Race Report – Hebden Bridge Fell Race 2017

Thursday June 1st, 2017
The Hebden Bridge Fell Race is the second of three fell races I’d earmarked for the year – four including Kilnsey, but that’s not happening now. Following my reasonable efforts in the Dick Hudson Fell Race on Ilkley Moor, I made it my intention to enter this race not just for the challenge, nor the experience, but to get back up that hill to visit the great black obelisk, Stoodley Pike, a site I visited on a walk in the summer of 2016 that really livened my spirit for journeying away from man and beast, if just for a few hours. Organised by the Todmorden Harriers, this race has attracted runners regionally and nationally since 2006, held on the first Thursday of each June and was now in its 11th consecutive year.

Unlike Ilkley, I didn’t get chance to recce the course – general life got in the way, and I found myself unable to commit to a morning or afternoon to navigate the course. Nonetheless, I had previously experienced the hills above the town on my adventures last year, so I had some background knowledge and was able to use my OS Map to study the course. I signed up a few days before the race without hesitation and for the first time was able to mark myself as a Halifax Harrier – although as a FRA (Fell Runners Association) race and not a UK Athletics race, the discount didn’t apply. £5 (or £6) is cheap as chips to enter a race, an attractive price for anyone from experienced runners to those new to the fells.

It was a gloriously sunny evening in Hebden Bridge, as evidenced by the blazing sunshine beaming down on Calder Holmes Park. I took the time to take in the sunshine, the River Calder, and head for a quick warm up jog out and back, clocking no more than half a mile. By 7:20pm, we were gathering the other side of the Station Road bridge, facing down where the start line was positioned.

The River Calder, Hebden Bridge, 01/06/2017

I did feel a sense of pride wearing my vest this particular evening – my first race not as an enthusiastic unattached runner, or as a charity runner – I was now part of a group. Although I’m fairly sure I only noticed one other Halifax vest, with many runners drawn from Todmorden (of course), the stripey Calder Valley Fell Runners, and there even seemed to be more Manchester Frontrunners in attendance. Nonetheless, I was on the start line, that’s what mattered.

Off we went. Immediately, something didn’t feel right. It seemed like nerves. Possibly because of the knee, but I got caught out by the pace of the start, and was overtaken on the inside by a good few runners. We then began the climb up through the woodland, which often bottlenecked and allowed for plenty of pauses to power walk and conserve energy. Once escaping the woodland, I seem to recall a narrow path which soon became a mix of flat and hilly sections, my speed at which quickened or slowed accordingly as I tried to traverse the terrain. My shoes weren’t helping – more than once I had to step to the side to tighten them as they didn’t seem to be supporting my heels so well – thankfully rectified by the halfway point – and so I struggled to maintain any real momentum, although I was gaining ground as the race ascended another level.

Before long, I was really starting to have problems climbing the terrain. I’m in tune with power walking and perfectly happy to use this method on a particularly steep hill, but as Stoodley Pike loomed ahead as to my right, I had very little power in my quads, and the result was an exhausted trudge to make the final metres to the top. Even on the final approach to Stoodley, I was struggling to maintain any momentum over what was really a perfectly surmountable hill. I mustered the strength to get to the top, touch the Pike itself and then head back, mercifully, down the hill again. At least now I could try and gather some momentum.

For the next mile or so, I seemed to go alright, occasionally interchanging places with other runners and making a fist of being competitive in the midfield. Towards the end though, my lack of experience started to show on the steeper sections, as foot placement on protruding roots became tricker, the inclines a little steeper, and I would have to cede one or two more places as the race returned through the woodland back to Calder Holmes Park.

To compound matters, there were one or two more roads which contained hills. Even after spending a long time coming down, I continued to struggle to ascend normally routine hills. It was similar to the Dovestone Edge run I did about 9 months ago – on that occasion I got to 13 miles before my quads gave up! Needless to say I felt pretty shattered, physically and psychologically by it all. Finally returning to the canal, I mustered one last hard effort to ensure I didn’t lose any more places. I crossed the line and promptly felt an overwhelming sense, not of accomplishment, but disappointment. A serious case of ‘that was fucking crap‘ overcame me, as I sat myself down on the deck. Not the race itself, but pretty much everything about how it went.

(I don’t often use curse words on my blog but that’s how I honestly assessed my performance. I wasn’t holding back!)

I took myself back to Machpelah, where I cleaned the mud off my legs (a bit), got changed into my Snowdonia Marathon t-shirt and opted to indulge in some fruit juice and ginger cake. I could have had a beer for £3, but what was there to celebrate really? I didn’t feel much like drinking alcohol, and even the slight surprise of finishing 35th (in a time of 54:53) did little to raise my spirits towards the race. I gladly made the short trip back to the train station before heading home. 

Had I written this in this immediate aftermath of the race, I could have come across far more negative than what I am about to say now. But I’ve had plenty time to reflect. I didn’t have a cracking night’s sleep beforehand, though I felt fine prior to the race. I don’t think the weather was a factor either – I felt warm but not hot, and at no point did I feel dehydrated. Maybe I paid the price a little bit for a recent lack of hill training – I spent a lot of time preparing for a fairly flat ultra marathon earlier in the year, and have only recently given hillier running again its full due. But ultimately, its my lack of experience in these races. I wasn’t expecting the earth in terms of a performance, but I at least always felt I could at least excel myself in these types of races. Instead, it seemed I had finally found something that’s not quite my forte – and indeed, finding my body had reached a limit that basically said ‘no’, and tried to hold me back again and again. And initially I found that to assess my performance as such. I realise I’m being overly harsh. I can more appropriately say it was a chastening experience, one which I hadn’t possibly foreseen but one which maybe I should. Brighouse has nothing you could class as a fell – a few hilly trails, but nothing more. A trip to Stoodley, or Ilkley Moor is a day trip to me. For some more localised runners, this is their bread and butter. I could just jack it in and argue I’ll never have a chance.

