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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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Bluebell Trail is a 10mile race organised by Stainland Lions. It was one of those that I signed up for months in advance because it just sounded so lovely, and didn’t train specifically for because it was a) ages away and b) only 10 miles(!).

The day dawned soon enough, and was actually pretty decent for running. But on arrival (thanks to a lift from the ever-lovely Glover-Longfellow trio) I wasn’t really feeling up for it. I still don’t know why – I just wasn’t in race mode and could quite happily have gone back to bed and stayed curled up all day. There was no real doubt that I would run, of course, and I’m glad I did, but neither my heart  nor my head were really in it at first.

The start of the race heads up into the woods and early on you go through a little gap in a wall, so we had a bit of a wait at the back, but the pack soon spread out again as we ran on.

I turned on my feet, put them in charge and gave the instruction: “find your way”.

I detached my legs from my mind so my muscles could concentrate on what they had to do.

I filed my brain away and let my mind go where it wanted. I sang to myself, did some writing in my head (this blog post mostly), meditated and simply enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells.

I soared up to the tops of the trees and the hills to enjoy the views. I thanked the birds as they cheeped and cheered me on. I leapt about in time with the bluebells and the dandelions.

It was all incredibly joyful. Almost as soon as I started I felt much better, and the further I ran the better I felt (as is usually the case). The route and terrain was quite varied – forest, towpath, road, cobbles, field, muddy track and even river bed! Happily, I felt that I was running really rather well. Having told my body what it needed to do and allowed my mind to go where it pleased I was able to switch off where necessary and switch on where necessary. I felt that my form was good and that I adapted to the different terrain without too much hard work.

Even the massive hill of Trooper Lane didn’t faze me. I knew about it before signing up and it hadn’t put me off. I don’t mind hills. I don’t train on them enough, but I do what I can whenever I meet them. When I see a big hill in races (that is, when I can’t see the top of it) I walk. Or rather, I march. I’ve never been a slow walker, so when it comes to hills I am better off marching up than huffing and puffing and trying to keep to a run, which will inevitably become a jog-shuffle anyway.

So I smiled when I saw the Trooper Lane sign at the bottom, changed gear and kept my head up. I overtook several people marching up there, and stopped to enjoy some spectacular views over Halifax. And at the top, after a cup of water, I was able to get straight back into running. You can see what all the Trooper Lane fuss is about on this blog I came across: The Hell of the Worth.

It wasn’t quite all downhill after that – we were up and down right until the last mile, and there were many more tricky bits with loose rocks, muddy, narrow paths and so on. The section through the bluebell woods was absolutely stunning – they were everywhere and looked and smelled gorgeous. It was quite magical.

As I came back down on to the canal towpath for the final stretch I was rather warm and incredibly happy – and what better way to cool the legs and celebrate a gorgeous run out than by splashing across a river?! It wasn’t very deep so I wasn’t scared (I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with water) and it was the perfect refreshment after 10-and-a-bit miles. I strolled in to the biggest cheers I have ever heard from my fellow Harriers, who had all finished and were stood on the other side watching. The marshal in the middle of the river told me that I should run and pick my knees right up, so I did as I was told and splashed through. So much fun!

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A final scrabble up the bank and a sprint on the playing field and I was done! We got a goody bag with choccy, water and banana, plus a bar towel with the Bluebell Trail logo.

A fantastic race all round and definitely on my list for next year and beyond. Many thanks to the Lions organisers and marshals, and big thanks to Geoff Matthews for the fantastic photos of me crossing the river. What a happy runner I am!

 

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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.”

Post-marathon comedown has been doing all sorts of crazy things to my mind. My body has felt fine since the 26.2 miles – not an ache or a pain to be had – but my head has “gone west”. I’m still processing, and trying to get over, the sensory intensity of London Marathon. Fortunately, I know the perfect antidote to all that noise and all those people – a trail run in the sunshine with my friends.

The Hot Cross Run is a 6.2mile trail run in North Yorkshire. Starting at a village pub you get a set of instructions and off you go into the fields. I went with my Kirkstall Harrier friends Laura and Kimberley and we had a very enjoyable day out, complete with bunny ears!

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I left the other two to navigate while I bimbled along behind, taking in the sights and stopping for a few pictures. The sun was shining and the views were absolutely stunning. It was the most joyful run I have had for a while. We weren’t concerned about trying to run fast – our only plan was to enjoy ourselves.

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The end came around far too quickly, and we took a slight wrong turn and cut the final corner – genuine mistake! Back at the pub there were hot cross buns and lots of chats in the sun.

If Yorkshire is God’s own county then God is definitely a runner. We were blessed with perfect weather, not to mention the stunning countryside and, of course, great company. I can safely say it did me the world of good – the solar power recharged my batteries and the peace and quiet reset my head.

It was a really fun race and the organisers are also doing a series of evening self-navigate trail runs so I will be signing up for those without a doubt!

