Monday, 18 September 2017

My short-lived track career!!

I did say to a good friend that I would "try anything" once and I felt that I couldn't really refuse Archie Jenkins challenging me to enter the British Masters 10000m track championships when I met him marshalling at the marathon in London a few weeks ago.
Post-race with Charlene (1st V35)

I then promptly forgot about it until a few days before the race when I started having nightmares about running rounds in circles, forgetting the number of laps I'd done/still had to do, impeding other faster runners, and trying to avoid massive detours to pass others.

I still have a big fear of race starts and so it takes me a little while to get into any run. In a road race this means that I usually spend the first part of the event weaving round people and working my way up the field. The main difference with a track race is that you don't just have to pass people once, you may have to pass them (or be passed by them) on multiple occasions as the laps progress.

Nice and wet to start with
My race consisted of all the ladies and the men from age 65 upwards so there was a total spread of pace. I had no idea how the run would go as I felt knackered when just running around to warm up (though it was hard to feel warm with the wind and on/off rain). 

The event started a bit late as the hurdles had to be cleared from the ongoing pentathlon, but we were all called up to the start line. I was pulled up by the official starter as, without noticing, I'd put my right toe "on" the start line rather than "behind" it, but order was restored, the gun was fired and we were off.

Getting up to speed on the first corner
The track was rather wet and slippy, especially in the outer lanes, so my most pressing thought was not to fall over in the first few metres with everyone watching. I briefly envied those wearing spikes but had decided that I'd be happier running 25 laps in my usual race shoes. I ran wide round the first bend to pass most of the field and by halfway down the backstraight found myself leading the race.

This wasn't what I'd expected....and it wasn't that pleasant as there was a headwind down that backstraight and I knew that we had to do that stretch another 24 times!

Starting to move away from Charlene
A girl tucked in right behind me and I wondered if she was going to use me as a windbreak for the whole race. Although you always feel the headwind against you down, there never seems to be an equal benefit from a tailwind, and this was compounded by the home straight being more sheltered by the "grandstand".
Lapping some of the "more experienced" men

Don't worry, I'm not going to describe the race lap by was bad enough watching the lap counter tick down slowly every time I passed it, though I have to admit that it was probably easier for me than some others as the lap counter denotes the number for the race leaders, and so it must be rather dispiriting for lapped athletes.

Passing several abreast at times..
It took me almost three laps to catch my first man.....a legendary v80 runner with several age group records. As he said post-race, he set off rather too fast so I started to lap him slightly sooner every time, until it got down to every second lap, though he always wished me well as I passed. The pre race briefing had advised us that faster runners must move out to pass, which does make sense as you can see those that you are approaching from behind and so drift out into a different land in good time. This only became a bit of a nightmare when you had to pass people running several abreast.....and even worse was when you caught them in a bend. Due to the difference in pace, it made more sense to me to run slightly further by moving wide, than to slow down significantly and wait until a straight section. It was actually quite fun to keep passing the same people, but with the gaps varying as they started to lap each other.

A soggy lap
Vicki Thompson had told me pre-race that it would "be easy" once the lap counter showed 17 laps to go.....and as she was supporting us all on the 200m line, I made sure to let her know that it didn't feel like it was getting any easier to me. She was so good at encouraging us all, and reminded me when I was exactly halfway through so I could start mentally counting down. With about 9 laps to go, I asked her where the second placed runner was and she advised me that I had a decent gap (it was had to work out who was what distance behind you, due to the number of intervening people on different laps). 

A sunny lap

When I passed her the next time, she told me that I had an 80m lead, so I hoped I wouldn't lose more than 10m per lap as I'd lead for so long. However, by the next lap, she said that it was down to 55m...."eek", I thought, "I've lose 25m in one lap", so the next time I passed her I said I thought it was all over and that I was going to be caugh. She encouraged me to push on, and (although she might have been "bending" the truth to keep me going) the gap did seem to open up again.