But that belies my own competitive spirit. I’ve not experienced a DNF yet. Or even a DNS. Even when I’ve struggled, I’ve found a way to finish. Even when I’ve got lost, or taken a wrong turn during a race, I’ve fought tooth and nail to make up the ground. And here, I took on one of Calderdale’s toughest races, and lived to tell you I was bloody awful, and still finished.

So I may well sack the Stoodley Pike 5K next month and instead redouble my efforts to get race ready for the Regent’s Park 10km later in July. I shouldn’t be lugging myself up a great big hill just for the experience when my chief focus is elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean I should ditch fell racing. Simply make sure I get out there, get some experience, build up my core strength, do my recce if I can, and take a look at the most appropriate challenges out there. I shouldn’t ever expect myself to win one of these things. All I want is to be competitive on the day. But I realise that everyone has an off day, everyone has a bad race in them, and mine just happened to be this one. There’s no time to sit around complaining, because my next race, The Drop Summer Sizzler, is right around the corner. Or at least it was, til it got cancelled due to low sales. But more on that another time.

A big thank you to the Todmorden Harriers and everyone who volunteered, marshalled and flagged out the course. 

Race info + results

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Race Report: The Dick Hudson’s Fell Race 2017

Its Thursday 27th April, 2017, 5:32pm. I’m on a train to Ilkley. My rest vest is absolutely crammed. The bladder pocket is being used for clothing storage. I’m balancing a hot cup of black tea beneath my feet, and I’m trying to fold my waterproof jacket down enough to fit in the vest. I’m slightly stressed. I’m on my way to a race. On a Thursday evening.

What fresh hell is this?!

Call it an initiation of sorts. Today is my first ever fell race. Arguably, my second in fact – (Wo)Man vs Barge is described as a trail race by definition, but it involves a bit of scrambling, some fast descents and its very rocky in parts. I digress. This by definition is a fell race. The Dick Hudson, organised by the Wharfedale Harriers, is an annual fell race named after the boozer located at the foot of Bingley Moor, the halfway point of the race. The race starts at the barrier at White Wells, near the foot of Ilkley Moor, and is a loose 7 mile climb up and over Ilkley Moor & Bingley Moor, and then back again. It started in 2009, I believe, a spiritual successor of sorts to a long held race walking event which used to run (or walk) from Bradford to Dick Hudson’s until 2008, when it fell foul of stringent road safety regulations (there’s an excellent piece on that race here).

Registration took place beside a campervan and a small square table outside with pens and safety pins. Where there wasn’t room at the table, runners were using nearby signs to fill out the required entry form. 

I had turned up nice and early after my initially stressful journey. I got my race number pinned to my shorts, and left my race vest in the campervan, taking only my waterproof jacket, and the whistle I purchased earlier in the day just in case a kit check took place. Yep, I’d packed a small portion of my house (or so it felt), and in the end didn’t need most of it. Well, rules are rules, its for your own safety so its better to pay attention and not risk your place. Race vest deposited, I warmed up with a nice little jog up and around the moor. I got as far as the stone staircase I’d climbed twice prior to today, and I couldn’t see a clear path around it. Well, damn. I guess I’m going to have to do some scrambling. 

Looking up from the race start
Watching the clouds roll in

The clouds were ominously gathering. The race director had warned of rain around 8pm, yet it threatened to arrive sooner. I jogged back down the hill and started doing my warm up. I was recognised by another runner, Matt, who remembered me from my posts about the Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter on the Facebook group Running The World. We had a quick chat pre race, before the runners – gathered from all the local clubs – Wharfedale, Horsforth Fellandale, Hyde Park Harriers, Otley AC, etc – began to walk up to just past the barrier, almost a rolling start. The race director gave brief final instructions, a quick countdown and we were away.

Within the first 200 metres, lead runners began to peel off to the right and up a grassy knoll. Around another corner, several runners took an almost hairpin turn and took another path away from the gravel trail. There were a few of us, myself included, who continued past White Wells, and onwards to the stone stairs. There was a cyclist amongst this pack – cyclists are indeed invited to partake in this event – carrying the bike over one shoulder, scaling the staircase with relative ease. Even then, I wasn’t yet at the top of the moo – there were a couple more ups and downs before reaching Ilkley Crags, and I had to step aside to let the cyclist through – he was breathing down my neck for a good couple of minutes – but finally, I got onto the top, and found my stride. I had to place my feet ever so carefully at a split second’s notice, bounding over rocks, mounds and muddy, occasionally watery moorland. 

The halfway point – the gate by the Dick Hudson’s pub – beckoned. A good few of the leading runners had gone through on their way back by this point, and the descent down to the gate was completed. A man was taking race numbers down as they arrived. I’m sure he said to me ‘on your shirt next time please‘. I can’t understand why, if that really was what he said, wearing my race number on my shorts was a problem. Still, I wasn’t the only runner to pin my race number to my shorts, so I felt slightly reassured that one or two others might get a bollocking too. Anywho, it was a steep climb back up, before beginning the crossing back up Bingley Moor. Arguably, this was the sting in the tail – a much more gradual climb on the way back, and somewhat more energy sapping. I really wasn’t feeling competitive, an unusual feeling as even when just running for the craic, I have even a slight urge to max out my effort.

Arriving back at Ilkley Crags, the runners immediately ahead of me veered to the left. I continued back the way I came. I figured I was going to try and see if I could actually gain a few places. I got to the steps as fast as I could, and nervously scrambled down. Finally hitting reasonably flat ground, I floored it.

Credit: David Haygarth. Cracking photo

The last kilometre is extremely quick downhill – and I could actually see I had ground ahead of at least one or two who’d gone the other way, still navigating the descent back towards the finish. I put on a good sprint finish and crossed the line in a time of 57:12 – good enough for 43rd overall.

