Monthly Archives: October 2012

Mountain High

Actually, this post has nothing to do with mountains, but I couldn’t resist that title after the last one!

Sunday, 28th October was the last day of the 5×50 Challenge, and I wanted to finish with a bang. Racing was the obvious  way to do this, so I entered the Portishead Multi Terrain 10k. Portishead is just down the road from my ‘in-laws’, and we planned to go over as a family and have lunch at Cath’s Parents’ afterwards.

The race starts and finishes in the Lake Grounds in the town. Portishead is on the coast, but quite a way up the Severn Estuary, so there’s no question of being able get in the sea, which would involve crossing some horrible mud banks and negotiating dangerous currents! For that reason, Portishead has onshore watery attractions; the boating lake and an open air pool. It’s not really much of a resort now, but it would have been once.

I went off around the lake grounds for a warm up with our dog, Alfie before the race. The weather was breezy and damp, so it was good to be able keep my extra layers on until the last minute, then hand them over to my family just before the start.


There’s probably not that much I can say about the race itself. I headed out as quick as I dared, following the 3 leaders, all from the same club in Bristol, wearing red and white vests. I had 2 others with me, James Redman and Barry Bryant. Barry had beaten me over the line in the Swindon Parkrun the previous weekend!

I lead our group most of the time, pushing them hard on the off road bits. I guessed they would be faster finishers than me, so I knew I had to keep wearing them down before we got near the finish. Barry fell on a sharp, wet, tarmac corner, but seemed to recover well. The parts of the race on rooty singletrack were the most interesting. Some of the coarse took a windy route around the edges of grassy areas: obviously a means of getting the exact 10k distance.

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On the last section of road before the finish, Barry pulled away, and it seemed obvious I wouldn’t be able to stay with him. Another runner, Jonathan Gilling appeared and also cruised past me. I just dug in. I could ‘feel’ James just behind, and kept up my pace as much as possible to hold him at bay. He got a sprint in at the end, however, and beat me over the line by a few inches! A real photo finish.

I came 7th overall and won the male vet 40 prize, with a time of 40:03. 3 seconds off 40 minutes! The 5×50 really did wonders for me: 3 prizes in 5 weeks!


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River Deep

A friend of mine, Peter Cusick, is doing the Piece of String Fun Run (PoSFR), which is based in Streatley-on-Thames, on 24th November. I’ll let you read the linked page to get the idea of what it’s about: suffice to say the use of ‘fun’ in the title is a little cavalier. I’d told a few people that I wanted to do a 50 km day in the 5×50 Challenge, which you will be familiar with if you’ve read earlier posts, and I’d mentioned this to Peter, who is a ‘special needs’ runner like me. We decided to buddy up on my ’50 km’ day, on 21st October, and base it in Streatley to help him familiarise himself with the paths round there.

Streatley is an excellent venue for running and walking, because The Ridgeway (RW) and Thames Path (TP) national trails cross there. I am very familiar with the Ridgeway and we presumed that, although it doesn’t follow the riverbank all the time, the Thames Path would be well signed and therefore easy to follow. The Thames flows west-east, but it has huge meanders and its general flow past Streatley is north-south.

Heading ‘easterly’ on The RW out of Streatley, you cross over to Goring and follow the east side of the Thames north for about five miles, before taking a sharp turn east to follow the South Oxfordshire Grim’s Ditch, a prehistoric earthwork. In the other direction, it climbs the chalk downs and follows them west for c23 miles, before you join a minor road to cross the M4 east of Swindon.

North out of Streatley, the TP is on the opposite (west) bank of the river to the Ridgeway. In the other direction, it crosses over to Goring and follows the east bank.

With a 50 km target, it would be feasible to get a good run in on each section of the RW and TP, with stops back at Peter’s car to replenish and re-stock. We set off after 3 pm, with the intention pushing well into the hours of darkness, as the PoSFR starts at midnight (part of the fun, obviously) and this would further aid his familiarisation! Peter’s Garmin GPS watch, which we would use to measure our progress, is set to ‘miles’: 50 km is a little over 31 miles, so I started thinking of us doing a 31 mile run instead.

Our first leg took us north along the Thames, following The Ridgeway. I’d assured Peter that the path wouldn’t be that muddy, despite the wet autumn: I was mostly right; just a few early sections were muddy. I had to be careful with my route finding, as I’d only run that part of the RW in the opposite direction the 3 times I’d done the Ridgeway Challenge race, but it is well signed, so it was never a problem. We ran all of the Thames section and then followed Grim’s Ditch for about 2.5 miles, covering about 7.5 miles in total. After running back down Grim’s Ditch, we crossed the Thames and ran on the TP back south to Streatley, new territory for both of us. There was some more serious mud to contend with, but nothing worse than that: the signposting kept us right when we weren’t on the riverbank, as hoped for.

