Tuesday 28 December 2021

Tyne and Wear: Newcastle Town Moor Winter Wonder race recap

Tyne & Wear - it's been a long time coming.  The last of the really northern counties, this is my fourth attempt due to repeated Covid cancellations.  I was booked to do a race here in November but (deeply annoyingly) received the following email a week before the race:

"Thanks for entering the Run Before Christmas.  As well as having to postpone this event from 2020, we have also had to move the event to Durham as Sunderland Council are not permitting event organisers with no previous events in the region to hold an event in 2021.  We did email everyone when we decided to change venues towards the end of October.  However, there are always some email addresses where the emails can end up in junk or sometimes do not get through filters.  If you are not aware of this change, please be aware we have had to move this event to Durham City..."

Sadly too late for me to cancel our non-refundable hotel and I'd already done County Durham...  Not sure I really believe the "it went into spam" excuse as I checked my spam and there was no sign of it - I'd also had plenty of other emails from them before.  Hmm.

So I hunted for another and found this tiny low key race held by North East Marathon Club.  £19 to enter - surely the cheapest marathon of all the counties? - and falling on a Bank Holiday so I didn't even have to use any annual leave.  I duly shifted all my Christmas plans to facilitate it, the hotel let us rebook and Ben and I headed off straight from my parents' house post-Christmas excesses. 

We stopped for lunch at Willo and Gordy's in Leeds and had delicious tomato soup and cheese scones and then carried on for another hour and a half through the fog.

Ben went to university in Newcastle and hasn't been back for a couple of decades so we were looking forward to exploring a bit of the city. On the way we stopped to see the Angel of the North:
After checking in at our hotel, we went for a wander past the university, into town and along the river front.  We had Thai for dinner as we both needed a rest from rich Christmas food and watched the footie fans making their way to the stadium for the Newcastle v Man United game.

The next morning we arrived at the start with a whole 15 minutes to spare.  Registration was outdoors (nicely Covid friendly) though it was drizzling with rain.  

I collected my number and handed in some tins and stuff for the food bank collection.  Ben and I got chatting to a nice guy called Matt who was planning on doing the full six hours as training for The Wall next year.  Soon it was time for the race briefing and then we were off!


It was a bit misty and drizzly and Ben took this atmospheric photo as I disappeared into the distance: 

Once I'd settled into a comfortable pace I found myself next to Matt once again and we ran a good chunk of the first lap together.  There was one point where lots of people ahead of us went straight on and lots of people behind us shouted "TURN LEFT"!  It was a bit confusing as all the chalk markings had washed off but in the end we went with the "turn left" people, which was the correct thing to do.  Shortly after this there was a right turn, just where the lamp post is in this photo, and suddenly there was a savage headwind.  He explained that  this was the case all year round because this bit of the Town Moor is very exposed, which makes sense.  This only got worse as the marathon wore on...

By the second lap I'd lost Matt and was running behind a group of women who were happily chatting and maintaining a 6 min/km pace.  I knew I shouldn't go faster that this so I just pottered along behind them.

It was still pretty grey and overcast although not as cold as I thought it might be.
I had a little moment of joy on the second lap where everything was right with the world.  It always feels like a treat to find a race this close to Christmas, and I was so pleased to finally be getting this one done.  I felt good and I was enjoying myself.
At the start of the third loop I saw Ben and he took a couple of pictures of me as I ran round the little lake by the start/finish. 

Around here the group of women I'd been following decided to ease off the pace.  Within a few minutes I was ahead of them.  After a short while I asked the lady next to me if she was doing the marathon (I knew the turn off was at a blue gate, but as there were about five, I was hoping she might have some insider info).  She was called Louise, and she was only planning on doing 10 miles.  We watched a dog run in front of a bike while its owner struggled to get it to recall - then watched it stop for a poo in the middle of the pavement.  We got chatting - she has a whippet called Eddie and we talked about dogs for a while, then work, then races and so on.  She's building her mileage back up as she's doing London marathon this year - so we chatted about nutrition and pacing for a while. She decided to do another loop and carry on up to half marathon, which was great for me as I got another loop of her company!

