Sunday, 23 June 2019

Bob Graham Round, 18th May 2019 00:01hrs

Leg 4…… Jonny: potatoes?
Me: No thanks.
An hour later…Jonny: Potatoes?
Me: No thanks.
Another hour later….Jonny: Potatoes?
Me: Yes please.
Jonny: Really? (the look of joy and happiness in Jonny’s face)
Me: No. (the sudden disappointment, sorry Jonny!).

Over the years I’ve supported several Bob Graham Rounds, all of them successful and all of them I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of.  I have been asked numerous times if I was going to attempt one. My answer has always been no, as I thought the challenge would be too great both physically, mentally and logistically. Having done some ultra trail races, this challenge seemed quite daunting because of the 27,000ft of climbing over the 66 miles. The distance wasn’t an issue, it was the relentless up and down. In truth, I wasn’t confident that I could do it. But there was still a part of me that really wanted to try!

I was bimbling along in 2018 doing lots of road races, all short and fast.  Although I was doing quite well and achieving “PB’s”, I wasn’t fulfilled. It became monotonous, aiming for an improvement of a few seconds here and there and putting in too many miles for such a small gain. What did it matter, I wasn’t achieving anything that would give me satisfaction. I was also carrying a groin problem which wouldn’t go away (over 12 months). I needed a challenge to aim for. I said to myself, if I aim to try a Bob Graham then I need to do it the right way. Train hard, recce the route, and become as conditioned as I could to give myself the best possible chance of succeeding.

Six months prior to my attempt I radically changed my training and hooked up with Tony Holt ( I set out my goals, number one was the Bob Graham round. He set me up with a specific training plan to stick to. I committed to the process. Very few people knew I was planning an attempt, and that’s how I wanted it to be.  It’s a personal thing so I asked if it could be kept between the support crew.

I drew up a list of people I wanted to be involved and went about recruiting their services. They were:

Mike Steven (road crew)
Jane Briggs (road crew)
Rob Brooks and Michael Butters (leg 1)
Katherine Davis and Tony Holt (leg 2, Katherine also did leg 5)
Mark Clarkson and Lee Bennett (leg 3)
Jonny Malley and Andy Higgins (leg 4)
Emma Holt (leg 5)
Kevin Bray (broad stand)

Tony and Emma also provided road support.

I was pleased the response was positive so the planning began.  We had some good times on recce’s of legs 2 and 3. Not so good on leg 2 when Mr Clarkson decided to go back up Sticks pass for some extra mileage on the return to Threlkeld in the pouring rain…….with my car key! I’m sure his ears were burning. I took a look at Broad stand on the leg 3 recce and decided I’d give it a go if conditions were dry.  Kevin Bray offered a rope on the day for which I am very grateful and it was reassuring that I had it as backup. Broad stand isn’t something to take lightly, especially if you aren’t a fan of heights.

There were plenty training days in the Cheviots, some grim memories of the Cheviot Pendulum route with a 10kg backpack in the snow and wind with sleet sand blasting the legs. All good training though, eh?

The attempt was drawing close. I had informed some close friends (and family of course) of my attempt if they wanted to follow my tracker, still keeping it low profile until after it was done. The week leading up to it I arranged my food, clothes etc so I wasn’t rushing around at the last minute, using up valuable energy.

On the day before the big day we arrived at Thornthwaite campsite early afternoon. The plan was to chill, stay off feet, eat and try and sleep. I certainly didn’t sleep. At around 11:15pm we set off for Moot Hall. Conditions were dry, breezy and cloudy. Midnight came, then the countdown began. We were off at a steady pace on a clockwise round. It was here, all the months of planning geared toward the next 24hrs. The climb up Skiddaw felt good. The visibility became very poor, so much so that headtorches weren’t beneficial. Rob has a hand torch which helped. We did miss the summit, however, so had to backtrack a little. The wind was quite strong at this point.  We claimed the first peak and headed to Calva. I was feeling good, trying to enjoy the experience. We descended from Calva through the heather as it’s much more of a direct line to the river and Mungrisdale common. I had no idea of time and made it clear that I didn’t want to know whether I was up or down at any point. It’s a slog up to Blencathra, more so when you can’t see anything, but we finally reached the top and descended Doddick. We arrived at the cricket ground at Threlkeld where I was greeted with a coffee and some cold beans. A sock change later and we were off on leg 2, munching a rice pudding on the way.