 

On Sunday I went out for my long run in a new part of Leeds, and I saw a lot of awesome things. I am house-sitting and cat-watching for my friend in Chapel Allerton, so I got on Mapometer and made up an 18-mile route. I tested the first part on Saturday and liked it, so I decided to go with it the next day and just see what happened.

I went along some busy main roads for a couple of miles up to Eccup Reservoir, which is my ultimate favourite place out of everywhere in Leeds. I love being in or near water, and the reservoir is surrounded by some great forest. I stuck to the main path today and went round the bottom half and back out again. There was quite a wind so it looked more like the sea, especially with the low level revealing the sand.

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After that it was back along a residential road then out to the country lanes. It turned out I knew some of them from the Eccup 10 race last July, but there were lots of new bits too.

The sun was really shining down by now and the views were spectacular. My run became more of a bimble as I stopped to soak it all in and take some photos many times. At mile 9 I passed a pub, but fortunately I had forgotten to take any money out with me, otherwise I would have stopped for a half-way half pint!

My route planning worked well, although I ended up changing it slightly as when I checked my phone as I got closer I couldn’t be sure the road went where it said it would. There were several hills, some of which were horribly steep, so I walked them. And one bit of road had no path and was quite busy with quick cars, but it wasn’t so bad.

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Lots of exciting things to see as I ran, and I saved the music for the busy main roads with proper footpaths so I could stay safe and take in the world more fully.

So, a very joyful run and not bad for a route I made up with pretty much no knowledge of the area.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about whether I have a “calling” with regards to running. Nearly two years into my running experience I have enjoyed every type of race and every distance, from one mile on an athletics track to a half marathon on a motorsport track and everything in between. I like bumbling along muddy trails, the all-out effort of 5ks, half marathon consistency; any kind of running seems to work for me.

But I have been starting to wonder whether at heart I am a long distance, maybe even a crazy-long distance, runner.

I may not have run a marathon yet, but this time last year, when I was just a few months into running, the idea of an ultra was already appealing (a marathon didn’t appeal – go figure). I love the thought of taking off into the world and being out there for hours on end.

Whenever I drive over the M62 I get a strong urge to pull over and disappear on to the moors. I would run/walk/scramble up a hill, take in the view, then head off down and up again in another direction. That sounds pretty fantastic to me.

And on several long runs and races I’ve abandoned my usual close-watch on my pace and stopped to walk sometimes just because I felt like taking things in a bit more fully, or snapping some pics or chatting with supporters and marshals.

I just want to run, and enjoy the world along the way.

Marathon training seems to be a key driver behind this slow-and-steady-soak-it-up attitude. Building myself up for 26.2 miles has meant a change of pace. Big time.

I have loved making huge leaps forward in my speed and knocking minutes off PBs, and I am now missing that a bit. But I have entered a different mindset and am focusing on strength and endurance. Speed is on the backburner.

Running for distance rather than time is an altogether different beast, and both have their merits. But at the moment I am happy to be the human hunter and chase down the gazelle over miles and days until he gets exhausted.

My legs will carry me as far as I ask them, and I’ve a twisted desire to find out just how far that might be.

PS When I grow up I’d like to be Catra Corbett. She has run 100 miles more than 100 times and wears the most awesome running outfits. She is fit, feisty and fun. Now that’s my kind of runner.

I do so enjoy running for running’s sake, but it also opens up a whole host of other opportunities that help to keep me busy, allow me to share my joy and give me a chance to make the most of my skills.

This week has been particularly busy with exciting extra-curricular running things.

On Wednesday I went to the first session in the radio production course at South Leeds Community Radio. Over the next few weeks I will be learning how to use the equipment so that I can present my very own show. It will be about running, obviously. It was great to spend time with a great bunch of people who are really passionate about the community and are dedicated to helping others in all sorts of ways. They already have a fantastic range of programmes going out over the internet, and with all the enthusiasm and ideas coming together from more new people like myself it is going to get even better.

On Friday afternoon I spent some time in Roundhay Park and Leeds city centre being filmed for a promo video for Le Tour Grand Depart. It’s mega exciting for the county to be hosting this acclaimed international sporting event, and the city council is creating a video to highlight sports and sights in our area. It was great fun and I also got to hang out with some running friends.

I have also been very excited this week to have my first race reviews published on the RaceDay website. This is a great-looking and very useful website that lists all sorts of races across the country. You can sign up for a profile to link with other runners, add your name to the races you are running, and also submit your own blogs.

And finally, following on from my appearance on the Chester Chronicle website ahead of the Four Villages Half Marathon I got a text from grandma to say she was reading about me in the paper! I have yet to work out whether it was the pre-race or post-race photo and words I sent over but mum is going to get a copy and post it up to me.

Phew! I have also managed to run, work, eat, sleep, watch Star Trek and knit. So overall, a pretty successful week!