Howgills Half Marathon

A few months ago me and my beautiful wife were looking at races to enter, specifically a half marathon in April or May. It would be used as a warm up race for later in the year when Helen attempts the Lakesman half ironman distance triathlon. (Legally it’s not a Half Ironman as it isn’t an M-Dot race, and therefore it must always be referred to as a half ironman distance race.) I digress. After looking at various races we decided that the Howgills Half Marathon organised by Epic Events would be perfect.

We had both done another race in the Montane Trail Series last year in Grizedale which had been a brilliant race (read about it here). I had also done the Howgills Triathlon a couple of years ago, which should have rung warning bells as the run had gone up Winder Fell (read about it here).

With a 10am start from Sedbergh, which is only a 30 minute drive, it wasn’t an early off, although Nelly, our unruly Pointer, knew that we had our running gear on and was most perturbed when we left her at home. As with all trail races there was a mandatory kit list, especially as it always seems to rain in the Howgills, except for last Sunday, when it was sunny, hot, dry and hardly any wind.

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We arrived in Sedbergh in plenty of time, parked in the correct field and picked up our numbers and t-shirts, before queuing to use the port-a-loos (very unpleasant).

There was also a marathon on who were setting off 20 minutes before our race, so we cheered them on as they set off. We then had a quick chat with Steve, an old friend who had completed the Bowland Half Marathon with us last year in horrendous conditions (read about it here).

Once we were off the route went directly up Winder Fell, dropping down slightly before heading up The Calf, which tops out at almost 700m high. There was then a very pleasant section along before the two routes split off with the marathon runners continuing on while we turned right. There then followed two very steep technical descents, where as always I was overtaken by more than a handful of runners. I really need to practice running downhill.

There then followed a short out and back section to the feed station set up on a farm near Narthwaite. I re-filled my water bottle and grabbed a couple of Jaffa Cakes before setting off over the very narrow footbridge. I waved at Steve as he was running towards the feed station and set off towards Sedbergh. The next few miles were fairly easy going along footpaths with very little climbing. We had been warned about the final hill, but after Winder and The Calf how hard could it be.

Swearing, lots of swearing, that’s how hard it was. So steep I was almost crawling up it. We didn’t even go all the way to the top, but it felt never ending. Eventually the route followed the contours of the hill before another steep technical descent. We crossed a small stream where I dipped my hat, which then promptly gave me a headache because the water was so cold. Finally I could see and hear the finish area way down below.

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The last downhill section on the road was hard on my tired legs, but moments later I was running around the field and through the finish funnel, to be handed water and a medal. As I was coming towards the finish the announcer was starting the prize giving, beginning with the vet 60 winner! There are some very quick ‘older’ runners out there.

I headed to the car to drop off my medal and to change into my finishers shirt, before returning to the field to wait for my wife. As I was queuing for a coffee I spotted Helen running down the road, much earlier than I had been expecting. I hobbled over to the finish line for a hug and to congratulate her as it had been an absolutely stunning performance from Helen.

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Helen was a little emotional and also full of swear words, mainly about that f****** last hill. A few minutes later the winner from the marathon returned, in just under four hours. I can’t even imagine how he had run it that fast, although Helen pointed out to me that the marathon had hardly any extra elevation than the half, which made me feel slightly less old and rubbish.

Overall it was an excellent race; well marshalled with plenty of arrows out on the course. It would have been difficult to have got lost. We will definitely be doing more events from this series, although probably not this particular race. I think I am right in saying that it was the toughest half marathon that I’ve ever done. Three days later and my right thigh (my leading leg) is still sore from the descents.

Of course when we got home the day wasn’t over, as we still had to take Nelly out for a walk.

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NENDY parkrun

NENDY? What on earth am I talking about now? Let me explain. NENDY is the acronym for Nearest Event Not Done Yet, and the ‘Event’ being parkrun. A couple of months ago I blogged about parkrun extras that were keeping me busy (read about it here).