My attempt at a sprint for the line!
I knew that I was more likely to be stronger at the finish than other runners.....they might have more speed, but I can probably keep going for longer at a certain pace....and tried to pick it up slightly for the last couple of laps. I know that I really don't have a sprint at all.....and "lengthening my stride" probably makes it only "slightly" shorter than everyone else's normal gait, but I tried to push down the final home straight, as I was dreading being outsprinted for the line.

Nice bling!
Getting my British and North East medals
As it turned out, I had no need to worry as the final margin was 21 seconds, but it was lovely to meet and go for a cool down jog with Charlene afterwards (she was awarded the first v35 position so there are medals all round). I'm no track convert and may well never do a race like that again, so it was lovely of my parents to come along and support. I was very impressed that they came down trackside, cheered me on and took photos when it was raining as well as on the odd sunny lap. In fact, everybody was amazingly friendly, which took the pressure off the actual race and made it more of a fun day out (and I can't complain about the farm shop/cafe we visited afterwards).  

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Devil's Beeftub

The advertised course
The 2 mile Devil's Beeftub hill race was the latest race in the Dumfries Running Club Grand Prix. I don't usually do enough races to count in the Grand Prix due to other commitments, but as I was at home this weekend, I thought I might give it a go. I was told that is was a small friendly local race, with an average field of about 30-40 runners. On the day, this did not seem to be the case from the number of cars parked up at the end of the valley and, as it turned out, it was actually the last race in the Scottish championships and so had attracted a much larger stronger field than usual. There was still a local friendly element there, epitomised by the fact that the race director started the runners off wearing just his socks, as he had lent his shoes to a runner who had misplaced his fell shoes (due to martial miscommunication)  and only had his cycle shoes to run in.

The route on the ground

Those uninitiated in this event might think that a 2 mile race sounds relatively easy, but it is not for the faint hearted, as the total climb measures at about 900 feet (with a similar descent) as it is the "steepest race" in the Scottish hill running calendar. The runners line up to start, holding on to the barbed wire fence (which had to be hurdled in early editions of the race) and then dive into the bracken to start their ascent. The hillside is so steep (most of the race's climbing is done within the first quarter of a mile) that even the leaders are reduced to a "hands and feet crawl" upwards.

The reward for this climb is a rough section of alternating tussocks and ankle deep bogs, before reaching another fence that must be climbed. After this the route becomes more runnable with a few sharp ascents and descents to the final summit, so most people alternate between running and power walking.

The final quarter mile is a lesson in controlled falling, which is why the race is known as the steepest one of the Scottish hill running circuit. A burn must then be hurdled on the final sprint into the (very welcome) finish before the legs give out completely.

Pre-race with a couple of DRC club mates
I had a steady start (ie I ended started plum-last after getting my foot caught in bracken right at the off) but managed to work my way past a good part of the field on the initial steep climb. I tried the "hands on knees" approach but found that practically crawling up using my hands to grab/push off the ground was quicker. As I passed one of my clubmates, he grabbed me by the shoulder as if he wanted me to pull him up the hill, which did seem slightly inappropriate for a "race" and nearly caused me to fall backwards downhill again. 

The uphill crawl...
I could hardly believe it when I reached the flag at the top of the climb, gasping for breath, and looked at my watch.....we been going for less than 0.2 of a mile. It wasn't much better on this section, as it was hardly runnable but for different reasons. The ground was very rough and tussocky, and if you managed to avoid twisting an ankle on a tussock, then said ankle was probably covered in mud. There wasn't much of a route to pick, but as everyone was going the same way (the race instruction at the pre-race briefing was that if you saw an uphill on your right, then you'd gone the wrong way) it wasn't really possibly to pass anyone so I had to go the speed of the runner in front of me.