Looking rather chipper post-race

This is the first of four fell races I had lined up, with Hebden Bridge up next in June. I felt a bit battered after this race, owing to my freak rib injury which left me feeling like I’d taken a punch to the kidneys or something. It did have me wondering whether or not I really enjoyed the prospect of running up a really steep hill to come back down it again, although the Dick Hudson is much more than that. However, I woke up the next day feeling fine, and so any doubts I had have subsided. I genuinely enjoyed the race, which I set out to do really just for the experience, though it was something to see my competitive urges seemingly disappear during the race, only to reappear near the end. Ultimately, I’m realistic to know that I was never going to match my recent excellent results (5th, 3rd, 2nd, and a 1st at a parkrun) racing a different animal altogether, and as long as it doesn’t interfere too much with my training for my fast 10km attempt in London in July, I truly can’t see any reason not to come back for more at Hebden Bridge in around four weeks’ time, because this running up big hills lark is actually quite fun. If that’s your bag, that is.

Once again, a big shout for the Wharfedale Harriers for putting on a cracking little race that makes the most of Ilkley Moor’s beauty and indeed its tough, brutal ascendancy. Only £4 to enter as well – no medal, no t-shirt, no goody bag – just pure running and well worth it. Thank you to all who volunteered to marshal/assist on the day. And well done all who took part. It was good to see everyone got back in one piece. , and indeed for those looking for a new challenge, this is a race you may wish to consider, if you can make it on a work/school night.

Dick Hudson’s Event Page/Results

Training Update – trails, track and parkrun success

Just as I put out my post about my future plans, I decided to get back into the here and now and begin preparing in earnest for the busy spring/summer of racing I have lined up. Indeed, the races are coming thick and fast as I’m eschewing spring marathon season this time in favour of fell racing and chasing a shiny new 10km personal best.

In conjunction with this, I’ve been busily reading Jack Daniels’ training guide ‘Daniels’ Running Formula‘. While the book itself is in the region of 10-20 years old, its still perfectly relevant and has really opened my mind back up to understanding training terms. Easy pace, marathon pace, threshold pace, interval pace. Repetitions, cruise intervals, repeats, and so on. It didn’t take me long to get through the book and I’m a bit clearer now on what exactly I need to do if I’m ever to reach the lofty goal of sub-35 minutes for 10K. Or, at the very least, sub-37:15.

I’ve had a good few weeks since returning to running post-ultra, recently finishing first at my hometown parkrun in Brighouse, and in front of my wife and kids too. That one was for them. My time was 18:41 – pretty good, but I felt a noticeable lack of top end speed endurance. I tried to kick on during the last lap and just didn’t have it in me to sustain anything above my 3:50/km pace for more than 15 seconds a time. Not that I’m complaining – I had a brilliant day and there’s loads of people who would kill for a time like that. I also gave a little back the following day and helped my kids to the best ever junior parkrun experience too. A great weekend for running for my young family!

In full flight at Brighouse parkrun, 01/04/2017

Things picked up last week, when my wife and kids were whisked away by my mother-in-law to a midweek break somewhere outside of York. I got on with mixing up my training. I ran four laps of my local park’s parkrun course on Monday, and threw myself into my swimming on the Tuesday. Wednesday brought on a rare track session, in fact my first for possibly 18 months or so. I did a 1500 metre ‘warm up’, running in 5:28.4 – I definitely held back there – and then a ten minute warm up, followed by 6×400 metre repetitions (400m fast, 400m recovery), and a ten minute cool down. I rarely measure my pace over 400 metres – the last time I did was on grass, hardly flat, and I never got beyond 1:26. I therefore surprised myself when I ran my first two repetitions for 1:14. Sub-5 minute mile pace! I struggled to maintain that level – the remainder clocked 1:16, 1:17, 1:21, and 1:17. I had plenty reasons to be pleased with that – particularly the rarely relenting headwind that seemed to attack on the back straight. I’ve yet to upload and review the charts, but I’ve given myself a good target to aim for. I haven’t run that fast, legitimately, since around the time of the Liversedge Half Marathon in 2015, when I ran a 5:23 in the first mile – and that was partly downhill. So to do that on a track is satisfying.

These haven’t seen much action!

However battered I felt from that track session, I still had one order of business, which was to tackle the Dick Hudson Fell Race course, exactly two weeks from race day. Partly for knowledge, but also to get a good experience of running across this particular stretch of moorland. The initial climb up Ilkley Moor is horrendous – past the White Wells spa house, the footpath snakes all the way up to a steep stone staircase that can’t truly be run (surely). Part of the stairs is basically a large boulder that you’re best hauling yourself up. The path has a few more ups and downs before leveling out into pure racing territory, past Ilkley Crags and the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle. Its onwards at this point Bingley Moor, which has a slight decline before reaching the drop to the gate by the Dick Hudson pub – after which the race is named, if you hadn’t guessed. And then its back again, including that stone staircase, which is just as steep and tricky to descend before the final rush down the snaky path to White Wells. I then had the additional rush to thunder down Wells Road to get to Ilkley Rail Station, 90 seconds before my train to Bradford departed, meaning I had to find a quiet corner of the train to stretch and clean the mud off my legs!

Ilkley Moor, 13/04/2017

After that run, I was absolutely shattered. I wound up falling asleep on the sofa and woke up the next morning convinced that Good Friday would be a rest day. And indeed it was.

Quite irritatingly, I have managed to undo my great start a little by yet again bruising my chest or ribs. This time, I sustained it leaning over a bedframe to give one of my daughters a goodnight kiss. Of all the things! So hard intervals aren’t exactly on the cards at the minute, but I’ll still be ready for the Dick Hudson next week.

This has all served as a reminder that finding these gains in my performance are going to be hard to come by. I’ll need to remain dedicated to my approach and be absolutely committed to the pursuit. My place in the race – the Royal Parks Series Regent’s Park 10km – is now confirmed, so there’s no turning back. The date is set and I’ve got to get together a training plan to chronicle my weekly sessions, and how I’m going to fit those in around the various fell races, the unpredictable race known as The Drop, and of course, the work/life balance. I doubt my diet is going to be perfect, but I’ve got to eat better, sleep well, and look after myself. Its all well and good saying these things – how many of us do? Yet its these little details that must be put into practice if indeed I’m going to shatter a target I seemed to set a long time ago now. I’m in the best shape of my life, but can it be better? I’ll always ask myself that, and the challenge there is to stop being non-committal, or to renege on any wishful promises to myself, like four months without chocolate, for example. It isn’t happening!