The clag hadn’t lifted at all until Dollywagon. My mood was low up until that point and I wasn’t feeling too good after the food at Threlkeld followed by a big cimb up Calva.  All of a sudden there was a break in the clouds. It was like a shot in the arm, my mood lifted and it gave me a massive boost. So much so, I was hammering it down Seat Sandal down to Dunmail. Lee and Mark were there ready and waiting. I ate some beef and veg stew and set off up Steel Fell.  Shortly after I had my second bad patch. I was nauseous for about an hour and was struggling to eat or drink anything. I knew it would pass eventually so ploughed on, slowly. Emma and Tony met us at Esk Hause with the offer of coke etc but I couldn’t face it. Mark offered me some haribo jelly men, they were good! A tangy taste which seemed to help. Thanks Mark! We were nearing Broad stand when Mark sprinted ahead to assess the rope situation. By the time I got there, he was already up and the rope had been lowered. I tied it around my waist and started to climb up, knowing I was secure if anything happened. Before I knew it we were heading to the top. The descent on the scree was fun and we reached Wasdale to a cheer from the support crew.

Top change, sock change, talc, some food and a coffee did the job.  Another quick turnaround and off up Yewbarrow. There was some good, entertaining chat from these guys. I wasn’t eating much and Jonny had brought along some boiled potatoes. I couldn’t face any. Andy had small pieces of chorizo and cheese. They were delicious!!! A different taste to all the sweet stuff I had eaten was refreshing. Jonny was persistent with his potatoes. I felt bad for saying no each time.  I eventually said yes, his face lit up with a beaming smile. Then I said I was only joking… he looked crushed.

Leg 4 weather was great, really warm and sunny. It didn’t seem to last that long and soon it was over. We descended to Honister knowing there was only one leg to go. Almost there. Katherine and Emma joined me for the last leg. Three more peaks and a run along the road to Keswick. The three peaks ticked by nicely, stopping for a few photos on Robinson. As soon as we reached the bottom track before the road, I put on my road shoes. They felt amazing. I was off, probably too fast. After about two miles I was done. I had to walk/jog. A few of the others met us at Portinscale and I just couldn’t get going until the Main Street.  Seeing the finish gave me the energy to run. I still didn’t know the time, I misread the clock on the hall as 19:40. Which I would have been amazed by. It was actually 19:11. Unbelievable. We had done it. I celebrated with a beer, only two sips though. It lasted me all night. We arranged to meet for breakfast the following morning. It was a nice way to say thanks to everyone for their support and time they put in to help. I will be forever in your debt!

Looking back, I have great memories.  Not only of the day, but of the journey getting there.  I didn’t want the day to end, spending so much time in the hills with your friends makes such a difference.  I couldn’t have asked for better support.

Thank you everyone! You know who you are.

Tony Holt's amazing film really gives you a feel for the experience

Monday, 11 March 2019

Brough Law fell race 10th March 2019

Brough Law Fell race, 10th March 2019

145 hardy souls competed in the 2019 Brough Law fell race in the beautiful Breamish Valley. The weather forecast leading up to the race looked dreadful with wind, sleet and freezing temperatures.  Fortunately the bad weather skipped the event, almost! Great to see so many familiar faces as well as first timers.  This was a Northumberland fell runners, North East Counties and North East Masters championship race so it was highly competitive.

