks to Eileen for marshaling and Ray for the lift…not to forget Lisa, either, for getting into this running business in the first place!
Gary Thwaites and I took the trip out to Germany for the BMW Berlin Marathon, one of the Marathon Majors to tick off. Arriving on Friday we went straight to registration at the wonderfully restored but disused Tempelhof Airport. Those familiar with London will recognise the exhibition that runs alongside but this time supplemented with beer and sausage stalls outside the terminal building on the old aircraft stands.
The real action started early on Saturday morning with the free Breakfast run starting at the Charlottenburg Palace and running to the Olympic stadium. The pre event atmosphere was amazing, people gathered from every part of the world and many in fancy dress (including a couple of Danes dressed as a part of the male anatomy – photo not included in this report!). Those hoping for a fast 6km run would be disappointed, a field of BMWs at the front booming out music and marshals linked across the front, keep the pace at a very social level and make for a wonderful pre marathon jog.
As we neared the Olympic stadium and saw the 5 rings suspended between 2 huge towers the atmosphere really built up, everyone cheering and singing through the tunnels before we ran under the stands and into the stadium, absolutely fantastic!!
Everyone does a lap of the track before climbing up the steps to the original part of the stadium complete with roll of honour from the 1936 Olympics.
If that wasn’t good enough the organisers then give everyone a free breakfast of doughnuts, croissants, yoghurt, fruit and drinks!
Saturday afternoon was spent visiting various sites including a trip to “Curry by the Wall” which as the name implies sells Currywurst next to the Berlin Wall – not the usual pre marathon nutrition for “Mr Nutrition” – Gary! An exhibition running alongside a large section of the Wall dedicated to the city of Warsaw and in particular the suffering of the Poles during the war, made for sobering reading and time to reflect on the fortune of living where and when we do.
As Gary was raising money for Get Kids Going we went along to their pre-event reception which included a Q & A with Paralympic athletes David Weir, Shelly Woods and Justin Levene. All were great company and it was great to get an insight into their athletic lives.
Finally race morning (cool and dry at least for now) and a short walk to the start with an excellent bag drop off similar to London, although the start and finish are at the same point.
The pre event atmosphere really built up and then after the wheelchair and handbike starts we were off. I started OK but knew quite early on that a hip issue was probably going to bite later on. Gary ran at a metronomic pace and passed me at about 9 mile. Gary went on to run consistent 20:30-20:50 5km splits, a second half 5 seconds faster than the first half and a finishing time of 2:54:37. That was a lesson on marathon running if ever there was one! This marked off marathon number 97 for him with only Kielder, Yorkshire and then the Town Moor left before the end of the year so please don’t forget his VIRGINMONEYGIVING site ! My leg finally gave up at mile 21 but after walking for a couple of miles I was determined to run the last mile and finished in 3.19. After losing my little brother to cancer a few weeks before it was an emotional end and I was just so grateful to be able to enjoy experiences such as this.
After indulging in post-race beer and chocolate the trip home on Monday was made more eventful when a fast looking bloke sat next to me at Berlin’s departure lounge. When I asked him what time he’d ran he said 2:06 and finished in 4th place. His name was Jonathan Korir from Kenya, training partner and friend to Eliud Kipchoge – his next run is the Ineos 2 hour challenge in Vienna as a pacer! Amazing and so humble, he was happy to talk with us about all things running, a real inspiration.
A great end to a marvellous weekend. Berlin is possibly not quite at London’s level of crowd support and organisation but don’t let that put you off trying to get an entry. The route takes in a city that has seen such changes and devastation, however the event is packed with a truly international field of runners all coming together to celebrate the joy that is running.
I decided this year to take on a slightly quieter road half marathon, rather than enter the ballot again for the GNR. On a trip home to visit the parents, chat turned to running and the Chippenham half marathon was mentioned. As it passed the front door of the house I grew up in for 18 years and I knew this was one race that Simon and Chloe might actually get to see me run past, I decided it would be one to target.
The race is organised by Chippenham Harriers (whose club vest bears a very close resemblance to the Sedgefield one – even more so than South Shields!) and is billed as a fast and predominantly flat course through Chippenham and local villages and hamlets.
The race village was set up at Chippenham sports club, and everything was well organised – no queue for the bag drop off and plenty of portaloos, so only a short wait in line there!