There is a Chrome or Firefox extension for your parkrun results page with loads more stats, including your NENDY, which in my case was Blackpool parkrun. Closest in a straight line, or as crows fly, although I’ll let you into a secret, crows don’t always fly in a straight line.

I say ‘was’, because last Saturday myself and Nelly took a road trip to Blackpool. Nelly was so excited about running in a new park that even after half a dozen attempts she still wouldn’t look at my phone for a selfie.

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It was fairly cold, even with the sun and blue sky. I was wearing my Canalathon t-shirt and even bumped into someone with a Canalathon bobble hat. You can read about Canalathon here and here.

As it was Star Wars day there were also a fair few people in fancy dress, as well as a few other dogs, including a cute little Spaniel called Twiglet and a big old hound called Rufus.

As per parkrun rules for running with a dog we started at the back and gradually made our way past slower runners, although there was one very narrow section. Two laps and plenty of support later we crossed the line in 24th place. We were both happy with that, especially as there were nearly 300 runners.

Blackpool parkrun was a great run, friendly, well marshalled and mostly flat, although I’ve yet to do a parkrun that isn’t friendly and well marshalled.

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New NENDY is Clitheroe Castle, a hilly parkrun consisting of five laps. The above map is from a website called ‘tourist tool’, which is well worth a Google.

Also, almost two months after completing my 50th parkrun (read about it here), I am now the owner of my red 50 t-shirt, which will be worn with pride at parkrun this Saturday. I’m not sure where, but not far, so either Morecambe Prom or Lancaster. Possibly see you there.

Parkrun Pilgrimage

Last weekend me and my beautiful wife had the opportunity to run at Bushy parkrun, the home of parkrun, the park where the very first parkrun was held 14 and a half years ago. I will admit that it was unlike any parkrun that I’d done before.

We were in London for a weekend staying with Helen’s eldest son who live in Colliers Wood. Tom had asked if we wanted to do a parkrun on the Saturday and had recommended Clapham, as it was fairly near. He also suggested going for a swim afterwards at one of London’s open air lidos. Tooting Bec lido was not yet open to the public so we opted for Hampton lido, which is at the other side of Bushy Park from the parkrun.

I’ve heard stories about Bushy parkrun and how busy it can get, so we left with plenty of time and even managed to find space for the car. Obligatory before parkrun photo in the car is below (it was cold).

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The start is next to the Diana memorial along a wide section of park, which it needs to be as there was well over a thousand people there. including two volunteers with large speakers on their heads so that everyone could here the run director. We didn’t start near to the front and as expected I was soon boxed in and running at everyone’s else pace. The good thing about this was that it meant that I could run with Tom. With so many people it’s also good that thing that it’s only one lap, and very flat, which makes a change from Lancaster. We pushed on to the finish and Tom managed to sneak under 22 minutes for the first time. My amazing wife also managed a pb, only a few seconds outside 25 minutes. She’ll be under 25 minutes before the end of the year. Excellent running all round πŸ™‚

The finish tunnel was huge but well organised, and the barcode scanners we quick and efficient as you would expect with that many people every week. There were 1274 finishers this week which is amazing when you consider that Lancaster gets too busy when there’s over 300!

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I’m really pleased that we had the opportunity for a pilgrimage to Bushy Park, but I can honestly say that I doubt if I will run there again. It’s not easy to get to, with no Tube station nearby, the traffic is terrible, and there isn’t enough parking, so a big thank you to Tom for getting us there.

Last weekend was also the London Marathon so I expected that there would be more runners than usual, but at Bushy Park the numbers were about the same. Clapham Common parkrun on the other hand had record numbers, most likely because it’s situated near to a Tube station, making it fairly easy for tourists who don’t know London to get to.

Overall we had a great weekend in London, seeing the Britsh Museum, getting whooped by my wife at table tennis in a bar in Wimbledon, and generally doing a whole bunch of touristy stuff. Bushy parkrun was the icing on the cake.