I managed to dodge past just before we had to climb a fence to get onto the next section, which was actually a better "path" underfoot. Although the day itself was dry, there had been an awful lots of rain in the preceding few days and so there were many ankle deep bogs that tried their best to suck your shoes off. 
Climbing to the last highpoint
This section did suit me better and I managed to pass several people with a combination of running and power walking, though lost a couple of places again down a steep muddy descent to a col.

There was a small burn to rockhop over before the final short sharp climb, so I made up the lost places and several more. A marshal tried to encourage everyone by saying we were almost at the top with just the descent ahead of us.....which I heard with mounting dread....I would definitely have rather gone on climbing for longer!

My friend Doug had climbed up the final hill to support all of our club runners, so it was nice to get a shout of encouragement as I rounded the summit cairn before heading off the edge....

I had been told that you could pick the best line down if you looked across at a certain point on the other side of the Beeftub, but there was no way that I was looking anywhere but towards my feet. It was so steep that initially I couldn't even the finish down on the valley bottom. I managed to keep a bit of pace up down the first steep descent (laughing slightly as one of the guys that I'd just managed to catch on the last climb told me to "dance down") though I couldn't decide if it was safer to have my feet pointing across or down the slope.

The start/finish area from the hilltop

Surprisingly, nobody passed me on this section, and then suddenly the finish line came into view. It appeared to be a long way away distance-wise as the race leaders (probably already sitting around chatting) were just small dots, but it also appeared to be directly below me.....eek!

Not only did this next section involve steep downhill, but there were also large patches of bracken to negotiate, rocks to avoid, and slippy mud to skid in. As I started to tense up a couple of men shot past, so I tried to relax and follow them. The track I was following straight down through the bracken had been made into a bit of a mudslide friend by earlier runners going for it with a lot less trepidation, so I wished I had the long legged bounce of another friend that bypassed me, leaping over the bracken as if it were nothing.

At the bottom of the hill there was a little ridge to run over....designed to catch the descending legs out, a small burn to leap and then a few metres to sprint in to the finish. I was quietly pleased with myself that only 5 men had passed me on that downhill.....but there was just not quite enough distance to sprint to gain a place back, but all in all I felt I'd acquitted myself well, though I'm still not sure I'll ever be a hill runner!

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Short and (semi) Fast...

It was 11pm on a Saturday night and I was at the Moot Hall in Keswick having just supported a friend on the last leg of his (successful) Bob Graham Round. A girl I didn't recognise approached me and asked if I was "Joasia" (well, not quite, but I think that was the name she was aiming for!!). It turns out that someone had been trying to contact me to ask if I would run a 10K race in Middlesborough - not thinking much of it, except that it was probably a small friendly local race if I was being asked by someone else supporting a BGR, I agreed and arranged to visit my parents the night beforehand.

Prudhoe Riverside parkrun was just off my route across to Durham and, as I was passing it at an appropriate time, it seemed like a sensible idea to break my journey with a run. It looked like a simple 2 lap course and although I'm not a fan of short fast events, the LV40 record was 21:20 so I thought it was probably a "slow course" and so would be a scenic run rather than a fast run - perfect!

I did think that I might miss the start as there was rather a delay getting into the carpark as the level crossing was down (for what seemed like forever), and then it was a good half mile along the riverside path from the carpark to the actual course, but luckily I made it just in time for the pre-run briefing.

The trail on Lap 1
There was the usual mass start, but luckily the tarred path was relatively wide so it was not too hard to weave around a few people. There were some cables across the path that had been covered over with a raised step, but I liked the touch of putting up a "careful - ramp" sign. The tarred path was rather pretty as it headed through trees along the river bank, and became even more so as we headed off it onto some packed trails. There were several guys ahead of me but I gradually closed up on them and somehow moved away ahead of the leading one as we climbed a short incline at the start of the "backstraight" of the loop. This meant that I had a clear run along a lovely flat forest trail, though I could see the railway line through the trees to my left. Just as I started to wonder if I'd gone the wrong way (though I hadn't seen any other paths so surely I couldn't have taken a wrong turning!?!), a cheering marshal (and minimarshal) came into view. They were at a 90 degree turn which then saw me flailing down a sudden steep slope back to the tarmac path at the bottom. Another 90 degrees to the right saw me on the second lap and this time I started to pass a few people, which was great as we could offer mutual support and encouragement (and I like the fact that the backmarker wears a bib signifying "Tailwalker" rather than Tailrunner to demonstarte the inclusivity of parkrun).
If you can't run downhill well
shut your eyes and hope for the best!