I couldn't find her instagram page (even though she told me what it was called - sigh) so if you see this Louise please leave me a comment so I can find you!

There were some Explorer Scouts helping with the marshalling and they were very enthusiastic.  The girl in the pink coat was particularly enthusiastic and made me laugh a few times with her flamboyant pointing.  I knew they were selling tea and cake at the end and I was already looking forward to it!

The fifth lap was the most dull.  I'd lost my running buddy and probably hadn't eaten enough so I forced down a mini mince pie stolen from the hotel buffet breakfast and put on my "London marathon 80's drivel" playlist.  I consoled myself by singing 'Nothing's Going To Stop Us Now' at the top of my voice into the wind.  Once I passed the horrifically windy section, there was the nice sheltered bit with trees either side.  This time I noticed a signpost to Freeman Hospital (famous to me because it does heart and lung transplants) which I'd not noticed on all the previous laps.

At the top corner of the course there was a view back over Newcastle, now starting to get lost in the mist and drizzle again:
Then a long section along a road.  Here you can see a guy in a yellow vest who has just lapped me for the second time - there were some quick runners out today.  Ben told me later the fastest man finished in 3 hours 4 minutes and he'd never run a marathon before!  Definitely not ideal conditions today and not flat either.
At the end of the fifth lap I planned to get Coke from the aid station but to my disappointment they'd run out.  I was only at 25km and felt a bit gypped by all the half runners who'd drunk all the Coke and then finished, damn them!  Anyway I rang Ben who very kindly agreed to get me some and meet me after the next lap.  The next lap passed uneventfully and when I returned Ben was waiting as promised :)


I had some Coke and then Ben ran with me round the little lake.  As we came out by the brewery on the far side of the lake, we just caught a bride going in to her wedding! This is the 90th time I've run the marathon distance and the first time I've seen a mid-race wedding.  Got to love that!

I carried on to lap 7 and Ben went off to get the car.  About a third of the way along the lap, someone let me through a gate and we got talking.  Her name was Sarah and she'd lived in Newcastle ever since finishing university.  I told her about my challenge and how this race, despite being cheap to enter, had ended up being pretty expensive once you took into account accommodation, food, petrol etc.  We had a really lovely chat and despite saying she was going to walk the uphill windy section, ran it with me.  I asked her about where the blue gate was to turn around for the marathon was and after some patient explanation, finally understood what she meant.  We ran the rest of the race together and finished virtually exactly on 42.2km - thanks Sarah!

Photo credit: Melanie Horan

I only realised after we finished that we had the same trainers!

At the end I got my medal, told them my finish time (they didn't want someone to have to stand around for six hours in the drizzly rain, which quite frankly I couldn't blame them for), then had two cups of tea and some Christmas cake from the Explorers.  I drastically overpaid them because they were fundraising for the Jamboree which apparently costs £4200 per person - it's in South Korea next year.

We walked back to the car and I did some stretches in an underpass to avoid the rain.  I got changed in the most inelegant way possible inside the car (and I had to literally take off everything because I was soaked).  Ben said nobody could see in...hmm.  Most of the population of Newcastle has now seen my naked arse.  The end.

