Blue Runnings

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

Trail Outlaws – Castle Eden Fun Run

It has been a while since I’ve broken out the fancy dress box for a run – I think it’s probably a parkrun over a year ago at Blackhill when I last had a rumage for an outfit! It’s like choosing your own handicap. Unless you’ve carefully selected your costume to involve as little material as possible, you’re likely to be slower in costume than in normal running gear, or we’d all be dressing up like Christmas Puddings whenever we want to go for a p.b.. When you combine ‘Trail Outlaws’ with ‘Fancy Dress’ you know you’re in for a tough time – and at least 25% of it will be self-inflicted.

Not being particularly big on Hallowe’en, my costume box doesn’t include much in the way of horror film set special effects, but it does contain a pirate costume gathered over many years. Sadly, many of the belts involved in said costume have been retired from when I was in my late teens and are a restrictive reminder of how much less-trim I am round the waist than many years ago!

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I met C at Castle Eden in Peterlee; somewhere I’ve never had occasion to go before, and we were treated to a feast of different outfits in very short order. There were some absolutely fabulous costumes on show! I honestly can’t do justice to it so I’m just going to direct you to Hippie’s hard work and send you over to the race album here to have a look for yourselves. We saw G2 at the start-line – not in costume incase he needed to pull out his Serious Face as Official Race Bossyman, which to be fair is rather difficult to do if you’ve got kid’s facepaint on – he was kind enough to be our start-zone photographer ๐Ÿ™‚

The race didn’t start too badly terrain-wise – a good gravel path winding off with gentle undulations. And it all went downhill from there. Very downhill. And we all know what that means. In this case, it means people jumping out at you from inside holly bushes and behind rocks when you least expect them (though it must be said Hippie was much easier to spot than normal at the bridge!). There’ll be more than one person’s heart-rate data with a sudden unexplained spike in the middle of various sections!

Wikipedia has the following to say about ‘denes’:

This one is very true to the ‘steep-sided wooded valley’ part (and I recommend following the link in the caption and checking out the Castle Eden Dene link to read a bit more about this particular one). Looking at the map at the bottom, you could think we had run nicely around this nature reserve, but I can assure you this was not the case…we went down, down, dooooown to the bottom of the valley by the river, and of course then had to climb alllllll the way back up again. By the time we finished my GPS said I’d done 71 flights of stairs. No wonder my legs were knackered!

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I did very much enjoy full on jumping in some of the puddles – C possibly enjoyed my doing this slightly less but she was a good egg about it ๐Ÿ˜‰ We had a good natter, and died quite a bit on the way round – it was tough going! C had also done parkrun that morning for some reason! Nutter! We did make it to the finish – very, slowly! – and were rewarded with weighty gongs (that’s a ‘g’!) for our efforts. There was even a cake and coffee stall if your post-run tummy was so inclined raising money for mental health.

When I got my muddy self through the door, I weighed myself with and without all my waist accoutrements; 3.25lb I’d been lugging around as corsetry up and down those hills – it’s a good thing the rum bottle wasn’t full – though I suspect it would have been lighter by the finish anyway if it had been!

One quick shower for this grotbag and then straight out the door again to Hexham fireworks – more standing for the ol’ legs to do. I slept like the corpse some of the costumes were depicting after all that ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

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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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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

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Washington Trail 10k – 2017

The Trail Outlaws organise a series of ‘Urban Trail’ races from 10k to half marathon around the North-East (and if you fancy it, right up to the 100+ miles marker not for some of us mere mortals!), and this race around Washington is rapidly becoming a regular feature in my running calendar – so when I heard J was doing again this year (straight after night shift she was that keen!), I couldn’t leave her to go by herself! It also meant I might have half a chance of keeping up with her if I caught her when she would be already too tired for any sane person to consider going for a 10k run in the hills…

