Last summer Simon Barnett offered us all a challenge that sensible members of the club will have carefully forgotten. It was to run up and down Incombe Hole for ten hours to see what happened to you. Simon did 99 laps. He did offer a more accessible challenge which was to run up and down Incombe Hole for 100 minutes. There are rumors that Nigel K attempted the full ten hours (most unlikely to be true) and that Andy C also attempted and got to about seven hours before retiring injured (likely to be true). In these days of being mindful it takes a certain sort of person to do something so utterly mindless for so long. There are a few in the Club, Andy C being one of them: the brain numb. Peter Hamson gets my prize for club’s most brain numb. He will tell you stories of doing a 24 hour race round a shopping mall in Milton Keynes. (I think he did well over 100 miles….). Some people have it and some people don’t.
I don’t, so 100 mins was my challenge. A few had gone before me. Simon himself chalked (pun intended) up 25, Celine and Lynda chatted their way into the teens and John Manning almost got through the teens. This was a fine effort by John who doesn’t do hills. If you ever get taken on a run by John you will find yourself running at great speed round and round reservoirs or along the tow path or possibly through featureless muddy fields somewhere out in the Vale. Last time I went out with him he had discovered a new reservoir out beyond Aston Clinton somewhere…(it was dark). John runs much faster than me (round and round reservoirs) but surely I could get more hills in than him…??
I choose a bitter grey day with the ground frozen but just beginning to thaw. Drizzle was in the air and the grass got dampened making the descent a little slippery. I regretted not wearing shoes with a more substantial grip. I reckon they cost me about 8 seconds a descent. Counting the laps is cause for consideration. I knew I would be able to count to three but probably not beyond. Initially I thought I would take 25 jelly babies and eat one each time I got to the top. I could count the remaining babies at the end and do some computational jiggery pokery to see how many laps I had done. Then it occurred to me that by the time I had done a dozen or so I might not want another jelly baby and I could hardly throw them on the ground or we would have obese foxes or red kites or something. In the end I dug out 25 obsolete coins and decided to drop one each time I passed Go. Simon spent some time looking at the coins trying to decide if they were from 25 different countries.
I had told Simon about my attempt and he said he would come out to support. This made it feel a bit like Joss Naylor coming out to meet you at the end of the JNLC or Fred Rogerson in the old days greeting and meeting BG contenders. I set off enthusiastically (it was cold and I needed to get warm). After a couple I looked at my watch. Under 9 mins. The aim was to keep each lap under five minutes. After five I was warm(ish) and there was less need to be enthusiastic so I was very pleased to see Simon at the bottom as I came back down. “That was 4.40” he said and joined me, effortlessly levitating up the hill (him, not me).
With the company I soon lost count and got into the rhythm: jog the first bit, walk, break into a jog as soon as possible at the top and try to keep the footing coming back down. I noticed that I was beginning to start the walk earlier and end it at the top later. The minutes ticked by. By about 15 the lactic flooded through by half way up. It began to feel like a gym session, the sort where you do bench presses till failure. As I entered the last phase of the torment, failure got perilously close before I reached the top. Nine minutes left. Last one? I wobbled up and made it back down. Thank God, only three minutes left. No time for another. I counted the coins. I had just squeezed out of the teens.
Next morning coming downstairs to make coffee was, shall we say, uncomfortable. I was rediscovering muscles I had forgotten I had. Simon reckons it is about 55m of climb so I had done over 1,000m. Probably as much climb in one afternoon as the last four weeks. I probably covered about four miles in the 100 minutes…
Of course, as always, afterwards you think: What if…With a bit of practice and the correct shoes I reckon I’m good for another couple but not 25. It was great to hear that Henry went out the next week and did 25. I’m thinking a round dozen in an hour would make a good session once a week…Then maybe over ten weeks I could challenge the 100.
With apologies to John, Andy, Peter and the Brain Dead (but definitely not to Simon who really ought to be the one saying sorry).
I ran the Aylesbury Ring on 21 November 2020 as part of the Camino Ultra Virtual 50km and attempted to beat the Fastest Known Time of 7hr7mins.
I started at the Wendover Clock Tower. The route was nice and muddy throughout with some parts shin deep in mud and water. It was beautiful though, winding through the villages of Great Kimble, Dinton, Hardwick, Rowsham and Astrope. Lots of pretty old churches, ploughed fields and rolling hills to keep me busy. Then along the canal from Aston Clinton to Wendover for a nice quick finish, back at the clock tower.
After recovering from that, the next was the South Bucks Way on 1 December 2020, with a friend, starting up at the top of Coombe Hill for a stunning sunrise over Wendover.
From there, we headed towards Little Hampden, up and down the hills, then over to Great Missenden and up to Little Kingshill, which offered some nice views, but nothing like the start.
Then it was down along the valley towards Amersham, the Chalfonts and then the last stretch into Denham, finishing up on the canal to make it 23 miles of trail fun. Much better conditions than the ring and more fun with good company.
Although the Tea Round was never quite on my to-do list, when Ross became the second member of TRC to proposition me this year, I figured I may as well accept his kind invitation.
We laid plans for mid-October, which almost came undone as the COVID-19 restrictions ramped up, with the aim to become the first TRC completers.
Conditions looked interesting as we drove past Tebay, with the Howgills shrouded in cloud, where TRC should have been competing against the best of British in the annual fell relays. Instead, Ross and I were undertaking a 30ish mile Lakeland route starting and finishing at the doors of George Fisher in Keswick, visiting all the tops that are visible from their café window.
Strictly speaking, when we started only about 3 of the tops were visible, but it seemed a little churlish not to visit the rest.
We had opted to go clockwise. From what we had read, the descents were easier clockwise, and it meant finishing over Cat Bells rather than enduring a bit of a road run for the last few miles.
Ross and I have paired with each other a few times (most notably when ‘I pushed him off a path’ and we ended up in Penrith minor accident unit) and one or the other of us is invariably stronger than the other. One day we will run and be evenly matched. This turned out to be a time when Ross had to work hard, which made it all the more enjoyable for me.
The vast majority of hills were new to Ross and I only had limited knowledge of much of the route. There were going to be lots of new lines that I had not run before, including the long, relatively gentle climb to the first top, Barrow, which must have tested me a little as I tripped on the following descent.
Most of the route is on paths of one sort or another, but we were off-piste on the climb to Rowling End and then had a spell of 10 minutes through heather, one of Ross’ least favourite running surfaces, which was made worse when he discovered that for 8 of those 10 minutes we had been moving parallel to a path that was about 50 metres further on.
We went into the cloud on the ascent to Causey Pike, and that was it for views through the north-western fells, until we descended to Buttermere and avoided the temptations of ice-cream, pub lunches and the like. The navigation had been fine, with an occasional stop to make sure the ridge line we were about to run down was pointing in the right direction.
I was looking forward to the next bit. I’d not done the climb to Red Pike from Buttermere before, and for most of it we had good views and chowed down on some lunch. We passed someone we had seen near George Fisher who was going round the other way. He and many other walkers were cursing the stepped rocky descent that we were climbing. “Glad we don’t have to come down here,” Ross and I both said to each other. 45 minutes later, having not got the compass out at the top of High Stile, Ross and I were sheepishly making our way back down said steps.
With hindsight, this hiccup didn’t turn out too badly. The steps weren’t as bad as they looked, and we were able to enjoy a steady waterside run alongside Buttermere which, as luck had it, brought us out directly at the bottom of the climb up Robinson.
The clockwise descent of Robinson had been one of the main reasons we had chosen to go anticlockwise. It turned out that there was only one thing that could prepare you for the climb we were about to undertake. As luck would have it for me, that thing was interminable reps of Incombe Hole. It was brutally steep for 25 mins or so (imagine Incombe Hole with no respite). We were both glad to reach the top, although it was starting to get cold.
The familiar run down the Newlands Valley came and went and the final protracted climb up Cat Bells was made brighter by some llamas being taken for a walk. The things people do for fun(!). Ross found his running legs as we headed for Keswick, pacing us back in a time just under 7h30m. I had to concentrate hard to stay in touching distance of his heels.
Mission accomplished then, except that we had been pipped to the post by Rich Bedlow, who had gone round clockwise the previous day – complete with an extended pub lunch in Buttermere. Henry Keighley-Elstub, the first to proposition me, successfully completed the round alone the following week.
The webpages have just been updated, complete with what looks to be a rebrand to George Fisher’s Tea Round, and include an informative video based on a clockwise round which Ross should have a look at so he can see where we went!
I wasn’t somehow in the mood. The rain drummed on the car roof as I sat in the car park in Loweswater. I turned on the radio to drown it out. I had specifically requested an extension to the event as I had been about to do it when Lockdown II started. I couldn’t really duck out now and anyway, I had just driven 300 miles for it.
Eventually the radio became so annoying I turned it off. The drumming on the roof seemed less. People were getting out of cars and testing the day with their hoods, mostly deciding on down. I opened my packet of jelly babies (top tip: open it before you start otherwise it will inevitably explode all over the hillside if you try and open it while you are running).
I fiffed and faffed and eventually could find nothing else to straighten or tie or zip, so I got out. The cloud was low but the day was mild as I walked up to the bridge over the lake outlet. My phone buzzed to register the start and I was away: “Come on, you’ll get going in a bit, just let your body warm up”.
