Blue Runnings

Race Reviews, GPX files and more from North-East England

Trail Outlaws – Branches & Bays 10k

The Trail Outlaws have missed their moniker for this race. It should be Branches, Steps & Bays. There were branches, there were bays (2 of them!), and there were steps. Such steep steps.

This is the first time I’ve attended this event, but I have attended several Trail Outlaws 10k’s and one of their half’s, and a few things feature quite often in the T.O. package.

  1. Free mileage – you often get more than you signed up for!
  2. Steps or steep inclines – often both
  3. Off-the-beaten-track routes
  4. Excellent marshalls
  5. Ambushed by Hippie Nixon Photography (sometimes Mr & Mrs both get you in the same race!)
  6. Awesome medals

Branches & Bays 10k was no exception to any of these – but the steps were unusual in their placement nearer the start of the race, and in their severity which brought pretty much the whole race to a walking pace!

You start in the woods, and hit your first steps and streams leaving them to come out under the bridge to Hawthorn Hive.

Here, on the beach, Hippie will take photos of you trying to get round, over or through Hawthorn Burn. This is made more entertaining by remembering that the race rules state that entering the water will result in disqualification. I think this refers more to the pools on later Blast Beach which are contaminated with waste from previous industry in the area (that name must come from somewhere!) but it does not specify… If you’re really, really unlucky, Hippie will catch you falling in face first as did happen to one very drenched poor chap.

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You will then leave this particular bay via some very steep winding steps with delightfully high risers. Unless you are at the very front of the race, you will be waiting patiently with your fellow runners for your climb to begin. You will not be running, but this probably also means you won’t be smashing your teeth out when you fall either (for the record, I’m not aware of this happening!).

To make up for the horrendous steps of death, there are actually some flat bits in this race! This is usually unheard of without a river to run alongside on a Trail Outlaws race, but I for one was very grateful for the opportunity to get my breath back and feel I was making some progress again!

We ran over the top of the cliffs for over a mile before reaching more steps – these much more precarious, especially for going down, and joined Blast Beach. Believe me – the photo doesn’t do justice to how high and slightly slippy these were!

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We had to do a short out-and-back along the beach – which is probably the gravelliest beach I’ve been to since moving to the North-East; they seem to often be a mix of sand and gigantic rock formations rather than pebbles.

We looped a big rock pile thing and then ran the length of the beach back towards Mrs Hippie – also armed with camera. The T.O. organisers had very kindly arranged for another steep section – an incline this time but still not runnable for yours truly after the ankle-breaking beach section – before you were allowed to leave the beach and return to terra firma!

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The elevation profile (bottom of the page) for this suggests that the route back from the beach to the finish line is a steady uphill, and maybe it was but that’s not how it’s stamped itself into my head. I remember coming through the woods pushing myself up each short trail incline and then flat then incline, but they were all of themselves small – so it must have been a cumulative effect. In fact I finished with an impression of this being the flattest route I’ve ever done on a Trail Outlaws event with the exception of the monster steps on and off the beaches. No, that is NOT a challenge to the organisers for next time!

Trail Outlaws are known for their beasting medals, and this year was no exception; a massive gong for surviving to the finish line and a Trail Outlaws mug for the post-run Red Cola to go with the pawful of jelly babies I rapidly shoved in my maw.

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There was only one small blip in this race for me – so many people come in groups with their friends or running clubs to these races, and my running club is not really big on trail races generally. The only two people I knew at this event are both involved with the Trail Outlaws team, so while both friendly and happy to wave and chat briefly I did feel a bit of an outlaw (see what I did there?!) without my mates out on the course to wave at and cheer on, possibly to have a retrospective gripe about the tough bits, especially at the finish. Will have to sucker some other poor buggers into coming next year 😉

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You can download the GPX file for this route from my Dropbox account here.

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Willow Miner’s Trail – Durham

It sounds like there’s been a few guises for this run over the years,  but for the last few at least it’s been known as the ‘Willow Miner’s Trail Run’, and the route takes you right round the back of this fine chap (photo from Elvet Striders race page).

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Apparently he also has a wicker wife with wicker chickens somewhere in the woods, but if we went past her, I didn’t spot her!

After missing many races in the first half of this year due to being boring and sensible with my knees, seeing one come up in the local area that was in my permitted 3-5M limit AND a trail race to boot meant I didn’t wait long before signing up.

