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

The Summer of Speed – Progress

I thought it would be a good time to drop back in and discuss how my ongoing preparations are for my big 10km PB attempt this summer. I’m heading down to London for the Royal Parks Series Regent’s Park 10km on Sunday 23rd July, and have my sights set on my long-standing PB of 37:15 from the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K from March 2014, and have dedicated my spring and summer to chasing down the pursuit of blistering pace.

The key change in my life is that I’ve started training with the Halifax Harriers, an athletic club based just on the outskirts of the town centre, having now freed up my Tuesday nights to be able to train with them. After three trial sessions, I finally handed over my membership fee and now, just over four and a half years after taking up running again, am now proudly wearing the Halifax Harriers race vest.

I’m currently turning up on Tuesdays for training sessions with them, and already I’m seeing improvements to my running. Here are a couple of pace charts – one from a repetition session carried out on a Monday night (01 May 2017) and my first repetition session on the track with the Harriers, less than 24 hours later.

On my own – consistent intervals, but the slight drops are proof of the strain
With the Halifax Harriers, similar session, smoother intervals

As you can see, my pace is much more consistent running with a group, maintaining a steady pace even at my top end speed, where on my own the jagged nature of that pace line shows how hard I was working to keep my level up. I also tended to jog during the recovery phases of my interval training prior to club training, but the recovery here tends to be to stop, rest, stretch, loosen up and lower the heart rate, before setting off again. I’ve managed to get my 400 metre speed down to 70 seconds, which is as quick as I’ve ever managed lapping the track.

My 5K pace seems to have improved as well since joining the Harriers. I ran an 18:22 to take first place at Brighouse parkrun again, albeit I suffered for front running the whole thing – I set off too quickly and the hill at the back of the Brighouse parkrun course basically sapped my top end pace out of me. I had an immediate chance to pursue the sub-18 again the Tuesday after, at a 5K time trial on Harriers night, taking on a two lap, undulating course in Skircoat Green, Halifax. My first three k’s went for 3:50, 3:35, 3:37…and then my watch gave up. Saving myself onto the remaining uphills, I thundered down the flats and the descents, turning right at the end for one more hill towards the finish – absolutely on my toes, I pushed for the line and recorded 18:01 – narrowly close to sub-18, but a brand new PB over the distance by five seconds. It took everything I had, but it was worth it for the result, and gets me tantalizingly close to going under 18 minutes as we head into June.

Just this past Sunday, I ran on my own to test my 10km pace eight weeks out from the Regent’s Park 10km in London, running from Brighouse to Elland Bridge and back along the Calder-Hebble Navigation. I clocked 39:12.5, a couple of minutes down but on a slightly hilly route, and with a pronounced slow down at 9km so as not to needlessly chase the 3 minute km I would have needed to go under 37:15. I needed a marker to lay down and while I was shorn of top end pace later in the run, I know where improvements can be made and there’s plenty time to turn that around.

I’m not finding this without difficulty though. Odd cranks have started to appear, and at the behest of self-diagnosing, what’s going on in my right foot is the ruminations of plantar fasciitis. I haven’t half worked on my eccentric step exercises and calf massages since, and thankfully so far its remained manageable. I’m trying more than ever to get onto trails and away from roads when the opportunity arises, and listening more than ever to when my foot decides its not happy with the stick its getting. Furthermore, I had more than a  hiccup with my Garmin Forerunner 10, which seems to be on its last legs for a little while – its stopped recording runs despite all manner of reset attempts to right it. Not the most important thing but when you’re trying to measure your pace, its a bugbear if you haven’t got the kit.

And I definitely need time to acclimate to potentially hot racing conditions. I recently ran home from Ravensthorpe along the banks of the River Calder, and found it hugely stifling in 24-25C temperatures, with the sun endlessly beating down. Right now the weather is consistently around 17-18C in the UK, occasionally breaking into the 20’s in my area. The warmest I’ve ever raced in is 18C, so I’ve got to prepare for the potential of racing at least in the low 20’s. That shouldn’t prove too big a step, so long as I take the opportunities to run hard in the heat, and key things like staying hydrated. At the end of the day it probably won’t make too much difference, but its best to be prepared for all eventualities weather wise on the day of the race.

Selfie break in the pre-summer sun, on the River Calder, 25/05/2017
The River Calder near Mirfield, 25/05/2017

As you read this, I’ll have taken part in the Hebden Bridge Fell Race – more on that very soon – to kick off a surely busy couple of months packed with races and opportunities. Without question I’m going to have to work hard to keep bringing my time down, but who said chasing times was ever going to be easy? Especially with a watch that may or may not be on its way out. In any event, it’ll be great to keep on this road into the heart of summer, culminiating on July 23rd, when I can hopefully race the 10km of my life in the morning and be inspired by the athletes taking part at the World Parathletics Championships in the evening. The focus here remains resolute, and with the Halifax Harriers I’m feeling great about the remainder of the year going forward.

