Monday, 15 January 2018

Race Report: The High Fells of Hedgehope Half Marathon

"Mudkicker kiiiiiiiick... I don't fuck around!"

So snarled Seb Bach, as the closing chords of 'Mudkicker' by Skid Row rattled the car windows. An apt song for Spotify to randomly select from my pre-race playlist, as one thing the lower slopes of Hedgehope have a lot of is mud.

Formerly the Hedgehope Winter Wipeout, and now re-named to form part of the 'High Fells of...' trail series, it's a fairly straight forward "See that big hill? Ye run oop, and ye run dahn, 'n' try not to get ye'self deed!" type of affair. A classic fell race, really, except that it's marked out so there's no route choice or nav required. Having done it last year not entirely structurally sound, I was keen to improve on my 2:16/38th place.

The wind was up when I parked up on the field at Ingram, and that prompted a fair bit of fannying around trying to decide on what kit to wear: do I start off in my waterproof to block some of the wind and risk being 'Boil-in-the-bag Ben'? Decisions, decisions... Pondering this, I had a natter with Tricia, got registered, took the piss out of Helen for a bit, and then generally got ready for the insanity to follow. A few Harriers were milling around though, other than Helen, I only actually spoke to Rachel (who eventually convinced me that my waterproof was overkill, and she was right!).

Outside for the safety briefing, and then it was 10 minutes to the start. I was in a much better spot this year so didn't get caught in the bottle neck when Alison counted us off, and was able to settle into a fairly decent rhythm rather than feeling I had to overtake essentially the whole field in the first km, which I tried to do last year(!)

Bit of road, then onto a rutted muddy track, at which point the fun began. Beyond wanting to improve on last year, I didn't have any goals in mind - I knew I wasn't in contention for honours of any kind in a race like this - so I was happy to steadily make my way up the field. Legs were feeling pretty strong for climbing, which I was pleased about: clearly, the small amount of strength & conditioning work I've been able to motivate myself to do has actually paid off a bit! By about 3k, the lead guys were well ahead and largely hidden by the clag, but I was still in contact with the chase group and in the top 10 (I think). From 5k onwards the classic fell runner 'hands on knees, blowin' oot yer arse' pose was adopted by most of us in that group, as the grind up to Cunyan Crags and then on to Dunmore Hill began. A little bit of slip-sliding on the rocks, but it didn't seem as bad this year as last, so that was nice! A swooping descent from the top of Dunmore Hill is a nice little pick-me-up before the bog-fest that occurs skirting Threestoneburn Wood. Gradually, the bog turned to ice, becoming a full on ice-rink in places. Horizontal sleet/snow and frozen eyelashes added to the experience! The boulder field below the summit was a foot deep in snow in places, making for some interesting postholing but, having run round the flag that marked the turnaround, I reckon that snow actually made the descent easier, once I got over my nerves and committed to it; last year there was little-to-no snow, but the boulders were slick with ice, and the potential for a snapped ankle was high. The crust of the snow was just frozen enough to allow for running over the top this year, which made for a quicker and safer descent.

The return leg past Threestoneburn Woods was fast and fun. At one point, the lad in front of me had his arms out, pretending to be an aeroplane. "Huh!" I chuckled to myself, "Well, I do say 'if yer not flyin' yer not tryin'... OOOFT!" Yes, at this point, with perfect comic timing I hit the deck, landing on my left shoulder and performing a slick little commando roll onto my feet, which then started running again whilst the rest of me wondered what exactly just happened?! You have to laugh really.

Photo: Jim Imber

Coming down off Cunyan Crags the temperature rose noticeably and the clag lifted. It's very easy to be head-down focused on the race, but it was worth slowing down a bit to take in that view. A few more undulations and then it was back to the rutted track and the road. And, of course, the fell runner's ice-bath that Barry 'kindly' puts on for us... A zig-zagged fording of the Breamish. Saves cleaning the shoes, anyway!