I’ll be back on my feet soon enough to get a few miles in prior to the Dick Hudson, and you’ll hear more about how I get on very soon.

Of course, this weekend sees the return of the London Marathon. Loads of people I know through running groups online are taking part, and maybe that includes you, yes, you? I’m going to be there next year but I’m going to enjoy watching the race on telly, tracking a few runners online and taking in the amazing and inspirational stories behind the journey towards running this iconic race. Good luck to all taking part, and I really hope you enjoy the experience.

Fells, trails, speed and (air) miles: Mapping my future course

Hello everybody!

Thank you all firstly for reading my write up of my race at the Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter. It got a great response out on social media and I got some great compliments not just about my run, but my writing style too. I write this blog almost as a personal diary which I’m happy to share and however it affects you, the reader, is genuinely a wonderful thing to receive in return. I don’t seek to force my blog onto anyone – of course I’ll publish, share and retweet – and I don’t seek, or expect, thousands of hits. I’m really happy to continue sharing my running adventures with all of you and what a bonus it is that right now, I’m in the most successful results phase of my career. So thank you everybody, its much appreciated.

So after something like that, how do I possibly go forth from here. Well luckily for you, I seem to have it all mapped out in my head as to the next 18 months or so. Without further ado, I introduce you to…

Short term (spring/summer 2017)

This spring will mark my first dip in the proverbial rough waters of fell running. Although I’m still undecided on whether to go for my ultimate goal of running the Kilnsey Crag Fell Race, I’m looking at entering races with a reasonable entry level so should I opt for the step up, I’ll feel ready.

Ilkley Moor. On a wet and windy February morning.

The first of these will hopefully be the Dick Hudsons Fell Race, taking place on Thursday April 27th. This event takes place starting from White Wells, situated on Ilkley Moor, and the race itself is a rough 7 miles ascending the moor, ideally past the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle (where I walked to earlier in the year), and down towards the Dick Hudson pub in Bingley, from which the race gets its name. Its a tag of the gate and then a run back the opposite way back to White Wells in Ilkley. I seem to remember one steep stone stair case that will need climbing and descending, but otherwise, what I know of the path is mostly flagstoned. Either way, having gained knowledge of the area, it seems an ideal one to take on.

The next event I’ve lined up is the Hebden Bridge 10km Fell Race, organised by Todmorden Harriers, which is a jaunt up to Stoodley Pike, the defining war memorial that overlooks the Calder Valley, and down into some of the woodland trails in the surrounding areas below. Its billed as a fell race with trail elements and an ideal entry race. This is followed up on Tuesday 4th July by the Stoodley Pike Fell Race, also organised by Todmorden Harriers, a shorter but arguably more thrilling race up to the monument and down its steep descents back to the bottom.

Stoodley Pike, 14/08/2016

Something I’ll be trying to balance with all this is a return to a long held goal of mine that got interrupted big time two years ago, when I developed sesamoiditis. I haven’t entered yet, but I’m on a family holiday to London for the final night of the World Paraathletics Championships on Sunday 23rd July. The Royal Parks Regent’s Park 10K, organised by The Race Organiser, is held the same morning. I feel confident now with the London Tube network to be able to get over from my digs for the week to the race, and it represents a chance for myself to attack a PB of mine that has now stood for over three years. In 2014, I ran 37:15 at the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K. The following year, I began training for a crack at going sub-35 minutes. I was clocking some excellent intervals – even at sub-3 minute per km pace – but then my problems began to develop and halfway into the plan I bailed and decided to try and get to the bottom of why my left foot couldn’t take more than 20 minutes of running.

I still believe I can go sub-35 minutes for 10K. Its a very big leap, however, so there isn’t any guarantee I will achieve it in one go. I did, over the course of 2016, lower my parkrun 5K PB to 18:06 – still some way off the 17:30 I would possibly need to feel fully capable, but I did manage a 17:28 split during the Great Birmingham Run. I believe now I’m more experienced to make a more considered approach to tackling this goal than I did two years ago. For a start, avoiding doing all my training on the road will be a start, and keeping my body strong and injury free will be another. I’ve also invested in a second hand copy of ‘Daniels’ Running Formula’, written by the acclaimed running coach Jack Daniels, to seek to understand putting together a training plan from scratch and to introduce myself seriously back into threshold and interval running, both of which I pushed mostly to one side for the slower pace required in the ultra marathon I trained for. I’m already some way through the book – more on that another time.

To round off the summer, will be one, possibly two races, depending on my willingness to sign up for the Kilnsey Crag Fell Race on Tuesday 29th August. Two days prior, I’m taking part in the Honley 10K Trail Run, which will see myself and numerous others tackling a scenic and challenging trail course around a section of the Holme Valley. It’ll be nice to get back to running in the area – I don’t often visit the Holme Valley unless its for big, long, very hilly climbs over Holme Moss. This will be something a little different, and no less enterprising. And then remains the shortest, and no doubt most challenging of the four fell races I have planned, as this video below may attest to.

Medium term (September-December 2017)

Ever since I took part, hastily, in a Go Tri event (The Great Yorkshire Aquathlon in Leeds), four weeks after having to be dragged out of a pool because I suddenly lost my kick in the deep end, I’ve had a keen interest in getting up to a level where I can take part in a multisport event again. I had an absolute blast that day, and I’ve been on a mission since to improve my swimming abilities to be able to take on the Ilkley Aquathlon, an event held every September at Ilkley Swimming Pool and Lido. Its taken a while, but I’ve significantly improved as a swimmer. As of last night, I’m currently up to 200 metres (in a 20 metre pool) swimming front crawl without stopping. I’ve had such a positive start in the water in 2017, reaching the 200 ahead of schedule, but the race itself is the impetus to kick on – I’m really invested in running right now and so its important not to lose focus if I’m ever to progress to triathlon.