By this time the weather had gone from dull to dull with light rain, although my modern clothing seemed to keep the moisture at bay, and I didn’t feel damp under my top layers, despite not wearing a water/shower proof jacket. We got back to Peter’s car nearly half way to my 31 mile target and enjoyed a brief stop and some food.

Our next leg was the TP south, which could not be combined with the RW at all and so would need to make up only around a quarter of our total. Turning around when the path met the road on the outskirts of Whitchurch would give us about right distance for this.

The first half of the TP south leg was very much what you would expect: it followed the riverbank, out of Goring and then through rough pasture, with plenty of mud around the gateways.

I’d noticed from the map that the second half of this leg not only left the river, but also climbed onto some significant slopes. This added to the challenge, and also proved to be rather attractive, contouring through woods and giving us a ‘roller-coaster’ dip and climb that took concentration and effort to negotiate in the dark on tiring legs. This part of our run was the most interesting and I was happy to have to reverse it after our turnaround.

Back at Peter’s car, we mustered once more. The first 2.5 miles of the RW west out of Streatley follows main and then minor roads, then there is a car park were the tarmac ends and it becomes a dirt track. The road sections would be boring to run, so it seemed sensible to drive to the car park and run from there.

We were heading back into familiar territory for me, and worked out that a turnaround at or just beyond an obvious sharp right turn in the RW on Compton Down would give us the distance of 8.6 miles we needed to safely get our 31 miles. I found it easier to leave the comfort of the car than the last time because we were ‘nearly there’, with just a modest distance to do.

The climb onto the downs was a long, steady one. It was still wet, and a little breezy, and I wondered how exposed we would feel when we got up on the plateau. It did feel rather bleak once we got high up, but it was mild and the wind wasn’t that much stronger. I was glad I knew the trail well: you feel like you’re a long way from civilisation up there in the dark, and would be intimidating if it was unfamiliar. After the big climb came a descent, which was very slick, as chalk tracks tend to be when wet. We were careful with our footing and only had a couple of small slips.

At the right turn, I decided another couple of hundred meters was needed to be absolutely sure I’d gone far enough. The 50 km was just a ‘symbolic’ distance, but once I committed to the idea, I didn’t want to miss it by a small margin. As soon as we turned around to head back, I felt the wind in my face, but I was fairly sure once we were heading east again after the turn it would be more at our backs and less bothersome.

Just before the turn, a 4×4 vehicle roared towards us from the south, up the track we’d joined when we’d made the turn. Someone was swinging a powerful searchlight out of one of the windows. It slowed and swung around in a tight arc, then stopped. They seemed to be looking for something, and sped off again through a gate off the track. This was a little disconcerting.

A few minutes later we saw what was probably another 4×4 speeding across the RW just near us, bouncing madly as it crossed the ruts. We wondered what was going on: some sort of treasure hunt perhaps?

About ten minutes after that, a 4×4 that may have been one of the previous ones careened up the RW towards us from the east. We got off the track and waited for them to pass, but they stopped when they were level with us. A window wound down and we saw the steamed up interior, with 4 occupants. We were wearing head torches, which probably dazzled them as we looked in, which is perhaps why a searchlight was swung in our faces, but it was a bit much! One of them asked us if we’d seen another vehicle. I spluttered something about the last vehicle we’d seen and they were off.

Peter and I wondered, half-jokingly, if we could have got involved in a ‘Deliverance’ scenario with Oxfordshire red-necks, and hoped we’d have a quiet time until we got back to his car. We saw and heard nothing else. I was still feeling fairly strong and enjoyed the challenge of negotiating the rough track, downhill, in the dark, at a fair speed back to the car.

As we readied ourselves for the drive home, we had that lovely tired, happy, satisfaction you get from completing an endurance challenge. The Garmin showed 31.4 miles, which is about 50.5 km. Peter was happy to have gained a lot of familiarity with the Streatley trails for the PoSFR and I was happy to have gone over my ‘magic’ distance.

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Corruption is alive and well in the democratic west

Paul Johnston - An Independent for Aberdeenshire Council

Balmedie and Mid Formartine Councillor, Paul Johnston has welcomed the BBC2 screening of the international award winning documentary “You’ve Been Trumped”

The film, which chronicles the events over a year of local residents around Menie near Balmedie in the battle with Donald Trump and Trump International, has won 10 international awards and received accolades from world renown US documentary maker Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 )   This was despite of the decision not even to be selected for the Edinburgh Film festival as it dealt with issues surrounding the original planning application, including the controversial intervention of the First Minister and local MSP Alex Salmond.

