Races 2021

With lockdown slowly easing and more people being vaccinated, there is a certain amount of optimism regarding races in 2021. Pretty much every race last year was either cancelled or postponed, although both me and Helen are being cautious with what we enter.

Ullswater Trail Race

In two weeks time we will be racing around Ullswater. I’m doing the full race, 20 hilly miles, while Helen is doing the 10 mile version which includes a ferry ride to Pooley Bridge. Way before anyone had heard of Covid we did something similar with Nelly (read about it here).

Backyard Ultra

When I first stumbled upon the concept of the Backyard Ultra I knew that at some point I would have to have a go. The idea is simple, every hour you run just over 4 miles, and you keep going until only one person is left standing. The one I’m doing is in North Wales, but there are hundreds all over the world. Unlike Ironman, the original organisers are happy to support anyone who wants to put on their own version.

Coniston Swim

This was one of my cancelled races from last year, and it is the full length of Coniston Water, just over 5 miles. I’ve only managed two swims this year, however, this race isn’t until September so I should have opportunity to get a few longer swims in before the event.

Cancelled/Postponed Races

The Oldham Way Ultra has been postponed for the second year running, so possibly I will manage this hilly 40 mile race in 2022.

My amazing wife had entered us into the Castle to Coast Triathlon, which was cancelled last year, but we’ve deferred our entry until 2022. Neither of us had done enough cycling to enjoy what could be one of the best races we’ve ever done. The swim is in Windsor, the bike ride heads towards Brighton, and the run is 13 miles into Brighton, hence the name – Castle to Coast.

Hopefully we’ll enter a few more races as the year progresses, and we’re also looking forward to parkruns starting up again. It does appear that there are some issues and that they are looking to commence towards the end of June. Fingers crossed.

That’s us for official races. Helen will also be doing the Bay Limestone Round in a team once again, with me and Nelly supporting, and we’d also like to have a go at the George Fisher Tea or Espresso Rounds.

What races have you entered?

Cat Bells

Last weekend we headed off once again to the Lake District for a mini-adventure. This time for a walk up the iconic fell of Cat Bells. Lots of memories for Helen as this was the very first fell that she climbed as a seven year old with her father. Helen had never been back, and I had never been there at all.

Our route was inspired by the George Fisher Tea Round and shorter Espresso Round. We’d never heard of them until a crazy friend completed the 30 mile Tea Round. The round heads to the summit of all ten fells that can be seen from the upstairs window of the George Fisher shop in Keswick. The 12 mile Espresso round does four of the summits. Both start and finish from the shop, and if you complete the longer route you become the proud owner of a free T-Shirt.

Anyway, as we were walking we decided to miss out the flat out and back section from Keswick and start in the village of Portinscale. With the rain we were all wrapped up in waterproofs and Nelly was even wearing her little jacket.

We set off and it wasn’t too long before Cat Bells was looming before us. Not long after that we reached the false summit.

The well trodden path was easy to follow and we climbed up to the main summit to find there were dozens of people at the top. We took a few photos and then headed back down the way we had come.

We didn’t double back for too long as our second summit was Rowling End.

The sun had come out as we scrambled our way up the very steep footpath, although as we reached the top the heavens opened. In the distance we could see the formidable summit of Causey Pike. With the weather so bad and the route to the top a little too difficult with Nell, we opted to take the footpath down the easier side of Rowling End. Unfortunately this meant that we would miss out the fourth summit of Barrow.

We chatted to a couple of other walkers on the way down who said that Causey Pike wasn’t too bad, so we’ll definitely go back another day.

Back in the valley we followed the road in the shadow of Barrow as we headed back to the car. We stopped off for a coffee and cake at a lovely cafe in Portinscale before heading back home.

Our route had taken a little over four hours and was just under 10 miles, with lots of climbing. I like the look of doing the shorter Espresso Round with Helen and then maybe doing the longer Tea Round later in the year, if Helen will support me.

Another brilliant day out with my brilliant wife and our silly pooch. More days like that please.

New Shoes – Update

I’ve had my new shoes for a month and I have to tell you that on the whole they are not too bad. My original review can be found here.