The Ilkley Aquathlon comprises a 400 metre swim and a 3000 metre run, mostly on grass. This takes place one week after my 33rd birthday, on Saturday 16th September. Entries open in May, so I’ll need to be fast to book my place, but this is my ultimate challenge as a swimmer for 2017. I really believe I can do it. Therefore, I really want to be a part of it. The key part of my training balance will be to ensure I get enough swim training done, because with all these other races it would be all too easy to lose focus on the swim leg, which is obviously critical to keep working on. I can swim 400 metres if I stop for a breather now and again. I’d love to be good enough to attempt it in one go.

There’s still an itch to run a marathon this year, and the one I’ve identified is the Kirkstall Trail Marathon, part of the Kirkstall Abbey Trail Running Festival, organised by Its Grim Up North Running. Taking place on Saturday 18th November, the course is three laps comprising ‘road, track, and field’. Basically its a trail race, and it’ll probably be muddy, and there’s apparently a bit of a steep climb somewhere. Sounds grand! Other distances are also available at this race. Head here for more information.

That also means I’m likely to run one of two events in October as prep – the Northern Jumble (another Its Grim Up North Running race) is another multi-distance event which costs just £10 to enter regardless of distance (5K up to ultra). The medals at the end are surplus, so won’t be individual to the race but will have been handed out at one of the other IGUNR events. Each will have a Northern Jumble ribbon. If I enter, I’ll plump for the half. The alternative is the Holmfirth 15 mile race, which is a two lap event. It’ll also be a little hillier than the Jumble, which is on another canal, this time to Huddersfield Broad Canal. I’m not leaning towards either, but the latter would likely be better practice for the hilly Kirkstall Trail.

My year might wind down after that. Then again, maybe it won’t. Because…

Longer term (early 2018)

As long as the dates line up with a certain major marathon later in the year, I plan to enter the Canalathon 50K in 2018 – and this time it shouldn’t clash with Mother’s Day in the UK! I’m determined to make up for the fact I couldn’t make this event in 2017 (and wasted £50 in the process) and having enjoyed my first ultra marathon so much, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t feel capable of ultra #2. This is a popular regional event that takes place on the Rochdale Canal, from Manchester all the way to Sowerby Bridge. There are longer options too – the 75km and the 100km, the latter of which garners points for UTMB qualification – but I’m fine for now cutting my chops at roughly 31, 32 miles before signing up for an even bigger challenge.

The certain major marathon I refer to is London Marathon 2018. I have a Good For Age time valid from 2016 and its time to try and top it up. Not only that, but I want this to be my serious tilt at a sub-3 hour marathon. I was narrowly close in 2016, clocking 3:02:39 – the watch suggested I ran 26.47 miles. While I’ll take my finish time as gospel, it does make me wonder – IF it was long course, then I must have been within a minute of the magic marker. But no excuses – if I’m going to do it, I’m going to be serious about it. By now if I haven’t seriously worked hard on my core fitness, and indeed my speedwork, and indeed judging marathon pace, I can probably forget it. But if I’m on top of those things, recover well from the Canalathon, and if I can bring it all together on the day, then what’s to say I can’t achieve it? The sub-3 is my ultimate time goal. Yes, sub-35 for the 10K would be grand, but for myself, personally, to actually run such a time for the marathon would be something.

Long term (beyond summer 2018)

The last time I went abroad was 1997. It was a family holiday to Tenerife, my long abiding memory being waking up in tears after a planned trip up Mount Teide was cancelled after my father consumed a dodgy British curry the night before. Fast forward nearly 20 years, and the only time I’ve left this fair isle since was on a boat from Plymouth to the tiny Cornish villages of Kingsand and Cawsand in 2010. Which doesn’t really count, does it? Plus, with Brexit about to drop, I’ve a horrid feeling the sterling is going to be worth jack in years to come. Furthermore, my passport expires in 2020. Its been good for nothing except identification for beer and parcels from the local Post Office depot. Well, its time to do something about it!

Yep, I want to run a marathon…abroad! To some of you, this is nothing new. To me, this is actually a big deal. If I commit to this, it’ll be the first time I’ll go through an airport on my own. I’ll possibly have to learn a few phrases (not just ‘Gratulerer med dagen!’ – happy birthday in Norse). I might even get cheaper rail travel!

My destination of choice will be Europe. Its the easiest option and there’s an absolute plethora of marathons and races to choose from. Everything from the race itself, race entry fees, travel and accommodation, the location, the lingo etc. is likely to shape where I decide to plop for. One thing for sure is the calendar – ideally I don’t want it to fall during my kids school term time, which basically means an August or late October marathon, ruling out a good few, though having said that, it would be churlish to overlook a race a week or two either side with good connections. 

Already a few people have given me recommendations on where to go. Some places I seem to have my heart set on more than others, some I would love to do but already find my budget being stretched. I’m likely to be more certain towards the end of 2017 if I’m actually going to leave this country behind for a few days. And fingers crossed, I’ll have the cash to afford. That tax free allowance rise has got to come in good somewhere!

So, the blueprint is (sort of) set, its now a question of drawing up training plans, booking my race entries, and, most crucially, getting out there and putting the hard miles in. This is going to be a nice return to 5K and 10K racing, whether on hills, roads, trails and fells, before cranking up for a long distance autumn/winter season and a chance to escape the madness of this island, if just for a few days. But first, the fells of Ilkley Moor. Only this time, faster. And maybe a bit of sunshine too.

Yep. Absolutely sodden with rain
Yep. Absolutely sodden with rain.

Snowdonia Marathon Training

9. Ascension

We here in the UK have, for once, enjoyed a pretty good summer. It hasn’t rained (too much), plenty of sunshine, even up north, and even when it looks like the weather is about to turn, along comes a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean to send us some more humid weather. Well, at some point, that humidity had to combust, and Tuesday night, in one way, went downhill the second I got caught in a massive storm. The weather here in my corner of the world has been humid and warm for a considerable amount of time – a few weeks at least, but on Tuesday night it finally combusted, and then some. I foolishly stopped off at Sainsburys for some oat bars, and before I could get even halfway to Halifax Swimming Pool, lightning began to flash in the sky, the rain began to fall, and then it just unloaded. I ran for it, and sheltered it the doorway of a boarded up shop. Thank goodness it was just sheet lightning. The fact that Spotify was playing Motörhead’s ‘When The Sky Comes Looking For You’ felt rather apt and would have been some way to go!

