Friday, 17 June 2011


The Kentmere Challenge is a 17km race from the village of Staveley in Cumbria. The website promised some of the most scenic countryside in the UK including ‘idyllic tarns’, ‘ancient woodland’ and a hill called Reston Scar. It all sounded rather magical so, despite the slightly expensive entry fee, I signed up for the Challenge event. The Challenge was billed as a somewhat more relaxed affair with a longer time limit than the race proper. I was in half a mind to sign up for the race but decided that I might want to take it easy and opted for the Challenge.

I had agreed to meet up with a friend the night before and it was decided that he would accompany me to the race. We drank a couple too many large whiskeys in the evening and as a result I felt like a pig had shat in my head upon waking. Luckily the race was to start in the afternoon so there was plenty of time to rehydrate and recover. We left the stink and grey of the motorway and were soon driving through beautiful rolling countryside. Soon enough we arrived in good time to relax and take in the sights, sounds and sunshine of Staveley. I resisted the lure of the little cake stall and started the routine of getting myself ready to race. With all that out the way I contented myself with sitting on the village green to relax and focus. My accomplice for the day was not racing and was enjoying a snooze in an effort to ward off the still lingering hangover. Needless to say, we were both unimpressed when the Kookaburra All Stars samba drumming band started up. Hangovers and drumming just don’t go together.

We were soon off and running through the narrow streets of Staveley away from the crashing crescendo of drums. The route quickly turned uphill and it wasn’t long before the road quickly petered out to a rough stone track. It was all quite enjoyable but rather hard work as I ran steadily up Staveley Head Fell. I feel much more comfortable on the trails these days and relish rather than dread the challenge of a good hill. The view stretched northwards down Staveley valley towards Kentmere and was lovely in the crisp, clear sunshine. The weather was a little on the hot side but this was interrupted frequently by gusts of cooling wind. I was working very hard by the time I got to the top and was glad of the descent down the side of Millrigg Knot. The path here was very rough but I kept the brakes off and flew down to join the tarmac road that would lead along the valley.

Along the flat of the valley floor I started to struggle a little. Rather than recuperate on the downhill I had gone all out and was now paying the price. Down in the shelter of the trees the cooling wind had been replaced by a stifling stillness which was also taking its toll. I was also aware of the steeper climbs that lay ahead. So, I rather sensibly backed off.

Upon reaching Kentmere the trail switched back on itself and started to ascend the fells to the west of the valley. The climb was quite steep in places and lasted for about a mile. I opted for a brisk, steady walk to the top. After the climb I was puffed and red-faced but fresh enough to up the pace as the route turned south. The path was undulating but I still felt good and took great pleasure in splashing through muddy puddles to cool my feet. I was starting to get quite hot. After a short spell on the road the route had a final sting in the tail. We ascended the side of Hugill Fell through long, grassy fields to the top of Reston Scar.

This was the hardest part of the race for me. I walked the steep bit and plodded where I could. It was a blessed relief to reach the top and begin the descent back to Staveley. However, I was all out of puff and couldn’t descend with the dramatic abandon I had earlier in the race. Once the descent was over there was a winding and tortuous few hundred yards to the finish line where I performed the most meagre of sprint finishes.

My finishing time was one hour 47 minutes and 43 seconds. I didn’t go into this race with any aspirations or time goals but I am pleased that I got round in less than one hour 50 minutes. I struggled at points but ran by feel and had a great time in beautiful scenery. My legs felt pretty good both during and after the race. I just ran out of puff. I think that drinking whiskey is not the best preparation for any race and with a fresher head I might have got round a bit quicker. But hey, they can’t all be studied and serious PB attempts. I had a great time.

The event itself was brilliantly organised with friendly and encouraging marshals at every turn. The start/finish area had a great atmosphere and my only regret is that I couldn’t have stayed around afterwards for drinks and cake but, I needed to hit the road. Back home I rounded off the day with several donuts and a big plate of curry all washed down with Crabbie’s Ginger Beer. Outside, rain began to tap on the window and I sat there with the satisfaction of a good days work.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

To a Falls and an Unexpected Hill

Last week I headed out to the village of Abergwyngregyn for a trail run up to Aber Falls. My legs felt very stiff as I made the initial climb along the well worn path up to the falls. It was a bit of a struggle which was well rewarded by the sight of the plummeting white water of the falls. This sight brought back memories of childhood, when I was dragged along by over enthusiastic parents to these sorts of touristic areas. It is strange that twenty years later, I willingly throw myself along these pathways completely aware of the beauty around me.

I stopped at the falls to eat some Jelly Babies and have a sip or two of water. I also took the time to study my map and decide where I wanted to go. I had planned to run back, northwards then onto the North Wales Path. However, the looming presence of Moel Wnion had other ideas. Its domed summit looked inviting in the distance and I knew that I was going up. I couldn’t see any path either on the hill or on the map so decided to aim for the top and start climbing. After 20 minutes of gruelling ascent I was beginning to regret my full on approach. The angle of ascent was getting ridiculous and the top seemed to get no closer. I was using the thick heather to pull myself up in never ending zigzags, stopping every so often to catch my breath. The hillside had looked so smooth and barren from afar, but now up close, I was knee deep in heather and loose stones. I was quick to tighten my loose shoelaces in fear of a shoe falling off and rolling down the hill. As soon as I reached what looked like the top there appeared in the distance, yet more up. Eventually, the cairn at summit came into view and I plodded the last few feet and placed my hand triumphantly on the cold stone. I then decided to have a little lie down.