Race start was 9:30am and just over 1300 runners toed the line. After a few words from the race director we were off and the first mile or so was through the town centre on closed roads. There were a good number of people out supporting which always gets you off to a good start (and probably a little too quick on my part, will I ever learn?).
Following this stretch the race headed out to the surrounding villages and along the country lanes. The roads weren’t closed for this section so every now and again you’d get a shout of ‘car’ and people would move over to the left to let them pass. It was also at this point that I heard a shout of Sedgefield, as in Durham? I shouted a Yes over my shoulder, which was returned by a ‘blimey, that’s a distance’. Probably a bit of a surprise to see someone from the other end of the country racing and also a surprise for me to see someone in Chippenham that knows where Sedgefield is! I did also get a few shouts along the way of ‘well done Chippenham’ followed by an ‘oh, what club is that?’ and a quizzical look my way.
For the first 6-7 miles I was feeling good, and I was enjoying running on the lanes that I had cycled round on rides as a kid. The sun was out and it was getting warm, so the water stations were a welcome sight. The organisers tried to be as eco-friendly as possible so no plastic bottles, instead, bio-degradable water spheres, made using a seaweed coating. I found they were easy to use and really good for a quick re-hydrate.
At mile 8 there was a ‘smile and wave’ photo opportunity. Even with a sign up to warn runners that photos would be taken I still managed to get captured looking less than my best – is there ever a good running photo?! This was also about the point that my pace began to slow a little, not too much but each mile a little slower than the last. We’d then also reached the start of a couple of miles of incline, no hills as such, just enough to really test the legs at the back end of a half marathon.
At around mile 11 it was back into Chippenham and onto closed roads again. It was also the part that I knew was going to give me a boost, running down the road I grew up on and it was great to be able to wave and say hello to Simon, Chloe and Mum as I passed. Then it was head down and concentrating on trying to keep the legs moving as fast as I could to the finish. After one last small incline the last half mile was all downhill which was a great way to finish, although the finish line was a bit further round on the sports club field than I’d first hoped – that ‘sprint’ finish had to keep going a bit longer than anticipated!
At the beginning of the year I’d set myself some running goals. One of them was to get as close to 1hr50 for my half marathon time as possible, and although initially a little disappointed with myself that I had only managed 1:53:52 I had a quick word with myself that I should be more positive and I was soon happy that I had achieved a 6 minute PB! Although, I still have that 1:50 mark in my sight…
I know this is one race that will not likely be on many Harriers’ race calendars, but if you do happen to be in Wiltshire at the beginning of September then this is an enjoyable race to do.
Ferlerr the rerd round the cernerr to yer right. The words from the marshal at the first turn. We are definitely in Hull. Having been born and bred in the not so posh side of the city I am relieved not to have adopted the local accent. It’s my home town marathon and having done the event twice before, this year I was offered a free place by the race director Lucas who was keen to acknowledge the contribution my mum made to the running community in Hull. A community that has seen huge growth in the past 10 years since she founded the Hull parkrun. Mum was event director at Hull parkrun until the day she died which was 3 weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.
Organising a marathon is a huge undertaking and Hull haven’t always got it quite right. However, Lucas really does welcome feedback and more importantly he acts on it which means that the Hull marathon gets better and better each year. This year numbers could be collected the day before from Malet Lambert Secondary school. The school that I went to. I didn’t recognise the bloke who handed me my number but he recognised me and announced that he used to teach me. At this point I wondered whether or not it was wise to enter into conversation with him but he reassured me by saying he also used to teach my brother – I was safe in comparison!
Rob and I walked from race registration back to my Dad’s house half a mile away. Pete and Grace called in to make plans for the following day and talk about race strategy; both Rob and Pete agreed that neither of them was going to run with me. One of them considering me to be too slow the other too fast.
Early start on race day and Pete and Grace arrived back at dad’s house for 7.30am. Grace possibly faced the toughest challenge of us all for the day – managing Grandad! That’s a whole new run report on its own, as well Beth knows from her experiences at Manchester Marathon. Meanwhile Rob, Pete and myself headed to the finish to get the bus to the start. The start this year was brilliant. On the Humber Bridge, which at one time was the world’s longest single suspension bridge. The big advantage starting on the bridge is that it gets the climb out of the way nice and early on. There is only one climb in the Hull marathon and in previous years the bridge and hence the climb have been at mile 18. Legs are tired by then so all runners thought that Lucas had made a brilliant decision this year. On a clear day in the sunshine (which it was!) the views are amazing. I was actually running with Pete at this point and we both commented on the beauty of the East Riding of Yorkshire.