Photo: Andrew Hewitt

2:03:09 and 13th place, a little over 15 minutes behind the winner. It would have been nice to have got under 2 hours, just 'cause, but I achieved what I set out to do - better last year's performance - so mission accomplished. Got my bling from Barry, then signed back in, collected a t-shirt, and went to get my 'survivors' mug' filled with broccoli and stilton soup by the lovely folk at the Valley Cottage Cafe. That soup tasted just as good as last year! Hung around at the end talking to folk and waiting for Tricia and Helen to come in, then grabbed some lunch before heading home.


As I walked in the door, Xander started shouting "I JUST WANT TO GO FOR A RUN!!!" so on his shoes went, and we had a jog up our lane. We saw a chicken. "HELLO CHICKEN!!! WE'RE GOING FOR A LITTLE RUN! CLUCK CLUCK!" When we got to the turn around point, a little voice said "Want a carry..." I looked down, and he was staring up at me mournfully with his arms outstretched. Naturally, I said "No chance, mate!" to which he replied "Ok... I'll just have a little walk..." Passed the chicken again. "HELLO CHICKEN! ARE YOU HAVING A NICE CLUCK?!" Re-enthused by the sight of said bird, we started running back down the lane, which was a slight downhill. "RUNNING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN! RUNNING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN! HOW AM I GOING TO STOP?!?!"

Which, coincidentally, is almost exactly what I was shouting coming off the summit of Hedgehope mere hours earlier. The apple didn't fall far from the tree there, like...!

Sunday, 31 December 2017

So long, 2017...

2017 has been a year of high contrast. I’ve had broken bones and angry tendons, but also more than a few top ten finishes. I’ve joined one club, and left another (on good terms!). I’ve run over 100km through the Lake District, and yesterday ran a parkrun for the first time. I’ve seen some incredible sunrises whilst on dawn raids, and been hit with depression and anxiety so hard that I’ve barely managed to make it out of bed and be a Daddy to my little boy. It’s not been an easy year and, to be honest, I’m pretty pleased to see the back of it.

Prudhoe Riverside parkrun.
📷: Janine Calkin 
Instead of ruminating on what’s been and gone, though, I’m going to look forward to what 2018 has in store. Since knuckling down to consistent training sessions with the Harriers, I’ve definitely noticed improvement (once I got that pesky anaemia sorted out!). The last two years of focus on trail marathons and ultras has left me with a pretty sizeable aerobic engine, but top-end speed has left a lot to be desired. Track intervals (which I’ve actually started to enjoy?!), strides at the end of easy runs, and time spent working on my form are all redressing that balance a bit, and I’m hopeful that time spent with weights a couple of nights a week will do some good in terms of resilience and injury prevention.

With the exception of the Pennine Barrier 50, everything I have planned so far is road based, and I think that probably accurately reflects a slight shift in focus. Training for long distances is fairly easy and uncomplicated; if all you want to do is complete rather than compete, you basically just up your mileage and, in the case of ultras, get really good at eating on the move. I’ve been caught up in something of a race to the bottom in terms of the ever-increasing distances of my races, and I’ve realistically maxed out this year with UT110k; training for a Hundred just doesn’t fit into my life at the moment. Training to be fast at shorter distances hurts, but when it pays off it’s a lot of fun. I still want to break 3 for a marathon, and I’d like to bring my half marathon PB down a bit. I’ve no idea what I’m capable of on a road 10km, so that will be fun to discover, and I may yet find my way into a track race... Plus, XC is my latest obsession, and I’m hoping to finish the season having been promoted to the medium pack at some point. I’ll still be doing some of the local fell races of course, but I’m definitely at my worst racing on that kind of terrain, even if I love running on it.

So, here’s to 2018 and, in the words of Sage Canaday, “any surface, any distance”. #backinblack

2017 in summary

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Race Report: The Hexhamshire Hobble

Despite being almost literally my back garden, I’d never done this race. I was entered for it last year but DNSd because of a nasty cough, so I was keen to give it a shot this year if at all possible. I was obviously pretty familiar with most of the route, but hadn’t done the leg from Allendale to Hangman’s Hill. It would be an interesting test of the efficacy of the ferrous gluconate: would I have the oomph I’ve been lacking of late?

