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It’s called a trail race, but run under Fell Runners Association rules, therefore I am counting Ilkley Trail Race as my first fell race.

I signed up a week or so ago and was very much looking forward to the day. A couple of people had recommended I do it. With the big climb in the first half and a 7-mile total distance it is at the easiest end of the fell race scale. And as it is flagged and marshalled there’s no need for maps and compasses. But the terrain, and the views, are by no means diminished.

Jill and Jason drove us to Ilkley, and there we met with a few other Harriers and friends from other running clubs. There was a chilled, friendly atmosphere in the start area and I was very glad of a coffee van – hazelnut latte was just what I needed! My vague plan was to try to stick with Jill and Anne. Generally speaking I am there or thereabouts with them at many races and they are always good company.

 

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I set off up the hill on the first road (which was a killer!) and figured I would settle in as I felt able then catch up to them over the race. I walked up the latter part of the hill as I realised that my marching pace was just as quick as my jogging pace, but used less energy. And then I just trekked on through the woods without thinking too much about anything.

We came out into a field and up a track, and soon we were up on the moors. I gave a little gasp as we strode out on to the plains and smiled as I saw the snake of brightly coloured runners making their way through the land. It was simply stunning. I could hear a bird singing a gorgeous tune and spotted him briefly – I later learned (via Jill and a lady she was talking to) it was a skylark.

 

I walked a few times to try and soak in the view properly and was perfectly happy skipping along. The weather was warm but not overly bright or blazing so it was ideal.

I wore my new Inov8 Bare-Grip 200 fell shoes, which were perfect. I bought them as they are lightweight and flexible and very grippy, and I am so glad I did. I fear for my life a bit going down hills sometimes, especially when there is mud, wet grass or tree roots involved” I worry about going arse-over-tit and smashing my bones! But no need for such worries in my new fell running shoes – they gave me a lot of confidence and I could let go and not worry about where I was placing my feet. Not one stumble despite all the loose rocks and slippy grass made muddy by hundreds of runners! They were even great on the small bits of road as well – I was worried they would feel weird with the big lugs, but I raced down the final hill without concern.

 

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I can now happily say this neon Bambi loves running the moors. I felt like I was running really tall and smooth the whole way. I could feel my legs skipping along beneath me without even the slightest effort. It was truly liberating. It was a great race and will be a must-do on my calendar for next year. It was a real pleasure to be able to take in such spectacular scenery.

Best of all I wasn’t the slightest bit tired at the end. I would have happily done it over again. I didn’t feel achey or hungry or anything – I just wanted to keep going. I  felt alive and invigorated, which is surely the clearest sign of a wonderful run.

Photo thanks to Woodentops and running friends.

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Chester Half Marathon on Sunday 18th May was yet another of those races that I didn’t really train specifically. Way back towards the start of the year I had half a mind that I would go for sub-2, but I knew that would be unachievable as the day got closer given my post-marathon slowness. So the revised plan was to go with the 2:10 pacer and just sneak a PB. But on the morning, given the blazing sunshine and the fact that the pens were so crowded I couldn’t get anywhere near the pacer, I let it go and decided I would start off easy and take it from there.

I didn’t put in much effort to get going and didn’t look at my watch until the first mile marker, focusing instead on just settling in. But it wasn’t until about mile 5 that I actually began to feel properly settled. It is still taking me a while to get into my rhythm, which is fine for longer and hilly runs, but is not so conducive to PB attempts on flat roads.

Anyway, I plodded on. My mum lives just over the border in North Wales so she came out to cheer me on. I saw her at about 1.6miles and ran over for a hug and to grab some jelly babes. They ended up getting all sticky in my bumbag when I came to eat them later on, but they were still nice.

A little bit further on I was delighted to get a surprise cheer from my friends Clare and Steve and their daughter Lucy. I had no idea they would be there and it was lovely to get a hug and a kiss. I saw them at the end too, and Lucy asked me if I had won. I said no, I wasn’t fast enough, then after a few minutes she asked if I came second! Such a cutie!

I kept plodding on and eventually, just before the halfway mark, I began to feel like I was running well. For reasons unknown though I had decided not to wear socks, and I could feel my toes rubbing a little with the sweat. At the end I had a humongous blood blister. Otherwise my New Balance Minimus shoes felt amazing and helped me run light and easy. I walked through each water station and had my gels to schedule.