I’ve had them for just over a month, and I’ve run just over 100km in the New Balance and just over 60km in the Asics.

First off the New Balance road shoes. 5 out of 5. Very comfortable and they feel great. I can’t fault them. I will definitely be buying these again.

The Asics trail shoes are also very good, but not perfect. I don’t know if the perfect trail shoe exists, especially not with the trails and fells near Lancaster. They are very comfortable, especially on good trails and on the road. Unfortunately, when the trail becomes fell they let themselves down. If anything they have too much support when the ground is very rough, boggy and uneven. Me and my lovely wife did a run/walk from the village of Staveley at the weekend, and the route had a mix of everything. Helen was wearing her Saucony’s, the same that I used to have, and they were hard on her feet on the road sections, while I was fine. We were both good on the farm track and trail sections, but on the tougher sections I was struggling while Helen was fine. I suppose the answer is to have two different trail/off road shoes and wear whichever pair are most suitable for the terrain.

It will be interesting to see how both pairs look in another couple of months. I generally replace my road shoes after about 800km and by them they still don’t look too bad. Trail shoes generally get replaced before I would like to, as the uppers don’t seem to wear very well. Time will tell.

The Wyre Way and Nicky Nook

Last year we (me, Helen and Nell) did a section of the Wyre Way (read about it here). Last weekend we went for a long walk along a different section of the Wyre Way, returning via Nicky Nook. We would have run but Helen had a small twinge in her knee so for once in our lives we decided to ere on the side of caution.

Setting off from the busy little village of Scorton we soon found ourselves winding our way alongside the Wyre, perfect for Nelly to scamper among the bluebells.

All very pleasant. Hardly anyone else about, the sun was out and we were walking along a shaded little path. A bit further and we had to dog-leg across a field and along a road for a short section as the footbridge had been removed a couple of years ago. We didn’t know it at the time but we could have taken the path under the M6. It did mean that we could see the iconic ‘Jetsons’ service station.

Off the road and along a track into a farm and activity centre we lost the path for a couple of minutes, until Helen’s trusty Garmin pointed us across a field towards a large caravan site. Knowing that they are on a designated long distance footpath, the caravan park had plenty of signs so that walkers wouldn’t go the wrong way, although I almost did. We overtook a group of older walkers before crossing a road near to Bradley Wiggins’ house and the very imposing Wyreside Hotel. A sheep free large field allowed Nelly another scamper.

We walked through another farm and as we reached the small village of Dolphinhome we stopped for a sandwich and snacks. Nelly wanted to say hello to some ducklings. We didn’t let her.

We ambled through the village, leaving the Wyre Way to start on our route back. From here the route became a little more challenging as we crossed the fells. The path also took us through the garden of an amazing barn conversion. We tried not to gawp for too long, although the owner did appear as we headed off down the track.

The path then took us over Harris End, a route that we’ve cycled many times. Finding a handy stone seat we stopped for another sandwich.

Birds and rabbits distracted Nelly and a Ewe stamped her feet as we passed her baby lambs. We then joined a brilliant little path round the back of Grizedale Dock Reservoir before the very steep climb up the back of Nicky Nook.

As expected Nicky Nook was busy with families, as was The Apple Store, a very good local cafe. As much as we would have liked to stop we pushed on and down back into Scorton, grabbing cake and coffee from a take away van outside the Priory.

8 tired legs between us. The route was just under 12 miles and took us nearly 5 hours, although we were in no rush at all. Another brilliant day out with the best woman and dog in the world.

Sadgill

Yesterday was a good day. I’ve unexpectedly been placed on Furlough for a week and as my wife had booked a hair appointment in Kendal she asked if I wanted to head out that way for a run while she was busy. I didn’t need to be asked twice as I knew just the place for a run. Last summer I cycled up the Longsleddale Valley as far as the road goes (read about it here). This time I would drive to the end, leave the car and head up and over a couple of fells.

I created a route using Strava, although my first route up and over Kentmere Pike was a little ambitious for the available time, so I opted to head up Grey Crag and then back along the bridleway.