 

Morecambe Prom Inaugural Parkrun

Today I ran the brand new parkrun along Morecambe Prom, and brilliant it was too. Potentially a very fast parkrun as it is completely flat, much like Fleetwood parkrun. It was nice and sunny as well, although very cold. I wasn’t particularly speedy as I had decided to make a long steady run out of it by running the 8km there and back as well. You can see by the photo below that the newly refurbished prom is nice and wide, and with ten minutes to the start there were plenty of people milling about. My beautiful wife and unruly dog were also there, but had sensibly opted to drive, giving a lift to a neighbour.

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The run itself starts at the southern end of the prom and heads north past the famous Midland Hotel. It was funny seeing the blank faces of the guests eating breakfast as a couple of hundred runners went past, much like a dog being shown a card trick. There’s a short out and back on the Stone Jetty before continuing along the prom, and then turning around and coming back. As with out and back courses it’s great to see runners going in the opposite direction, whether it’s the speedy ones near to the front, or cheering on the slower runners nearer the back.

In the parkrunning community there is a ‘thing’ about completing inaugural parkruns, which can be a bit of a problem for the organisers. It can take time for a new team to become smooth, and it is therefore better if the first few parkruns are a little smaller and gradually build in size. It can also impact upon people who use a park (or prom) on a Saturday morning and aren’t expecting hundreds of runners to be there. Parkrun UK don’t overly advertise new parkruns for this reason. Morecambe Prom parkrun was on the UK parkrun website a week before the first event, but sometimes a new parkrun might only go ‘live’ the day before. My wife mentioned that there had been a few people in social media who hadn’t known about it. That’s the idea, and hopefully those people who missed out on the first event will come along in the next few weeks and months.

Today there were 264 finishers, with people from all over the place, including lots of friendly faces from Lancaster. Many of those people might make Morecambe their ‘home’ parkrun if it is closer. It might also impact upon Lancaster, which wouldn’t be a bad thing as the narrow paths make it a little crowded, especially with over 400 runners. History has shown, however, that whenever a new parkrun starts up, runners new to parkrun start running, and other parkruns nearby barely reduce in size.

Morecambe Prom parkrun has the potential to be able to accommodate many more runners, and hopefully it will attract many new runners from the immediate area. Overall it was a fantastic first event, and one that both me and my wife are looking forward to running probably once a month or so.

50km Canalathon

As I mentioned in the last couple of posts, last weekend me and my beautiful wife went to Sowerby Bridge as I had entered the 50km Canalathon, which I blogged about earlier in the year (read about it here). We set off on the Friday, and as expected we got stuck in traffic. As we reached Sowerby Bridge I noticed a camper van with the race organiser’s logo emblazoned on the side. Much to my wife’s dismay I waved at the driver, who waved back. Good start to the weekend I thought.

My wife had booked a hotel for the two of us plus Nelly, our mostly well behaved pointer. However, the hotel was at the top of a very steep hill, with narrow roads and far too much traffic. Not easy. Hotel was nice, room was clean and tidy, so we went off for a walk into Sowerby Bridge to forage for food.

As I’ve mentioned many times, we are keen parkrunners, so the Saturday morning we headed to Shroggs Park in Halifax to complete our fiftieth parkruns (read about it here).

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The rest of Saturday was spent pottering around Hebden Bridge before heading back to the hotel for some rest, food and a bit of reading. We also took Nelly for a walk who managed to catch a baby rabbit. I had also purchased Running Up That Hill by Vassos Alexander as inspiration for my big race. (You can read a book review here).