There were some lovely marshals and some pockets of support. We passed several pubs which provided a good base for supporters, and most had live bands outside. There was also a very young band, complete with drum kit and keyboard, randomly along one of the lanes (they were with their dad at his marshal spot). I particularly liked one marshal who told a couple of runners near me who were chatting away: “no laughing on the course”.

I was looking forward to getting back round to see my mum again and decided I would walk with her for a bit as she had to get back into the city anyway so we could get a coffee after I finished. We had some nice chats, but I struggled to keep up with her marching pace by this point.

Then I realised there wasn’t actually much further left to go, so I gave my mum a hug and ran off up the short slope towards the finish line. I put in an incredible sprint finish and I was done in 2:22:56. My career worst half marathon time, but that’s OK.

Through the funnel I collected a bottle of water, medal, tech t-shirt and goody bag, which had an excellent food:leaflet ratio of 6:2 (three small bags of Haribo, one Mars bar, one sachet of porridge, one cereal bar: one leaflet for another race, one coupon for a free gym pass).

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Then I found The Fieldings again for a proper catch-up and wandered with my mum for coffee and a cake and back to the racecourse to collect my bag and inspect the feet. Chester Half is a very well organised race right from sign-up. The emails that organisers Chris and Andy  sent were informative and friendly, and the race instructions were clear and demonstrated that they understand runners’ needs. I was a little worried when I got to the park and ride in the morning and saw a massive queue, but I got to the racecourse at 8.30am and had exactly enough time to go to the loo, get changed and drop my bag off.

All that said though, I don’t think I’ll be doing this race again. I couldn’t really fault it in any way but I am not very keen on flat, mass participation road races at the moment and will probably look to limit their appearance in my race schedule. The thing that really tired me out was the constant ducking and diving and weaving around other people. According to my splits I got past about 100 people in the second half of the race, and each time it’s ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ to ensure I don’t get in anyone’s way (for me at least – some runners just weave all over the road as if they’re the only ones there). Anyway, all this thinking is tiring when you’re trying to run!

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I am intrigued and excited by the idea of fell running.

According to the internets, it can be defined thusly:

“Fell running, also known as mountain running and hill running, is the sport of running and racing, off road, over upland country where the gradient climbed is a significant component of the difficulty. The name arises from the origins of the English sport on the fells of northern Britain, especially those in the Lake District.

“Fell races are organised on the premise that contenders possess mountain navigation skills and carry adequate survival equipment as prescribed by the organiser.”

Sounds do-able, but as I read more about it, and especially as I looked at race details and thought about making actual plans, I started to get scared.

I’m not scared of massive hills. I may not practice them enough, and I almost always walk, but that’s OK. I generally march on and can often overtake people on even the steepest slopes. I’m not worried about keeping on going when the going gets tough.

But what is worrying is the fact that I could get horribly lost quite quickly and be completely alone in the middle of nowhere. I have navigated on walks with friends in the past, but that’s going back many years, and I don’t know the Yorkshire countryside well at all.

Plus the kit options are hugely varied, and I struggled to figure out where to start comparing waterproofs.

So I turned to an experienced fell running friend for some advice. He was not only very helpful, but also very encouraging – a great combination! I have reproduced/rehashed what he told me below.

 

Now then!

Right, basic fell running kit:

  • hat and gloves
  • compass
  • whistle
  • waterproof trousers
  • hooded waterproof jacket
  • map of the course (not always required)
  • bumbag or pack to put it all in

The first three are easy – hat/gloves I’m sure you already have, compass and whistle you can pick up cheaply.

Waterproof trousers – everyone I know has the same ‘pac-a-mac’ trouser equivalent, which come scrunched up in a small bag and they are basically there just as an emergency in case you are stuck during a long race and need to keep warm. I don’t know anyone who has ever worn theirs.

Hooded waterproof jacket – needs to be fully waterproof (not just resistant) with taped seams. Unfortunately this is (or at least can be) the pricey bit. Popular brands are Inov8, OMM, Montane, Salomon. They all have running specific lightweight jackets. Cheaper options are out there too.

