100th parkrun

Its taken a while, but yesterday I completed my 100th parkrun. No fanfare, no cheers and no treats at the finish, but I managed it. What made it even better was that I was able to run the whole thing with my lovely wife Helen, and our silly pooch Nelly, and it was at our ‘home’ parkrun of Lancaster. It was also the 65th time that I’d run at Lancaster, with 8 times at Morecambe and 4 at Salisbury. It also means that I am eligible for a new parkrun T-shirt, the black one with ‘100’ on the back.

As much as we both really enjoy parkruns, we don’t worry about missing the odd week, although I would have made 100 a lot sooner if we hadn’t lost 18 months due to Covid. What is also great to see is that the numbers are rising again, with over 200 finishers this week.

To make my 100th parkrun a little tougher I ran there the long way round and ran home as well, making my run just over 14 miles. We then headed into town for coffee, cake and a mooch in a book shop, ending the day with a trip to the cinema to see the latest Bond film. A good day all round.

If you wanted to give me kudos, my Strava link is below.

https://www.strava.com/activities/6119756945

Here’s to the next 100 parkruns, or to be more precise, the next 150 parkruns as the next T-shirt available is for 250.

Backyard Ultra Wales – Part 2

A few days a go I blogged about the Backyard Ultra that I had taken part in (read about it here). I’ve now had time to mull over the race as well as going for a couple of short slow runs. The upshot is that I am very keen to do another one, although not in the same place. I have only good things to say about Trail Events Co who organised the race, but with so many Backyard Ultras all of the world it would be a shame not to experience it somewhere new. Trail Events have also published all of the photos that were taken by a professional onto their website, which can be downloaded for free. This is a very nice touch, similar to Epic Events in the North West. The ones with me can be seen below.

What have I learned? On the whole I think my pacing was just about right, as I finished most laps in about 50 minutes. I should have changed my t-shirt a couple of laps earlier and I need to buy myself a cheap mp3 player so that I can listen to music or podcasts. As I said in the earlier report, lap 6 with Matt Pritchard blasting away top tunes was my best lap.

I’ve also read a few other race reports and most people look at cutting out caffeine for a few weeks before the race so that it has more effect when they really need it. No coffee for three weeks might be a struggle for me. Apart from music, laying down with your feet elevated was done by a few people, as well as using rollers to ease their tired muscles.

My long tern goal is definitely to complete 12 laps, or 50 miles, but it does appear that once I hit 50km the wheels come off very quickly. I probably need to run longer more often, instead of my longest runs being half marathon or slightly longer.

Finally, with everything gradually getting back to normal, I want to enter more races, hopefully at least one a month. I have entered the Wilmslow sprint triathlon in a couple of weeks and I’m keeping my eyes out for something interesting to enter in October.

Backyard Ultra Wales

The first time I heard about the Backyard ultra race format I knew that I would love to have a go. It would appear that I’m not the only person as they have proliferated across the world. For those of you who don’t know what a Backyard Ultra is, it is a 4.167 mile loop that has to be completed in under an hour, and then you do it again, and again, until there is only one person left standing. There are hundreds of these races around the world with some of them taking days before there is only one winner, everyone else is a DNF (Did Not Finish).

Last October I took part in a similar event which was partly endurance and partly elimination (read about it here). However I was worried about being eliminated so ran quicker than I needed to, which ended up with too much rest and my legs seizing up. From what I read for the Backyard races, most people aim to complete each lap in 50 mins which leaves enough time to fuel and hydrate before starting the next lap.

Anyway, Backyard Ultra Wales was a couple of days ago, very well organised by Trail Events Co. The race was set in the grounds of the incredible Y Faenol Estate, which included camping with views across the mountains. The race started at 11am on the Friday, so me, my amazing wife Helen and our silly pointer headed off on the Thursday. We set up camp, chatted to a few other competitors, had sausage and beans followed by a beer and then an early night.

At 9am on the morning of the race I registered, picking up my race number and then placed a camping chair and my provisions near to the start/finish line under one of the provided gazeebos. Most people were using their own tents or camper vans, but we had pitched our tent at the other end of the field where it would be a bit more peaceful, especially as I doubted that I would run through the night.

After the race briefing we lined up for the first lap. I don’t know how many entered but it looked like there were at least 50 of us. The race ‘gong’ was banged and we set off, and what was weird was how slow we all went.

The first part of the lap was either flat or downhill, but at the first sign of uphill everyone started to walk, which did feel strange after less than 2 miles of running. It was also very friendly with people chatting and laughing. I caught up with an old friend from a Triple Ironman as we reminisced about how crazy that weekend had been (read about it here).

Part of the lap was along the Welsh Coast Path before heading up through a field, over a ladder stile and through some more woods, around a duck pond, past the estate mansion before finishing the loop. First lap completed in about 48 minutes, giving me time for a drink, some food and to fill up my small handheld 250ml water bottle. It was hot and the first lap was the only lap I ran without carrying (and finishing) the water in this bottle.

Three minutes to go and race director blows a whistle three times. Two minutes to go and it is twice, and the one minute with just the one blow. If you’re not in the starting pen on the hour you are DQ’d, no exceptions.

Lap 2 and we’re already into the routine. What was also pleasant was that unlike most races where the field completely spreads out, here we would all start at the same time again, so there was always someone different to chat to. With different sections of the route and 100m of climbing the laps weren’t boring. The route can be seen below.