Sunday 12 December 2021

Hertfordshire: Band of Runners (Rocking Around The Christmas Track) race recap

I was meant to do Hertfordshire two weeks after A100, but for the first time ever withdrew due to injury.  I had a bit of a snoop around first to make sure there was a suitable replacement race in Hertfordshire and came across this one.  105.5 loops of a track might not be everyone's cup of tea, but...

a) I'd never done a track race before - in fact I'm not sure I've ever been on a running track at all
b) It was conveniently in December, traditionally "off season" and gets Hertfordshire ticked off
c) It was run by ZigZag Running (I did their race in Cambridgeshire and it was great)
d) Every now and then I think about doing Transcendence and this would be a good trial run 

I spoke to a few runners about it beforehand and was surprised at the lack of enthusiasm, even from people who had done track races themselves.  Hmm.  All of them said that aiming for a PB was absolutely hideous but as a social event it was just about bearable.  I was never planning to race it but even so...  A couple of people said that the relentless same-ness of the surface was not great on your legs.  Hmmm.

Ben had kindly offered to come with me so we dragged ourselves out of bed early and headed off to Ware.  We arrived with only about 15 minutes to spare before the race started.  I dumped my bag by the side of the track and was about to pick up my bib when I realised my Garmin had died - WTF?  It was fully charged last night?!  This also happened at my last marathon but I thought it was a one off and re-charged it on the way there in the car.  This time there was no time for that.  I swapped it for my Apple watch - notoriously unreliable and also not famed for their great battery life - and whined to Ben that if it died, I'd have to do Hertfordshire again.  Sigh.

By this time I had to get a hustle on and ran over to listen to the race briefing which was pretty straightforward.  As the race director said: "You can't get lost... can you?!"

The marathon, half marathon and ultra/6 hour all started at different points around the track so that they all finished at the same place.  It had been drizzling on the way there in the car but as the race started the sun came out and it was glorious.

I was the last to cross the start line as I was frantically fiddling about starting Strava on my Apple watch.  Almost immediately I realised it had auto-pause switched on, which was going to mess up my results, but it was too late to do anything about it.  I thought dark thoughts about Garmin (again) and focused on how the track felt under my feet.  Not like tarmac, but definitely not like trail either.  I was slightly unsettled. 

Ben was watching and taking photos from the side of the track.  I felt a bit sorry for him as this must be literally the most boring race to watch ever, but he seemed happy enough taking photos of me from every possible angle!

At one point he climbed up the referee's ladder and took some pictures from above.  I love these, I look like a badass.  And the red of the track makes my outfit look good, haha.

I ran alone for a long time, maybe 90 minutes.  I stopped a lot: to eat snacks from the aid station (it's pretty awesome having an aid station every 400m, to say hello to Ben, to pop to the loo or to cast off an item of clothing into my bag at the side of the track.  Eventually, I got chatting to a nice lady called Teresa.  She had run some insane number of marathons... 200?  500?  I don't recall but it was a lot.  She knew everyone and told me about the speedy chap in the orange vest (Ray) who was aiming for a sub-3 hour marathon today, she told me a race director from another race company (Phoenix Running) was there and she pointed out her twin sister, Julie, who was also running.  Every time Ray overtook us, she said a few words of encouragement and I joined in with the occasional "go on Ray!"

Eventually I lost Teresa because I had to stop for a snack (having been coached, I really can't help eating at every possible opportunity when I run now.  I feel guilty if I hang on more than 45 minutes without a snack.  Gone are the days where I could do 2 or 3 hours without so much as a jelly baby...)  I look back on the nutrition disaster that was M2L and think 'never again'.

I was running behind this lady when I overheard the bloke with her say that she was over halfway now.  I couldn't believe it, surely not! The time had flown.  I looked at my watch and realised not only was I more than halfway, I was going really quickly too.  That's well below 4 hour marathon time.  Eek!  I decided I should maybe make a bit more effort and cracked up the pace.

Sadly it didn't last long.  My calves and hips started to ache from the repetitive movements and it felt like my right shoelace had got really tight.  I knew that couldn't be the case but I stopped to loosen it anyway.  I think it was just because my right foot was on the inside, it started to take more of the impact.  It felt like my inside leg was getting shorter.  How do people DO this for 24 hours?  I knew we were changing direction at 3 hours and I was counting down the minutes.