Map – easy option is usually to just print out from the website if they have one, or Pete Bland do specific A4 maps for some of the bigger, classic fell races, but for smaller races you are rarely required to have them.

Bumbag/pack – Loads of brands, loads of options (with/without bottle holders etc), some people go with Camelbak/backpack things on much longer races, some people have the most minimal little pack.
Now, here’s the trickier bit — you don’t need to carry all that kit at every race, most certainly not at the shorter races, but the Fell Running Association rules changed at the start of the year so it’s basically a case of ‘bring all your kit and we’ll tell you on the day which of it is required’ so sometimes you don’t need anything at all. It’s all a good investment but you needn’t spent too much at the entry level.

Fell running is a funny old thing in that the perceived ‘entry level’ seems far higher than it probably actually is. Which is for a reason as it is not safe/suitable for beginner runners, but all the talk of kit requirement and compass bearings and navigation isn’t anywhere near as scary as it sounds and really should not put people off doing the more local, entry-level fell races. (Doing any race in the Lakes is a slightly different kettle of fish — they have proper hills up there!)

In terms of being worried about getting lost or being slower or that it’s harder running. Yes, there is that potential, but there are always slower folk at races, most people still walk the hills, and the route will be trampled ahead of you, as well as some markings, so you should be absolutely fine to see the route. There are loads of ‘fell’ races which are basically trail races, especially during the summer, and they’re great fun (round Ilkley and Otley etc).

I really empathised with your London Marathon experience; for me I just don’t relate to the big road races at all. Soon as I started fell running it all clicked. So if you can run London Marathon then you can run a short fell race, no problem! It is the best way to improve too, as the environment, ethos and community of fell running can be really addictive I think, so it makes you want to train/race more and therefore you improve a lot. A little bit outside some runners’ comfort zones, but 1000 times more rewarding – at least that’s been my experience.

DISCLAIMER: Bear in mind that advice is aimed specifically at you, knowing as I do that you’ve got other club people in a similar boat and you can dip your toes together! By way of a caveat I should also point out, of course, that fell running is dangerous, hazardous and the risk of injury is greater than road running (in the short-term at least). And it’s certainly ‘harder’ but again, you soon improve by doing it (remember when a mile was hard? 5k? 10k? All seem so easy now! Same improvements come with the fells).

 

 

So there you go, a lot of excellent advice from a fell running friend.

But I am still a bit back and forth with the whole thing. On the one hand I am really enthused and raring to go. But then other people say things that put me off, and I get scared and lose my confidence and drive again.

I have bought what will hopefully be my perfect pair of fell running shoes. They are light, minimal and squishy – should be great for this tippy-toe Bambi. I went on the hunt for a jacket and found a great Craghoppers one in TK Maxx – it was a bargain and ticks all the boxes. The waterproof trousers I had were beyond use (by which I mean they had gone a bit funny from several years of not being used), but a quick search on eBay turned up a new pair for not many pennies. Compass and whistle are knocking about in a drawer somewhere, and I bought a running backpack a while ago for long runs that should do the job.

So now I just need to get out there and give it a go! There are several fell races coming up, and I’m really keen to sign up and see what happens. But I need to be sensible and either find one that is something in between a trail and fell race with some markings, or find a friend who knows what they are doing to run with me.

If anyone out there would like to hold my hand in a fell race or two please do get in touch. Here’s the deal: you drive; I’ll pay your race entry and bring the butties. What I lack in competence I make up for in enthusiasm so it is sure to be a fun outing!

And one final bit of advice I have gained from a fellow runner: “If you see a hill; walk. If you see cake; run.”

The John Carr 5k race series is organised by Saltaire Striders in memory of a club member. It is a series of three 5k races, held on consecutive Wednesday evenings in May. I did the first race last year as my inaugural outing in the purple Kirkstall Harriers club vest, and returned yesterday to do the first in this year’s series.

I had no real desire to chase a PB last night. My overall PB for the distance is from Pontefract parkrun last year (26:44), although my official race 5k PB is from John Carr race 1 last year (29:39). Having lost my way a little after the marathon and not done any specific race training since I knew that getting close to 27 minutes would be a no-hoper, but figured I would still give it all I had and see what happened.