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

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.

Race Report: Leeds-Liverpool Canal Canter 2017

Saturday 11th March, 2017

Whether its a sign of ever advancing years, booking my place only fourteen weeks before race day, or simply looking forward to it, the date of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Canter seemed to arrive suddenly. It really didn’t matter how prepared I was, how well I’d slept, or how calm I felt. Waking up on this day – I knew exactly what day itself, and what I was about to get myself into. And yet, on this, my twentieth race (yes, I keep count), I felt a near effortless calm. I knew I had to stretch my feet, get a shower, pack the remainder of my hydration pack, eat my porridge, get dressed, teeth brushed, and ready to exit the house. I was effectively preparing for a commute. Something I do every day as part of my job.

And just like Monday to Friday, anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Upon setting off I learned my train was 13 minutes late due to ‘waiting for a train crew member’. I was almost alone on the edge of the town centre, ranting and raving about this ‘fucking typical’ development. By 7:15am, it had grown to 18 minutes late. Whoever this member of the crew was hopefully had some explaining to do, because its bad enough when its you, as a work commuter, having to explain Northern Rail’s inability to run their service punctually. And they were supposed to be striking the Monday after! Thank goodness for the MCard, a monthly pass that allows travel within certain rail zones and all countywide buses. I got an alternative train to Mirfield and from there, got a service into Leeds for 8:05am. Still leaving enough time to go break my own strike (caffeine), get some cash out, and go find my train to Headingley.

I’ve never been to Headingley before, and it felt odd as I left the station to drop down into Kirkstall. I checked the map afterwards – its roughly halfway between the cricket ground and Kirkstall itself. The race HQ was the Leeds Postal Sports Association club, on Beecroft Street. Upon finding it, it seemed all it served was to sort out what I was carrying and to go for a quick pitstop. The collection of race numbers was actually down on the towpath.I got down there, got my number and quickly pinned it to my vest. I was ready to warm up.

Before the start

I had a quick jog westward along the canal, as far as the next bridge, and back again. I gathered along with the numerous runners, all running different distances, for the race briefing. The start of the race was a little confusing. 5K and ultra runners were going east towards Leeds, the rest from the other side of the nearby canal bridge on the 10K, half and full marathon routes. There was a bit of a delay while the race starter made their way to the top of Kirkstall Bridge. The westward runners seemed slightly organised, but the 5K and the ultra runners weren’t really in any sort of pack. I was stood there chatting with the other ultra runners, when after a few minutes there was a countdown and a horn to set runners off. I thought this was just for the runners heading west, but I turned around to see my fellow ultra competitors setting off. I quickly got my act together and was away.

I was quickly into second place, the lead runner around 15 seconds ahead. It was tempting to try and chase him down, but this was going to be a long day. Better to just focus on my own race. I found myself clocking 7:35 mile pace early on. This was a lot quicker than I had plotted in training. I felt I needed to slow down, but it was difficult. I didn’t even feel I was pushing that hard. It seemed effortless. Clearly I was on race pace, as race day preparation will seem to do for you, and I resolved just to stick to the plan of walk breaks every hour, nutrition every half hour.

I declined water at the first aid station, three miles into the run at its furthest point east, near Granary Wharf in Leeds. I turned back and kept on with my current pace. It had settled more at 7:45-7:50, which still seemed quick, but I was comfortable. Four miles was the first swig of High5 Zero drink. After just over six miles I was back past the start/finish area in Kirkstall, and heading onwards towards perhaps the most scenic part of the course, between Bramley and Esholt. I reached the hour mark somewhere just after Bramley, if memory serves me right. I had a SiS energy bar and some more energy drink. I walked for two and a half minutes, and my eighth mile went for 8:38. I did up my pace prior to walking, but even so, that’s a quick mile for spending a fifth, maybe slightly less, at a much slower pace. A marathon runner overtook me at this point, but I was past them again having resumed my rhythm. I was now running along the path where I’d run with Ben Smith and the Horsforth Harriers during his 401 Challenge. Part of the race’s appeal lies here for me – the countryside surrounding the canal, and the neighbouring River Aire, is really at its most stunning – green fields, waterfalls, wide open space – it is quite something to behold.

I reached 13.1 miles in around 1:35, and by the time I reached my second walk, I’d reached around 15 miles. I didn’t feel to be far off sub-4 hour pace for the distance, which would really be something. The walk breaks would likely put paid to that, but the time really wasn’t any concern to me. I just wanted to make sure I got to the end. By now I was tucking into oranges, and narrowly avoiding a rather angry, hissing goose as the race moved towards Saltaire. The lead runner was on his way back into the second half of the run. By the time I reached the aid station in Saltaire, I estimated I was about five minutes behind. I sensed he might be tiring, so this gave me a bit of impetus to put a bit more effort in. I wasn’t expecting to catch him, but I could certainly consolidate my position.