The first leg should have been easy; just follow the path. But I managed to get onto the wrong path, one that definitely isn’t on the map. (I’ve checked.) A stint along the road and then I ducked down a field to a wall corner. The right one? No buzz from the event app. I checked the phone. The control had turned green so it must be right. Next up a climb to a path junction. I laboured up the hill; there seemed to be no strength in the legs, just a leaden sluggishness. “Come on, it’s good to be out”.
I started to overheat and took off my jacket. Again the phone didn’t vibrate but the spot had turned green, so back down again, almost on the wrong path but the valley was clear and I corrected before too much damage was done.
Rannerdale Knotts looked huge. “It can’t be as big as it looks, not quite 200m to climb”. I heaved myself up the steep grass and weaved a line around the crags. I used to have a recurring dream. I would be running, leading a race, when suddenly my legs would lose all their strength and I would have to drag myself along using my hands. I don’t have that dream any more but I often experience the feeling of complete powerlessness.
There were fine views back down over Buttermere. “Don’t think I’ve ever been up here”. I passed a couple of walkers on the path. “Come on, at least look like you are a runner”. I got a good traversing line down to the sheepfold. “That’s good, some sort of progress now. It’s all up hill now, get stuck into it”.
As I climbed to Whiteless Pike, I got into the cloud. The wind picked up and drove the murk wetly at me. Back on with the jacket. There’s a lovely ridge that leads up from Whiteless that we run down in the Buttermere Race. Nothing to see today, though. Could be anywhere.
Onto the central plateau of the Buttermere fells. These are my favourite hills, quieter than other areas, big hills with steep sides, long, winding valleys cutting up to the heart. One day I want to camp up here. “You’ve been saying that for 40 years.”
With a little bit of plastic, a sliver of iron and the earth’s magnetic field, I find my way to a small pile of stones and my phone vibrates. I love that feeling: travelling through a cloud feeling totally alone and finding just what you were looking for.
There were little patches of snow now, wet and melting. Last weekend in Wales I was knee deep in it on a two day yomp across the hills. Maybe that’s why I’m tired today. It was decision time but really I had already made the decision: Grassmoor, down to Coledale Hause than down the valley to a sheepfold. Maybe I could do some of the four valley controls. Really I should have been early enough for the controls on Force Crag, Hopegill Head and Whiteside, three controls instead of just the one at the sheepfold.
In places the path had been badly washed out, probably in those big floods three years ago, but in places the going was good and down hill I got some sort of pace going. As I ran I mulled the options. There were two controls north of the bridge I was heading for, at the mouth of the valley, and one to the west on an obvious run in.
At the bridge I had 40 minutes. I reckoned it was no more than 2km to the further control, I’d have to back track from here, down the road, onto that track and in. 4km tops in 40 minutes. “Come on, even in this state you can do that. It’ll make a up for not doing the ridge to Whiteside. A bit, anyway. Should have been able to do that and this.”
It’s what makes these score vents so addictive, pushing the boat out just a little bit, trying to squeeze in an extra control inside the time limit. The margins don’t allow for any navigational error towards the end. Would I find the paths across the farmland? Yes. Four minutes to spare. 16 of the 21 controls. 18 would have been competitive.
To (slightly) misquote the Prime Minister: ‘A bad run is better than no run’. He would be absolutely right on that.
As I have recently been awarded the “Gauntlet Trophy”, for the fifteenth consecutive year, I thought I would write an article about it. (You can see a video of the award presentation here.) As there is not a lot going on at the moment—you know why—I thought you might need some help getting off to sleep these nights.
I’ll start with how it came to be and, well, finish some time later. So, here goes.
At the 2006 TRC AGM, a then good member of the club, one Mike Gaunt, made an official proposal for a new trophy. He, with a very eloquent address, I seem to recall, proposed that it be awarded to the member who completed the most event miles in the calendar year.
With almost no objection, you know who you are, it was agreed by the members present to be a good idea. He proposed to call it the “Forrest Gump Cup”, as a nod to Tom Hanks’s exploits in the said film. He also provided a comprehensive set of rules for what would count as qualifying miles, along with the cup itself. A new TRC trophy was born.
Mike then wanted to award it for the previous year, 2005. After a short period of requests for mileage, and very much to my surprise, I found that I had won the trophy for its inaugural year, having completed 761 miles of fun.
Although it definitely wasn’t Mike’s intention, winning the cup attracted some rather hurtful comments due to the character that Tom Hanks played in the film. If you’ve seen the film you may know what I mean. Anyway, having won the cup for the first three years, the then committee, God bless them, decided to change the name. They called it the “Gauntlet Trophy” (after Mike Gaunt), acquired a lovely new trophy, and gave me the cup to keep.
Fast forward to 2014, my tenth consecutive “Gauntlet Trophy” win. As there was only one trophy, for one winner, I felt it rather unfair that the women were not getting a look in. So, with the full support of the committee, and the fact that a man had won the previous ten years, I proposed a “Women’s Gauntlet Trophy”. With their agreement I bought, built and presented a women’s trophy for 2015. We thus now have “The Women’s M.G. Gauntlet Trophy” and “The Men’s M.G. Gauntlet Trophy” in place for the foreseeable future.
Fast forward to 2019 and, you’ve guessed it, my fifteenth consecutive “Gauntlet Trophy” win. Only this time I am pleased to confirm that my good friend, Kim Reed, has won her fifth consecutive “Gauntlet Trophy”—the only female winner since its introduction.
Now, to put this trophy into perspective and to further help you nod off, I’ll give you some random stats:
My lowest mileage year was my first, 2005, at 761 miles and my highest was 1,615.5 miles in 2016.
In the last 15 years I have competed in 646 different events, ranging from a 5km race to a 203.4 mile continuous epic.
The total mileage covered in those 15 years was 19,157.75 miles.
I have therefore averaged 43.07 events per year for 15 years.
I have also averaged 1,277.18 miles per year for 15 years.
The stat that did really surprise me is this: for the last 15 years, that’s 780 consecutive weeks, I have AVERAGED 24.56 miles of events per week, EVERY WEEK for 15 years.
I feel rather fatigued just typing this. To finish off (thank God I hear you gasp), I would just like to say that I have not done a single mile “just because of this trophy”. I really do love very long events, sometimes back to back, where the journey is the most enjoyable part. and never quite knowing what the outcome might be.
During this time I have done well over 100 events of 50+ miles, some 26 events over 100 miles and 2 events over 200 miles. I have been privileged to visit, and compete in, some absolutely fabulous parts of the British Isles and abroad and I would not have wished to miss a single mile of it.
As you might now imagine, I am soooooooo looking forward to some sort of normal returning. As I will be 70 years young early next year, I was planning to have a really big year, but that now looks very much in doubt.
Also, as the Equatorial Circumference of the Earth is said to be 24,901 miles, I would like to achieve this journey, figuratively speaking, and through my events, at least before I finally hang up my clogs. About another 6,000 miles to go, so come on COVID, bugger off.
As always, yours in sport and looking forward to seeing some of you soon.
As some of you already know, my family and I are moving to Devon. 4 December 2020 will be our last day here. We have lived in Tring and Marsworth for twenty years, and even though we are excited about our move, it will be a real wrench. It has been a strange time for the club, but I think it is TRC that I will miss most of all.
In 2001, aged 39, I did the TRC Fun Run, having not run since I was forced to do Cross Country at school. I had told myself I would run the London Marathon when I was 40. I was inspired by the spirit of the running club, shown through the enthusiasm and support of the marshals as I struggled along Marshcroft Lane (I set off too fast and still haven’t learnt that lesson 19 years later!).
I joined the club a week or so later. I turned up late for my first Wednesday night, and so went for a run with John Boielle, who gave me a history (not potted) of the club, along with a history of Tring, Grim’s Ditch and the Icknield Way!
Suffice to say, I never looked back (apart from to see if John Manning was about to overtake me) and after about 8 months, ran my first marathon in 2002.
There have been so many enjoyable times over the years – too many to list – but hey, what the hell, I’m going to indulge. Here are some of my best memories and favourite events:
The Greensand Relay. I’ve run every leg except leg 3, and somehow managed to be in the winning handicap team a few years ago. This is a brilliant team event – a must if you haven’t done it yet.
Getting lost with JM on our 1st attempt at the Saunders Mountain Marathon. With negligible navigational experience between us, we managed to more or less reach the top of Helvellyn before we realised our next checkpoint was in exactly the opposite direction. That was one of many mistakes and we were out for 11.5 hours on the first day. Character building stuff.
I went on three Easter weekend trips, and all were great, especially the one at St Johns in the Vale when it snowed. It is beautiful at any time but it was really magical when carpeted white. I remember communal meals, all the kids playing together and, of course, fantastic running.
I’ve loved all the local races – Berko Half, Aldbury 5, Hemel 10 (one for the OAPs!) Hardwicke, Fred Hughes, Pednor 5, Coombe Hill etc., but the Chiltern League races are more special – not much beats being part of a team.
Our club events are always enjoyable – Rick’s Relays, Clive’s Wendover Woods Race, the Brenda Barlow. Even standing in the middle of Northfield Road, politely smiling at irate motorists whilst marshalling the Ridgeway in the pouring rain, is made ok by the appreciation of the participants.