Callum Hanson from Pudsey & Bramley won in a fast time of 37:08 closely followed by Matthew Briggs of Morpeth Harriers. Will Robson of North Shields Poly was third.  In the ladies race, Robyn Bennett of Morpeth Harriers was first in 44:40, Molly Pace of Jesmond joggers was second and Fiona Brannen of Elvet Striders was third. First Mv40 was Roger Sillito of NFR, Mv50 was Lee Bennett of NFR, Mv60 was Les Turnbull of Norham, Mv70 was Steve Clough of Norham.  Ladies vets winners were Wv40 Dawn Metcalfe of Derwent Valley, Wv50 Katherine Davis of NFR, Wv60 Bridget Peberdy of Alnwick.

Many thanks to Jane and Michael Briggs for their amazing support in preparation, registration and results. Also to Ross Wilson for his help and permission to use the course and to the  Northumberland National Park. Approximately £450 was raised which will be donated to Northumberland Mountain rescue and the Northern English Springer Spaniel rescue charity.

Hope to see you again next year.


Thursday, 28 February 2019


2018 was a canny year.  I qualified as a level 3 mat Pilates instructor in May and began teaching a class in July.  Then another class in August. I really enjoy teaching. It is something I didn’t expect to get into but it has helped my confidence and I like to share my love for Pilates and the benefits it gives to others.  It may lead to other things…..

On the running front, I began to develop some adductor/groin pain in the January and it didn’t seem to get any better throughout the year.  Some days were better than others.  I put it down to tendinitis, so I eased back a little and increased the stretching/strengthening.  I saw a sports therapist and physio for several months and they gave a similar diagnosis.  Eventually I was referred to the local IMATS physio service and sent for an ultrasound/MRI.  I have osteoarthritis in my left hip which the specialist doesn’t think is attributing to the soreness but obviously long term it will become an issue.  The MRI showed osteitis pubis.  Overloading/overtraining and an accumulation of inflammation over a period of time.  This affects the adductors and abdominal muscles.  My training had radically changed in November, gearing towards a different target in 2019 which thankfully meant less running and more strength work with some swimming and yoga thrown in.  This helped the symptoms as I wasn’t pounding the road and trails as much.  I was advised that it would be either 3 months rest or to have an injection into the joint.  The injection will hopefully knock it on the head.  If not, then I need to be sensible and take time out.  We will see.  It’s taken a long time to get a definitive diagnosis.

Most of my 2018 races were short and fast.  PB’s in 3k, 5k, 10k and 5 miles.  Performances weren’t being affected by the groin issue, but very uncomfortable afterwards. A mix of road/fell and even a track 10k (mental challenge) kept the interest going.

Off to the Lakes on Saturday.  Weather looks dreadful.  Typical after the last week of fine weather.  Character building.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Brough Law fell race, 25th March 2018

The official opening of the Northumberland Fell running season began yesterday in the beautiful Breamish valley for the annual Brough Law Fell race.  Given the extreme weather conditions over the past few weeks, the gods were smiling on us all and brought us a fantastic clear and sunny day.  There was a little frost on the route early doors while flagging the course but this thawed in time for he race itself.

A total of 154 runners turned up and paid their £3 with the news that no kit was required other than an advisory windproof as it was quite breezy up top.

Young Matthew Briggs of NFR stormed home in first place closely followed by Will Robson (North Shields poly) with Conor Carson from Kenilworth Runners in third. Kurt Heron was leading up to the top of Cochrane Pike but unfortunately went the wrong way and ended up in 12th overall.

The women were led Home by Emma Holt of Morpeth harriers with Robyn Bennett (NFR) and Georgia Campbell from Jarrow and Hebburn in third.

Lee Bennett was claimed first M40 prize, Colin Donnelly first M50, Gary Owens first M60 and Bill Milborn first M70.  Freda Summerfield won W40, Katherine Davis first W50 and Jessica Anderson first W60.

Massive thanks to the volunteers especially Mike Steven, Jane Briggs, Jane’s daughter, Paul Steven, Barry Kemp and Ross Wilson. Great to see Joe Garbarino in good spirits. Thanks to Northumberland National park for the use of the facilities.