In the end, I wasn’t running any faster – just running confidently and consistently well each mile. Each of my miles between 16 and 23 went for sub-8, and I really felt like things were going to plan. The malt loaf at 2:30:00 kept me going, I was cooling off with water at aid stations, and though I hadn’t seemed to gain any real ground, I felt I was putting in some distance on those behind me. 

I should mention, at this point, that it was great to receive a lot of compliments from runners coming the opposite way, and likewise, it was great to give some encouragement back. I even got a high five before halfway from one of the marathon runners, who was going at a fair oldprice pace. I was particularly heartened to see a ‘joggler’ out on course – that being to run while juggling. Of course. All while wearing a tiger mask. Civility is brilliant!

The three hour mark brought a slightly extended walk break of three minutes. I’ll be honest, that shift I put in did take some out of my quads. I took on a couple of caffeine gels, and then around twenty minutes later, took on an electrolyte gel. I felt tired below the waist, but I felt slightly energised and crucially, alert and focused. It was on towards Kirkstall again, to bring up the 26.2. ‘Congratulations‘, I thought to myself. ‘You’re now an ultra runner‘. One lady near the start/finish line was clapping my effort.I joked to her ‘the real race starts now!‘. And in one way, I suppose it did. Because the six miles that remained were going to determine whether I had the stamina to try and catch the leader. It would turn out I didn’t – I had to stop and walk once or twice to take on a bit of water, but I would get back into my running. I was a little slower on the climbs, and now clocking 8:25 mile pace. One foot in front of the other, that’s what was needed. At this point though, Leeds felt so far away. Its easy to just want something to appear, like you’re desperate to see the end. I had to stay positive.

Coming into Leeds, the leader passed me again. He was still looking good. By the time I’d reached the turning point, grabbing a segment of chocolate orange and a few sweets, I estimated I was about three to four minutes behind. A slight gain, but I really didn’t feel I had it in me to chase him down. And so it would prove. I was starting to walk on the climbs, trying to conserve energy to reach the end. I did see the third place runner, and by now I was heading back through Armley. That must have meant I was a considerable distance ahead, but I refused to rest on my laurels and by no means did I decide it was job done. Mile 31 went for 9:16 – my slowest of the entire race. But that was largely due to saving myself on the hills. I still had running in my legs on the flat.

I was a mix of sheer awe at the fact I was still running, and tired impatience at not being able to see the gazebo to signify the finish line as I turned each corner. Mile 32 came up at 8:46 – a sub-9 mile. Absolutely super at this stage. Finally, about a quarter of a mile later, I turned the corner and saw the finish line in the distance. I pumped my fist in the air and suddenly I felt a renewed wave of energy in my lower limbs. I powered towards the line and finished strongly. I absolutely knew it, and it would be confirmed.

Second place, second male, at the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Canter ultra! My official time: 4:21:45.

I can’t say I was surprised, purely because I knew what position I was in the whole time. But without question, I had achieved the best result of my running career, eclipsing the third place finishes at Blackpool Beach 10K Run in 2014, and the Sir Titus Trot half marathon just six weeks prior. If I wasn’t feeling absolutely physically destroyed, I’d have said I couldn’t quite believe how well my 2017 was turning out results wise. 

I stuck around for a bit afterwards and got talking to the winner of the ultra. We shook hands and it was great to talk. He was also doing his first ultra and he thought I was going to catch him. I honestly told him when I saw him on the way back from Leeds I just had nothing left to chase. The feeling of mutual respect was great and we could both agree we’d taken part in a great race. I got talking to a few other competitors too, all while looking longingly at the amazing homemade cakes, all of which I felt too queasy from all the sweet stuff I’d eaten during the race to actually muster. I felt like I had pins and needles all over for a short time, and I was ever so careful trying to stretch my muscles. Nothing could take away from what a brilliant day I’d had though.

The finishers medal
The trophy – the second one of the year!

A lot of complimentary congratulations came my way on social media – it seems to go that way every time I excel myself. Its just amazing to be part of a community online that gives that kind of support and to be able to celebrate others’ achievements as well. My own Facebook wall was going pretty crazy too, and even into Monday I was still getting congrats from fellow runners, family, friends and work colleagues.
Where does this leave me now? Well, I absolutely want to run another ultra marathon, but it won’t be immediately and perhaps not even this year. My spring/summer seems to be lined up with a mix of potential trail and fell races, as well as The Drop (the race with no navigational aids or GPS allowed whatsoever), and potentially a 10K race in London. I do have desires to run a half marathon somewhere though and I readily have my eye on another Its Grim Up North Running event – the Kirkstall Trail Running Festival in November, where I intend to run the marathon. Quite simply, I want to race a little more this year and I’ve now got plenty options locally to look ahead to.

