Tag Archives: Running

Sky Run – Peak District

With trail and ultra running ever growing in the UK it was only a question of time before the sky running series made its way to our shores. Big in the Alps the race formats are normally marathon plus distances in the mountains with the aim of taking in peaks and ridges along the way.

At one extreme you have the Salomon sky run along the Aeonach ridge, a grade 3 scramble to others which are much less technical. This weekend was much less technical in comparison but with 29 miles and 2000m of ascent it wasn’t to be sniffed at. Especially when this height gain to distance ratio puts it in a slightly more aggressive category than UTMB or the Lakeland 100. Admittedly despite that fact being floated about, those races are a much more incredible feat of human determination and endurance.

A short recce the day before took me to the top of the first climb, Solomons Temple near Buxton with great views over the course of the following day. A final bit of race preparation was enjoying an incredible meal at the Samuel Fox inn, potentially a tad much for a pre-race meal but with this being my first outing back into ultra racing for a couple of years my aim was to enjoy the day and start getting back into it.

Solomons Temple


Wondering amongst the competitors it was great to chat and hear stories of competitions completed and planned for the coming year. From quick dash fell runs to the rather more brutal races such as King Offas Dyke 185 mile race or the 268 mile Spine race in January along the pennine way.

Pre-race kit prep

The race commenced and we made our way quickly up to Solomons Temple with short pauses as we were funnelled onto single track. Despite the forecast being of overcast conditions I was glad I had packed some sunglasses for the day with the sun beaming down on us. As we rounded the temple with a bagpiper playing up top we began to spread out as we started our decent already. This was going to set the stage for the day with every ascent marked soon afterwards by a descent and slightly demoralisingly loosing all the height just gained.

The route took a course along ridges, through moorland, bogs and of course up a number of hills.


With a well marked course we could concentrate on the running and getting our feet in the right spot. With plenty of opportunities for twisted ankles amongst the rocky tracks being light on our feet and an emphasis on twinkle toes was the name of the game.

The only slight mistake came when chatting to another competitor about his up coming race in Oman. Taking the wrong turn we led out towards a farm building only to realise we had gone half a mile in the wrong direction. Slightly devastating as was the sight of maybe 20 odd runners who had followed on behind us. Quickly making up the ground we had lost we all made our way back into the course and meandered back down the hill side.

Running through one boggy area I came across a pair of Oakley sunglasses that had clearly dropped off one of the runners in front and were gently perched on some long grass. Picking them up I handed them into a later checkpoint. You never know when you might be in a similar situation. I didn’t have to wait long!


About 10 mins later the course was incredibly beautiful and one I would have certainly wanted to capture more of it wasn’t for the fact I dropped my phone. Fortunately it was picked up by one of the other competitors not far behind me. A quick snap and with it firmly packed away for the remainder of the race after learning my lesson and not fancying a repeat before heading on.

The course meandered on and my pace ebbed and flowed as the terrain and distance took its toll. The three food and drink checkpoints on the route hit the spot every time. With the opportunity to refuel on chunks of banana, succulent orange slices, flapjack, soreen and of course a wide array of other goodies. I try to make these as quick as possible and continue to eat as I walk along out of the checkpoint. Partly this is to not get too comfortable and I would much prefer to finish sooner.


Chatting with some of the fell runners it was great to see them descend in front of me. I still don’t understand how they did it so quickly other than through a bit of experience and raw tenacity to descend quickly! I envisaged face planting a rock face first if I tired the same so clearly an area I can improve on.

The route went past quiet a few climbing and bouldering spots with chalk marks on some and people clambering about in the sunshine on others. Unfortunately it would have to be  for another time.

As the day wore on I went over on my ankle. With my run going well this was pretty disappointing but deciding to walk it off for a bit I soon managed to break into a trot again. Some of the rocky ground though became much trickier to negotiate as my ankle seemed to get twisted on even the smallest of stones.

Finally the town of buxton came back into sight. I was delighted despite not being able to increase my pace a huge amount. One guy asked if we were to have a sprint finish. As much as I wanted to my legs and ankles had run out of juice. I was happy to finish the race at a plod.

Within moments of crossing the finish line I was welcome by a flat coke, my trainers coming off and my wife looking at me in a slightly sorry and apparently “grey” looking state.

So good getting the shoes off!