£470 raised, great work everyone!

A grand day out. See you next year

Into the blue

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Embracing the inevitable

You’re as old as you feel.  Life begins at 40.  Age knows no bounds.  Useful statements in the right context.  Running is different.  A realisation at the Sherman Cup cross country on Saturday that I am now thinking more about age category performance against the youth and speed of today’s competitors rather than overall position.  Even at a recent park run I looked at the age grading percentage first!

I was eyeing up the competition before the start on Saturday to see where I would expect to finish in the v40 category, all being well.  I knew a lad from Sunderland was in particularly good form and expected to be roughly around the same time.  I finished less than 30 seconds behind him in 2nd (24th overall).  I was really pleased with that and took it as a benchmark to build on. A great result for Morpeth male and female teams too.

I think I’m in decent shape at the moment having put in a period of consistent training with Morpeth and doing the odd race or Park Run.  But the focus has definitely shifted.  There is a point where you wake up and realise you’re not as competitive overall in big races and you adjust your outlook.  In other words, face reality!  On the flip side it can be used to my advantage.  If I beat younger athletes they’ll be annoyed and if younger athletes beat me then I could turn around and say “well, you should! You’re younger!”

There is also the issue of recovery.  It takes much longer these days after sessions and races.  I wouldn’t dream of doing back to back races.  Train smart and race smart and look after yourself.

I’m looking forward to the Gibside Fruitbowl this coming weekend, one of my favourite races.  

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS). Defeated but not beaten

I arrived in Chamonix on Sunday evening 27th August.  The weather was good.  Dry and warm.  There was an amazing view from my hotel room looking towards Mont Blanc and Aguile du Midi.  It was good to be back and memories from 2015 came flooding back.  I was disappointed to miss Mark Clarkson's Bob Graham the same weekend but he smashed it!

This time the plan was slightly different.  The TDS.  A 120k route from Courmayeur to Chamonix with 20,000+ ft of elevation gain on rough, remote terrain.  The race was on the Wednesday so I had time to soak up the atmosphere before then.

On the Monday I went on a training run up Le Brevent which was easily accessible from behind the hotel.  A lovely forest trail zig zagging all the way up to the Col.  There was some low cloud and drizzle on the way up which was refreshing.  There were quite a few folk out, some running, some walking and some throwing themselves off the top attached to paragliders. Crazy.  On the way down I said hello to Rory Bosio (as you do)  who was doing the OCC and had a nice chat with a female American who was going to be doing the UTMB.

Training run done, I spent the rest of the day lounging around eating ice cream and getting a sun tan.  Tuesday was registration day.  I got there an hour early.  Quite a few people had the same idea so I joined the queue.  Luckily registration opened early so I was in and out within an hour.  The mid-day heat was fierce.  I met Helene in the queue.  It was lovely to meet her, she is from Paris and we said we’d look out for each other’s results.  Helene was amazing and finished well within her predicted time.  Congratulations!!

Wednesday was race day.  Up at 3am to catch the bus from Chamonix through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmayeur.  I managed to have some cold porride, two bananas and a breakfast bar.  I also made sure I was well hydrated.  There were warnings of rain late in the day but the temperature was high and the sun was going to be out.  I reached the start line having dropped off my spare bag for the halfway point.  Time to chill for 45 minutes. 
Sunrise on the first climb

The entertainment began with around 10 minutes to go to get everyone motivated.  It was dark but headtorch was not required as the sun would be rising in the next hour.  The start was crazy.  Everyone sprinting down the small streets jostling for position in preparation for the first climb. This was unnecessary for the TDS as there was plenty room on the trail and we were soon nicely spread out.  I reached Col Checrouit, had some liquid and a few slices of salami. Yum. The next checkpoint was Lac Combal.  I was feeling fine although the temperature was rising and I was trying to drink loads.  I was also conscious of salt intake.  I necked a bowl of noodle soup and headed for Col Chavannes.  A tough climb which took over an hour.
En route to Col Chavannes

Once I reached the top there was a long descent to Alpetta. It was hot and I needed to urinate.  The descent seemed to go on forever, a steady gradient and runnable but I took my time.  A few runners passed me, but I wasn't taking much notice of that.