After I got my breath back I sat up to appreciate the view. On the windswept hilltop I could see Bera Mawr and Bera Bach looming above the falls in the east. Any higher peaks were obscured by a thick carpet of grey cloud. On a clearer day one would have seen the tops of Foel Fras and Carnedd Llewelyn to the south and with Snowdon lurking still further in the distance. To the north, the sea and Anglesey looked almost impertinently flat compared with the violent ripples and tears of the surrounding landscape. It was a view worthy of a hard climb and I sat for a good twenty minutes looking into its distance until the sweat dried on my face and the chill returned to my bones.

Full of Jelly Babies and refreshed with gulps of water, I started the descent. Once again, I decided to ignore the paths and bomb down the hill on a bearing of my choosing. In thick heather this was a much better idea in my head than it turned out to be in reality. I tried to stay light footed with the purpose of keeping my momentum on the steep terrain but was often reduced to plodding for fear of leg breaking stones or hollows hidden in the undergrowth. Despite a headlong detour into a gorse bush the descent was quick and it wasn’t long until I met my intended route of the North Wales Path. From there it was straightforward. The path led west before meeting a small road which turned back eastward towards Abergwyngregyn and the sweet stillness of a car seat.

The nine miles over an unexpected hill were hard work but allowed for a beautiful adventure into yet a new place of the world. It is also another stepping stone on the long road towards become a mountain runner. I am still learning to read the slopes and terrain to make much better and sensible descents and ascents. This is not to mention the huge gain in fitness I need to gain to move over this type of ground. The skills I pick up on these low fells will serve me well when I venture further into the wilderness.


I came across the Llandudno 10 mile road race quite by accident. When I trawl the internet for races the distance it is from home is important. I don’t have the patience, time or money to travel for hours on end to a race. So, when a race turns up on ones doorstep it would seem churlish to refuse. The race promised to be a flat route which was something else that drew me in. I wanted a chance to test my fitness. The plan for the race was to be steady and comfortable for the first half then to push the last half. A negative split, as the elites say. I knew that I was looking at an 80 minute to 90 minute finish. Anything outside this would have been a surprise.

I had registered the day before so I had a little more time on the morning of the race. I arrived a couple of hours before the 12 o clock start and walked to the race start area and expo. The expo was in Venue Cymru which was a great place for all the stuff needed at the start of a race. All the facilities were top notch and there was plenty of room inside to shelter from the wind! After a warm up jog back to the car I got changed into race trim and noticed that I forgot my bloody inhaler. I don’t usually need it during a run but like to have it as a precaution, especially in the hayfever season. Luckily, I wasn’t feeling wheezy at all and would just have to hope for the best. It was too late to go back home and get it.

I jogged back to the start ready and excited. High winds were expected for the day and were already causing problems. The mile markers around the course had blown down which caused a blustery and miserable 25 minute delay to the start. This caused a slightly underwhelming start to the event and is excusable for a first time event. I’m sure the organisers will get it sorted for next year.

I didn’t even hear the starting gun but soon enough everyone was shambling forward. After the usual place jostling of the first half mile things got into a rhythm and the full affect of that wind was becoming apparent. I was checking my pace every minute as it was very difficult to judge in the wind. I was also making sure that I was behind the largest runner or pack of runners when heading into the wind. I was surprised that everyone was not doing this drafting. It makes sense to me that everyone should group together in these high winds and help each other out. But everyone seemed content to be strung out, struggling into the wind. The good thing was that the nature of the course meant that there was an equal amount of running with the wind. Despite this wind I was really getting into a good rhythm over the first three miles.

Mile 1 - 8:35 / mile 2 - 8:15 / mile 3 - 8:06

The course folded back on itself a number of times so it was possible to see the front runners whizz past. Man, those guys are quick. I am hugely jealous and respectful of their speed and clapped as they sped on by. Mile four presented the first challenge of the day. The slight incline required a bit of pushing to maintain my pace. It was over soon, back into the bliss of downhill. This coincided with the halfway point where I started to up the effort level.

Mile 4 - 8:21 / mile 5 - 8:16 / mile 6 - 8:07

I was pushing a bit harder over the next few miles but was certainly not going all out. I was on target pace and did not want to scupper a strong finish by being over enthusiastic mid race. The thing I noticed was that I was overtaking lots of people despite the wind. I was just lining people up and moving past them. Great feeling! I was dealing well with the wind and still felt good and strong. I only started to tire during the ninth mile which brought with it the final hill of the day.

Mile 7 - 8:21 / mile 8 - 8:32/ mile 9 - 8:24

The last mile was pure, exhausting agony. I made sure that I pushed with everything I had along the sun baked promenade. In between fighting the swirling wind and the urge to throw up, I pushed through to the line covering the last mile in 7:08 minutes. My finishing time was 01:21:49.

I am pleased with my performance. Not only was this the fastest I have ever run over 10 miles but it was also one of the most controlled races I have ever run. I was sustaining my target pace without ever in danger of ‘blowing up’. I worked hard but I was never thinking I was too tired to maintain a good and efficient running style. I was constantly concentrating on maintaining and improving efficiency and as consequence, the race flew by. The most important thing is that I enjoyed the race from start to finish. Okay, maybe that last half mile was uncomfortable but it was certainly nice to finish knowing that I’d thrown everything at it.

The Llandudno 10 mile race is a good event. Venue Cymru and the promenade are ideally suited to hosting such an event. The course was a bit boring but pleasant enough. My only gripe is that the route didn’t take us around the Great Orme. This would have provided a tough climb but the runner is rewarded by spectacular views out to sea. It seems silly not to include this just for the sake of a flat, fast course. Who cares about a PB when you get an amazing view in its stead?

It is nice to be back racing again.