And finally, the Wednesday night runs. However bad or stressful your day has been, almost everything can be cured with an eight mile run with friends to Cholesbury or Wendover Woods. Big shout out to all those that have led me round: Tony H, Colin, Jim, Alison H, Celine, Nigel K, Clive, Brian E and especially John M and Trevor, whose ability to make new routes remains unsurpassed.
So , I am moving to Lynton in Exmoor, North Devon. We are buying a house, part of which we are converting to make holiday lets. It is a beautiful part of the world and is great for running (lots of hills!), cycling (lots of hills!) and walking. We hope that some of you will visit. I have vague plans to host running weekends etc. and (if the committee will allow) I will send more details at some point next spring.
Thank you Tring Running Club – you’ve given me so much.
2020 has been a year of unexpectedness. With a longstanding Ramsay date scuppered by COVID-19 in May, something else with less logistical challenge that could be slotted in at relatively short-notice was required. Inspired by a write up in the Fell Runner (Spring 2018) the Dartmoor Round was added to my bucket list 3 years ago. It fitted the bill perfectly: challenging enough (roughly 75 miles with 4000m of ascent) without being too daunting, and sufficiently close to some childcare in the form of Granny and Grandad.
Although 20 years old, the Dartmoor Round is still embryonic. Until 19th June 2020 there had only been 4 completions. Then, like many other long-distance challenges, there was a flurry of post-lockdown activity, including three rounds by one person.
It takes in 27 different tors, with the quirk that Sheeps Tor is visited twice, as the first and last tor. The tors form a loop that very roughly runs around the edge of the high moor, cutting the odd corner and flirting occasionally with enclosed fields and valleys on the margins and touching the edges of a few of the reservoirs.
The route, as inaugurated by Nigel Jenkins (with once in a thousand-year celebrations on 31 Dec 1999), starts and finishes at the Royal Oak in Meavy, a few kms downhill from Sheeps Tor.
Following the 2020 outbreak of attempts, the round now looks set to become established as a challenge that omits the out and back to the Royal Oak, enabling challengers to start at any of the 27 tors on the route. This probably lends itself to starting at one of the 4 tors that are very close to a road.
Of the 27 tors, I can recall visiting 7 of them as a youngster, but my knowledge of the route was otherwise limited to frequent lockdown fly-throughs, courtesy of Google Earth. My original plan of an evening start and running through the darkness of the northern moor, which I know best, was altered as I developed an armchair schedule which indicated that 20 hrs was a realistic target, navigating on sight with map/compass and altimeter. I reverted to my tried and tested logistics for this type of run and planned a 3.30am start with two brief periods of darkness at the beginning and the end. I designed a schedule to have 8 legs – in other words, seven points where I could receive food and drink, so that I could run as unladen as possible.
In the preceding weeks, Martyn, my lone hill supporter, was dispatched to recce bits of the route, especially the crossing of the Dart. At best, it looked complicated and at worst, life threatening, not due to the river, but thanks to the seemingly impenetrable bracken and trees cloaking the steep-sided valley.
Nine hours before my start time, Martyn informed me that he had been throwing up all day and not been further than his bed or settee. He did, however, let me know that there had been a lot of ‘happy’ people at the Dart crossing on his recce the day before, and that I should probably avoid stumbling across Rainbow camp.
As Kirsty and I drove on to the moor, the evening mist enveloped us and a short walk up Sharpitor (tor 2) was useful from the perspective that it was going to be dark when I was there a few hours later. More advantageous, if not somewhat disconcerting, was a recce in the trees either side of Burrator Reservoir looking at an intricate end to the descent from Sheeps Tor and identifying my chosen entry point of the climb to Sharpitor.
It was 9.30pm by the time I’d finally determined a route and put my head down for a few hours in the back of the car – which was somewhat interrupted when I attempted to go to the toilet, only to discover that the rear doors were child-locked and both front seats were piled high to the roof with various paraphernalia. It was a normal pre-challenge restless sleep, waking feeling tired and lethargic and forcing some porridge down, eventually starting at the pub some 10 minutes later than planned.
My chosen route started sub-optimally by sticking to roads, rather than risking what would have been a shorter on-sight traverse across some fields and through some woods. I played it safe rather than risk getting lost and frustrated from the outset. Steady road running soon saw me on the climb to Sheeps Tor, a bit concerned by how warm it was.
I was completely startled by a dog barking from the inside of a tent I hadn’t spotted that was pitched in some bracken on a flat bit of the climb. I think the dog’s owner was more startled, mind you.
The descent off Sheeps Tor went smoothly via a dog-leg to the east, before picking up the narrow forest footpaths that were still familiar from the evening before, not needing the stick and stone arrows I had laid. Through the car park and a long run around the head of the reservoir to a big dog-leg west, and Sharpitor eventually came out of the mist and gloom at me.
A short descent to a car park where Kirsty served me a drink, before I played it safe keeping to the main road and another car park in order to find a track, rather than cutting the corner. Whilst consulting the map a friendly man jumped out of a steamed-up car – this was 04.40 – and pointed me in the right direction. I have neither no idea who he was nor what he looked like as I decided not to blind him with my headtorch, but thank you, nonetheless.
Along the old railway line before taking in Ingra Tor, with some more faff managing to neither efficiently re-trace my steps nor find a quick alternative to get off the moor to a lane, and a steep down and up across the River Walkham in a deep valley. The first glimpses of daylight made the torch redundant and Pew Tor was visited before meeting Kirsty at 05.31 below Cox Tor for some porridge and to swap my bum bag for a vest packed with greater quantities of food and drink.
Off up to Cox Tor, now heading north along the western flank of the moor, followed by the first section of tussocky moor with less obvious paths to follow.
Dartmoor’s mist made this section tricky and a lot of map and compass work was needed, aided by a handy relocation using a stone-circle that became briefly visible. There must be a more efficient way than my route, but most importantly I did not get lost or misplaced.
Standon Hill’s army huts were eventually stumbled upon, before a leg-sapping descent down and up steeply, roughly and very slowly to Ger Tor. Again, there must be a better route.
Confident in my ability to find my way to Brat Tor without needing a bearing and at the excitement of being able to run again, I trotted for 3 or 4 minutes downhill in the mist before eventually realising I should in fact have been contouring! After that frustration I made hard work of getting to Brat Tor, accidentally taking in a small additional ascent to Doe Tor. Kirsty made a better job walking up to Brat Tor in the mist and was waiting with warm porridge and a resupply of food and drink.
Up and over Great Links Tor and some fast running on the old railway track before taking in Branscombe’s Loaf. By now the day was clear and bright and I was able to try and pick out the best line – if there is one – down and up to Dartmoor’s highest point, High Willhays.
The descent and start of the climb were easy except for the fact, without going into details, that I was experiencing gastric difficulties requiring an enforced stop every 30 minutes or so, that lasted about 5 hours. The long climb got increasingly tussocky and I was glad to finally stand atop Devon.
I was making up time now against my armchair schedule, which continued over Oke Tor and down to the Horseshoe Bend, where my efforts were rewarded with a cold sausage casserole, as I had arrived earlier than planned. I was still able to eat and keep food down, which was a blessing.
Fortunately, the cows let me safely pass between them and cross the river – which proved considerably harder a week later during a wild camping trip – and I felt strong climbing Cosdon Beacon. What should have been an enjoyable run on a path on a comfortable angle off Cosdon quickly became distressing as my stomach demanded I stop, but there were too many other people around.
I was on new lines for the next 15 miles or so until Martyn was, in theory, due to get me across the River Dart. The ground was more runnable than I imagined all the way to Fernworthy Reservoir, via Rippator and Thornworthy Tor. There was a curious new trod emerging through some reeds on the route up to Thornworthy Tor. It was a route you would not choose to take unless you had a reason and I briefly wondered if other people had been out.
After passing beneath the dam I plodded up a steady climb towards the road at Bennett’s Cross, which fresh legs would have made runnable, to meet an enlarged support crew of children, parents and Kirsty – armed with my new food of choice for these long runs. Cold pizza. Mmmmm.
Now heading south through the historic settlement of Grimspound, with lots of people out enjoying themselves, the ground was very runnable and I forced myself to take advantage of it albeit with more of a jog than a run. Over the negligible climbs of Wind Tor and Rowden Ball followed by some road running to meet Kirsty with more pizza, Martyn, and my injured sister.
Sitting at a five-way junction, feeling a bit disorientated, and needing to catch up with Martyn who had opted for a head start, I promptly ran up the wrong road but corrected myself by diving onto the common towards Sharp Tor, where my guide was waiting, looking reassuringly well. He led me, very swiftly, on an exquisite line down and up through a maze of trees, fields, bracken and split-river channels to run past some friends who had come out to surprise me. At this point I thought a new fastest known time for the round was a possibility, so I pushed on offering nothing more than a somewhat weary socially distanced hello.
Martyn nailed the route up to Pupers Hill – albeit with an annoying section of road on which I couldn’t really get going on. Thanks to Google Earth, the route choice to Shipley Bridge was perfect, picking up fast trods that weren’t on the map, including a long tarmac run past hordes of people who were all eyeing the increasingly grey sky.