I hadn't reset my watch at the start so didn't really know my pace (I had to wait for a results text to find out my time), but could feel my legs tiring, espeically as I consciously braked for the final short descent. This time I took a 90 degree turn to the left at the bottom to head towards the finish as their first ever first overall female finisher (which, I hasten to add, says more that there was a slower field than usual that day, than anything about me!). By the time I got to my parents' house, I was waxing lyricial about what a pretty and friendly parkrun it was, and that they should definitely go and check it out!

On arrival in Middlesborough for the Tees Pride 10K on Sunday morning, I realised how mistaken I'd been about the scale of the race. Although there was a fun atmosphere with stalls and bands on the fields near to the start and finish, it was a huge race with over 3000 entrants ranging from the "Elite" pen to the "Pleased to Finish" start pen which contained many runners taking on their first ever 10K event. As my friend Alister and I walked to the start we discussed possible target times. I said that ideally I'd like to run about 37minutes, whereas he was aiming for 44minutes.

Brilliant to meet a fellow Comrades 4th place finisher!
I chatted to Gerda Steyn (a Nedbank runner who has finished 4th at this year's Comrades race) in our start pen. She was hoping to break 37minutes so I hoped that by trying to keep her in sight, I'd be dragged along at a decent pace. As always, I was fearful of the start, but luckily there was no pushing and shoving as the road wasn't too narrow and so I managed to get up and running without being trampled. I made my way up over the first few hundred metres so that I could see Gerda ahead of me.

It doesn't matter where you are in the field of a race - we all go through similar bad spells (well I guess you don't if you're having a really good day), and so I debating stopping after the first mile....I couldn't believe how far we still had to run considering how little my legs wanted to keep turning over. The course is very flat ( I think the elevation gain is measured only 88 feet over the whole race on my watch) and covers 4 sides of a square, but this means that you are exposed to any wind there is (now, if it's a square, how can it possibly be a headwind the whole way?).

Gerda gradually eased further and further away from me but I somehow managed to talk myself into not stopping. A man passed me and tried to get me to go with him to close down the gap, but there was no chance of that. I looked at my watch and realised that that mile (mile 4) had been rather faster than intended already (I guess there may have been a bit of a tailwind there without me realising) and I needed to "slow down or die". My next mile was back to a more sensible pace and I could just see Gerda overtake Tracy (Millmore) a long way up ahead and move into first place.

Recovering with Gerda and Tracy
There were many bystanders out supporting the runners (and they, along with the bands en route, added to the fun atmosphere) who tried to encourage me as I headed into the last mile. They implied that Tracy was tiring and that she wasn't much more than 20 seconds ahead of me. Unfortunately this was also by far my slowest mile (it turns out that it was for although I know the fast one earlier had come back to haunt me, I think the head wind was strongest at this point). I was convinced that I'd been hearing some cheering for "Lisa" just behind me for the last 2 miles so tried to keep going right to the finish, but fully expected to be outsprinted by said Lisa. It was just about all I could do to make it I did have to stand "hands on knees" in the finish funnel trying to recover my composure!