Very quickly it became apparent that Pete really didn’t want to run with me and he held back. I stuck to my plan of between 9 and 9.20 min miles and saw him at a few parts of the course that had a slight out and back. I spotted Rob at 12 miles whilst I was approaching 10. He looked comfortable and despite me shouting over to him he ignored me (nothing new there). I met my friend Farhat at mile 13, he was struggling at that point in the heat but with a bit of a friendly push he soon sprinted off. He promptly stopped 0.1 mile later as he was part of a relay team and handed over his wristband/ baton to his teammate. It was 23 degrees and I was feeling the heat too.
Even with the positive changes that the Hull marathon have made with a new route, transport and baggage buses and amazing support by marshals along the way one thing that does need addressing is water. Or a lack of it. The 3 water stations from half way onwards had run out by the time I got there. Dad and the kids were enjoying brunch outside a cafe at mile 15 and so I pinched Ellie’s water bottle. Pleased to have acquired it I drank it a bit too quickly and it wasn’t long before I saw it again. Pub stop number 1. I felt sick so stopped to walk, Pete caught me and ran on. I nipped into the closest bar and asked to use their loo…… I didn’t wait for them to reply. A 16 min mile and dodgy stomach have been experienced before in a marathon and it’s not pleasant. I decided to continue at a much slower pace. The next water stop was empty again and so pub stop number two. This time to take on board liquid. I waited patiently at the bar whilst the bartender served others first and then asked if I would like arse in yer werter? I enjoyed my glass of water (without arse). Word had got around to organisers about a lack of water and a Sainsbury’s van had pulled up to replenish stocks. I grabbed some from the van to carry round with me.
Rob had finished just as I approached mile 21, he had exceeded his expectations and finished in 3.37.31 . His second marathon and a 15 min PB. He promptly declared his retirement from marathon running.
Yer mum would be proud of yer. The rallying call from a marshal at mile 22. I didn’t quite manage to hold it together prob compounded by being on home turf and running towards my dad’s house where I grew up. I cunningly disguised the tears by opting to run through the showers that residents had set up with their hosepipes. Not sure how many runners had taken them up on the soaking they were offering as they took great delight as headed straight for them. I could hear them chuckling to themselves as I carried on. At this time Pete was approaching the finish line, the baggage bus was parked on the route 100m before the end. Energy efficient Pete decided to collect his hoody before he had finished the race. He recorded a PB too with a great run of 4.15.
On entering East Park the finish line was a very welcome sight. Only I had another two miles to go, the first of which followed the Hull parkrun route. As a kid I spent a lot of time in East Park, just as my kids now spend a lot of time in Hardwick Park. I often think how lucky we are to have such beautiful parks on our doorstep and I genuinely never tire of running laps of both as part of my marathon training. In honesty I like laps as you know that you are never far from a toilet should you need one!
Undertaking a marathon is a commitment, this was my 17th. I entered my first marathon when I was 17. London. It was easier to get in in those days. My mum loved marathon running and she would set off with her friends for her annual trip to London to take part. It really was easier to get in then! By the time race day came I had reached the minimum age of 18 and mum, dad and I all completed London that year. It was lovely to see her friends (and mine) out on the route in Hull. Audrey popped up at 21miles and Joan was at the finish, both of them continue to parkrun although have retired from marathons.
Nearing the finish (finally) we were taken on a tour of East Park’s finest features, the animal enclosure with wallabies, the splash boat, the Khyber Pass, and finally the last half mile.
Going around the final turn I spotted another local hero of the Hull running scene; Dave. He was in his familiar volunteer role of photographer. I was pleased to see him. Via the power of the internet Dave has recently shared with me videos and photos he had taken of mum and me running together, more than 30 years ago. I’ve been watching them quite a lot recently. I glanced across to my left as I crossed the finish line to acknowledge the memorial bench to my mum in the park and after collecting the medal and t shirt we all went for a photo on her bench. I miss her more than I ever thought I could.