A quick sit down at Shipley Bridge and a change of shoes into an odd but more comfortable ‘pair’. With a 1h20m buffer against my schedule, I was keen to crack on, but was thwarted by a tractor and trailer that entirely filled the lane from hedge to hedge, only to be followed a minute later by another one.
Martyn sat out this section, which included some fast running out and back to the southernmost tor – somewhat ironically named Western Beacon. My schedule had allowed for the wheels falling off from now on, so I had the option of slowing down or pushing on and picking up more time. Finishing in daylight now seemed a real and enticing possibility.
My mind played tricks on me as Martyn joined again before Hillson’s House. Had I been alone it’s likely I would have got myself in a bit of a pickle and dropped height too soon, so I decided to relax and follow Martyn for the next few miles, taking advantage of his recent recce on this section.
Hillson’s House was steep but gained without trouble as the skies continued to darken. The rain had not been forecast until the small hours but looked set on making an early appearance, which it did as Martyn expertly navigated us over to Penn Beacon. There was nothing for it but full waterproofs as my body temperature plummeted in the wind and rain of the late afternoon.
What I had imagined being a pleasurable run down to Great Trowlesworthy Tor with the final tors stretching out alluringly, turned out to be quite the opposite as thick mist rolled in. A herd of cows became alarmed as we cantered down towards Trowlesworthy, having first climbed up to Shell Top so that we could stay on runnable paths. The cows, about 40 of them, ran and wheeled around either side of us for about ¼ mile before the increasingly boggy ground finally put them off.
We followed a line, carefully memorised from Google Earth, to safely and smoothly reach the ford at Warren House before somehow idiotically crossing the track that we should have turned left on that would enabled an easy ascent of Gutter Tor. A lot of faffing resulted, including an annoying and unnecessary marsh crossing, and a harder climb up the tor with a very confused Kirsty and Jenny on top of the tor as we approached from 90 degrees in the wrong direction.
It was pretty wet and miserable by this point, but not dark enough for torches. It was just a case of trusting Martyn to get us back up and over Sheeps Tor, where a good number of people were enjoying their post-lockdown freedom by camping in the wind and rain, some providing great entertainment by pitching in the most ridiculous wind tunnels between the rocks.
With the end in metaphorical sight, my legs felt a little bit lighter and I was determined not to look at my watch as I flirted with the possibility of completing a sub 17 hour round. Back over the dam and down the road to the pub in Meavy, with the watch stopped at 16h56m. Cue a warm sense of satisfaction as I sat on a bench on the village green and celebrated with a bag of crisps.
Despite the lure of the pub, albeit with the newly introduced track and trace, we opted to get changed and head off for a shower and a comfy bed. I was pleased with my time and for half an hour believed it was a fastest known time until discovering that the trod up Thornworthy Tor had in part been established 6 days earlier when two others had gone round, one 6 minutes faster and the other 55 mins faster.
In the three months it has taken to get around to writing this, the record has been broken two further times, excluding the out and back to Meavy. Firstly, by the first female, in 13h57m. And then in September, on his third successful round of the summer, by Patrick Devine-Wright in 12h40m.
It had been a good day out rediscovering Dartmoor, uncovering new views of Devon and beyond, claiming some new tors and, for a few weeks at least, controlling the insatiable urge to simply run over some hills and wild places.
Thanks to a small band of family and friends – you know who you are – for making this unexpected adventure possible.
I have to say I like my reality to be real. Last weekend I should have been running the Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) two day event with Simon and it would have been real enough and it was in Arrochar, the first real mountains you come to in Scotland….but it wasn’t to be.
What to do? A virtual reality race. When the Saunders Mountain Marathon was canceled, the organisers set up a six-hour score event in the Howgills in Cumbria on MapRunF for anybody to try. It seemed like a good alternative to the OMM weekend, and the wind and rain and hills were real enough, it was just that there was nobody else there.
The wind droned through the roof bars on the car all night as I tried to sleep inside it. I lay watching the stars slowly move round the sky but I must have slept as suddenly it was getting light. I’d set a start time of 9.00 but at 9.00 I was still finishing my tea, so decided on 9.15 but at 9.15 a heavy shower was driving past, so I delayed till 9.30.
It can be an intense moment setting off into the hills on your own, especially empty hills like these where, away from the honeypot of the highest point, the Calf, you seldom see people and somehow I was feeling a bit spooked.
I stuffed an extra fleece into my bumbag like a security blanket. Finally on my way, I found I wasn’t in tune. It started raining so I put on my jacket but then I got too hot and took it off and then the wind got cold as I got higher. My uphill legs weren’t working, probably John’s fault for making me run too hard with the eights on Wednesday. I pushed on telling myself that as the run went on, I would get into it.
My phone was supposed to beep at me when I reached each control but for some, probably very simple, reason it just vibrated so I had to stick my fingers in my bum bag every time I came to what I hoped was the right spot to make sure I got the vibe. I missed seeing the welcoming red and white kites that usually mark the controls.
I had set a wish time of an hour for the fourth control and I should have been pleased when I got there in 55 minutes, but I found I wasn’t particularly. A couple of controls later I was descending into a valley heading for a sheepfold. I saw one below me. There was only one marked on the map but I decided I couldn’t have gone far enough for it to be mine and carried on. That’s the thing with the Howgills. They are small hills but look big and you seem to cover the distance quicker than you expect. I was two minutes past the sheepfold before I accepted the reality and had to retrace my steps.
Two hours gone and I started to get the bit between my teeth and feel the thrill of the chase. They have put cows up in the valleys here now. In the old days it was just sheep, and sheep make good paths to follow. Cows are terrible path makers, they churn up the ground. Following a cow path you are calf (sorry) deep in mud and worse. I was following cow paths through the valleys; the going was slow and my new sense of urgency made it frustrating.
I climbed over a ridge, collected 80 points, and dropped down the other side. Plan A took me up onto the top of Randygill. Plan B took me straight up the valley to the col above Cautley Spout. I was well into the second half of my time and it felt too risky to head further away from home. I dithered, but decided on safety reminding myself I had options of extra controls in valleys either side of the Calf summit, where I was headed next.
The race was on now: me against the clock. From the Calf it was 5km in, mostly downhill and on a good path. How long? The first 5km had taken 55 minutes, with rough ground and a big climb. Must be less than an hour then. At the Calf I had 93 minutes, time to plunge down to a stream junction and get back out again, but I miscounted the contours, it was over 200m re-ascent, not 150. Too late now, I’m committed.
Back up to the ridge, 60 minutes left, but I’m 500m along the path already. Time to nip down to that pond? 60 points? Try it. As I climb back out, I calculate and recalculate. Surely I can do 4km in 40 minutes once I’m back on the path. I can miss out the last control if it’s really tight.
Back on the path, the cairn I’m heading for seems miles away, but suddenly I’m there and I can see the final top just a km away. It takes me 8 minutes. I decide I need 15 minutes to get down to the stream junction for that last 40 points, and then to crash through the bracken to the finish. I have 13. If I’m two minutes late I’ll lose 20 of those 40: worth it.
As I slither down the steep bank to the stream, I cross a trod that must run back down to the road. Four minutes to get back. I won’t do it. I scrabble back up the bank to the trod. At last, the legs respond to the call for speed. I touch the wall and the phone vibrates: 41 seconds late, 10 points lost. Good decisions made.
I sit on the back of the car and the sun washes the hills with gold, the wind is calm now and I can hear the stream pattering away as it has all day while I’ve been out. That’s as good a score as I could have got today. The satisfaction of pushing through the early hours, feeling negative and then engaging in the chase in the second half, testing the limits of the time, sets deep inside. That was good, that was real.
I download and find that of the 100 plus people who have had a crack at it I’m 18th in the rankings. Not too bad, I tell myself but I’m disappointed to be only 3rd V 60.
Running and bingo are hobbies that aren’t usually associated together. But the Running Bingo challenge has been keeping local Tring runners connected while they’re not able to physically run together.
When the lockdown struck, members of the Tring Running Club knew they wanted to stick together as a community. In the BC (Before Corona) era, scores of local runners met every Wednesday evening to run Tring’s trails and roads together.
When the Wednesday evening runs paused, runners were quick to come up with new ideas for virtually running together. The Running Bingo challenge is one of the most popular virtual running games.
It’s simple to play. All you need to do is pick a challenge from the Running Bingo score sheet and head out for a run. Whether you choose to run to a trig point, run in fancy dress, or run in the rain, you’re bound to have fun. Runners are sharing their Bingo successes on the Tring Running Club Facebook page <link> and the Tring Running Club Strava group.
Rachel Wray, Tring Running Club’s Women’s Captain, and the person behind the idea of Running Bingo says, “For many people, running and exercise are more important in lockdown than ever before. The physical benefits, the lift of mood, the fresh air help us face some of the coronavirus challenges.
“And being part of a community, encouraging others and keeping in touch with friends is vital in today’s world.” That’s why Tring Running Club is encouraging all runners and walkers, not just club members, to take part in the Running Bingo Challenge.
Here are Rachel’s top tips for running during lockdown:
Set yourself a challenge for your run. Run to a trig point, run in fancy dress, run in the rain…see the Running Bingo Challenge for more ideas!