For now though, I’m taking a well-earned break for at least a couple of weeks and I’m going to try and let my body recover. I have a sneaky feeling of undiagnosed tendinitis below my left ankle which flared up five weeks before this race. Its not been severe at all, but to keep on track this year I’m going to want to make sure I absolutely time my comeback carefully and do the necessary work to nurse it back to full fitness. I want to run without thinking I’m going to need paracetamol to get through, or ibuprofen or heat rub to take the shine off afterwards.

All in all though, the biggest takeaway about my body from this race is just how well prepared I seemed to get myself. To actually still have the energy to run 32 miles shows I struck a good nutritional balance, paced myself well, learned when to hold back and when to push. My body absolutely came through for me on the day, and that gives me all the confidence I need to say that, if I’m healthy, why not take on another ultra? Why not try and run further? Why not see if you can go one better?

Once again, a big thanks to Cath and Di at Its Grim Up North Running for putting on a great event, set on a canal steeped in rich countryside and industrial heritage. A huge thank you to all the volunteers and a big well done to everyone who took part across all five distances. The race itself is an ideal first ultra for anyone looking to make the step up, and if you’re interested in this race, you don’t have to wait too long – a summer edition is also open for entry, apparently – though I can’t find the link right now. Did I mention free homemade cake?

And as for 2017. Wow, where to next?!

Its Grim Up North Running
Full race results

Countdown to the Canter

So, in less than two weeks time – 11 days to be precise – I will be stepping up to the start line on the banks of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in Kirkstall, near Leeds, race vest equipped, drinks and nutrition packed, mentally zoned in, ready to run further, and for longer, than ever before. I will be stepping up, along with 140 others to take on the Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter on March 11, taking on it’s longest distance option – 32 miles. It marks my first step into the world of ultramarathon, and the latest barometer in terms of how far I feel prepared to run competitively, or how high I’m willing to set the bar.

Given over the last few years I’ve covered my progression from charity runner, to marathoner and now beyond, regular readers here may wonder why, having covered the Manchester, London and Snowdonia marathon training blocks in depth, I haven’t done the same for my first ultra marathon. There’s a couple of reasons. The first being I wasn’t certain of my entry until the turn of the year, and I’d already begun my training. How foolish would I have looked to announce my week by week training, only to find out I couldn’t afford, or that the race had sold out? Furthermore, as the training has progressed, I’ve found it hasn’t varied too much from preparing for a marathon. The long runs are still long runs, the midweek sessions slightly longer, but all in all, it feels like the jump to going beyond 50km isn’t as large as I first imagined. That being the day I measured out the distance of 16 miles along the towpath before turning back and hearing an audible ‘gulp’ in my throat, as if to say ‘what have you done now?!

I settled on the Canal Canter after originally entering and withdrawing from the Canalathon 50km. Its an ideal first ultra for a number of reasons. As its on a canal towpath, you can only really go forwards or backwards. Therefore, no navigational skills or aids are required, unlike many ultramarathons where a map and compass are deemed mandatory. Its also local, requiring no more than a train, another train (or a bus) and maybe a short walk to the race HQ, saving on accommodation. Race entry was £36 all in, no extras for medals nourishment, etc, so all in all, a bargain. And, save you a few rising locks, the course profile will be relatively flat, which will ensure the 32 miles won’t be as harsh on my body as some of the hillier courses I’ve run on recently. Not to mention, its a beautiful place – I experienced some of its sights during the Sir Titus Trot and during the 401 Challenge with Ben Smith. Therefore its allure is second to none.

Up until the week before the Sir Titus Trot, around four weeks ago now, things were going swimmingly. I began training in earnest from late November onwards, and although I missed a couple of long runs around Christmas, I was able to make up the mileage and found myself in a pretty good spot, having cracked 18 miles and about to move onto 20 plus. Then, as I mentioned in my race report, I fell over on a night out with family and banged my knee pretty hard. And from then on, it feels like I’ve been playing catch up again. The night after that fall, I managed 15 miles but stopped on the grounds of it being too late to continue. The knee withstood the schedule right up to the Sir Titus Trot half marathon, which I finished third in, but my recovery from that took seemingly longer than normal due to the long time it was taking for my knee to calm down. In the end, I sacrificed six days of running and worked on fitness techniques, hot/cold therapy and the odd ibuprofen here and there, to get the knee in shape for the long Saturday run. 21 miles taking in Emley Moor, a site I long hoped to run (or cycle) to, before dropping back through Upper Hopton and via Bradley before returning home. The knee came through that run remarkably well, but the hilly nature of the course took its toll – I got a lot of tightness in my right calf muscle and worse, a horrid, burning like sensation just below my left ankle that presented itself just as my run that day came to an end.