Lakeland Trails – Keswick, Saturday the 7th of September, starting and finishing in Fitzgerald Park. Weather was sunny, lovely blue skies, maybe just a bit too warm for running, but great for watching.
Races on offer 5k, 10k or 15k challenge and 15k race. (All distances approx.)
As I really enjoyed my first Lakeland Trail back in April I was keen to try another one and for an excuse for a weekend away! Keswick was perfect as there is a little B&B we have been to a few times before just over the river from the park, so just a 2 minute walk to the start line. We also know a nice Italian restaurant which sells great pasta for the Friday night.
Keswick parkrun also uses Fitzgerald Park, which I was surprised to see hadn’t been cancelled as the first race set off at 11am and number collection started at 9am, but it worked perfectly, the parkrun used the trail finishing funnel and the portaloos, and the extra people knocking around added to the atmosphere, even boosted the numbers as some of the trail runners used the parkrun as their warm up (including David).
I opted for the 10k which set off at 11am to the sound of the Batala Lancaster Drummers. They really are good and created a brilliant atmosphere. The race did a lap round the park before heading for the hills or I should say Latrigg. For about 4 miles it was 85% up hill, on road, then path, then tracks, there was even a bit that reminded me of Stuart’s ploughed fields Sunday runs, but this was uphill!
Then for about 2 miles it was 95% downhill. There was bit near the end of the hill which was a bit too steep to run, otherwise it was a lovely run down and quite fast if you dare just let your legs go. Then back to the park full of spectators, a cricket match and folks generally enjoying the sun.
For those who know Latrigg, the route headed up the east side round the back past the main path heading up to Skiddaw then back down the main route to the west of Latrigg.
There is a great café in the park next to the start/finish and all the stalls that were at the last Lakeland Trails were also there selling coffee, burgers, wraps, ice cream and running shoes, clothing etc. The drummers were playing on and off all day and to kick off all the other races, which was brilliant to watch once I got back from my shower and while eating my dinner in the café.
At 2pm it was David’s turn, see below.
Would I recommend it? “Oh yes” these really are not about time they are about running somewhere special with fantastic views and a wonderful atmosphere. The B&B just 2 minutes away was ideal just to pop back for a shower then back to the park again to watch the other races. I even managed a walk along the southern side of Latrigg while David was running.
For the 10k I was 55th overall, 8th lady and 1st V50 lady J. Time was 53.13 (it measured 9.5k by my watch).
In the 15k Race David was 32nd overall 31st male and 4th V50 male, time 1.18.22.
Then to top it all off I won a spot prize……. free entry to the Dirty Double, which is Ullswater Trail Race Saturday the 26th of October then Helvellyn Trail Race on Sunday the 27th, pity I’m away, but David just might use it. J
By Marie, now David’s bit…….
Well the 15km for me was pretty much a race of two halves: 50 minutes up, over 556m of climb, then down the other side for 28 minutes
The 15km starts with the 10k, a steady climb out of Keswick then when you get into the woods there are a few lung busting short climbs until the route flattens out as it makes its way around Latrigg.
There is not much passing going on in this section due to the climbs and single track but as the route opens up you get some great views as you get to the point where the 10k turns back behind Latrigg.
The 15k drops down a short section of road before crossing a stream and starting the long drag up the side of the valley.
Passing through the aptly named bottomless bog section (long legs are a definite advantage at this point) this section again offered not much opportunity to overtake but the plan was to save the legs for the downhill section to come so I just ran a steady pace in line and took in more of the great views.
We just kept climbing up to the head of the valley, over the bridge and then the last climb up to the top path (photo above) it was quite a view looking back down the valley at the other runners and where we had come up from.
I knew the profile of the route as we ran the top section but what a run down hill! You basically ran as fast as you could downhill for 6km (there is a short uphill section about half way down that has your calves in shock, but once you’re over it, it’s back to flat out running again).
The route gets faster and faster until by the time you are heading for the road you’re having to slow yourself down before you lose total control of your arms and legs.
The last section of route flattens out and takes you up a short steep climb onto the old railway then back into Fitzgerald Park and round to the finish.
I was pleased with the run and my position on the day, number 82 and I swapped positons all the way from the top so it was good to keep in front of another guy at the finish, but the legs had taken a bit of a beating! I got talking to him at the finish; he had come all the way from the Bridlington area, he had done the race a few time before but just kept coming back for the downhill, “no hills like this at home” was his reason!