You have to love receiving a text like that!
3rd place
In the end, I found out that I'd been hearing things as I finished as 3rd lady, 16 seconds behind Tracy and 1 minute 38s in front of the 4th lady (Gerda just got stronger and stronger, finishing in 36:08, proving the benefits of her recent altitude training). When I got my results text through I was delighted to read the time of 37:00, but Alister won bragging rights (and so I bought the finish lines beers at a local stall as we waited for prizegiving) as he'd well and truly beaten his target, recording 43:48! All in all, not a bad weekend of speedwork :-)

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Hare(s) and the Tortoise

I have known of the Ultravasan race for several years now and it always looked rather appealing. It is a 90k trail race in Sweden along the route of a famous winter ski race (the Vasaloppet, which started in 1922). I knew that I wasn't fit enough to attempt the full event, but as my friend Jo was going out to race it, I decided to go along, support her and attempt the 45k version. 

Seeing what they'd said about me
at the press conference!!
It was a great excuse to get away, catch up with many overseas friends, and test my ongoing shin problem and see where my fitness was at. Thursday became a very long travel day....arriving after 11pm....and Friday was taken up with the press conference (for both of us), registration, technical meetings, race briefing etc, so all too soon it was time to prepare.

Jo's race started at 5am so it involved a 2am rise for breakfast and the bus ride there.....mine was more civilised in that I had to get the bus at 7am, but further sleep was still rather elusive. I made my way to find the buses in the pouring rain....which rather set the scene for the day. To be fair, the rain was lighter when I got to the start field at Oxberg, but it was still rather chilly. I tried to follow Jo's race as long as I could, but all too soon it was to strip off, hand in my bag, pick up a GPS tracker, and make my way to the start.

I knew that there were several faster women in the race, so my main aim was to make sure I didn't get drawn in to running with them, and just run my own race on feel. Luckily, there was no way I could have gone at their pace as I watched them sprint away from me as soon as we started (with a soggy, muddy run across some rough ground). I was glad not to be in a crush as, knowing my coordination skills, I would probably have tripped over the railway lines we had to hurdle before we entered the forest. 

I think there were about 10 ladies ahead of me after the first kilometre but over the next couple I gradually weaved round people until I was running alone, as third lady, with the first two (Fanni and Lisa) out of sight. I was happy with this, as I'd thought I'd be further down the field than that, and I figured that I'd never see the leaders again. I found out later that they ran together for the first 15k and then Fanni moved ahead of Lisa.

The route consisted of some single track through the forest, some grassy sections, and some forest roads with definite inclines and descents. The forest was very pretty and we were beside a lake for some of the early stages, but it was rather wet and muddy underfoot. The race director appeared at a road crossing about 10k in and told me that I was only 45seconds behind the second placed lady, but unfortunately didn't tell me what I was more interested in.....which was how far ahead of 4th I was!

I got the occasional view!!
After a while, the 45k runners swung round and joined onto the 90k route and so I expected it to be very busy from here on in, but I hardly saw a soul.....and so I wondered if I was way behind the main part of the field. I had been expecting to finish about half an hour after Jo finished the race, but I'd also thought that we would be running a faster pace than those going twice as far as us, so I'd kind of thought that I'd be joining their route in the thick of it. I was happy running along on my own, as it gave me a chance to look around...and look at my foot placement. It also meant that I really could just relax and run at my own pace, but the challenge was to keep reminding myself that I was actually in a race and not just out for a run through the forests.

The rain got lighter and heavier but never eased up and there was absolutely no point in trying to keep your feet dry, as puddles stretched across the whole path for some considerable distance at times.....which actually made me lift my feet higher than usual as I did try to clear them of the water each step. 

The route of the Ultravasan 45
With about 17k to go (the route markers counted down kilometres Comrades-style) I caught up with Jo. I nearly decided to just run along with her for company (having reassured her that her 3rd position was secure as I'd not passed another lady since our routes had converged) but just then I spotted Lisa away ahead in the distance through the trees. This spurred me to keep going my own speed in the "hope" that she might be tiring. However, she seemed to have spied me and picked up her pace as unfortunately I lost sight of her again. 