A warm-up trot up the first hill was promising, with no crazy HR spikes, and legs feeling pretty strong. As well as taking the iron supplements, I’ve been making some effort to do leg strengthening work, and I think that’s helped the climbing a bit too.

Returned to the school for the safety briefing, and then it was time to head to the start line. I didn’t want to get caught in a bottleneck but also knew I didn’t have any business being right at the front, and I think I got my start position pretty spot on for once! The air horn went and we were off.

A big ol’ road climb straight out the blocks seemed to settle everyone down a bit, and positioning didn’t change  much. I was feeling pretty good once we got onto the fell itself, and tried to set a decent pace whilst it was still runnable. Unfortunately, the melting snow had left it clarty in quite a few places, and this slowed me down, especially on a descent a few km in, where I lost a couple of places.

Once we hit the first checkpoint and turned up the Broad Way I was into more familiar territory, and the legs were still feeling alright. Tired, but a totally different feeling to Gibside. The reward for making it to the top of that big drag was a fast swooping descent on roads, where I did my best to up the pace again. I was too far back from the guys in front to really make a move though and, when we hit the last incline, I rapidly lost ground to a guy from NSP. The descent down into Allendale again was a bit nuts on the road, but I managed to claw back at least one place; much as it pains me to say so, I think I’m much better on roads than fells! Into the finish chute, job done.

Photo: Lee Cuthbertson 
One thing I do love about fell racing is, for £8, I got a good run out, a mountain of cake, and no crappy t-shirt or medal to take up drawer space! Seriously, the tiffin was worth £8 on its own... Managed 19th out of 150, so moving in the right direction. To be honest, given that I’m not great on fells anyway I don’t think I would have been top 10 regardless of serum ferritin levels.

Today was also my first time running a fell race as a Tynedale Harrier. After some thought, I decided to switch my first claim to be entirely black, and not continue running for NFR competitively. I don’t really race on the fells that much, certainly have no plans to do any Lakeland Classics any time soon and, given that Tynedale is affiliated for fell anyway, it seemed a bit daft to be paying twice. Added to which, I’d like to see more folk from Tynedale trying fell running/racing, and that means showing up in club colours; people are less likely to come out if they think they’ll be the only black vest there.

All in all, there are worse ways to spend a Sunday. North East XC Championship next weekend; hopefully the positive progress will continue.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The scores are in...

Blood test shows a serum ferritin level of 9 ug/L. “Normal” is 12-250 ug/L - a pretty big range, if you ask me (which of course the medical profession will do imminently) - with anecdotal evidence suggesting that many runners notice a drop off in performance if they go below 50 ug/L. Last time I had bloods done, back in June, I was at 32 ug/L.

So, a bit of a relief. Not only do I have a valid excuse for sub-par racing over the last few months, but it’s one that will (hopefully) be easily correctable. At least I have a literal note from my doctor to explain a crap run at the XC on Saturday!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Race Report: The Gibside Fruit Bowl

Four days before Ennerdale 50k, I did a track workout with the Harriers. It was nothing crazy - we rolled through 300s in 58s, and I felt pretty comfortable doing so (backed up by the consistency) - but the next day I felt completely drained on what should have been a relatively easy trail 10k. Putting it down to Being A Bit Silly That Close To An Ultra, I went into an emergency taper and rested completely until the 50k. Ennerdale wasn't my finest hour, but I put a lot of that down to Storm Brian; being a lightweight I struggle running into the wind. I did decide to take the 2 weeks between Ennerdale and the Gibside Fruit Bowl off completely though, just to be sure.

On Thursday, I laced up the Hokas (yes, I'm risking putting them back in rotation for easy recovery runs) and trotted out for a gentle 4 miles, figuring that it wasn't a good idea for my first run back after a hiatus to be a race. In order to keep my HR where I wanted it, I was having to run much slower than I would normally have expected to. I raised an eyebrow at this, but told myself that a certain amount of rust was to be expected after some time off (though it wasn't THAT much time off really!) and everything would be fine at the Fruit Bowl.