Emley Moor Tower, 21/01/2017

I know what you might be thinking – was I being a bit impatient? I did wonder this myself, but I felt behind my decision to drop the weekday runs was an underlying desire to give myself the best possible chance of doing the long run that Saturday. I didn’t just go for this on a whim. I was to retain this approach going forward, with a focus on trying to help my ankle recover with painkillers (initially), exercises, stretching (later) and sufficient rest. Because I still felt I could give myself the best chance of making the start line on March 11 if I at least keep up the long runs.

I did get to test my ankle out on the treadmill, and it came through roughly 40 minutes of running pretty much unscathed. I felt as though this was the green light to go ahead with my plans. Now I had to decide where I was going to run. I didn’t want a hilly route, certainly nothing as demanding as the 21 miles I undertook the week before. I decided the only thing would be to take the flattest route I know out of Brighouse and head out, along the Calder-Hebble Navigation (my favourite running spot), onto the Rochdale Canal and onwards, towards Hebden Bridge, before turning back. All in all, I measured my run to be 23.5 miles, with the turning point a little outside Hebden Bridge itself. The trick, as the week before, would be to effectively teach myself to take proper walk breaks, and to stop to eat or drink now and again. Effectively, things I already do, but trying to alter my mindset so that when I race, it will hopefully feel somewhat normal come race day.

The gateway into Hebden Bridge. You see this if driving along Burnley Road, or if you cross over from one side of the canal to the other.

Amazingly, the whole thing came together. The run along the Calder-Hebble took place in darkness, but it receded as dawn arrived, by which time I was over six miles in as I arrived in Sowerby Bridge. I had the reassurance of bus and train options on the route had I needed them, but it was absolutely a near perfect long distance training run in nearly all respects. I did have a slight hiccup arriving in Luddenden Foot to find a section of towpath closed, meaning I had to join the main road until reaching the village of Brearley, but I continued onward and for the first time since my failed attempt to cross the Pennine Way towards Littleborough, I was moving beyond Mytholmroyd and onwards to Hebden Bridge. I turned back at Bridge 15 on the towpath, just outside the town centre, put my rain jacket back on (it was raining heavily at this point) and began the journey back home. I won’t deny, it got a bit tough later on, but that’s because I put a few strides in around mile 16 which perhaps I should have saved. In any event, I made it to 23.4 miles and all in all, I’d successfully come through the run and thanks, partly to the power of paracetamol, felt no bother in my ankle – although the mild discomfort remained thereafter.

With that settled, it was time to prepare for the big one. A 26 mile training run. Except, it was going to be that distance, but for a few familiar voices egging me on to add the 0.2 miles to make it marathon distance. So I yielded, and again ran just once that week – a speedy run commute which I sub-8 minute miled all the way back – and rested until Saturday, when I would wake up, into my usual pre-long run routine, before departing once more, back towards Hebden Bridge, to go farther along the canal than ever before.

I took the run nice and steady, once again in morning darkness to begin with. As I approached the tunnel at Salterhebble Locks, morning began to rise. I was around nine minute pace up to this point but upped it very slightly and had reached Sowerby Bridge and the Rochdale Canal, around one hour and seven miles in. Here I took a walk break, eating an energy bar and taking a good gulp of water before ambling back into my action. Once the eighth mile was logged, I resumed my normal pace, hovering around 8:40/mile. Reaching the sign for Hebden Bridge felt like an impetus to push on – seemingly buoyed I got closer to 8 minute mile pace, and though I had to leave the towpath at one point, I got back on as the halfway point approached. The 13 miles came up at a slightly awkward time – I had come across a short section which had a stone floor, but a very narrow, rickety bridge that allowing a drier alternative to putting my foot in what was essentially an overflow for the canal. Shortly after this point, I reached, 13.05 miles, and opted to pause briefly to take in my surroundings, and to just think for a minute how far I’d come. If I was completely free to keep going, I might just have tried to follow the canal all the way to Manchester, if nothing but for the adventure and the love of the nation’s waterways. What to be, to be the lonely long distance runner?

The Rochdale Canal, just past Hebden Bridge, facing roughly south towards Todmorden and Littleborough.