It’s a running club Wednesday evening run hosted by Elvet Striders for only £7 if you’re affiliated with a running club (£9 if not) and starts from the rather pretty Houghall College.

Numbers are limited to 180 – so it really didn’t feel congested at the start line or on the route – something I’m starting to find claustrophobic about bigger road races! From the starting field behind the college, we were straight into the woods for over a mile, and from the woods into the fields. I actually found just being out in my trail shoes to be like taking a mental deep breath. It had been so dry up to the time of the race (we have a lot of rain since as I’m writing this up a while after the event!) I’d just been out in my road shoes regardless of where I was running, and I felt more like a trail runner running through the woods in my trail shoes again for the first time since the winter. I should note that with the weather being as dry as it had been this year, many people were absolutely fine in road shoes – trails were not essential for this one at all though they might be a good idea if it’s been really wet beforehand 🙂

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I was glad when we hit the fields not to be a super-speedy frontrunner. The marshalls and course markings throughout were excellent, but it was much easier to see the route through the clover when 150 people have already patted it all down flat for you! I’m not sure how conspicuous a path there was for the chaps and chapettes at the very front as it looked freshly squashed when I got to it! There were some absolutely fab views over the valley before we dropped down to the river.

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Somewhere over the fields, before we got to the river and for the couple of miles before we re-entered the woods, I had picked up a fan club. A fan club that I really wished would have left me alone, but they did ensure that I kept my walking to only the steepest inclines! I told myself they were probably just normal flies and not horseflies or something else nasty, but I wasn’t stopping to find out incase they drained me to a husk or something either!

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One of the things I love about trail runs is watching for wildlife (less keen on the bugs!) – and I was well rewarded on this one with a hunting barn owl as I came along beside the river.

As we left the river, we had to start to climb again. If you look at the elevation profile it suggests the worst of the hills were at the start, but they haven’t made a serious imprint on my memory – some steps through the woods and that’s about it. The biggest hill in my mind was coming back up over the fields again to return to the woods – and despite my buggy companions I walked quite a bit of it, flailing my arms around over my head! It’s probably a good thing there was noone there with a camera!

The run back through the woods was a welcome relief; my buggy friends abandoned me and the pace I was running at meant I’d ended up in a gap; there was noone in sight in front of me and no sound of anyone behind me so I felt like I was just out for a run in the woods on my own, following silent hanging pink tape ribbons and occasionally seeing a lone standing person who would wave me past. It was a touch surreal but they may have been dehydration kicking in a little…

The finish dropped back onto the field to the start line, and despite being nearer the back of the pack, there were still plenty of people waiting to cheer people across the line, and water dispensers for thirsty runners! I felt very deserving of my fruit pie and custard when I got back home – and I’ll be putting it on the list to keep an eye out for again next year, maybe with a time target or maybe just for a pootle in the countryside 🙂

 

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The GPX file for this route can be downloaded from my Dropbox account here.

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Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series – Northumberland 2019

I first did this race in 2015 (something I didn’t quite believe myself until I checked – but there you go!) and really enjoyed it, then in 2016 I did it again for the half distance this time and enjoyed it rather less, but through no fault of the race itself. The whole race event always sells out, but the 10k particularly early as there’s only 200 spaces. The half marathon had the biggest field this year and it looked like there were as many people on the ultra (35.2M on this occasion) as there were for the 6.5M I was enrolled in!

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As a quick aside, someone out there has run 35.2 miles in 4hrs 10mins?!?! Gobsmacked, absolutely gobsmacked – and it’s virtually all on sand!

Anyway, for those who haven’t run this before or read my previous wafflings, this is one of the few linear races I’ve done. Coaches take you to your respective start line at staggered times so the ultra and marathon runners start first from furthest away, followed by the half undertakers and then the 10k runners. This means apart from the very first leg (all 13 miles of it), you’ll never be on your own as you’ll be picking up (or in my case being passed by) the other distances as you make your way up the coast. I was getting passed at Seahouses by people on the ultra who’d done 23 miles already and had another 11 to go and still looked fresh as daisies in the dew! Route spotting is much easier as there’s just a steady trail of coloured bags and jackets for miles!