The Fruit Bowl, organised by the Blackhill Bounders, is my favourite race of the year. My very first trail race (possibly even run!) was around the grounds of the Gibside estate, albeit not this particular race, and so it holds a special place in my heart; I've only missed one, I think, since I've known about it, and that was because my oldest friend was inconsiderate enough to get married that day back in Nottingham. I've even raced it with a probable broken toe - yes, I had prior form for idiocy like that - and given that entries usually open in April I spend a good 6 months of the year looking forward to it.

A brief warm-up wasn't positive. I felt sluggish, and my heart rate quickly rocketed into the 160s; bearing in mind this was slower-than-marathon pace, it did not bode well. Thinking back, I experienced similar during my warm-up for Robin Hood (I didn't do any kind of warm-up for Kielder, and very little for Ennerdale) but I assumed that was the effects of SSRI withdrawal. It probably was, in part. Strides didn't feel good either, and I was apprehensive as I made my way to the start, via a quick manly hug with JB. I settled myself a few rows back from the sharp end and awaited the gun.

The gun, or klaxon more accurately, split the autumn morning and we were off. Already things felt off. I'd planned to go out conservatively - no zachmiller today - but my HR was climbing and there was nothing I could do about it. Before I knew it I was up in the mid 170s, where I would pretty much stay for the whole race. I'd probably expect that HR for a 10k or thereabouts, to be fair - my lactic threshold, based on a couple of tests following the Friel protocol, is 174 - but the concerning thing was the pace didn't match the effort and, even more so, the lack of hill legs. I'm not going to pussyfoot around the issue: for the last few years I've primarily focused on trail and fell running, and even my road running usually contains a fair bit of vertical gain. No way should I have felt as weak as I did on those climbs. Climbing used to be a relative strength of mine, and I was getting passed constantly. Something was very very wrong.

Coming to the finishing straight, I had nothing. There was no kick. No disrespect to the chap who finished ahead of me - after all, he finished ahead of me! - but he did so by one second, and that was the gap between us for most of the final straight; even at the end of Kielder Marathon I was able to kick for 100-200m but today there was nothing. Crossed the line, did my customary forehead-against-the-wall recovery pose (thanks to the two Heaton Harriers who were in civvies at the finish, who checked I was alright), and grabbed my finishers' swag consisting of a banana, some water, a Mars Bar, and a t-shirt. The t-shirt had quite a fun design on it this year.

Found Rachel and Xander, and spotted JB, who'd finished 3rd (1st MV40). "Do you want to know your placing?" Rachel asked. "Not really...!" I replied. 48th (actually 45th according to the official results when they went up). Fucking atrocious. Last year, I ran that race with a chest infection and came 21st(!) Fair enough, I spent 10 minutes after I'd finished unable to talk, or indeed stand, due to the coughing fit, but still... There's no way that was a normal result.

Chatting to JB via Messenger a few hours later, the symptoms do seem to fit with anaemia. I’m wary of hypochondria but being a vegetarian I’m prone to such things anyway; combine that with a less-than-sensible race calendar over the last couple of months and it would seem to suggest a smoking gun. Hopefully supplements will knock it on its head and I’ll be back firing on all cylinders soon; it’s not a pleasant sensation, whatever it is.

So. Far from the race I’d hoped for, but a beautiful day for hooning along some singletrack and catching up with friends. 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Race Report: The Ennerdale 50k

Way back in April I was supposed to be running the Kielder 80k, but broken bones and a torn quad meant that I was never going to toe the line. Luckily for me, the guys at High Terrain were sympathetic to my plight, and allowed me to pick another event to apply the credit to. Ennerdale 50k was to be it. Sure, why not run two marathons and an ultra within six weeks?! A fine plan, with no conceivable drawbacks.