Despite the ankle it was awesome getting back into the running again having been out of ultra running for a couple of years. I was remembering all the elements i had learnt about through training runs, competitions and chats with numerous runners and trainers. I finished middle of the pack which may not have been my best result ever but it was one I will certainly remember. I would certainly recommend checking out the sky running series with a greta mix of terrain and distances.

A race to remember

Running the Chilterns

Myself, Si (tent mate from Marathon des Sables and a few other adventures) and his friend Chris finally got round to running a section of the Chilterns earlier in the year. Despite the horrific conditions that had been devastating the country and flooding parts of it we had managed to choose a weekend with a break in the weather, as sunshine was the forecast for the day.

Bridgewater Monument
I was a little apprehensive as my running training had not been ideal over the previous months but the prospect of getting out and kicking starting my trail running again was very exciting. The route for the day was due to finish at Ashridge estate visible from miles around by Bridgewater monument, after sorting out the logistics for the day we headed to the start. Packs at the ready I had definitely too much stuff and my pack was more suitable for a few days rather than a quick marathon ish distance.

The wet conditions soon revealed themselves as we found ourselves with wet feet, skating and sliding through the mud and that was within meters of starting.

We were soon eating up the miles along sections of the Chilterns way through woodlands across fields and along some of the other paths that crisis cross it which did result in a few unexpected deviations from the route. Although some of the trails were so slippy it was hard keeping a decent pace whilst running and so our pace slowed to a quick walk in places.

Checking our deviations

With the sun out we were meeting all sorts of people enjoying the outdoors from mountain bikers to Duke of Edinburgh groups all dressed in the standard green or black waterproofs with tents, sleeping mats and all sorts of other items spewing from their rucksacks. It was great to see them all out and about.
The Chilterns
Some large sections of the trail were flooded still which we tried to avoid as well as one section where it looked like a mudslide had occurred before setting solid which we had to cross. It turned it was not set as my foot sank into it ankle deep thick, gluppy mud. The most interesting of all was passing through a field full horses which in the conditions had opted to stand on the hay they were due to eat, looking slightly sorry for themselves. As we crossed the same field I think we all had similar looks on our faces too.

The remainder of the run was a lot drier and we managed to pick the speed up as the patches of blue sky and sunshine seemed to be diminishing and rain began to look more likely. The Bridgewater monument came into view high up on a ridge that we were due to finish at. Despite being a bit of a distance away still, it was a welcome sight. There was the final short and steep section just to kick us into gear at the end before arriving at the top to a welcome cup of hot chocolate.

The biggest relief being my legs felt surprisingly good, even after the drive back which can be a slightly uncomfortable experience. Now that the summer is getting into full swing have you got any routes your running, walking and exploring?

The Manchester Marathon

A couple of weekends ago I made the journey up to Manchester to visit my brother and for the two of us to compete in the Manchester marathon. For both of us it was our first road marathon.

The idea started around the beginning of the year where during a conversation with my brother he dropped into it that he thought we should do a marathon and more to the point the Manchester one. We checked it out and entered that evening. A few months later and no specific training other than my usual training of a bit of everything and his rugby training as a hooker, in the forwards, and we were standing in the queue waiting to pick our race numbers up. This in itself turned out a bit of a challenge as we joked about forgetting our running numbers having only just looking at them before realising that neither of us could remember them. Back to the start of registration all over again. We managed to make it out of there with all our documents and freebies which included everything from a liquid iron supplement, a razor and the all important finishers t-shirt (despite the fact that we hadn’t actually done it yet).

The following morning saw us being woken to the alarm, far too early for a Sunday morning. A quick check out the window confirmed to both of us that as usual when the two of us do an event together the weather is guaranteed to be awful. Raining and windy. Trudging out the house the rain changed to hail forcing us to pull our hoodies tight over our heads. After a quick tram ride packed with other runners we arrived at the finisher area to drop kit off, supposedly join in with a warm up before heading to the start line. This plan quickly changed to huddling in one of the tents with a number of other competitors trying to stay warm. The start time loomed and it was time for the dreaded strip off into running kit time. It was certainly a day for hats, gloves, waterproofs and any other apparel you wished to have to stay warm. And certainly not the sort of weather for the shorts and t-shirt that my brother and I were kitted out in. Trundling to the start line was a cold and bitter experience. Reaching the start area we were surrounded by the other 8000 participants, minus those who on the day thought better of it, waiting for the gun to go. It was an amazing experience being surrounded by so many people certainly creates an atmosphere. Very different to the races that I have mainly done with maybe 100 to 150 people in them. There was a real sense of anticipation and as the gun went gloves, jumpers and space blankets were thrown off in all directions as the race got under way.