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The next morning we were up early, too early, but it did mean that we snagged a parking spot almost as close to the race HQ as it was possible to get. I picked up my number, complete with timing chip, goody bag and had my kit checked. There was an extensive essential kit list, most of which was obvious; food, water, hat (not a buff), gloves, waterproof jacket, a cup, head torch and waterproof over trousers. Last year me and Helen completed a half marathon in the Trough of Bowland in horrendous conditions (read about it here), so I’m all for essential kit lists. The cup is a good idea so that single use disposable cups are not required. However, the cut-off for the 50km race was 6.30pm, when it would be still light, and the forecast stated that there was less than a 5% chance of rain. Therefore, after my kit check, I removed the head torch and over trousers from my lightweight running bag, hoping that there wouldn’t be another kit check in Manchester or at the finish.

There were also two other races; 75km and 100km versions. The 75km started in Sowerby Bridge, went to Oldham and returned. The 100km went all the way to Manchester and back. The 50km race, which I was doing was just from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge, along the Rochdale Canal, hence the name, Canalathon. Buses were provided, if required, to transport people to the start, so we watched the 100km runners set off and then I jumped on the bus, while my wife and our dog would keep themselves occupied walking, eating and reading. To be fair, Nelly didn’t do too much reading as she was still happy from catching a rabbit the day before.

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Once at the start there was a huge queue for the portaloos, so the start was delayed by 15 minutes. I couldn’t believe how many people there were. A friendly bloke called Dom told me that there had been 250 entries for the 50km race. I stayed chatting with Dom all the way to the first feed station at 10 miles in Rochdale. He was an experienced ultra runner having completed both the 75km and 100km versions in previous years.

My aim in the race was to hopefully finish in less than six hours, although I really wanted less than five. We were definitely going a bit quick as we passed 10km in just under the hour. We were also amazed when the leader of the 100km race passed us in the opposite direction when we’d done almost 13km. It meant that he had done over 37km in less than three hours, although he still had another 63km to go.

I spent some time faffing at the feed station with my kit, before eating some salted new potatoes and using my cup, which was really annoying as I couldn’t find anywhere to put it where it didn’t bang about. I couldn’t see Dom, so I assumed that he had already set off. I didn’t mind as I quite like running on my own, and there was plenty of other runners about.

The canal started to get a bit more scenic as we were now out of the built up areas, and just before three hours I came to the second feed station, which was close to the top lock. Downhill all the way to the finish. More salted potatoes, more flat coke and a handful of jellies. Ultra running really is like a kid’s party; there’s peanuts, sweets, coke and lots of running around.

It was about now that I had the first of my vegan energy balls that my wife had made me. The ginger and chocolate ones coated in chia seeds. They gave me a well needed boost. If you search out Bunny’s Bakes on Instagram or Facebook, my wife’s baking business, she is hopefully going to be selling her energy balls soon.

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Unfortunately, as soon as the canal started to head down, my left knee started to complain. I ignored it and focused on passing the marathon mark in less than four hours, which was a good mental boost. I knew that I was going to finish, even if I had to walk the last five miles, but I was still on course or a sub five hour finish. Through Todmorden, large cobbles to navigate at a lock, and into Hebden Bridge.

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Having walked this section the day before I knew there wasn’t far to go. A short rise and I phoned Helen to let her know my expected arrival time, before finding a surprise feed station at just under five miles to go. Everything was hurting at this point. If I’m going to do more ultra runs I definitely need to do more long runs, not just two, with the longest only being 30km.

I had been counting down lock numbers from near to the start, and would only allow myself to look at my watch to check time and distance when I reached the next lock. I was now counting down bridge numbers as well, knowing that they would be at ‘two’ when the race came off the canal. We had also recce’d the route from the canal to the finish so that I would know where to go, knowing that my mind would be in a mess by the end as well. What was interesting was that there was an old disused cycle speedway track next to the finishing field, where I had raced back in 1988 with the Hull Cycle Speedway Club. We had finished runner’s up in the Yorkshire League Cup.

Past the cycle speedway track and onto the field where smiling Helen and excited Nelly were waiting. I crossed the finish line in four hours and 49 minutes. Very pleased, but also very tired. Need food! I had completed my first point to point ultra run. T-shirt and bobble hat will be worn with pride and the medal is with all my others on display.