I’ve had a shocker of a year, for a number of reasons (mostly personal, but some injuries), and I’ve over-raced and under-recovered. The difference between how I felt at Dark Skies, despite several weeks off injured, vs Kielder Marathon was huge. True to form, I went to Harriers the Tuesday before Ennerdale and threw down 15x300s in 58 seconds each; not spectacular by any means but clearly harder on my body at that stage in proceedings than I realised and not wise just before an ultra; an “easy” trail 10k the following day turned into a death march, and I knew I was in the hole. 48hrs emergency taper, meaning zero running, and a massive dose of “fingers crossed” was the order of the day.

From looking down the start list, I didn’t recognise many names - a certain primate being an honourable exception - and naïvely thought I might have a shot at a podium spot. With that in mind, I’d worked out splits that felt achievable and would put me in the right ball park, time wise.

Did I mention this was all to take place whilst Storm Brian was jizzing all over us? A quick jog down to the water’s edge after registering should have put all thoughts of a fast time out of my head, given the strength of the wind, but it didn’t. We lined up, the gun went off, and I zachmillered out of the gate. This approach has never worked for me; I’m a diesel engine, and run my best races the way aboriginal peoples persistence hunt. Alas, of late I’ve developed something of a bad habit in that respect, much to my detriment.

Before long, someone appeared on my shoulder, asking if I had a pace in mind because I kept looking at my watch. Actually, it was quite the opposite at this point, because I was having technical difficulties and had no idea what my pace or HR was. He soon opened a lead, and someone else shot by too, before Simon appeared next to me and we settled into joint third.

All smiles at 5k in...
For a while we worked together but we were both feeling the pace was too hot that early. There was a fair gap between us and fourth though, and we could still see second, so we were in a good position. I was really feeling the combination of two marathons, the headwind, and the incline though, and gradually dropped off. Simon was running strong and I was pretty sure he’d have honours, despite new Dad sleep (or lack thereof!). For a while I was running solo and then BAM! The wind really seemed to pick up and I was forced to run as hard as I could virtually to stand still. I was being blown all over the place and guys were passing me primarily because they were able to maintain a pace - any pace - where I couldn’t.

This continued until about 13km, at which point we started along the south shore of the lake. Cruiser trails with a tailwind? Don’t mind if I do! I lit the jets and set about making up some time. According to my watch I was hammering 10k pace at times, and overtook a good number of people again.

Then we got to the technical section.

I hate technical. Wet slippery rocks are a big no no for me, and there was a good long stretch of that kind of shite at the end of the lap, culminating in a roped scramble below Angler’s Crag. My shoes - in this situation X-Talons, but my Trail Talons are just as bad - are rubbish on wet rock. I’m like Bambi on ice. Being good on technical stuff, particularly downhill, is mainly technique and confidence; you can’t buy it. However, to be confident in your skills you also have to be confident that your kit will do what you ask of it and I know mine won’t. Consequently, I was slowed to a snail paced walk, gingerly picking my way through the rocks, and losing place after place. I wouldn’t gain these back.

Being a two lap course, the main checkpoint was also the start/finish area. Rolling through and showing my number to the marshal, I headed straight for the tent that was serving as an aid station. I’d been using shotbloks for fuel en route, having had my usual banana and peanut butter porridge for breakfast and two clifbars on the way over. By this point I was ready for something savoury and was not disappointed: cheese pasties! Get in ma belly! I remembered wolfing these down at the Kielder 50k and they hit the spot at Ennerdale too. The two volunteers crewing the aid station were stars and filled my flasks with water whilst I stuffed my face, and I was in and out in almost no time at all.