The 14th mile was very stop start, counting as a walk break, thanks partly to the rickety bridge and a blistering sensation on my little toes. Luckily, I’d thought to bring my trusty thick Thorlos with me, so got them changed and started to chow on a few clementine segments. Then it was back into my running.
I kept it nice and simple all the way up to mile 19. I decided to pick up the pace a little and clocked a 7:36. The fastest so far. Time for the final walk break. What did I take on board this time? That’s right. A Snickers bar (or Marathon, depending on your place in the world)! I once ate on halfway through what had been a tired run commute and it seemed to wake me up somewhat. I felt inclined to try it on a longer run. I also took a caffeine gel for the first time shortly afterwards. I normally like mine caffeine free, but my recent fixation on caffeine abstinence and the stimulant properties of caffeine, it definitely felt like something to try. Now I reached the end of the Rochdale Canal, and I had 6.2 miles left to run. Effectively a 10K. So I just imagined my remaining distance as a 10K run. I was now running closer to 8 minute mile pace, and maintaining it as I reached Elland Bridge, 3.2 miles from the end. I injected a little more pace, and clocked the last three miles at 7:43, 7:42 and 7:41. I finished the run in 3:48:13. The best part?

I could have kept going.

I felt I had plenty of energy in reserve – my body didn’t ever feel it was on the limit, and the way I finished that run was the best I’d ever felt running the marathon distance. Admittedly, I wasn’t pushing it like I usually do, but I ran this pretty much the way I want to run the race. For the first time, I have a genuinely great feeling that I can do this. I’ve struck on a comfortable target race pace, a run-walk strategy and I know roughly what I’m going to fuel myself on.

Mile splits from my marathon training run (from top left)

More to the point, my post-run recovery went amazing too. I foam rolled the morning after and the day after that, I was walking up and around Ilkley Moor. If that didn’t feel like a personal statement of fitness, I’m not sure what does. I still have a bit of tenderness in my ankle – much less severe than it first seemed but enough to warrant paracetamol on some of these training runs as a precaution. I’m reasonably hopeful that it won’t present much of an issue come race day.

There’s still a few unknowns I will have to encounter. For starters, the exact course for the race hasn’t been published yet. And how will my body feel as it goes beyond 26.2? When, if at all, do I put the hammer down? And most importantly, will my Garmin Forerunner 10’s battery hold out for the duration of the race?!

The taper phase is truly locked in now, and that includes my now customary caffeine abstinence from two weeks prior to the race. While suffering from withdrawals from the lack of tea and chocolate in my life, I guarantee I hold no such feelings similar to those of nervous regret when originally sizing up the challenge. I’m absolutely ready and capable of doing this, and just want Saturday March 11 to arrive as soon as possible. Its not been the smoothest ride – but since when has long distance training ever been? The truth is, I don’t think I’ve ever gone into any race, not even Snowdonia, with such a level of experience and preparation that those extra 5.8 miles suddenly don’t seem so daunting. If I rest well, eat well, and execute my race plan exactly as I’ve trained, then I can be every bit confident of completing this race and giving it good as I’ve got.

Yes. I am ready.

Race Review: The Sir Titus Trot

Saturday 28th January, 2017

It had been one week since the fall. The week before, I fell on my knee on a boozy night out with my family. I don’t remember the taxi ride home or entering my house. All I know is that I woke up on my sofa the morning after, still in my clothes, with a sore knee, a bruised foot, bruised rib and grazed elbow. That night, I ran 15 miles. I continued my running on Tuesday and Thursday and it seemed I was relying a little on paracetamol to not encounter any problems. Waking up on Saturday, race day, and feeling there had been no improvement in the situation, I wondered if I was denying myself the possible predicament I was either in, or getting myself into. It felt a bit like I was hurrying myself into a bit of a quandary.

I’d already decided I was going to take part in this race, the Sir Titus Trot (half marathon), come hell or high water, and I’d gone from a position of wondering if I could push for my PB on a relatively flat course to just seeing how it goes and to enjoy the experience. It’d been a long couple of years since I pretty much smashed my sub-1:25 target, and my focus had been less on speed and more on pacing, and setting tougher challenges for myself. The only speedwork I’ve done lately is hill sprints, so in hindsight, I felt I was asking too much of myself to tear things up on this occasion. Not withstanding the fact I was feeling pretty rough the morning of the race, prior to bathing, eating breakfast and getting my clobber together. 

As for the race itself…I’d never been to Saltaire before. I once went to its larger, neighbouring town Shipley many moons ago, but the village itself? Not until now. It was created in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, an industrialist who wanted to concentrate his textile manufacture in one place, using land purchased three miles west of Shipley, next to the River Aire and the Leeds Liverpool Canal. The village’s name is a play on Sir Titus’ name and that of the river. (Cheers Wikipedia).