Share your run with others. It’s great to see what others are doing and to have people encourage and celebrate your runs with you.
Vary your running. Don’t do the same route every day – try a shorter speedier run one day, a longer slower run the next, followed by a walk the day after. This is better for your physical fitness, makes your exercise routine more interesting, and is easier to stay motivated.
We at Tring Running Club are looking forward to running together again. When the lockdown restrictions lift, we welcome runners of all abilities to run with us on Wednesday evenings from Tring Cricket Club.
It all began in October 2019, when talking to fellow TRC members, Steve and Louise Bladen. They said they were thinking of entering the Beachy Head Marathon 2020. My husband, Stuart, and I both said we would love to be able to do a marathon, and encouraged by Steve and Louise and also, Helen Tullie, we entered.
The uncertainty of whether the event would be held continued throughout our training as we increased our distance. By August, there was a glimmer of hope when the fantastic organisers, Eastbourne Borough Council, indicated that, to the best of their knowledge at that time, the event would go ahead. It was only when our race packs arrived a few days before Saturday did we really believe it would happen.
Race day started dry but breezy. We waited in our socially distanced pen, masks on (until the run began), ready for the start in waves. By this time the wind was starting to pick up.
The first kilometre is up a very steep hill out of Eastbourne, so along with everyone else, we walked. It continues uphill on a path which seemed to me to have an adverse camber, then along the side of a golf course before coming down to Jevington where TRC members, Peter and Naomi Leigh were waiting to cheer us on. Stuart was now so far ahead of me he wasn’t in sight.
From Jevington, we went steeply uphill towards woodland before going down to pick up the South Downs Way at Windover Hill to reach Alfriston, where it was great to see Peter and Naomi again.
A very steep hill took us out of Alfriston to Bostal Hill. From this point we were looking forward to a downhill section of about 5K, but unfortunately we were running into the ever strengthening wind, so even running downhill wasn’t easy!
There was then a short muddy section which reminded us of running in the Chilterns in the winter, before nearing the village of Litlington. There were then two sections of steps to ascend (about 300 steps in total!) in Friston Forest, before emerging to a beautiful view of Cuckmere Haven, with its striking ox-bow lake (which featured in my school geography book!). Then down to Exceat before the start of the Seven Sisters hills across the cliffs.
It was at this point 31k when I saw Stuart ahead of me going downhill. I managed to catch him up (which is most unusual on a downhill section) but he was struggling with very tight legs (from our later research, possibly due to lactic acid build up). Stuart soldiered on telling me not to wait but I was concerned that at this stage he may have to pull out.
Upward from Exceat, the first of climbs to reach the cliffs of the Seven Sisters. There was a strong headwind, which nearly took me off my feet, and words fail me to describe how I was now starting to feel, but somehow I managed to walk reasonably quickly up each of the steep chalky slopes with a gentle jog down.
For a third time Peter and Naomi were there to give encouragement, which at that stage was so welcome.
As the wind grew ever stronger, the route was diverted inland after the descent to Birling Gap. There was then was a long section on a grassy footpath beside a road, a final climb up the last hill and at 40km, thankfully Eastbourne came into view and the end in sight.
A final descent which in parts was very steep, with a short set of slippery steps to negotiate, and with very tired legs, took me to the finish line, where I collected my medal. MADE IT!
Shortly afterwards I was relieved to see Stuart reaching the finish line, as thankfully, his legs had recovered just enough to complete the run.
A fantastic route, beautiful scenery, excellent organisation, friendly marshals, encouragement from walkers and a handful of locals out to watch. Not forgetting the water stops, mars bars, sausage rolls and pasties for those who wanted to indulge. Soreen Malt loaf, dates and Naked Peanut Delight bars, along with ginger fudge personally kept me going.
I would never have dreamt I could complete a marathon, and I am so happy to have done so. But I don’t think I will be putting my trail shoes back on for a few days now!
It seemed too good an opportunity to miss when Beachy Head marathon reopened their entries in September. Although not “race-fit” I had managed a fairly consistent amount of running during lockdown including various trail half marathons, encouraged by a certain Mr. Nigel Kippax! Well, “Shouldn’t take much then to be able to get round Beachy,” I thought. You know, Beachy Head, that awesome, beautiful but brutal trail marathon, 26 miles of off road running, including 3500ft climb…
Beachy Head Marathon used to be called “The Seven Sisters Marathon” and started the same year as The London marathon in 1981 so was celebrating its 40thanniversary this year. It was first organised by the Long Distance Walkers Association, familiar to many TRC members and walkers have always been part of the event.
There have been various changes over the years but the essence of the event, friendly, welcoming walkers as well as runners seems to have been kept. Anyone interested in the history can read it here. There is a real tradition in TRC of running here and unlike London marathon this year, it was ON!
This year, various COVID controls were in place, including a wave start. We assembled on St. Andrew’s Prep School field, standing on our socially distanced dots and wearing our face masks. There was a big screen showing various highlights, including a great shot of TRC’s very own Luke Delderfield after he won last year. “He’s in our club” I proudly boasted to the lady on the dot in front of me, breaking the rules of not speaking to fellow runners, oops.
We were soon off and walking up the first steep hill to the sound of the bagpipes (another Beachy tradition). This was it, it was actually happening!
“Easy pace,” I told myself, “Just do easy pace and try to keep going as long as you can”. Seemed like a good tactic and the first few miles were fantastic. I felt fresh, the easy pace felt easy and I was loving every aspect, the trails, the views, the other runners, even the rather strong wind.
At mile 2.5 a friendly face caught up with me. Lynda had started in a later wave. “Just take it easy,” she said as she ran off. Yep, easy, that was me this Beachy-no need to fight, no need to struggle. This was going to be great. I felt like I’d unlocked a secret: who needs to race when you can take it easy and enjoy yourself!
Only Beachy isn’t quite like that, and Beachy with a very strong wind becomes an even bigger challenge. The “taking it easy” becomes relative as the miles tick along and the hills start to take their toll. “Keep going” might be a better mantra. At times we were running straight into the bellowing wind and it seemed quite remarkable that we were moving forward at all!
The last ten miles are stunning as you reach the cliffs near Cuckmere haven and then onto the seven sisters and Birling Gap. They are also the most challenging. I remembered this from 2017, my only other time at the event. The wind had got even stronger, and although not dangerous, you did need to take care.
My pace up the Seven Sisters was not much different from members of the public not part of the event, however, they had not already run 20 miles…I started to miss the extra feed stations (cut back due to COVID restrictions). I had plenty of food/drink with me, but I missed the psychological boost of “permission to stop, mental regroup, eat and drink”.
The Wager-Leigh family from TRC and Tring parkrun were spectating (largely discouraged due to COVID but great to have some local support). I was pleasantly surprised when I first heard “Yay, go Helen,” I think in Alfriston, and worked out they were talking to me! Then they kept popping up at various points, which was lovely. Although I could have killed Peter Leigh at Birling Gap when he looked at my face (he saw me first) and offered me a lift in his car!
“See that building?” said the male runner in front of me to his mate, pointing to a building at the top of a hill at about mile 24, “once you get there it’s downhill all the way”. I think this was the Beachy Head pub that Celine had told me about; “from the pub it’s all downhill”.
All good, apart from the building was far too far away and the hill was mahoosive. We eventually got there by means of good old walk/run with the emphasis on the walk and then I told my legs to get going, come on! And they did. Hooray, a running gait! Where had that gone?! Nothing like some downhill and a finish line to get the body moving again.
They announce your name as you run over the finish line, even in 2020 when no one is there to watch (well a few marshals). I picked up my pasty and smiled to myself, job done! The winner had got round in 2 hours 40! I think a course record, although the course was slightly different due to erosion, longer if anything though. Walkers were coming in up till near to the cut-off time of 9 hours. I was somewhere between the two. It had indeed been a grand day out!
Little aside: although we didn’t have the TRC crowd we had in 2017 and other years, we did have 7 TRC members at Beachy Head 2020 Marathon. Well done to all: Andy Neill, Lynda Hembury, Steve Bladen, Louise Bladen, Stuart Page, Carole Page (you can read Carole’s Beachy report here). The Pages chose Beachy as their first marathon in time-honoured TRC tradition, so particularly well done to them and congrats to Lynda on her 1st V55!
It is one of my great regrets that I didn’t study geology. Every time I look at a landscape, I feel like I’m looking at a book that I can’t read. Especially when I go up to the White Peak.
White Peak, because it is predominantly limestone, as opposed to Dark Peak, which is gritstone–God’s own rock, as any climber will tell you (from God’s own country as any Yorkshire person will tell you).
The white and the dark have a very distinct boundary in the Hope Valley. To the north, the Great Ridge running from Lose Hill through Hollins Cross to Mam Tor is grit. To the south, the gentler limestone rises up, cut by spectacularly steep and narrow valleys, where the softer rock has been eroded by streams and underneath there are cave systems
We went up on Saturday evening to camp in the field where the next round of the Peak Raid was to start. I was just brewing the morning tea when someone came and knocked on the tent and told us that the race was cancelled as the field was too wet to park 90 odd cars. They couldn’t have a traffic jam down the farm track as the milk lorry needed to get through at 9.00.