I don’t know if one of the Trail Outlaws guys has a deal with the weather for this one, but I don’t think I’ve done it when it hasn’t been blue skies and sunshine, or not far off it! This is appreciated in one respect because the riverside and the woods look fantastic in the sunshine when the flowers are coming out, and it makes you really appreciate the shade, but it also means that you cook when you’re going up the hills in the first half which are a bit more exposed…

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There are several loops to this race, passing through a common marshalling and refreshments area where there’s always a ready supply of drinks – water and cola this time – and if you’re lucky there might still be some jelly babies left even by your third time through! There are always several marshalls here handing out drinks, and it’s great to see the kids getting involved handing out beakers and giving power-up high-fives to all who pass through – no matter how many times they’ve seen you already! You come downhill from the start to join the river and start your first lap after passing through this area (Time 1), heading up through the woods and towards the main road before coming back down again to the clearing (Time 2). From here, you head out across a footbridge, up a hill (there’s quite a few of them) and across the stile at the top.

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Washington Bottoms Up Cup 2016

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I was originally down to do the Durham Coastal Half Marathon today, and looking at the photos I am definitely going to be doing this next year as it looks right up my street. This year however I decided I was not fit enough right now to be trying to do a tough terrain half marathon (320 steps and no flat bits!) right now and entered myself in for the Bottoms Up Cup at Washington, which I did in its inaugural year last year and quite enjoyed. It’s a club-run organised by Washington RC, and was well attended this year, with I think 80-ish runners present.

It’s been cold in the mornings all week, and often foggy, so of course today while it started off cloudy it burned off before the race start to a ridiculously sunny day in much the same way it did for the Washington Trail 10k a few weeks ago. I was a little more prepared this morning having actually bothered to check the weather forecast before getting dressed, and determining very rapidly that shorts would be a sensible idea even if I needed a jumper in the morning before the race start.

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I woke up rather earlier than I would have liked this morning dreaming of Dun Niffelem and ice giants (don’t ask) so had my tired head on when I set off with as many trainers in the car as J normally takes when she’s racing! I was wearing my Cascadia trail shoes, having removed all the bits of grit and sand which were stuck in the holes in the insoles and I found last time I wore them for a run with J last week after they gave me a blister from bits of rock rubbing against my feet! I hadn’t completely committed to wearing them so also threw in my other road-running shoes, and a pair of shoes for afterwards. As it happens, I did wear them and they were fine ๐Ÿ™‚ Checking my insoles has become a regular part of my pre-run prep…particularly if I’m going more than 10k – I’m always checking for balls of cat hair, cotton buds (presents from said cat) and build-ups of grit and sand which you don’t notice when you first put them on but boy do they start to rub after a mile or two! I don’t normally actually have to check IN the insole though – these were embedded in the little drilled through holes.

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Washington Trail 10k 2016

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I must admit 2016 is not sticking in my mind as being the best for races, but it must also be said that none of it has been down to the races and their organisers themselves! With the exception of the Cragside 10k, not a single one this year has gone to plan for me!

The plan for the Washington Trail, which J and I did last year so I did have some inclining as to what the route and terrain was going to be like, was the same as for Cragside – slow and steady and pootle round going steady regardless of terrain. The WT10k is a moderately hilly course. The problem with this came with the weather – a foggy morning which burnt off around about start time to give 20 degrees of baking sunshine. Heat. I hate heat. I hate doing anything in the heat. You could seriously bake a full English breakfast on my face after about a mile of trying to run in the summer. Ok, I may be exaggerating very slightly. Only slightly though. Point is, me + running + summer do not get along!