I dropped Helen off in Kendal and then set off up the A6 towards Shap. The Longsleddale Valley is almost 5 miles of a narrow road with few passing places. I was fortunate to only meet two vehicles, and on both occasions I was at a passing place. At the end of the road there is enough parking for about ten vehicles, and on a damp Tuesday there was plenty of space.

Almost immediately after setting off I was reduced to a walk as my route appeared to go straight up.

I continued up and up, until I reached a short plateau where I was able to run once again. This didn’t last long as I continued up. The views from the top were disappointing as the sun had disappeared almost as soon as I had started.

Once over Grey Crag I skirted Tarn Crag before dropping down towards the Gatescarth Pass Bridleway. I had deliberately made my route with the steepest sections uphill and the easier sections downhill. The steep sections at the start would have been far too dangerous for me to have run down.

The bridleway surface wasn’t too bad as I nipped back towards the car. The 9km route with over 500m of climbing had taken 90 minutes and was an absolute cracker, definitely one that I want to do again but with Helen and Nell. Although maybe next time we could go over the more famous Kentmere Pike, a fell that I have never been up.

I hadn’t seen another person the whole time that I had been out, and even though there were still plenty of other cars the place was deserted. I quickly changed in the car and drove back to Kendal to meet up with Helen. Her hair appointment hadn’t finished so I had time for a coffee and a slice of tiffin. I also have to add that Helen looked stunning.

Book Review: The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson

According to Brandon there will be ten books in the Stormlight series, with five in the first arc, and the other five set at a different time. Book four has only recently been released, so I will have to wait a while to finish the current arc. Fortunately, Brandon is a slightly more prolific writer than say George R R Martin or Patrick Rothfuss. I was going to add that I don’t generally read books in the fantasy genre, but then I realised that I’ve read all of the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, all of the Game of Thrones books and both books in the Kingkiller series.

Anyway, back to the Stormlight Archives, and it has taken me four months to read the four books so far, ignoring the two short books with minor characters that aren’t part of the larger series.

Each book is huge, as is the world where it is set. To be honest I can’t really start to describe it, except to say that most of it is about war, or various wars. Each book also has flashbacks for a specific character. In the first book this is Kaladin, a slave with a troubled past. While this first book is mainly about Kaladin, we do meet many of the other main characters.

The cosmere world where the story is set is very different, with dangerous storms that are so powerful anyone caught out in the open is likely to die. There are plenty of other worldly creatures along with ‘Spren’, who appear and disappear almost at random. Men are not allowed to read and women have to hide their ‘safe hand’ in a glove at the very least. I could go on.

I absolutely loved the first book, The Way of Kings, rushing through it in less than a week. I repeated this with the second book, although it wasn’t quite as good. The third and fourth books were more of a struggle, as I started to read other books at the same time. If I was to score the books, the first would receive 5/5, the second 4.5, with the third and fourth books about 3.5.

When the fifth book is released I will definitely read it, but it is doubtful that I will continue after that. Would I read other books by Brandon Sanderson? Probably, although there are plenty of other fantasy writers out there who I haven’t yet sampled.

This hasn’t really been a review as such, mostly because of the expansiveness of the whole series, and I wouldn’t want to give away plot lines from the later books if you haven’t read the first one.

Hopefully soon Mr Rothfuss will finish book three of the Kingkiller series, and then Mr Martin could publish the next Game of Thrones book. In the meantime I’m going to steer away from fantasy and read a few more travel and sport books, as well as my old favourite genre post-apocalypse.

Book Review: Murder at the University by Faith Martin

This is the second in the Detective Inspector Hillary Greene series of books, and while they’re not in the slightest bit ground breaking, I have found the first two to be well written, full of little surprises and a few ongoing story lines. I also like the fact that each book is only £1.99 for the Kindle version. My review of the first book can be found here.

Anyway, in this book a female student has been found dead in her college room. At first glance it would appear to be a drugs overdose, but then forensics find rat poison in her blood. It also turns out that the student has been working as a high class call girl. Who were her clients? Had she annoyed the local pimp?

The book races along and I really found myself immersed in the story. I also want to know more with the ongoing story lines. Will DI Greene find her dead husbands illegal profits? Will DI Greene escape from her canal boat? Will Tommy, 15 years her junior, admit how much he yearns for his boss? I doubt if it will long before I’ve downloaded book number 3 in the series. There are some obvious comparisons to Colin Dexter and Inspector Morse, but I’m beginning to think that this series of books is superior.