I poured the tea and went to chat to Paul, the organiser. He was despondent. The sun was shining, the field was drying, but the decision had been made, the message sent late last evening. There were a few others camped in the field and a few more did arrive, having not got the message. He stuck a crate of maps at what would have been the start and told us we could do what we liked.
The sun, as I say, was shining. Two spectacular fins of limestone stuck up on either side, looking like the fossilised sails of a long sunken ship: Chrome Hill and Parkhouse Hill. I picked up a map, and as I drank my second cup of tea, traced out routes linking the controls together.
Often when I do these score events I wonder about how it would be to link up all the controls. Here was my chance.
I didn’t need to stick to the three-hour time limit. With the Second Wave upon us, who knows how much longer we are going to be able to run in the hills unless we live in them. I didn’t know the area, so a long run would be a good introduction and maybe a temporary, at least, valediction .
Three controls done, I managed a steady jog up a long hill to a ridge, impressing a lady dog walker (and myself, actually). Suddenly, the ground fell away and a vast quarry appeared below my feet. A huge digger was filling an enormous truck with what looked like the last vestiges of the countryside and in a break in the hillside, several chimneys drove clouds of smoke into the air. Mmmmm, limestone is a key component of cement. It felt like the whole White Peak was being dug up so that more concrete can be laid down.
I looked east to the more bucolic landscape, cow fields and those two sails looking, from here, like the rims of some ancient volcano that had once exploded spectacularly, blotting out the sun for centuries. Of course it hadn’t, because the geography I learnt at school remined me that limestone is a sedimentary rock, not an igneous one. No volcanoes here, I think. The fins must have been harder rock, and the surrounding area slowly washed away by the rain.
An hour in and I was feeling like if I had been doing the race, I might have got a pretty good score, but the field paths started to become indistinct on the ground. Cows stated to take an interest in me as I passed through, I missed a couple of turnings and the momentum of the run ebbed away.
The sun went and it started to feel bleak as I passed down-at-heel farms with rusting machinery abandoned in the yards. Doggedly I picked off the control sites, and Parkhouse Hill came back into view. I got completely lost in a field and waded thigh deep through a river to find myself not by the road as I had hoped, but in somebody’s back garden. I had to jump back into the river.
Finally, I reached the foot of Parkhouse. There was a control on top, and the last one was on the top of Chrome Hill. The ridges on both were sharp and almost like a proper mountain. Enough, certainly, to unsettle some of the families toiling up or teetering back down. Yes, it was good to be out and on the hills but I got back feeling a bit flat, having missed the uncertainty and focus of the time limit and the race. And I discovered I had missed one of the controls, so mission not even accomplished.
I heard today that the last two rounds of the series have now been cancelled due the Second Wave. So many hammer-blows you hardly notice them anymore.
Club Run Report, Eight Minute Mile Group, Wednesday 30 September 2020
In this period of change for Tring Running Club Wednesday nights, the 8s pace group has been venturing a little further afield. This week, we met at the common at Cholesbury for an adventure across the ridges.
In the last month, we have been joined by five new Tring Running Club members so welcome to Rebecca, Ricky, Tim, Mark and Taylor. I think that this week we introduced them to the genuine TRC experience – running the trails, in the dark, in the rain, in the mud! As Paul Bayley said, it was “wetter than an otter’s pocket”.
Heading south from the common, we were soon at Asheridge Farm, the former home of politicians Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS, and Jennie Lee, who was the leading light in the foundation of the Open University.
Through Braid Wood, an owl silently swept out in front of us. We dropped down a chalk gully to bring us to the first climb up to Chartridge. It was a bit like the slow, clanking crawl at the start of a rollercoaster ride, for what followed were four more descents and climbs across the ridges. Down to Pednor Bottom to cross the route of the Pednor Five. Up to Pednor House with its elaborate brick dovecote. A swoop down through a field of clover and a pivoted rambler gate to another iconic race route in Herberts Hole, and then up again for a brief respite before the long swing down a field edge and the juddering ascent back to Chartridge.
In the village, we turned next to the Mission Church to enter a hedge tunnel which became narrower and nettlier before bursting into an open field, sweeping down and up to Asheridge. Looking back, I could see a long line of headtorch lights strung out like pearls on a necklace. Along the road we passed the Blue Ball Inn (Bevan’s local) adorned with its symbolic sign of horseshoe and…..blue ball.
The valley slopes across to Bellingdon were thankfully shorter and we were rewarded with a run along the ridge top to HG Matthews Brickworks (an eco friendly maker of bricks using local clay and wood fired ovens), where the footpath threads a way round the perimeter. One last plunge down through the woods and then a final climb up a slippery Rays Hill path, to emerge beneath the sails of the windmill beside Cholesbury Common.
The bright lights of the Full Moon Pub beckoned but we were, sadly, too wet to adjourn there. Next time.
Photos were taken during the reccie of this route, apart from the one showing headlights in the dark.
When I finished the Ashridge Boundary Trail, I remember saying to someone, “That will be the last race for a while”. It was almost six months to the day until the next one, which I did last Sunday. The guys behind it have managed to get permission for a COVID secure series of events over the autumn: four three-hour score events in the Peak, the first one starting from Bamford.
Instead of having dibbers which might involve touching the control, we had to use an App on our phones. Running with a phone is anathema to me; I run to escape that digital world. In the days before, I was feeling stressed about the tech, but when I finally sat down to get it on the phone it proved very easy and, surprisingly for tech related things, it actually worked. I drove up in eager anticipation and found my usual car park for Saturday night full of people in camper vans. I squeezed in between them and got the back seats down.
When I sit down with a beer and a map and look at the spread of controls, a couple of relaxed minutes will show me an optimal route. Standing on the start line, however much I try to get myself calm and focused, when I first look at the map all I see is a jumble of controls with no pattern at all. I made my way slowly up the lane nose in the map, trying to decide where to go first and last and to then build a route from there.
An old lady I passed, carrying a couple of picnic chairs called out, “Are you all right dear, where are you trying to get to? I’m not surprised you are lost if you have come from Tring.” I know she was just being helpful, but I felt quite inclined to help place her chairs somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine. I didn’t actually know where I was trying to get to, that was the problem.
Eventually, decision made, I set off to gather three controls in the woods above Ladybower, before climbing onto the slopes of Win Hill. The day was warm, the breeze was soft, and the great bulk of Kinder looked benign and inviting in its heather coat.
It has been a while since I ran with map in hand, and my navigation was hesitant, but, for the most part, accurate. Running came easy and I was even able to keep a good jog on the less steep uphill bits. Life was good again.
I reached the trig on Win Hill to gain 50 points and then collected another couple of controls on the sides of the hill. I plunged back down into the woods for 40 points and 90 minutes were up so it was time to start to circle back towards home, through the Edale Valley.
I climbed up the lower part of Lose Hill to get a 30 and a 20. The summit, with its 60 point control looked very tempting, but I knew there just wasn’t quite time for it. I had been running with a young couple who were travelling much faster than me but, every 400m, would stop and scrutinse the map and have a long discussion. I think this was just a ploy to let me overtake and show them the way.
We came into Hope and I heard them say, “Well, we might as well, we’ve got plenty of time” and they disappeared, I think into the pub for a swift half. I made my way back through the fields via a parkrun-style cow interlude. I had left a 30 pointer as a bonus if I had time. I reckoned I just did, even though it meant a bit of a climb back up Win Hill.
I was back to laze on the grass and chat, socially distanced, with 2.30 mins to spare. 450 points was a good haul, I reckoned, until my mate Pete came in a few minutes behind me with 500. He’d made the trip to the top of Lose Hill. He’s older than me but just better, curse him.
1 Marc Anderson 600 points 20 Rick Ansell 450points 140 odd finished.
It probably didn’t go unnoticed to most that I recently attempted the Bob Graham Round. In case you missed it (I’ve no idea how if you did), here are my musings of what was an excellent weekend in the Lake District.
Firstly, who and what is the Bob Graham Round? Bob ran a Bed & Breakfast in Keswick and he liked nothing more than taking long walks on the fells. The round itself consists of 66ish miles over 42 peaks, 8,200m of ascent, all to be completed in under 24 hours.
It’s said that each of the peaks represents a year of Bob’s life. Incidentally, the 42nd peak was added in 1932, the year after his first attempt was unsuccessful. Some wish he had got the job done the first time!
It’s also said that Bob walked, not ran, the round in tennis shoes, long shorts and a pajama jacket. His food was bread and butter, a lightly boiled egg and plenty of fruit and sweets for energy. His record stood for 28 years before it was broken.
The breaking of the record was the end of an era and the start of a new one—who would have envisaged how many would follow him around the circuit in years to come? To the end of 2019 there are 2,384 ratified rounds.
On the weekend of 21st August 2020 I was in the Lake District, hoping in some small way to leave my name in the fell running history books, as many from Tring Running Club already have.
In the days leading up to the weekend there was lots of weather watching and the forecast wasn’t looking good. Being so high up on the fells, the highest point in England at one point, the weather can make or break any attempt. With the forecast of 70 mile an hour winds and heavy rain I decided to postpone my attempt until midnight 22nd August, the weather looking more favourable (sort of).