The route consisted of 2 loops a small one that went right by where my brother is living before heading almost back to where we started before heading out of Manchester on a much larger loop.

The Route, loads of water stops!

We got into a good easy rhyme right from the off and had a good chat while we were jogging whilst taking in the sights of Manchester that neither of us had seen before, mainly the industrial estate near old trafford and smells which neither of us had smelt before such as outside the Kelloggs factory. I’m still not sure whether it was a good or bad one. The crowds were still out in their masses even though the conditions had begun to deteriorate; clapping, drumming, passing on messages and shouting out words of support. It was a fantastic atmosphere that continued to surprise my brother and I on our way round.

After passing so close to the start it was time for the larger loop, the first 10 miles had gone well and we were doing well time wise too. But conditions had really start to deteriorate the wind had picked up and the rain set in. We looked like drenched rats.

The course is one of the flattest I have done but with a couple of lumps thrown in there just to keep your legs and mind guessing. However the route was to take us out towards Dunham Park where we had learnt to roller blade years ago and out into the sticks. It was at this stage that the weather felt like it was really deteriorating and conversation slowed as we shut down everything with the only aim of moving to stay warm. It felt like gale force winds, fine with it behind you but incredibly unhelpful if it is blowing in your face, coupled that with the driving rain and our teeth were soon chattering. I’m sure in the sunshine the course would have been very beautiful and the country paths a joy to run down with miles of traffic less asphalt. But instead they were a mine field of mud and puddles to keep you on your toes.

We continued on and at the checkpoints, which they had every few miles, we began to stop for the goodies they had. I have to say though the chocolate energy gel was pretty horrible but some stuff that looked and tasted just like jelly from the packet was a real pick me up. Think they are called shot bloks.

The route started making its way back into town and with this came more cars, clearly irritated by the congestion caused by the runners, which were driving all over the course. It was also here that the mile markers really didn’t help motivate you to the end. I can understand why there is “The wall” in marathons because you can see exactly how far you have left and you end up mile counting. I’m more used to the finish coming as a welcome surprise round the corner where you just have to continue till you cross it but instead you start thinking only 8 miles left, 7, 6 …. It just makes it seem to go on forever.

The last few miles began to feel like they were going quicker, and each large gathering of people brought on a momentary burst in pace. The weather had finally turned and it was dry. We began to dry out in the brisk breeze and certainly felt warmer already.

All that was left was the final “sprint” to the finish, with crowds, photographers, cameramen and runners wrapped in space blankets it was a great atmosphere to finish in and certainly help spur us on. We crossed the finish line together with smiles all round, before getting the all important finishers medal.

Finisher tshirt and medal

Overall despite the weather it was a great experience and one which I am sure my brother will always remember too. If you are not sure which marathon to do next or fancy a challenge I would definitely recommend it.

Running 55 miles and 2700m Ascent Non-Stop

A few weekends ago I headed up to the Yorkshire moors as I had entered an event called the Hardmoor 55. It is a 55 mile running race over 1 day along part of the Cleveland way and unbeknown to me the hilliest course I have done.

It started with an epic drive on a Friday night where I joined thousands of others getting out of London before flying up the motorway. This was done whilst chomping on some tortellini that I had cooked up the previous night. I hadn’t really spent much time looking at exactly where the event was but was slightly surprised when I saw my usual turn off on my route home to Scotland.

I arrived at the B&B/ pub full of people and asked about my room. My mind quickly turned to the much more importantly issue of breakfast. It turned out the cooks had gone home which meant I couldn’t even get some bread or cereal for the morning. Not the most helpful answer. Going upstairs I quickly laid all my kit out, there was a rather excessive food pile for the race and certainly far too much to eat over the space of 1 day. But in it all went split equally for the 2 bag drops allowed in the race.

I was anxious and excited about what the next day would involve as it was much longer than I had run for a while, in fact the longest had been 10 miles plus a bit of cycling and swimming. I wasn’t too concerned though as I knew that my only target was to enjoy the day, get some miles done and finish. This didn’t exactly help for a restful night sleep as I twist and turned with an over active imagination. It wasn’t of winning the event…

5.40 am came round quickly.

I wanted to ensure I arrived early after strict instructions from the race organisers (I was to find that everyone took them seriously) that we had to be bang on time otherwise no lift to the start line. I turned up to the waiting point with all the racers already clad in lycra and I was still munching my breakfast of hummus and pitta bread. However the organiser was late. Everyone one  had one thought only “Could have had longer in bed”.