Back to the Pool – 2021

Last August I wrote about how good it was to be able to swim in a pool again (read about it here). A couple of weeks ago swimming pools were once again allowed to open, albeit with plenty of restrictions. Generally I would swim a couple of times a week before work at the pool in Horwich, but as I don’t have to be back in the office yet I thought I would give Lancaster University pool a try. I’ve swam there a lot in the past and it is an excellent pool; temperature nice and cool, 25m with 8 lanes.

The restrictions mean that you can only book for an hour, there are only four double wide lanes, with a maximum of five people, with different speeds for each lane. To minimise the number of people milling about in the changing area, the lanes are staggered. The slow and fast lanes are allowed in at a specific time, with the two medium lanes fifteen minutes later. Each lane is given a full hour and then the whole pool closes for 45 minutes to allow it all to be cleaned.

I booked myself a one hour slot in a medium lane, knowing that as this is the Uni the fast lane will probably be full of incredibly fast people. I jumped into lane 3 and immediately a young lad in the fast lane overtook me doing kick. There were three other people in the medium lane and although I was the quickest, two of the others were only marginally slower than me. The remaining man looked like he was going to drown at any moment as he would walk as far as he could and then swim very very slowly to the end. The restrictions mean that you are not allowed to overtake and have to wait at the end to allow people to pass. I resigned myself to the fact that I would just have to be patient every now and then.

Overall the whole swimming experience was excellent with friendly staff and plenty of room to swim. Much better than the chaos at Horwich. Another good thing was that most people don’t want to swim for the full hour, so I had the lane to myself for the last 15 minutes. My arms and neck were a bit sore and it did feel like I was swimming through treacle at times, but I went a second time this week. My pace was fairly slow, but hopefully I’ll soon get back into it, especially as I have entered the Coniston One Way swim in September which is just over five miles.

Not to be out done, my lovely wife Helen went for an open water swim in Capernwray. Much too cold for me at this time of year, but maybe next month I’ll join her.

The Bay Limestone Round – Leg 2

Last summer my lovely wife, Helen, and four of her friends completed the BLR as a relay team. This year they’re doing it again, but with each of them taking a different leg. Last year Helen did the last leg, which is technically the hardest leg. This year she is doing leg 2, which is the longest leg at almost 14 miles.

Yesterday one of Helen’s oldest friends very kindly drove to the finish of leg 2 so that we could leave our car, and then drove us to the start of leg 2, and on top of that didn’t complain about all the hair that Nelly left in her new car.

The start of leg 2 is near the village of High Newton, alongside the High Newton Lower Reservoir, which is an incredibly tough climb for the end of leg 1.

Anyway, we waved to Lisa as she started her drive back to Lancaster and we started our run back to the car. The first bit of leg 2 was along a road and mainly downhill, which was nice, especially as we knew there would be plenty of climbing later. Off the road and we wound our way through some woods and fields and past Witherslack Hall. After almost 4 miles of very easy running we came to the side of a cliff, which marked the first of the two summits on leg 2, Lord’s Seat at 215m high. As expected the views were amazing, and you can easily see how strong the wind sometimes blows.

Off the top of Lord’s Seat was once again very pleasant running with easy to follow paths, the complete opposite of leg 5. We dropped down to cross the main Lythe Valley road at the very posh looking Lythe Valley Country House Hotel.

Over half way and we were both still feeling good, although the hills started to get a little more frequent and the terrain more uneven. With the sun out we weren’t in any hurry and we more than happy to walk when we felt like it. However, at Middle Blakebank we had our first navigation problem. The route appeared to go straight through someone’s front garden. We backtracked and found the footpath arrow was correct so we looked left and right before deciding just to go for it. Half way through the immaculate garden we spotted another yellow footpath sign, so it was the correct route. A bit later we came to another house where the footpath also went through the garden, but this time the owners had put up signs and arrows so that people knew exactly where the path went. I’m sure the owners of the first house don’t like having a footpath going through their garden, but if you make it obvious where the path goes, people won’t be standing outside your front door for five minutes looking at maps and scratching their heads.