Ben had gone off to get a coffee by now and the weather was a bit cooler and cloudier.  The race noodled on, endlessly the same.  The same people overtook you; you overtook the same people; even the food at the aid station started to look a bit same-y. 
There are only so many photos you can take on a track because essentially all the pictures are the same picture.   At some point around now, I saw a girl on the sidelines doing a crossword.  She shouted out to her boyfriend, "there are two American states that begin with the letter S, tell me what they are on the next loop".  I thought about this for a lot of loops, but only ever came up with South Carolina*.  I spent a happy few laps trying to remember the names of as many states as I could though.
Finally the three hour point arrived and it was very exciting.  For the first time this race, runners started coming towards me.  As I approached the turnaround, the race director stood in the middle of the track and you had to physically run around him and then back the other way.


After the turnaround it was even weirder to see people coming toward you.  It felt like everything had inverted:  I was so used to keeping to the inside that I had to stop myself veering into the path of oncoming runners, whilst also feeling like I was going the wrong way.  Luckily it was quite short lived, because within 1/2 track length, everyone had turned, and the race continued exactly as before but in the opposite direction.

My hips and calves were very grateful and I felt myself uncoiling as I continued.  By this point, I had totally lost count of how many laps I'd done and spent a lot of time trying to figure out when was the optimal time to ask.  They'd said at the beginning you could ask "any time" and I figured now was good.  So I asked, and they said, you're just starting lap 79.  Still 26 laps to go... which means there's no way I'm going to finish in under 4 hours.  Checking my watch again, it was apparent it was not keeping accurate records.  I wasn't surprised - Apple Watch isn't really up to the job, and repeating the same loop that many times would've been a hard ask even for my Garmin.  I gave up on attempts to achieve anything impressive and just plodded on.  

Ray finished - in 3 hours 8 minutes - not quite a PB for him but still a very impressive showing, especially as he had a nasty bout of cramp mid-race. I chatted to a few more nice people as time went on, discovering that almost everyone here had done an awful lot of track races/marathons/ultras.  I heard rumours one guy was well into the thousands.  One guy overtook me and said, "good running", I said "you look speedy" and he said "looks can be deceiving".  I laughed.  They were not deceiving.  He put in a shift that day.

Normally in these kinds of races, the fast runners disappear off into the distance in the first three minutes, never to be seen again (by me).  What was amazing (and inspirational) was that I got to watch them consistently, lap after lap, mile after mile, just casually steaming past me every lap or two looking as comfortable as if they were doing a 5k.  It was seriously impressive.  

Not long after the turnaround, Ben reappeared and I saw him chatting with the race volunteers and clapping me every lap.  Here I am stopping for a hug a few laps before the end.

Once I felt I only had a few laps left, I asked how many more I had to go and was told I was just starting lap 99.  Sigh! I thought I was on lap 103 or so, but it's incredibly easy to lose count.  On my last few laps, I ran with a guy who was so worried about this that he refused to ask.  Despite being the same speed as me, he said he would stay with me until I finished and then ask, as he'd rather do too many than not enough.  I was NOT interested in doing too many!  A couple of laps later I finished.

I got a medal and a cup of coffee and a mince pie.  I saw the first lady finish the 50k ultra - she looked strong the whole way.  Then we drove back to London.

Later, when I went to put my time into my spreadsheet of marathons (I know, I know, what a saddo) I discovered I finished this race and my previous marathon (Tissington Trail) in the exact same number of hours, minutes and seconds.  Cool huh?  That's never happened before!

It also took my total kilometres for the year over the 3000 mark, meaning this year has been my highest mileage EVER and it's not even the end of the year yet...