Once I was off running my lovely wife and our pooch went for a long walk along the coastal path and across the Menai Straight Suspension Bridge before returning. They managed to miss the turning back to the start area and ended up walking along some of the race route, cleverly timing it so as to miss all of the runners. It gave me a much needed boost as I rounded the lake and could see Helen standing outside our tent.

Generally I would walk the last 100-200m of the loop, resting the legs and giving me chance to chat with Helen. Nelly wasn’t impressed that I was off running without her.

At the start of lap 5 there had only been one person to stop, and that was because of an old injury. To complete the marathon distance you had to do 7 laps, as 6 laps was just over a mile short. Lap 6 and Matt Pritchard, my old friend from the triple brought out a speaker to run with, blasting out Fatboy Slim at the start of the lap and Queen classics at the end of the lap. Best lap all day.

As expected there were a number of DNF’s after lap 7, although I tried to convince a couple of guys who had been sitting next to me in the gazeebo to start the next lap. Another five or six people dropped out at the end of lap 8. By this point I was feeling tired and set off lap 9 very slowly and soon found myself a long way adrift of the main pack. I chatted to one guy who wasn’t happy with himself as he had hoped to complete 24 hours and he knew he wasn’t going to finish this lap within the hour. Towards the end of the lap I pushed on and managed to finish with four minutes to spare. I was done. That was it for me. I watched as the remaining athletes lined up and witnessed the agony as one runner was less than 50m from the finish line when they set off.

I chatted with some amazing athletes during the race, often about how far they wanted to run. For many people it was just to run further than they had run before, while others had set more ambitious targets. My targets were a little more modest. Firstly I didn’t want to be the first person out, and then I wanted to log my longest run on Garmin Connect (before the race at 36km), then my longest run on Strava (before the race at 52km), then go further than my longest run only run (currently 62km) and then ultimately try to complete 12 hours or 50 miles. In the end my 9 laps came to 61.6km (Strava activity can be found here), not quite my run only longest run, but I was happy. Nice piece of bling and my race number almost survived being washed.

The start of lap 10 was the first where head torches were required and back at our tent, sipping a beer, we watched most of them return, before we headed for an early night. During the night we would sometimes hear the runners, but as we were making an early morning coffee I chatted to one of the organisers would told me that the winner was just about to complete her solo lap. That’s right, to be declared the winner, you have to do a full lap on your own. Sarah from York completed 20 laps, but had been expecting to go much longer. We all applauded her as she finished, and I marveled at how she had completed her 20th lap in 48 minutes, managing over 80 miles in total.

A couple of days later and as my legs begin to return to normal my thoughts on the race are how well organised it was and how spectacular the venue was. I also liked the camaraderie involved. It is also a great type of race for someone’s first ultra. Would I do it again? I probably will, but not in Wales. Not because there was anything wrong with the race, but because I like to race different places, and with races all over the world Helen has already mentioned that she likes the look of us going to Frankfurt.

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?

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.

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.

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.

New Shoes

A few days ago I wrote about how my old pair of trail shoes were falling apart (read about it here). I therefore decided to book an appointment at the local running shop (socially distanced and I was the only customer).

Ian, the owner, brought out three pairs for me to try, including a revamped Saucony Peregrine with much tougher uppers. I tried them all with a short run on the treadmill and despite the Peregrine feeling good I went with the pair of Asics Trabuco Max. Plenty of cushioning and plenty of grip. They also don’t look too bad. They are the pair on the left in the photo below.

I also needed a new pair of road shoes. Most of my running is done wearing road shoes so I like to have two pairs on the go at once, and as my current pair of Brooks had reached 500km it was definitely time for a back up shoe. My older pair of Brooks had done over 800km and have been relegated to walks in the park.

Ian brought out a couple of pairs of Brooks, an Asics and some New Balance. The latest version of the Brooks Adrenaline had changed slightly and didn’t feel quite right, however the Brooks Glycerin felt really good. I definitely wasn’t sold on the Asics, which is funny because for ten years they were always my go to shoe. When I tried on the New Balance 860’s they felt brilliant and as you can see from the photo they came home with me. The colour isn’t ideal but I’m not too fussed about that. It is also the first time that I have ever run in New Balance.

I’ve not run in either shoe yet, but me and my lovely wife are planning a good ten mile trail run tomorrow so it will be interesting to see how the Asics manage.

Saucony Peregrine

My go to trail running shoes for the last few years has been the Saucony Peregrine. They fit my feet well, have good tread in the wet and mud, and they aren’t too bad on harder trails or small sections of road. Unfortunately the uppers don’t last very well. My last pair managed 410km, but my current pair have fallen apart at only 350km. I do only use them when I know my route will be tough. If I’m going to be running on a good trail I often just use road shoes, so any trail shoe that I use will take a hammering.

I know that the trails around Lancashire are tough going and therefore will be very hard on any trail or fell shoe. However, at £100+ a pair I think I’m going to have a look at something else.

I read some very good reviews about North Face Vectiv Trail shoes, although I’m not keen on white. I also heard some very good things from Inov-8, possibly the Terraultra G 270. We’ll see what my local running shop can manage, and maybe 350-400km for a trail shoe in Lancashire is about right.