What happened was a pleasant surprise – 28:06 without feeling like I needed to crawl/collapse/chuck-up. Best of all, each mile was the same pace, which is an achievement in itself.

The route is flat and downhill apart from one very short hill that is over quickly but does require a gear change. It is run on private roads in a water facility in Esholt, and then briefly through the quiet village, although there did seem to be a lot of vehicles around.

In all honesty none of us were particularly enthralled with the prospect of running when we got there – it was grey, cold, windy and rainy, and kit choices left a lot to be desired for some of us. But we lined up and did it anyway, and actually we were quite warm, and smiley, by the end.

As well as keeping to an incredibly consistent pace the whole way round I was also chuffed that only one person overtook me (a bloke who came from out of nowhere with just 0.1 mile to go), and I overtook several.

In terms of my running I ran hard and strong, and felt happy with how I was running, so I gained a good confidence boost from it.

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This week I got to participate in a small running study at the University of Leeds. A group of five exercise and sports science students had set up the study for their dissertations and put out the call for runners to take part. Always the willing and helpful citizen I went along to be a guinea pig. In the initial stage last month I simply had to run on a treadmill and be measured/weighed, and yesterday I went back to the lab for the full trials.

Here’s the blurb on the study:

Barefoot/minimalist running is becoming increasingly popular and it’s important to understand the potential differences between the biomechanics of running in different footwear and how this changes after a period of time running in them since this may have performance or injury related consequences.

There will be four conditions tested: barefoot, barefoot with sock, cushioned shoe and minimalist shoe (a shoe without cushioning). Two separate speeds will be used for the shoe conditions – a jog and a run. This will be no more than moderate-intensity exercise.

In-shoe pressure will be used to measure foot pressure during running to analyse foot strike pattern and plantar pressure distribution. Muscle activation of four muscle types will also be measured on the leg lower leg. This allows us to check the onset of muscle activation to check the muscles are activated at the same time since this has been shown to be an underlying cause inhibiting performance improvements or a possible injury. This requires the skin to be prepped for use of the EMG equipment, so the lower right legged will be shaved. The Qualisys camera system will require markers to be worn on both legs and the lower back. This is so the system can track the movement of the participant on running on the treadmill so kinematic data can be analysed. The data collected allows analysis of particular angles of the leg as well as velocities. A video camera is also used to record a real time image.

As it turned out they had abandoned the “barefoot with sock” condition as running with the pressure-sensitive insole and a sock was causing problems. I had markers and devices attached all over my legs, lower back and sides, which was rather amusing, and did the cushioned shoes first. They were Saucony, but I didn’t get the model details. The next shoes were VivoBareFoot, which I wear for walking around in anyway so am used to. And the final test was barefoot with the markers stuck on my skin. For each condition I ran for five minutes on the treadmill. I’m not sure what speed it was set at (they determined the pace they would use for me in the initial test) but it felt like a nice tempo pace.

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Being the tippty-toe Bambi ninja that I am I had no problems running in new shoes. I always land midfoot, and in fact I am very forefoot with minimal or no shoes and when going faster.

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I got to see a little bit of the data straightaway, including the info from the pressure sensitive insoles in the Vivo shoes – as expected I show the classic midfoot strike pattern. Apparently I was the only person to land midfoot in the cushioned shoes as well – everyone else had been heel striking in those but becoming more midfoot in minimal shoes and when barefoot.

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It was good fun and the students were very friendly and confident in explaining everything they were doing. I’m glad to have been able to help out and am looking forward to reading what they make of their findings. I hope I wasn’t too much of a statistical anomaly to throw their data!

I’m starting to run out of ways to say “oh my, only X weeks left until the marathon”! It’s all getting very real, and very close.

Week 10 has been a step-back week in terms of mileage, but I have raced hard and put in some quality sessions.

I started the week with two rest days, which I really needed after an intense weekend. I probably should have run, or at least gone for a swim, on Tuesday, but nevermind. On Wednesday I led Jill’s beginners’ group as she was away so had a good natter for a few slow miles, and Thursday was a race-pace session in the glorious sunshine. On both days I wore my New Balance Minimus, which I’ve not worn for a while, and they felt amazing.