It is another great race in the Lakeland series. If you like a bit of mud/grass under foot and don’t mind the hills, get a run booked in.
A family holiday in the Vendee Region of France brings with it the opportunity to take part in a closed road chip timed half marathon for the princely sum of 17 Euros. The entrance fee included a technical t-shirt, feed stations stocked with raisins, cake and brioche, and was a well organised event with a friendly local atmosphere marshalled exclusively by volunteers from the host club (even on the road closures).
The route took us on a three lap 7K course, split 60:40 between road and trail, along with a section round the club’s running track with it’s tiered covered seating, changing facilities and of course a bar serving wines and beers. The route allowed the introduction of a 7 & 14K run with Vicky, returning from injury deciding to give the 7K a go.
Signing up online was easy, although regulations in France mean you need a doctor’s certificate, they accepted our club membership cards, which led to a friendly conversation when we arrived to pick up our numbers. The pre-race ritual didn’t involve the usual portaloo, instead a continental hole in the floor and handy flush which seemed designed to ensure that your shoes were cleaned at the same time. This strikes me as a fantastic idea, particularly post cross country run.
Setting off at 9am to beat the midday sun meant an early start, but as we lined up I was certainly pleased to be shaded from the full sun and to get underway before temperatures spiked in the late 20s. I resisted the temptation to try cake on a run at either of the feed / water stations, but after crossing the line I couldn’t resist a couple of slices of water melon. Some would describe the route as fast and flat; given our love of wine, bread and camembert I’ll go with flat and fun. After receiving tinned sardines in last year’s goodie bag, I was a little put out at the bag of locally sourced sea salt given to each half marathon runner this year, but hey, what do you want for less than £15!!!
Like all the best running stories this one starts in a pub…
A little over 18 months ago I was sitting in a pub having a pint with Mark Raine when he mentioned he had enrolled for a Sight Loss Awareness course with England Athletics. This is something I have been interested in for a little while and so I jumped at the chance to join Mark. The course itself is only a few hours long but it is very informative and does give you an opportunity to speak to experienced guide runners and speak to and guide visually impaired (VI) athletes. We also had the opportunity to wear different types of glasses that recreate certain visual impairments so that we can get a feel for what the athlete experiences. Some of you may have seen Mark and I running at parkrun with one of us guiding and the other wearing some blackout glasses Mark made.
Then it went quiet. It took over a year but then out of the blue both Mark and I were contacted within a week. Fast forward a couple of weeks and now both Mark and I have guided VI athletes, Mark and Dal at the Middlesbrough 10K and myself and Louise at Albert parkrun and then Dal at the Great Stockton 10K.
Pete asked me to write this race report from the perspective of the guide, however I must mention a little bit about Dal and Louise. As I mentioned earlier there are many different visual impairments. Dal and Louise both have total sight loss and are completely reliant on their guides. Dal is very new to running and the Middlesbrough 10K was his first 10K race. He finished in 1hr 29min 50 sec. Louise is a much more experienced runner with 287 parkruns under her belt, over 20 marathons and a hand full of ultra-marathons! Both Dal and Louise are great people, very confident and very inspirational.
So back to Great Tees 10K day. Dal and Louise were both arriving on the same train from Newcastle into Middlesbrough just after 8am and I had arranged to meet them at the station. They were coming on their own and I was also on my own, another guide runner (Josh) was meeting us later at Stockton to guide Louise.
Being a guide runner isn’t just about the race. It sounds obvious but the VI athlete needs to get to the race and back, get from the car park to the race, navigate the (very busy and random) athlete villages, avoid barriers and diversion signs that have been placed on the pavement, collect numbers, queue for the loo, collect numbers, leave baggage and find the start.
Louise was keen to do both a parkrun and the 10K so I had chosen Albert parkun as I knew it had good paths for guide running on. This was the first time I would have been a guide so I was keen to keep it simple, especially as I knew the Great Tees 10K course was a lot more technical. I was on my own at this point but Dal was just going to wait at the finish, as a 5K and a 10K in one day was a little much for him. He’s a coffee guy so the plan was to get him a cuppa and then guide Louise. However, when we arrived at the start I figured we could sound out the tail walker and see if they were happy to walk with Dal who would just hold their elbow. The tail walker for the day was Phil who almost offered before I asked when he saw us heading towards him. (A bright orange Guide Runner top gave us away.) What a top guy, and that really was the theme for the day, so many people keen to help and encourage. Phil’s partner even offered to keep hold of our hoodies for us whilst she waited in the café for him.
