Alexandra parkrun

Continuing our streak of tourist parkruns, we headed into Manchester for the very flat and fast Alexandra parkrun. Why would we drive all that way when there are still plenty of closer parkruns to Lancaster that we haven’t done yet? To celebrate our wedding anniversary I had purchased for my lovely Helen a two hour pottery session/lesson with one of the finalists of the Pottery Throwdown. Matt Cronshaw used to be a professional cyclist from Lancaster, before taking up pottery and then specialising in porcelain, which Helen had never worked with.

I’m getting ahead of myself. We arrived outside the pottery studio without too much trouble, only one wrong turn. We had 20 minutes to run the one mile to the start of the parkrun, which we made with time to spare, marvelling at how nice Alexandra park was. Not the greatest of areas, but definitely not as bad as it would have been 20 or 30 years ago. There was quite a large field (almost 300 people) and we lined up at the back with Nelly, although once again she was keen. The route involved two large laps with one smaller lap to finish. Wide paths and no mud made a welcome change from Rothay two weeks ago and Pendle last week. At the end of the first lap one of the marshalls told us that Nelly was first dog, not bad for an old girl. We pushed on and finished in 62nd place in a time of 22:48. Happy with that as I didn’t feel as if we’d pushed it too hard.

After barcode scanning we spotted Helen starting her small third lap. I tried to get a photo of Nell with Helen in the background, but she wasn’t paying attention.

Once Helen had finished we made our way back through the park to the pottery studio, just as Matt was arriving, he even recognised me from Lancaster. Ten years ago there wasn’t too many people from the area on Strava so we all kind of got to know each other, even though he was way too fast for me to ever ride with him.

Helen quickly pulled on her pottery overalls for her lesson while me and Nelly headed off for a gentle walk to find a cafe with coffee and cake. Not only did we find coffee and cake for me, but the cafe was in a park with pigeons and squirrels for Nelly to chase. Perfect for both of us. We then wandered back, meeting a mad (in a good way) old woman who just loved Nelly.

Back at the studio and Helen was busy finishing off a large bowl, which looked amazing, while I chatted to Matt about cycling and running (he’d recently done the Manchester marathon). In the back yard I spotted one of his creations from TV, his tea cup toilet with handle.

Matt was saying that he doesn’t really know what to do with it. However my sister suggested filling it with flowers, which is probably the best idea.

Anyway, Helen was as happy as can be and was absolutely buzzing all the way home, telling me how much she’d learned and that she can’t wait to try it all out at home. The three pieces she made will be fired and glazed by Matt, and then will be sent to us. Apparently porcelain is much harder to work with than regular clay, and Helen took to it like she’d been doing it for years. She is totally amazing, and I’ve not even mentioned Archie the pufferfish that she made earlier in the week. Pottery pictures will follow soon.

Marlborough parkrun

Back in October I spent a week in Salisbury, and not wanting to be away from my lovely wife any longer than was necessary, I decided to set off nice and early on a Saturday morning, stopping off in Marlborough on the way home. In the end the M5 was closed and after over an hour sat on the motorway not moving I had to take a long detour, eventually getting home over two hours later than I had planned, but these things happen.

Marlborough parkrun is relatively new with less than 100 events, and it does a couple of laps of the fairly small Marlborough Common.

The day I was there wasn’t particularly pleasant so there was less than 100 hardy souls. Additionally it was completely on grass, wet grass, so once again running in road shoes wasn’t ideal. I set off nice and easy and slowly found my running legs, finishing in 12th place.

While this is a parkrun that I don’t expect that I’ll ever run again, the marshalls and volunteers were incredibly cheerful, even in the pouring rain.

Anyway, once my barcode had been scanned and I was in the car once again, I had expected to be home just after lunch, not just before tea.

Pendle parkrun

Another Saturday morning and another tourist parkrun. This time all the way to Colne for Pendle parkrun, so called because on a normal day you can see Pendle hill. Today, however, it was wet and cloudy, in fact it was horrendously wet; an utter mudfest. Driving there wasn’t much fun either, and once we got there, like almost everyone else, we sat in our cars looking at the start.

I took Nelly out for a quick walk (and a poo) and then we hurried back into the car.

With only a couple of minutes to go we escaped the warm and dry car and congregated at the start. Due to the cold weather, there was still some ice on the paths, we were going to be running the alternative route, which was entirely on grass. Guess which idiot decided to only bring his road shoes!

Anyway, the first 100m was all down hill and guess who nearly fell over half a dozen times! The route was a slog. Trail shoes were slightly better, although what you really needed was 15mm cross country spikes. In such poor conditions I waited for my lovely Helen and ran with her, although when Nelly stopped for an inopportune poo, she left us!

We finished in 30th and 31st places, out of a field of only 49. Definitely one of the smallest parkruns we’ve ever done. Not the most exciting parkrun, but for me, a tourist parkrun on a Saturday morning is one of the best ways to start the weekend.