The problem with a lapped course is that you know what’s coming and that can be pretty demoralising. As I set off I knew I was in for another relentless grind uphill into the wind, and that I couldn’t make that time back on the south shore because of the technical death that awaited me; any places lost were likely lost for good. What I hadn’t particularly counted on was either the wind being stronger, or my legs being that much more tired; I seemed to have to walk even more the second time. Given that my jacket had wetted out, my baselayer was soaked, and I was wearing splits, this started to become a bit of a concern as my core temperature dropped ever lower. Although my baselayer was merino wool, I wasn’t generating enough heat for it to insulate, and I felt the beginnings of hypothermia coming on. Shovelling the food in, I patted myself on the back (mentally!) for bringing more than the mandatory kit: I had thermal tights and a top in a dry bag in my race vest and was very glad of that as, if I turned an ankle (as was very possible on the south shore), I’d have been in a world of trouble very quickly.

Luckily, no such calamity occurred, and I passed the checkpoint at the eastern end of the lake with a laugh and a joke for the marshal (who was a hero being out in those conditions) before picking up the pace again. A bit of leap frogging ensued - I didn’t have anywhere close to 10k pace this time around(!) - and it became just a question of finishing; all other goals were long gone by now. In the end, I managed 11th overall, 10th man; not awful by any stretch but I do wonder what I could have achieved under different circumstances. Simon unfortunately had back issues and made the sensible decision to drop after one lap. The guy who appeared on my shoulder at the start? Won it.

So now the dust has settled, and some thinking has been done. A problem with social media - and I hold my hands up to being very much part of the problem rather than the solution up until now - is that there seems to be a race to the bottom in terms of tackling ultra distances; they’re definitely en vogue, and if you’re prone to FOMO then suddenly your entry list on SiEntries is looking Very Scary Indeed. I only did two ultras this year - the very fact that I just said “only two ultras” illustrates my previous point nicely - but I did four marathons as well. Whilst I could have plodded round them without too many ill effects - the marathons anyway - I don’t plod round races. I race them, to the best of my ability at the time. That takes a fair amount out of me and I’ve neglected my recovery pretty significantly. Having seen a steady drop off in race performance I’ve decided a priority check is in order.

I’m already entered in the Pennine Barrier 50 for next year, so that’s one ultra, and I’m doing the Yorkshire Marathon in the hope of getting the sub-3 monkey off my back. I’ve got training schedules in place for them, and that should keep things in check a bit. Doing the schedules made me see that I really don’t have the time for any more long distance stuff, when a sensible build up and recovery is factored in, and so the Fellsman isn’t going to happen in 2018. The schedules do allow for some half marathon efforts and, beyond that, I’m going to enjoy the XC fixtures, local fell racing, some road 10ks, and maybe even something on the track. I’m taking two weeks off entirely before the Gibside Fruitbowl, which is my favourite race of the year, and then everything is going to be very chilled and pretty low mileage until the training cycle starts again on 9 January.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Race Report: The Kielder Double

After a disappointing day at the Robin Hood Marathon, and a XC fixture that, whilst enjoyable and a decent enough result, still didn’t feel right, I was equal parts apprehensive about doing the Kielder Double, and fired up about hopefully putting some demons to rest.

"He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs..."
The 10k was Saturday afternoon. Rachel was also running, so I stopped verbally abusing Helen long enough to sweet talk her into wrangling the Little Warrior whilst Rachel and I ran. Hilariously, it turns out that Xan and Olivia took a bit of a shine to each other through the course of the day...! #toyboy #cougar

Lining up at the front next to JB may not have been my smartest idea(!) but it was good catching up and I wasn’t planning on dawdling anyway. There was a slight delay whilst the RBR lot set off, and then it was our turn. The gun was fired by local hero Aly Dixon, and the sufferfest began!

JB shedding some excess weight...!
I had JB in sight for all of about 10 seconds and then the natural spread kicked in; JB and his peers in a tight-knit lead pack, and me part of a slightly looser chase pack. The 10k heads down to the water’s edge before turning off up a fairly long drag to Bull Crag. This wasn’t as bad as I remembered it and, whilst I didn’t feel like I was exactly powering up, my legs also didn’t feel weird like they did at Robin Hood and Wrekenton; undertrained perhaps, but not “WTF is happening here then?!”