A bit further on, where we turned off onto a "sandy trail" (the rain was biblical as this point so it wasn't like any other sandy trail I've ever run on), I saw the race director again. He told me that I was "20 seconds off the podium" - I'm sure this was meant to encourage me, but it actually had almost the opposite effect as I thought I must have been in 4th place all this time without knowing it. 

I soon realised that he had meant that I was only 20s away from Fanni and Lisa who were now running together again, as I saw them ahead of me on a switchback through the trees. As I came into the last checkpoint (with about 9k to go) they had just left it, with Lisa now leading out the race. I skidded round the turnpoint and pushed on, having discovered from Graham (Fanni's boyfriend, who I knew prior to the race) that the 4th placed woman was a safe 5 minutes behind us.

When I caught Fanni, we had less that 8k still to run and I urged her to push on and work with me, but her early pace may have caught up to her and she waved me ahead. That last section of the race was definitely the hardest for me.....Lisa seems to be staying a constant distance ahead of me, I had to keep wiping the rain out of my eyes, and the terrain wasn't exactly the best for trying to get tired legs to move at any speed. The forest trail was wide, but the puddles were wider still, and though I did my best to pick a more solid foot placement, I rolled my ankles a few times when the water     came up to my shins and I couldn't see where I was putting my feet.

"Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey" as the saying goes, and I realised that I was gradually reeling Lisa in. I gained ground up every incline and she didn't run away on the descents. I knew she would have a faster finish than me so wondered how late I could leave it to pass her without her being able to come back to me. With 2k to go, I knew that I could maintain my pace to the finish.....I may not be fast, but I can keep going. I felt that although another few kilometres of race would mean I'd be home and dry as I could have carried on, but as it was I was going to run out of race.

1K to go....
I passed her and tried to make it look easy as she dropped back. Weirdly enough, an official bike passed me going the other way. I thought it was coming out from the finish to lead the first lady home so couldn't understand why it had passed me, but as it turns out, they wanted to film the gap to make it more exciting for people watching the big screen at the finish line. The bike then came up behind me.....I could hear is splashing through the puddles on the grass and I was convinced it was Lisa sitting on my shoulder ready to sprint past.

A surprised but happy winner :-)
The last kilometre seemed to go on forever, especially as it involved a steep bouncy wooden bridge to climb up over the railway line and down the other side. Turning into the final straight I heard them announce me....and only me, so I knew I had a gap....but I was still rather scared to accept a wreath and run in wearing it, as it would've been gutting if this had led to me being overtaken, but luckily I was safe as the final gap was about a minute.

The 45K podium (l-r, Lisa, myself and Fanni)
My C-goal for the race was just to finish it, without my shin flaring up too much, my B-goal was to try to run under 3.5 hours, and my A-goal was to try to make the podium. Never in my wildest imagination did I think that I might win in a time of 3:06.
Jo crossing the line...rather cold and wet!

To be fair I probably then became the finish marshal's biggest nightmare, as I wouldn't leave the area until I'd cheered Lisa and Fanni in......and then my antidoping chaperone had to stand out in the rain with me, as I wouldn't go off with her for testing until Jo had finished.....3rd lady in the 90k race - what an awesome effort! Double celebrations for our room! #GoTeamJo

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

SuperSupport Extraordinaire!!!

The Lhairig Ghru...again so soon...
With trying to keep so many balls in the air at the present time, I confess that training and racing has taken rather a backseat. I did sneak a local event in - the Moffat 15K race as it's a perennial favourite (even if I don't think so at the time when I'm dragging my carcass up the steep mile of uphill track in the middle of it), but mostly I've just been getting out into the hills and running with friends at the weekends.

At least he wasn't sprinting the descents
This has taken the form of supporting many different challenges.....the Scottish 24 hour record, several Bob Graham Rounds, a 60@60 and a Paddy Buckley Round.