Hyndburn parkrun

Last week before Christmas and I was once again in the mood for a tourist parkrun. Witton parkrun was on a six week winter break, so I decided to take Nelly for a run near her home. Hyndburn parkrun is only a couple of miles from Accrington where her breeder is based. It was just the two of us as my lovely wife Helen was feeling a bit tired.

We arrived with plenty of time and had a little look around, and then before we knew it, it was time to line up at the start. Narrow paths once again so we didn’t start at the complete back. The route was an undulating two lap affair, although not as hilly as Lancaster. There was also a short two way section, fortunately a little wider than at Rothay (read about it here). With less than 100 runners we were soon nicely spread out. Me and Nelly soon overtook another dog, whose owner took umbridge and definitely didn’t want to be beaten by an old pointer and her Santa lookalike.

Second lap and we settled into a nice pace, overtaking a couple of runners and being overtaken by a couple of others. The finish involved a tight corner, and we were amazed to see that we’d finished in 13th place, although Nelly was 3rd dog.

Barcode scanned and back to the car. The journey back was even better as I heard my favourite Christmas song on the radio, Stop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie. I then spotted two Stobbart lorries on the motorway, Lisa and Azaylia Diamond Cain.

Pointers at parkrun

Lytham Hall parkrun has been my NENDY since before the very first lockdown (Nearest Event Not Done Yet), so with a free Saturday we jumped in the car and headed off to Lytham St Annes, the posh area of Blackpool. Lytham Hall is a large private estate and house that has a cafe and shop, as well as hosting weddings and such like. They were also hosting a Christmas day dinner with The Nolans. There is a car park on site, but you have to wait until everyone has finished running before you can leave, so we parked in a large (free) car park next to the gate house and walked the 1km to the start.

As we neared the start we could see a man struggling to hold onto a large boisterous black and white dog. Helen, my lovely wife, looked at me and said that looks like a pointer. The mannerisms were exactly the same as Nelly. We were spotted by the owner, John, who immediately chatted to us about pointers, while Nelly and Fred also said hello. Fred was a big lad in his prime at 4 years old, looking incredibly fit. John wasn’t from the area, but had purchased Fred from the same breeder that Helen had got Nell from. Hursted Pointers from Accrington breed their dogs for their strength, health and good temperament, and don’t worry about winning prizes at Crufts. They need a huge amount of exercise, but they are brilliant dogs. John also asked if Witchcraft Bob was Nelly’s father, which he was. Apparently Bob was a legend among Pointers.

Anyway, Lytham Hall parkrun was two and a half laps around the grounds. We set off at the back, while John and Fred were nearer the front and soon disappeared. Nelly was once again keen and all I could do was hang on as we overtook people. With about 1 lap to go we caught up with Fred and John and showed them a clean pair of paws, finishing in 14th place overall with Nelly as first dog.

We chatted at the finish with John and we also now follow him on Strava (standard).

Another great morning out and my NENDY now is Witton, although they are having a 6 week break over Christmas and New Year, so it might be towards the end of January before I tick that particular parkrun off.

New Year’s Day in Ambleside

We’d tried to have an early night on New Year’s Eve, but our pointer was completely stressed out with all of the fireworks. Fortunately they stopped soon after midnight and we could all eventually get to sleep.

Despite all that, we were up before dawn and headed up to Ambleside for Rothay parkrun. It is only a short drive up to the heart of the Lakes and we were there with 30 minutes to spare, which should have given us plenty of time to find some toilets. They were all locked up tight, both in Rothay park and in the town centre. Everyone therefore finds a handy tree, which can’t really be the best option.

Anyway, there were over a hundred parkrunners, with a few dogs and a couple of baby joggers. This was only the 25th parkrun in Rothay so it is still relatively new. They’ve had to cancel a few events due to flooding or trees down in the park, as well as Covid. There aren’t too many parkruns in the Lake District, so it is a welcome addition.

We set off near the back as I was running with Nelly, although she was keen, pulling like a dog half her age. The paths through the park were fairly narrow, so overtaking was very difficult. To make it even more difficult, there was a short section which we had to do in both directions. Not ideal, but you do the best you can.

The winner overtook us when we still had one lap to do, proper fast. Not an easy park to run fast, especially with Nelly, but we all enjoyed it and the marshalls were all very friendly as well. Possibly not one for dogs if you’re thinking of going there.

Once we’d all finished running we set off for a little walk through Ambleside and up the first part of The Struggle, a notoriously steep hill. We turned off the road and walked up Sweden Bridge Lane, which was a very enjoyable track through some woods alongside a stream.

On the way out we didn’t see a single person, and Nelly could have a good scamper off the lead. She also ‘found’ Sweden Bridge first.

The bridge is part of an ancient packhorse route, although mainly used by walkers nowadays. Our route then took us back towards Ambleside with some amazing views of Lake Windermere.

Before we knew it we were back in Ambleside. The town was buzzing, making a complete change from a couple of hours earlier. We decided not to hang about and we were home by midday. An absolutely fantastic start to the year with my beautiful wife, Helen, and our silly old pointer.

More adventures this year please!

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?