That was the beginning of a night that involved 600 metres (roughly) of swimming, followed by a tired run home in clearer air, which rarely got above 8:30 mile pace and was perhaps the most sluggish run post-swimming I’ve ever experienced. Compared to the previous Tuesday, I’d actually come off my Sunday long run reasonably fresh and so I have to chalk that run down as being down to my hard lesson, which took place across 15 metres instead of 10 following the decimation of the Aquafit class, which in turn owed to the huge storm that still raged while the lesson took place. I did my warm ups over 25 metres, so I guess my running really did pay for my lesson.

Still, I had more concern over my route for the coming Saturday. A 20 mile run from Marsden. Initially a road run to Sowerby Bridge, I decided it would be too dicey to run a few miles on major ‘A’ roads. So I adjusted it to run the Pennine Way and finish in Ripponden. But that finished with too much downhill. In the end, I lost count of how many times I edited the route, but finally I came upon one I felt would be appropriate, not too technical or challenging, and with a reasonable elevation profile considering the race I was going to do in six weeks. I would run from Marsden to Diggle, via the same route as the (Wo)Man vs Barge race, then up onto the hills towards the war monuments at Dick Hill then Alderman Hill…then find a way down, go to Dovestones, run the hill to Dovestone Edge, come back down and follow the roads back to Diggle, heading back the opposite way to Marsden.

It was an early start and the moon was a full one, still brightening the night sky. Upon getting off the bus in Marsden, I noticed the full moon beginning to set behind one of Marsden’s hills. I looked magnificent, but I wanted to get up higher before it vanished. Sadly, as I ran towards my start point, it quickly disappeared from view, and any pictures I tried to take of it predictably turned out like crap. 

I began to navigate the climb that made up the (Wo)Man vs Barge course, and initially got confused, but in the end managed to get on course and onto the track that runs above Old Mount Road. Daylight was now breaking and the time elapsed trying to make the initial climb meant any opportunity to see the moon set from a vantage point was lost. At least I was on my way though, and I was able to find my way along the Pennine Way, onto the rocky path down to Diggle. Had my race actually gone this well, I’d have finished much higher than sixth last.

The Oldham Way from Standedge

The next stage was to pass the Diggle Hotel and run up Lee Side and Ward Road. Parts of this were steep but I coped fine, and was soon onto Running Hill Lane. Here is where it really began to become harder. The plan was to get up to the tops, and proceed along to the war memorials atop Dick Hill and Alderman Hill. I could see the former in the distance, but already the terrain gradient were reducing my speed and forcing me to walk. I came to a right turn, waymarked, and began to proceed. I seemed to be on course but noticed a walker up on the tops, and having passed through a gate, I looked up and decided the quickest way up was to walk right up the hill side. I use the word ‘quickly’ loosely, because this turned into a scramble. Laborious as it was, I decided that I had to do this. Even it wasn’t the correct way up, the monument was up, and so the trail must be as well. I clocked 6 miles for the first hour. This was well down on my usual pace, and the frequent navigation of footpaths and now hills meant I was losing time to checking against my planned route to ensure I was going the right way.

Eventually, I got onto the trail, and sure enough, I was able to run again. I moved on towards Dick Hill, stood proudly atop the landscape, and took the time to take a few pictures, admire the view, think about those who gave their lives in the war, and watch commerical aircraft flying not too far above my head, probably en route to Manchester Airport.

Dick Hill, on Saddleworth Moor 17/09/2016

Continuing onward, I followed the arrow marked the ‘Oldham Way’. All of a sudden, things became very steep. I was looking down the hillside and really thinking ‘crikey’. The path was clearly defined, but it was going to be tricky, and indeed I slowed down again. I stopped to check my map, and could see I was heading away from Alderman Hill, but towards Dove Stone. I couldn’t yet see the group of reservoirs down below, but I was happy I was in the right direction. I finally hit the trail leading down to the A635 and Dove Stone. Looking back up, I was counting my blessings, as Alderman Hill looked even harder to descend from my viewpoint.

I was happy to arrive at Dove Stone, and getting down to the reservoirs was easy to do. The watch had said 8 miles in around 1:21, but the number of stoppages must have been adding to the overall time on my feet. I stopped by the Yeoman Hay Reservoir to send a text out to my wife to let her know that my original ETA was off and I’d have to assess when back in Marsden. I had, perhaps quite lofty, aimed for between 9:30-10am, perhaps underestimating the scale of what I was taking on. And indeed, what was about to happen was pretty much off the scale.

You see, I had planned to run, or indeed walk, up to the top of Dovestone Edge, a set of rocky outcrops and once former quarries. I picked out a path and began to ascend. Quite quickly, running reduced to a walk, the gradient of which must have been at least 15% or greater. I meandered up, occasionally breaking into a burst of speed but nothing more. I contemplated turning back, but looked up and saw that it couldn’t be much further. So I continued, and the ground became rockier. Soon enough, I was reaching big rocks, and without thinking, I began to climb them. Not the toughest section to climb, no overhangs or precipice or anything, but certainly this was not planned! And then there I was. At the top of Dovestone Edge! I stood on top of the rock, let out a ‘woo!‘ and took in the view as I allowed what I’d just done to sink in. This was running at its most primal. Tackling great inclines and fells. It was a beautiful, clear day, and indeed, could not get enough of them view. Alderman Hill in front of me. Further peaks to my left. Dovestone Park below, the reservoirs, oh my. I actually couldn’t believe what I’d just gone and done!