Still standing (and smiling) at the finish
The previous Scottish 24 hour record was set 29 years ago by Jon Broxap when he summited 28 Munros in 23 hours and 20 minutes (though another summit was later upgraded to make it 29 Munros). Jim Mann went to the Cairngorms and set a new record of 30 Munros in 22 hours 18 minutes.

1 of his many Munros
I can appreciate just how phenomenal an achievement this was (never mind making last orders in the pub at the end) as I supported him on a leg (and 2 bits of legs). I only managed about 40miles and 9 Munros compared to Jim's 86+miles, but that was plenty for me - and it was a pleasure to be part of such a fantastic weekend.

DRC does Moffat!!
Down the neverending hill to town

A couple of days later I squeezed in the Moffat Run as it is a good local race with a big club turnout. The race starts (this time without a count down so I was actaully facing the wrong way chatting to friends) in the centre of the High Street and consists of 3.5 undulating miles along the valley floor, then a tough offroad uphill mile to the "high road", followed by 4.5 miles of constant downhill winding back into Moffat (which you can see in front of you but never gets any closer).

Finishing down the High Street
Hitting the edge of Moffat a slight incline catches out tired legs before you "sprint" back down the main street to the finish. Although my legs were definitely feeling the miles from the weekend, I was really pleased to find that I finished only 40seconds slower than last year (1s per mile of supporting Jim) despite powerwalking some of the hill, which is the first time I've not tried to run the whole way (though I still overtook some of the guys on the uphill!).

A 60@60 is an extended Bob Graham Round where the challenge (once you are 60 years young) is to "bag" 60 summits and make it back to the Moot Hall within 24 hours. David Waide was attempting to do just this, and I'd agreed to help him out with support on Leg 2, which involved a 4am start from Threlkeld so I went down and joined them at the campsite on Friday night. I didn't sleep well as I could hear the weather deteriorating and I was slightly anxious about doing the support alone as David said he preferred to get his nutrition from drinks rather than food so I knew there would be a decent amount of weight to carry.

David duly appeared, had a slurp of coffee, took a banana and we set off to ascend into the clag up Clough Head. I had a bottle for David in one hand, his half-eaten banana in the other, and everything else in my backpack. Once we got into the clag, the visibility never looked up. The ground was about the wettest I've seen it underfoot and I did end up almost thigh deep in a bog at one point quite early on in the leg. The rain got heavier and the wind picked up but we managed to keep moving along well, chatting whenever conditions permitted. Looking back on it now, it must have been a comedy sight to see me juggling the banana and water bottle, whilst trying to write down the summit timings, report the splits to David as he asked me for them, and also get out extra waterproof top and trousers out of my bag for him. Luckily I managed it all well enough without ever losing sight of him in the cloud.

We spotted the flags out to mark a race going the other way, and some race marshals (who thought we were lost) tried to get us to turn around and go the other way. It was fun to recognise and cheer on the race leaders as they passed by descending Fairfield as we climbed it, but then we got mixed up with other runners as we turned round and descended again (confusing yet more marshals as we then appeared to be choosing to go off course). Unusually for me, I was able to descend well and ran down to Dunmail ahead of Fairfield to report in and hand over to the 2 supporters on the next leg. I spent the rest of the day helping David's sons get to changeover points and helping with car shuffles and was all set to run with him along the road section to Keswick at the end. Unfortunately the weather took its toll, and although he managed to bag all of his 60 peaks within the 24hours, he missed the final road section as he'd run out of time. It was an incredibly long day for me and the Waite boys, but not half as long as it must have been for David - fair play to him!

