The Hexhamshire Hobble

December 06, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I wasn't going to bother. I hadn't run for a while and I had no great desire to drag on a pair of running shoes and head for Allendale. But the weather forecast suggested it could be a fun outing; sunshine and frost. Always an exciting combination for a fell race, and the promise of some wintry glittery landscapes, which are always nice. 

Dave Rich and PhilFRA-Category-CM - Fell Race - Hexhamshire Hobble - Hexhamshire Hobble - 2012 -- Sun 02 Dec 2012 10-56-23 GMT
Turning up at Allendale Middle School we were flagged, pointed and waved into a parking place. So far, so straightforward. Although there seemed to be a negligable number of toilets. No matter, I jogged down the road to look for some wooded hollow that I remembered from a couple of years back only to discover that someone had built a housing estate on top of it. Back into the school to be registered and a warning look from the lady who advised me that I should have 'something else to put on' when I was out on the fells, over and above my Striders vest. Wise words. In many respects I sometimes feel this sort of fell race can be more dangerous than some of the big in-your-face beasts such as the Grisedale Horseshoe, where it's impossible to start under the brooding Lakeland fells without feeling the teeniest bit mortal. The hobble, on the other hand, looks deceptively tame, and as far as fell races goes, isn't very long, and isn't very hilly. But the devil is in the detail, and the detail is the potential for being caught miles from shelter if the weather turns nasty.
Today however the weather was kind. The organisers, however, were not. Runners who ignored the mandatory kit requirements and clear warnings of disqualification discovered that the organisers walk the walk. Somewhere further back at the tail end of the field I was walking my own walk, up more hills than usual, having proved the hypothesis that if you don't train, you don't go very fast. I'd started the race with Anita and Rich (who didn't seem to know if he was coming or going), then decided to latch on to Dave Shipman. I thought I'd be a smart arse and pass him exactly where I passed him two years ago, getting some matching photos from the same spot. As we got closer to the shadowy dip Dave rather spoilt the plan by getting further away so I kinda gave up on that idea. Soon he disappeared from view entirely.
On the last side of the triangle I really began to feel the miles and contemplated with a sort of detached fascination how quickly one's form erodes away if you don't keep on running. It was good photo weather and I tried to capture a few frosty scenes, glancing back from time to time to see if Rich and Anita were nearby. With no PB pressure I jogged on concentrating on simply putting one foot in front of the other which, in these slippy conditions, wasn't always quite as easy as it sounded.
icy winter sceneFRA-Category-CM - Fell Race - Hexhamshire Hobble - Hexhamshire Hobble - 2012 -- Sun 02 Dec 2012 12-33-08 GMT
The finish was in the same playing field as the start and Alister was there to shout the straggling Striders home along with Sara and Murphy. The prize ceremony was indoors, as were the tea and cakes and a extraordinarily long list of spot prizes. As usual, a well organised running of this quirky race that can be very gentle some years and extremely hostile on others. It's this unpredictability that makes it so interesting.
MurphyFRA-Category-CM - Fell Race - Hexhamshire Hobble - Hexhamshire Hobble - 2012 -- Sun 02 Dec 2012 12-56-53 GMT

Brough Law

March 07, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Last year it was sunny. This year it wasn't. It was squally, windy and cold and I didn't like it. I like soft gentle snow or calm but cold. I don't like rain, especially rain that goes more sideways than downways and has passed through a refrigeration process on its travels.

Brough Law - Brough Law - 2012 - Fell Race -- Sun 04 Mar 2012 11-00-13 GMT

Still, I'd driven from Durham to Brough Law. I was here now. I might as well run around a big hill for a few miles. You know the weather's a bit wild when Will uses the words 'mandatory' and 'kit' in the same sentence, in the same race briefing. I had three layers on, which for me, is the equivalent of a 15 Tog duvet, and I was still cold.

Brough Law - Brough Law - 2012 - Fell Race -- Sun 04 Mar 2012 11-08-45 GMT We started and the mortals at the back crossed the road, hit the hill, and started walking. Then as we climbed and followed the shoulder of Brough Law round to the south a lovely thing happened. It all became surrealy calm. I'd expected it to get wilder as we got higher, not nicer. I was pleased to latch on to an Otley runner who paced me nicely round the the whole course observing all the corners and paths that some were choosing not to, until we returned to Brough Law and there is a surprisingly confusing fork in the tracks that can easily fool the runner even so close to home. She waited for me and with my years (1) of experience of the course I pointed along the right fork. She said this was her first race and she had certainly chose a baptism of sleet. There follows a joyous slightly mad grassy descent all the way to the finish, which is just the other side of the road. During a soggy presentation ceremony I spotted Louise McGolpin who I recognised from yesterday's Harrier League. The race was won by Phil Sanderson.


I've just read Will's report about how the course was marked out last night with help from the scouts under a meteor sky. That must have been a very special thing to see in a very special place.

Pacing the Perfect 30 Minute Durham parkrun

February 26, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

It started, for me, in the London Marathon. I was well-prepared, trained, and confident of my first sub-four marathon. But then the sun came out and my race plan went down the pan. I remember vividly, at mile 21, being passed by a chap with a lollipop. It said "Runners' World 3:56 pacer", and I thought, Game On! Stick with him, and the sub-four is still on. It wasn't to be and after finishing the wrong side of four hours I walked up to the lollipop man and said, (only a little jokingly) "When you passed me, my world fell apart". A spasm of pain crossed his otherwise tranquil features, and he said "oh please don't say that! I hate it when people tell me that!".

I was intrigued. Being a pacer looked interesting; a dream fulfiller, a dream destroyer. Still, it couldn't be difficult. Just punch the buttons on the Garmin for the average pace, and watch the needle. Piece of Cake. Who needs a pacer? Anyone with a stopwatch can do the job themselves, surely ...