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The coaches were running late this year unfortunately – we only started 12 mins after our scheduled time (11:50) but with the brief being at 10:45 it felt like much longer as we sat around the carpark. The view’s not bad at least and the weather was looking to be set for a very pretty day for a run. 😉

The start line at Beadnell was frikking freezing after the warm buses as there was definitely a wind present all morning, but for the run itself it was a tailwind the whole way and therefore welcomed! Last time I was here was for the Northumberland Coastal to Alnmouth (twice as far in the opposite direction) and we had a 40mph headwind the entire way so it wasn’t that bad really! I ditched my over-layer rather quickly, tying it round my front like a skirt so my number was still visible (I’ve decided I may investigate running skirts for over my shorts – I felt less required to hoik the legs of my shorts back down again for the sake of public decency quite as often!).

I honestly have no idea where the first 2-3 miles went. The Northumberland beaches are usually stunning places to be and today was no exception – very easy to just look around and suddenly find you’ve covered more distance than you’ve realised and before we knew it Seahouses was appearing round the corner over some seaweed-strewn clamber rocks.

I was getting rather more aware of my legs and feeling more ploddy around mile 5, but knew by that point I was going to make it in one piece so it was pretty easy to keep steadily plodding onwards to the finish. 🙂 P was waiting down on the beach where I would be leaving it and then I headed off into the dunes to plod back up to the castle. Loose sand and a very narrow path meant stretches of the last bit were walked in line with other runners, but I’m not sure I could have kept my legs moving anyway on that sort of ground so I was glad of the excuse for a breather and not to fill my shoes with sand!

There was a really nice finishers medal for this year (not that they’re not normally nice, but I was impressed with this one compared with previous years) and another technical t-shirt for the pile.

P & I had left early – 08:30 – hoping to get parked at the bottom of the castle before the rest of the 10k runners turned up, but we ended up about a 10 min walk down the road at the Links carpark anyway – good for a cooldown but with being early getting there, the usual start and finish faff, the coaches, and a cheeky McD’s at Alnwick services on the way home – salt replenishment, I promise, as I had more salt on my cheeks than they put on their fries! – we didn’t get home until 7hrs after we’d left. A very long day for an hour’s running, even if we do enjoy the area. I do really love running here, but I think I will be having a think in future about travel with races – P could have dropped me off at Beadnell and I could have been back at the castle before we actually got on the bus to the start-line! Maybe just aim to get there later knowing there’s enough space in the Links carpark but I’ll be a bit of a walk away – that would have saved at least an hour! Still makes for a very long day. :O

Map

You can download the GPX file for this route on my Dropbox account here:

GPX route file

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Tatton Park 10k

First race of 2019 down – and not just for me! One of my sisters has decided we are in an annual mileage challenge and therefore she must defeat me (I am remaining mute on this point) – so to help her out the door I booked us both in for the Tatton Park 10k in Manchester; her neck of the woods so she didn’t even have to go very far for it! The other good thing about doing a Manchester race was that S & L could join us for it too 🙂

The Tatton Park 10k is a monthly race, so I was surprised to see as many people there as there were for some reason – given the size of some parkruns I don’t know why I was surprised that a regular event was well attended but there you go. Going by the number of local vests I suspect many of the local running clubs use it as a 10k time-trial.

This is quite an exposed park in winter…as was clear from the number lists, tents, people, etc. being blown around at the start line – the bag tent was a groundsheet with a tent-material cover and some weights by the end! We had headwinds, cross-winds, possibly a tailwind somewhere and with the 674 runners probably some bad wind too! I imagine it’s also a tough one in the summer as there wouldn’t be any real shade on the route so it could be a scorcher around August and September if there’s no breeze across the ponds.

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Compared with many races I’ve done, this was relatively flat – it did undulate and you could guarantee the headwind would hit just as you were trying to get up an incline – regardless of which way you were going, which made it quite tough going in places. The park’s a really good size with several ponds and the run was quite spaced out – where we were in the pack anyway! It can be a bit claustrophobic sometimes doing city races sometimes but this wasn’t like that, and even the queue for the loos wasn’t too bad!

This was only L’s second 10k – having done her first on a tougher trail race at Heaton Park on the other side of Manchester in November, and she knocked a massive 12 mins off her time but I think may be sticking to trails in the future – it’s hard going on tarmac when you’re used to the woods! P’s mumbled the possibility of doing it again sometime to beat her time but I think the main motivation was Tatton Park 10k actually has two different medal designs – and we got one of each so now she has to get the other one!