Chatting with some of the racers on the drive over there was a good mix of newbies and experienced ultra runners, some of whom I had met briefly at previous events. I spoke to one individual who claimed although he hadn’t done the whole course the Yorkshire moors aren’t really that hilly. I was pretty happy with this, although he did point out he was from the peak district, the alarm bells should have started, as not that hilly for a fell runner is certainly different to running round London.

Exiting the bus we were quickly ushered in for a kit check and handed the finishers t-shirt at the start. The race seemed to come round incredibly quickly and my plans of looking at the route quickly vanished with last minute bits and pieces, including the usual huge queue for the bathroom. We were soon off trudging along at a brisk pace up the first few inclines, experience told me that this pace would soon drop off. Or at least that is what I hoped for. The day had started much warmer than expected and within a short time I was dripping. Plus my rucksack which was far too large for a one day event, (being the same that I would use for 7 days) wasn’t setup rightly and the pouches on the front were slapping into my sides.

It was a beautiful day, slightly overcast but running through fields, forests and passing confused looking walkers was a great feeling. On the way to the first check point I foolishly followed a couple of guys in front of me, not knowing the way myself only to realise very quickly that it was the wrong way and had to turn back. Although going slightly off track seems a common theme in these longer runs its still frustrating as all the people you had passed trudge past in a slow version of the tortoise and the hare.

Chatting to some of the competitors passed the time including a guy who was in the middle of his 75th marathon a fantastic achievement in 2 years.

I found out that the first check point we had to go back on ourselves but the views were spectacular as we made our way out onto a plateau with patches of mist rolling in and views across the valley opening up as we got closer to the edge. We dropped down to the 1st checkpoint where I found us standing in front of the Yorkshire moors Kilburn white horse. A top up on some water and a quick bite of flapjack. The race was on.

The Kilburn White Horse

It is amazing especially with hindsight how quickly the miles get eaten up but it went surprisingly quickly up to the next checkpoint. I ended up running by myself for a large portion of this section as my pace settled into a rhythm that I could maintain. It still felt a bit too fast. We continued a long rolling hills dropping down, before climbing and continuing a long ridges. The 2nd checkpoint was down a long decline which helped with passing a few runners. I also found out that this section of 22 miles was the quick section as what was to come would certainly slow everyone down. Not exactly what I wanted to hear as the hills we had already passed seemed quite large.

We came into the small wee village of Osmotherley where our first bag of goodies had been dropped off. I reached the checkpoint had my card stamped to say I had arrived and then started rummaging around for my 1st bag of goodies. It was missing. There was other food on offer but I was looking forward to my nuts and soreen. There was however homemade sausage rolls and after speaking to one of the organisers I managed to get hold of some soreen too. Definitely a positive point.

The path ahead

The race quickly slowed. Exiting the village we worked our way back up onto a long plateau where we could already make out the penultimate checkpoint. Unfortunately it was a lot closer than the route we had selected which took the form of a long sweeping curve. We could also make out most of this path too. Slightly depressing when you can see the whole route practically laid out in front of you for the next 5 or so hours. Regardless of this a group of us trudged on chatting about a whole host of things, as one man described it “anything to take his mind away from the agony”. I’m not sure he was having such I great race as the others all seemed in good form. We covered some spectacular scenery traversing stoned paved paths, up steep side hills, through rocky out crops and the odd sheep or fellow competitor. This was interspersed with periods of cramp an affect from the morning heat. I unfortunately hadn’t managed my electrolytes resulting in these random but uncomfortable twinges as cramp set in.

Fortunately I had packed a few packs of dioralyte which I have found great for rehydrating on long races, though the one major drawback is it doesn’t taste great but it is cheap and works for me. This started getting me back on the road to recovery. I ended up running with 2 others for what was to be the rest of the race. For a few miles we had been constantly playing cat and mouse as I caught up on the up hills before they passed me on the down. That was until the hail started. What had been a blue skied day suddenly turned very cold and dark. The hail bounced off our hands, faces and hoods of our waterproofs. It was certainly a motivator to keep moving forward as we shuffled in silence with nothing but the pitta patta of the hail on our heads. Reaching the second bag drop was fantastic, especially as my food was actually there this time.