Sally and partner Simon ready to go
The next weekend, it was back to Bob Graham duty...this time to support my friend (and GB trail teammate) Sally. I'd also roped in another mate Jon who was keen to get out onto the hills, so we headed into Keswick late on Friday night to try to get a couple of hours' sleep. We ended up being a small "crowd" that set off from the Moot Hall at 2am, as another runner joined us for the first part of the leg until his support runner caught up after sleeping in, while another guy wanted a decent run out as training for an upcoming event. Sally was fired up and tapered so we had plenty of energy for catching up as we ascended Skiddaw. The summit ridge was more difficult due to the strong winds and rainclouds (head torches in the hands instead of on the head to prevent the blinding cloud reflection) and then it was a very boggy run off across to Great Calva.
Climbing up from Mungrisdale Common

It was nice to support Sally - not only because we're good friends, but because we're quite similar in our running likes and dislikes. We enjoy climbs and aren't so fond of descents (hence we ran a lot of the race in Italy together). The route that she was following for Leg 1 worked well for me, especially in the wet as I found it easier to go slightly further but along a more runnable descent and then flat section (rather than trying to peg it down through thick heather whilst avoiding hidden ankle-twisting holes). We also went a longer way off Blencathra but could run it all rather than skidding around over slippery rocks, so again I kept up and even managed to run ahead along the final road stretch to warn them that we were coming into the handover at Threlkeld (and get to the cake first!!).
Descending off Blencathra

Jon and I ran back to Keswick, ate food, grabbed some mores rest and then headed on down to Wales for the next support job of the weekend.....the final leg of a Paddy Buckley Round. Unfortunately, just as we arrived we heard that the runner had been forced to stop due to sickness, so we (ate again...and then) turned round and disappointedly headed back north (though too late to make Sally's finish as she'd powered round in 19:37). Still, this meant that my legs weren't as tired as I'd expected them to be at the end of the weekend, so I agreed to some further support on a last minute Bob Graham attempt.

A "nicer" view from Threlkeld
A sunny ascent of Skiddaw
In total contrast to the wet, windy weather of very early on Saturday morning, the sun was shining as I drove back down to the Lakes after work on Monday. I met up with Chris and we set off from the Moot Hall at 6pm.
This time I was the lone support on Leg 1, but as the pace was a bit slower I could just relax, take some pictures and enjoy the views (the only problem I had was the late discovery of some shoulder/neck chafe from carrying Chris's pack).

Sunset across Mungrisedale Common
There were no worries about routefinding in the evening light, and so we even bounded down off Great Calva through the heather this time. Another friend came up to meet us on Blencathra to make sure we got the route of the parachute descent right, and I handed Chris on to his next leg support at Threlkeld safe and sound (well actually I had to go a bit further as the "supporter" needed to fix his leaky waterbottle and then catch up). I kept in touch with them over the night and next morning, but unfortunately he had to stop at Wasdale.


Summiting Dale Head - peak 1 of Leg 5
Back at the Moot Hall
You'd think I'd have had my fill of the Lake District and BGRs by this time, but the very next weekend, after catching up with friends in Glasgow, I found myself heading back down again. I had a slightly vested interest in supporting Robin on Leg 5 of his Round as I'd run Leg 2 with him 2 years ago but he ran out of time and stopped as Honister just as I was due to rejoin him. This time was more promising and we climbed the last 3 peaks before the sun set, descending down to the road in twilight. Another friend of his joined us for the road run in and we made the Moot Hall 21hrs and 57minutes after he left it (I reckon the sub-22 was because I wouldn't let him stop to sit down and change his shoes with 4.5 miles to go). Job done!

"Mum on the megaphone"
Andy and Josh - Go Team GB!
That is definitely it for my running support for a while....though I did have a great weekend down in London watching and cheering during the World Championship marathon. The course was a 4-lapper so we got to see the runners 8 times as I ended up standing with Callum's mum Sandra Hawkins on the Embankment where they ran out and back.

Supporting with Sandra
Callum moving up into 4th place
I shouted myself hoarse in the men's Callum ran an amazing race to record a new PB and finish 4th (A funny memory is his mother shouting at him to "Come ON!!" down a megaphone and me shouting at him to "Listen to your mother!!"). The ladies' race followed and then it was time to return home to start thinking about my own running....eek!!!

Aly in the ladies' race