Stepping off the bus, I headed down to Victoria Hall to get registered for the race. Registration was in a small, square room, queued left to right for the 5K, 10K, half and full marathons respectively. After pinning my race number to my shorts, and changing my shirt – I dropped toothpaste on my original choice – I decided to nip out to a nearby sandwich shop to end my caffeine abstinence. I’d only spent five days off the stuff though, so the black tea I had today was nowhere near the wide-eyed effect it had back in Llanberis a few months earlier. Nonetheless, I went back to the Victoria Hall to get a gel out of my bag, put it into my jacket, drop my cash back in there and then to head down to the race start/finish area, where I warmed up, carried out a brief out and back one way and met Shaun, another runner I’d briefly conversed with about the race online.

I realised at the start line that everyone had brought their bags down to the shelter under the bridge by the start/finish line. Realising I’d left my bag back in the hall roughly five minutes before the start wasn’t ideal, but I did get a marshal’s attention and he kindly called to one of the organisers to bring it down on their way to the canal. Minor panic over.

The race briefing took place around the shelter as runners and marshals huddled around the canal as the odd non-entrant runner, dog walker, etc. tried to squeeze past the throng, and though the race starter gave the instructions, they seemed largely inaudible by the end as the group, aided by the echo of the underpass, gave the effect of a group of schoolchildren grinning to the point where the briefing might as well have been nonsense. Well, what we did know is that there would be 3.5 miles towards Leeds, back to the start and onwards in the direction of Skipton for another 3 miles or so, and then back again. That was for the half marathoners. The 5K and 10K entrants would have turned around and finished before that point, and the marathoners were headed roughly 10 miles beyond the start/finish towards Skipton before turning back. And marshals/water stations were only at the turnaround points, such was the nature of the course – a towpath on which it would be impossible (even for myself) to get lost on.

The countdown commenced, and we were on our way, amidst the bleeps and bloops of watches starting. This quickly turned to the squelching of mud and the splash of feet entering puddles. As everyone started at the same time, in the same direction, it was hard to tell who exactly was running which distance. One or two had set off at a rapid pace, so they surely must have been doing one of the shorter distances. Meanwhile, I noticed my watch was giving me a reading of 6:20 mile pace. At this point, it seemed effortless, but more to the point, my right knee, the source of so much consternation, wasn’t grumbling, tweaking or complaining at all. It actually felt OK. So after a first mile of 6:18, even in completely the wrong shoes for the terrain, I decided I’d keep it up.

The race had begun to string out by the second turnaround point (the first being 1.5 miles in for the 5K), and I’d kept to roughly 6:15-6:30 mile pace. I’d caught up, almost, with a male runner in a navy vest (whom I now know was a Baildon Runner). He was running with a long, purposeful stride, as opposed to my quicker, but shorter cadence. At the turnaround, he seemed to hesitate at the water station. This is where I actually tried tactics. He was only a few seconds ahead, and knowing I was well hydrated, I didn’t give it a glance and began to push on. I got onto the man’s shoulder as other runners continued to come past, a mix of 10K, half and marathon entrants. This continued for the best part of a mile and finally I put in a surge to go past him, and now it was my turn to put in a bit if work. Just as I had in Liversedge two years ago, I wanted to time my gel consumption for just after the 5th mile. I had felt it gave me a slight boost in that PB effort to keep up my pace levels right to the end. Whether it would work here, on an overall flatter course, would remain to be seen. So I ceded the place back, took the gel, but remained in contact.

The halfway point in the race seemed to take forever to arrive. We passed 6.5 miles, according to the watch, and the gazebo still wasn’t in sight. It was much closer to 7 miles by the time we passed it. At this point, I seem to remember going by the Baildon man again, as I was starting to gain on another man, this one wearing a Bingley Harriers shirt. I was tailing this runner for a while, then as we went under another bridge, I heard footsteps rapidly gaining. The Baildon Runner had put in a bit of a surge to catch up and the three of us were now switching places. This was exciting stuff, but I’d no idea whether I was jockeying for the lead, or if this was for one of the other ‘podium’ places. We’d soon be broken up. The Bingley runner had to stop momentarily to re-tie a shoelace. Then the race’s two steep hills, the Three Rise Locks, and a bit further on, the more demanding Five Rise Locks. The latter in particular is absolutely magnificent to look at, an amazing work of human industry, but the hill, though short, seemed very steep. My recent hill sprint training steadied me well, but I lost a bit of pace, and the navy runner was starting to get away. I recorded a 7:03 mile for that lap – the only time I recorded a single mile over 7 minutes the whole race.