The next few fields were full of sheep and lambs, some very young with concerned Ewes. Across another small road and we were onto Gamblesmire Lane, which was easy running again as we neared our second summit, Cunswick Scar. We followed the official route through Scar Wood, although we think it might be quicker to continue along Gamblesmire Lane rather than the rough field. Anyway, once through Scar Wood there was only a short out and back to the summit before the last mile to the finish.

I hadn’t thought to bring a hat so Helen had lent me her buff to protect my shiny bald head. This was the only time of the day where we had seen more than two people, with families and dogs galore.

The last mile would have been great for running, but my legs were completely broken by this point. In hindsight a hilly 60+ mile bike ride the day before probably wasn’t such a good idea. However, with the wide open spaces it was great to let Nelly off her lead.

A few minutes later and we were back at the car. Full distance was a little over 14 miles with over 2000 feet of climbing. A tough leg which took us just over four hours, but as I said, we weren’t in any hurry. Helen will be much quicker on the day. It was also far easier navigation wise than leg 5. We might head back for another quick recce but I doubt if we’ll do the full leg again.

Strava details can be found here,

and my other BLR blogs can be found here.

Dog Hill and Blackstone Edge

The previous weekend, in glorious sun, myself, my lovely wife Helen and our silly Pointer headed off up for a walk/run up and over Ingleborough. This was one of the Howler series of virtual races. (Read about all of our Howler adventures here). Anyway, with lockdown version 3 well and truly on the way out, we opted for another of the Howler events, this one was ‘Minnesota’, which started and finished at Baitings Reservoir, halfway between Rochdale and Ripponden.

As we headed south we noticed more and more snow, but as the roads were clear we thought nothing of it. That is until we started to climb out of Rochdale. The roads hadn’t been gritted and we weren’t the only car that had to pull over. The sun was out and we could see that the compacted snow was melting fast, so after a few more vehicles had passed us we once again tried to make it to the top of the hill. Fortunately at the top the roads become the responsibility of Calderdale Council, who had been out gritting. We grabbed one of the last spaces in the car park and set off across the dam.

Once again Helen was in charge of the route while I kept hold of Nelly, who can be a real pest when we’re out running. After a short section on the road we slowly made our way up through a farm and up a very steep bank before finding ourselves along a ridge, albeit with deep snow.

The route had two main hills, both with Trig points, and it didn’t take us too long to reach the first, Dog Hill. Amazing views and hardly anyone else about.

Helen also took an obligatory selfie at the top, although we couldn’t manage one with Nelly; it was all too exciting for her little pointer brain.

From Dog Hill we dropped down towards Green Withens Reservoir. We stopped at the point where the water would flow over the top, and Nelly tried to jump over the wall, not realising that it was a huge drop on the other side. I stopped her in time, but it was a scary moment.

With a nice flat track we made good time on this section, as the terrain in the snow was hard work. We were also worried about the forecast that snow and rain could start later that afternoon. In the end the snow didn’t begin until we were back in the car.

With the M62 in sight we then started the long climb up to Blackstone Edge, obviously a popular spot as there were dozens of other people.

Fortunately this section had stone flags to walk along, so before we knew it we were at the top with amazing views across Manchester and the surrounding area.

We followed the main footpath down from the top for about a mile before heading east towards the car. Even though it was mainly downhill it was impossible to run as the snow was starting to melt, and it had settled on top of wet grass. I fell over a couple of times and Helen almost did the same. We also thought that it was safe to let Nelly off the lead for a little scamper. If we had let her off earlier we wouldn’t have seen her again, so we have to wait until she starts to tire so that she doesn’t go off too far. At ten years old she still has more energy than dogs half her age.

We dropped down beside an old stone wall where there was a man resting who apparently also had a pointer, but not with him at the time. Into a field with Ewes and lambs, Nelly on a tight lead, before the last road section.

Another fantastic Howler adventure and stunning weather once again. Final stats were just under 19km with just over 400m of climbing. We have two more routes that aren’t too far away, and then the others are south of Manchester, the Peak District and one in Wales.