Another steep, scrabbly section

We all collapsed in some chairs kindly put out by the staff and tucked into the food in our packs, on the tables and anywhere else we could find it. I also had my first and hopefully last cup of special tea. The recipe for which is 1 strong cup of milky tea, add several heaped teaspoons of sugar and 1 of salt. Pretty disgusting but I hoped this would help with the cramp which still seemed to be plaguing me.

We left the checkpoint shivering uncontrollably, the cold had caught up with us during the short break. But with full bellies we started to make our way towards the goal which we had been so close yet so far all day Roseburry Topping, a single peak that we would first have to make our way to the bottom before scaling it to the summit before going back the way we came. The plan had been to make this in daylight but it was becoming apparent that this was not to be the case as we donned head torches as dusk set in. All you could see was a small patch 3 feet in front of you, the steady stream of people making their way up to the top and back and a glimpse of people’s faces illuminated in an unusual way from their foreheads. After a slog up we made it to the top with views out across the evening landscape. It is amazing the amount of light that is created from all our street lighting and this area felt relatively rural.

Roseburry Topping (In the daylight)
The Path up Roseburry Topping

The last section was made slightly trickier by the lack of light and the criss cross of paths that went their separate ways. We negotiated our way towards the final push up to a plateau before dropping down towards the finish. It felt tough as hills we weren’t expecting suddenly seemed to appear and as our legs tired what was classed as a hill at the start of a day was very different to that towards the end as each slight incline became an excuse to go that bit slower. Yet finally my legs had stopped cramping and I was still raring to go as the course dropped down towards the finish. Potentially a sprint one. We reckoned that we would have to seriously pick the pace up to beat the 12 hour mark but as it would make little difference to our finishing position we decided to just enjoy the final couple of miles. As we started to sense the finish though we realised that we could still make it and the final meters did become a sprint into the hut to ensure we beat the 12 hours. We were greeted to a round of applause by the competitors who had already finished and a welcome chair. We finished in 11 hours 53 mins joint 43rd overall. I got changed into some clean clothes and the quickest top that came to hand was the finishers t-shirt. I checked it out before putting it on it was bright blue with a bold statement “55 miles and 2700 m ascent”. No wonder my legs hurt so much. I was definitely glad I hadn’t read it before the start line that would definitely have made it more daunting.

Overall another race, a lot learnt but certainly an awesome race to be repeated.

A Close Encounter with a Tree

Having never really been into cross country at school, which is possibly an understatement as it was my least favourite activity I found myself entering the last cross country of the season for my triathlon club fulon tri. The previous one had finished with flapjack and cans of Guiness much to my delight so I thought why not give it another go. This had been from the warmth of my room, however standing on the start line with a frost on the ground it didn’t seem such a great idea. There were still blokes running in vest or singlets (depending on where you are from).

Unfortunately we had managed to find ourselves placed towards the back and before we knew it the race had started, or at least the start whistle had been blown. As unfortunately just after the start line was a narrow bridge that acted as a great bottleneck for all the runners to have a very leisurely start.

The race format was 2 laps totalling 5 miles, the benefit being that once you have done the first one you know how hard you can push and when to push. The first lap also went pretty quickly amazingly and I found myself overtaking more people than being overtaken a nice feeling compared to the previous event.

However the second lap was to be a bit more interesting as I found myself stuck behind a “man” who was not only holding me up on the narrow uphill section but who  also resembled something closer to a camel as every second gasp for air was followed by lots of spitting. I’m not really overly bothered by this kind of thing however it is slightly disconcerting as you overtake and are now in direct firing line.

Pleased with getting past this guy I wanted to decrease the gap with the man in front and bided my time for a couple of the downhill sections where I felt my slightly kamikaze style of letting my legs run would certainly close the gap. It worked on the first passing a couple more runners and was marginally slowed on the second. I was heading down and in my haste I hadn’t exactly chosen the best line. A tree was fast approaching and my ability to change direction massively reduced as I committed to the slope. With arms flailing I marginally missed the tree before promptly sliding on my arse. I somehow managed to pick myself up quickly, patted a slightly confused dog and carried on my way in what felt like less than a blink of the eye. Possibly a slight exaggeration but I was just relieved that I hadn’t hit the tree. It did bring back memories of a video I had seen…

All that was left was a sprint finish there was last bloke in sight who I was sure I could catch however there was also one chasing me down. I passed the man in front and was then passed with mere meters to go. Slightly disappointed at this happening I was still pleased that I had improved from my previous attempt. It was just a shame that this was the last of the season. All that was left was an afternoon of watching the rugby 6 nations.