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I got the more cartoony one with the blue ribbon, while P’s is yellow with a more pro design 😉 Apparently if they’ve run out of blue ones next time we’re meeting at Tebay to swap one of her yellow’s for my blue…

The nice people at Tatton even feed you afterwards – homemade flapjack and bananas for all runners, and the flapjack was delicious 🙂 Made a very blustery morning all worthwhile!

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You can download the GPX file for this route from my Dropbox account here.

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parkrun – Durham

For information on this parkrun course, see the official parkrun page below:

http://www.parkrun.org.uk/durham/

This is a single-lap parkrun – not a huge number of those about! It’s quite out and back loopy, and covers a mix of terrains – we ran on gravel paths at the start, the outside of the rugby fields (stay outside the paint marks!) and onto the riverside path for a long stretch up to the bridge and back along the other side to the finish at the pavillion.

Durham had pacers for the event I went to, and I got the impression this was a moderately regular occurrence. I was trying to beat the 30min pacer, and while I’d left him a comfortable distance behind after the first mile, he was right behind me just before I came across the bridge – but the pace variance was me not him! He was bob-on for the 30 min marker 🙂

There’s plenty of parking at the sports centre near the start, as well as toilets and a track if you fancy a warm-up lap, but the finish is literally about 0.75 mile from the start. I’d pushed myself to get round in the time I wanted and was ready for a rest when I’d finished but when walking it felt like a loooong way back to the car. It is a pretty little woodland walk, and I did see a weasel, which was cool, but factor it in for your times if you’re in a rush to get home afterwards!

My GPS map for this route:

Durham

You can download the GPX route file for this course from my Dropbox account by following the link below:

GPX file for Durham parkrun

Course first completed 23-06-2018

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Sunderland 10k – 2018

It was very much a Girls On Tour trip this morning – four of us on our merry way to Sunderland; two for the 10k and two for the half marathon (after J3 had remembered to retrieve our 10k numbers from her car before we left). Many odd things were discussed on the way there, the direction of conversation seemingly funneled by how much B needed to use the little girl’s room…

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The weather was forecast for rain forever when we checked it on Saturday so were all armed to the hilt with waterproof jackets and long trousers, but by Sunday morning it had changed to light drizzle all morning, and when we got there it looked decidedly too muggy to wear long-anythings! We succeeded in finding B a loo, and then trekked back to the car to dump the coats!

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We did eventually make it to the start line, where J3 & I dumped B & J2 (maybe I should just start using names?!) as they were leaving half an hour after us for the half marathon, while we were doing the 10k. We completed the usual cram-into-the-pens-like-sardines and wiggled around a bit as a warm up before we were allowed to head over the start line!

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The first half of the 10k route weaves through more built up areas – and as a result there was no breeze and it was very muggy! We spent some time swapping between pavements and roads depending on the presence of cobbles, and dodging Deadpool when he lost his keys. We were passed by a guy carrying a full wheely bin as we headed towards the bridge – and didn’t really see him again until the last kilometer! He was a man on a mission and one does not get in the way of that!

It was with great relief we left the town, headed out over the bridge and dooooooown towards the rivermouth. Still not particularly breezy but at least everyone was spacing out nicely and we were still chugging along at a good pace. It didn’t rain for the whole day so I was able to pass the boats at the docks with full vision available and therefore discern they were not grey walls as I have previous for observing on a high rain and therefore no glasses attempt at this race (2015). We hit the first water station here with the odd squishy bag bottles, and had a mini water fight trying to get water out of them to spray over our heads to cool off – they’re designed not to leak under squeeze pressure only! We managed 😉 Apologies to anyone running around us we may have hit in the process!

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parkrun – Pennington Flash

For information on this parkrun course, see the official parkrun page below:

http://www.parkrun.org.uk/penningtonflash/

This parkrun involves three laps of a small part of the grounds at Pennington Flash. There’s one hilly bit – not too long – and the rest definitely counts as ‘undulating’ to flat; not the flattest I’ve done but a long stretch from hilly. It’s worth noting that there is a reasonable walk from the carpark – allow 5-10 mins, and there is a parking charge at the main carpark (it’s a good size though – you should find a space fine). There is a free carpark at the entrance to the park, but it’s 1 mile walk/run from there to the start line, so factor this in if you’re planning on taking that option. Toilets available at the carpark and a lovely spot for birdwatching after your run!