Apple Watch managed not to die, but it did think I'd done 45 kilometers by the time I'd finished and screwed with all my records by saying it was my second fastest marathon when it really wasn't due to auto-pause and general inaccuracy.  Sigh.  This is all lies:

After the race, the race director sent out an email saying that loads of the course records had been smashed.  The absolute machine in the Camino Ultra shirt turned out to be called Kallum Pritchard, I know this because HE followed ME on Strava afterwards.  I'm still wondering why!  He did 50 miles in 6 hours, 203 laps (!) pretty much two back-to-back sub-3 hour marathons.  Un-fucking-believable.

Anyway it led me to looking up Camino Ultra (I thought it was a race, but it turned out to be a race company, and they run an awesome-sounding Convergence-esque race called Centre of the Universe which I can't stop thinking about and therefore am very likely to run in 2022.

Ben and I also spent a happy hour googling all the other people who finished near the top and found a surprising number of GB athletes/people who've done Spartathlon (brutal)/proper serious hardcore ultrarunners well out of my league.  What a privilege for little me to get to run with the big boys.  At first I was worried that I would hate it, but I came out of it feeling utterly inspired and I would (almost, maybe) do it again.  But definitely NOT Transcendance!  24 hours is 20 too many!  

* I googled it after the race as it had annoyed me for hours.  The other is South Dakota. 

Sunday 21 November 2021

Derbyshire: Tissington Trail marathon race recap

The latest in a long line of rescheduled marathons! This one was originally in November 2020, was postponed to April 2021, then postponed again to November 2021.  At the time I booked it I lived in Liverpool so it would have been a quick zip down the M6.  Sadly by the time it came around, I had moved to London and it became an epic, multi-part journey.  I’d been nursing a knee injury following my first 100 miler in October (not detailed here as sadly it didn’t have a medal therefore didn’t count towards my challenge).  Just to spice things up a bit, I also spent the night before at a party drinking copious alcoholic drinks and eating vegan food – both often a precursor of terrible GI problems.  Yippee!


Imagine my joy at 5:30am when my alarm went off.


Nevertheless, these marathons don’t run themselves.  I got up, drove for two hours, wrangled with the pay-by-mobile parking meter whilst only having 15 minutes to spare before the race started (STRESSFUL!) then ran to the start, which was through a huge dark tunnel with an epilepsy-inducing strobe light halfway along (just as well I’m not epileptic).

Whilst dealing with parking, I asked a passing runner if I needed to wear trail shoes (what with the race being called Tissington TRAIL) and they emphatically said no, so I attached the weird chip thing to my road shoes and hoped for the best.  I got to the start with about a minute to spare.

Due to my knee issues, I planned to take this race easy, so I set off at a comfortable pace and plodded along.  It was quite quickly a beautiful route, with lovely rolling Derbyshire hills and dry stone walls on both sides.  The “trail” was largely tarmac and the other runner had advised me well – trail shoes would have been Very Bad.  My knee felt fine, sadly my gut less so and despite my enthusiastic pre-race consumption of Immodium,  within the first couple of miles I had a couple of unscheduled but necessary stops. TMI?  Sorry.

I jogged on.  The trail was ever-so-slightly uphill – this had been mentioned in the race notes but I had figured it meant “undulating” as nothing is ever JUST uphill.  It was a beautiful sunny day, but with a cold northerly wind.  Where the trail had trees on both sides, this was fine and lovely.  On the exposed bits, this was bloody cold.  I saw a runner in front of me put his hood up and followed suit, even though it wasn’t raining, to try to take the windchill off a bit. 

It said in the race briefing notes that the race was “trying to be more green.  Please consider bringing your own reusable cup or water bottle”.  This is pretty common these days – many races don’t provide any receptacles at all and if you forget, you have to buy a reusable cup at the start.  I think this is perfectly reasonable.  Obviously I have never forgotten – one good thing about always reading the race briefing! I'd brought a cup and 2 bottles and was pretty self-sufficient.  When I got to the aid station, this is what I found:

Hmmm.  Hmmmmmmm. 

“Trying to be green”… not trying hard enough in my opinion!