To start the weekend  rested again on Friday and, miracle of miracles, turned down a free takeaway! This never happens! Saturday I headed to Roundhay parkrun to set a time for the Leeds Race Series, and I got to meet two ace friends of Twitter, so that was fab. The weather was beautiful too – spring was certainly in the air.

And Sunday was the Silverstone Half Marathon. Full race review to follow, but I pushed hard into the wind and got a PB.

I have one more race before the marathon (East Hull 20 this Sunday, although I won’t be racing it), and then a further two long runs – 18 miles and 20 miles. Then, I taper!

Total: 24.7 miles

(all distances in miles)

Week 11

Monday: rest

Tuesday: 5

Wednesday: 5 (race pace)

Thursday: fartlek

Friday: rest

Saturday: 3 (Cross Flatts parkrun)

Sunday: 20 (East Hull 20)

This past week I have taken part in the Brooks PureProject Try It On scheme. The idea is that participants borrow a pair of one of the new models and test them out however they wish for seven days.

I chose the PureConnect 3:

Let your feet sing with light-as-air design and fully loaded flex. The PureConnect 3 gives you just enough shoe to go where the turns are tight and spontaneous breakaways are encouraged. With enhanced Toe Flex, streamlined medial side design, and a slightly more rounded heel, this kick is ready to kick.

 

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I like Brooks not only for great products but also as a brand – they are what I would call “shiny happy runner people” and focus on fun as well as function. And that sits very well with me.

First impressions out of the box – they look good and fit well – snug but not tight. The tortilla tongue (where one side is attached to the shoe) works well for me. Just walking around the house in them it felt as though they were actively encouraging me to be on my midfoot, which, again, is ideal for me.

 

Run 1 – 2 miles in the wind and rain

The first run was something of a challenge as it was pretty much the end of days with the gale force winds and pelting rain. But I managed a couple of slow miles along Kirkstall Road, with a fun sprint finish. Shoes felt good, particularly when up on my toes, but I was making a right noise running in them – they’re kinda hard but flexible.

Run 2 – 7.5 miles with 1/4 mile intervals

I did my interval session (1/4 mile x 12 with two mins recovery in between) along the canal. It was a tough session but for the most part the shoes felt good. The cool down mile was a bit iffy however, as I felt as though my toes were being clamped from underneath. The toe box seems roomy enough, so I am putting it down to the odd hard sole and the toe split.

Run 3 – 5.5 miles (4 slow, + strides and cool down)

Shoes felt fine. Went along the canal and had no problems with the bits of slippery Tarmac. Didn’t feel as clod-hoppy as previously.

Run 4 – 7 miles (3 miles tempo in the middle)

Ran the long way back from town and got a few quick miles in. Felt like I was flying along Kirkstall Road. Toes on left foot started to feel slightly odd right at the end – that clamped feeling again from underneath. Shoes feel better the more I get up on my toes.

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I met with Brooks rep Chris at Up & Running on Boar Lane to return the shoes and give my feedback. We had a good chat about this model and the others in the PureProject range. He was very knowledgeable, and not only about Brooks shoes but also how they compare to other brands I wear. On top of that he was friendly, enthusiastic and showed a genuine passion for running, so actually I felt like I was making a friend rather than being sold a pair of shoes (another massive thumbs-up to Brooks for this).

We came to the conclusion that the toe split feature in the sole of the PureConnect was probably the reason for the odd feeling in my toes. It could be that my digits and the grooves just didn’t line up as my feet moved and swelled slightly. In essence, I thought the shoes were great in terms of design, lightness and how they made me feel light and on my toes when I ran, but they weren’t quite right for me.

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I then tried out the PureDrift on the treadmill, which are an even more minimalist shoe and have a zero drop when you remove the insole. My size wasn’t in stock so I went a half size smaller, which meant they were a little snug on the heel, but otherwise they felt great. The video showed me right up on my forefoot.

I really enjoyed the experience and was rewarded with a £25 voucher off a pair of PureProject shoes. Whether I will buy some soon is still debatable – I do have many pairs of shoes already after all – but they will be on my list for the future.

Big thanks to Brooks for the opportunity, and for being awesome!