Eyes of a killer. #beastmode
There was a bit of leapfrogging, and I was overtaken by the First Lady, a Morpeth Harrier, with a couple of km to go, but I managed a fairly strong finish; as I came down the finish chute I saw the clock ticking perilously close to 40:00 and that was enough to fuel a bit of a kick(!) Snuck in with a chip time of 39:59 and a gun time of 40:00 dead. Skin o’ my teeth indeed! Enough to net me 11th, so just outside of my preferred placing but a decent effort under the circumstances. Indeed, a check of the metrics on my watch showed that I’d been redlining the whole way and probably couldn’t have given much more if I’d tried; the fast start with absolutely no warm-up pretty much did for me and flooded my poor old diesel engine with lactic acid from the off. Not built for speed, like! JB had a solid day and landed second place, and fellow Harrier Jaycee placed well too. Rachel also had a good run out. Even managed a quick chat with Anji at the end, though she never followed through on her threat to scribble "knobsafe" on my bib. #injoke

Getting to the start line the next day for the marathon was a bit more stressful as the little dude was spectacularly travel sick, requiring a clothing change and clean up in the driveway of the Bellingham office of the Forestry Commission. Despite that, I made it to Leaplish on time (and in any case, the start was delayed) and had time for a natter with some mates to calm the nerves a bit. Robin Hood was still gnawing at me and I didn’t want a repeat; despite my efforts the day before I felt alright, but that doesn’t mean a great deal when we’re talking about the Full Mary. Davey the Ever Present was there, as was Gerry, who was setting off on his first marathon (mad fool!) accompanied by John and Lisa. Briefly saw Helen, and lined up next to Chris from NFR. 

A quick wave to Mac who was behind me in the pack, and then the gun went and we were off. With one eye firmly on my HR I settled into a comfortable rhythm, which was actually under 3hr pace. That wasn’t my intention as running 3hrs at Kielder is far from a straightforward prospect but my plan was to run to HR rather than pace particularly, so I was a bit surprised but not concerned; I’d just wind the pace back as necessary. Mac appeared on my shoulder and we had a bit of a chat; she was aiming for “anything under 3:30” which made me laugh as, at that point, we were on 2:52 pace! I had her tipped for a podium as soon as I heard she was entered, and she was solidly First Lady from the word go. 

After a pee break, which caused Chris some glitch-in-the-Matrix confusion as I appeared to overtake him twice(!), Mac and I alternated leads and running together until about half way, at which point I dropped a gear to get up a hill and she powered on. From that point on, as far as I remember, she led the charge (even finding time to send a text!). Absolute machine. By mile 15 my legs were shot from the day before; not a bonk, as I’d been methodically eating Shotbloks every 5k (I say “eating”... I inhaled one and nearly choked to death at the side of the trail!), just fatigue. Chris passed me at this point, looking strong. 

I was clearly not going to make my vague plan of going under 3:15, but I still had a shot at a decent-for-Kielder time, so cracked on as best I could. A few tactical hikes, including the dreaded switchbacks where - typically - a photographer was sitting so I had to run (much to the amusement of the marshal!), and the km continued to tick off.

For the last few weeks, Xander has helped me sweep the 2km route at the Gibside Great Run Local whilst his Mummy does the 5km route. He’s very proud of himself, and tells anyone who’ll listen “IRANTOOKAY! IRANTOOKAY!” With 2km to go, and firmly in the hurt locker, guess what my mantra was...? Again, I managed a reasonable finish, and snuck in in 3:19:46 gun, 3:19:42 chip, earning 34th place. A solid PB for the course and, most importantly, no weirdness; just fatigue. Chris had a solid run too, finishing a couple of minutes ahead of me, and Mac bossed her way to a win, with the competition nowhere to be seen. Epic.

The end is nigh.
Pretty happy with the weekend on the whole and, if I can recover in time, I’m in a better place for the Ennerdale 50k than might otherwise have been the case. A lot can happen on an ultra though, even a “baby” one like a 50k. I'm not gonna lie though, I probably won't do the double again...!

He gets to keep this medal (because I'm getting a bespoke one in the post!)