I emailed them this photo after the race with my thoughts and the organiser did reply and said, “we would love to scrap the use of these plastic cups and this is what we are working towards”.  Fair play to them but they should just bite the bullet and tell everyone: there aren’t any.  Bring your own or buy ours, your choice!


The race continued, still slightly uphill the whole time.  As I turned a corner and could see ahead of me, I suddenly realised the route was actually climbing a pretty large hill but just really slowly.  Into a headwind.

This. Is. Not. My. Idea. Of. A. Good. Time.


Halfway up the slow, dull, windy hill, I came across a dude walking these gorgeous beasts.  I thought they were Samoyeds so I stopped and asked him.  I was right. They were super-cute.  He let me take a photo of them.

The other runners were quite spread out by this point.  I passed a guy with his hood up and we exchanged a few friendly words.  As soon as I passed him, I thought “he looked like that guy I met in Worcestershire who owned a chip shop” but I couldn’t remember his name.  I figured Derbyshire isn’t too far from Worcestershire and I remembered that he ran marathons every weekend – surely he had to travel for that?  I kept going and chatted briefly to another lady, mostly about how the way back was going to be so much nicer.  I stopped to take this picture because I thought the little lake was really pretty: 

I passed a little roadside stall that sold cake and jam but at that point all I could think about was getting to the turnaround point and getting out of the damned wind.  Eventually I got there and there were lots of spectators, who clapped enthusiastically, despite me not having done anything impressive as yet, and a marshall, who told me where to turn around.


As soon as I turned around, the whole race got a lot more pleasant.  It was all slightly downhill, the wind abated and my speed picked up.  I passed a farm that supplied milk for Cropwell Bishop Stilton.   A bit further on, I passed a field with loads of men with metal detectors combing the field systematically.  I gave my romantic explanation to Ben afterwards that one of them had lost their beloved wedding ring while tending the cows, and he’d recruited all his friends to help him search for it.  Ben had a rather more prosaic explanation that they were hunting for something valuable.  Hmm.  


Shortly after this, I saw the guy I’d spoken to earlier coming the other way.  This time I was paying attention.  It really did look a lot like him.  As he approached, I shouted, “Do you own a fish and chip shop?!” and he shouted “I remember you! You had the speaker!” and I stopped and said, “I remember you too!” and totally instinctively hugged him, which was probably very Covid-inappropriate but he didn’t seem to mind, and I said “I haven’t got it today,” and then we both ran off in opposite directions.  He was probably a couple of kilometres behind me or else I would’ve waited for him.  It took quite a while before I remembered his name was Lucas.  I looked him up afterwards – he finished half an hour after me.  I wonder how many marathons he's done now?!


On the way back I took a photo of this sign, which was also present on the outward leg – it made me smile because I have run some races which have literally the most horrific mud/scramble/hills/brambles which don’t have signs like this, and this was literally nothing.  There was no part that was worse that what’s visible in this photo...




I kept going.  It was getting cooler as the course fell into the shade and I zipped up my jacket.  I felt great – no issues with my knee and I was doing a pretty decent pace by now.  I overtook quite a few runners including this guy wearing Zoom Vapor Fly shoes which made me feel like a bit of a badass.  Although that is probably a bit unfair - he was walking so likely injured.  Sorry dude.  I still beat you though :)

And that was it! I huffed and puffed the last couple of kilometres because I could and I was enjoying going fast for the first time in a while.  I feel like I finished with a MASSIVE negative split although I can’t prove it as I didn’t record it properly on Strava….

Literally the only benefit of an uphill first 13 miles!



There was a t-shirt as well as a medal – haven’t had a new t-shirt in a long time, so that was nice.  Cute medal as well.  Finished in 4:22 which is pretty respectable given injury and 300-ish metres of ascent.

And that was it!  I didn’t eat enough on the run and got a bit light-headed on the way back and had to stop for a very crap cheese pastie at a service station.  The end.