The Durham parkrun, at 5km, is not the London Marathon, and my first attempt at being the 30 minute pacer was pretty relaxed. I didn't have the resources of Runners' World behind me, but I did have a bit of bamboo, some duck tape, and a laminator. I had my lollipop! This wasn't complicated. A 30 minute, 5km run, is 6 minutes a kilometre. Keep the average pace at 6 minutes a kilometre, and the job's done. Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy. I ran round the track a few times to get a feel for what the pace felt like and got the rhythm in my head. No problem. And I had the Garmin. No problem. We assembled at the start, and away we parkrunned.

Garmin clearly didn't road-test their watches on Durham City Riverbanks where the tree cover soon puts the satellites in their geostationary place. This wasn't as easy as it looked. In the weeks (and months) that followed, in what psychiatrists will one day no doubt recognise as some new form of OCD, I gradually refined the timings and tweaked the paces until I think I've finally got it about right. So if you fancy 30 minute pacing at the Durham Parkrun, here are my tips.

It's all about trust. You have to run the parkrun as the people you are pacing will run it. You will, sadly, spend most of the race overtaking people who have dashed away from the start with their pants on fire only to burn out before they've run got beyond their first kilometre.

Start slow, be steady, and don't worry about the pace too much to begin with. In fact, don't worry about it at all. Don't jump about, don't make any sudden moves, and only overtake if there is room for you, and anyone else who is follow you, do do so. Run from the back and run with the pack. When you hit Horsley Corner (03:30) look at the watch. It should be saying something between 3 or 4 minutes. If you're below 3 minutes you're going too fast.

The next stretch along the riverbanks to Noisy Bridge (06:30) is usually very congested, so don't fight it. Don't waste the energy of the runners you are pacing by trying to squeeze through the crowds. Even if you are more than 30 seconds down at this point don't try and claw it back over a few hundred metres. There's plenty of time to adjust the pace.

You should reach Noisy Bridge between 6 or 7 minutes. This is about 1km. In theory, based on an average pace of 6 minutes a kilometre, you should hit it on 6 minutes. But this is too fast too soon. The key is consistency of pace. You need to build up the trust of the people you are pacing. Speed changes should be smooth and "make sense". There are several places where your speed might change naturally as you turn into or out of a headwind, or change from running on grass to running on path. Try and avoid suddenly changing pace where it makes no sense, such as half-way along a long stretch of playing field.

Once across Noisy Bridge things open up and you can start getting into a steady efficient light rhythm. You should also run try as close to the correct measured parkrun route as possible; i.e. don't cut the corners, and keep about a metre or two from the outside of the playing fields.

As you jingle your bells around the playing fields (09:30) you will steadily pass runners. Don't expect to be popular. If it's windy then the long southern leg down the east-side of the fields will be heavy going and many runners will be weary from a too-fast start and lose heart. There's not much you can do about that except keep your pace steady and resist the temptation to get time in the bank. The Durham Parkrun should be run as a very slight negative split; run the first half about 30 seconds to a minute slower than the second half. Keep people hanging on and hopeful for as long as possible. When you turn around the bottom corner next to the rugby pitches (13:30) there is often a speed change as the wind turns behind or against you. This is the time to start thinking about making small speed adjustments either way. Try to avoid mysterious pace changes on stretches where they are likely to be unexpected and unhelpful.

When you join the main riverside path (15:30) the terrain gets a lot easier and the speed will increase. Take a close note of the time and use the next kilometre or so to gradually make any adjustments necessary. This is the time to tighten up on the target times as the terrain is good, overtaking is usually smooth, and people can tuck in behind you and follow your line. When you hit the 3 km mark (18:30) you will be 30 seconds down on the theoretical time based on an average of 6 minutes a kilometre. That's fine. Keep your pace steady and don't get over-excited when you get to the Kingfisher Bridge (21:00) and try to squeeze in front of anybody.

After the Kingfisher Bridge there's a tricky bit. A hill. You might be able to run up it without losing pace but that's not the point of pacing. Allow your pace to drop slightly and naturally on the climb and to pick up on the descent. You will probably lose people here. It can't be helped, and once you get to the boathouse (25:00) runners will be able to see the finish and still have you on their radar.
Don21-January-2012 - Baths Bridge - Durham - Durham Parkrun - run24 -- Sat 21 Jan 2012 09-26-37 GMT
Keep yourself catchable and keep your nerve. With the finish so close it's tempting to speed up so that there's no risk of being slower than 30 minutes. But this risks losing people who might otherwise hit a sub-30. The last few minutes are often the most interesting of the run as runners who are struggling but hanging on see the finish and a sub-30 tantalisingly close. You have less margin of error now as you hit the north side of Baths Bridge (27:15), adjust the pace slightly for the hill over to the south side, (27:30) then you should be pretty much dead on when you hit the roundabout (28:15). If your timing is out, don't panic. You have a long stretch to the line to make the adjustment. Just keep it smooth.

Your final checkpoint is the lifebouy (29:00) about halfway between the roundabout and the finish. You have a small margin of error here (about 10 seconds) and can afford to ease up a little, but you have to be very careful. If someone is chasing you down you might like to live dangerously and slow down to give them more incentive to catch you. Just make sure you hit that finish line before the clock strikes 30 minutes.

30 Minute Timings
03:30 Horsley Corner – Handbrake Turn – 180
06:30 Noisy Bridge
09:30 Hedge corner – right turn
13:30 Rugby Corner - right turn
15:30 Join Path - riverbanks
18:30 3km (near Noisy Bridge)
21:00 Kingfisher Bridge
25:00 Boathouse
27:15 Baths Bridge north
27:30 Baths Bridge south
28:15 Roundabout
29:00 Lifebuoy


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