On the right is Alderman Hill, below, Yeoman Hay Reservoir, to the left, Dovestones Reservoir

Having released all inhibitions of what I thought was within me, it was time to get back down. Realising I wasn’t going to do any running atop these rocks, the best thing to do was to get back to ground level and maybe run around one of the reserviors. However, I kind of got into two minds here. I tried to go one way around Yeoman Hay Reservoir, but opted to double back and do a quick out and back down the other side. I simply didn’t want to get overly wet and muddy at this stage, so kept on firm ground and got up to 11 miles. The time now was 9:10am. I’d be out approaching three hours, yet the watch was only approaching two hours. I’d had a lot of stoppages, clearly, and I’d lost complete track of time. I opted to stick to the roads for the next few miles, and turned up onto Tunstead Lane to try and get back towards Diggle. Except here I missed a sweeping bend onto Haw Clough Lane and realised I’d added about another half mile there and back onto the route by the time I corrected my error. I was also beginning to struggle on hills. The first 9 miles were unquestionably the steepest ever. It had taken everything out of me there, and every hill after that became a struggle. From about mile 12, I seemed to have to stop and walk, sometimes hands on knees. Every flat section and downhill was appreciated, because I knew once I neared the Diggle Hotel, I was going to have to climb back to Standedge, not on roads, but on the rocky footpath I’d bounded down about two or three hours prior. I had to keep my morale up.

1 1/4 miles to Standedge. I knew once I was up here, the majority of the climb was over. It was a trudge. Every time I tried to pick up the pace, I had to slow it down. I tucked into my Chia Charge protein bar for energy. That was meant for post-run, but I’d been on my feet over three hours, and I just wanted to get back to Marsden. I just hoped I had enough in the tank.

Finally I got to Standedge. 17 miles were up. Initially I walked the first uphill section along the Pennine Bridleway, but I managed to set off into a running motion. I had one final uphill to manage, and I actually ran it. Now I was heading to the crossing at Old Mount Road, and all I had to do was get onto that road and onto the final descent into Marsden town centre. Over I went. Tiredness was coursing through me. The run had surpassed three hours, the time on my feet, four hours. I suffered negative thoughts, something I hadn’t truly suffered since training for Manchester in 2015. I was spent, losing my weekend, losing family time. I was physically and mentally shattered. Not quite broken, but I had to tell myself to stay positive. Its highly likely the way I was finishing here will be how I finish Snowdonia. Tired, fatigued, almost out on my feet, wanting it to end. But still running.

I turned right at the foot of Old Mount Road, and ran the final few yards back to Peel Street. I reached 19.5 miles, and stopped the watch there. It was 10:40am. A bus back into Huddersfield passed. I was stood, hunched over, hands on knees, as an elderly lady walked past. I wasn’t asking for any attention, but I didn’t seem to be getting any, so long as I was standing. I walked off in the search of the nearest cafe, got a bacon sandwich, and snaffled it between stretches as I waited for the bus back into Huddersfield.

Looking back initially at the run, I just felt like it hadn’t gone entirely to plan – I don’t mean the bouts of sheer scrambling and climbing necessarily, much as they slowed me up. Not even the fact I deviated from my route to follow the path to Dovestones, because ultimately that made no difference to my mileage. I just felt as though this time, I’d maybe set the bar too high. I’m not an experienced fell runner, and not a hugely (yet) enthusiastic trail runner – which is more about experience than enjoyment – I love the freedom it brings. But the hills I climbed here were frequent and at times, ridiculous. The race will have a long hill, a shorter steeper hill, and then a shorter, absolute bastard hill later on. There was nothing rolling about this. I can’t keep count of how many hills I actually plotted for myself. Its supposed to be fun, this endurance lark!

I really wanted to hit the reset button, but there’s one consequence to this run that I’m not panicking over – but its nonetheless a minor concern. The arch of my right foot is banged up a little bit. Just below the ball of the foot, at the top of the arch. I feel experienced in man-management of these injuries from my experience of sesamoiditis, so I’m confident I’ll be rid of it and my race plans can go ahead as normal. Short term though, and it does raise a question mark about whether I’ll be ready to take on the greatest challenge of my training. The 22 mile long run loop of Holmfirth, via Holmbridge, Holme, Holme Moss, Crowden, the Pennine Way, Wessenden Head, Meltham, Wilshaw and Upperthong. Big long 10% climbs and descents, treading the paths, peats, moors and bogs of the Pennine Way, down Wessenden Head Road, and the final climb through residential Holme Valley before the drop out of Upperthong into Holmfirth. I suspect that will push me right to the edge, but I’m so desperate to do this run because its arguably the closest thing in profile to what I may experience soon in North Wales. This Saturday is my only realistic chance of running it in this form – there is the week after, perhaps, but I’d have to drop a couple of miles from the route at least. None of which I should really be considering if I don’t feel certain I can run the whole thing and not make a tiny issue a bigger one.

All in all though, no bother. Six weeks til the race as of this past Saturday. There’s plenty time yet and no reason to rush. That’s the experience I’ve got behind me to know I’ve had worse than this – all my problems prior to London, the peroneal injury I picked up five weeks from Manchester – this is a mere molehill compared to those comparative mountains.

Six weeks and five days – Plotting a new course

Hello all!

Six weeks and five days – that’s how long its been since London. Six weeks of barely anything. Well I’ve not had too much to say lately, because I’ve been in a bit of a chill since the London Marathon. Aside from recovering from the marathon itself, I had my recovery interrupted by a minor groin strain, made worse by missing a step as I tried to prevent an accident that never happened. It was always in my plan to take a few weeks off running following London, but I didn’t expect to have my strengthening plan interrupted by a strain that flared up every time I attempted a leg raise, a stair climb, or even just walking.

After London, I managed just one run in the first four weeks, a May Day run around the local park, my groin wrapped up with a bandage. I did 3.25 easy going miles, which confirmed to me that my groin maybe wasn’t quite ready to be put through its paces yet, but nothing to hold up the plan. Alas, a setback is a setback, and to count my blessings, it happened between races. My training for the Snowdonia Marathon wasn’t effectively scheduled to start until late June, and so I felt a bit more relaxed about the situation and could turn my hand towards planning ahead for the rest of the year.

That doesn’t mean change hasn’t been afoot. I’ve still had my swimming to contend with, and the Snowdonia conundrum has got me seeking new climbs and challenges. And there’s even going to be a chance to give something back. So here’s what I’ve been plotting and here’s what I’ve been doing.