“The film has been shown around the world at Documentary film festivals and in small independent theatres.” said Paul Johnston.  “While it has been seem by thousands at full houses, it will never have received the reach of a major film…

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Over the Hill

The day after my little adventure in Scotland, 13th October, I drove back down the country and stopped off in Great Malvern to run in the Worcestershire Beacon Race. I’ve run it a couple of times before and it’s a real blast: 7 miles up, over and round the back of Worcestershire Beacon, the highest of the Malvern Hills.

I had plenty of time to enjoy lunch in Malvern and to wonder whether the heavy rain shower that was falling would ease off before the race. The rain was still coming and going, but never quite stopping, when I made my way to the start at the Rose Bank Gardens, replete with disposable polythene rain poncho.

One of the keys to this particular race is the relatively narrow gate-way at the end of the Rose Bank Gardens, a bottleneck to be avoided. I stood near the front of the race pack and got off quickly as soon as we started. A runner fell on the wet grass just behind me as we set off; a indication of the likely condition of the course.

I got through the gap with no difficulty, and was soon grinding my way up the switchback paths on the hillside. It was still raining, but the lower parts of the hill are wooded, so we had some shelter. In this early part of the race I took some grim satisfaction that a young runner was clinging to my heels and finding it quite a struggle, judging by his breathing!

Me being chased by a younger runner

I gained on some members of the field on the steeper climbs. A fellow member of Chippenham Harriers, Paul Gilham was in view ahead and I just about caught him a couple of times: he eased away from me again as we ran through level or downhill sections.

Paul Gilham leads a group

The views across the plains on either side of the hill where wonderful, even through heavy rain that was still falling. The weather was ‘showery’, rather than ‘rainy’, so there were plenty of well lit patches to see off in the distance. Hills generate rain, so it perhaps not surprising that the Malverns didn’t seem to be getting any gaps!

I really enjoyed hammering down a fairly difficult descent high up and sweeping around the end of the hill prior to dropping back down to the Rose Bank Gardens. The last section has a steep hairpinned descent and short, level run to the finish. One runner, Richard Bevan, whom I’d gained on a little on the hairpins, clung to my back, then made a well judged sprint past me near the finish. I responded, but only managed to finish on his shoulder. I finished in 52:09, 22nd out of 246. Paul Gilham was 17th in 51:34 and another Chippenham Harrier, Mark Hooper, was 35th in 54:26.

Mark Hooper

It was still raining and I was seriously cold once I’d been stopped for a few minutes. I shivered as I changed in the back of my van, then really enjoyed the tea and cakes in the race HQ afterwards.

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Many Rivers to Cross

After the the Mimsy Muggle the weekend before, the week beginning 8th October brought further excitement: I was offered an interview for a job in Almondbank, just outside Perth (Scotland not Australia!), with Vector Aerospace. I love Scotland, and the job sounded really good, so concentrating on the mundane stuff wasn’t that easy.

They loved me, but feedback a few days later was that the post probably wouldn’t ‘stretch me enough’ and that my CV had been passed up to board level. So that’s both positive and rather vague: I still don’t know whether I’ll get a job out of it.

The ‘van man’ thing was just born of circumstance. It’s quite an enjoyable way to make a living, but doesn’t exactly pay well or offer security, and I’ve no real interest in taking it ‘to the next level’.

Anyway, this is a running blog, so back to the running. I continued to enjoy the benefits of getting out every day, even if my Thursday run was just a trot out from my hotel to the edge of Perth in the rain!

A solitary Munro, Ben Chonzie (pronounced ‘honzy’) is quite near Perth, and offered an adventurous run in the afternoon on Friday after the interview. The run would be straightforward in good, or even middling weather, but it was very wet in the northern UK, so perhaps it wouldn’t be that easy.

I headed off to the dam at the end of the Loch Turret reservoir, a starting point for one of the two ‘standard’ routes up the mountain, accessed via a road owned by Scottish Water, but open to the public.  Part way up I had to stop to open a gate, which was just 2 panels tied to the fence on either side of a cattle grid with bailing twine and resting against each other. There were highland cattle nearby: I can only assume their hooves were big enough to allow them to cross the fairly ‘fine’ grid, probably designed to halt sheep. Water was gushing through the gateway and I fell over on the muddy ground on one side whilst closing the gate behind me, still wearing my ‘interview’ suit. Good job it’s a high tech washable one!

My planned route was to run along the loch-side on a dirt road, climb the slopes of the mountain and return the same way; nothing complicated. It had been raining persistently for about 24 hours, but had eased off whilst I was in the interview. It was now just drizzling, but there was a lot of water running off the hills. It was also mild, although it still felt cold, getting out of my warm van and changing into my insubstantial running gear.

The area around the top of Loch Turret

As soon as I got going everything felt better: just getting moving warmed me and I felt a sense of adventure. The loch-side road was well built, but rough and rolling. There were also 4 streams in spate to cross on my way up; not difficult or dangerous, but there was no possibility of boulder hopping across, it was in over the shoes and have done.