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My GPS map for this route:

Pennington Flash

You can download the GPX route file for this course from my Dropbox account by following the link below:

GPX file for Pennington Flash parkrun

Course completed 21-04-2018

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parkrun – Sedgefield

For information on this parkrun course, see the official parkrun page below:

http://www.parkrun.org.uk/sedgefield/

This parkrun in Sedgefield involves 2 laps of Hardwick Park; it’s mostly flat and runs around a lake but has one small hill about 2/3’s of the way round – fine on the first lap, a bit of a stickler on the second I found! There was plenty to see on the way round – a mix of wildlife and more manmade things of interest so it’s an easy one to just kick back and enjoy if you’re not going for a time 🙂

There’s plenty of parking – normally a charge but if you put your spare barcode in the windscreen it’s FREE until 11am, which gives you plenty of time to pop to the loos (also open before the start) and go the coffee shop for a breakfast bap or a wide selection of yummy cakes!

My GPS map for this route:

Sedgefield

You can download the GPX route file for this course from my Dropbox account by following the link below:

GPX file for Sedgefield parkrun

Course completed 14-04-2018

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Washington Duathlon

A few years ago, despite being just about able to float in water and having been on a bike twice in the previous 10 years, I signed up for a Go-TRI event in Prudhoe just to see what it was all about. I came away with two lasting impressions: various exercise segments being comfortably within your grasp does not mean they will remain so when you’ve shoved them all together, and I do not like swimming.

My main aim for 2018 was to try new things and have fun with exercise, so when I saw a novice DUathlon in the local area, I was down to give it a go – and why not drag someone else along for the ride?! I really like the ‘intro’ level events that some clubs hold to get people into sport – they are much less daunting than signing up for a ‘full’ event when you have no idea if you’ll be able to do it all and are still shaky on what’s involved with ‘Transition’ and really don’t want to be shouted at by a marshall for making the biggest faux pas in the world ever in complete ignorance.

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There were two events on today – a Novice event, and double the distance for the Sprint.  Being undeniably new to this, B and I had signed up for the Novice event; a run of 2.7km (2 laps), cycle of 10km (2 laps), and a final run of 1.35km (1 lap).

When you turn up at an event like this, the first thing they do when you register is cover you in numbers. Everywhere. You know when you go to a theme park and there’s small children with bracelets or writing on them with their responsible adult’s details on incase they get lost? It’s like there’s an assumption to do one of these events there must be something special about you, and thus they make it obvious you are undertaking such an event. This way, if some kindly soul takes pity on you cycling in circles round and round Sainsbury’s carpark, they will at least know which way to point you to return you to your kind. We had pen numbers on our arms and calves (I still haven’t got them off two washing attempts later), stickers for our helmets and our bikes, a number bib for pinning to our belts incase the smaller ones just weren’t obvious enough and a house-arrest convict style ankle bracelet which is allegedly for timing but may or may not contain a GPS tracker… It is claimed these are to stop people stealing your bike – it must match your numbers, your bib – it must match your body art, and your helmet – which must also match all of the other things. We know the truth 😛

We succeeding in levitating our bikes ready in transition (there was a fence too close so they didn’t touch the floor!) and were about as ready as we were ever going to be to set off.

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It is a well-known strategy for particularly longer races that you find a nice bum and follow it. We hadn’t been running for long when we were passed by several of the people doing the Sprint (and well, compared to us – sprinting), one of them with a very…distinctive bottom?! We dubbed him Window Bum Man as for some reason he had a circle of netting in the back of his tri-suit…

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parkrun – Woodbank

For information on this parkrun course, see the official parkrun page below:

http://www.parkrun.org.uk/woodbank/

This parkrun in Stockport covers ground in two parks – Woodbank and Vernon, and starts at the top of a hill…you can see where this is going?! There’s a tough little uphill kick at the end of the Vernon Park loop (which you do twice) as you can see on the elevation profile below!

There’s limited parking near the start-line – maybe 20 cars? – so get there early if you’re planning on using it, or there’s a bigger public carpark nearby. Average number of runners is 120 per week, so no fear of being on your own in a small group of elite runners! The whole route takes place on tarmac, except for one small section of cobbles as you crest the top of the hill coming out of Vernon Park.

 

My GPS map for this route:

Woodbank

You can download the GPX route file for this course from my Dropbox account by following the link below:

GPX file for Woodbank parkrun

Course completed 31-03-2018

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