I’ll be honest, at this point whilst we were waiting to start, I got nervous. I’d spoken to Mark earlier in the week after he had guided at Middlesbrough and he told me it was an amazing high, so I just focused on that. At the start people gave us plenty of space and thankfully the super wide path meant people could get around us easily (or us them, we went past a few people).
One of the things the Sight Loss Awareness course tells us is that we are not coaches or pace makers, so that isn’t an expected part of the role, however if the VI athlete wants to keep a pace it is tricky for them to judge so you do need to also give regular pace and distance updates as well as guide. Louise had asked for me not to tell her how far we had gone or our pace, so I set my Garmin to silent and off we went.
Albert is an incredibly good course for guide running on, it’s pretty flat, all on paths (most of which are super wide), has very few sharp turns and the quality of the tarmac is great. With it being a two lap course I had two chances to memorise the paths and now think I could describe every part of every path in detail! We finished in a respectable 37:58. The volunteers and other athletes were super friendly.
There were a couple of issues with the results, I promise you I wasn’t 6 seconds behind her. However, fun fact, under IBSA rules the VI athlete can be up to 0.5m ahead of the guide to allow for a sprint finish. But if the guide finishes in front of the athlete then the athlete is disqualified. In a marathon a VI athlete can have a relay of up to 4 guides.
The next part of my guide running experience involved navigating us through dogs (lots of dogs) and ducks to get scanned. We then had time to pop into the café whilst we waited for Phil (tail walker) and Dal to pass us. When Dal finished I collected him from Phil and we headed back to the café (past the dogs and ducks again) to meet Louise. Then the second most embarrassing part of the day occurred. I’ve only been to Albert once before, many moons ago and it suddenly dawned on me that whilst I was focusing on helping Dal and Louise out of the car and over the roads I had not paid any attention to where I had parked (we just followed other parkrunners from the car park to the start)! Thankfully Google saved the day.
With parkrun bagged it was on to the main event of the day. We headed back to the car (via dogs and ducks) and headed over to Stockton. Luckily Ray had provided me with maps for road closures and car parks so I had a rough idea of what I thought would be the best place to park minimising roads to cross etc. Once we got there and I had committed the car location to memory it was time to get sorted and head to the start. The walk was a lot more complex than it had been getting from the car to the start of parkrun. The footpaths were a lot narrower and I had a VI on either side of me with lots of people using the paths. Also at various points there were temporary signs on the footpaths to guide cars and people to the correct places, which created pinch points. I realised this was going to be a lot more tricky than Albert.
This is where the most embarrassing part of the day occurred. There were some posts approaching us (this is not going were you think it is) on the edge of the pavement, presumable to stop cars parking up the curb, and I was worried Louise might walk in to one, or even slip off the curb as the path was narrow. Then on my left (the inside of the pavement) there were some lampposts (this is going where you are thinking) and whilst I was paying attention to what Louise was walking towards Dal clipped (I emphasis, clipped) the lamppost with his shoulder. Now Dal has a wicked sense of humour and just laughed, but he did say he was going to push me into a bush later. I felt terrible.
We needed to collect our numbers (I was given a free entry by Great Run, thanks for that!) and meet Josh (guide for Louise) at the information tent. There were quite a few curbs, steps and people to avoid, especially with two VI athletes, but I managed to get them there without injuring them further. Josh was there and took over helping to guide Louise whilst we collected our numbers and filled in the backs of them. The ladies in the information booth were incredibly helpful – I hadn’t considered that Louise would not be able to pin her number on herself (safely) and we had two male guides. Once again everyone was helpful.
Now there was the small matter of the race. Getting to the start was nontrivial due to the entry into the pens being tiny gaps in the barriers, but also just the volume of people. People were very good when they saw the guide runner vest, but in the crowds not everyone saw it. Thankfully I only had one VI athlete now which did make things a lot easier, so I just got very vocal to let people know we were coming through. Seriously, get yourself a Guide Runner vest if you want doors to open. 😉 One of the hardest things at the start, whilst we waited for the gun, was stopping Dal from talking to everyone. Everyone also wanted to talk to him as we started but I needed him to focus on me as we walked/jogged over the start line and the chip timing mats (trip hazards).