1. World Triathlon Leeds

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No, I haven’t suddenly found I’m good on the bike or found I’m an exceptional open water swimmer. You’d have heard about it from me if that was the case! As you may have heard, Leeds is hosting a leg of the World Triathlon Series over the weekend of June 11-12, featuring many of the world’s top triathletes – the Brownlees, Javier Gomez, Non Stanford, Vicky Holland, Gwen Jorgensen et al – swimming in the lake at Roundhay Park and biking and running a city centre course culminating in Millennium Square. There’s also a raft of events targeted at sub-elites, club triathletes, and people of all abilities over the weekend. It looks amazing. I really wanted to be a part of it. However, I knew I wouldn’t be ready as early as when the event was confirmed, to be able to confidently take part. Knowing this event was happening on my doorstep wasn’t going to stop me though, and I’m excited to say I’m going to be volunteering instead! It’s almost here. We’ve all been briefed, and I’m on double duty, operating the finish line for the open races and then moving to another section when the elites take the stage. I’m hugely looking forward to it, and I believe there’s even a couple of people I know taking part in the public events.

I volunteered on the finish line of the Leeds Xpress Triathlon in 2014, so I know what a rewarding and valuable experience it is. To be able to give something back, to play a key part of delivering an event. It helped me gain a perspective on the value and importance of marshals and volunteers. This will be something else though. To be part of a huge operation. It should be a cracker.

2. Swimming lessons – one year on

Little did I realise until last week that I’d actually gone one year since taking up swimming lessons. It allowed me to take in how far I’d progressed. To think when I started, I could say I’d completed an aquathlon but couldn’t bear to stick my head underwater. Well now, I do breathe underwater, have a decent, if not perfect front crawl, can do a little back crawl, attempted breaststroke (which I’m still not very good at), dolphin (not bad), butterfly (needs work) and sculling (a bit like rowing a boat in one sense), and I’ve much to be pleased about. It’s not getting easier, mind – the last session I attended, we were learning how to dive. I tried it from a sitting position and every time, I got slapped across the face by the water. Each new thing I try starts the same – with nerves. Until I get comfortable with it, my nerves get shot to pieces and its much trying, failing, trying again, over and over, until I get it right. That largely applies to everything, even my front crawl. But overall, I’m more confident than I was and even when I’ve felt like not going to my lessons, I’ve not given up. I’ve gone and got in the pool and got on with it.

What’s clear is that I’m still a long, long way off open water triathlon, and even pool based triathlon – though I’d argue the bike is my weakest discipline. There’s not a lot in the way of aquathlons in this country, and even where there is an aquathlon, I’ve to bear in mind that I still can’t do more than 25 metres without stopping. I only recently went lane swimming for the first time since November 2015 – my new 9-5 job and family commitments have largely severed any time I have to get to the local pool. I’ve still much work to do, but I’ve still a sound base going forward. I just need more time in the pool.

3. Planning my Snowdonia Marathon training

As you may well know, coming up late October is possibly my toughest assignment to date – the Snowdonia Marathon Eryri. One of those marathons you fall in love with on the telly, sign up for eagerly before it sells out, before you can look at the elevation profile again and go ‘oh…bugger’. That doesn’t mean I regret signing up. Not for one second. But that means planning a block of training that will see myself going out further afield to manage the training I require. Namely, hilly long runs.

I had planned to enter the Derwentwater Trail Race 15K on September 3, but money aside for a new kitchen, and the racecation Snowdonia involves, I’ve had to put that plan aside. Instead, through my insatiable quest to plot different routes and see different sights, I’ve put myself forward onto a new course that won’t just see my training involve hills, but fells too. As such, I’ve been on a drive to obtain the kit necessary to tackle such challenges. Luckily for my bank balance, I did manage to win a pair of slightly used Inov-8 Mudclaw 330s in my size (11.5) insanely cheap and still with, apparently, loads of mileage. With those now in the bank, I’m now ready to take myself into areas such as the fells of Norland, near Sowerby Bridge, sections of the Pennine Way, and maybe even a trip up the Yorkshire Dales. Its going to involve a lot of planning, discipline and conviction, but I’ll ensure that not all my long runs involve hitting fells and indeed there’s a few nice rolling road routes I have lined up. A lot of the routes I’ve already planned follow a similar profile to Snowdonia, with steep climbs and scary descents. Basically, I want to ensure I get the best runs under my belt I can.

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Having missed much of last summer’s running due to my sesamoiditis, I will have to get used to another thing again. The sun. This last week, it has been crack-a-lackin’, reducing the daily shower to insignificance and at times being unbearably hot. We’ve even had thunderstorms. I’ve primed myself with some of the P20 suncream, and it’s going to be needed in some of those exposed routes. I may well ensure if I’m going to run, then run very early, but I can’t guarantee getting up in the middle of the night or the crack of dawn as a possibility every time. And all this for a race that will more than likely be damp and wet!

4. The 401 Challenge

He’s been running now for well over 250 days, completing a marathon each day to raise £250,000 for Stonewall and Kidscape, trying to raise awareness of the effects of bullying and the fight against it, and inspiring people, indeed runners of all abilities, to inspire themselves and join him in trying to run part of, even a whole marathon with him. Yes, Ben Smith, of the 401 Challenge – that’s 401 marathons in 401 days – is right in the midst of his challenge as you read this and he’s coming back round to Bradford and Leeds in early August. I intend to join him on one of these runs and may even run the whole marathon with him. You can follow him over on Facebook by searching for the 401 Challenge. Right now he’s going through a tough patch, so give him all your support!

If ever there was an inspiring story within the world of running, Ben’s is right up there. You can head to his page, which I’ll leave a link for below – alternatively, check out his interview with Marathon Talk, episode 311. I’ve rarely ever been as hooked on an interview as I was with Ben’s. His story of how he came to be is a rough ride but ultimately, with running and this challenge, the light has appeared at the other side. Its a fantastic cause and one I, like many others, are putting our support behind.

I’ll be writing up about the World Triathlon very soon, but aside from that, here’s to getting back into the swing of things. That itch is going to get scratched.

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