J may or may not have noticed, when we were prepping for the GNR last September, I didn’t really do many sociable runs leading up to and pretty much kept to myself. I didn’t go into it at the time but I was really struggling – 5k was a fight which was incredibly demoralising for someone who a few months before was getting comfortable with doing 10M on a weekend. I really worried about getting round. This summer, I’m a bit more prepared in knowing what to expect – I found it a lot harder going out in the summer, but actually was matching my previous Spring pace (even if it didn’t feel like it), and it meant I reaped the benefits when the temperature dropped again. Just gotta get through it to autumn again! A slightly sad countdown when it’s only May and summer’s just beginning…

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Dark Skies Kielder

Havingย  seen all the photos from last year’s race, where the runners set off in blue skies and sunshine, and were treated to some fantastic night skies when the sun had set, it honestly never occurred to me when I booked this race that it might rain. Cue Storm Katie. Normally I don’t watch the weather forecast before, well, anything; looking out the window is good enough for me! The week preceding the race I was watching on a daily basis, praying it would improve – it actually got worse every time I checked it. This was the forecast the morning before race day:

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Looks like it might clear up for the majority of the run time (approx. 17:00-23:00), but it was basically mostly drizzle and light rain the entire time on the hourly forecast as the race got closer. Those wind figures never budged either <_< lovely; just the type of evening everyone looks forwards to!

P & I set off up to Kielder mid-afternoon (1 hr nap squeezed in!), my parents and midgets having kindly come to visit for the weekend and cheer me on were to follow a bit later for the offset. We picked up my race number and t-shirt – not everyone did; there were 42 who didn’t bother to turn up for registration – I can’t believe they all had personal circumstances come up at short notice so suspect the weather to have been the primary detractor!

It was drizzling when we set off, here we have some of my lovely family looking rather soggy at the start-line! (Yes guys, Hippie caught you too! There’s no escape!)

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To me, once we set off, it didn’t feel as wet as it looks in this picture – more of a misty drizzle and I was more concerned with how warm I was getting wearing a fully sealed waterproof top and hat, so I stashed my waterproof on my backpack elastics and put my gloves on – my hands at least were rather chilly! I’ve run in drizzle before, and stayed warm as long as I keep moving so I didn’t really think anything of it, but this is the start of the whole race going downhill for me (unlike the route which I swear managed to be uphill 90% of the time!).

I was feeling pretty calm and steady as we headed off to the Northern most tip of the reservoir; I didn’t get dragged along with the speedies and just concentrated on a steady jog off to “the hilly bits”. All was well.

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I only look slightly ridiculous with my hat under my headtorch and over my headphones!

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Washington Trail 2015 – Trail Outlaws

by Hippie Nixon

by Hippie Nixon

I’ve not done a race specifically organised by the Trail Outlaws before, but they were involved in the Washington running club’s 5k fundraiser event earlier in the year, so I figured I had some small inkling what to expect from this one – some hilly, muddy bits and some footpath tarmac track. I wasn’t far off; the tarmac was mostly absent but there was a good mix of trail paths and woodland track – much more rooty than on the Washington one.

J & I had both read that there were some hills on this course – and they weren’t kidding! It started gentle enough, a long downhill to the river and a flattish short loop out to the main road and back in. Back to the drink and jelly baby station, so far so good, face full of sweeties and a rehydration pause (one has tried glugging from plastic cups while running before and does not wish to repeat the experience!), off we went again – over the bridge and…up. On to a steep road which put us into the woodland section, on a narrow trail with tree-roots which was more technical (read: higher ankle-breaking-potential) than where I usually go, but was really enjoyable and peaceful. It’s been a while since I’ve hit proper woodland trails in a deciduous English wood – and I really could have been back in Surrey running in the woods by my parents’ house.

There were a couple of sneaky very steep but blessedly short slopes in the woods – you either trotted up on your toes knowing you’d slip if you didn’t keep moving, or scramble making use of hands where needed! This took us out the woods and back on the tow paths for a long stretch of flats – very welcome and I only partially filled my face with ripe blackberries on the way through ๐Ÿ˜‰ Another slope at the end to reach the bridge and turn back towards the jelly baby station (so much easier to look forward to than just a water station!). It was a long straight along the river and under the viaduct to our next face-filling point, and by this point we had a lot of space between the runners ahead and behind, so it was wonderfully peaceful being in the shade on a sunny morning by the river. I think I’m going to have to drag P back down this way for a walk in the autumn – it was really pretty ๐Ÿ™‚

by CS of the Trail Outlaws

by CS of the Trail Outlaws

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