As I started to approach the final turnaround, near Crossflatts, a man in a Horsforth Harriers vest ran past in the opposite direction. Clearly he was the leader, so there was no pressure there. I could live with that. A couple of minutes later, the Baildon Runner I had duelled with earlier also came past, his stride pattern clearly paying dividends by now. I was next up. I now knew I was third. A position I’m familiar with on a local level, but could I keep hold of it? I took a jelly baby and a cup of water, and tried my best to take sips of it. The Bingley runner was around 20-30 seconds behind. Knowing this, I tried to lift my pace, the demands of the effort now starting to ask questions of me. My knee, incredibly, was still feeling good. Clearly the combination of the paracetamol on the bus ride and the black tea had done wonders there, along with a proper warm up of course.

The last three miles were a heavy mix of pleasure, grit and ‘when will it end?’ The runners still coming the other way were giving plenty of encouragement and I was more than happy to return it. I nearly stumbled at the bottom of Five Rise Locks but kept my footing and used the brief descents to inject a bit of pace. I recorded 6:41 and 6:33 for mile 11 and 12, but I was definitely finding it harder to keep up to my earlier levels. Add to that being told I still had a couple of miles to go at around 11.75 miles in, I was getting desperate to see the finish. I refused to look back, apart from the solitary bridge crossing, which was more a cursory glance. I didn’t spot the blue of the Bingley Harrier, so I just knuckled down, really hoping to see the finish soon in the misty conditions.

Mile 13 came up at 6:52, according to my watch. I finally switched from pace/distance to time/distance, and remember seeing 1:25:something. Nowhere near my PB, but then I had lowered my expectations, and all I had to do now was keep going. The Baildon Runner only vaguely visible in the distance, a very much distant and impossible target. But then I saw the finish. I lifted the knees one more time, and the noise grew louder as the finish neared. Finally I was home. I turned around, and sure enough, I was third. To my complete surprise, I even got a trophy for 3rd male! And a fetching medal of Sir Titus himself too. There was cake at the finish as well, which I was tucking into as the Bingley Harrier arrived home. We got talking to one another at the end, along with the Baildon runner, looking back on what had been a quite incredible race experience.

I was hugely proud of my result – I had hoped to go a little faster, but I can say a lesser focus on speedwork recently has perhaps dulled my edge a little, plus the course didn’t have quite as many steep drops as the Liversedge Half Marathon, where I set my PB of 1:22:41.

I hung around a bit at the finish, and checked out my goodie bag, which contained a bottle of beer and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange! I elected not to risk my knee further with a recovery run into Bradford, even though I still wasn’t feeling any issues with it at the time. I deemed it better to go and change my socks, and get myself on the two bus journeys towards home. I forgot a pair of jeans, so I went home, as one does, still with my race number attached to my shorts, and lurid green compression socks!

This was my first time running the Sir Titus Trot, which was only established by It’s Grim Up North Running last year, and I must say its a cracking little race. The rather dank weather made the race that little more exciting in the end, and being able to run near the front end of the race, especially the tactical mini battles during the middle of the race. The extra distance was only a minor issue, and was explained by the decision to move the start under a bridge to shelter from the rain, meaning the start/finish line was moved. The route itself is beautiful. Granted, this particular day wasn’t the best one for it, but its a well maintained canal and the Five Rise Locks are a stunning feature of the course. There’s not a great barrier to entry, apart from the small field size – the course is mostly flat, bar a couple of sizable climbs which you have to come down again (if doing the marathon or the half). And the weather on the day made it even more exciting! Do go check out It’s Grim Up North Running online, they have many great races across Yorkshire and parts of north England, and all competitively priced, and not oversubscribed either – only 140 runners took part in this race overall. A great addition to the local running scene, and superbly organised too..

And now as I recover from the combination of those injuries, and a chest infection to boot, I can proudly look back upon my best race result for nearly three years! A cracking way to begin the year.

Full race results

Its Grim Up North Running

I’d like to finish that my run this past weekend was dedicated to Sue Brabbins. Sue was a runner and a popular member of the Facebook group ‘Running the World’, and raised thousands for charity through running. Sue was diagnosed with a terminal Glioblastoma Multiforme Grade 4 brain tumour. She had previously defeated two separate tumours and had continued to run and fundraise prior to her diagnosis with the fatal tumour in 2015. Her defiant positivity in the face of her illnesses endeared her more to the group, which currently encompasses 19,000 members. Sue died in 2016, but she left a lasting impression on many people and this weekend was the group’s ‘Sue Brabbins Race Weekend’ in her memory. Her husband Paul is now trying to raise £2,000 for Brain Tumour Research to help fund future research into these illnesses.

If you’d like to leave a donation or read more about Paul’s cause, please visit the JustGiving page here.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Paul-Brabbins1

It was a privilege to be part of such an occasion among the running community, and I’m proud I delivered a cracking result. Thank you to Paul, and Tony & Anne Bennett for putting all this together and making this a weekend where we, as individuals and as a community, could all celebrate Sue’s life and legacy in our own way.