When I got to the end of the Loch, I couldn’t help but think that the guidebook description was a little glib: ‘pick your way up through the broken crags’, nothing about what to do when you ‘topped out’ on the summit plateau. I made my way over the sodden ground easily enough, and the slope ‘between the crags’ was pretty steep. It was still mild, but also damp and breezy, and I was starting to feel vulnerable in my minimal gear, looking up at the cloud covered summit, so I decided that a new tick on my Munros list would wait for another day and turned around.

Near the bottom of Loch Turret

The swollen streams on the way back got my shoes nice and clean! I had a big smile on my face as I wrestled with the gate once more, the flood on the road gone by this time.

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All’s Fair in Mud and War

After my very successful Blackland Downs Challenge Race 2 weeks ago, I lined up at the start of the Hogweed Mimsy Muggle today, full of hope that I would have another really successful day. I was wrong and I was right…

The 5×50 Challenge has continued to surprise and delight me. Over the last 2 weeks, I have run near my house, in the Cotswolds and the Chilterns and done my first parkrun with my lovely dog, Alfie.

I’ve found that making myself cover at least 5 km every single day (usually running) hasn’t been a chore, but rather brought a new level of enjoyment from my exercise. For a couple of days I’ve ‘done my 5’ earlier on, then got out again later, for the joy of it. I’m still staggered at the new strength I’ve got ‘just from’ going out every day, even if a lot of my runs have been easy little trots by my standards.

Back to today.

The start of the race goes down a fairly steep path. I hammered down, leading the field out, fairly sure the faster runners would soon cruise past me once things levelled out. Except they didn’t. I stayed in front, and soon it was just me with one other runner, Stephen Old at my shoulder. I could tell the rest of the field weren’t that near, because the tell-tale sounds of metallic gate-catch slamming weren’t to be heard behind us after we’d gone through them. I experienced the now familiar ‘5×50’ feeling of things just seeming a bit easier than they may have been previously.

Underfoot, it was very muddy over much of the off-road sections, which slowed us a little. I think my Inov8 X-Talons coped better than Stephen’s shoes, which definitely helped me to hold him off.

We were a little over half-way round, and ran through the village of Tresham. A marshal we’d just passed told us there’d be another on the road in the village. We couldn’t see one, nor could we see any arrows to direct us, so we ran out of the village, on the road. Stephen and I agreed that we really would feel better if we saw a sign we were still en route. After a couple of minutes, we turned back and returned to the village. This time we saw the very sharp turn down a steep track to the first drinks station that we’d missed, with a little piece of red and white tape in a position that you wouldn’t spot unless you pretty much looked over your shoulder as you ran past it the right way. The marshal had been caught out and missed our arrival. We were rather frustrated at having given up a lead of c3 minutes.

Stephen had got a sudden spurt on as we got back on track and was steadily pulling away from me. I’d wondered if he’d been saving himself for the second half, and he obviously had. That was fine, but I hated the idea of being beaten by whoever had passed us whilst we’d been off track. I could see Stephen catching 2 other runners, John Stokes and Tom Bailey, who looked to be moving at a pace that I could beat too. Stephen continued to recede, but John and Tom appeared closer every time they came back into view around a corner. The detour had thrown me a little, and I think I’d slowed down more than I otherwise would have, but still felt good and cruised past John and Tom without too much drama.

The final part of the race was a steep climb through a field and a strip of woodland, a levelling off climb through another field, then a few hundred meters of level bridal track to the finish. The last couple of marshals had told me there were 2 runners in front of me. I’d seen no signs of the ‘other’ runner, and wondered whether Stephen had caught him. With no one in view ahead or behind on the track, I cruised to the finish in 3rd place.

Stephen had won, pulling nearly 4 minutes on me. 2nd place went to Jonathan Gledson, over a minute further back. I don’t think he would have beaten me if I’d not gone wrong, so I had lost 1 place: my day hadn’t been successful in that sense. However, the day was actually a great success: to come 3rd having lost about 1 km on the field felt like a real triumph. There weren’t any really fast runners doing the Mimsy this year; good luck to counteract my bad luck and get me 3rd place. Without getting lost I would still only have run it about as fast as last year (albeit in much muddier conditions this year), which earned me 9th place then. If I whinged, even just to my myself, about ‘losing’ a place, I’d have to then turn around and tell myself, “Yeah, but you shouldn’t ‘really’ have troubled the top few places anyway.” So no whinging, just pleasure at a race well run.

The Muggles don’t award age category prizes, just 1-3 for male and female, so I got a prize, a lovely hand-made ‘trophy’ plate. My 2nd ever prize, only 2 weeks after the last one: yay!

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