I set off on my round at midnight Saturday 22nd August, through the ‘ginnel’ across Fitz Park and out onto the fells towards the summit of Skiddaw. My leg 1 support was Alan Whelan and Simon James. Delaying the start seemed to be paying off, looking up at the dark starry sky. Sadly, by the time we hit the summit, the wind was gusting across the top and visibility was down to about 2 metres.
Despite the wind and rain, at first the leg went well and we soon found ourselves atop Blencathra, 30 minutes ahead of schedule. We had only the Halls Fell descent ahead of us to finish Leg 1. All 3 of us had descended Halls Fell a number of times before the weekend. It’s a pretty scary prospect in the daylight and in good weather. Unfortunately, in the dark and wet we lost the path. What followed was a long arduous climb, sometimes looking down sheer rock faces, shimming carefully down ‘chimminies’ onto ledges. An hour later we arrived at Threlkeld, over schedule.
Despite putting in an immense amount of training for the Bob Graham, I started to suffer from cramp. This is something I have been plagued with in the past but not in the last 12 months. Simon J & Karin Voller gave me some pretty painful massages at the change over, hoping this would help. After the massage and a bowl of porridge I set off on leg 2 with John ‘any cairn will do’ Millen and Paul ‘Pack Horse’ Bayley.
The climb up Clough Head seemed slow but by the time we got to the top we were back on schedule. The Dodds were uneventful, and all the way over to Helvellyn and on to Dollywagon Pike we were about on schedule.
On the descent to Angle Tarn, I started suffering badly with cramps again and our progress slowed considerably. By the time we got to the summit of Fairfield we were 6 minutes down on schedule. Still, no reason for panic.
The descent to Dunmail was the killer. We were now 11 minutes down on schedule. More massage, a bacon sandwich (prepared by Nigel Lacey), flat coke and a cup of tea and it’s time to go. This time in company with Simon Barnett and Roland Kelly. This was the first time I met Roland!
Leg 3 is a make or break leg; a high percentage of those who fail to complete the Bob Graham retire at the end of Leg 3. Simon and Roland had relieved me of everything that I had been carrying so I could run unencumbered. Carrying my water and snacks seemed to make sense to me at the start but carrying 1kg of water took its toll eventually. The 10 minute break at Dunmail had been shortened to 7 to try and get back on track. I didn’t learn this till after. I also had help from Lynda Hembury and Brian Layton on this leg, who joined us to High Raise before heading off to Rossett Pike, whilst we completed the Langdales.
The leg turned into a war of attrition with some pretty awful weather, which required getting into full waterproofs. The timings ebbed and flowed, with schedules being met at some tops and lost on others. I was glad to see the highest point in England, Scafell Pike but knew Lords Rake and the West Wall Traverse lay ahead. We skirted around Scafell to the Rake, which looked like a waterfall! No turning back now, up we went, slipping and sliding, trying not to think about the consequences of a fall.
The top came into sight, metaphorically speaking—you couldn’t see much, to be fair. Just the scree descent to Wasdale left, where I was looking forward to a bowl of ravioli and a cup of tea. We arrived 27 minutes behind schedule. My schedule was for 23 hours 30 minutes, so not much leeway.
I knew long before Wasdale that I wasn’t going to be retiring and It was a matter of going through the motions, eating, drinking, a change of clothing and off. Celine and Kirsty kindly removed my wet upper clothing and replaced them with dry layers. They went above and beyond by removing my shoes and socks, drying my feet, and putting dry socks on—all whilst I was being spoon fed my ravioli.
I can still hear Henrys’ voice ringing in my ears, “Come on Andy we’ve got to go,” over and over! I was helped out of my seat and staggered off towards Yewbarrow, whilst having my waterproof jacket and gloves put on me. I was mostly incapable of anything but putting one foot in front of the other at this point.
Joining me on this leg with Henry was Gareth Tomlinson, another person I just met for the first time. Simon Barnett also decided to join me again. I wasn’t chatty, to say the least, despite Gareth’s best efforts and his singing!
We left Wasdale 25 minutes down. I didn’t have much left in me. We weren’t too far off the schedule timings between the tops, but I was unable to gain anything back. In fact, I lost a further 22 minutes overall, putting me 49 minutes behind.
Before arriving in Honister I sent people ahead to get everything ready, as I decided I wasn’t stopping, and was aiming to hopefully gain some time back. I had 2 hours 52 mins to complete the final leg. On a previous recce I had completed the leg in about 2 hours 20 minutes, so I wasn’t losing hope. Karin and Rich Bedlow joined me. I felt I was moving and climbing well. We got to Dale Head in 38 minutes (2 minutes over schedule), Hindscarth 23 mins, (3 minutes over) and the final top Robinson in 30 minutes (2 minutes over). We got to the road at about 23 hours 27 minutes, leaving me 33 minutes to run about 7k, which is 4:43/km.
I ran as hard as could, with loads of encouragement from Rich, Karin and Celine who had joined us, but it was just too much. I made it to Portinscale, which is 4km from the finish, and had only 5 minutes left. I realised that it was done.
Everything shut down and I could barely walk in a straight line. It was over. I was not going to finish in under 24 hours. As I staggered the final 4km, I mentally processed everything that had happened, already thinking about the next time.
These adventures are, in themselves, quite selfish pursuits, but supported by completely selfless people. I cannot thank you all enough for all the time and money you spent in pursuit of my dream. I’m sorry I didn’t quite achieve it. As I said at the beginning, this would never have been possible without the help and support from my friends at Tring Running Club and Run the Wild. Thanks to Alan Whelan, Simon James, John Millen, Paul Bayley, Simon Barnett, Henry Keighly-Elstub, Rich Bedlow, Karin Voller, Nigel Lacey, Celine Wilcock, Kirsty Barnett, Brian Layton, Lynda & Paul Hembury. Thank you also to the two people I didn’t even meet until the day itself, Roland Kelly and Gareth Tomlinson. Finally thank you to my wife Katie for her continued support in my crazy adventures.
I was going to call this ‘eight twos’ but I got so many difficult questions from the editor about why I called my last post ‘seven fives’ I decided against it. Anyway, according to my book there are eights twos but according to the map there are nine so it was a bit confusing. Eight (or nine) 2,000’ hills in the Cheviots that is – an upland area straddling the border between Northumberland and Scotland. I went over the top of the ninth, it was on my way from the third to the fourth so it doesn’t matter if there are eight or nine because I did them all. Perhaps I should have gone metric added The Schill in and made it 10 sixes (600m hills).
Enough of numbers, we are talking about hills and it was the lack of numbers to worry about that made the run particularly enjoyable. This wasn’t a race so I wasn’t worried about which number I finished and, although I reckoned it would take me about six hours I wasn’t running against the clock so the only pressure was to enjoy the day. With this attitude I find you relax and start to flow rather than fight my way over the hills. Instead of seeing the next hill as being miles away you start to see it as too near as you will arrive too quickly and have less running to do once you have got there.
Despite the post-lockdown madness I thought the Cheviots would be reasonably quiet and I’d always thought a circuit of all the high points would make a good and not too demanding day out. With no races or events to go at at the moment I am slowly ticking off these little challenges that dismal winter evenings have given birth to over the years.
I set off in a light drizzle from Hartside, the roadhead in the Breamish Valley. It was good to be running with a map and compass in hand until I realized that the map I was using wasn’t waterproof. It was an old event map. Nowadays any map you get given to race with is waterproof but in the old days you had to put your map in a big plastic bag to keep it dry and this map was 15 years old and I didn’t have a big plastic bag. I decided I would have to only use it if the weather got really bad and in the meantime try to navigate from memory. I wrapped the thing up in my waterproof and tucked it away in my bumbag. Running from memory did lead a to a couple of errors but nothing that added much time to the day and later the sun came out and I was able to use it again. A close call, though as a map turning to pulp would have spoilt the day.
The first hill was Hedgehope and this was that annoying gradient that’s just not steep enough to walk. So I had to run it and it was a steady 3km up hill grind. By the top I was nicely warmed up and ready for a jelly baby. A lovely downhill run led me to the morass that is Comb Fell. I escaped this to get stuck into the steep grassy slopes of the Cheviot. The heather was in full bloom and for once I loved pushing through the thick vegetation. I was in no hurry, just pushing hard enough to feel I was working. After the Cheviot and its two (or three) satellite tops there was a long section of mostly flagstones along the Pennine Way to Windy Gyle. I padded happily along thinking of weary Spiners coming up here in the last few miles of the race and wondering if I would go on feeling as happy as I was if I went on south all the way to Edale.
Leaving the Peninne Way I dropped into the Usway Valley and jogged up the track to the lonely Uswayford Farm. The next hill was Bloodybush Edge and I did start to lose my equanimity as I stumbled through the tussocks on tiring legs but the trig pillar eventually came into view. The wind was at my back and there was just one hill to go before the final 5km run in. I trotted back to the car feeling more than content with the day; sufficiently tired without having had to flog myself.
I reckoned the day was about 36km with 1,400m and a good mix of easy running on the Pennine Way and hard going on tussocks. It took me 6.32.
I have a book listing the names of mountains in England and Wales (the ones in Scotland need a book of their own) and at one point the author imagines a scenario of the sea level rising by 2,000 feet and the country being reduced to a number of islands, the largest of which would be the Northern Pennines from Cross Fell south which would be about 18 miles long, apparently.