We hit the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard and I was starting to feel it. Hot, tired, thirsty. My hips were stiffening up and my glutes were worn out.  I refuelled and set off on another long descent to Seez, a small checkpoint before the big one at half way.  There was water on tap and I dunked my head into the trough.  Really refreshing.  It was another 3k to Bourg Saint Maurice. I was walk/running at this point.  Even on the flat and downhill.  I couldn't sustain any momentum.  I took a good 15 minutes at Bourg.  A couple of bowls of noodle soup, some bread and some melon.  My kit was checked as I exited for the essentials, headtorches and waterproof.  Rain was on the way according to the forecast.

I knew what was in store next but you can't visualise or even comprehend how relentless the 6,000ft climb out of Bourg up to Passeur Pralognan via Fort de la Platte and Col de la Forclaz.  Hands on knees for the majority.  Yes, you can say it's 3 times the height of the Cheviot.  But firstly, the Cheviot is over 3 miles from bottom to top.  This climb was 6,000ft over 6/7k.  The gradient, the heat, others dropping like flies at the side of the path it was an experience.  I was hiking for 5 minutes then resting.  This wasn't what trail running means to me.  It took around 3 hours to reach the top then the nervous descent on the other side using fixed ropes to traverse down.  I ain't great with heights and this was a test.  
Another hour to go on the bitch of a climb

I was certainly feeling defeated on the path down to Courmet de Rosalend where I ultimately withdrew from the race.  My first voluntary DNF.  I was in around 180th place at this point which is pretty respectable but I couldn't face walking another 30 miles just to finish.  It was a clear decision and I have no regrets.  I have fond memories of the CCC.  That was a runners course.  This was not.

I thought a lot on the bus ride back to Chamonix.  Two and a half hours.  I still think it was the right choice.

I had a great time in Cham, and met some lovely people. An experience.  If I see another hiking pole it will be too soon.  Ban the lot of them.  Yes, they give you an advantage but I still say it's cheating.  

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Ultra time

The TDS is only two weeks away. I’ve had a good summer with some great results and some fantastic close, “real” racing.  I love running fast and my hunger has been re-ignited to get faster. 

I’ve certainly learned that I am good at the short, quick races and I feel that I could really kick on if I focussed on this more. I never thought I’d say it but I want to put myself on the line more frequently with the best in my age group and face my fears and anxieties.  It’s completely different to long distance running where you spend most of the time on your own with your own thoughts.  It’s nice and relaxed but for me it’s more of an adventure and a day out. I think I need the excitement of a close race.  I’ve been working a lot on mindfulness recently which is giving me confidence.  I’ve not entered races in the past because of putting too much pressure on myself.

I didn’t anticipate regaining the Chevy Cup this year, especially with the expectation on others to win.  This was good for me as the pressure was on my rivals.  It was good racing for the first half with young Will Robson and then kicking on from Hedgehope using my experience of the race and the miles I’ve put in.

This year has been strange having not been to Morpeth harriers very much and ultimately leaving the club.  I do miss the group but I needed a change for many reasons.  I’ve been floating about doing my own thing and dropping into training sessions at North Shields Poly.  After the TDS I’ll be committing to a club and setting a few targets.  One of which will be aiming for another England vest in 2018.

So, I am off to Chamonix in a couple of weeks.  My last visit in 2015 was an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to a different course, although the TDSS is longer with more ascent.  It will be tough.  Having enjoyed the short stuff this summer, I do realise that I have neglected the long days out but I hope I am fit enough and strong enough to finish the race.  That is the main goal.  I do not intend to “race” it.  The wheels could come off and I could end up injured.

We’ll see how it goes…