Dal runs differently to Louise and it’s up to the guide runner to adapt to whatever the VI athlete prefers. Neither of them use a cord, they both prefer to hold on to you as they get better feedback from that which is good for their confidence, especially with them both being totally blind. Louise likes to be on the right and links her left arm behind your elbow and rests her hand on your arm. Dal prefers to run on the left with his hand resting on your shoulder or occasionally he holds your elbow. It can get quite uncomfortable having the dead weight of someone’s hand on your shoulder for 10K, especially when they get tired. After about 5K my back started to ache and I felt a bit lopsided, maybe this was his way of getting me back for the lamppost.
The course itself was a lot more technical than Albert parkrun but not as bad as Ray had led me to believe 😉 so I was prepared for worse. Like Albert it was not a closed course so there were people walking towards us but, unlike Albert, on quite narrow paths, we also had curbs and bollards to deal with and some pretty tight turns, especially towards the end. In places the path was a little uneven but we managed without incident. Once again the marshals were great and pointed things out to me very early so I had time to pass it on. Dal did want to know his pace as he was keen to beat his time from the previous week with Mark so I gave regular updates. He also asked me to describe certain things he could hear on the river.
At one point I said there was a water station ahead and he asked how far. Now I already knew there was no point in telling him the distance as he has been blind since birth and has no way of knowing how far 10 metres is. Top tip, talk in time, 10 seconds away etc, which for someone like me who has no concept of time posed a challenge. When the water station arrived, I swapped to the left and collected two bottles for us, removed the tops and passed one to Dal. We decided at this point to just walk whilst we drank, it wasn’t going to end well if I tried to guide whilst drinking water! Unlike Albert I needed to talk constantly on this course.
Interestingly (or not) due to the early start to the day I hadn’t eaten breakfast. But I had put a cereal bar in the car for later. The plan was to eat it on the walk from the car to the start of the Stockton 10K. I now know that this wasn’t a great plan as you can’t guide and eat and I hadn’t factored in that I would be guiding from the car. It’s obvious now but totally caught me out at the time. I was getting pretty hungry by now, it was after mid-day and I was mid-way through my second run. I need to plan that better next time.
As we came towards the final mile we knew it was going to be close for beating the Boro 10K time but Dal picked up the pace. He was very tired at this point and putting a lot of weight on my shoulder, but we got to the finish and everyone cheered him over the line. Mark had given me a tip to let him know the cheering is for him, which I did and I think he liked it (thanks for that Mark).
There was only one water station on the course at 4K and Dal was really struggling with the heat, so we needed to find water quick. This is where it was tricky as I could see it but couldn’t get Dal to follow me as he was too tired and a lot of people were wanting to congratulate him. I didn’t want to leave him with lots of people crowding around so I used the power of the Guide Runner vest to create a path. We stopped for some photos and then headed back to the athlete village to meet Louise and Josh.
So, drum roll, did Dal get his PB and did we beat Mark…yes we did, in a time of 1hr 24min. And for those that are worried I had a banana whilst Josh helped Dal and Louise.
But that wasn’t the end. We then had to get back to the car so we could get to Middlesbrough train station. Now I didn’t realise this but at “manned” train stations visually impaired people can get assistance, which in this case was very good. We got to the counter and a guard came onto the platform to wait with Dal and Louise whilst they waited for the train and to make sure they got on the correct train. The guard on the train helps them get off the train at the right stop and then the guard on the platform helps them out of the station. I believe they used a taxi from there to get home.
So my job was suddenly over. It was a bit on an anti-climax in a way but thankfully we had time to have a coffee, so I waited with them (I was off duty thanks to the guard being with them) and we just had a good old chat for 20 minutes. I was exhausted when I got back to the car. My step count was over 30,000 but I think my word count was higher.
Mark was right, the whole experience was an amazing high, I’m still buzzing as I write this the day after. This morning I saw a VI athlete running with a guide at the GNR. Who knows, maybe next year. But really this race report is about how inspiring the VI athletes are, these people are fearless. Try closing your eyes and running for a few seconds (in the park away from roads and the lake!).
By Steve Foreman
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