I imagined a similar scenario applied to the moors north of Crowden, up to Black Hill in the Peak District and used a 500m rise in sea level as 2,000 feet would drown everything. This gave six islands, the biggest of which would have two or three little sections standing proud of the others perhaps with a palm tree on top. A run was born.
I took Max with me and we made a day raid on the Peak. I wanted to see if I could still run over rough ground. Leaving the humid fug of the south I was apprehensive. Running has been an effort. Going out on my bike I haven’t yet met a cyclist who didn’t have a big grin on their face, as I have done but while running it’s been more of a grinace if I can invent a word.
Getting out of the car you could smell the heather on the breeze, overpowering the smell of the Woodhead road. I felt a gentle tide of energy rise within and as we set off I found myself jogging comfortably up the hill. I think Max was even more surprised. The time was when I used to feel like I could just float over the hills and those old feelings came flooding back. Back was my cycling grin and a cheery ‘Hi’ as we passed people replacing my more usual dour grunt these days.
I looked ahead and thought: ‘I’ll have to walk that bit’ only to find myself running the steepening ground when I got there. My knees seemed suddenly well oiled and moved easily without the usual clicks and grates and groans. We paused on top of Black Hill and after an easy run down the Pennine Way headed for the proper rough moorland around the Chew Reservoir.
Usually I curse and swear at the tussocks and bog but today I embraced them, once or twice literally. After months of the hard paths of Ashridge to be on truly unrunnable ground was glorious.
The day was perfect for running: clear and breezy; warm and cool. There was a slight haze which hid Manchester and added scale to the moors all purple and green in their summer shirt of heather and grass. Usually it is winter when I run here and the moors are a drab brown. We found our little nunatacks, one even had a baby Christmas tree growing on its top, and stumbled back to the path at Lad’s Leap, legs still full of running. As we tripped back down to the car I felt a genuine sadness that we were finishing. I could, I thought, comfortably go and do it all again.
There was only one real regret: we didn’t see a mountain hare. Normally when I run here, however badly I go, if I’ve seen a hare it’s been a good day. This was a good day even without a hare.
Vital statistic: we ran for 3.18 and probably covered about 22km. And this article is called Seven Fives because there were six hills over 500 metres but one had two tops, hence seven x 500m.
Well what a week last week was for dot watchers and fell records. Simon alerted to me to all that was happening. First we had Kim Collison breaking the long-standing Lakes 24 hour record, probably the blue ribband record. Kim visited 78 Lakeland hilltops in 23.45 adding an extra peak to Mark Hartell’s record. A few hours later Sabrina Verjee set a women’s record for doing all the Wainwrights, the third fastest time, pushing Simon down the rankings and then American John Kelly, now resident in Bristol took 40 minutes off the Pennine Way record.
Of a similar order of magnitude, perhaps with the addition of a few decimal places, was my own Four Peaks run. These are of course Whiteleaf Cross, Coombe Hill, Aston Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon, a route often walked for charity.
This was the first time since lockdown that I haven’t run from my doorstep. I’ve done the run a couple of times in the past, once with Michael when we left a car at each end and once alone when I left a bike at one end and cycled back to the car afterwards. This time I decided to use a support team and decided to run west to east to have the prevailing wind behind me (yes, alright, that comment doesn’t need making). This was actually a mistake as it was a warm day and breeze in my face would have been helpful.
I was watched dourly by an armed Policeman as I crossed Chequers and then I got lost in the woods approaching Coombe Hill. I was sure I followed the Ridgeway sign, somebody must have moved it and I ended up having to struggle back up the road. I was once presented with a compass that had its needle bent as I used to complain that my own compass never pointed the right way which is why I got lost so much. All these conspiracies set up to thwart me. As I organise a race on Coombe Hill you’d think I’d know my way round there pretty well but I managed to put in an extra loop by returning almost to the carpark.
Back on track I was passing through a gate being held open by a couple out for a walk, trying to look focused and determined and impressive I took a nose dive at their feet. It wasn’t going well.
At the foot of the Hale I met Max and stopped for a drink and to compose myself. I managed a good steady jog all the way up to the top of Wendover Woods and out to the trig on Aston Hill. The end was in sight, well almost, but I still had to get through Tring and then face the tedium of Marshcroft Lane.
Being from Berko I always feel slightly sullied coming to Tring and having to run down the High Street on a hot afternoon wasn’t fun. Head down and I managed a proper run rather than shuffle up Marshcroft and then sat down in the shade for a drink. I did have to have a bit of a walk on the steep bit of Pitstone Hill. I held the gate for a family out walking. “Wow it’s just amazing here isn’t it. We haven’t been here before” I looked up at Incoombe Hole. Yes they were right, it is pretty amazing and a bloody sight easier than climbing Lakeland hills.
“That was good” I said as I finally sat down by the final trig point. But of course what I really meant was, “It’s good that I can stop now”.
It will be great to see as many of the club members as possible have a crack at what will be the 10th edition of our annual Wendover Woods Hill Run. This year it’s an event with a difference: the route stays the same but it will be a virtual run.
Dates A 3 week window to submit an entry, starting from 13 July to 31 July.
So if you are unfamiliar with the route you have some time before the run window opens to reccie the route.
There’s no limit to the number of times you (masochists!) run the course, but you can only submit one entry.
There will be no route markings this year (Forestry England would not permit us to put down biodegradable line marker as usual).
Social Distancing Please conform to whatever the social distance guidelines are when doing your run. Remember you are in effect representing Tring Running Club, so any group running absolutely must conform to the operative guidelines on group size and distance.
Running in a small group If you do not feel confident about self navigating, a cunning (devious – reeks of pyramid selling!) plan has been masterminded by Nigel K. Essentially we will have a number of run leaders (an 8 leads the 9-minute-mile groups, a 9 leads the 10-minute-mile group etc.) who will lead a group of 4 runners around the course at RACE SPEED. One to lead and one to mop up. These runs could be on a Wednesday evening or any other time that’s convenient for the group. More to follow.
Submitting Results For those on Strava a club has been set up for the run, “Tring RC WW 2020”. Please join this group and call your run “Wendover Woods 2020”
If you are not on Strava simply email your result to me (email@example.com), plus the date and time of your run.
Woods access and car parking Parking is £2.50 for 2 hrs per car payable on exit by cash, card or SMS at the new machines in front of the old (now closed) Cafe In The Woods.
Wendover Woods New Car Park. HP22 5NQ
Currently the woods open at 08:00 and close at 18:00.
You can of course enter the woods outside these hours. If parking outside the woods either Aston Hill (before the MTB) entry or the free car parking area at at woods exit are recommended.
I love geography. When I was about 12 and about to change schools, I was given a choice to study Latin or Geography. I opted for Geography but was told I should choose Latin. That’s the good thing about posh schools; they always know better than you what you want.
Anyway, the Latin came in handy later when I found myself having spells living in Spain, Italy and Brazil. I developed a mixture of all three languages and spoke what I called modern Latin. It was a shame that, although I was pretty fluent, I seemed to be incomprehensible to everyone else.
I love maps and when the world is out of kilter a map and glass of beer soon put it back to rights. I’ve been spending a lot of time recently looking at maps (alright, and drinking beer). Years ago when looking at the local map I noticed that it showed a ridge of high ground separating the Gade and Bulbourne Valleys with four cardinal points: a trig point on the road near Fields End, (it’s marked on the map but I have never found it despite searching high and low, well just high, obviously), a trig point on the edge of a little copse just off Beacon Road towards the Beacon, Ivinghoe Beacon itself and Bridgewater Monument.
A run was born (or should that be bourne?).
It’s probably about 20 miles, though I’ve never measured it, it’s a sort of extended Boundary Trail. I have run it a few times and always suffered on it. The last time I did it was with Simon when he was training for his Bob Graham and Kevin joined us. I remember that as we were coming back across the Common Kevin ran off to get dinner on. Simon and I looked at each other and breathed ‘Thank God’ and sat down for a rest before ambling home.
Last week I did the Boundary Trail and dried out at the Monument. I was hoping to refill my bottle at the tap beside the café but the vandals (from the NT) had taken the handle. I struggled home trying to remember the rest of the lyrics to Subterranean Homesick Blues. To counteract this, I drafted in Max (my son) as a mobile drinks station and set off for the Gade Valley Skyline wondering how much I would suffer.
All went well to Potten End and the first drinks stop. I even paused to look at the bee orchid above Well Farm. On the road section round to Fields End, though I was suddenly assailed by stomach cramps. I was wondering if I was having contractions but on reflection thought probably not. Some retching and the passage of wind and I was back on track, though actually I wasn’t as I had missed a path and needed to backtrack. Eventually I made it to St Margaret’s and the next drink. From here there is a long flat section to Little Gaddesden. I wasn’t feeling any worse so pressed on towards Hurst Farm and the Beacon. I was decidedly weary now and had a little walk up Steps Hill but kept myself going to the Monument and the last drinks station.
The wheels finally completely fell off as I got to Northchurch Common and I had to hobble back down the hill to home, my knees screaming. I’d forgotten to take the painkillers I normally need to keep me running. I know you’re not supposed to but it’s either Nurofen and run or not.
I think that’s enough for long local runs. Next week I’m going cycling. It doesn’t hurt.