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The whole event was brilliantly organised by Cannonball Events, and very friendly. I don’t generally like to enter the same races again, but this is one that I would consider doing next year. If you want to have a go at an ultra race, this is the one for you. Only 8km longer than a marathon, if you do the 50km race, not too hilly and almost impossible to get lost.

A final big thank you to everyone involved, especially all of the amazing marshals, and to Dom, who hadn’t set off in front of me at the first feed station and finished only a couple of minutes behind me.

Book Review: Vassos Alexander – Running Up That Hill

Last weekend me and my beautiful wife spent a few days in Sowerby Bridge, where among other things we both managed to complete our fiftieth parkrun (read about it here). The reason we were there was because I had entered Canalathon; a 50km run from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge along the Rochdale Canal, which you will be able to read about as soon as I’ve written it πŸ™‚

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I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. Vassos Alexander used to be the sports guy on the Chris Evans Radio 2 Breakfast Show, until they moved to Virgin. He also co-presents the parkrun free weekly times podcast (read about it here). As well as all that, he is a runner, and a very good ultra-runner, which is what this book is all about. Seeing as Canalathon would be my first point to point ultra run, it seemed apt to read about ultra running in the days before the race. Maybe I could pick up some last minute tips, or just get a bit of a mental boost.

Of course for Vassos, a 50km run is nothing to write home about, as he has completed 50 milers, 100 milers and Spartathon. The final race, Spartathon, threads it’s way throughout the book, with the history and background.

Also throughout the book are interviews with some of the best known ultra runners, including Ben Smith (read about him here), and Kilian Jornet, as well as Chrissie Wellington and many others. This adds another dimension to the book, especially with interesting tales from regular people, who just happen to enjoy longer than normal runs. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and even if you have no intention of ever running further than a marathon, the book is still a very good read.

50 parkruns

It’s taken a while, but this weekend me and my beautiful wife finally managed to complete 50 parkruns. Our first parkrun was two and a half years ago at Skipton, a four lap affair with narrow paths. I remember it being tricky to overtake (or be overtaken) with less than 200 runners, so how they managed this year with over 400 is a mystery.

I reached 49 parkruns back in January when we went out to Ulverston for the Ford parkrun (read about it here). My wife still needed another three parkruns so that we could complete our 50th together. Due to various reasons this has taken a while. Ice and wind meant that Lancaster was cancelled twice in February and again in March. We also went on holiday to Skye for a week and had planned on running Strathclyde parkrun on the way up, but due to a ten car pile up on the motorway we missed the start.

It would have been nice to complete our 50th at our home parkrun in Lancaster, but as we were in Sowerby Bridge at the weekend we ran at the Halifax parkrun in Shroggs Park, and very nice it was too.

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Official Council signs in the park were a nice touch, implying that the local council are keen to promote it, along with silly little signs like the one below. It wasn’t that big a hill, but we did have to run up it three times.

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I was racing the next day so I was more than happy to run round with Helen and our pointer, Nelly. A pleasant little three and a half laps with just over 150 runners made for a good run and a happy post run family selfie.

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I had a look on the parkrun stats website from Elliot Line (read about itΒ here) and over 1300 people completed their 50th parkrun this weekend. All we have to do now is wait for an email with a link so that we can claim our free T-shirts, which we will wear with pride.

Out of the 50 parkruns that we’ve done, Ulverston had the friendliest marshalls, although we’ve never met a grumpy one. Fountains Abbey was the most picturesque, Cheltenham was the largest and Barrow had been running the longest.

Obviously next up is to complete 100, but I’m also looking forward to Morecambe parkrun starting up in a few weeks, as one of the drawbacks of Lancaster is that the nearest alternative parkrun is Preston, Fleetwood or Fellfoot. We’re also looking at attempting to complete one new tourist parkrun each month, with the nearest event not done yet (NENDY) being at Blackpool.

Here’s to the brilliance that is parkrun and long may it continue.